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Archive for August, 2008

SOUNDTRACK: MIKE FORD: Satellite Hotstove (2007).

I was going to say I didn’t know what the name of this album meant, but then, while looking for a photo of it, I discovered it’s a part of Hockey Night in Canada. Shame on me for not knowing that.

Anyhow, Mike Ford is a member of the fabulous Moxy Fruvous.  He has released a few solo albums, and this one I just picked up from MapleMusic.

This is a very solid folk album.  Mike wrote some of these on the Trans-Canada train, so as you might expect there’s a lot of Canada packed into the 8 songs. Although Ford and Fruvous liked to throw humor into their songs, there’s no much of that here.  “Huge on the Luge” being the exception, which is very funny and quite silly (and was actually written in 2001).

The rest of the album deals a lot with Canadian water images: The Eastern Gap in Toronto, The Credit River in Ontario, The Seaway in the St Lawrence, and The Fraser River in BC.  And, there’s the rather obviously titled Saskatchewan (not a cover of the Rheostatics song).

I’m very fond of the song “Late of October,” a sweet celebration of Autumn, which is probably my favorite season, too.  There’s not a lot more to say about this record.  Mike has a great voice, perfect for folk songs, and his lyrics are thoughtful.  If you’re looking for good folk music by someone you may not have heard of before, definitely check this one out!

[READ: July 5, 2008] “The Eagle Has Landed”

The Walrus is a magazine I’ve subscribed to since Issue 2. It’s a great general magazine from Canada. They cover everything from politics to the environment, to arts and culture, and they don’t only cover Canadian issues.  It’s one of my favorite magazine.   They write about things that I don’t think I care about and then I find my self totally engrossed by it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YO LA TENGO-I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006).

I’ve liked Yo La Tengo for a really long time.  And not only because they’re from Hoboken and play Maxwell’s pretty much every week.  I wouldn’t call them a favorite band, but most of their singles from the 1990s are some of my favorite songs.  I find that they don’t really release great albums, and they don’t really release bad songs: they release great songs and good songs, and their albums are made up of some combination of these.

The great title of this album, is something of a misnomer, as you might expect a riled up and raucous record.  And the first song, the nearly 11 minute squealing guitar rave-up “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” goes along with that premise.  But some of the middle songs like the piano ballad “I Feel Like Going Home” and the 8 minute instrumental ballad “Daphnia” are mellow, and rather pretty.  In fact, the album is kind of all over the place.  Some songs really stand out: “Mr Tough” and the long opener and closer are really great.  The middle is a bunch of solid, well-crafted songs.  For some reason, not too much left an impression on me, even though I enjoyed the disc while I was listening to it.

[READ: July 18, 2008] Player Piano

When Kurt Vonnegut died, I made a note to myself to read more, if not all, of his books. I had read Slaughterhouse Five and Time Quake maybe one or two others, but I figured I’d make the effort and start from the beginning.

Player Piano was his first book. And what a way to start. The time is the future, after the next war; the second industrial revolution. Machines now do most of the work that people used to do. In fact, machines now determine what job you are allowed to do. If your IQ is tested high enough, you can become an engineer (or manager) of the machines. If not, you get assigned to the Reeks and Wrecks: Reconstruction & Reclamation Corps, or basically, manual labor: fixing the roads and other maintenance projects. It imagines a future in which machines can do everything. And, it’s pretty horrible. (more…)

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As anyone in the U.S. knows, we’ve been releasing new quarters with state designs on the reverse side.  They’re almost done now, with just Alaska and Hawaii left.  I had started to collect them a while ago, and then I lost my cardboard container and I stopped.  A few weeks ago I saw some new quarter holders at the bookstore.  This one has room for two quarters  per state (and here is where my collecting madness ends because I don’t even care what the two different letters are supposed to be represent).  But I decided to start again, getting one set for Clark and one for Tabitha.  And then some day in the not too distant future, they’ll say, “You’re a geek, Dad,” and use them to buy ice cream or something.

Anyhow, while I was scouring our cash box at work for more quarters, I found a Canadian quarter with a skier on it…in honor of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.  Now, clearly anyone in Canada knows that this is happening, but it is shocking that it took me over a year and a half since the first one came out to find out about it here in the U.S.  I know it’s not international news when a country modifies its currency, but COME ON!

I harbor a secret desire to go to Vancouver for the Olympics (well, Vancouver in and of itself would be awesome, but the Olympics might be cool too), but I’m not sure it’s wise with a 5 and 3 year old.   So, I thought it would be really cool to collect all of these quarters just in case.  Wikipedia tells me there will be 12 altogether.

At some point I’m going to have to write to RBC (whose Olympic commercial with Mr Muffin was so charming, Sarah and I wished we could get one) and see if I can buy some.  Or, if any of my faithful Canadian readers would like to contribute to this barely worthy cause…  You can email me about sending me a Vancouver 2010 quarter with the sport of your choice on it.  Just think, it’ll cost you a quarter (and a 96 cent stamp) to make a small time coin collector happy.  (And of course, if there’s something comparable I can send you, just ask!)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FRATELLIS-Here We Stand (2008).

Because I TiVo, and since I don’t have an iPod, I never heard the Fratelli’s smash hit when it was a smash hit.  However, when I saw them on the Brit Awards, I was impressed enough to check them out.  And I really liked the debut a lot.  Costello Music was brash and snotty and a whole lot of fun.

The follow up, Here We Stand, shows the Fratellis maturing somewhat.  And by maturing that means mostly, slowing down a little and, unfortunately, making their songs a little bit longer.  Now, as anyone who has heard “Flathead” knows, the Fratellils write a great pop song.  Short and to the point.  The songs are simple, concise and very good.  However, on the more mature version, the songs aren’t any more complex, but they are a little longer.  And that’s not really a good thing. Longer songs are good when they have different parts, but just repeating the same parts MORE doesn’t make the song any more dynamic.

Having said that, the album overall is pretty good.  The songs are solid, if a little less catchy than Costello.  When I listened to it as background music I enjoyed it very much, for multiple listens.  (It was only under closer scrutiny that i didn’t like the longer song format).

Unlike most albums, I found that the last few songs were much stringer than the rest.  The first half simply doesn’t resonate.  It’s not bad to listen to, and can be quite enjoyable, it’s just doesn’t stick.  Starting with “Mistress Mabel” (the 6th song!) the album perks up a bit and the songs become more fun.  “Acid Jazz Singer” and “Lupe Brown” are the two real highlights of the album for me.  On these songs their raunchy/ silly/devilmaycare attitude really comes out.  It’s a shame it was hidden for much of the rest of the disc.

I hate to be part of the bandwagon that dislikes 2nd albums by bands.  It must be hard to know if you should repeat yourself or branch out, but I think a bit more repeating and a bit less branching would have served them well.

[READ: July 10, 2008] “Call Me Loyd”

I don’t write about every article that I read in magazines, because honestly, that’d be ridiculous. However, this piece, a memoir, read enough like a story that it would be fun to include here. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-Evil Urges (2008).

Looking back, I see that My Morning Jacket is the first band that I talked about.  And I also see that I didn’t say anything about the CD.  Which was not a criticism, it was just something I hadn’t realized I’d be doing yet.  Well, now let’s make up for it with the review of their latest album, Evil Urges.

Their live album Okonokos was my first introduction to MMJ (after seeing them live on the PBS show Austin City Limits, which blew me away).  This is my first listen to a studio record from them and I can’t say enough about it.  I’ve been listening to it in the house all the time.  What’s so impressive about Evil Urges is the utter diversity it contains, yet it also sounds unmistakably MMJ.  I’m sure this is mostly due to Jim James’ voice, but I think it goes beyond that.

Quite a large majority of the album feels like, as Sarah said, songs her parents used to listen to back in the 1970s.  And I can’t help but agree. The middle songs “Thank You, Too!” “Sec Walkin'” and “Two Halves” sound very much like treacly 70s AM radio, and yet, none of these songs sounds treacly, and…they all maintain enough of a contemporary feel that they don’t seem retro at all.  How do you make a retro song without it sounding retro?

But really, the whole album is fantastic.  “Evil Urges” is a funky opening, which segues into the almost unbelievably smooth sounding “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt 1.”  This is followed by the most controversial song of the collection: “Highly Suspicious.”   I’ve read a lot of reviews in which they deplore this song.  It’s unlike anything else on the record: a heavy, fuzzed out, staccato guitar riff with the chant of “Highly Suspicious” and Jim James singing some lines in an insanely high falsetto.  It seems to devolve into just shrieks of laughter by the end.  When I first heard it, I found it somewhat unsettling, and it really doesn’t fit the album at all; however, it is the song I find myself singing the most from the album. It’s a truly unforgettable song.  And, of course, I like it.

“Librarian” is a lovely, if somewhat outdated and cliched look at librarians (hey, I have to say it, I’m a librarian) but it’s ultimately a sweet, beautiful song about libraries and their employees.  And “Look at You” finishes up the “soft” portion of the record.  There’s about 6 of these soft/mellow songs and if “Look at You” wasn’t such a great singalong of a song, it would be one song too many, because of the anticipation of the rocking follow up: “Aluminum Park.”  I have no idea what its about, but the guitar riff is spectacular, and it brings a great change of pace to the record.  We finish up with two more heavier songs, and the penultimate song “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Pt 2.”  This doesn’t reprise the opening song, but rather adds a new dimension to it.  It winds up being about 8 minutes long because the end just… keeps… getting…… slower……… and……… slow………. er……… AHHHHHHH!

Overall, a great album.  I always assumed I’d get Z someday, but since almost the whole record was recorded live for Okonokos, I never did.  I’m glad that Evil Urges has rekindled my MMJ fix. And Z will be coming soon.

[READ: August 23, 2008] McSweeney’s #28

McSweeney’s #28 is a beautiful creation to behold.  It is designed as 8 separate small volumes.  Two sets of four volumes are placed in a cardboard box (with no top).  They are held in with an elastic ribbon.  When all four are placed in correctly (with their backs face out) they create a beautiful painting.  The next four are held in with the same ribbon to create two paintings on top of each other…suitable for mounting! (well, not really, but it would look very nice face out on the shelf.)

Danica Novgorodoff painted the two beautiful puzzle pieces that make up the back covers of the books.  One (comprised of the books marked with *) is a predominantly yellow painting of a girl huddled in the woods.  The second is of coal miners working in the dark.  Both are evocative in very different ways.

There’s an introductory essay in the bottom of the “box.”  The essay was written by Jess Benjamin, a one-time intern at McSweeney’s, whose idea it was to create this volume.  Her idea was to showcase fables because:

Once upon a time, there was a simple, straightforward way of telling a story.  It was known as a fable.  All you needed were some talking animals, a human or two, a moral take-away, and a pithy delivery.  Space out the text, include some colorful illustrations, and you were in business….

The power of the fable lies in its ability to say what it means and mean what it says.  Its messages are compelling because they are not hidden, elegant because they are uncluttered, timeless because they are honest.  A fable does not discriminate; a fable loves everyone equally….

And, so, what we have is 8 volumes of fables.  Each volume is written by a different author.  And, each volume has illustrations (by different artists) on just about every other page.   As with all fables, each one is short and teaches a moral.  These are by contemporary authors and have a more contemporary, yet still globally applicable message.

Overall, this issue is light on words, but it more than makes up for it in illustrations and morals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REM-Accelerate (2008).

I was thinking about the parallel careers of R.E.M. and U2 the other day.  The both started at around the same time: R.E.M. on an indie label and U2 on a major.  R.E.M. was a college band loved by critics but not really a big seller.  U2 had some huge hits in their early days and slowly grew to be college darlings too.  Then in 1987, they both hit it big time: R.E.M.’s Document had “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “One I Love” and of course, U2’s The Joshua Tree was the hugest album in the world.

R.E.M. and U2 became the hugest bands of the 1990s, selling millions of copies of records, becoming the biggest most famous people in the world (well, the singers did anyhow).  And then in the 2000’s, something happened.  U2 became even bigger and R.E.M. sort of drifted.  And their records got critically panned.  Even if they had a hit or two, overall the records received very bad reviews.

I didn’t even bother picking up R.E.M.’s previous record (and I guess no one else did either…its their ONLY record not to go at least gold (and that includes their early IRS label stuff).  So, who held out any hope for a new R.E.M. album?

Well, the good news came when I put on Accelerate.  After the initial guitar lick, the bass kicked in and Sarah said “Is that R.E.M.?” Now THAT’s a good sign.  And it is.  This album is the closest they’ve come to classic R.E.M. in a long time.  I’ve concluded that the defining characteristic of R.E.M. is not Michael Stipe, it is Mike Mills.  It’s his basslines and his glorious backing vocals that make a song stand up and say R.E.M.  And, they’re usually the most interesting parts of the songs.  (His “It’s time I had some time alone” is such a great counterpoint to “It’s the End of the World…” that the song wouldn’t be half as good without it.)  This is not to say that Mike Mills should be the lead singer or be placed more prominently, (he shouldn’t, he’s like a great supporting actor who would be too much if he was the lead), but his contributions make them even better.

And Accelerate is full of Mills, in ways that I feel have been absent in recent years.  His high bass notes, his great backing vocals, it’s like the R.E.M. of old.  Except that it isn’t.  The difference here is that Peter Buck has not returned to the reverby, picked-guitar of old.  He’s got more of the aggressive style of playing that he’s used on Monster and New Adventures… so what you get is a classic R.E.M. updated for the 21st century.

Another thing that is great about this record is its length.  At just over 30 minutes, it’s one of R.E.M.’s shortest releases.  And, after some of the bloated discs they put out lately, it’s a great change of pace–because really nothing overstays its welcome like too much R.E.M.  I mean Reveal has some good songs on it, but after six or seven tracks you can’t believe there are still six more to go.  But on Accelerate, none of the songs overstay its welcome; many of them could go on even longer (always the sign of a good song)–5 of them are under three minutes long!

But enough bashing R.E.M.  Accelerate is a short blast of rocking pop.  In fact, the first 3 songs are the best songs I’ve heard from R.E.M. in years. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III-Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up (2008).

I can’t say I really noticed Loudon’s music during the movie.  Of course, when I read about it later, it turned out that the versions in the movie were instrumental.  Ahhh.  So, this “soundtrack” contains the instrumental tracks from the movie with words added (which is how they were originally recorded, so all is right once again).

This collection of songs is, to my ears, Loudon’s least funny collection.  Which is fine.  There are a few turns of phrase that raise a smile, but mostly the songs are thoughtful and thought-provoking.  They work very well with the theme of the movie: parenthood, children, relationships, love.  (Even though the movie is funny, these songs aren’t).

The collection is certainly one of Loudon’s strongest.   Many of Loudon’s musical partners in crime are here: Richard Thompson, Patrick Warren, Van Dyke Parks and, special guest Joe Henry (who I don’t know too much about, but who plays a lovely guitar).  The first three songs, “Grey in L.A.” “You Can’t Fail Me Now” and “Daughter” are possibly three of Loudon’s strongest songs in years (He didn’t write “Daughter” but he sings it wonderfully…and I think better than the original, which is a bit too jazzy for my tastes.)  The rest of the album continues in that vein: mellow folk music but with enough of an edge to keep it from sounding monotonous.  Loudon is releasing another new album this month, and I hope he keeps up this high quality!

[READ: August 14, 2008] Echo

When Strangers in Paradise ended, I was quite sad.  One of my favorite comics by one of my favorite artists was now out of my life.  And slowly, I forgot about Terry Moore, and moved on to other things (like the Buffy Season 8 comic).  Well, while I was at ALA this year, Michele Gorman, the wisest person in the graphic novelverse, asked me how I liked Terry’s new book.  Wha?? I said.  She said, it’s called Echo, and it’s fantastic.  And, so I got home, looked it up online and immediately subscribed and got the back issues.  1-4 came right away and #5 just arrived.  And I’m all caught up. (more…)

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