SOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-”Christiansands” (1996).
This book is set in Kristiansands, and so naturally this song was ringing through my head the whole while I was reading it. I’ve known this song for ages, but had no idea that Chirstiansands was an actual place in Norway.
This song is dark and tense. Over a slinky beat, a spare guitar riff introduces Tricky’s voice as he rasps (his voice is slightly modified to give him a weird echo). And while he’s reciting his verses, the gorgeous voice of Martina Topley-Bird, repeats what he’s saying in a whispered voice until she sings out the chorus “I met a Christian in Christiansands.”
The verses repeat with Tricky emphasizing, “master your language and in the meantime I create my own. It means we’ll manage.”
I honestly don’t know what the song is about, and it feels like it never properly ends–that riff, at once menacing and gripping never seems to conclude. It’s a masterful track and hard to forget once you’ve heard it.
[READ: May 11, 2013] My Struggle Book One
I read an excerpt of Book Two from this series in Harper’s. And despite the fact that nothing really happened in it, I was drawn in by the writing style. This first novel is very similar in that not a lot happens but the voice is very captivating. The translation is by Don Bartlett and it is fantastic–I can only assume the original Norwegian is just as compelling. So, despite the fact that this autobiographical series contain six books (six!) and totals over 4,000 pages (how could this be if Book one is a mere 400? Books 4-6 are over 1,000 pages each), I decided to give it a try. (Incidentally, Book Two has just been translated into English this month).
This series has caused some controversy because it is given the same title as Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Min Kamp in Norwegian), and also because he says some pretty means stuff about people who are still alive (like his ex-wife). Although there isn’t much of that in Book One.
Indeed, Book One basically talks about two things–a New Year’s Eve party when Karl Ove was youngish and, as the bracketed title indicates, the death of his father. (The title A Death in the Family is the same book as My Struggle Book One–from a different publisher. It has a totally different cover but is the same translation. I don’t quite get that). But indeed, these two events take 430 pages to write about.
How is this possible? Because Karl Ove writes about every single detail. (I assume this why the books are considered novels, because there is no way he could remember so much detail about every event). I’m going to quote a lengthy section from a New Yorker review (by James Wood) because he really captures the feeling of reading the book:
There is a flatness and a prolixity to the prose; the long sentences have about them an almost careless avant-gardism, with their conversational additions and splayed run-ons. The writer seems not to be selecting or shaping anything, or even pausing to draw breath…. There is something ceaselessly compelling about Knausgaard’s book: even when I was bored, I was interested. This striking readability has something to do with the unconventionality of “My Struggle.” It looks, at first sight, familiar enough: one of those highly personal modern or postmodern works, narrated by a writer, usually having the form if not the veracity of memoir and thus plotted somewhat accidentally, concerned with the writing of a book that turns out to be the text we are reading. But there is also a simplicity, an openness, and an innocence in his relation to life, and thus in his relation to the reader. Where many contemporary writers would reflexively turn to irony, Knausgaard is intense and utterly honest, unafraid to voice universal anxieties, unafraid to appear naïve or awkward. Although his sentences are long and loose, they are not cutely or aimlessly digressive: truth is repeatedly being struck at, not chatted up.
That idea of being bored but interested is really right on–and it may sound like a bad thing, but it’s not. You can read along thinking that there’s no way he is going to give so much unimportant detail. But you get this description of drinking a cup of tea: Continue Reading »
Posted in Agnetha Fältskog, Akron/Family, Big Books, Biography, David Bowie, Death, Don Bartlett, Drinking, Dungen, Echo & the Bunnymen, Eno Byrne, Foreign Books, Green on Red, Harper's, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Karl Ove Knausgård, New Yorker, R.E.M., Sex, Swans, Talking Heads, The Chameleons, The Police, The Stranglers, The The, Translation, Travel, Tricky, U2, Virginity (Loss of), Yuck! | Leave a Comment »
SOUNDTRACK: GOAT-”Run to Your Mama” (2012).
I was intrigued to hear this song by Goat (whom I don’t know) because of the picture below. Now that is a band photo!
Goat are a Swedish band and, like a bunch of Swedish bands recently, their guitar sound is very retro–a big open clean guitar sound. But the riffs that they play are also very retro, this song sounds incredibly 70s–classic rock/heavy metal 70s.
The lead singer is the female of the trio, and she has a great raspy voice (and I assume she does the backing vocals as well).
The song feels like it could be an epic workout (especially when the solo kicks in and it is lengthy and, apparently, on a xylophone). But right after the solo (at just under 2 and a half minutes), the song just ends. It’s fantastic and I’m looking forward to hearing more from the album.
[READ: May 12, 2013] The Sign of (the) Four
I recently found out that the Sherlock Holmes book that I was supposed to have read in high school (from a reading list that I know I read at least some of) was actually not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Rather The Seven Per Cent Solution was a relatively recent (1974) book by Nicholas Meyer. The only thing I remember from the book was learning that Holmes was an addict (and passing that news along to my mother with a tone of “see people have always been bad”).
Anyhow, in The Sign of (the) Four, the book opens with Holmes shooting up a seven per cent solution of cocaine. The reason being that the cocaine kept his brain active when he had nothing else to do. Holmes is bored, just waiting for something new to come along. But Doyle doesn’t keep us waiting long. A young woman, Mary Morstan, calls on Holmes for help with a case. Or actually more like a series of interesting puzzles. The first is the disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan in December 1878. He came home from the war and then disappeared. Holmes asks if he could be hiding, but she says no, he was very excited to come home and see her. Since he has been gone, she has been employed as a governess and the family she assists have more or less taken her in as a member of the family.
The second puzzle is that she has received in the mail one very expensive pearl a year since 1872. It always comes on the same date and the sender has remained anonymous. This all started when she answered an anonymous newspaper ad that asked about her. With the last pearl she received a letter that said she has been wronged and the sender asks to meet her. He also says that she shouldn’t come alone. So she asks Holmes and, by extension, Watson to accompany her.
Through a series of vehicles, they meet Thaddeus Sholto, a friend of Captain Morstan, who confirms that the Captain died in 1882. Sholto’s father and Captain Morgan were in the war together. Six years ago they had a fight over a treasure. During their argument, the Captain suffered a heart attack and died. Sholto’s father totally freaked out and hid both the body and the treasure. Some time later, in declining health, his father confessed his sins, but on the night he died, he saw a man out the window who later broke into the house and left a note that said The Sign of Four (incidentally, the title of the book is variously The Sign of The Four and The Sign of Four; Doyle himself had written it both ways). Thaddeus and his brother Bartholomew take over the treasure. Well, Bartholomew takes it over and allows Thaddeus to send Mary the annual pearl as a payment for what happened to her father.
On the night that the story takes place, they travel to Bartholomew’s because he is in declining health. But when they arrive, they find him dead–from a poisoned dart. And the treasure is missing. Continue Reading »
Posted in Adventure, Culture Shock, Death, Goat, Religion, Sherlock Holmes, Short Books, Violence | Leave a Comment »
SOUNDTRACK: PIÑATA PROTEST-El Valiente (2013).
On the Pogues album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, they sing a song called “Fiesta” that is more or less a punk Spanish song which, while very Spanish sounding, still retains a feeling of Irishness. Piñata Protest, a band from San Antonio who sing in Spanish and English, sounds like a similar mix of Mexico, Ireland and punk (especially on the second track, “Vato Perron”). I feel like the Ireland comes from the accordion (one of the primary instruments on the disc), while the punk lasts throughout (the whole album is 9 songs in 20 minutes).
The band plays loud guitars at a fast pace. And it’s amazing how well the accordion brings it all together.
The band sings a few really fast songs and a couple slower ones. Interestingly, the slower songs (“Tomorrow Today” and “Guadalupe”) are probably the most conventional and, consequentially, of the least interesting songs on the album. They sound like pretty typical punk pop, albeit with touches of accordion. It’s the more fast songs like “Vato Perron” and “Life on the Border” (with the great lead accordion and the fun “Hey!” refrain) which really stand out.
“Volver Volver” is a traditional song which starts out slowly (with big guitars) and after a few verses and a very long held note, the punk can’t be contained any longer and the song ends in a blur. The title track is a great rocker with some interesting guitar sounds an a cool accordion solo. Then there;s the rocking (and amusing) cover of “La Cucaracha.” It starts out as a blistering punk song with no real connection to the original until about mid way through when a lone trumpet begins laying the familiar melody. It’s only a minute long and so is the final cut “Que Pedo” which is just a blistering punk song with lots of screaming.
And with that album is done. It’s a fun an unexpected treat of an album, and if you like your punk musically diverse, it’s worth checking out (NPR is streaming it this week).
[READ: May 11, 2013] Dread & Superficiality
Sarah got me this book for my birthday. If you have ever seen Annie Hall (and if you haven’t, go watch it now), you’ve seen Woody-as-cartoon. Hample is the person who created the cartoon for the movie. Around the time that that happened, Hample was pushing Woody to have a comic strip based around him (Hample had a moderately successful strip at the time already) and also convincing newspapers that this was a good idea. All parties agreed and Inside Woody Allen ran from 1976 to 1984. 1984! I can’t believe I never saw this in a newspaper. My parents were daily subscribers to two newspapers and I know I read the comics. Of course, I didn’t care about Woody Allen until I went to college, so maybe I did see it but ignored it.
Anyhow, this book collects a bunch of those strips (I have no idea how many but I would venture around 200–which is a far cry from the nearly 3,000 that would have been produced over those years. But hey since there’s no other place to see these strips (there were three books published but they are all long out of print), this is a good place to start and a nice collection. But more than just the strips, most of the book collects the original proofs of the strips, so you can see Hample’s lines and notes (there are several pieces that deal with his color choices and notes on the same).
The book is broken down into subjects and is in no way chronological. This makes sense as it’s good to see him dealing with the same topic in different ways, but it makes for weird continuity issues (something that will obviously occur when you only select random strips). Woody is with various women over the strip and it’s hard to know if he was after Laura for a few months or the duration of the strip. Of course, the sections aren’t really all that different–they all deal with Allen’s philosophical attitude, his attempts to woo women, his therapist and his parents. However, the breakdowns, while somewhat arbitrary are enjoyable. Continue Reading »
Posted in All Songs Considered, Annie Hall, Buckminster Fuller, Death, Fears, Funny (ha ha), Inside Woody Allen, Marriage Trouble, Neurotics, Piñata Protest, Religion, Sex, Stuart Hample, The Pogues, Woody Allen | Leave a Comment »
SOUNDTRACK: GIRAFFES? GIRAFFES!-”Fucking Ants Man! Where They Coming From? (Let’s Hang The Carroll Footnoteitsists)” (2005).
I just learned that there is a band named Giraffes? Giraffes!, which is the name of a silly book published by McSweeney’s. I was so delighted to find out about this band, that I immediately went to their band camp site, where I was further delighted to find out that they are an instrumental post-rock kind of band with some great tunes. And, of course, when your songs are instrumental, you get to make up the best titles. Like this one.
There’s only two guys in the band which must mean overdubs (I hope so, otherwise they defy physics). This song starts out with a riff in what I think is 5/4 time which discombobulates for a while until it becomes a wild guitar riff (and the drums come more to the fore). While that speedy riff is going on, another more pleasant solo plays over the top. Then the song plays some really fast drums with chords that sound like mid 70s Who, which is followed by another pretty guitar solo. The end resorts back to some mild chaos and fun until it ends very prettily.
If you like post rock, give Giraffes? Giraffes! a try.
This song comes from their debut album, Superbass!!!! (Black Death Greatest Hits Vol. 1). Which you can hear here.
[READ May 5, 2013] Places, Strange and Quiet
This is a book of photographs by Wim Wenders, filmmaker extraordinaire. What I fouond very interesting about this book is that it is not a book of art (as far as I define it). It is rather a book of documentation. These pictures are not beautiful, they are not artistically arranged, they are not profound. Rather, it is the combination of picture and text that really makes the story. In some ways this becomes a book of stills from a never-to-be-made film. And as such, it’s very cool.
The first one is a picture of a family in front of a dinosaur (which looks like it is from the 1970s—huh turns out to be 1983). It is under-lit and not very impressive. Until you read the sidebar: “A picture is defined twice. When you see the whole at first glance: “A dinosaur! A family!” And then when you find a detail that changes everything…Mom reading in the backseat. He’s absolutely right.
I loved “Sun Bather” with a crazy scene of polka dotted sun benches in Palermo. Wender’s text: “Nothing exists without its opposite…But what could the opposite of this be?” To me the most profound pictures are the series Ferris Wheel from two different angles. His comment “Sometimes only the reverse angle tells the truth” is really powerful, because from one angle the Ferris Wheel shows one scene and yet from the other the background is entirely different.
I loved the wall with sink and the Armenian alphabet—although the Armenian cemetery was even more impressive. And the gorgeous gorgeous (this one is art) pictures of the islands off of Japan is simply beautiful. Continue Reading »
Posted in Culture Shock, Essays, Giraffes? Giraffes!, McSweeney's, Photo Essays, The Who, Travel, Violence, War, Wim Wenders | Leave a Comment »
SOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-”Now for Plan A” (2012).
While I was enjoying the Hip’s new album, I recognized a voice in a couple of duets. That voice is Sarah Harmer’s! I love Harmer and realized that I haven’t heard much from her lately (her last album was three years ago). I looked up to see what she’s been up to and it appears she’s been on some human rights trips, which is quite cool. But it’s nice to hear her voice again.
This is the title track to the album. It starts slow with a wah wah’d guitar. The sounds slowly build as more layers are added and after a minute Gord starts singing. By the second verse Harmer sings along with Downie–their voices complement each other very nicely, although it’s funny that in this song neither one of them is really showing of his or her chops–their vocals are mostly quiet. Although I like when it seems like Harmer is taking over in the final verse.
I don’t love Hip ballads as a rule, but this is a good one.
[READ: May 9, 2013] “Fragments”
This story is indeed about fragments.
It opens with a conversation. And it’s a pretty interesting one–about flying a helicopter over midtown Manhattan. But then that conversation ends–the protagonist was just overhearing it. We see that he is at work. And then his phone rings. His wife has butt-dialed him and he is able to hear fragments of her conversation. Although we hear only snippets, it is enough for him (although not necessarily for me) to think that she is planning on having an affair with whomever she is talking to.
This fear is not helped by the fact that she is working extra late hours on a case. She is out until very late often until he is asleep. Although in one instance he only pretends to sleep to see what she will do. She goes to sleep without waking him, which he takes as a bad sign (although honestly, what is she supposed to do wake him up to say she is going to bed?) Continue Reading »
Posted in Canadian Music, Gord Downie, Joshua Ferris, Marriage Trouble, New Yorker, Sarah Harmer, Sex, Short Story, The Tragically Hip | Leave a Comment »
SOUNDTRACK: TRAGICALLY HIP-”Man Machine Poem” (2012).
I received the new Tragically Hip album Now for Plan A a while back. I’ve listened to it a few times, but it got lost in the shuffle. Then I put this song on and it really blew me away.
It’s a very typical Hip song–guitars that build but then retreat to let Gord Downie’s voice soar above the quiet verses. There’s something agonizingly beautiful about the way he sings the verses, which almost feel like they are a capella, the music is so minimal. Then for the second verse, the band kicks in and builds the song even more.
The chorus, which is very simple and is barely a chorus at all, punctuates the verses perfectly, with Downie’s voice being a great anchor. The song doesn’t rock as hard as some Hip songs, nor is it as ballady as others, but it’s a perfect example of what the Hip do so well–a middle tempo song that is both passionate and also rocks. (Although I could do without those weird little keyboard notes that dot the end).
[READ: May 8, 2013] “Marjorie Lemke”
At first I was unhappy about this story—it seemed like it would be another story of a young girl who gets pregnant and has a shitty life. Especially when I found out the father is a junkie who has run off and that she herself was a huffer of chemical fumes. Oh boy. And for some reason I thought the story was Irish (I guess there’s lots of down on your luck Irish girl stories out there–cheeky!)
But Braunstein transcends that story but giving Marjorie a support system. Her aunt, who is very helpful (but doesn’t remove her responsibilities), and a job as a maid at a nice (but not too nice) hotel. Her daughter, Della, is small for her age, but she seems mostly healthy. And the hotel allows Marjorie to bring Della along on her cleaning cart (tucked into the clean towels). Della pretty much sleeps all day (which is good for work, but not so good for nighttime), and no one has complained about her cooing or drinking a bottle when she does wake up.
Then Marjorie knocks on a door and a man is in there—he didn’t say anything when she knocked. At first Marjorie thinks he’s masturbating, but he’s not, he’s just absorbed in the newspaper on his lap. He tells her to just go about her work, don’t mind him. So she does. He’s not cold exactly just absorbed in what he’s doing.
The next time she goes to the room, he is there again, but this time his wife is there too. She is brusque and tells Marjorie that they will be in the room for about 4 weeks—she is an inspector and has several jobs in the area. She asks that Marjorie come every two days to clean and says there will be a large tip waiting for her.
The story then jumps forward a bit. In a way that is impressionistic more than telling, we learn that Marjorie and the man, Gabe, are getting close—talking, holding hands, comforting each other. Continue Reading »
Posted in Babies, Canadian Music, Drugs, Funny (ha ha), Marriage (Happy), Marriage Trouble, New Yorker, Pregnancy, Sarah Braunstein, Sex, Short Story, The Tragically Hip | 3 Comments »
SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-File Under: Easy Listening (1994).
I always thought File Under: Easy Listening was a very funny title. But it’s possible that people took it too literally as it didn’t sell all that well. And in Mould’s autobiography he says he didn’t have much time to write songs for this disc and he thinks it suffered. Of the three Sugar discs, this is definitely the weakest, although there are some great moments on it.
The disc opens with “Gift” which has some ragged distorted guitars. It’s got some noises and grungy sounding solos showing that FU:EL was a joke. Although, the overall sound is kind of a cleaner version of the angry songs on Beaster. “Company Book” is kind of a pounder, until the voice comes in and you realize…it’s not Mould! It’s got a catchy chorus, but after the kind of underwhelming opener, it’s a strange place for a song that’s also not so dynamic. Especially when it’s followed by “Your Favorite Thing” another great pop song from Mould—not top tier but a really strong second tier (although that bright, simple guitar solo is a real winner). “What You Want It To Be” is a another decent song (the addition of that extra guitar playing the melody line really makes the song shine. “Gee Angel” is also a high point. A catchy song, but which never quite reaches the heights of the previous albums.
“Panama City Hotel” has the same feel as the opening of Beaster: bright acoustic guitars and a similar riff. But it never really goes anywhere, and the 4 minutes seem. The “do do do do’s” that open “Can’t Help You Anymore” are certainly the brightest spot on the album, and a big pop song as well. “Granny Cool” has a nicely abrasive riff although it seems kind of mean spirited. It’s funny that he tucked “Believe What You’re Saying” at the end of the album. It’s a minor song but it sounds so bright on this album after the other songs. It’s really quite pretty.
And the closer, “Explode and Make Up” is one of Mould’s great angry songs. Unlike Beaster, this one has a happy acoustic field—bnright guitars with that raging distorted guitar underneath. It’s a great slow burner of a song and at five minutes it ends a somewhat lackluster album in a great way.
[READ: March 31, 2013] McSweeney’s #20
McSweeney’s #20 is an issue that I have read before. At least I think I have. My recollection is that it was the last one I read before I started writing about them on this blog. I was hesitant to read it soon again, which is why I waited until now. And while I remember the issue itself (with all of the art), I didn’t remember the stories. So who knows if I actually read it six years ago.
Anyhow, this issue comes jam-packed with art. Every fourth page has full-color artwork on it–many of them are quite famous. It makes for a very beautiful book.
In between these artworks are a number of stories–ranging in size from 2 pages to 30-some pages. There are no letters, and the explanatory and copyright information is on the cover of the book–which would be fine, except that it is covered up by a kind of 3-D artwork. I wonder if the whole text is available anywhere?
The book also comes with a separate pamphlet–an excerpt from Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital. I intend to read the novel eventually so I didn’t read the excerpt–although maybe if I put off the novel for six years I should just read the excerpt now. Continue Reading »
Posted in Uncategorized, Funny (ha ha), Funny (strange), McSweeney's, Marriage Trouble, Short Story, The Believer, Universities, Art, Yuck!, Prison, Drinking, Kevin Moffett, Unlikable main character, Humiliation, Violence, Nazis, Death, Drugs, Bob Mould, J. Erin Sweeney, Culture Shock, Fears, Huh?, Jack Pendarvis, Jules de Balincourt, Sugar, Law, Roy Kesey, Surreal, Clare Rojas, Sarah Raymont, Susan Steinberg, Bem Jahn, Tony D'Souza, Anthony Schneider, Roderick White, Aaron Gwyn, Sam Miller, Corinna Valliantos, Franz Ackermann, Mamma Andersson, Kevin Christy, Anna Conway, Holly Coulis, Amy Cutler, Chris Duncan, Echo Eggebrecht, Niklas Eneblom, Jeff Gauntt, Angelina Gualdoni, Ernst Haeckel, Wendy Heldmann, Jason Holley, Håvard Homstvedt, Susan Logoreci, Ashley Macomber, Jacob Magraw-Mickelson, Jodie Mohr, Laura Owens, Henri Rousseau, Rachel Salomon, Andrew Schoultz, Keith Andrew Shore, Rachell Sumpter, Fred Tomaselli, Kuniyoshi Utagawa | Leave a Comment »