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porkSOUNDTRACK: THE FRONT BOTTOMS-“Mountain” (2011).

fb The Front Bottoms have a new album coming out.  I’ve liked a lot of their songs and decided to dig a bit deeper in their catalog, and that’s when I discovered this song which led me to realize that they are from New Jersey (Woodcliff Lake, in fact).  As a New Jersey band they clearly grew up eating Taylor Ham sandwiches.  And so they get the honor of being attached to this book.

The Front Bottoms are a fun lightly punk pop band.  The singer Brian Sella sings slightly off kilter and sometimes is speaking more than singing. And their music is energetic and sorta sloppy (but not actually sloppy at all) and it all stems from a great ball of fun that the band seems to be having.  The songs are largely guitar and drum, although they have added keyboards and the occasional trumpet to flesh out these simple ditties.

This particular song has some rollicking drums, an introductory trumpet and simple strummed guitars.  It also features this perfect lyric:

“I bought fireworks, a big bag in Pennsylvania, I’m gonna light ’em up when I get home to Jersey.  They’ll probably arrest me they’ll probably ruin my whole summer.”

Their new album is coming out in a few weeks and features the super catchy song “Laugh Til i Cry.”

[READ: August 22, 2015] The Pork Roll Cookbook

I saw this book at the library and had to check it out.  I love pork roll, it’s a treat that my father loved and which my family simply doesn’t eat often enough.  Of course, since we’re from North Jersey we called it Taylor Ham.

I wasn’t really interested in pork roll recipes because, well, you really only ever need to eat it with egg and cheese on a roll (or bagel).

But the beginning of the book gives a fascinating history of this local delicacy which barely makes it beyond the New Jersey border. Continue Reading »

fish SOUNDTRACK: CHAPPO-Future Former Self (2015).

chappoCHAPPO opened for The Flaming Lips, and I enjoyed them enough to get their CD. Since I bought it, I have listened to it nonstop.  While I enjoyed their live show, I never expected the subtle nuances that were present on the disc.  It’s entirely possible that the band’s sound got lost somewhat in the huge open-air stadium that they played in.  They also rocked pretty hard live, so I was surprised by the more psychedelic sound they achieved on disc.

I feel like they achieved an interesting mix of psychedelia and Britpop, which I would never expect.  The album opens with “Hello” a gentle psychedelic song with whistling and a jaunty melody.  I like the unexpected riff that comes in the verse before returning to the really catchy opening melody again.  About half way through the song changes into something bigger—a very cool switch which turns the seemingly simple ditty into something even more interesting.

“Hang On” is wonderfully catchy single. Opening with washes of keyboards and a cool guitar riff, the vocals are gentle and then the bridge comes in and the song lifts to a new level. And then the chorus comes in and things get even bigger. It’s wonderfully crafted.  I saw this song live and while it was good live, and it was definitely fun.  After a quiet moment (with interesting processed vocals), the big chorus returns and you can’t help but sing along.

“I’m Not Ready” switches gears pretty radically, with a chugging riff and 70s synths thrown over the top. The chorus is much more guitar heavy but is not heavy itself–sort of the way the Cars sound.  “I Don’t Need the Sun” shifts gears again with more interesting keyboard sounds sprinkled over the sunny guitar lines.  The lyrics to this one get stuck in my head all the time.

“Run Me Into the Ground” opens with seemingly contradictory keyboard notes and guitar riff. They come together nicely into a pretty verse which all melds into a huge grabbing chorus.  “Mad Magic” opens with a kind of disco/reggae guitar line and Alex Chappo’s falsetto for certain notes.  I love the lyrics to this one too: “My wife is indispensable she will succeed because she has to she will succeed with magic.”  A multilayered chorus really complements the opening riffs and the lines “we’ll be floating while they are coasting” is very cool.

“Hey-O” has a simple catchy gesture with a group singing Hey-O Hey-O that reminds me a bit of Of Monsters and Men.  “Something’s Ringing” is a delicate ballad with a lot of falsetto (and I find Alex’s to me unusual pronunciation of some of the words strangely compelling). I like the way the odd helicopter sound ends the song as it takes off.

“Orange Afternoon” has a sleazy guitar sound and vocal that reminds me a bit of Suede. But the chorus changes direction entirely getting  brighter and brighter.  But moments of that sleaze come back and intersperse interestingly with the bright guitars.

“Ghetto Weekend” is a trippy song to end with.  There’s talking going on, and also a languid guitar.  But it’s interfused with guitar soloing which is echoed and at times seems to not stop. But the switch to the bridge is a great change of pace from the mellow opening—it a great trick, the kind that CHAPPO does so well.

I can’t think of another band that I saw live without knowing their music and was subsequently even more blown away by their album which of course makes me want to see them again in a  more intimate venue.

[READ; June 22, 2015] Fish in the Dark

I’m not sure if I would have known this play was by Larry David just by reading it, but since I knew it was by him, I could tell unmistakably that it was David’s writing (and voice) while I was cracking up.

One wonders why David chose to write a play as a opposes to a screenplay, but then, by doing this it allowed him to get away from his normal characters (even if these ones act just like the characters in anything else he has done).

This is the story of a family.  Norman (played by Larry David) is a put upon husband.  His wife doesn’t want to sleep with him anymore (she has a very funny rejoinder to him in the first scene).  His mother is overbearing (and hates his wife).  His brother, Arthur, is wealthy, recently divorced and is living it up thinking only about himself.  And he just received a phone call that his father is one the verge of death. Continue Reading »

azyoumeSOUNDTRACK: VOIR VOIR-There are No Good Goodbyes (2015).

voiroivrVoir Voir eluded me at Musikfest this year.  I was supposed to see them open for the Flaming Lips but my shuttle arrived late.  And they played THREE TIMES on the following Saturday, but we couldn’t coordinate getting to a stage where they were playing.  Which is  shame because after missing their set the first night, I bought their CD and really liked it a lot.

My copy of the CD looks like the one at the right except that someone in the band hand cut out two irregular shapes in the cover so you can see through to the back, which is a cool touch.

The album itself is mostly punky and fast with vocals not unlike Superchunk or more accurately Built to Spill. Not that they copy either band, but you get that comfortable rocking feeling from these songs.

“I Wanna” is such a great opening statement. After the fast punky verse there’s a slower chorus which is just as catchy as the verses.  I could listen to this song all day.  “Make Your Bed” also has a wonderfully catchy chorus—the way it shifts into such an upbeat song after the buzzy and feedback filled verse is wonderful. “Stupid for Now” reminds me a lot of Built to Spill—there’s no guitar solos or anything, but in the catchiness and slow build of the verses and the much slower but still catchy chorus. It’s a great song.  And I love that there is a  glockenspiel as well as the guitars in the mix. “His Last Sound” continues in this vein with another great chorus.

Track five opens with a surprise when a new vocalist enters the mix.  My copy of the CD has precious little information about the band–just a list of names.  But I’ve pieced together some details to determine that the main vocalist is Matt Malchany and the female vocalist is (I assume) April Smith.  So “Be Your Machine” opens with Smith singing and her voice is great–hushed and deep–a stark contrast to Malchany’s voice, which takes over after the first verse.  She (or perhaps both women, guitarist Emily Meixell is also in the band) provide backing vocals to the more delicate chorus.

“Let’s Not” plays with the loud/quiet, male/female dynamic more as the verse is brash and loud and sung by Matt and the bridge is quiet and sung by April.  Then they mix it up further with a later quieter section sung by Matt.

“There are No Good Goodbyes” is a gentle song sung by April.  It has really interesting swirling guitar noises that are almost ominous.   I love the way she sings the chorus slowly as the music builds and builds faster and faster.  “If Miles Were Years” has some interesting dissonance as well, especially the closing ringing notes.  And once again, there’s a catchy chorus. I also really enjoy how much attention is paid to the percussion at the end of this song and many others (nice job Josh Maskornick).  And lest I forget bassist Matt Juknevic who keeps the rhythm steady throughout the variations of tone.

“Down Together” slows things down with a martial beat and a duet of vocals. It has couple of moments of loudness that build and drop off only to return to the delicate sound of the beginning.  The final song, “This is a Drag” is indeed a bit of a drag. It’s slow and repeats that chorus in a kind of monotonous voice.  It doesn’t really play well with the rest of the album, even if the end does build (and yes maybe by the you’re enjoying singing “this is a drag” along with them).  I can imagine it might be fun live if they can let it build and build and jam on it for a while, but the rest of the album is so up and fun that this closer is kind of a drag (especially since it’s the longest track on the record).

But despite that, I absolutely love this album.  And I love the way I discovered it, and I love that are from Bethlehem, PA, which means I’ll be able to see them live one of these days, surely.

Check out Voir Voir at their bandcamp site and order their album!  We need to hear more from them.

[READ: July 27, 2015] The A to Z of You and Me

I admit that I am a sucker for stories that work along a kind of theme (or gimmick).  But only if the book is done well.  And when this book had the subtitle of A comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Small Mistakes, it seemed interesting enough to dive in.

When I say that this book is narrated by a man in hospice, you can be sure that that information would normally be enough for me to stop reading.  The last thing I need to do is read a book by someone who is dying–especially if he is only 43.

But the way the story is told is really intriguing and it unfolds the plot in such a great way.  The A to Z part is something that the hospice nurse has told the narrator, Ivo, to do to keep his mind active.  Think of a body part for each letter of the alphabet and then think of the most interesting thing that has happened to that body part.  And so page one starts with Adam’s Apple.  And while he doesn’t exactly think back to his own, he does remember a teacher’s Adam’s apple from grade school and how it left quite an impression on his young life.

The book is written in first person but is mostly directed towards “you.”  And “you” is the woman that he was dating whom he is no longer dating. Continue Reading »

sorrySOUNDTRACK: THE COUP-Sorry to Bother You (2014).

coup On the inside cover of this book it says that you can download The Coup’s new record online.  Evidently that was a limited time only because the link no longer works.  Every time I tried recently, the download failed.  I was therefore unable to follow the request:

Let it be known that the editors will look favorable upon those who listen to the soundtrack and read the script at the same time.

Which I would like to have done, since I like The Coup and have Party Music.

You can listen to some of their songs (which are quite dancey even when they are subversive) on their website. (and streaming as well).

I have been listening to the disc online while writing this post and I like the way The Coup makes their songs catchy and the way Riley’s rapping is fast but clear.  “Violet” which is rapped over a lovely violin and strings piece.

My one gripe about the album is a consistent gripe with a lot of rap albums–there’s too many guests.  I don’t listen to The Coup to hear other singers, I listen for Riley and his band.  If I can get the download to work I’ll review the album properly in the future.

[READ: August 15, 2015] Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You came with McSweeney’s Issue #48.  I have just gotten around to reading it and I’m bummed that I waited because this screenplay is fantastic.

Boots Riley is the creator of The Coup and an activist in general (I love the quote that “a Fox contributor (whose name I simply don’t want to appear on my blog) called his work ‘a stomach-turning example of anti-Americanism disguised as high-brow intellectualism.’  Boots was surprised and elated by the compliment”).

The opening of the screenplay is a note from Boots himself in which he explains that “every scene, every character, every word–is true.” And that McSweeney’s has forced him to change the names of those mentioned.

And then the screenplay begins.  Cassius Green (known as Cash) lives in a garage bedroom (in which the garage door opens some time unintentionally). He has just scored a job at a telemarketing office (his faked resume was hilarious). His girlfriend, Detroit, is an artist.  She wants what’s best for him, but also doesn’t want him to suck up to the man.  But at the same time, they do need some money.

In their neighborhood there are billboards everywhere for WorryFree.  There’s also a TV ad that plays during the movie in which we learn that WorryFree “guarantees you employment and housing for life” (the TV shows six bunk beds, like a prison done up by a hip interior decorator).  The concept of WorryFree permeates the movie. Continue Reading »

[LISTENED TO: August 22, 2015] The Case of the Missing Moonstone

wollensI was immediately attracted to this book because of the title of the series.  What an intriguing idea.  When we started listening to it, I was even more excited because of how Stratford has taken reality and tinkered with it to make this intriguing mystery.

The preface explains exactly what Stratford is up to:

This is a made-up story about two very real girls: Ada Byron, who has been called the world’s first computer programmer, and Mary Shelley, the world’s first science-fiction author. Ada and Mary didn’t really know one another, nor did they have a detective agency together.  Mary and Ada were eighteen years apart in age, not three, as they are in the world of Wollstonecraft.
Setting that aside, the characters themselves are as true to history as we are able to tell.  At the end of the book, there are notes that reveal more about what happened to each of them in real life, so that you can enjoy the history as much as I hope you’ll enjoy the story.  Because the history bit is brilliant.

The plot is a mystery, of course, but it takes a long time to actually get to the mystery (long into the second of three audio discs).  Because the beginning of the book does an excellent job of establishing character and setting.  It even feels like it may have been written in the time period in which it is set–the prose is kind of leisurely and very British (or at least that is how it is read by Nicola Barber, whose voice is simply perfect for this story).  So even though there was no actual mystery I really enjoyed these opening chapters.

As the story opens we meet young Ada.  She is obviously brilliant–reading books at a young age, creating fascinating science experiments (she is trying to imagine how fast a sock would have to fly for it to hurt someone and imagines inventing a sock cannon) and hanging out in the gondola of a hot-air balloon (which is tethered to her house).  But she has no real connection to the world and doesn’t even know the names of her maids and servants (thinking the woman who just left to get married was called Miss Coverlet).  In fact there are some hilarious malaprops later in the book. Her father (Lord Byron) is long gone and her mother is away.  So her mother has hired a tutor to look after Ada. Continue Reading »

[LISTENED TO: July 12, 2015] When You Reach Me

wyrmThis book was read by Cynthia Holloway.

Sarah brought this book home for us to listen to.  It is intended for 9 year-olds and yet I thought the book seemed a bit more YA.  Although the story deals very closely with the real day-to-day exploits of three sixth graders, there s a mystical elements that weaves its way through the story.  It also deals with time travel which is what I thought the kids might have the hardest time grasping (it even hurts my head sometimes).  But I think they got it.

The story is told from the point of view of Miranda (named for the Miranda rights).  She is an only child being raised by a single mother in NYC in the 1970s (I wish the date had been given earlier or more clearly in the story).  I loved the conceit of the book that her mother wants to win $20,000 Pyramid.  And she thinks she has a chance as long as her celebrity isn’t as “dumb as a box of hair.”  As a result, all of the chapter titles are titled the way the pyramid categories would be: Things you lose: things you find: etc.  That was very cool.

Anyhow, Miranda’s mom works hard and has  boyfriend.  There’s no trouble there.  The trouble comes from her best friend Sal.

Sal lives in her building.  Sal’s mom is also a single mom.  The moms met when Miranda moved in and she and Sal have been super close ever since–going to day care together, doing everything they could together.  But lately Sal has been a little distant.  And then once the incident happens, thins change for good. Continue Reading »

zweigSOUNDTRACK: TERENCE BLANCHARD FEAT. THE E-COLLECTIVE-Tiny Desk Concert #460 (August 5, 2014).

blnachAfter a few quiet Tiny Desk Concerts, it was fun to get something big and bouncy.  I don’t know Blanchard, but I really enjoyed his band set up.  Blanchard plays trumpet, and with the E-Collective, he’s got a guitarist, bassist, pianist and drummer.

In the first song “Soldiers”, I was sort of amused because when Charles Altura (a guitarist he met online) plays his 2 minute guitar solo, Blanchard isn’t doing anything.  It was  funny way to start the concert with the main guy doing nothing.  But Altura has a great sound–jazzy and interesting with a flair not unlike Frank Zappa.  It continues with a lengthy solo from Blanchard.  I like the jagged edges of this song–the funky bass and the angular rhythms.  It’s about 8 minutes long and it’s fun to watch Blanchard just digging the music when he’s not actually playing.

“Confident Selflessness” begins with a cool drum setup by Englishman Chris Bailey.  Over the great beat, Donald Ramsey, (Blanchard’s high-school classmate) lays down a great funky bass line.  And then it’s a wild solo from pianist Fabian Almazan.  I love the way the song switches back to that angular/funky sound during the refrains.  Blanchard seems to be playing the trumpet with some kind of effect on it during the first part–or he’s playing very quietly.  But later, he gets a good solo in.  Bailey also plays some wild drums fills while the rest of the band repeats the staccato motif.  This song is also about 8 minutes long.

He introduces the final song, “Breathless” by saying that there is typically a spoken word section, but he’s not going to do that.  The title references the police brutality and the dying words “I Can’t Breathe.”  This song is much more mellow, with a lengthy piano solo.  There’s a soaring, uplifting trumpet solo in the middle of the song (which is about 10 minutes long in total).  It’s a really pretty song, although I do prefer the more lively bouncy tracks.

As I was saying after the last two, quieter Tiny Desks, it’s fun to hear the audience whoop it up so much.  And Blanchard even plays a jokey riff at the end.

[READ: May 15, 2015] The Last Days of Stefan Zweig

This is one of those interesting books that I find at work whose pedigree takes some time to unravel.  This is a graphic novel.  It is based on the novel by Laurent Seksik called  “Les Dernier Jours de Stefan Zweig” (2010) which was released in English as “The Last Days.”  This graphic novel was illustrated by Guillaume Sorel and translated by Joel Anderson.

I didn’t know who Stefan Zweig was when I read this book (more shame on me, i suppose).  Zweig was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer.  According to Wikipedia, in the 1920s and 1930s he was one of the most popular writers in the world.

When Hitler came to power, Zweig left Austria for London (where he was considered an enemy because he was German). He was Jewish, although in an interview he said “My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth.”  Yet he did not renounce his Jewish faith and wrote repeatedly on Jews and Jewish themes.

He traveled with his second wife Lotte to Petrópolis, a German-colonized mountain town 68 kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro known for historical reasons as Brazil’s Imperial city.  And this is where the story actually begins. Continue Reading »

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