ELO - No Answer - "10538 Overture" sounds like a Move single and would've made a fine addition to Message From the Country (which I've come around to thinking is the best Move LP, inconsistent as all of them are), and is the clear highlight. "The Ballad of Marston Moor" is almost Spinal Tap-ishly Stonehenge-bad. The other pop songs are fairly good but nothing special compared to Lynne/Wood's usual standards. The instrumentals - if I want to listen to classic music, I'll listen to the real thing, not these rather unexceptional imitations. Besides, Curved Air did this sort of thing better with "Vivaldi".
I'm going to skip over ELO II when I get around to their discography because I heard it before years ago and it was bloody awful, and I see from others' reviews that I'm not alone in that opinion.
Fiona Apple - the new one everyone is raving about, and it's....really good, but I'll probably never listen to it again, because her style of singer-songwriter piano pop & confessional balladry just isn't my thing.
The Groundhogs - Split - John Lee Hooker's '60s backup band made some of their own blues-psych records in the early '70s. Their alleged best is dominated by the 4 part title track, which is really four different jams-with-vocals given the same title. Maybe they all came from the same session? "Cherry Red" is a hard rock classic. Good shit.
The West Coast Experimental Art Pop Band - Part One - The moniker is awkward but it accurately describes this 1966 obscurity. Half the tracks are exquisite little Byrds-y pop jangle-gems, which sit awkwardly next Zappa-esque goofiness, and there are some standard garage-rockers and even a Left Banke-ish Baroque-pop number. It all comes across as not so much eclectic as just confused, as if they had no idea what sort of band they wanted to become. Still, it's lots of fun, as most of the songs are really good taken one by one. Recommended to any fans of '60s psych-pop, and I know you are.
The City - Now That Everything's Been Said - After she split with her husband and the Brill Building, Carole King moved to LA and recorded this album with her boyfriend and another guitarist to form a trio. It wasn't a hit but quite a few songs became hits for other artists. It's what you'd expect - professional late '60s Motown-ish pop with a Laura Nyro-ish touch. Nice.
Richard Hawley - Coles Corner - Perhaps the secret tunesmith behind Pulp was the guitarist? I enjoy this more than any Pulp LP since Different Class, and certainly more than Jarvis' solo records. This a mellow, slightly cinematic listen that aims for an early '70s Glenn Campbell vibe and succeeds. Nothing earth shaking, just extremely pleasant and enjoyable.
Thief (1981) - I honestly found this rather dull slogging; I mean, with James Caan as the lead and Michael Mann as the director, I expected at least some action-heavy popcorn. There is action and gunfights, but there's no real tension, and none of the characters really seem to connect in a way that would make me care.
The Deuce Seasons 1 & 2 - Another David Simon vehicle to explore the seedier, grittier sides of American life, this follows the hookser/porn industry in '70s Times Square. As with all Simon shows, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, they're just deeply flawed and human, which is sort of the point. James Franco knocks it home playing twins, and it's a solid ensemble cast all around. And as usual with Simon shows that aren't The Wire, there isn't much action or forward plot momentum, just "slice of life" realism (remember Treme? The sloggish pace of Deuce resembles that more than Wire.)
Narcos: Mexico Season 2 - On the other hand, this has forward plot momentum and action galore, and I burned through this in about a week. I liked the Mexico spinoff more than the original Narcos, as Felix Gallardo's Michael Corleone-ish trajectory from a halfway decent pot dealer to ruthless, cold-blooded Don was more interesting that Pablo Escobar's "started as a psychopath, died a psychopath" career trajectory. Season 1 was better because it had a larger cast of characters; by Season 2 Felix has lost all of his friends and it's all one long downward spiral of an increasingly isolated, alienated man, and the slide down isn't nearly as fun as the ride up.
The Plot Against America - I haven't read the book even though Philip Roth is one of my favorite writers, and I wonder if I'll ever bother, because the first episode is capital B Boring. Only 6 episodes so maybe I'll keep along. But I sure hope it picks up the pace. And if America ever did go full Nazi, it wouldn't be Jews they'd be rounding up, it would be blacks, which so far a single one hasn't even shown up in this show. We were already an apartheid state in 1940, you don't need an alternate history timeline to make Nazi parallels.
The Mosquito Coast - Paul Theroux - Halfway through this. I might have to rewatch the movie at some point. Being stuck with such an unlikable main character for nearly 400 pages doesn't bug me because world-traveler Theroux posesses sharp observational skills and Allie Fox's misanthropic skewering of modern American life is more often than not dead-on.
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien - Not just the best novel (in spirit a collection of related short stories, actually) about Vietnam, it's one of the best war novels ever written. My favorite is the one where the narrator (some version of Tim himself) almost chickens out to Canada and hides out in a remote cabin with the old caretaker and the border just across the lake. Or the one where the soldiers accidentally camp out in the field where the villagers go to shit and one of them literally drowns in the shit during a firefight.
Mr. Nice - Howard Marks - The Most Interesting Man in the World? If even half of this autobiography is to be believed (and I wouldn't trust Marks as far as I could throw him), he was truly a Renaissance man of international drug smuggling, money laundering, terrorist funding, Thai brothel-owning, mail-order Hong Kong brides to gay British men, high finance crime. A lower-middle class Welsh boy who lucked into an Oxford scholarship, by his 40s he had ties to the MI6, IRA, CIA, Mafia, Triads, the Mexican Secret Service, Afghani rebels, Pakistani diplomats....and over 40 false identities and phony passports. A lot of this is in court documents, so I'm sure that 2/3 of it is close to the truth, and a lot of shadier stuff is glossed over to make himself more sympathetic. It's his vivid word-for-word memories of conversations and events that happened 20 to 30 years previous that I found the most unbelievable (especially when he claims to have smoked pot/hashish every day of his life since Oxford). Reminds me of Catch Me If You Can, only much more exciting and interesting.