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Archive for September, 2008

SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Tape Head (1998).

Tape Head follows the relatively gentle and harmonious Ear Candy with a serious blast of groov-y heavy metal.  The album is solidly consistent and very smooth.  Despite the heaviness of many of the tracks, it doesn’t have a lot of the angular/unusual chords of their earlier records.  It also doesn’t juxtapose them with magnificent harmonies.  Rather, we get a lot of group vocals making for a very full sound.

Again, there’s not really a bad song in the bunch, and after a couple listens, you’ll get the melodies stuck in your head.  “Groove Machine” starts off the record with a heavy riff.  It’s one of the darkest songs on the disc.  “Over and Over” is one of the most bass heavy ballads that Kings X have done.  It’s not a heavy song, per se, but typically, like “Goldilox” or “Mississippi Moon,” the ballad is mostly acoustic guitars.  This one however uses the bass as the prime mover of the song. It’s still a ballad though, and quite a pretty one.

“Ono” is probably the quintessential song to describe Tape Head, though.  Not that it’s the best song, but it’s like the album in a nutshell:  Riff heavy verses, beautiful choruses (heavy but smooth, not aggressive sounding) and then a wild guitar solo.  “Ocean” is a great addition to the Ty-sung canon that has been building since Faith Hope Love.  “Little Bit of Soul” is one of their catchiest, smoothest numbers of this period; it’s followed by “Hate You” which is not as heavy as you might expect.  “Mr Evil” is the most early- King’s X-sounding of the bunch, where the guitar lines take precedence and the harmonies all come back.

It’s a great, solid disc and a nice companion to Ear Candy.

[READ: September 25, 2008]: The Sirens of Titan

Continuing my series of Kurt Vonnegut books, I progress to The Sirens of Titan.  And, while I applaud Vantage Books for the line of all of the Vonnegut titles having that big V on the cover, check out those early releases!  So cool.

Anyhow, I had never even heard of this book, so I held very low expectations for it. I was astonished at not only how funny it was but just how much I enjoyed it.

Much of this book seems to be, if not a launching point, at least a basis for many of Vonnegut’s most famous pieces.  Tralfamadore, made famous in Slaughterhouse Five, is introduced here.  As is Vonnegut’s love of time travel and even space travel.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Ear Candy (1996).

I think of Ear Candy as King’s X most upbeat record musically. Even the cover is upbeat!  It’s their first cover in ages which isn’t dark and forbidding.  It actually has a white border!  And of course, it’s hard to miss the psychedelic, brightly colored scarab beetle.

And the music matches the cover really well.  The opener, “The Train” is a catchy bit of near psychedelic rock which brings Ty’s vocal to the front.  It seems to set the tone for the rest of the album.  Even “Picture” contains a simple guitar riff reminiscent of the joy of Out of the Silent Planet.

I’m jumping down to “Mississippi Moon,” one of their supremely pretty songs ala “Goldilox.”  It’s more of a bluesy ballad, but the chorus is just amazing.

“A Box” continues the loveliness from the beginning of the album.  Its message, that there’s no room inside a box, seems to apply to the band’s more claustrophobic sounds as of late.  But lest you think they’ve gone soft, “Looking for Love” is a fabulous rocker, which makes me think of Thin Lizzy. 

Ear Candy also features “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto)” a rare track with Jerry Gatskill on lead vocals.  It contains the most Beatlesque sounds of a band that is full of Beatlesque sounds.  This one maintains a great deal more psychedelia than previous songs.  It’s not prog rock by any means, it’s just straight up psychedelia.

Lyrically, Doug opens up about his loss of faith; “Run” addresses it directly: “Yeah she told me, that if I wasn’t good He would get me, make me pay for everything I did, and she said that everybody bad would burn in Hell. I did what she told me and I became someone else.”

Despite the negative feelings in the above song, musically the album is very positive: a lot of the distorted riffs are toned down, and the album feels less angry.  I think this disappoints some of the band’s fans, but it retains such authentic King’s X sounds that it’s hard to argue with it.

[READ: September 5, 2008] “Springtide,” “Other People’s Money,” “The Position” “Factory” & “Abstract”.

In 2007, Forbes magazine asked five authors to write about this scenario: “It’s the year 2027, and the world is undergoing a global financial crisis. The scene is an American workplace.” I discovered these stories when I was looking up some information about Max Barry (I had just read Company). I was surprised to see that the stories were in Forbes, but whatever.  When I saw that there were five authors given the assignment I decided to try all five. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VIC CHESNUTT-North Star Deserter [CST046] (2007).

The only thing I knew about Vic Chesnutt before this CD was that he was the songwriter for a benefit CD called Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation (1996).  I bought it mostly for Garbage’s “Kick My Ass” and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Florida”, not for Chesnutt, who I’d not heard of before then.  Usually if you get a CD of covers of an artist that you like, it’s hard to remove the cover from the original.  An album of covers by someone you don’t know is much easier to parse.

I got North Star Deserter because I’m a fan of the Constellation record label based in Montreal. They’ve released some great stuff over the years.  Recently, they’ve diversified their lineup to include some unexpected artists.  Like Vic Chesnutt.

The basic sound of this CD comes in two ways: acoustic guitar with world-weary singer,  and acoustic guitar with world-weary singer and the baking cacophony of what is essentially Thee Silver Mt Zion Orchestra and Tra La La Band.  It works surprisingly well.

The first song starts out with basically just Vic and his guitar.  He sings in a raspy weathered voice.  It’s a short acoustic song full of passion.  What threw me off here is that you expect that the whole album will be like this: short, passionate, acoustic songs.  The really unexpected part comes with song three, “Everything I Say,” when the backing band kicks in loud and hard.  Silver Mt Zion, for those unfamiliar are an offshoot of sorts from Godspeed You Black Emperor.  They have a great variety of instruments in the group, and much like Godspeed… they play grand, sweeping orchestral works. Unlike Godspeed, they have vocals.  And while backing Vic, they pull out all of the stops: cellos, contrebass, choruses, Casio keyboards, the works.

Perhaps my favorite song of the bunch is “You Are Never Alone.”  The premise is simple: Vic sings some very stark verses (“It’s OK, you can take a condom; It’s OK, you can get an abortion; It’s OK, you can get a quadruple bypass and then keep on, keeping on.”), and then the chorus slowly builds with first the men, then the women harmonizing and then finally everyone singing beautifully “You Are Never Alone.”  It’s 5 minutes of mesmerizing beauty.

And the rest of the album continues in a similar vein: stark, humanizing lyrics and alternating spare guitar or great swells of music.

Overall, I feel like the album runs a little long (or maybe it’s just exhausting to listen to).  But I can’t think of anything to get rid of; the two longest songs are actually two songs that I really like.  “Splendid” is a slow building song, where you don’t realize that 5 minutes have already gone past.  And then there’s “Debriefing.”  The first two minutes are noisy and brash, they settle down into a short sparse verse and then crash away for two more minutes.  Off and on like that for 8 minutes.  Cathartic to say the least.

The strangest thing for me is that I find Vic’s voice to be similar in tone and style to Matthew Sweet. There’s a few songs where you might even think that it’s Matthew Sweet singing.  But this Matthew Sweet sounds not like the pop singer of “Girlfriend” but like a man who has been beaten down by life for a little while.  It’s a voice that you instantly listen to to see if you can learn anything.

I’m not sure if this will make me get any more Chesnutt discs, but I’m glad I got this one.

[READ: September 15, 2008] “Great Experiment”

Jeffrey Eugenides wrote The Virgin Suicides, a great book notable for its use of first person plural narrator (!).  He also wrote Middlesex, which is on my bedside right now (and which I learned today was an Oprah pick).  But in the interim I just read this short story.  It’s my only exposure to Eugenides aside from Virgin Suicides, so it’s a nice change.

This story centers around Kendall, an over-educated, hyper-literate poet who is making a living working for a non-profit company.  This particular non-profit was founded by Jimmy Dimon, a former porn king who apparently grew a heart and decided to publish great books at a loss.  Kendall’s current assignment is to edit down Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America‘s most cogent ideas into a small pocket version called Pocket Democracy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MIKE FORD-Canada Needs You (Volume 1) (2005).

Volume 2 of this series has just come out, but I haven’t received it yet, so I’ll start with Vol. 1

I discovered this series because I love Moxy Fruvous, and any member of the mighty Moxy is worth checking out solo.  Mike Ford has a wonderful voice, a great knack for songwriting and an ability to do multiple genres in one setting.  Couple that with the history of Canada and it’s win-win!  Volume One covers Canada pre-1905, with Volume Two covering up to the present.

I admit to not knowing very much about the song topics on the disc, which is fine, as I learned something new.  And, much like with the two Ferguson books, Mike Ford clearly loves Canada, and is willing to celebrate it without hiding any flaws that might be found.  Which is as it should be for an album or book of this nature: Don’t hide the warts; celebrate the whole picture.

Musically, the disc is as varied as the subject matter.  “I’m Gonna Roam” is a folk song done in a rap style. “Turn Them Oot” is a sea shantyesque sing-along about the Family Compact (and what a great rabble-rouser it is).  The most rocking song, “Sir John A (You’re OK)” is sort of a mock metal song (it’s as metal as a folkie can get…with a chorus from a Grade 7 class).  Imagine rocking the line “RESIDUAL POWERS!”

There’s even a song that sounds as if it was recorded on an old wax cylinder (“Canada Needs You”).  I like this song especially because it is a satire of early 20th century Canadian government attempts to get people to move to Canada (much like the Go West Young Man of the US).  A little snippet of lyrics:

There’s an abundance of everything in Western Canada
Where it’s never ever (hardly ever) cold
And the streets are paved with gold
And you grow rutabegas bigger than a loaf of bread
tomatoes bigger than a horse’s head
There’s milk and honey and a kitchen sink
There’s never any bugs or drought and the farts don’t stink

Some other topics include: a young Native woman who inspired her people (“Thanadelthur”); the voyageurs–with canoe sounds (“Les Voyageurs”); the fact and fiction of the treasure buried on Oak Island, Nova Scotia (“The Oak Island Mystery”); and the importance of Canadian women (“A Woman Works Twice as Hard”).

Perhaps the most fun song on the disc (for style and content) is “I’ve Been Everywhere” in which Ford lists thousands of Canadian towns at superfast speed.  Great good fun. Moncton, Moncton, Moncton, Moncton.

All the lyrics are available in PDF here.  And facts and background info about the songs are available here.  With all of these resources, you’re bound to learn something new about Canada!

[READ: September 2008] How to Be a Canadian

Now this is what I expecting from Why I Hate Canadians–a funny, tongue in cheek look at Canada and all of its quirks.  I got this book on the same trip as Why I Hate Canadians, and since I just read that one, I figured, why not keep it going.  So this book is co-written by Will and his brother Ian Ferguson (apparently there are Fergusons littered across the US and Canada, as their services are called upon throughout the book).  And, hard to tell if this is true, but based on the previous book, Ian must be the funny one in the family, as this book is very funny indeed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW ODDS-Cheerleader (2008).

Craig Northey, singer of the Odds has written some great songs by himself and with a slew of other projects.  But most notably, he did the theme songs (opening and closing) for Corner Gas.  At last, “My Happy Place” the Closing Credits song has now been released on this disc by The New Odds.  (The Opening Credits song “Not a Lot Goin On” is available on the disc that Northey made with Jesse Valenzuela, cleverly titled Northey Valenzuela.  I mention Corner Gas aside from the fact that it’s a great show, because I mention it in the book write up below as well.  But back to the Odds.

The Odds had a minor hit in 1993 with “Heterosexual Man” (which we all thought was hilarious).  I didn’t really think much about them until my friend Amber from Vancouver sent me a tape of Bedbugs.  I was surprised how much I liked it and how, although the band was funny, they weren’t a novelty act at all.

I’ve enjoyed the Odds very much since then, they’ve appeared on a number of soundtracks, and released four solid albums, especially 1996’s Nest.

The New Odds are, as you might guess, the Odds, only new.  3 of the 4 original members are back, and aside from updating their sound to the twenty-first century, the band isn’t radically different. They play what used to be called college music, but which really is more or less alternative or even just rock music.

As with previous Northey output, the lyrics are witty and clever, with some wordplay in evidence.  There’s a pretty diverse collection of sounds on the record, yet they all stay within the range of alternative guitar pop.  One or two songs rock harder than the others, “Leaders of the Undersea World” sounds like a dose of heavy metal in comparison to the rest of the record.  “Write it in Lightning” is also a pretty good song, and “I Can’t Get You Off” has a wonderfully catchy hook to it.

Northey’s voice is easily described as inoffensive, and the music is catchy but not stick-in-your-head catchy.  It’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s also not a put-down.  Like meat and potatoes, it’s a good staple to any alternative fans’ collection.

[READ: August 28, 2008] Why I Hate Canadians

I bought this book several years ago, probably in 2000, when I was visiting Montreal.  I remember being very excited to visit Chapters and to see what kind of books they had that weren’t available down south.  I was especially interested in the humor section as I had just started watching Mike Bullard, and I knew he wasn’t available in the States.  I found Bullard’s book as well as two books about Canada by the Fergusons. Why it took me 8 years to read them, I don’t know.

This book is listed as a humour book; the copyright page has it listed as 1. Canada-Humor 2. Canadian wit and humor (English).  But the thing is that the book isn’t very funny.   Even with an outrageous title like that, it’s not very funny.  It is however, a fantastic introduction to the history of Canada written in a style that is (yes) funnier than your average textbook.

DIGRESSION: I will state that I realize that Will Ferguson has a perspective, and quite often he’s very vocal about his perspective.  Most good history is written with an acknowledged bias–trying to hide your bias makes for dull (or hypocritical) history.  So, Ferguson’s history of Canada may not be Accurate, (especially if you are a Quebecois) and of course, I’d be interested to hear from those who disagree with him; however, to an American who is not well versed in the history of Canada, it was pretty enlightening. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X: Dogman (1994).

Dogman follows up King’s X with, to my mind, a much more satisfying collection.  It starts of with the fantastic “Dogman,” a great chance for Doug to show off his vocal range.  “Shoes” has some great gospelish harmonies that lead to a wonderfully chunky riff.  And “Pretend” sounds about as close to early King’s X as this newish King’s X gets: soaring harmonies and a great guitar line.  “Black the Sky” brings back some of those dissonant chords that Ty does so well and it all wraps up in a gorgeous, heavy chorus.  And a song like “Sunshine Rain” has the effect of sounding like the older King’s X harmonies with a difference: it’s more of a minor key harmony.  It’s really beautiful.

The rest of the album is a diverse selection of heavy, heavy rockers (“Complain” and “Human Behavior” which is just heavy and brutal and yet still catchy) and complex, more mellow tunes “Flies and Blue Skies” and “Cigarettes”).  The seriously heavy “Go to Hell” is possibly the most psycho (as opposed to psychedelic)  thing the band has done, but it only lasts for 51 seconds.

This is a fantastic album, and it may be why I like King’s X a little bit less.

[READ: September 8, 2008] “Yurt”

Every time I see this author’s name I think to myself, her name gets harder to say as you go along.  That’s not really relevant but it makes me smile.

Anyhow, this story intrigued me because it was about middle school teachers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-King’s X (1992).

I was rather disappointed by this album when it came out.  After the glories of Faith Hope Love, this was a return to some pretty straight ahead metal.  And, boy is it heavy–well, the first song is anyway, and it does rather set the tone.  Nevertheless, the rest of the songs have subtleties that I have grown to appreciate.

“Black Flag” was the single from the album.  There has always been something about it that I don’t quite like.  I can’t put my finger on it.  However, the should-have-been single “Lost in Germany” returns stylistically to the sounds of Out of the Silent Planet, and contains a great sing-along chorus and harmonies.  In fact, the bulk of the middle of the disc keeps up those mildly progressive traits.

Overall, however, the disc is quite a bit darker than Faith Hope Love.  It comes as a shock after the previous record, but then King’s X are a much heavier band than I remember.

[READ: September 6, 2008] “Clara”

This is the first story I’ve read by Bolaño (although I have been planning to tread The Savage Detectives).

I know that this story was translated from Spanish, and I can’t help but wonder if I would have guessed it was translated while I was reading it.  There was something just slightly off abut the use of language…not that the translator did a bad job, just something that made me think the author was not writing in the same language that I use. (more…)

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