SOUNDTRACK: PETER, BJORN & JOHN-Living Thing (2009).
After the raging (relative) success of Writer’s Block, with their crazily catchy whistling song, “Young Folks”, PB&J could have gone in any direction.
And I was quite surprised when the opening song of this follow up (actually, there’s an instrumental disc in between) opened with single note and drum sounds and virtually a capella vocals. But unlike a typical a capella song, the thudding notes were kind of dissonant and unpleasant. And there wasn’t much more to the song than that.
Even the second song starts out starkly. A single piano note plays a simple riff. The verse kicks in with some simple electronic drums (and again minimal accompaniment). And this sparseness is the main musical theme on the disc.
And I have to say it took almost a half a dozen listen before I really enjoyed what they were doing. They are eschewing the pop structure that won them popularity and they’re shifting their melodies to the vocal lines rather than the instruments (I guess). It’s a risky proposition, but it pays off.
Take “Nothing to Worry About.” It opens with what sounds like a distorted children’s choir singing the chorus at full volume. But then it settles down into, again, a simple drum and vocals song with just a hint of instrumentation. (Did they get all their music out on the instrumental? I don’t know I’ve not heard it). Even the title track is sparse guitar noises and clicked drums. But, man, is it catchy (it reminds me in a weird way of Paul Simon).
And then, continuing my contention that the best and catchiest songs always have curses in them, “Lay It Down” with the chorus, “Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you’re starting to piss me off” will stick in your head for days.
The end of the disc (the last three songs) are considerably mellower. They’re less catchy, but they use the starkness very well.
Initially I really didn’t like this album. It had none of the immediacy of the previous disc. But I found myself really enjoying it. I wouldn’t want all of their albums to sound like this, but it was an enjoyable twist on a good formula.
[READ: October 7, 2010] Garden State
I mentioned the other day that I just found out about this book when looking up information about Rick Moody. I was so excited to read a book set in Haledon (two towns from where I grew up) that I checked it out and begin it immediately (it’s only 200 pages, so that helped too). But I have to say I was really disappointed with the book (even if it did win the Editor’s Book Award).
My first gripe is about the supposed setting in New Jersey. I have no problem with fictionalizing an area. Writers do it all the time. But Moody fictionalizes the area in two ways to suit his thesis, and as a lover of New Jersey and a former resident of the region, I found the lack of reality to be very upsetting.
The first minor, and I have to say really weird thing is that despite the real towns included (Haledon, Paterson, Paramus) he makes up towns nearby–Fleece, Tyre– and he makes up a river–The Dern River. He also plays around with the names of the highways that run through the state, constantly referring to the non-existent Garden State Thruway. Now, again, there’s no problem with making things up, but nobody in the story ever goes to Fleece or Tyre, the Dern River doesn’t come into play aside from being a river that people refer to (it’s not a renamed Passaic river, because that’s included in the story, too). So, why make up random town names? Why say that you drive from Haledon to the edge of Paterson near Boonton, when that is not geographically correct (or relevant to the story)? It just seems like he didn’t have access to a map. (more…)
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