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june23SOUNDTRACK: MONTY PYTHON-“Rock Notes” (1980).

mpThis skit (more of a monologue) comes from Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album, the first Python album I ever bought.  It’s not my favorite bit from them, but it’s short and wedged in the middle of the rest of the album which means that I know it by heart.  Now, the skit is most famous for naming Toad the Wet Sprocket (Eric Idle says he tried to come up with the most absurd name he could think of and there it was).  The band featured Flamboyant Ambidextrous Rex who fell off the back of a motorcycle.

What I tend to forget is that the rest of the joke is all about one band Dead Monkeys who have just broken up again.  They were together for ten years, but for nine of those years the band had other names.  Primarily, the names are fishy: Dead Salmon, Trout, Poached Trout in a White Wine Sauce, Dead Herring.  Then they ditched the fishy references for Dead Loss, Heads Together, Dead Together and ultimately Helen Shapiro.

This extended riff is rather silly and I’m not even sure it’s appropriate for a joke on bands.  I can’t think of many bands who have broken up and reformed under new names (I mean, yes, there’s a couple, but not enough to warrant this extended joke).

And yet, I still remember the joke, so it must be something, right?

What do I think of Dead Duck? or Lobster?

[READ: September 16, 2014] “Liner Notes”

This Shouts & Murmurs piece begins so strongly that I was super excited to read it.  Saunders riffs on liner notes in albums, specifically failed albums.  His liner notes are for the album 2776: A Musical Journey Through America’s Past, Present & Future which is just another attempt to “engage with the vast sweep of American history” via the musical epic.

The best joke is citing Meat Load’s “Ben Franklin Makes Love in a Foggy Grove of Trees” (which failed to translate to live performance).  [I would totally listen to that song].  He then talks about a Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber production of “Johnny Tremain” which was too intellectual for a nineteen-seventies audience.  But I feel like Saunders goes off track when, instead of staying with the slightly absurd realism, he jumps the shark by saying that the songs were too risqué “for a staid culture that, at that time, still believed that babies came when you left a pastel turtleneck rolled up in a wad overnight.”  It broke me right out of the exaggerated realism into the realm of outrageous farce.

Which is a shame because returning to real artists like Tom Waits making a biography of Jesse James called “A White-Trash Rambling Christ Figure Just Shot Your Brother, Amigo” is pretty darn funny. Continue Reading »

boughSOUNDTRACK: PROTOMARTYR-Under Cover of Official Right (2014).

martyrMy favorite description of Protomartyr is that the three younger guys ran into their old high school math teacher at a bar and asked if he wanted to sing with their band.  Protomartyr are a heavy band from Detroit (and none of the above is true about them, but check out the picture below for how true that seems).

The lyrics are dark, literary and sometime quite funny.  The music is a sort of post punk.  The drums are amazing with all manner of complex patterns.  The guitar is angular and precise, eking out notes and then blasting away on gorgeous ringing chords.  The bass plays patterns–not simple notes.  His is a great counterpoint to the guitar.  And then there’s the voice.  Gruff, worldly, knowledgeable and occasionally angry.  But mostly he sings in a kind of spoken word style, telling of his distrust with…well, whaddya got?

My CD did not come with a lyrics sheet (although I believe the LP does), so I don’t exactly know the words to these songs.  I can certainly guess though.

The disc opens with a sinister chord that slowly rises, only to be replaced by a jangly open guitar chord and then a very lengthy riff.  And then the deadpan vocals comes in.   “Shade goes up shade goes down, one of my dead moves.” And that sets the tone (that song along with many other is a reference to a novel: in this case Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square). I love the way the second song “Ain’t So Simple” opens with an interesting drum rhythm and these great lyrics, “Hello there, you are all witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men.”  The lyrics are basically an attack on the other guys in the band: “this thing that sits behind me: jumped up homunculus, and yet he sings so sweetly.”  The guitar is quiet and complex with an interesting riff.  Then the bridge bursts forth with all kinds of chaos and noise and a faster riff.  The song ends somewhat positively, “guess I will keep him around, until the next song.”  And it ends with the same drums that opened the song.

Most of the songs are just over 2 minutes.  “Want Remover” is pummeling rock, heavy and distorted.  “Trust Me Billy” reintroduces a spiralling riff but with a heavier drum.  “Pagans” is only 1:11, with a very sparse sound.  “What the Wall Said” slows things down (it clocks in at 3:11).  It has a slow intro that is mostly bass.  When the chiming guitars come in, the drums follow and the songs picks up speed.  It has one of my favorite lyrics: “What will you miss? Alice in Chains played on repeat–not feeling great, you’re 20%.”  Followed by morning ringing guitars.

“Tarpeian Rock” is set to a cool bass line.  It’s basically a list of people who should be “thrown from the rock” “greedy bastards, emotional cripples, gluten fascists” etc.  “Bad Advice” opens with a smacking drum sequence and ringing guitars.  It’s angular and prickly until about half way through when it suddenly slows down with the simple “bad advice” chorus.  “Son of Dis” is a blistering punk song.  Barely over a minute, it is a relentless blast.

There’s something about the guitar sound on “Scum, Rise” that is so unguitar-like, I’m totally intrigued by it.  And the repeated simple chorus of “scum…rise” is pretty hard not to sing/speak along to.  “I Stare at Floors” is another fast rocker.  “Come and See” has more great weird chords (with a vibrato put on them for extra weirdness.”  It’s another fantastic song, with the chorus introducing a brand new drum sequence and a super catchy but dark chorus: “And I’ll try to live defeated, come and see the good in everything.”  I can’t decide which section of the song I like better.  Well, maybe it’s the repeated third part where the drums come bashing alive to really emphasize that section.

“Violent” is another slower song, with a lonesome riff and sparse drums.  The vocals are so almost-flat that it makes the lyrics “if it’s violent…good” seem even more dark than they might otherwise.  “I’ll Take That Applause” opens with a sample of someone singing something, maybe?  Garbled, rather creepy sounding voices introduce a big ringing chord.  The song introduces a piano buried under the chorus of “nothing ever after.”  And then you press play again and listen to the whole thing again.

I simply can’t stop listening to this album.

proto

[READ: September 15, 2014] Bough Down

Karen Green is a visual artist and poet.  She was married to a man who hung himself, and this collection address that horrific incident almost exclusively.

Green’s poems aren’t structured like poems (meaning that they are blocks of text and have no concern for line breaks or rhyme scheme).  Nevertheless the words she has used are quite powerful and evocative and do everything that good poetry should do.

Interspersed within the poems are small images.  Most of the images are cut up pieces of text arranged but also obfuscated by what looks like a gauzy white paint (in the same way that the book has a gauzy white slip cover (nicely done)).  I don’t know what the actual size of her prints is, but I wish they were bigger in the book.  It’s really hard to see the details that are clearly there.  And I know that hiding is part of the point, but if it were bigger it would certainly be easier to understand.  I’m fascinated by her use of dollar bills as well as other tiny objects (fingerprints? stamps? boxes?).

Most of her poems are untitled; those which are titled have “jazz standards” as titles.  Like “summertime and the living” or “let’s call the whole thing off.”  This jibes nicely with one of the “characters” in the poems, a woman called “the jazz lady.”  For indeed, although I’m reading this as a series of poem, there is so much continuity between poems, that it almost reads like a novel as well.  If nothing else, there seems to be time passing between the poems.  And while the story itself is unfinished, it does imply that things will be moving forward.

The pieces about the jazz lady are interspersed with the stories about “you.”  The jazz lady “is in first or third person.  She is keeping secrets and everyone who loves her is tired of them.”  In “Black and blue and” it begins “No one knows how the jazz lady ended up in the hospital again.”  I took the jazz lady to be Green, or perhaps just someone else Green knew. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: September 13, 2014] King Crimsonkc

When I saw that King Crimson was touring I asked some friends if I should go see them.  I’ve been a fan more in theory than in practice.  I like a lot of their stuff, always planned to listen to them more, but I barely scratched the surface of their output (they’re the kind of band who has released dozens and dozens of things with varying project names and incarnations and since they’ve been recording since 1969, it’s daunting to say the least).

So when two friends basically said they’d give their eye teeth to see the show, it was a quick decision to get my tickets.

It was time to brush up on my back catalog.  I had no idea what they’d be playing, so it was something of a crap shoot what discs to look into.  As it turned out between the two old CDs and the one live CD that I bought, I covered nearly everything that they played.  And that was pretty awesome.  I had grown to really enjoy the CDs over the last few months and to see it done in front of me was… well, it was amazing.

King Crimson haven’t toured since 2008, and I have never seen them before.  This line up was new for the touring band as well.  It was the first time that Adrian Belew hadn’t toured with them in decades.  But there were some old favorites playing:  Tony Levin, frequent KC contributor and amazing bassist (bass and more); Mel Collins, played with KC in the 70s but hasn’t since, and here he is (Sax, flute); Jakko Jakszyk, recent contributor to Fripp’s projects and the real unknown for me (guitar, vocals).  And then the three, yes, three drummers: Gavin Harrison has played with KC before (drums), Bill Rieflin, mostly known for playing with Ministry (!) (drums), Pat Mastelotto has played with KC before, including with Bill Bruford (drums).  And of course Robert Fripp (guitar).

So, do you need three drummers?  Isn’t that overkill?
Yes and yes.

The three drummers were utterly amazing and they were the focus of the show.  As you can see from the photo, the drums were out front so you could watch everything.

Before I get into the show, The Kimmel Center is beautiful and the sound was amazing.  I had first row balcony seats.  My one seating gripe: I was in front of Fripp, but he basically sat sideways facing the stage (and his wall of gadgets) so I never really got to see him do anything. He was in profile most of the night, and I saw his hands moving, but that was it.  So, next time, pick stage left to sit.  Also, bring binoculars, because why not.

Back to the three drummers up front.  Mastelotto on the left (I could see him perfectly), Rieflin in the center and Harrison on the right (profile, but he was very visible).  Behind, l-r Collins, Levin, Jakko and Fripp.

As I said, though, it was all about the drums. Continue Reading »

how you dieSOUNDTRACK: DIARRHEA PLANET-“Lite Dream” Live on KEXP (2014).

dpHow to pass up a band with a name like this?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Who would even want to say their name?

The name conjures images, no, let’s not go there.  The name conjures music that is just abrasive and rude–ten second punks songs.  But in reality, their music is pretty traditional old school heavy metal.  They have 4 lead guitarists after all! (There’s 6 guys in the band altogether, surprisingly, there’s no women).   One of the lead guitarists even plays with his teeth (for a few seconds).

This song is about heavy metal, although I’m not sure what about it.  There’s some big riffs, solos galore.  There’s even a classic 80s style dual lead guitar solo.  There’s big loud drums.  There’s feedback.  It’s everything you think of as heavy metal, with a seeming wink and nod thrown in.

This is basically a goofy feel good band, playing fast heavy metal.  Shame about the band name, though, really.

Watch it all here.

[READ: spring and summer 2014] This is How You Die

It is quite disconcerting to open a Christmas present from your wife and have the first thing you see be the words “This is How You Die.”  To then look at her confusedly and try to interpret the look of excited delight on her face as she wonders why you’re not excited.  Then she explains that it is a sequel to the interesting collection Machine of Death that you both had read several years ago (but which I evidently never posted about).  Sighs of relief and then Christmas can proceed with more merriment.

So over the course of the new year I read these stories and I enjoyed most of them quite a lot.

The premise of the book is that there is a Machine of Death.  This machine states how you will die, but it does not give you a time, place or real definition of what it means by hope you will die.  Statements seem obvious but may in fact be different in some twisted way.  As it says on the back of the book, OLD AGE could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by an elderly bedridden man in a botched home invasion.  The book revels in the irony that you can know how it’s going to happen , but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The way the machine works is that you insert your finger, it takes a blood sample and gives you a card with the way you die printed on it.  No matter how many times you do it you will get the same result.  These are the guidelines, and each author made a story with just that set up.

Pretty cool right?  The first collection was really great.  And so is this collection, done by writers and cartoonists that I had never heard of before.  There are 34 stories and 12 comic strips (it’s a hefty collection).  Because each story is basically about how a person dies, I had to think about how best to review the book–without giving away any twists.  So I think the title and a very brief plot will have to suffice.

There’s even a funny promo video for the book (at the end of the post). Continue Reading »

CV1_TNY_12_09_13Banyai.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-“Alex Chilton” (live on the Tonight Show) (2014).

matsI was pretty surprised to hear that the Replacements were going to be on the Tonight Show (and even more surprised to hear that they were going to play “Alex Chilton.”  I didn’t realize they were touring (or reunited or whatever they are), and I knew that at least one of the former members had died.  So, really this version of The Replacements is just Paul Westerberg singing and Tommy Stinson on bass.  The other two guys Dave Minehan on guitars and Josh Freese on drums are new as of 2012 (but have a history of working with Westerberg).

It was great to hear this song.  I never saw them in their heyday, when I understand the odds of them being drunk were 100% and the odds of a great show or a disastrous show were 50/50.

I’ve no idea how sober the guys were, but this version of the song was super sloppy (in a good way) and made it seem like they were channeling the ‘Mats of old.  Guitarist Minehan has played on Westerberg’s solo albums, so there is a connection, and he seemed to get that “can’t be bothered to hit every note” vibe.  Even Westerberg was skimpy with all of the words (was he having fun or annoyed at being there?  who knows).  But they weren’t sloppy bad, especially when the song ended and they added on a coda–they were all super tight and right on tempo.

It was good to hear, but I have to admit I like the album version better.

[READ: June 26, 2014] “The Late Novels of Gene Hackman”

Rivka Galchen had two short stories in the New Yorker in 2013, one in January and now one in December.

The story is about J, a young woman who makes presentations to older people, in this case in Key West, Florida.  She had accepted the invitation to the writers conference because it was going to be in February in Florida, and that seemed like a good time to be warm.  J was allowed to bring a guest, and she decided to invite her stepmother, Q, rather than her husband.  She felt a little sorry for Q, whose latest business venture had failed and whose hair was turning gray.  J is under the impression that Q is having financial troubles, she keeps talking about things that make it seem like she does, but J can never get a straight answer out of her.

They were picked up by M (this initial thing was a little confusing but ultimately more comical, I decided) who had organized the convention.  M had married a much younger woman, but she had recently died.  “Of something.”  M also had an eye patch, and J told Q not to stare at it, “‘I would never stare at an eye patch,’ Q said.”  Continue Reading »

CV1_TNY_03_03_14Blitt.inddSOUNDTRACK: XERXES-“Collision Blonde” (3 tracks) (2104).

xerxesXerxes has a very cool early 80s gothy sound–a sort of Joy Division/early Cure vibe.  Their twist is that their singer is a kind of screamy punk (like early 80s hardcore bands). I admit I’m old and I don’t love the screamy vocals  as much as I used to (but as a throwback, it’s pretty cool). And yet, I find the juxtaposition of that sort of mopey goth music coupled with an aggressive punk singing style.

You can hear the title track to their forthcoming release, “Collision Blonde’ on NPR at Viking’s Choice.  This song is a bit longer than the other two.  It has more ringing guitars and really brings out those Cure influences.  The longer song allows them a little more freedom to explore, too.

There are two songs on their Soundcloud page.  Chestnut Street” has a much faster tempo, but it keeps that great ringing guitar sound.  It also offers some interesting tempo changes and a great bass section.  I also love the bass sound in “Exit 123.”  It’s got a great buzzy guitar attached to it as well.

This band also fills in that oft-lacking “X” category on your iPod.

[READ: June 13, 2014] “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”

This is a story in several parts (with titles for each section) but which all work together to tell a complete story.

It opens very strangely with a dinner party in which an amputee tries to get a woman to kiss his stump.  She can’t bring herself to do it, although several days after the party they begin dating.  But the story is not about them, it’s about the host of the party and his wife, Elaine.   For in the next scene, we see them at a party at a wealthy man’s house.  When the narrator tells the wealthy man who his beautiful expensive painting shouldn’t be over the fireplace, (it might get warped from the heat), he threatens to burn it–rumor has it he has threatened this before.  And yet what if no one stops him this time?

The narrator works as an ad man.  It’s likely we’ve seen his ad–it was quite famous and won an award.  Well he is getting the award now, even though the ad ran many years ago.  He is traveling to New York for the award. But he is stressed about the whole thing, so he goes to the doctor where the entire staff is dressed for Halloween. Continue Reading »

peach SOUNDTRACK: FOALS-Holy Fire (2012).

I foalsloved Foals’ debut album Antidotes, it was a modern rock/prog rock/dancable mashup with angular guitars and all kinds of weird time signatures.  Then Foals returned with a new album which I haven’t heard anything of, except to have heard that it was very different.  Then I heard “Inhaler” from this album and I loved it.  It was easily in my top ten songs of 2012.

But it was so different from the Foals of Antidotes that I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  And in fact, that Foals, with all of their angularity, has been replaced by this much dancier version of the band.

“Prelude” is like an extended intro to “Inhaler.” It’s 4 minutes of intro music with chatter and noises.  Then comes “Inhaler,” a slow building song that rises and falls, rises again then falls again and then bursts into a big rocking chorus.  It’s fantastic, it feels louder than is possible for such a song.  “My Number” introduces some of that unusual staccato song style but in a far more dancey framework. The synths are louder and bolder.  I really like this song.   “Bad Habit” is a far slower song, but it’s a nice tempo changer.  And the chorus is still catchy.

“Everytime” brings in more shoegaze elements (so let’s see, there’s angular punk, shoegaze and dance music here).  This song even has a discoey chorus.  “Late Night” and “Out of the Woods” feel even more dancey than the earlier tracks–with a kind of earlier 80s British alt rock flavor–spiky guitars and exotic percussion.  I hear some of the guitar sounds of early U2 as well, especially on the intro of “Milk & Black Spiders” (the rest of the song sounds nothing like U2.

“Providence” brings back some of that louder guitar, coupled nicely with a combination of shoegaze and screamy vocals.  The heavy guitar plays a very nice counterpoint to the picking of the second guitar.  It’s the last great song on the record.  “Stepson” is a slow song, the slowest on the disc, and I fear that it rather runs out of steam.  “Moon” continues the slow drifting sense of the end of the album.  It’s pretty song, but it feels so far removed from “Inhaler” that it seems to be from a different record.

So I’m not entirely sure what to make of this record.  It has a few great songs, and then a number of songs that seem to want to go in a different direction, but what direction that might be remains unclear.

[READ: September 6, 2014] “The Happy Valley”

Lucky Peach 10 is “The Street Food Issue,” and it is a fun issue with all kinds of interesting food you can buy on the street (and recipes to try them at home).

Like food in tubes.  Take “Sausage Quest” (what the locals do with their various sausages all around the world), or “I Went to Thailand and All I Got was a Sausage Stuffed in My Mouth” (I can’t wait to make sausage blossoms).  Beyond sausages there’s a list of the most compelling street foods around the world from New York to Naples to Tunisia. We look at street food vendors in Malaysia and South East Asia.  And then we meet the Lucha Doughnut Man of East LA (Mexican donna vendor by day and masked wrestler by night).

Then there’s some articles that are not about food.  Like the surprising article about the microbiology of used cigarette butts (no butts were eaten).  Or the very interesting history of charcoal (which dates back to Henry Ford).  I had no idea charcoal came from trees.   There’s an essay about rapper Jibbs and his song “Chain Hang Low” which was apparently ubiquitous in 2006 although I don’t know it).  The essay discusses how it used “Turkey in the Straw” as a motif.  Most likely, he took it from the ice cream trucks that he heard as a kid, but there is a whole history of racism packed in to that song, let me tell you.

I enjoyed the idea (throughout the issue) that if you’re in a new place, sometimes you can’t always trust reviews for what’s good, you just have to trust your gut (and your nose).

Then there’s several articles about corn.  Making tortillas or masa–the whole process of nixtamilization.  Continue Reading »

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