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Archive for December, 2007

SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006) & Barenaked Ladies Are Men (2007).

Barenaked Ladies decided to forgo a major label altogether and just use Nettwerk as a distributor. They called their own self publishing “label” Desperation Records. [There was a fascinating article in Wired way back when this was happening, which made me want to get their CD, and it’s still online here.] The details are sketchy to me now, but it seemed like they thought they could make it on their own, and Nettwerk seemed pretty innovative as well. So, they released two albums in the span of about five months, and the results are below.

areme.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Me. As I said, I was excited that BNL were basically doing the whole thing themselves, and wouldn’t have any label pressure to release the next big thing. So, I was a bit disappointed at first that the album stayed in the same “mature” vein as Everything to Everyone. There’s nothing crazily exciting on the CD except for the last song “Wind It Up,” which is the rockingest thing they’ve done in years.

The one song that really stuck out for me though, was “Bank Job” a really catchy Ed Robertson sung song about, of all things, a botched bank job.  It is funny without being silly, and it is so catchy! The song gets stuck in my head for days and days.

As for the rest of the record, once I started listening a few times, and now having listened to it again for the first time in a while, it’s a very solid outing. Again, “Bank Job” and “Wind It Up” are the two tracks that really stand out, but the rest are solid, well-crafted songs. And, here I pay my respects to Kevin Hearn and Jim Creeggan. Usually I don’t enjoy their songs as much, but (and maybe it’s because they don’t sing them themselves) “Sound of Your Voice” is an up tempo singalong, “Everything Had Changed” is a pretty, mellow ballad, and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas” is a pretty, slow song, that really gets into your brain. These are real highlights of the record. Oh and what is Peterborough and the Kawarthas? Why not see for yourself.

So, I give the BNL Are Me a big thumbs up.

aremen.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Men. Five months after Are Me, came this follow up. The packaging and styling of the disc is very similar to the other one (as you can see by the covers). I wasn’t even sure that it was a new record. Well, it turns out that these are more songs from the same recording session. And, rather than releasing a double album, they did a Use Your Illusion I and II type of thing (there, how many reviews of BNL refer to GNR?)

The problem, such as it is, is twofold: there are really too many songs on this record. Are Me had 13, and this one has 16, which may just be 3 too many. The other is that several of the songs sound like other songs, both from Are Me and from Are Men. There are at least two songs that start out with the same vocal melody line as “Bank Job,” and they’re both sung by Ed Robertson. And the very first song, “Serendipity” sounds an awful lot like one of the songs on Are Me. Fortunately, the songs are catchy, and removed from Are Me, Are Men is probably just as strong a collection. But really 29 songs is a bit much.

The allmusic review suggests that this one is a bit more rocking and diverse than Are Me, and that’s true. The first 8 or 9 songs show a nice breadth of style and feeling. I still think the record runs a bit too long, but overall these two records together are a very good sign of future things from BNL.

And good luck to them and their Desperation “label.”

[READ: December 27, 2007] Ella Minnow Pea.

Sarah read this book over the summer, I think. I sounded great, so I put it in my Amazon “order later” cart, and promptly forgot about it. (This was before I used any kind of reasonable system for keeping track of books). Anyhow, I stumbled upon it while placing holiday orders, and decided to check it out. And, hurrah, our library had it! (more…)

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onlyrev.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Everything to Everyone (2003) & Barenaked for the Holidays (2004).

bnl-every.jpgEverything to Everyone. I was pretty down on this album when it first came out. I remember being rather disappointed in it because BNL had, gasp, matured somewhat, and were making more “serious,” less “wacky” songs. To me, the whole CD was somewhat flat. But, after a recent listen (possibly the first time in 4 years) and expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised by the record.

“Celebrity” is a decent start off, although it breaks from their standard set up of rollicking lead off tracks. “Maybe Katie” is a somewhat disappointing track 2 (a track that seems to produce great results for them)…. It seems to be so close to a single, yet it just misses. There is a somewhat zany song “Shopping,” which sets off a run of three or four good songs. It also ends on a pretty high note with, “Have You Seen My Love?” being a slow, but, sensibly, short song, so it doesn’t just drag on.

The noteworthy thing about this album, is what its title alludes to: everything for everyone. It seems like this album has fifteen different styles at work. There’s an Irish jig type song, a crazy rocking song, a soft ballad, a salsa beat. Basically everything is on here. It’s either crassly commercial or (more likely) a funny jab at their complex styles.

The overall sound of the album is definitely more mellow and “mature” than their earlier ones. There’s not a lot of outright silliness involved, and the tunes themselves have certainly calmed down a lot. If you’re not expecting the zany BNL of old, then the album works pretty well. Just don’t have high hopes for “If I Had $1,000,000.”

bnl-holiday.jpgBarenaked for the Holidays. This has become one of my favorite Christmas/holiday records (and it’s a good time of year to be writing about it.) It ranks up there with Brave Combo’s It’s Christmas, Man, brave.jpg South Park’s Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics, hankey.jpg Sufjan Steven’s great boxed set Presents Songs for Christmas, sufjan.jpg and Brian Wilson’s What I Really Want for Christmas, wilson.jpg which has also quickly jumped to the top of my Xmas list.

BNL’s is definitely silly, but it is also somewhat reverential for the time of year. They mix classics with originals (and if Jews don’t adopt “Hanukkah Blessings” as an official Hanukkah song, then they have no taste!).

The recording is a mix of old and new tracks (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was recorded almost ten years (more…)

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half.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Stunt (1998) & Maroon (2000).

stunt.jpgStunt. BNL took over the world with “One Week,” one of the most ubiquitous songs of 1998, and one that I never actually got sick of, which is pretty surprising. But it’s got many different elements and–and I think this is the clincher–the words are so hard to understand, that I spend most of my time while listening to the song, just trying to figure them out. Weird Al even parodied it (called “Jerry Springer”) so you know it was big.

[DIGRESSION]: Some day I’d like to plot the fortunes of any band that has been parodied by Weird Al. My theory is that a parody by Weird Al = instant commercial failure on future records…some day when I have free time I’ll see what I come up with.

This song helped Stunt sell millions of copies. But to me, Stunt is, overall, one of their weakest efforts. It starts off so strongly with “One Week” and “It’s All Been Done” (a song that is even catchier than “One Week.”)  There are some other strong songs on the disc: “I’ll Be That Girl” is a pretty ballad, and “Never is Enough” is another poppy gem. While “Who Needs Sleep” is one of their silly sounding songs that packs a great chorus. However, the rest don’t so much balance out the mania of the rest of the album as deaden it. I’ve listened to the album twice in the last few days and can’t really remember what some of those middle songs sound like.

Despite that, I made sure to buy the limited edition with bonus tracks, and I must say the bonus track “She’s on Time” is one of the best things on the record.

maroon.jpgMaroon. When I grabbed this record next, I had complete forgotten it existed. I assumed that the next one was Everything for Everyone, so imagine my surprise to find Maroon. And, evidently I’m not the only one who forgot about that album: allmusic says sales were off pretty far for this one (do I blame Weird Al?)

Regardless, I think that Maroon is a far superior record to Stunt. Reviewers suggest that it is sort of a Stunt 2.0, but I think the melodies are stronger and the hooks are sharper. “Pinch Me” is a fun conflation of ballad and the manic energy of “One Week,” while “Too Little, Too Late” starts the record off with a strong singalong. And “Sell Sell Sell” is a fun, over the top rocker.

Stephen Page, for the most part, could sing anything and make it interesting. However, when BNL fall into a slightly more “adult contemporary” vein as they did on Stunt, Page tends to lose the pizazz that makes his voice interesting. He gets it back on Maroon, so even some of those middle songs that aren’t awesome, are still enjoyable. Of course, Ed Robertson, the other singer doesn’t fall into that same trap, but I think that’s because he doesn’t often do the mellow songs.

There’s also a bonus song by Kevin Hearn at the end of the album. And, I hate to say it, but I’m just not that big a fan of his. His songs and singing style are all very pleasant, but his whole style is just a little too pleasant. There’s no edge, and I find myself drifting away during his songs. He has more songs coming on later albums too, and they’re all very pleasant, but often very forgettable.

[READ: September 2006] Half in Love

As you can tell by the date, this is one of those books from over a year ago that I read at my previous job. I’ve been reading pretty quickly lately and haven’t had a chance to catch up on some of the old ones on my list. So, my memory is a little rusty of the details (always a danger if you read a lot). (more…)

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antfarm.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Born on a Pirate Ship (1996) & Rock Spectacle (1996).

Continuing with my review of the BNL catalog…

Born on a Pirate Ship.pirate-ship.jpg
I recall really liking this album when it came out. But I just read the review on allmusic.com and they’re pretty harsh about it. I didn’t realize that “Shoe Box,” a really great song about adolescence, was an old song reworked. That said, I think the album overall still holds up well. “Stomach vs Heart” is a decent opener, but it’s really “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” that really wakes the album up. A great rousing song with the chorus “I am a Farmer… I work in the fields all day.” I enjoy it every time I hear it. “The Old Apartment” totally rocks, and was justifiably a single.

And, of course, the simply best song of passive aggressive breakup neurosis, “Break Your Heart.” The lyrics of this song are simply too good to pass up and should be investigated by anyone. But more important is the delivery. Hearing Stephen Page’s voice crack as he bursts into that last verse is really moving. But it’s even more affecting on the live record, which came out next.

Rock Spectacle (1996).rockspec.jpg
This album is a fantastic live representation of the band. It really captures the greatness that was a BNL show. There’s great stage banter, some funny outtakes after the set is over, and some really fantastic renditions of the band’s greatest hits. You cannot go wrong with this collection.

[READ: December 13, 2007] Ant Farm.

I heard about this book while listening to a program on NPR. I had never heard of Simon Rich, but he was really funny; he and the interviewer seemed to be having a great time talking about various neuroses and phobias. The more he talked, the more I laughed. But I hadn’t hears who he was, and I was just hoping they would say his name before I had to get out of the car. Then I learned who he was and that in addition to being an editor at Harvard Lampoon, he also had a book out. After he read a story, I made a mental note to check out the book. But when he sheepishly admitted that it was “really short,” only about 140 pages and with really big print, and five blank pages at the end, then that I knew I had to read it immediately. (more…)

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glove.jpgthorpe.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Gordon (1992) & Maybe You Should Drive (1994).

I first learned about Barenaked Ladies from a friend of a friend in college, whose name I don’t remember. Oh, and the original friend (whose name I do remember) I’ve lost touch with. So BNL outlasted all of them.

This fellow described them as being very funny and no doubt alluded to “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Be My Yoko Ono.” Now, I enjoy funny songs, so I figured I had to check them out. I was initially disappointed with Gordon because it’s not really funny. It’s definitely a light-hearted album with some funny lines in songs, but it’s not comedy rock. Of course, any band of 5 guys who call themselves “Barenaked Ladies” is not going to be serious, right?I have since grown to appreciate the vast difference between comedy rock and witty, funny songs. (Usually, you have more tolerance for the witty, funny songs. Or at least I do.)

As of this writing, I’ve seen BNL live about five times. Their stage shows are really great. I was able to see them just before they got huge (with the release of “One Week”) and, of course, right afterwards, when their audience became surprisingly filled with frat boys.

After “One Week” BNL was pretty much written off as a one-hit wonder novelty band, a tag they have been labeled with for pretty much their whole career, which would probably be weird, if they didn’t seem to embrace it so well.

BNL recently switched to releasing their own records (before Radiohead did their grand experiment–even if it wasn’t quite as grand as Radiohead’s downloadable disc), so I thought I’d review their oeuvre and see if they’ve changed much. I felt that their recent records were a bit too mellow for these guys, but I was surprised at what I found upon re-listening.

gordon.jpgGordon.
It’s funny to hear how almost two-dimensional the sound of this record is. As the band progressed, their sound got a lot fuller, and Jim Greeggan’s bass really began to stand out. But on Gordon, it’s a rather tinny affair. Many of the songs are witty, if not funny, and they are not afraid to skewer (comparatively easy) targets (New Kids on the Block, Yoko Ono).

There are of course the funny songs (“Grade 9” with a great Rush shout-out , “$1,000,000” of course). But what is surprising is the depth of some of the tracks; beautiful ballads of lost love, which is quite a theme of the band.

And, lest we forget, the melodies and harmonies are top-notch, something which elevates them above the “novelty” tag. There’s a couple of clunkers in the set, which tend to be a few mellow tracks where the melody just sort of drifts into the ether (perhaps a stab at adulthood) but overall Gordon is a keeper. (more…)

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gum.jpgSOUNDTRACK: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS-Anthology: Through the Years (2000).

petty.jpgTo me, Tom Petty suffers more than anyone else from egregious overexposure. I’m not sure if it’s just me who feels that way, but in my experience, “Free Fallin'” was utterly inescapable for what seemed like an eternity. And, geez, his mug was all over MTV when that album came out. It got so bad that I simply decided I was done with him.

Well, as it turns out, Sarah is a fan, so I decided to get her a greatest hits for her birthday. We’ve listened to it a few times, and it made me remember that, hey! I used to like this guy. In fact, disc one of this set is pretty darn great. There are about three songs that I didn’t recognize immediately, but otherwise I was singing along to all of his old classics.

There’s a great memory from Fast Times at Ridgemont High with “American Girl,” And there’s some songs that I forgot about like “Breakdown” and “Refugee.” However, I feel that the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” was the original overexposure video on MTV. I can’t decide how many times I saw that video when I was a young’un watching MTV in its nascent years. It was so ubiquitous that even Weird Al made a parody of it on his first album called “Stop Dragging My Car Around” (which was not terribly inspired, really).

Through much of the post-Dylan years people were described as the “next Dylan.” What really struck me, re-listening to Tom Petty is that, he seems to have misunderstood that they were speaking about his lyrics, not his voice. It’s bizarre how Dylanesque he sounds, especially on “Breakdown,” If not Dylanesque necessarily, he is at least very idiosyncratic in a way that Dylan made commercial.

Even the second disc (the overexposed era) holds up pretty well, and now, seventeen (!) years later, I can sing along to “Free Fallin'” without cringing. See that, Tom, all I needed was a decade away and now we can hang out again.

[READ: December 10, 2007] The Gum Thief.

An unusual title, The Gum Thief.

I’ve enjoyed Coupland’s work for many years now (see the JPod review), and I’m always excited to see a new book come out. I opted for the autographed box set from amazon.ca which actually turned out be pretty cheap at the time I ordered it. The box set contains Roger Thorpe’s book Glove Pond, (which will make sense in a few paragraphs) which I will be reviewing shortly.

[DIGRESSION]: Incidentally, amazon.ca is THE source for imported items from England. Most of the time, the imports on amazon.com are really expensive. But the retail price on amazon.ca for British imports is usually quite good. (This was even more true before the looney reached parity with our dollar…the exchange rate for awhile was practically half off list price!)

Back to The Gum Thief.

This is what’s called an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of letters. This book varies the premise somewhat by having the letters written to each other in a diary. But it is not a series of diary entries; rather, Bethany discovers Roger’s diary and begins writing responses to his entries in it. It’s a very interesting conceit, and it plays very nicely with these characters, both of whom are completely antisocial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Roger is an alcoholic, divorced father whose life has been generally going downhill; he more or less bottomed out with a job at a Vancouver Staples. Bethany is a post-high school goth whose life is stalling while she works at the same Vancouver Staples. Roger begins the book with some diary exercises in which he tries to get into the mind of Bethany. Bethany discovers the entries and is appalled and flattered at the same time. She writes back to Roger, telling him what he got right, but also emphatically insisting that they never acknowledge each other outside of the diary.

What Roger’s diary also contains is the beginning of his novel: Glove Pond. The box set I bought contains Glove Pond as a separate item as well, and I’ll review that next. But for now, I can say that Glove Pond is basically Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in tone, mannerism and setup. [I rather hope this will get people to read the great Albee play]. It is about an older, long-married couple (he is a writer) who inadvertently invite a young, newly-married couple (he is a writer) over for dinner. The angry resentment between youth and age, success and failure and so many other things brews up into a heady mixture of Scotch and insults.

What makes the story even more meta- is that Kyle, the young writer in Glove Pond is writing his new novel, about an old, drunken man who works in an office superstore.

Surrounding the chapters of Glove Pond are the actual letters of the story. Primarily they are between Roger and Bethany, but they also include some correspondence with Bethany’s mom (whom Roger knew in high school), and, in a break from the “in Roger’s diary” aspect, some letters between other co-workers (who also discover Glove Pond, and do not share Bethany’s (genuine) enthusiasm for it).

Aside from all of the intricacies of the make-up of the story, what about the narrative? Well, the story is basically about a young girl–whose life had been full of close people dying–connecting to a frankly pathetic father-figure (but her own father is also out of the picture, so it’s understandable). It is at times very sad, especially as you watch these characters shut themselves down internally and externally.

Ultimately, Bethany tries to make a bold move outside of Staples, a risk that she didn’t think she was capable of. And Roger sets his sights on accomplishing at least one thing in his life, namely, finishing a book. You watch these characters slowly come alive until the last chapter, in which the meta- world comes crashing in on Roger and makes you rethink a lot of what you have just read.

As with most Coupland, the pop culture references, and corporate skewering, are fast and furious. And, as with most Coupland, just when you think the novel is going to be light and funny, weighty themes are opened and genuine sadness falls over these seemingly frozen people. What I think is particularly cool about this book is the way he is able to take a somewhat detached literary style like the epistolary novel and imbue some real passion into these shells of human beings. Obviously, diary entries tend to reveal impassioned thoughts by the writer, but in a series of letters written to two people who are not wooing each other, one wouldn’t expect high emotion. And yet it comes out, and it comes across very naturally.

And, as it turns out, stealing gum does play a pretty big role in both the novel and the novel within the novel, so the title does make sense.

Oh, and there’s also some cool videos available from Random House Canada. They are promotional shorts for The Gum Thief, and they’re available at Coupland’s My Space page as well as on You Tube, which is funny given the You Tube references in the book.

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everything.jpgSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Whale Music [Soundtrack] (1994) & Music Inspired by the Group of 7 (1995).

As I understand it, The Rheostatics read a great book by Paul Quarrington called Whale Music whalebook.jpg and then decided to name their new album Whale Music. (The follow up to Melville…they definitely have a nautical theme in their early records). Their awesome song “Claire,” is co-written by Quarrinton (I think some of the lyrics for the song were in the book). So, a few years go by, and a movie is made of Whale Music (which is basically a fictionalized story of a Brian Wilson-esque musical genius-recluse).

Obviously, “Claire” is going to be in the movie (there’s a character named Clarie, you see), so why not just have the Rheos do the entire soundtrack? Thus, the Rheos now have TWO records called Whale Music. Fascinating, no?

whale.jpgWhale Music [Soundtrack] (1994)
The soundtrack is very soundtracky–largely instrumental mood pieces, and two slightly different takes on ‘Claire’. Overall while it’s really dynamite to listen to, especially while reading, it’s really for Rheos diehards. (more…)

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