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bungSOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS FIVE-Live (2013).

bfflThis is the first official live record from Ben Folds Five.  They reunited after a decade or so away and put out a great album and this documented their tour of that album.

It’s a fun collection of songs that spans their career and also includes a solo Ben Folds song.

To me, one of the best things about BFF was Robert Sledge’s bass (yes, I know BF is the man and his piano and songwriting are stellar, but the sound that Sledge gets on his bass just brings those songs to new heights of coolness).  And that bass does not disappoint here.

The setlist is taken from a number of different venues over the course of 2012 and 2013, with a lot of shows in San Francisco, but also some from across Europe.  And the songs really span their career, opening with a song from their debut (“Jackson Cannery”) and then following up with one of their most recent songs “Erase Me”).  They even play “Tom and Mary” from their Naked Baby Photos collection.

About midway through the disc, Ben plays an improvised One Chord Blues (which turns into “Rock This Bitch”) in which he makes up “some bullshit” and this segues into part of “Billie’s Bounce” by Charlie Parker.  This is followed by “Do It Anyway” into which he throws a verse from Jesus Christ Superstar.  On the liner notes of the disc he talks about how throwing these verses onto a live album will cost you “a lot.”

For the song “Draw A Crowd” they play a synth opening, but when Ben switches to piano, he messes up and sings “the piano player can’t play…but keep the party going.”  He is amusingly self-deprecating both in his banter and in his song lyrics.

The disc ends with the awesome “Song for the Dumped” which includes great audience participation.  Amusingly as the crowd cheers, he asks them “Would you like us to play one more?” And as they cheer for one more, the disc ends.

[READ: October 28 2014] The Love Bunglers

Jaime Hernandez is one half (with his brother) of the duo who create the cool graphic novel series Love and Rockets.  I have read (and own) some issues of the book, but I haven’t really kept up with it all that much.

But I really like his stuff, so I was delighted to see this book, which was originally printed in Love and Rockets: New Stories 3 and 4.

This is a complex story, written in a back and forth style which only makes the narrative that much more compelling.  As the story opens we see some men playing chess on a street corner.  A woman, Maggie, walks by.  She is older but still curvy and the men size her up.  One of the men, the “new guy” gets up and follows her then hides in the bushes watching her.  Next we see Maggie, naked, lying on a leaf.  But she is actually talking to Reno and relating this recurring dream.

Then we see that she is a landlady and is also friends with a man named Ray.  Ray is an artist who is showing at a local gallery.  Maggie agrees to go with him. By the end of the first section it’s not entirely clear what Maggie’s feelings are about either of these men, but they both seem to like her. Continue Reading »

elmer SOUNDTRACK: R.E.M.-Collapse into Now (2011).

R.E.M._-_Collapse_into_Now“Discoverer” opens this disc with ringing guitars–not exact R.E.M. replicants, but familiar.  And then Stipe comes in and the refresher course in R.E.M. begins.  Collapse Into Now proved to be R.E.M.’s final album, and while some of their latter albums weren’t great, Collapse seems to revisit everything that was great about R.E.M. and tries to spread it all over this album.

The blueprints for classic R.E.M. songs form the structure of a lot of these songs, with chiming guitars, and Stipe’s recognizable vocals.  “All the Best” sounds like classic R.E.M. (although Stipe’s delivery is more current sounding).  It also fits in well with the faster songs from Accelerate and is only 2:46.  But it’s “Überlin” that really sounds like a classic R.E.M. song.  That notable guitar style with Stipe’s very specific delivery style.  And then come Peter Buck’s harmonies.  It sounds like a good outtake from, say, Automatic for the People.

Stipe tends to do a lot of his sing-speaking on this album (and i think the one thing I don’t like that much about the album is that early R.E.M. seemed to obscure Stipe’s vocals and lyrics a little bit, giving them an air of mystery.  Whereas the newer records are all pretty well laid bare).  So “Oh My Heart” has Stipe almost speaking his poetry.  It’s got mandolin and Buck’s mildly annoying backing vocals (I’ve never thought that about his backing vocals before).

An Eddie Vedder cameo is utterly wasted on “It Happened Today,” you can barely hear him as all he does is backing crooning near the end of the song (and frankly the “hip hip hooray” chorus is lame).  “Every Day is Yours to Win” is a pretty slow song.  It doesn’t amount to much but the melody is really beautiful.  “Mine Smell Like Honey” is a crazy bad title, but it’s a great rocking song, really hearkening back to classic R.E.M.–ringing guitars and Stipe’s vaguely disguised voice.  “Walk it Back” is another slow ballady type song and is really pretty.  While “Alliagtor_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is a rocker with Peaches singing and speaking backing vocals.  “That Someone is You” follows up with another speedy track.

I tend to dislike the really slow R.E.M. songs, so “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” doesn’t do much for me.  The disc ender, “Blue” reminds me of Out of Time‘s “Country Feedback” (I keep waiting for him to say “I need this”).  And the Patti Smith backing vocals recall “E-Bow the Letter.”  “Blue” is meandering and unfocused but Buck’s atmospheric guitars are quite effective, even if the song itself is nothing special.  I don’t quite get the coda of tacking the opening chords of the album on to the end, but whatever.

So basically this album feels like some mostly great outtakes from earlier R.E.M. albums. And there’s really nothing wrong with that (well there would be if R.E.M. was still trying to release a lot of new music).  But since the band was ready to call it quits anyway, it’s a nice recap of their career.  True, I’d rather listen to their earlier records, but you could definitely throw most of these songs into a mix with the earlier ones and they would sound perfect.

[READ: October 25, 2014] Elmer

Elmer has a  chicken on the cover.  It also features this quote at the top of the book: “It’s the Great Filipino Novel, with chickens.”  What to expect from this book?  Well, chickens, obviously, but I never would have guessed what this book contained.  Indeed, this book is pretty mind-blowing (in a good way).

It has a simple premise, which seems comical but is actually taken very seriously: what if chickens became “aware” and learned to speak?  It sounds funny, right, but Alanguilan really explores this issue seriously–if a species of animal that we normally eat suddenly talked to us en masse, how quickly would we deal with this, and what would humanity’s reaction be?  It tackles issues of slavery and racism and pushes them further.  And while the “change” takes place in 1979, it addresses contemporary society with an inquisitive glare.

While there is some humor in it, this is a serious book.

Jake Gallo is a modern chicken (the book is set in 2003–two decades after chickens became “human”).  He has just been rejected for a job, and he pulls the race card (this would be the hilarious reveal that our main character is a chicken).  While he’s feeling sorry for himself, he gets word that his father, Elmer, is dying and he returns home to be with his mother and family.  On the way home he runs into Farmer Ben, the farmer who helped to raise Elmer’s family.  And he is genuinely glad to see Jake.  Jake seems somewhat put off by Farmer Ben and declines his offer of a ride. Continue Reading »

movingSOUNDTRACK: BEACH HOUSE-Bloom (2012).

bloom  I loved Beach House’s previous album–the way it was magically lighter than air with swelling melodies and the unearthly vocals Victoria Legrand.  Bloom opens with “Myth” which continues the magic–the simple but beautiful opening melody and then a soaring chorus which is just amazing.

But something happens after that first song, and the album suddenly comes down to earth.  Perhaps it is the fairly conventional guitar and drum sound that opens “Wild” (it’ sa very cool 90’s ear guitar sound, but I feel like it doesn’t quite work with her voice.  The song is still pretty, but I kind of lose interest before it ends.

Similarly, I like the simple synth opening to “Lazuli” and her voice soars nicely here, but I’m not compelled to pay attention all the way through.  As I’m writing about the songs, I want to say that they are all pretty with nice melodies.  And as each song opens, I smile with recognition at the quality of the song.  But I keep drifting away from the song before each one ends.  Is it because each song is nearly five minutes?  Maybe.

The more I listen to the album the more I like most every song–there’s something about each one that I find engaging, and yet overall the album just doesn’t grip me as much as the previous album did.

It still sounds magical, but something is missing, and I’m not quite sure what that is.

[READ: October 24, 2014] Moving Pictures

This graphic novel was simply fantastic.  It was one of the most powerful and moving stories I’ve read in graphic format in a long time.  I loved everything about it (even if some of the details of the story were a wee bit confusing–see below).  The story explores the relationships that formed during the Nazi occupation of Paris.  Specifically between a Canadian museum curator and a German soldier.

Primarily, I loved the artistic style of this book.  It is black and white with some very dark sections–especially in the interrogation room where harsh shadows obscure so much. As the book opens, we see a woman sitting at a table under a harsh lamp.  It is only when the POV shifts to her profile that we see the very fine and delicate lines that comprise her face.  And that balance of fine lines and huge swaths of black is really stunning.

mobing2There is then a flashback.   The woman from the room, Ila, is speaking to another woman who looks more or less like her (it is hard to tell the women apart as they are both blonde, with such think lines for features).  They are at a train station and Ila is encouraging the other woman to take Ila’s papers and flee.  She says she won’t be needing them.

Then we return to the room, where a man, who we learn is Rolf the soldier, enters and begins interrogating her.  He asks her questions, but after a few, she asks him if he has been drinking–something is clearly unusual about this interrogation.  In the course of the questions, we learn that Ila is the curator at a museum.  And he begins asking her the locations of certain works of art. What is gorgeous here is that the two remain silhouetted, but the artistic pieces are blown up to full size as background images.  And they are wonderfully rendered.

Then he asks about some small things “hidden” in the basement.  And then he asks if she is still mad at him.  This interrogation seems more personal than political.  We also learn that he asked her to keep one small artifacts and that she can’t remember where it is. Continue Reading »

criminalsSOUNDTRACK: JOANNA GRUESOME-Weird Sister (2013).

joanna  I love this short rocking record from this Welsh band whose name is presumably a pun on harpist Joanna Newsome (a fairly obscure joke, no doubt).  In fact I really can’t stop listening to their blend of smooth noise and pretty/screamy vocals .  Lead singer Alanna McArdle has several distinct styles of singing, from pretty and sweet to screamed and scary.  She’s accompanied by a stellar lineup of guys who can do punk and a lot more: drummer Dave Gruesome and  guitarists George and Owen Gruesome (also vocals).

The album reminds me of My Bloody Valentine with splash of riot grrl and occasional old school punk thrown in.  There are elements of pure MBV shoegaze (and even of MBV noisy distortion), but without the meticulous layering that Kevin Shields spent years of his life mastering–this album feels largely spontaneous..

“Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” opens with a descending guitar riff, switches to some shoegazey type verses and then jumps into some loud screamed choruses, before starting the whole thing over again.  I love the dissonance at the beginning of “Sugarcrush” and how it morphs into a strangely catchy song midway through. And then it shifts back into raw dissonance.  I also get a sense of Cocteau Twins in the vocals on “Madison” (and other songs).  The opening riff is pure dissonance but the verse is just bliss (the “head on the door line of course makes me think of The Cure even though they don’t sound like them at all).

“Wussy Void” slows things down with some actual individual notes and audible lyrics (I’m told the lyrics are very feminist, but I honestly can’t hear too many of them–which isn’t really a shame because her voice is perfect for this band and just knowing that she’s singing about meaningful things is enough of a bonus.

“Lemonade Grrl” starts shoegazey but quickly speeds up with some pummeling drums behind her delicate voice.  “Secret Surprise” is probably the “prettiest” song of the bunch–the dissonance is at a minimum, and yet it is still noisy and punky.  “Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still in Love With Me?” is the sweetest song on the album, with a pleasant guitar riff and a catchy and understandable chorus–until the raging blast of punk at the end.

At 4 minutes, “Candy” is the longest song on the disc.  It slows things down and has a fairly conventional structure.  “Graveyard” starts as a punk blast but gets softer for the chorus.  And the album closer “Satan” belies its name and the album by opening delicately and having the first notices of a large bass sound and then after 2 minutes it abruptly ends.

I really love this record (all 28 minutes of it).  And I can’t wait for more.  I just found out that they have a few singles and E.P.s streaming on their bandcamp site.  Most of these recordings are earlier, rawer version of songs on the album.

[READ: October 19, 2014] Sex Criminals

This intriguingly titled comic is intended for mature readers (as you might expect).  But before we get to the criminal aspect of the story, we’ll back up to meet the characters.

First there is Suzie.  Her mostly amusing story begins with a pretty awful tragedy. A man killed Suzie’s father when she was a little girl (the story promises that things will get funnier as we learn her story). This all ties into the big banks that she rails against later, but I’m not exactly sure that this back story is even necessary (yet).

But this incident makes young Suzie delve deeper into herself.  And when she discovers what kind of pleasure can be had by herself she discovers something…peculiar.  It seems that whenever she climaxes she enters into what she calls The Quiet.  In a nutshell, everything around her stops, but she is able to move–this later led to some fairly awkward moments with guys.  She tried to talk to girls at school about this–of course they looked at her like she was crazy. Although one girl proceeds to show her about a dozen sex positions (by drawing them on the bathroom wall–this may be the funniest thing in the whole book as they are so outrageous yet so cartoony, and I’ve not heard of half of them).

She tries talking to her doctor–he basically tells her that her husband will help her when she’s older.  And then she tries her mother who is still grieving about Suzie’s dad.  So, three strikes, she’s out.

So, how does a plot develop out of this? Continue Reading »

whiteSOUNDTRACK: IMAGINE DRAGONS-Night Visions (2012).

nightvisImagine Dragons is a band that is hugely popular (popular enough for “Weird Al” to parody their song) and seemed to come out of nowhere.  I kind of sort of like them but also sort of don’t.  I didn’t know anything about them when I first heard “Radioactive” a big bombastic anthemic sing along with big drums and an amusing (or interesting at least) part in the beginning where the singer “breathes in chemicals.” And what’s great about the song is that it’s fun to sing along to and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

But the thing about the album is that some of their songs veer right into the realm of cheesey pop.  “Tiptoe” has a synth sound that is so cheesy I can’t stand it.  It also has a chorus that a boy band could easily do.

So the album is full of songs I like and one or two I dislike a lot.  “It’s Time” stays on the good side of pop with a preposterously poppy song which never drifts into cheese (even if it flirts with the line). “Demons” is catchy and fun as is “On Top of the World” (with the “hey”s and handclaps).  Depending on my mood, I could easily hate these songs, but most days I find them happy and enjoyable.

“Amsterdam” and “Hear Me” are rocking anthems that sits pretty squarely in the not-too-poppy camp.  They have big choruses and are pretty easy to like.

As for songs I dislike–“Every Night” is the worst piece of pop crap drivel I’ve heard in a long time.  Everything about it is gawdawful ( I won’t even list them all).  I can see it being huge.  And “Underdog” goes over the line into cheese for me as well.  I don’t know if it’s the synth sounds or the lyrics or what but I can do without it.

“Bleeding Out” returns to that gritty vocals but still pretty polished sounding song that Dragons do quite well.  “Nothing Left to Say” is an interesting ender to the album (with cellos and all).  The tacked on coda “Rocks” is also kind of fun in a Mumford and Sons sorta way.

It was about half way through the disc that I realized the band sounds like Coldplay (the opening of “Demons,” jeez–I may have even heard this on the radio and assumed it was Coldplay)–but like an excessive version of Coldplay (both in anthemic quality (which is hard to do) and in pop potential).

I haven’t heard the band’s new single, but it should let me know which way the band is going–more rock anthems or into the pop pit of despair–and that will probably determine my final verdict of the band.

[READ: October 17, 2014] White Cube

I found this book at work and was quite intrigued by it.  Of course, I am intrigued by nearly everything Drawn & Quarterly puts out, even if I don’t love everything they release. And I didn’t love this one.

In fairness, there was a lot I liked about it.  The fact that it was originally published in Belgium is pretty cool.  And the fact that there are barely any words in it also made it intriguing.  I even enjoyed that there were two main characters, each one a virtually identical pink bald man who express his pleasure by giving a thumbs up.  And yes, I enjoyed that most of the stories were about art.  So, perhaps I did enjoy this more than I realized.

The book as a whole seems to be mocking the state of modern art.  When the two unnamed guys go into the “White Cube” they follow signs for Modern Art and then make adjustments to what they see, giving a thumbs up when they are done.

What confused me was trying to figure out whether each piece was an individual story or part of the whole. Several of them start with a “title panel” that says White Cube (while others seem to have different titles).  But since they all seem to be about art, they could all be rooms in the big White Cube. Continue Reading »

Fall TV 2014

fallFall has traditionally been the time when the networks unveil their best news shows.  And, amusingly, within two weeks one or two are usually cancelled.  This Fall has been something of an exception with the first show not getting cancelled until after four whole episodes!  What staying power the networks have! I also have to wonder if now that the first domino has fallen if other shows will get the axe next.  I also wonder why American networks don’t simply do what the British networks do and ask for 6 episodes in a season so that if a show doesn’t get renewed at least its story is finished.

I have imagined that people wonder why we don’t watch all the shows that get huge raves from people In the Know, and the primary reason is that we don’t have any premium channels and can’t be bothered to watch things on our computer.  So, yeah, someday we’ll binge watch Veep or maybe Game of Thrones (actually, Sarah will never watch that), but for now, we’re still a broadcast TV family.

To follow-up on a couple of shows from the summer: we actually never even watched Fargo, despite my being excited to watch it.  I read about how violent it was and just decided to give it a miss.  And Halt and Catch Fire was mildly intriguing, but not enough for us to watch more than two episodes.  Two shows that we did enjoy quite a lot were Married (terribly uninspired name, guys) and You’re the Worst.  They were both shockingly raunchy.

Of the two, You’re the Worst was much funnier.  In addition to the two main characters, who were just so unpleasant, the supporting cast was awesome.  I haven’t heard if the show was renewed, but I hope so.  Oh, I see it was, hooray.  Married was a bit more problematic for me, as I love Judy Green and Nat Faxon, but the show just wasn’t all that funny.  It certainly had moments, again mostly from the great supporting cast, but the main plot lines between Greer and Faxon were just so negative and hopeless that it didn’t really inspire much humor.

Two other great comedies that we saw this summer were new to us.  A Comedy Central show that we missed last season but loved this season was Drunk History.  Holy cow is that show funny.  The reenactments are simply genius, and I am so curious to know if these people actually know the history that they are talking about or if they are given scripts or what.  We need to find Season 1 to see what we missed.  And Garfunkel and Oates is a fantastic show starring the great comedy team of, well Garfunkel and Oates.  I’ve enjoyed their music videos a whole lot and was delighted by their show as well.  Hooray for Kate and Riki.

We also watched Welcome to Sweden which was pretty dreadful–so much potential but no chemistry and no comic timing.  I assumed it had been cancelled, but I just read that it was renewed.  Huh.

Anyway, on to the Fall and new shows:

So last time, I did a tally of networks.  Let’s see who wins this time:
ABC: 6 FOX: 5 NBC: 4  CBS: 3  SyFy: 1 Comedy Central: 1

ABC has finally surpassed FOX.  I find that somewhat hard to believe, but they did it.  CBS and NBC just can’t seem to boost those averages.
Continue Reading »

friend hand SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan (2007).

I have seen Barenaked Ladies live a number of times.  At this point I think I have seen them without Steven Page more than when he was with them.  After listening to his solo album I remembered how much I loved Page with the band.  And even though they still do a great show, this CD/DVD combo reminded me how much…more fun…they were when Page was in the band (and how sad it is that a reunion seems impossible).

I had heard that the other guys in the band (notably Jim and Kevin) wanted more songwriting opportunities.  And whether or not that is true, it seems like they might since this is completely the Steven and Ed show.  They split lead vocals duties exactly in half (with two songs in which they share lead vocals).  Indeed, Kevin wrote “Sound of Your Voice” but Steven sings lead.  Although I have to say that Kevin Hearn absolutely shines with all of the instruments he plays here (he’s quite remarkable).

So this concert came on the Barenaked Ladies Are Me/Men tour in one of their biggest American fan locations–Clarkston, Michigan.

The CD is a collection of lots of older hits and a few newer songs.  I recall not loving this period of BNL as much, but the songs that are picked for this show from these albums are great: “Bank Job” one of my favorite new(ish) songs sounds great here.  And “Easy” is another great song from these two albums.  “Adrift” a pretty, slow song (which is here played on the banjo) and “Wind It Up” is fun because we get to see Jim Creeggan come down away from the upright bass and wander around with an electric bass.

They have the most fun with “Angry People” since they do a lengthy “skit/dance” at the end of the song in which they beat each other up (to a disconcerting prerecorded version of the song).  This is included in the audio CD with no explanation–the DVD clarifies the weird sound effects in the song).  Perhaps the most unexpected addition is the song “Powder Blue” which is a B-side to the “Pinch me” single.  It’s a bit of a slow down in the set, but it get s a pretty big reaction.

There’s some very funny fan interaction, like teasing the lady in the front row who is talking on her phone and point out (and singing about ) the guy who uses beer bottles as maracas.  (I also enjoyed seeing a guy with a Rush shirt near the front row).

They also do “For You” from Everything to Everyone.  This version is an interesting acoustic version with Kevin Hearn on mandolin and everyone gathered around the center mic.  They do “Be My Yoko Ono” in this format as well, which is quite fun (Hearn on accordion and Tyler on bongos).

No matter how often I hear “Brian Wilson,” I never get tired of it.  And while I’ve heard them live with not Steven Page singing it, it’s great to have his original voice doing it (and as always Creeggan’s bass is amazing).

The one thing that’s a bummer is that the DVD and the CD contain the same songs–in other words the DVD is pretty short for a concert.  According to Wikipedia, songs played at the show, but not included in Talk to the Hand include: “Maybe Katie”, “In The Car”, “Running out of Ink”, “Get In Line”, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” [acoustic], “Alcohol”, “It’s All Been Done”, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “Call and Answer.”  The DVD also falls a little short because there’s no crazy wacky end song where Tyler sings some crazy nonsense.

The bonus features include the five guys sitting in a room with an interview.  They talk about how Steve and Ed first started playing together.  And there’s a funny story about a guy with an ass on his head.  I also appreciated them talking about the greening of their tour.

But really, the saddest thing is that in the bonus features the five of them talk about how much fun they are having in the and and how long they’ve been together and other things that make Page’s split seem so much sadder.

[READ: October 10, 2014] Saint Friend

Saint Friend is the latest book in the McSweeney’s poetry series. This collection of poems features largely longer poems.  And I admit to not really enjoying longer poems–they often seem to lose either the plot or my attention.  Which I know is more likely my fault than the writer’s but so be it.

“Pacific” is evidently about Amelia Earhart.  It has a epigram from Earhart, but I didn’t realize it was about her (which is certainly my fault as I know really no details about her).  Each page is a part of a longer poem (there’s a black diamond at the bottom of each page making it seem like the end of a section or so).  The fourth section (about fog and being  at 8000 feet) sure makes sense as an Earhart poem.

“Near Real-Time” is a series of small poems–each one dated a day in February (except the last one).  I wish I knew context for these poems (was he doing a write a poem a day challenge or something?).  Also, not every day of the month is represented. Continue Reading »

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