After Bob Mould made some solo albums, he created another band. Another trio, this one called Sugar. Sugar seems to take Mould’s poppiest elements and wrap them in a big 90s grunge sound–a sound that Mould pretty much invented in Hüsker Dü. And in many ways Sugar is not all that different from Hüsker Dü–maybe a bit less experimental and a little more commercial.
One thing I noticed about this album that, once I noticed it I couldn’t avoid it, was that when the drummer plays the cymbal (it might even be a hi hat with a tambourine on it), which he plays a lot, the tinny shimmer of that sound is so pervasive, I find it rather distracting. Or should I say it adds an almost minute level of static over the proceedings.
The disc opens with “The Act We Act,” where big grungy guitars and a simple chugga chugga riff burst out of the speakers. I love the Pixies feeling of “A Good Idea” both that up front bass and the buggy sounding guitars provide an almost false introduction to the catchy verse and chorus that’s to come. I also enjoy the unexpected break after the chorus.
It’s followed by the ringing guitars that introduce “Changes” a classic poppy rock song that is unmistakably Mould. The uneasy almost nauseating sounds at the end of the song are again like a feint in the wrong direction as “Helpless” easily the most pop song Mould has ever written comes out. Of course, as with Mould, this outrageously poppy song is all about feeling helpless.
Keyboards open the next song, “Hoover Dam” (something of a surprise for this album), which proves to be yet another big Mould single. The song is so open with multiple acoustic guitars (and that cool synth solo) and a really wild reverse guitar solo. It’s one of my favorite Mould songs and yet another example of why this album was such a huge hit.
“The Slim” brings back the darker songs that Mould is also known for. And just when you think that Mould can’t pull out another huge big single, he gives us “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” one of his great big bouncy acoustic guitar songs. It is almost obscene how catchy this song is, right down to the simple scale solo at the end. Mould has this little technique that I find irresistible where he plays a song normally and then plays two fast chord changes segueing into another section. It’s so cool.
“Fortune Teller” is a fast rocker with Mould’s trebly guitar taking the lead. “Slick” is the only song I’m not crazy about. There’s something about it that kind of slows the momentum down, which is odd for a song about a car. It’s got a real middle-period-Who feel to it, which I do like (and I really like the bridge) it just feels odd in this place in the disc. The end of the song has some snippets of chatter that could have been edited out but lend an amusing air to the final track, “Man on the Moon” which ends the disc with that same air that the rest of the album has—big guitars and Mould’s slightly distorted vocals. The solo is weirdly processed and kind of fun. The end of the track with its repeated half step has a very Beatles feel to it. And the very end of the disc has the sound of tape rewinding, an amusing nod to the digital era.
Copper Blue was Mould’s first huge success and in his book he talks about not realizing quite how huge it was until he was in the middle of it.
[READ: March 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #15
I was a little disappointed with McSweeney’s #14, but #15 was once again fantastic. This issue is a smallish hardcover (I like when their books are this size). The bottom half of the cover features a cool 2 color painting by Leif Parsons. The issue is known as the Icelandic Issue because of a few things. The first half of the book features stories by the usual suspects. Each of these stories is accompanied by an illustration of a Scandinavian rune that dates to the Viking era. The stories in the second half of the book have illustrations that are taken from Icelandic grimoires–magician’s handbooks. It is these second half stories that are all from Scandinavian authors. It’s a fascinating peek into a culture few of us probably get to read.
There’s no letters in this book, which removes some of the levity, but that’s okay. The front page has a brief story that it was being written on November 2, 2004 in New Mexico, hoping to bring some voting power to “the good guys “in this “completely fucking terrifying election.” (The bad guy eked out a victory 49.8 to 49.1). They went canvassing door to door with an Iraqi veteran named Joey (who was 21). He was very pro-Kerry and may have even convinced a young girl to vote (she thought her vote didn’t count because she was poor (!)). It really evokes the feeling on that dark night in 2004 when the iota of hope was snuffed out.
STEPHEN MILHUASER-”A Precursor of the Cinema”
I have complained in the past about stories in which an author completely makes up something fake but treats it as actual history (I know all fiction is like that but if you can imagine what I’m talking about I mean they treat it like non-fiction). And I realized after reading this story that the reason I complain about such things is because they are not done well. Milhauser, on the other hand, knocks it out of the park with this story. Even though it is completely fantastical I believed it was real for a many many pages (I couldn’t imagine HOW it was real, but I believed it was). Milhuaser writes about Harlan Crane, a painter who created paintings that actually seemed to come to life. He was part of the hyper realist movement who believed in painting things in such exquisite detail that it looked genuinely real. Later steps in the movement actually used objects in the painting to make them seem more real. But Crane made a special kind of paint which made parts of his paintings actually move. Viewers would witness a fly move from a table cloth to the apple. But how is this possible? And why is he not better known? The life of Crane is amazing and fascinating. He began creating gallery installations that were so lifelike, members of the audience could climb into the paintings! Women fainted! The police were called. And eventually, it appeared that Crane himself disappeared into one of his own paintings. This piece was outstanding, and I think I may need to track down the book that this was anthologized in.
SETH FRIED-”Lie Down and Die”
This brief story is from the point of view of a man whose father died when he was just a boy. And he believes that his father knew he would not live long after the birth of his son. It was very short and a little strange.
RODDY DOYLE-”I Understand”
Doyle is well-represented in these recent McSweeney’s and many of these short stories would go into his collections. Like this one. “I Understand” is from the point of view of an immigrant to Ireland. He works under the table as a dishwasher and at another job. He works very hard. But as we join the story in the middle we quickly learn that some very bad men have gotten to him and expect him to do things for them. We don’t know how they got him or what exactly they want him to do but they are clearly not nice. But the man has friends and one of the friends introduces him to a girl named Ailbhe (the brief discussion they have about the exotic nature of their names is wonderful). And although Ailbje seems like a one-night stand, the power of knowing that someone cares about him in this strange country makes all the difference. This was a great story. I could read Doyle all day.
JIMMY CHEN-”Hello, Charles”
Another very short piece. This one written in second person singular until the very end. It’s evocative but it’s not entirely clear what happens.
KIARA BRINKMAN-”Counting Underwater”
This was a great story about an older girl who is renting a room from a woman. The woman has a young child (and no partner) so as part of their unspoken arrangement the girl watches the boy while the woman is at work. The boy (who is about 5) and the girl who is probably 20 get along very well, but the thing the boy loves best is when the go to the girl’s mother’s house because she has a jacuzzi tub. The girl’s mother is a little forgetful and a little crazy but she treats the boy wonderfully and is nice to the girl too. There’s not a lot of plot as the story revolves around their friendship and their nice but strange relationship. I enjoyed this one a lot.
This was a strange but cool story about a man living in Asunción. He talks about all of the muggers who love here and what’s the best way to deal with them–which is to stand up to them. They are all just little punks who will stand down (unless they have a knife or a gun). And he reveals the time that a mugging introduced him to the person who would change his life forever. This story was so illogical (love does crazy things) but also oddly believable (the instructions on how to allow a knife to be removed from a person slowly over weeks, was fascinating). And the ending was a big surprise.
Another weird story. This one I liked, even though it is really surreal. It’s basically about a woman who is getting fed up with the fact that her brother keeps capturing the door to door salesmen and putting them in a pen in the backyard. They don’t ever try to flee because they want to be so persuasive that they are let go because of their skill, and they will never work together because they want to win on their own. It’s a funny look at the cutthroat world of sales but in a totally surreal setting.
This was a dark story about an ambassador to Stalin and how Stalin continually asks the ambassador to lie about a card (in a magic trick). Stalin’s men will, of course, lie for him. The lies continue and the outcome grows more and more gruesome. Despite the simplicity and the darkness of the story it was really good.
This was a surreal series of vignettes, which I’m not even sure are a story per se, but there are so many great moments in it that I really enjoyed it. Like the lard-and-hair sandwich. Or phrases that are turned into great names like Studio Becalmed (who had a thing for Jayne Mansfield) and Constant Rectitude. Or that Sugar Ray Robinson was really named Raymond Cream [not true] and the grotesqueness of the word oleomargarine.
Another strange story. In this one a woman finds and cares for an elephant. She clothes the elephant and convinces him to walk on two legs. But what happens when the elephant meets his own kind? As I said, weird, but strangely compelling.
NIRNA ANNA BJÖRNSDÓTTIR-”The Season of the Jólabókaflóðið: Introduction to the Icelandic Stories
She says that they claim that everyone in Iceland is a writer and that about 1,000 books are published each year (not bad for a population of 290,000). Even the prime minister published two books of stories while in office. And all the books come out in November–the Christmas book flood. She also mentions how McSweeneys’ has been printed by Oddi in Rekyavik for years and how this seems to tie everything together nicely.
SJÓN-”Fridrik and the Eejit” from a novella called Skugga-Baldur [translated by Victoria Cribb]
This is told as an ancient tale as the eejit arrives to take away the latest coffin that Fridrik has made. But this coffin contains Fridrik’s girl Abba. Abba whom Halfdan loved. The story looks back on how Abba came to be there, why she was called that and how she and Halfdan made it work. I’m very curious about the rest of this story.
GYRÐIR ELÍASSON-”Seven Stories” [translated by Susan Pitts, except "The Night Light" translated by Janice Balfour]
These stories come from two collections of Elíassonj’s short stories. These include “The Attic,” “Rain,” “The House at the Bottom of the Field,” “Summer,” “The Night Light,” “Borderline,” “Night,” “The Book Collection.” Each was short
BRAGI ÓLAFSSON-”My Room” [translated by Victoria Cribb]
I loved this story. A man returns to his childhood apartment when he learns that it is for sale. He wants to look around so he pretends he’s interested in buying it. He sees that some things remained but many things have changed. However, when he asks to see his old room, the owner of the house refuses and clearly there is more here than meets the eye. A weird but wonderful story. Bragi was the bass player in The Sugarcubes.
EINAR MÁR GUÐMUNDSSON-”Uninvited” from the novel Knights of the Spiral Stair [translated by Bernard Scudder]
I loved this story. It is written from the point of view of precocious boy. He hits his friend Oli on the head with his father’s hammer and he gets in trouble (justifiably). But then he learns that he has been uninvited from Oli’s birthday party (always the best party in town) and he plans different ways to get back into Oli’s good graces. It is if full of cunning and humor and was really great. I can’t imagine how it was turned into a full novel, but I’d love to read it.
HALLGRÍMUR HELGASON-”America” from the novel The Author of Iceland [translated by David McDuff]
This story was a little confusing. It made sense in the end but it was hard to follow. On the shore at Tangi in 1889, Aldalbjörg Ketilsdóttir is on a boat with her family bound for America. But at the last minute she rushes back on shore and asks a man to marry her. The man is actually interested in someone else so Aldalbjörg has but a few minutes to plead her case. What will happen? I wonder if there is any basis to this story.
ÞÓRARINN ELDJÁRN-”A Rush of Wings” [translated by Victoria Cribb]
This is the story of a young girl who is picked up by an eagle. She was overprotected an coddled as a baby and was often yelled at if she strayed from where her mother could see her. So you can imagine what would happen if she was found flying away in the talons of an eagle. Some seamen rescue her but no one believes her story.
GUÐBERGUR BERGSSON-”A Room Underground” from the novel The Tormented Love That Lives in the Depths of the Soul [translated by Bernard Scudder]
It took me a few pages to realize that the man in the story was looking to get a new apartment to share with his boyfriend. As the story begins it is a man looking to get an inconspicuous room (and there’s a funny story about a man who rented a bedroom in one building and a kitchen in another and a hallway in a third to avoid suspicion). But it slowly becomes apparent that this man wants this room for discrete rendezvous. And then we learn that both men are married. The narrator fells more and more blown off by his lover and we see the paranoia build up. I wonder if this was the beginning or the end of the novel and I am curious as to what else happens in this story. I actually found the excerpt a little long-feeling (many diary entries at the end were similar), so I’m not sure that I would really enjoy a whole novel of it.
BIRNA ANNA BJÖRNSDÓTTIR, ODDNÝ STURLUDÓTTIR, AND SILJA HAUKSDÓTTIR-”Nerve City” from as novel Dís [translated by Birna Anna Björnsdóttir]
This is the story of a Dís, a girl who begins going to the University of Iceland but discovers that it is much harder than she thought. Of course, she was more interested in becoming a student than actually studying. After several pages of mocking and hating the students (in the two subjects she tries) it seems like this is the end of a chapter in her life and the beginning of a new one. I’m confused as to why there are three authors, but I would love to track down the novel.
ANDRI SNŒR MAGNASON-”Interference” from LoveStar a novel [translated by Victoria Cribb]
This was a bizarre and interesting story. It opens with the information that the arctic terns failed to find their way home and that butterflies are off course. People realize that all of the signals that we are transmitting through the air are confusing the natural world. Although scientists dispute this and say it cannot be so, more and more people believe in the corrupting influence of microwaves and other invisible signals. So cell phone calls become suspicious acts. Then a group of like-minded people in Reykjavik form LoveStar and they learn to transmit sounds, images and messages between humans using birdwaves that are harmless. But corporations also took advantage of this and people began being wireless advertisers shouting their messages at people. This is a fascinating story, looking at modern life and culture and criticizing not only it but also people’s reactions to it. I’d like to read this whole novel.
I really enjoyed these Icelandic stories quite a bit. I’m actually surprised, and a little bummed that McSweeney’s didn’t agree to publish the full- length novels, as many of them seem to be unavailable in the states.
This issue also came with a bonus pocket-mag—culled from actual Icelandic magazines—chronicling the glossy doings of Reykjavík’s starriest stars. I didn’t have my mag any more–if I ever even owned it. But the nice folks at McS sent me a new copy which I’ll talk about soon.
For ease of searching, I include: Birna Anna Bjornsdottir, Sjon, Bragi Olafsson, Einar Mar Guomundsson, Hallgrimur Helgason, Poragrinn Eldjarn, Oddny Sturludottir, Silja Hauksdottir, Andri Snoer Magnason, Jolabokaflodid, Aldalbjorg Ketilsdottir