Posted in Adrian Tomine, Africa, Alex Robinson, Alison Bechdel, All Songs Considered, Anarchy, Ander Nilson, Archer Prewitt, Art Spiegelman, Ben Katchor, Books about music, Books about writers, Boredom, Bud Fischer, Bust, Canadian Content, Charles Burns, Charles Schulz, Chester Brown, Chip Kidd, Chris Ware, Chris Ware, Collecting, Comic Strips, Consumerism, Corporate skewering, Culture Shock, Daniel Clowes, David Collier, David Heatley, David Lasky, Death, Debbie Dreschler, Depression, Dreams, Drinking, Drugs, Essays, Esther Pearl Watson, Excerpt, Funny (ha ha), Funny (strange), Gary Panter, Gay/Lesbian, Ghosts, Gilbert Hernandez, Gilbert Shelton, Glen David Gold, Graphic Novel, History, HOB, Huh?, Ira Glass, Ivan Brunetti, Jaime Hernandez, Jeffrey Brown, Jesse Reklaw, Joe Matt. Seth, Joe Sacco, Joel Priddy, John McLenan, John Porcellino, John Updike, John Woodring, Jonathan Bennett, Julie Doucet, Justin Hall, Kaz, Kim Deitch, Kurt Wolfgang, Lili Carré, Lloyd Dangle, Louis Reil, Lynda Barry, Malachi B. Cohen, Mark Beyer, Mark Newgarden, Marriage Trouble, Masturbation, McSweeney's, Memoirs, Michael Chabon, Military, Milt Gross, Oddities, Olivia Schanzer, Parts & Labor, Philip Guston, R. Crumb, Rebecca Dart, Richard McGuire, Richard Sala, Rick Geary, Rodolphe Töpffer, Ron Rege, S. Kierkegaard, Seth Tobocman, Sex, Short Story, Sonic Youth, Supernatural, Surreal, Tim Samuelson, Tom Hart, Violence, Virginity (Loss of), War, William Faulkner, World Cafe Live on January 29, 2013 |
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SOUNDTRACK: PARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).
Parts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers. This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated. Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge. The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals. By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects). It’s an aggressive opening for sure. Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then ”Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.
“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes). It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals. The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song very cool.
“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up. ”Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars. ”Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what they wanted anyhow?). The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise). The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.
The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos. Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks. If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy. It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.
[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13
I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time. Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it. It only took eight years. For this is the fabled comics issue. Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover. Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.” And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything. On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares. It’s quite cool.
So, yes, this issue is all about comics. There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists. But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods. It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me! Angst fills these pages. Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor. A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.
There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby. But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes. There’s also two introductions. One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do). And the other by Ware. Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here. I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)
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Posted in Franz Kafka, Grateful Dead, Harper's, Huh?, John Cullen, Megafaun, Philippe Claudel, Translation, World Cafe Live, WXPN 88.5 FM--Philadelphia, PA on April 24, 2012 |
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SOUNDTRACK: MEGAFAUN-Live from the World Cafe, November 9, 2011 (2011).
I loved the Megafaun song “Get Right,” a trippy 8 minute workout. So I was interested to hear them in this live setting. There’s a lengthy interview with WXPN’s Michaela Majoun (full of all kinds of details about Bon Iver–whom they used to play with before they broke up and he became Bon Iver–and about, North Carolina and Wisconsin and lutefisk). And the band plays three songs, too.
“Real Slow” opens with a banjo (and it is real slow). It has a very Grateful Dead feel to it and beautiful harmonies. After the freak out of “Get Right” I was quite surprised to hear such a traditional folky song from them. “Second Friend” is a but more upbeat–bright guitars and more beautiful harmonies. It’s a simple song. “State/Meant” has a bit more electric guitar, but it continues in the folkie vein.
I admit I didn’t enjoy this set as much as I expected. The songs were really nice, but they didn’t really push any envelopes sonically, especially compared to “Get Right.” But at the same time, what they do, they do very well.
You can hear it here.
[READ: April 23, 2012] “The Investigation”
This is an excerpt from a novel called The Investigation which is coming out in English (translated by John Cullen) in July.
I don’t know what the story is all about because this excerpt is really bizarre and wonderful, but it’s certainly not any indication of what the storyline will be. However, it is a huge indication (I imagine) of what the story will be like.
The word “Kafkaesque” is thrown around a lot (well, in my house it is anyhow), but this excerpt is really and truly Kafkaesque. The Investigator wakes up in a tiny hotel room to the sound of a telephone ringing. He is naked and has no idea how he got there. And the telephone appears to be attached to the ceiling. He has a confusing conversation on the phone that opens more questions about his situation. (more…)
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Posted in Ben Marcus, Disease, Fears, Harper's, Helium, McSweeney's, New Yorker, Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, World Cafe Live on November 17, 2011 |
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SOUNDTRACK: WILD FLAG-World Cafe, November 10, 2011 (2011).
I’ve been really enjoying Wild Flag’s debut album. Wild Flag consists of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Rebecca Cole, who I don’t know but who has been in a few different indie bands, and Mary Timony from Helium.
This World Cafe episode is a brief interview (mostly with Carrie, although all four women are present), in which they talk about the origins of the band and what it’s like to play as a foursome.
There are three songs and the band sounds tight and perfect. In fact they sound so perfect I almost wondered if they were really playing live (but there’s one keyboard flub that proves that humans are involved).
It’s a great sample of the record, which is all great, and it’s a good chance to get caught up with these rocking women.
[READ: November 15, 2011] “The First Venom”
This is an excerpt from Marcus’ forthcoming novel, The Flame Alphabet. I’ve read a number of Marcus’ things in the past and I realized that most of his McSweeney’s pieces I do not like. Some of the short stories in the New Yorker I have enjoyed, although usually not right away. So, clearly Marcus and I don’t see eye to eye on fiction.
And that’s the case with this excerpt. It’s hard for me to say I wouldn’t read a longer piece based just on an excerpt because who knows what else the rest of the book contains (this could be a small fraction of a much different story), but this excerpt absolutely didn’t make me want to read any more.
In the excerpt, a married couple is sickened by their daughter. Literally. All of the words that she says and whispers and scribbles wash a sickness over her parents. They cringe and try to get away but she keeps talking and talking.
At first this seemed like a metaphorical sickness–who hasn’t grown tired of their kid’s incessant chatter, but it soon becomes clear that this is very real. (more…)
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SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON World Cafe Live, September 5, 2005 (2005).
World Cafe love Richard Thompson. And this set from 2005 seems to have RT playing more than they actually air. I say that in part because I have no idea how the World Cafe shows work. Do they just play three or four songs? The sets where they play in the studio between interviews sure makes it seem that way. But this set is clearly Richard being interviewed after a performance. So who knows how many songs he played.
5 songs make this download. Two of them come from his (then) new album Front Parlour Ballads (“Let It Blow” & “The Thames Side”). There’s one “brand new” song, which doesn’t appear anywhere as far as I can tell called “Hots for the Smarts” which is one of RT’s great funny clever songs (the lyrics are all very smart things).
The final two songs are classics: “Hokey Pokey” (where’d he pull that one out of?) and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” (which always sounds great).
RT has hundreds of great songs, so it’s impossible to winnow down to a great set (especially one that’s just five songs long) but this set (which is just him solo) sounds really great and is worth hearing for any RT fan.
[READ:April 8, 2011] “Tom Cruise at Lake Vostok”
This is a very short story that I feel is hindered by the title. Sure, the title is a major grabber, but it’s also a spoiler.
The story is set at the Vostok Station in Antarctica. Scientists are doing an amazing amount of research in all manner of departments. The protagonist is there to study Europa, Jupiter’s sixth moon; meanwhile, a Russian scientist is there to study under the ice (she has a cryobot and all kinds of cool things that burrow through the thick layer of ice).
There are many other scientists at the Station, but since it take a full month to reach Vostok by tractor train, many of them have nothing to do but wait for their ride back. In the meantime, there is gossip about everyone there–especially the protagonist and the Russian woman who seem so antagonistic towards each other that everyone suspects they’re having an affair.
Then she uncovers an artifact that is so amazing she has to talk to someone about it. So she calls him on his walkie-talkie. And this is where the spoiler happens. (more…)
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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-World Cafe Live December 3, 2010 (2010).
I heard that Guster was going to be on the Free at Noon show about fifteen minutes before it started (and then I had to go to work). So I missed this show. I was pretty excited to see that it was available on World Cafe Live. But I was surprised to see that the show (plus a fourteen minute interview!) was only about 28 minutes long. I’ve had questions about how the World Cafe shows work. It always seems like the show would be longer (four songs for a concert seems like more trouble than its worth). And then I found…
This page which helps explain the World Cafe stage a bit more. The Guster concert was a Free at Noon show for WXPN in Philadelphia. The full set list was Set List: 1. Architects & Engineers 2. Satellite 3. Hercules 4. This Could All Be Yours 5. Bad Bad World 6. Stay With Me, Jesus 7. Do You Love Me 8. Hang On. So the World Cafe archives truncate the sets (which is what it feels like on some of the shows–at least the ones that have an audience).
But then beggars can’t be choosers (especially for a free show). So, this download includes: Satellite, This Could All Be Yours, Stay With Me, Jesus and Do You Love Me (plus the lengthy interview). The set is fantastic (as you expect from Guster), their harmonies are tight and sharp, the songs sound wonderful and they are catchy as all get out. Two of these songs are from their new album, and they work perfectly with the older ones (even if they do slow things down a wee bit).
The interview is also interesting as it reveals the guys to be smart and thoughtful and it shows a side of them that’s not always apparent from their songs. It’s a wonderful download. Thanks NPR.
[READ: April 16, 2011] “The Ice Worm”
This story began as one thing and then turned into something else entirely. As the story opens, Ilka Weiss is in a nursing home, and we learn that her daughter, Maggie, has come to take her home (even though the nurses think she should stay). When we see Ilka, she is reciting the Bible from memory (the passage where King David is going to fight the Philistines). This goes on for a page (a funny scene with the family interrupting her but her continuing unabated), but it sets a certain tone for the story.
The next scene sees Maggie getting the runaround in bureaucratic hell as she tries to arrange for a visiting nurse to come for her mother. It is an absolute hell of misinformation. And she is not able to secure anything for two weeks. When they finally call back, Maggie has taken Ilka to the hospital. (more…)
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Posted in Advice, Alain de Botton, All Songs Considered, Arthur Bradford, Books about writers, Craig Taylor, Environmentalism, Five Dials, Funny (strange), Jay Griffiths, Laura Oldfield Ford, Military, Nature, Poetry, Raymond Chandler, Robert MacFarlane, Roger Deakin, Weakerthans, World Cafe Live on April 30, 2011 |
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SOUNDTRACK: WEAKERTHANS-World Cafe Live, December 5, 2007 (2007).
I really like the Weakerthans, and they are surprisingly unknown here in the States. I say surprisingly because they write exceptionally catchy (almost absurdly poppy) songs which would fit on many radio stations’ playlists. But what sets them apart is John K. Samson’s lyrics which are clever and interesting and about people and loss (maybe that’s why they never made it down here).
This World Cafe set came about shortly after the release of their last studio album, Reunion Tour. David Dye asks some great questions (I’ve never really seen/heard any interviews with them, so it’s all new to me) and the band plays three songs from the album.
We learn that Reunion Tour was initially inspired by Edward Hopper paintings (and the whole album was going to be devoted to Hopper until Samson grew sensible again). We also learn the official pronunciation of the recurring cat on the Weakerthans albums is Virtute (Vir-too-tay) which comes from the city of Winnipeg’s crest.
They play “Night Windows,” “Civil Twilight” (and talk about the video, which I watched and it’s very cool), and “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure.” The interesting things about the Weakerthans is that they don’t sound all that different live than on record. So, these songs aren’t terribly revelatory. There are some effects that are changed, and the tempos feel slightly different as well. But nevertheless, the songs sound great. The only problem is that the set seems mixed rather loudly, so there’s distortion (unintended, I assume) on some of the tracks.
Nevertheless, this is a great introduction to a relatively unknown band.
[READ: April 19, 2011] Five Dials Number 2
After just one issue, Five Dials has already lied to us. In Number One, they said that all of the artwork would be black and white, but here is Number 2, and we have a host of beautiful color pictures (perhaps they only meant that Number 1 would be in black and white). Of course, I’m only teasing them because the color pictures are really nice, and they really bring a new aspect to the magazine.
Number Two is a bit larger than Number 1 (twenty pages). This issue has a vague sort of theme as well (it’s unclear if the issues will be thematic in the future), but this one has a general theme of adventure/nature/environmentalism. (more…)
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Posted in Africa, Alex Robinson, Alison Bechdel, All Songs Considered, Anarchy, Ander Nilson, Ben Katchor, Books about music, Books about writers, Boredom, Bust, Canadian Content, Chris Ware, Collecting, Consumerism, Corporate skewering, Culture Shock, David Heatley, David Lasky, Death, Depression, Dreams, Drinking, Drugs, Esther Pearl Watson, Excerpt, Funny (ha ha), Funny (strange), Gay/Lesbian, Ghosts, Gilbert Shelton, Graphic Novel, HOB, Ivan Brunetti, Jaime Hernandez, Jesse Reklaw, Joe Sacco, Joel Priddy, John Porcellino, Jonathan Bennett, Justin Hall, Kim Deitch, Kurt Wolfgang, Lili Carré, Lloyd Dangle, Lynda Barry, Military, Olivia Schanzer, R. Crumb, Rebecca Dart, Rick Geary, Seth Tobocman, Sex, Short Story, Sonic Youth, Supernatural, Tom Hart, War, World Cafe Live on April 20, 2011 |
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SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH on World Cafe, August 21, 2006 (2006).
Travelling back even further on the NPR timeline, Sonic Youth appeared on World Cafe in 2006 to promote Rather Ripped.
This is a brief session (only three songs) but as with the interview with Thurston Moore, David Dye does another great interviewing the band here. Although it must be said that saying the band is once again a four piece (when clearly there are five people in the picture and in the studio and when he later says two guitars, two basses and drums–which I also think is incorrect, as I’m pretty sure Kim switched to guitars at this point, although I don’t know if she did during this set) is not a great way to start the interview.
Facts aside, the interview is informative and interesting and provides a glimpse into the band’s psyche all these years into their career.
The set is also good (although Thurston’s voice sounds a little off on the opener “Incinerate”). The surprising thing about the set is that even with the five of them, the feeling is one of restraint. True, the songs on Rather Ripped are not as noisy as previous records, but this feels like they are trying not to wake anybody up the NPR folks. It’s a weird feeling for a Sonic Youth set, but the plus side to it is that you can really hear everything clearly.
The other two songs are sung by Kim: “Jams Run Free” and “What a Waste” (why do they never promote any of Lee’s songs??). And there’s the very amusing comment that the first time they played “What a Waste” Thurston and Kim’s daughter said it sounded like the theme from Friends. Ha!
[READ: April 15, 2011] The Best American Comics 2006
I just recently learned about this series from The Best American line of books. I had known about the Best American Short Stories and Essays and even Non-Required Reading (which I have not yet read). But once I found out about the best comics, I knew I had to check it out.
The first issue came out in 2006. The series editor is Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Guest Editor for this volume was Harvey Pekar. Each of them has an introductory essay in the book. To me the amazing thing about Pekar”s essay is how aggressively defensive he sounds (a sort of, “you may not like this one, but try this one” attitude) about these comics and comics in general. I don’t know much about Pekar’s work. I know he’s a kind of underground icon, but I seem to have missed him. My impression of him is that this sort of antagonistic/defensive attitude seems to go along quite well with his comics, so I guess that makes sense, but I didn’t find it very welcoming.
But that’s okay, because I really enjoyed the comics. And quite a few were by artists that I had never read before, which is even better! (more…)
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