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Archive for June, 2008

SOUNDTRACK: FOALS-Antidotes (2008).

This CD had been getting a lot of buzz just before I ordered it. And then, the day after I ordered it I saw a review that really trashed the record. Uh oh, I thought.

But then I played it. Aside from the cover, which I can’t stand, there’s nothing I dislike about the disc. Immediately, I thought it sounded like a cross between King Crimson and Gang of Four. And then I heard more sax and had to add X-Ray Spex in for good measure.

The guitar lines as the disc opens sound so much like they could be King Crimson song…and this continues throughout the record…and then when the rhythm guitars come in you think, oh, Gang of Four (or the Futureheads if you must). And then you hear them together and it blows your mind a little bit.

For those of you who live in the twenty first century, the CD probably sounds closest to Modest Mouse: angular guitars, somewhat shouty vocals, but they don’t have the fluidity that Modest Mouse has. Not that that’s a complaint, just an observation. I’ve listened to this CD a bunch of times now, and I don’t dislike anything on it. Each listen brings out someone new that I hear. One of the reviews I read suggested that they used to a more prog rock band, but were giving up that aspect of their music. And yet, if you reference King Crimson, it’s impossible to think you’ve given up prog rock. I don’t know what The Foals describe their music as, and it is totally not for everybody, but I think it’s pretty wonderful.

[WRITTEN: Some time in the late 1990s] Complex Sentence.

In my previous post (Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog) I said that I had written a short story about diagramming sentences. I took some creative writing classes a decade or so ago, when I had a lot of free time. I churned out quite a few stories, and then hit the wall that is job, family and kids. Sadly, I don’t have exact dates for when I wrote these stories (what kind of writer doesn’t keep track of when the stories were written for pity’s sake). But maybe if I can ever hack into more poor old Macintosh and uncover the original files it will give me some idea of their origin.

And so, the critic exposes himself to the critics. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PETER, BJORN & JOHN-Writer’s Block (2006).

My friend Eugenie told me about these guys: 3 Swedish songwriters whose names are, indeed Peter, Bjorn and John. This is their 3rd CD and I’m not even sure what I thought they would sound like except that Eugenie has great taste. I think I thought they would be a bit more synth poppy (I guess the Abba connection is pretty strong) but instead, they write wonderfully poppy songs, but they are more folky, or alt-rocky. I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this CD.

All three guys sing. Peter sings most of the songs and he sounds like a combination of John Lennon and Michael Penn…his voice varies quite a bit between songs. Bjorn sings two of the songs. His voice is quite different…deeper and more stark, and it’s quite a nice change from Peter’s (not that there’s anything bad about Peter’s). John sings one song, and his voice is fairly similar to Peter’s. But they all do harmonies, so you hear them all the time.

It took me about three listens to fall in love with this CD. There’s a couple of songs that are immediately gratifying; however, the rest really reward multiple listens. Interestingly, it’s the two Bjorn songs that are immediately catchy. “Amsterdam” and “Let’s Call It Off” (which gets a remix on the album too). “Amsterdam” (interestingly, Guster have a fantastically catchy song called “Amsterdam” which this song is not) has this immediately striking whistle (as in a person whistling) as its opening motif. It is stark and haunting, and will have you whistling it for days. “Young Folks” is a duet with Victoria Bergsman (not sure who she is) and has a deliriously catchy chorus. “The Chills” has this great shh-shh-shh sound that is at once chilly and interesting and reminiscent of The Cure’s “A Forest.” As you might guess, the CD covers some pretty different styles and genres, yet the album is not a mishmash. There’s a consistent PB&J sound that unifies the record and leaves you wanting to hit play again after it’s over.

The Swedish music scene has just been exploding lately…The Hives, Dungen, Jose Gonzales, Jens Lekman and PB&J are all adding to the (sadly seen as one-hit novelties) wonderful Cardigans.

[READ: January 2008] Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog

For Christmas, Sarah’s mom gave her this book, not knowing that she missed the intended target by mere inches. As soon as I saw the book I immediately had to read it. Diagramming sentences was always a guilty pleasure of mine, and I am saddened to hear that kids don’t do it anymore. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEXISONFIRE-Crisis (2006).

I was watching the Juno Awards one night and saw that Alexisonfire were going to be on. I’ve been curious about them for awhile, and was thrilled. And, wow, what an impact. First off, I’m very surprised that a band that is this aggressive would be on the Juno Awards (but the Junos are far more interesting than the Grammies). However, when the song “This Could Be Anywhere in the World” started, and the lead singer was growling away, I just wasn’t that interested…it was a bit too death metal/hardcore. But then Dallas Green sang these beautiful counterpoint vocals, and I stopped what i was doing and took notice. The rest of the song bounced back and forth between hardcore noise and melodic harmonies. And it was amazing.

I’ve heard a lot of bands mix styles, some successfully and some disastrously, but this mix of aggression and beauty is really something. I’ve listened to this album a bunch of times now, and I’m still not sure that I really like the growly vocals of George Petit, but I think without them, the harmonies of Green wouldn’t sound quite so good.

So what you get is some complicated songs that lurch between a trashy hardcore feel and a more streamlined poppiness. The two sides play off each other so well, it makes the whole collection shine. There’s a 3rd vocalist who pops in once in a while and he adds a nice flavor to the mix although I’d say mostly it’s his harmonies that work so well.

Lyrically, the band is pretty angry. “Mailbox Arson” should give you a clue to the tone; however, the lyrics are well considered even if they’re not fully understandable.

I’ve not heard the previous Alexisonfire records, but I’m led to believe that Crisis is a huge step forward, so maybe it’s not worth backtracking .

[READ: June 11, 2008] Cheat.

This came as part of my Oni shipment a few weeks ago. I didn’t know anything about this story either, but I took the risk as it’s a typical slice of life story. I was surprised at how there was very little in the book that moved me. It was a very simple story of two couples who, as the title says, cheat. It all seemed a little too easy and obvious (there’s only 4 characters after all) . There were some nice minor twists, but sometimes they came across as jarring rather than twisty. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DROPKICK MURPHYS-The Meanest of Times (2007).

Ever since The Pogues, traditional Irish music has been matched to a punkish attitude. The Dropkick Murphys take this one step further in that they are pretty much a hardcore band, and yet they throw in heaps of Irish attitude, channeled through growing up in Boston, Ma. I got their first album when it came out because I was living in Boston at the time. Then I more or less forgot about them. But The Meanest of Times made some noise, so I checked them out again. Despite their ever changing lineup, the band hasn’t changed that much in all these years. They still write great, fast, beer-swilling sing-alongs. Their vocalist sounds like the gruff, ass-kicking younger brother of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett. There’s a second vocalist on this record too who is less gruff, but, I feel, less effective. He sings one or two songs, but he’s primarily background in nature. And they still throw in the occasional bagpipe, accordion and mandolin. They have diversified their sound a little bit now. There are a few slower (but no less raucous) songs and even a ballad.

Lyrically, they touch on a lot of “political” issues. Not as in day-to-day politics, but more as in a general outrage at injustice (priest sex scandals, children’s services in the state of Ma, violence and war etc). They also reinvent some traditional style songs. “(F)Lanigan’s Ball,” a remake sort of of “Lanigan’s Ball” and old trad song. And “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” is an update of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” done as more of a sea shanty–a punk sea shanty.

I’m not sure why hardcore punk matches so well with traditional Irish jigs, but it really does. If you like your music fast and loud, The Dropkick Murphys throw in a few extra ingredients to diversify your portfolio.

[READ: May 28, 2008] Diary of a Wimpy Kid & Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

A lot of kids come into the library looking for these books. When I finally looked at it, it looked pretty funny, so I picked it up. I’m going to review the two books together because the second one is basically a continuation of the first one, there’s not a lot of differences, but, since the books are pretty short, that’s not a problem. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEAKERTHANS-Left and Leaving (2000).

The Weakerthans are an interesting band from Winnipeg. They were formed by the founding one of the members of Propagandhi, a fantastic, very political punk band. And it’s clear that even though the sound of the Weakerthans is very different, the tone is quite similar. John Samson writes wonderfully literate lyrics (these are not overtly political as in Propagandhi, but nor are they apolitical either).

I found out about these guys with Reunion Tour, (their most recent release) and I decided to fill in the back catalog. The single from this album, “Aside” features a faster style (more rocking, less introspective) than the rest of the album, and is consequently, my favorite song. The rest of the album slows down quite a bit. It’s a great chance to really listen to the lyrics, and get absorbed in the music. I often don’t have opportunities to do this, (especially when driving), so the record loses something for me. However, Samsons’ vocals are always clear, which allows you to catch a great line even if you’re not paying attention.

[READ: June 10, 2008] Gray Horses

This was a fantastic book. That’s all there is to say about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKWRXP, 101.9, New York City

Since I’ve been talking about Sirius radio, I also wanted to mention this excellent station that was just added to our local lineup. WXRP 101.9 used to be smooth jazz. Then when they realized that people like rock, they went to this new format. It is something of a mix of classic rock and alternative (not heavy alternative, but 80s and 90s style alternative music). It is the only place (aside from my CD changer) where you could hear The Stone Roses, Live, and Pink Floyd back to back. I had the radio on the other day while I was working in the garage, and I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed this station. It was actually a better collection of music than anything on Sirius (whose stations are actually too narrow to do this mix).

Of course, there were commercials…a lot of commercials. We’ve been living commercial free basically since we got TiVo and we listen to NPR radio stations (even 88.5 WXPN Philadelphia, a fantastic radio station in its own right is commercial free). So, it’s always a shock to hear radio commercials (they are just so terrible). What was especially weird about WRXP’s commercials is that there weren’t for the radio staples: cars and beer. All of the commercials seemed to be about debt consolidation, online dating, and free laptops:services rather than products. How weird. So, in a nutshell: great great great radio station guys. I guess I’ll put up with the commercials. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Sirius Radio-The Grateful Dead Channel

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (even though I like Phish quite a bit). I never really got into the subculture, and really the music seemed peripheral to their fanbase. I recall being very disappointed when I bought What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been back when I was a metal head and couldn’t believe that a band with that name and with skeletons all over the place was that wimpy.

Well, it turns out that Sarah was something of a fan, and, after all these years of listening to Phish, I’ve grown an appreciation for the Dead as well (and Cherry Garcia, of course).

So, as we have Sirius radio, we put on the Grateful Dead channel one night. It’s a fascinating channel, as it sounds like it’s some guy playing all of his Dead bootlegs. It was funny to not hear any LP tracks. I found the whole experience rather pleasant. It worked great as background music, and was utterly inoffensive (not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know but). I enjoyed the experience and would definitely do it again. Probably not anytime too soon, after all, that was a lot of Dead to ingest. But someday, I’m sure…

[READ: June 10, 2008] Zombies Calling

Aside from Oni Press, my favorite comics publisher is SLG, Slave Labor Graphics. They’re generally a little darker and weirder than the Oni stuff, so it suits my dark side when needed. (more…)

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