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Archive for March, 2008

Obviously I enjoy the books I read, and I look forward to the books I have on my pile of “to read” books. But recently, even though I am anxious to get a jump on Superbad, the book (no relation to the movie), I felt that I needed a change of pace. Something completely different to give my reading a shock.

As you all know, my wife is a YA librarian, and is the soon-to-be president of the Young Adult Library Services Association. Astute readers will have guessed where this is going by now, but the short version is that I decided to check out some YA books.

YA novels, in general, do not comprise a genre that I read much. Primarily because I am no longer the Y part of YA. However, I am not averse to them, and have enjoyed many teen-protagonist stories. The Inkheart series is great. The Golden Compass is fantastic, and of course, young Potter. But all of those books are of a more “literary” mindset than much in the YA world (at least that’s what my limited exposure to it suggests).

So I grabbed three YA novels based on the titles, and based on some past discussions I’ve had with Sarah about her favorite books. And this is what I’ve discovered about the genre:

1) The books are short. And fast. The three books I chose all clock in at around 250 pages. And, the type is much bigger than most of the adult novels I read. I’ve been able to polish off a good 80 or 90 pages at lunch. Think of how this will add to your “books I read this year” list! But this may also have to do with: (more…)

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spiritSOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Let It Be (1970) & Let It Be…Naked (2003).

let-it-be.jpgletitbenaked.jpgI may have mentioned before that I wasn’t a huge fan of the Beatles. This has changed as I get older, but in high school and college I didn’t really want anything to do with them. My freshman roommate in college announced on our first day that he thought that all bands were devil worshipers, and that the only music he was allowed to listen to at home was the Beatles. Consequently, he only had the Beatles on CD (and, curiously INXS Kick). That’s enough to make you hate the Beatles forever.

But I don’t anymore. Sarah was a big Beatles fan growing up, and through her, I have gained an appreciation that I never had. And now when I listen to their records I can’t get over how GOOD some of those songs are (duh!).

So for Christmas, we got Let It Be (for some reason she didn’t have it) and Let It Be…Naked. I had heard a lot about the Naked CD, so I was really interested in listening to it and seeing how different it was from the original.

I’m not going to talk about Let It Be, because why would I add to what everyone else already knows. But what I wanted to mention was Let It Be…Naked and how I feel it is somewhat falsely advertised. The premise is that these are the original recordings from the Let It Be session stripped bare from all of the production that Phil Specter added to the final copy. (Having read a bit more, I see this summary is simplistic and somewhat inaccurate, but if you want to read the complex details about the recording and release of Let It Be, you’ll have to look elsewhere).

(more…)

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I love coincidences. They freak me out a little bit and make me go woah! Now, I’m not the kind of guy to read into coincidences, I don’t think they are portents, or omens or harbingers of things good or evil. I just think they are cool. Now, I’m not talking about seeing some actress whom you haven’t thought of for ages suddenly appearing on two different magazine covers, because that’s just saturation marketing (and when you see the article, you realize that they have a new movie out). Nor am I thinking–I just bought the new Band of Horses CD months after it came out and I’ve been listening to it a lot and then I hear a song from it on an episode of Chuck–because they’re both new and it’s just a semi-popular song on a semi-popular show. Mild coincidence at best. I’m talking about the fact that in the circle of friends that my wife and I have developed since the birth of our son, two of their kids are named Ryan (admittedly a fairly popular name) and three of the five husbands are named Rob. And even weirder, they each go by a different variant: Rob, Robb and Robert.

Several months ago I had a string of coincidences that were so freaky I had to write them down. Which I did. And then they stopped. Well, now I’ve had two cool ones in two days, so I’m going to star jotting them down as well. Admittedly, the previous ones were much cooler, and if I can find where I wrote them I’ll include them too. But for now, I’ll start with these two neat ones.

We were watching The Rick Mercer Report (March 15, 2008 episode) where he goes on a tour bus and interviews Anne Murray, Canada’s songbird. Not that weird since they are both Canadian and it is a Canadian show. It was a little odd that they were in Florida, but whatever. Then the following night we were watching That 70s Show on DVD. We were watching the 5th season (from 2002), and Eric talks about having to sell his records for cash. But they didn’t buy his Anne Murray record, and she is Canada’s Songbird. Woah, weird. Especially as, despite the Songbird’s popularity, she’s not exactly a common punchline!

But even weirder was that moments after the show ended, and before turning off the lights I was flipping through the brand new April 2008 issue of Radar. There’s a piece about preteen bands. One of them is called Tiny Masters of Today. Which is weird and all, but as it happens, that was the name of the band in the book that I just started today Rock Star Superstar (from 2004). So, clearly, they read the book and named themselves after that band. But how weird that I would happen upon them both in the same day??

Harbinger? Not at all. But still pretty cool.

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tomine.jpgSOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Candylion (2006).

candy1.jpgI’ve mentioned before that I really like Super Furry Animals. This is the lead singer’s solo album. It sounds very similar to an SFA album, although it’s a little less bizarre, a little less indulgent (which somehow seems odd for a solo album, but whatever.) Overall, it sounds somewhat more mellow, but it’s not exactly a mellow affair. The title song is a pretty little ballad. However, the album also has some great, if not rocking, then certainly rollicking songs that are great to sing along to like “Cycle of Violence” and “Now That the Feeling is Gone.” There’s lots of la la’s and Whooos! to add to the exictemnet.

And, even better, there are two songs in Welsh: “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru” (that’s most of the lyrics, and it means “Drive”) and “Ffwydruad yn y Ffurfafen” which is just fun to imagine how to pronoucet. So, overall it sounds not unlike any other SFA album,

There is one thing though, the last song is a near 15 minute epic story called “Skylon!” It tells the tale of a mundane flight that turns into a near plane crash. There’s an actress on board as well and a bomb, and, well frankly, between Gruff’s accent and the meandering nature of the song, I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. And yet I like and learn more of the song with each listen.

I accept that this record will never be a big seller, except maybe in Wales, but you can do your part by ordering it and enjoying all of the coolness that is Gruff.

[READ: Feb 29, 2008] “The Shelter of the World.”

When the Satantic Verses came out, I was in college, and was somewhat friendly with an Indian guy (who two years later turned out to be the best friend of my then roommate…small world? Nope, small campus.) Anyhow I was talking to him about the hoopla and the fatwa and, he, very smugly, I felt, told me that I would never understand the book because it was very Indian, and an American like myself simply couldn’t get what was going on. I was rather offended by this, (and I’m sure I remember it being much more insulting than it actually was). But, when I finally read the Satanic Verses a few years after that, it turns out he was completely right. I had no idea what was going on in that book. And even though I may someday try again, I’m still pretty sure I won’t get it. That didn’t stop me from reading and enjoying Rushdie’s other books. However, I haven’t read much by him lately. So, when I saw this story in the New Yorker I thought I’d give it a go. (more…)

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bowl.jpgSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Evangelista [CST041] (2007).

carla.jpgThis record comes from the mighty Constellation label. Don and Ian are super nice guys in Montreal who release some fantastic music. I have been a fan for years, and I have all of their releases. I get them sight unheard, because I know they release good, quality music with great packaging. They came to my attention through Godspeed You Black Emperor, a fantastic instrumental band, and their spinoffs (A Silver Mt. Zion, etc.).

Initially, they released pretty much only bands that had connections to each other (to see who plays on each others’ records, you’d need a spreadsheet about ten pages long). They have since branched out to include some really notable musicians like Vic Chesnutt (!) and Carla Bozulich.

Carla Bozulich was the singer for the great band The Geraldine Fibbers. gfib.jpg She has a very strong voice, and sounds not unlike Diamanda Galas, meaning she can hit the high notes, and the powerful notes, and the screechy notes, and tends to be a bit scary from time to time. In the context of the Geraldine Fibbers, it was really an amazing thing to behold.

They were a sort of country-punk band, and they were really tight. Carla’s vocals could scream or soothe depending on her mood. And working together, they were pretty great.

I mention this band because Carla’s solo album is a little too free-form for her own good. She thanks the producers for letting her get out things that have been inside. And I’m sure that was cathartic. However, I find that her voice needs the stabilizing force of a solid backing band. This solo album has very erratic (and very interesting) music, but when combined with her voice, it’s just a little too much chaos. With the Fibbers, the grounding of the backing band and structured songs really made her voice shine. On this one, there’s just so much going on that it’s all a bit of a mess.

The music itself is actually pretty great. It’s very unusual, with strings, and staccato sounds. Her voice also sounds great. After all, it’s been a few years since the Fibbers broke up, so it’s nice that she can still hit the notes. It’s just that the off-kilter music really competes with her off-kilter voice leading to an overall unsatisfying experience.

She has a new one coming out with a full band called Evangelista. I’ve listened through once, and it sounds much more cohesive. I think the solo record was just something to get out of her system.

[READ: March 10, 2008] Bowl of Cherries

McSweeney’s published this book. And the only story behind this book that you may have heard is that the author is old. Really old, not just old for McSweeney’s old, but like nineties old. It’s something of a shame that this was the first (and pretty much only) thing I heard about this book. And yet it is an interesting background in and of itself. (more…)

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rm.jpgSOUNDTRACK: NADJA-Truth Becomes Death (2005).

nadja.jpgSlow and low that is the tempo. Very few reviews of Nadja will quote the Beastie Boys, and that is probably wise. The only reason I do is because the quote is so apt. Nadja plays music that is very very very slow. And the notes are very very very low. Have you ever played a 45 RPM vinyl record (remember those) on 33 and laughed at how it sounded? Well, that’s what this record sounds like. On purpose. There are 3 songs. The first is 23 minutes, the second is 16 and the third is 11.

The sound is generally an ominous drone, punctuated occasionally by high hats. It’s weird to me that someone would have even thought to make music like this.

None of this is to say it’s bad, it is just such a unique sounding record that I’m at a loss when I think about it. Some relief from the oppressiveness comes at the end of the third song, where there are suddenly three minutes of fairly light almost acoustic sing-alongs (this is relative of course, as nothing is light with this band). But for the most part it’s a punishing listen.

I’m not sure when you would play this, but I think you wouldn’t want to be anywhere where this is the soundtrack.

I discovered this album because I was buying records from the mighty Alien 8 Records web site, and they were having a buy 2 get 1 free sale. So, I tried Nadja. It was a worthy experiment, although I’m not sure if I’ll be checking out their other records. You never know though!

[READ: January 2008] Rick Mercer Report The Book

Many years ago, when I belonged to the Plainfield (NJ) Curling Club, I discovered that I could get satellite TV beamed in from Canada. Since I was really into curling, and so many other things Canadian (Kids in the Hall, 1/2 of my favorite bands) I thought I’d see what I could discover with a satellite dish of my own. It was through this dish that I found out about Rick Mercer. (more…)

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terry.jpgSOUNDTRACK: COHEED & CAMBRIA-Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005).

coheed.jpgFor reasons I’m unclear about, I had the completely wrong perception of what this band would be like. I had read a few things and heard from a few people some differing stories. I decided to check them out based on this input, and I decided, against my anal retentivity, to get Part IV of their five part collection. (This is because it was really cheap on Amazon).

So, given this, I don’t know what C&C sounds like on the first records, and maybe they sounded more like what I assumed they would sound like. And, frankly, given the images that the album comes with, coheed2.jpg one would tend to think that deep dark heavy metal is contained within. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was in for a heavier sort of Dream Theater. The imagery of this collection is very dark/scary/spooky, and I was told many times that the band was quite prog-rockish, often sounding like Rush. Oh, and the singer sounds like a woman.

Imagine my surprise then to play the CD and (ignoring the opening string intro which doesn’t signify anything anymore) hear a whole bunch of relatively short, really pretty, uncomplicated songs. There are a number of tracks on this that could be huge hits. As I listened some more, I realized what I thought the band sounded like…they sounded like Queensryche. In fact, they sound like any number of 80s metal bands. It was really weird and unsettling to have my expectations totally blown.

The first 11 songs are, for the most part, short, uncomplicated songs. They have beautiful melodies, and yet often have very disturbingly violent lyrics. (In what practically sounds like a lullaby–“I’ll do anything for you; kill anyone for you.”) There’s an awful lot of killing and threatening and the like going on here. And, yes, the singer can sound like a woman. Evidently this killing and violence is rampant through the sequence of discs, and there is some kind of “story” that explains it. But I didn’t really read closely enough to decipher it.

It’s not until track 12 the indicatively titled: “Willing Well I: Fuel for the Feeding End” that the prog stuff kicks in. Now we have some seven minute songs, we have some complex riffing going on and an occasional time change. There’s also call backs to earlier sections of the album. This was certainly more of what I was expecting, although, indeed, it’s still not THAT heavy. Some of the tracks so resemble Rush’s proggy heyday. Most unusual for me was that the long meandering guitar solo on the very last song “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut” sounded like it could have fit perfectly as the long, meandering guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Go ahead, listen for it, I’ll give you fifteen minutes.

The first time I listened to this disc, I really didn’t like it because it wasn’t anything like what I expected. On my second and third listens I started to enjoy it a lot more. I started to really groove to the songs. I also subsequently read a description of the album on allmusic to see if I was crazy, and indeed, I was not. They say that the band is very emo in an 80’s metal sort of way. And, I totally agree. They mentioned Queensryche as well (although they say Operation Mindcrime and I say Rage for Order) and as soon as I saw the “emo” tag, I thought about My Chemical Romance as a recent soundalike band.

As for the content of the epic, I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t been able to read the lyric sheet yet (as I listen in the car) and I know I am coming way in the middle of this whole thing, so I know that I’m missing boatloads of information. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to seek out some other parts just to see what the whole thing is about.

It’s nice when an unexpected surprise turns pleasant.

[DIGRESSION: BACKSTORY:] When I was 12 my sainted Aunt Lil and I used to travel from our little ‘burb of Hawthorne, all the way to the Willowbrook mall in Wayne by bus. A transfer in Paterson was required, and retrospectively, I am amazed that this little old lady traveled all that way, and made an exchange in a fairly “bad” neighborhood all the time. Once in a while I would go with her and we’d make a day of it. My “reward” for going was that I’d get a record or two. (more…)

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