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may20014SOUNDTRACK: CRYPTOPSY-”Slit Your Guts” (1996).

cryptI had never heard of this band until I saw the song mentioned in the article.  The song is impossibly fast with speeding guitars, super fast (inhuman) drums and an indecipherable growl as vocal.  In other words, a typical cookie monster metal song.  And yet, there is a lot more to it and, indeed it took me several listens before I could even figure out what was happening here, by which time I had really fallen for the song.

There’s a middle section which is just as punishing and fast but which is basically an instrumental break–not for showing off exactly but for showcasing more than the bands pummel.  It has a short guitar solo followed by a faster more traditional solo (each for one measure, each in a different ear). Then the tempo picks up for an extended instrumental section.  The melody is slightly more sinister, but it sounds great.  There’s even a (very short) bass solo that sticks out as a totally unexpected (and fun) surprise.

Then the growls come back in, staying with the new melody.  The vocals are so low and growly that they are almost another distorted instrument rather than a voice.

After that there’s a lengthy proper guitar solo.  As the song comes to a close,  it repeats some previous sections before suddenly halting.  It’s quite a trip. And it definitely makes me want to hear more from them (whatever their name means).

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives”

Robbins, who is a poet, but about whom I know little else, takes us on a sort of literary tour of heavy metal.  His tone is interesting–he is clearly into metal, like in a big way (at the end of the article he talks about taking his writing students to see Converge (although he doesn’t exactly say why)), but he’s also not afraid to make fun of the preposterousness of, well, most of the bands–even the ones he likes.  It’s a kind of warts and all appreciation for what metal is and isn’t.  many people have written about metal from many different angles, so there’s not a lot “new” here, but it is interesting to hear the different bands discussed in such a thoughtful (and not just in a fanboy) way.

His first footnote is interesting both for metal followers and metal disdainers: “Genre classification doesn’t interest me.  Listen to Poison Idea’s Feel the Darkness followed by Repulsion’s Horrified and tell me the main difference between hardcore punk and metal isn’t that one has a bullshit positive message and one has a bullshit negative message.”

But since Robbins is a poet, he is interested in metal’s connection to poetry.  And in the article he cites William Blake (of course), but also Rilke and John Ashbery and (naturally) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Shelley, Lord Byron and Charles Baudelaire.  He talks about them not because they are cool poets, but because they have also talked about because of metal’s “most familiar trope…duh, Satanism, which might be silly–okay, its’ definitely silly, but has a distinguished literary pedigree”.  Besides, he notes that Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost (and I note that just as Judas has the best songs in Jesus Christ Superstar).

But sometimes this Satanism turns into a  form of paganism which then turns into nature worship.  From Voivod’s “Killing Technology” to black metal’s romanticism of nature (sometimes to crazy extremes–but that’s what a band needs to do to stand out sometimes).  Metal is all about the dark and primordial, a”rebuke to our soft lives.”

And yet, as a poet, Robbins has some quibbles with metal: Continue Reading »

may20014SOUNDTRACK: “Elementary, My Dear” (1973).

elemYou have to have a particularly cruel heart if you don’t love School House Rock.

All of the songs, well, most of the songs, are super catchy and by golly if you don’t learn a lot.

And they attack problems in an interesting way.  The premise of using Noah’s Ark to show how to multiply by 2 is genius.

You’ll get that “elementary, my dear” section stuck in your head.  But I’m also impressed at the way the song goes into unexpected chords for “you get an even number.” And I love the way Bob Dorough really gets into it (whooping it up at the end).

Few people would think that the 2 times table is hard, but man is it fun to sing along to.

This song is not as popular as some of the other ones, but it’s still great

[READ: April 14, 2014] “A Study in Sherlock”

A while back I wrote a post about Sherlock Holmes on TV (Sherlock and Elementary) and in the movies (Sherlock Holmes).  I had read a few stories and so I did a brief comparison of the shows.  Since then while I have continued to believe that Sherlock is the better show, I have really grown to appreciate Elementary a lot more.  They almost seem incomparable because they are so very different in structure and intent.  Elementary has actually been a little more satisfying lately because it has so many more episodes that it allows the characters to develop and fail in interesting ways–something that the three episodes of Sherlock simply won’t do.

Laura Miller has done a similar thing with this article.  Although in fairness she did a lot more research than I did and talks a lot more about the original books and stage and early film adaptations, and she talks a lot less about the TV shows.  And no she doesn’t cite my post.

This was an enjoyable piece because it goes beyond the commonly known elements of Conan Doyle–how he did not like Holmes and tried to kill him off twice, that he wanted to write more important fiction–and into what Holmes was like after Doyle was finished with him.  Holmes has entered the public domain in both England and America, and so he is basically free for everyone to use, much like a classic myth or a fairy tale.  The big difference is that we know his origins.

What I especially enjoyed was that so many things that we think of as quintessential Holmes are actually not from Doyle.  His deerstalker hat was added by a book illustrator but is never mentioned in the text.  The calabash pipe came a decade later when a stage actor used it so that the audience could still see his face.  Conan Doyle was still alive while these changes were being made.  Indeed, when a play of Sherlock Holmes was written, the playwrite called and asked if he could give the man a love interest and Conan Doyle replied, “Marry him, murder him or do what you like with him.” Continue Reading »

may20014SOUNDTRACK: EXHAUST-Enregistreur [CST 021] (2002).

exhaust2While Exhaust’s debut was a mixed affair, their follow up really showed some great improvement.  The band feels more unified, there aren’t any single songs that were remixed (which stand out in a bad way), rather the remixing was done throughout the songs.  And, best of all there’s a lot more of that spooky bass clarinet.

The album feels more organic, “Gauss” opens with waves of music setting a mood until about a minute into track 2 “Behind The Water Tower” when the drums kick in the atmospherics gains urgency. “Voiceboxed” has a feeling of contemporary Portsihead which is neat from an album that came out almost a decade earlier.  This one has some samples of commercials , but they’re a little low in the mix so its hard to make them out. Although the spoken word part that swirls around your head is very cool and a little startling. (Headphones are a must for this album). There’s also a funny standup routine (yes, in the middle of the song)—wonder who it is.

“Ice Storm” opens with a sampled piano & a lot of static.  It morphs into a lengthy play/commercial/PSA by Heathrow Wimbledon and is called “The Maternal Habitat.”  I can’t find anything else about it online.  It’s rather fun to listen to, although when the skit is done, the music becomes strangely slow and the last two minutes (of 9) go on too long.  It bleeds into “Dither” which is mostly sampled voices and more commercials.  I love this Negativland kind of pastiche

“Behind the Paint Factory” mirrors “Water Tower” in that the drums kick in after 2 minutes and the song sounds great.  “My Country is Winter” is mostly tape manipulations including a screaming guitar solo that runs around your head.  “Silence Sur la Plateau” returns to that sort of ominous Portishead vibe with the sound of loud crinkling plastic as its main “music.”  There’ also a lengthy silence in the track which seems rather pointless to me.  The album ends much like it began with “Degauss” which is mostly clarinet solo and atmospheric sounds

It’s much better than their debut but still feels like they could have made a tighter album if they’d gotten rid of some (but not all) of the nonsense.

[READ: December 1, 2012] “The There There”

I have enjoyed Nelson’s stories in the past, and I feel like it’s time to find a collection of hers (and I see she has a lot, too).

What I especially enjoyed about this one was the way the title was used in the story and also the way it encompassed the main character in a way that was unrelated to the way it was used in the story.  In the first instance, the family is on vacation and they overhear some tourists asking “Where the hell are we?” while standing in front of the Colosseum.  The son explains that’s “like not seeing the Grand Canyon until you fell in it, like it’s the there there.”

The story is about a family–a mother, a father, and two sons.   It opens with the sons and the mother discussing the perfect murder.  The husband disapproves of the discussion but only indicates this with a cleared throat.  We see that Caroline, the mother, was imagining her husband when she was describing her murder.

While the story is basically about the mother (although told in third person), it flits back and forth to the other family members and how their behavior affects her.  First we see that their oldest son, having gone off to college, has fallen in love with his landlady–a woman with children older than him.  Caroline is appalled at this especially when Drew reveals that she’s not all that pretty, that he would have chosen one of those daughters. Continue Reading »

may20014SOUNDTRACK: EXHAUST-Exhaust [CST 004] (1998).

exhaustExhaust’s self titled album was another early release from Constellation (disc number 4).  At this point Godspeed You Black Emperor had not defined the label’s sound yet (correctly or incorrectly), so we get Exhaust.  Aidan, who is 1-Speed Bike, which did not have very good drums, is the drummer for Exhaust.  And man, the drums are awesome here.  The drums are again, loud, and they have a great live feel to them–the beats are funky and different and while they anchor what’s going on they in no way keep things settled.

The rest of the band includes a bass, a guitar, a bass clarinet and samples.  The samples just aren’t loud enough anywhere on the album.  It’s a shame–you simply can’t really hear them, which I guess is the point, but then what’s the point of having them?  So the first song, “A History of Guerrilla Warfare” is interesting (again, those drums!), but it’s in song two “Metro Mile End” when that bass clarinet comes out that it totally rules. The third song “Homemade Maggot Beer” is a 20 second hardcore song with just drums and feedback.  Song 4 “We Support Iran in Their Bid to Win the 1998 World Cup” is a remix by 1-Speed Bike, and after listening to the full length 1-Speed Bike, it sounds like it– a little dull, a little slow and nowhere near as dynamic as the album.  And it has such a good title too.

“Two Years On Welfare” has louder samples–you can hear a kind of political rant going on, but it seems like it could have been used better.  But around 1;30 the sounds get really interesting.  Track six, “This Is Our (Borrowed) Equipment” is another 1-Speed Bike remix, and it is mostly drums again.  “Wool Fever” makes good use of harmonics and drums although it goes on a bit too long.  The 8th song, “A Medley Of Late Night Buffet Commercials” is the final 1-Speed Bike remix.  Unlike the others I really like this one.  True, I wish the song was more akin to what the title says, but the drums are funky and hammering and sound great.  “Winterlude” is 40 seconds of squealing radio sounds before the final track reintroduces us to that great clarinet.  “The Black Horns Of H2T” reminds us how good this album can sound.

So it’s a mixed bag, but the highs are definitely high.

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Humor”

This article appeared in the December 1958 issue of Harper’s magazine.  Mark Twain made over 100 contributions to the magazine (geez).  I have often thought that Twain is an author I need to read more of.  But when I hear he has contributed over 100 articles to Harper’s alone, my mind reels at the output.

Anyhow, this is an article about repetition in the art of humor.  Interestingly, he relates a story that happened forty years before writing this.  So the occasions of the joke he tells was in 1918!  Woah.

The article talks about the first and second lectures that he ever gave.  The first was a success but he was concerned about the second as he had very little in the way of humor to warm up the audience.  He decided to make use of an anecdote that everyone in San Francisco had heard many times and were undoubtedly sick of.  It had been overdone as long as five years ago.  But he decided that he would simply tells the very overdone story over and over until people started to laugh (the precursor of Saturday Night Live, obviously). Continue Reading »

gorey SOUNDTRACK: 1-SPEED BIKE-Droopy Butt Begone [CST 014] (2000).

1speed1-Speed Bike is a remix project by Adian Girt who has played in Godspeed You Black Emperor and Exhaust for Constellation Records.  This is his first release as 1-Speed Bike.  He has released several more on other labels but I haven’t heard any of them.

The most interesting thing about this disc are the titles of the songs.  And those titles are so clever that it gives one high hopes for the album.  I don’t know who Mauro and Elwy are (track 1) but the rest are certainly interesting if not confrontational.

1. The Day That Mauro Ran Over Elwy Yost
2. Seattle/Washington/Prague 00/68 Chicago/Nixon/Reagan Circle-Fighting Machine
3. Yuppie Restaurant-Goers Beware Because This Song Is For The Dishwasher
4. Just Another Jive-Assed White Colonial Theft
5. Why Are All The Dogs Dying Of Cancer?
6. My Kitchen Is Tiananmen Square
7. Any Movement That Forgets About Class Is A Bowel Movement

But what’s disappointing is that the album is comprised almost entirely of a drum machine and some other sounds.  The drums are very very loud in the mix, and there’s very little variation in each song (which befits a remix, I suppose).  And yet, the “musical” section is largely nonexistent.  There’s a lot of spoken word stuff, which is fun, but it also seems randomly thrown on there. The disc opens with him asking someone to be quiet because he has to flush the toilet.  There’s a lengthy declaration of love for his family and war against capitalism.  And that everyone else can fuck off if they don’t want to hear him talk politics.

There are samples sprinkled around the disc, but most of them are inaudible or played with so much that it renders them hard to figure out.  There are some interesting sounds in “My Kitchen is Tienanmen Square,” but the rest is kind of dull.  The end of the last song offers a voice mail message that gives you the title of the album.

Overall, not an exciting debut for 1-Speed Bike.

[READ: April 12, 2014] The Strange Case of Edward Gorey

I bought this book many years ago when I was on an Alexander Theroux kick (which actually means I wanted to read some of his books but did not, although I do hope to).  Anyhow, this book has been staring at me for some time so I decided to just dive in.  I actually know precious little about Theroux except that his novel are supposed to be weird or difficult or something.  I know slightly more about Edward Gorey, although little more than his drawing style (which I love) and his sense of humor (which I share).

So this book is a sort of a biography of Gorey by Theroux.  Theroux was one of Gorey’s close friends.  This is saying something because as a rule Gorey was rather a recluse and didn’t much like people (he did like cats, though).  The book is not a proper biography–a biography of his works or even of his life.  It is more of a biography of the man and his quirks.  There’s very little about his childhood, and not a lot about his books (except for Theroux’s admiration).  But mostly its about what it was like to hang out with Gorey–and to delight in the baroque and fun turns of phrase that Gorey used.

We learn a lot about what he liked (soap operas, classic movies [Metropolis, M, Sunrise, Gold Digger series], obscure horror films [The Town That Dreaded Sunrise, Women of Straw, Suspiria (at least I've heard of that one)], TV shows [The X-Files, The Golden Girls, Matlock, Buffy the Vampire Slayer] and of course, classic literature [he was well versed in many original languages].  We also learn what he most assuredly did not like.  He did not like Star Wars, he did not like Mel Brooks, he did not like Robert Altman or Woody Allen [Gorey was a film critic for a time].  And as for our foremost actress, Meryl Streep, he has this to say:

“Oh please!” said he, every time she opens her mouth, the critics insist Dostoevsky’s speaking!” He paused. “And who’s even dippier is Glenn Close. Sexless as a teabag. Neither man, not woman, nor in-between! Julia Roberts’s face looks like it’s made of rubber — remember those Snap, Crackle and Pop cartoon faces? And of course Streisand. God help us, I won’t even go to see.”  Gorey loathed her with a passion, even more than John Waters does.  I once heard him fulminate for a good half-hour on the impossible stupidity of her 1962 hit, “People,” a song that, with its mawkish, politically correct soul-sharing, shrinkingly embodies to a T everything that Edward Gorey utterly loathed:  “Pee-pull, pee-pull who need pee-pull are the luuu-kiest pee-pull in the wooooooorld!.”  I cannot honestly think of a single sentiment that would have driven Edward Gorey battier faster than the flaccid lyrics of that song with its, to him, canasta-closeness, hideous interconnectedness, and ultimate meaninglessness.

He also hated Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Marquis de Sade’s writing, right-wing talk show hosts, every movie Al Pacino ever made [Of Bobby Deerfield he cried out during the movie, "oh for Christ's sake...what is this in aid of?"] and Martha Stewart.  And while he had great disdain for Barbra Walters and Maya Angelou, he was especially appalled by “the invincible vulgarity of the preposterous Kathie Lee Gifford and the host of miniature faces she was constantly pulling” (20) saying: “her facial contortions would be excessive on Daffy Duck” (44).

One thing to note about the book.  As you can see form the page numbers above, similar sentiments about Gifford are on page 20 and 44.  Theroux tends to circle back onto the same topics a number of times.  So the same names tend to pop up three or four times (Buffy comes up at least 3).  It feels like Theroux (who published this soon after Gorey died) wrote it in fits and just needed to get down as much as possible.  And while the book feels repetitive, it never feels flaccid or like it’s full of padding.  It just feels like a huge outpouring of information.  Or like an essay collections by a person who tends to revisit similar material.

Interestingly, the book isn’t necessarily for fans of Gorey.  I honestly haven’t read any of his works in years, but I found this book funny and strangely cathartic (if you like bitchy, opinionated scholar-types).  If any of the above appeals, you’ll get a kick of out Gorey, whether you like his drawings or not.  The book is also full of Gorey’s drawings (although nothing new), from his books and from some of his posters.

I was also intrigued by the fact that Gorey, clearly no friend of people, did not shy away from the outside world.  He lived on Cape Cod and New York City where his number was in the phone book the whole time.  He walked around Manhattan in a big beard and fur coat (until he gave up the coat for animal rights reasons).  When he moved full time to Cape Cod, he lived in a residential area and did not turn away any fans (he always had manners even if he knew the whole thing was kind of silly).  And apparently his house was simply chock full of fascinating geegaws and gimcracks.

For all of his proclamations about others, he did not have a large ego about his own work.  And the book gives the impression that he was just an opinionated guy who knew what he liked and was happy to share his thoughts with others (or his cats).

I just found out that Theroux reissued this book in 2011 and updated it from 68 pages (my version) to 168 pages.  I don’t know how much has changed.  In looking online it seems like maybe all he has done is make the original pictures larger, but there may be other textual changes as well.

 

polinaSOUNDTRACK: SOFA-Grey [CST 002] (1997).

greyIt’s not nice to compare bands to other bands, because it seems like they are copying the original. But since I just mentioned Slint the other day, I thought it worthwhile to mention Sofa today. They have similar sensibilities—noisy guitars, spoken/screamed vocals and a decidedly quiet feel.

I love the way this disc opens with the song “On/Off”—it has a simple bass with syncopated drums. And then the buizziest buzz saw guitar thrown in counterpoint notes. And then the singer comes in, sounding like Joy Division never went away.  The song builds into a cool noise and then backs off again. But song two, “CH. 2 Chi.” changes everything—a blistering punk song with super fast chaotic drums and fast vocals. The guitars are again punctuating rather than keeping melody. And when it plays the two high chords it adds incredible tension. “Monotone” begins a simple song of two notes (and some great noisy guitars). The vocals are less Joy Divison and more spoken punk. But each verse adds something new to the music, which gets more complex. “Current” has a more conventional post-rock sound—buzzy guitars and quiet vocals. It’s a good calming moment.

“80 000” has a slow menacing vibe. It builds a few times into some really noisy chaotic sections, where the guitars are willfully out of tune—and all the while the spoken word lyrics are quiet enough to make you lean in closer. “Red Lake” is another slow number (they could maybe have used a faster one by this point), but I really like the riff and the way the guitars play off of it. And there’s an actual hummable chorus too.

The fast noise comes back on “Comma” with a frenetic guitar line and pummeling bass. Even the stop/start of the chorus are frenetic. And when the song occasionally slows down, the guitars still punctuate with astonishing noise. “The Fence” opens with a cool bass riff and simple but interesting drums. “Travel” is a slow song that opens with just guitar notes and spoken/sung lyrics. I don’t care for these more atmospheric songs (especially when they push 6 minutes) but the band does it well. “Stress” follows this. This is the shortest song on the disc just under 3 minutes of furious mayhem. “Medicine Hat” ends the disc with another slower song, but this one has a lot of interesting components, like the bass and guitar line that interweaves throughout the song.

This was Constellation Records second release (Ian, who plays guitar, co-founded Constellation).  Sofa broke up around the time of this release, which is a shame as it was a good one. I’d like to hear more from them (they have some earlier records with unknown availability).

[READ: April 5, 2014] Polina

This was a simple and enjoyable graphic novel about a young ballerina who grows up in the world of ballet.  (I admit I was attracted to the title because I thought it might be about Olympic figure skater Polina Edmunds who I remembered primarily because the name Polina which was unusual to me–it is not about her).

It is a bout a fictional ballet dancer.  When we first meet young Polina, she looks so tiny in the back seat of the car as she is driven to class.  And her teacher, Mr Bojinsky looks like such a large man next to her–with his full beard and large hands.  He is an intimidating figure and all of the girls are afraid of him.  And yet, it is an honor to be even considered by him.

So when Polina unexpectedly gets chosen for his class, she is elated and fearful at the same time.  At first Bojinsky seems really mean and the way his hand more or less covers her whole chest as he gets her into place portended all kinds of things.  But rest assured, and perhaps this is a spoiler, but if is, it is one that I would like to know–nothing bad like that happens to Polina.  Phew. She is not molested, or raped or left dying in an alley. It’s not that kind of story.  Rather, it is the story of a young girl trying to make it as a dancer. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: stickman2JUSTIN ROBERTS-”Pop Fly” (2008).

popflyThis is a wonderful pop song from Justin Roberts.  Roberts is regarded as a top-notch children’s song writer.  I hadn’t heard him before, but i was totally sold by this one.

It’s a poppy almost dancey song–it certainly makes you want to move around, anyway.  There’s a catchy acoustic guitar and a fast beat and Roberts’ voice is really solid and warm.  Interestingly I didn’t even realize this song was about baseball when I heard it on the radio (I missed the song title).  I was totally hooked by the pa pa pa pa pa pa chorus.

And there’s a great third section of the song that changes the mood but not the tempo.  This reminds me a bit of Ralph’s World, but a bit…more full, perhaps?  Or maybe like something from Phineas and Ferb.  I’m going to have to check out more from him.

Oh, and the video, while cheaply made, is quite funny when the chorus kicks in.

[READ: April 8, 2014] Stickman Odyssey, Book 2

I enjoyed Book 2 of this series more than Book 1. It felt like it had a little more plot and was a little less slavish to the original myths.  or maybe I just like quests.

The story starts in the middle, with Nestor having captured Zozimos and having tied him up for failing to avenge Sticatha (which was Nestor’s plan all along).  He says that Zozimos has been doing nothing all this time. But Zozimos says no, he has been on an epic adventure.

Which brings us to where book one left off.

Praxis (the strongest man in the world) Atrukos (a guy who looks like a frog) and Zozimos set off to find a piece of the sky.  In book one, Praxis had knocked a piece of the sky out when he hurled a cyclops at it.  He wanted to retrieve it to prove to his love that he was actually a worthwhile person.  This story is left all of a sudden (in a very funny way) so they can help Atrukos with the witch who cursed him before Book 1 even started.  That’s when Nestor captured Zozimos, as he was on his way to help Atrukos. Continue Reading »

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