pageoneThis is the first proper solo album for Steven Page, former Barenaked Lady.  He did have a side projet while he was still a BNL guy, called The Vanity project, but this comes after he left the band.  As a lead songwriter for  BNL, this album sounds an awful lot like a BNL album.  But he does branch out a bit for better and worse, on a couple of songs.  I like that the record is designed sort of like a book.  And that there’s a library check out sleeve and that one of the names who checked out the “book” is Leland Palmer (ha).

“A New Shore” sounds like classic Barenaked Ladies, with a big chorus (and Page’s great voice), strings and even a whistling section.  If you imagine the harmony vocals are by Ed Robertson, this could easily fit on a BNL disc.  “Indecision” sounds like latter BNL with the “whoo hoos” and the way the verses really slow down the craziness of the chorus.  The big difference is the female backing vocals.  “Clifton Springs” opens with a ba da da section and a very catchy melody that sounds like a sitcom theme song (hey sitcoms, check this out!).  It’s a mellow song that really highlights Page’s voice.

“Entourage” is a kind of dance song.  It has a kind of Pet Shop Boys feel (or else I’ve been listening to the Pet Shop Boys too much).  It even has a line “I only love you when I’m drunk” which echoes Pet Shop Boys’ “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.”  But I love the way Page says “Alright” at the end of the chorus and it could possibly have been a dance hit.  It ends with a minute or so of a jazzy coda.  “Marry Me” could also be a theme (to the new show Marry Me, duh).  It’s energetic and poppy.

“All the Young Monogamists” has cello and violin and in some places, little else.  It’s quite a different sound for the album, like a minor orchestral piece.  It works mostly.  “She’s Trying to Save Me” is a great return to the bouncy single that BNL did so well.  “Over Joy” has a very sixties feel (the way Page’s voice is processed).  “If You Love Me” has a very synthy 90s pop feel.  I can see it being on the far end of Page’s fun zone, but I don’t really like it.  When the song ramps up to the next notes around 2:50, it is excruciating.  On the other end of the spectrum is “Leave Her Alone” which opens like a big band number (and stays that way in the chorus) but has verses that are very electronic.

“Queen of America” is a big bouncy song, that I wish I liked more.  The final song, the five and a half-minute “The Chorus Girl” is a sad ballad (the kind that Page also writes very well).  The song seems to want to be an epic (with horns an extended coda), but I think it drags on a bit too long.

Anyone who misses Page in BNL will certainly like this album.  And those who are a little disappointed in the Page-less BNL newer records could easily mix half a dozen songs from this and some of the best songs from the newer BNL records into a very satisfying BNL+Page disc which would sound totally coherent.

[READ: April 25, 2014] Further Joy

This is Brandon’s first collection of short stories and I enjoyed them all quite a lot.  Brandon specialized in disaffected protagonists, settled and settling in the South.  And there is a nice amount of diversity in these stories.

The Favorite
In this story, Gardner returns to his home town after ten years of being away.  he was quite a success when he left, but his return is less than exciting.  He lives in small town that was big into high school football and he was glad to be away from it.  But now that he is back he goes to games with his mother. The locals are happy he’s back, they think it’s great that he returned to be with his mom and to look after her.   But he is miserable.

The only thing that makes the return palatable is seeing Ainsley.  They dated in high school but didn’t have a bad breakup when he left.  She is divorced now and single. She works in a doctor’s office and tells him stories about patients (despite it being against HIPPA–although she ever gives names).  Since he is short on cash, he uses some information that she gives him to bet on an upcoming football game (he was able to figure out one of the players from the injury she described). Now the question is, could he go through with the scheme.  He calls on a favor from another former friend who has never had much success.  It could all go horribly wrong, of course.  I really enjoyed this story a lot, and I loved the way the title played into the story unexpectedly.
Continue Reading »

paintedSOUNDTRACK: THE DECEMBERISTS-Long Live the King EP (2011).

220px-The_Decemberists_-_Long_Live_the_KingLong Live the King is an EP that was made of outtakes from their previous (and so far final) LP The King is Dead.  In the style of that album–straightforward folk songs with country tinges, this EP makes a fine companion.  “E. Watson” is a classic storytelling Decemberists song.  It has a great chorus and really wonderful harmonies.  There’s a pedal steel guitar on “Foregone,” which adds a neat sound to this really catchy song.  In fact, the chorus is one of the catchiest things they’ve done, and it’s hard to believe they tucked it away on this EP instead of the album.

“Burying Davy” (which I had been mishearing as Burying Babies, such is the darkness of Colin Meloy that that was a real possibility) is a much creepier song.  The melody is dark and minor chord and yet it’s somehow still catchy and strangely fun to sing along to.  “I 4 U & U 4 Me” rumbles along with a great Smiths-esque bass line.  This version is a home demo (although there’s no non-demo version that I know of).  “Row Jimmy” is a cover of Grateful Dead song that I do not know.  It’s the slowest and most shambolic song on the EP.  I don’t especially like it, but I do like the way he sings “Get Down and” before some choruses.  “Sonnet” is a pretty straightforward folk song.  It’s done on acoustic guitar and features Meloy’s falsetto at certain times.  But just as the song seems to be a pretty standard acoustic guitar ballad, a whole bunch of horns blast in and play along.

Even though this is an EP of predominantly folk songs, there’s some cool headphone stuff going on in this album as well (especially the guitars on “Burying Davy”), so turn it up and tune out for 25 minutes or so.

[READ: October 18, 2014] Painted Cities

Painted Cities is a collection of stories (I assume they are all short stories although the early ones read a bit more like essays) that are all set in the Pilsen district of Chicago.  Evidently AG-B grew up there and these stories are about the people and gangs in this largely Latino neighborhood (the fact that his name is Alexai Galaviz Bidziszewski, which conjures up so many different nationalities, although few of them Latino has certainly confused me, although I have no doubt that these are all based on reality).

There are fifteen stories in the book.  I enjoyed the first couple, then I got a  little tired of the gangland/macho tough guy aspect of the stories.  But just as I was a bout to give up on them, he threw in one with magical realism that I really loved, and the rest of the book was equally interesting.   I will say that this region of the country is completely unknown to me and while I don’t typically like gang related stories, these stories did not dwell in the heartache of gangs, but used them as a periphery around which to establish the stories. Continue Reading »

[LISTENED TO: October 15, 2013] Whales on Stilts

whalesWhen this book came out it was hugely popular in my library.  I was very curious about the title–it’s crazy, right?  But I had no real sense of what the book was about (I wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be funny or a drama–it was on every reading list of that year but who knew why).  Well, had I ever looked at the book carefully I would have known it was a comedy and I would have realized that it was exactly the kind of comedy that I love.

This book is part one in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.  I believe the series shares characters, but I’m not sure if it is necessary to read them in order (we’ll find out when we listen to Book 2 next week).  Of course there are more than three characters in this book, but the three main characters are: Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut! and star of his own adventure series; Katie Mulligan, star of her own horror books series Horror Hollow; and Lily Gefelty, a girl who is friends with both of them.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrator describes Lily as being remarkably unremarkable.  She hides behind her bangs, doesn’t want to be the center of attention and is grateful that her two superfriends have known her for longer than they have been famous.  And what is doubly wonderful is that Lily is the catalyst for solving the major crisis that is about to hit her town.  In fact, Lily is the first one to even suspect that anything is awry. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: October 15, 2014] The Understudy

understudyI feel like we haven’t been attending as much live theater this year (this year was more about concerts), but I was happy that McCarter was showing this comedy (they just showed Antony & Cleopatra which I just was never quite in the mood for).  I got good seats and off we went.

I didn’t realize this was a preview performance (and what exactly that means I’m not sure–we saw a preview performance of Spamalot on Broadway and it was wonderful).  With our programs was a survey of things we liked/didn’t like or suggestions we might have about the show.  I though the show was wonderful and wouldn’t change anything.

The premise of the play is fantastic, especially if you like plays about the theater and acting.  The story is that one of the lead actors and his understudy are going to have a rehearsal of their upcoming play.  There are only three characters: the lead, the understudy and the stage manager.  Any behind the scenes type of story is bound to be funny, and so this was.  But what elevated this story to levels beyond a simple behind the scenes comedy was that the play the the actors are rehearsing for is a recently uncovered play written by Franz Kafka called The Man Who Disappeared.

The play is looking to be a huge success (Broadway loves Kafka!) especially since it stars two movie stars (there’s jokes about movie stars being on Broadway).  The main lead of the Kafka play is never seen, but we learn that he makes $20 million per picture.  The second lead is Jake–his recent film made $68 million in the first weekend and he is considered a major draw.  The understudy is Harry, a down on his luck artiste who is really happy to just get paid, even if he will likely never go on.  The third character is Roxanne.  She is the stage manager and she has a very compelling back story that is slowly revealed.

The fourth “character” is Laura. We never see Laura, but she is in charge of the lights and set during this rehearsal.  She is apparently high and is constantly causing trouble–missing light cues, bringing down incorrect sets.  For a nonexistent person, she is a highlight of the show. Continue Reading »

june2014SOUNDTRACK: BATTLES-Glass Drop (2011).

220px-BattlesGlossDropI didn’t know anything about Battles before I heard the single, “Ice Cream.”  Battles are an experimental band comprised of the guitarist from Don Caballero (one of my favorite post-rock bands) and the drummer from Helmet.   And they write music that is very angular, with lots of stops and starts and direction changes.  There’s some story about their first album (which I have not heard) having a singer who left just before the recording of this album.  And the remaining trio’s solution was to have outside singers sing on certain songs.  And it all works very well.

The majority of the album is instrumental though.  And the songs feature a very distinctive sound that I feel is close to a steel drum, but which I know is actually a keyboard–but that echoing sound is so drumlike, that when the drummer’s pounding is added, the whole album feels like a percussive explosion.

“Africastle” opens the disc with ringing guitars and a melody that uses those steel drum sounds.  After about 2 minutes of slow intro, when the ferocious drums kick in, the song rockets to life in a frenzy of activity and counterpoints.  It’s really quite something.

“Ice Cream” is the song that introduced me to this album.  The guitars are modified to once again a steel drum sound, but the melody and rhythm are so fast staccato that it removes any sense of steel drum especially when the notes are clearly electronic. This song features vocals (no idea what they are saying) by Matias Aguayo.  They compliment the sound of the music.  Despite all the overlapping disparate elements the song winds up being strangely catchy. The way the chaos ends with a simple Dum duh duh dum dum… is very cool.

“Futura” continues in that staccato style but it features an aggressively catchy melody.  “Inchworm” has a fun almost reggae feel amid the staccato noises.  “Wall Street” brings the drums to the fore again as it propels the jumpy melody along.  “My Machines” has a guest vocal from Gary Numan. I have never liked Gary Numan (I need to never hear “Cars” again) but his voice (he actually sings…sort of) works well with this cacophony.

“Dominican Fade” adds some heavier bass and wild percussion notes to this 2 minute track. It even has hand claps and cowbells at the end.  “Sweetie and Shag,” has vocals from  Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino.  She adds a whole new element to the album with her high pitched yet breathy vocals.  A definite highlight.

“Toddler” is a 1 minute sng that feels like a transition into the manic and bouncy “Rolls Bayce” (which Dave Konopka describes as almost wholly an experiment).

“White Electric” start slow with some echoed notes. Then a martial beat keeps time as the notes seems to swirl around. The song builds and builds with more layers until it crashes apart at around 5 minutes.  At which point the song slowly rebuilds itself into a pretty coda.

The final song sounds like a reggae singer but it is actually Yamataka Eye from The Boredoms.  Konopka says that Eye sent vocals and told them to do whatever they wanted with the track.  The band thought “he was speaking Japanese, but he’s just making up his own stuff and he’s repeating stuff that he’s making up.”  The backing noises sound like a whale song.

Despite the weirdness of the album, there’s a lot of poppiness to it, and I think it is a great release.  It also is a great headphones release, if you like that sort of thing.  I need to check out their debut as well.

[READ: October 15, 2014] “Who Will Water the Wallflowers?”

I don’t quite know what to make of this story.  It seemed to me to be full of individual incidents that were all wiped away by the flood that is mentioned in the very first line.

I enjoyed the details of the story quite a lot.  In it, the girl (unnamed) looks after her neighbor’s cat Cha-Cha while Ms Feliz is away.  Cha-Cha is a a Turkish angora, a delicate breed.  And there is an interesting description of the cat after he has gotten wet in the rain.  Sometime the girl sleeps at Ms Feliz’ house (her mom doesn’t mind since they live across the street).

The girl finds sanctuary in Ms Feliz’s house.  Except for Mr Bradley.  Mr Bradley is an enigmatic neighbor–he seems to be home all the time, dressed in work clothes and slippers. It is clear that the girl is uncomfortable around him, but he seems to always be around.  He seems pleasant enough.  He sees her almost every day and always asks “learning something?” to which she doesn’t know what to say.  She tries to avoid him by looking for Cha-Cha, but he doesn’t leave (and Cha-Cha doesn’t show up).  She tells him that she watched a film about geysers .

He replies, “I know a joke about geysers….it probably wouldn’t be appropriate.” Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Spade Side--Andrew Scott] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

The final side of Commonwealth is by drummer Andrew Scott.  Scott has written three singles for Sloan over the years: “500 Up”, “People of the Sky”, and “I’ve Gotta Try.”  But for this album, he has created a 17 minute and 49 second epic called “Forty-Eight Portraits.” This makes it seem like it could be 48 small songs which it isn’t.  But it also isn’t one long song exactly.  There are, by my count 15 sections–although there could be more or fewer depending on how you break it up.

So my demarcations:

  1. The song opens with a dog barking.  There’s complex percussion and a smattering of piano seemingly searching for a melody.
  2. At 3 minutes the first real song proper starts.  We’ll call it “You say you’re going with me.” There’s acoustic guitars and a bouncy melody.  It’s a great song with a neat guitar riff that overlays around 4 minutes in.  But
  3. At 4:23 the song changes dramatically.  It grinds to a slow pensive section, call it the “Don’t ask for a second chance.”  But it doesn’t last long,
  4. At 5:16, the next part jumps in, it’s a bit faster and feels like it could be an extension of the previous section.  Call it the “Do the things I do” section.  It speeds up
  5. At 5:41, to a similar style as the “first song.”  It has a sing along starting “How Does It Feel?”  It’s got one verse before a time signature change and instrumental break.
  6. At 6:40 the next section comes in.  Aggressive guitars and spoken word lyrics “There’s something happening here.”  It also has one of the few uses of the word “fucking” in a Sloan song.
  7. At 7:25 it shifts to a falsetto style and higher pitched guitars.  It’s vaguely Beach Boys-like for a verse “Do you think she loves you?” until
  8. At 7:48 it’s back to a reprise of the “How does it feel” section.
  9. At 8:15 it shifts to a new slow piano section.  This feels like the most fully realized song section of the epic.  “I can’t believe you never told me the truth.”   It leads into a big chorus sounding section (two lines) around 8:40 (“What it is us unsustainable”).  There’s even a repeat of this “verse” and  “chorus” as well.
  10. At 10:26 a new guitar section is introduced.  It works as a transition “You said you’re coming with me.” It morphs
  11. At 10:52 into a very cool slowed down section “I asked for a proper glass.”  And then
  12. At 11:22 the song again returns to the “How did it feel” section.
  13. At 12 minutes the song transitions with a “ba ba ba” and horns which move into the “Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping away” section.  The song feels like it might end at 13 minutes as the last notes seem to ring out.  But
  14. At 13:21, the song rebuilds again with the “inside a cloud” section.  This feels like the final section of the song is built around a similar construct. It’s a guitar riff that introduces a children’s chorus at around the 14 minute mark.  There’s a slow guitar solo and pizzicato strings that keep this section from being to easy, but that guitar riff and children’s section reunite the end which concludes with the spoken “W.W.L.R.D.?” (which I assume the L.R. refers to Lou Reed).
  15. At 16 minutes, the chaos of the beginning returns with a dog bark, but the concluding riff is strong and seems to really draw out the end.

I really haven’t listened to the lyrics that carefully to know exactly what’s going on, but I really enjoy the “choruses.”  While a 17 minute song is not everyone’s cup of tea, there are so many parts and so many interesting and catchy sections, that it feels like a whole collection of short songs rather than one long song.  It’s a cool experiment and one that I find myself singling out as I try to parse it a bit more.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Part of the Main” and “Watching the Cop Show in Bed”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  These were two poems.

I’ve don’t normally review the poetry in The Walrus, but since I had four sides and only three stories it seemed worthwhile to throw the two poems in as well 9especially since the finally song was so unusual).

The first one “Part of the Main” is written with wonderfully evocative language as it talks about something so base.

The first stanza talks about the inevitability of the tide, of life.  With beautiful language like: “the contours of the and effaced by the saintly patience of the tide.”  But the second stanza shifts gears.  In it, the narrator says that you can show him dire things on the television: “bloated bellies…bomb blasts” and he will weep and clench his fists “but otherwise do nothing.”  It is sadly an uncomfortably relatable attitude. Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Shamrock Side--Patrick Pentland] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.

According to the CBC website, Patrick Pentland is responsible for some of the band’s biggest hit songs, including “The Good in Everyone,” “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” and “Money City Maniacs.”

Pentland only wrote four songs for his side.  And none of them are especially long.  Overall his songs are heavier fuzzier and rockier.

“13 (Under a Bad Sign)” is a heavy rocker at only two minutes.  Even though it’s the same length as Murphy’s also heavy “Get Out” it just rocks a lot harder.  It also opens with a bass–one of the few songs on the album that does so.  It’s a big loud rocking riff.  “Take It Easy” is even noisier.  The guitars feedback as the bass propels along.  It’s a simple song, with a simple heavy chord structure, and it has a simple catchy chorus.  Good rocking Sloan.

“What’s Inside” slows things down a bit—it has a familiar bass line and swirling guitars.  There’s lots of echo on this song, especially in the chorus which seems almost shoegazey.  It’s probably my least favorite song on the album because of the way it kind of meanders–it rather slows the momentum of the disc.  But his final song, “Keep Swinging (Downtown)” totally redeems it, with a super catchy classic rock sound classic.  It has a great got sing along chorus.  This could easily be a huge single and a live concert favorite.  It’s 3 and a half minutes, but nearly the last minute is an extended outro with a great pretty acoustic guitar riff.

For only four songs, Pentland makes a huge statement.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Brute”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about murder.

Of the three stories I liked this story the least.  Not because it from the point of view of a dog–that part I liked.  In fact I enjoyed a lot of details in the story–like that there was a character named Grassy Noel, that the narrator believes all golden labs have a Scottish accent and that the narrator speaks as if he is not a dog.

First we learn about Big Cy’s (the narrator) history.  He used to hang around the bus station grubbing for food.

Then he witnessed a Lab rescue a baby and saw that dog praised and held high.  He wants to know:

Who is better. The dog who is … naturally good or the one who struggles to be good. Continue Reading »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 591 other followers

%d bloggers like this: