Archive for October, 2008


Just as I was thinking that Nada Surf had dropped off the face of the earth, I discovered that they were releasing LuckyLucky continues Nada Surf’s fantastic output of beautiful melodies and poppy, almost folky songs.  I hate to make it sound like Nada Surf have mellowed, but they certainly have.  Nevertheless, their song craft has risen to even newer heights.  The first three songs are some of the best singles you’ll hear (and you may have heard “Whose Authority” which got some airplay…. If you liked that then you’ll love the rest of the album.)

There are obvious precedents for who Nada Surf now sound like, but it’s not an aping of sounds where you say, oh they sound just like Matthew Sweet or Semisonic or something, but they have that kind of vibe.  If the jangly alternapop of the late nineties were still popular, Nada Surf would be leading the pack.  As it is, they don’t sound retro in any way, the songs just exist, almost timelessly.

The middle songs culminate with “I Like What You Say.”  There’s no reason this song shouldn’t be a huge hit.  The lyrics are slightly hard to sing along to (which usually makes for the kind of song that people like to learn) “You say, I like what you say, I like what you say, you say,” but the chorus of “Baby, I only want to make you happy” lifts your spirits.  All eleven tracks are solid, and there’s enough diversity, even within the limited palette to keep you interested.  There’s even a short oom-pah-pah at the end of “Ice on the Wing.”  I’m not sure why it’s there, but it adds a nice bit of texture to the album.

This disc came with a bonus EP (something Nada Surf seems to like doing) which comes with acoustic versions of two of the songs from the album, and two new songs.  The last one, “Everyone’s on Tour” shows a rare glimpse of Nada Surf really rocking out.  It’s something of a throwaway song, but it shows off an interesting side of the band, just in case you were afraid they were getting too mellow.

[READ: Fall 2007] To Kill a Mockingbird.

There was some impetus that made me want to read this book and watch the movie.  I think it’s because Sarah likes to repeat her favorite line from the movie (see below) and I wanted to see it myself.  I wasn’t entirely sure what it was even about.  I think it was simply that I knew so many cultural references to this book without knowing the original.  It made me say, okay, time to read this thing.  (Similarly, if you’ve never actually seen 2001, A Space Odyssey, you are missing hundreds of cultural reference points every day).

And I am so glad I did.  Now, obviously, its a Pulitzer Prize winning story, and everyone is supposed to read it in school (why didn’t I?), so I’m not the only one to think it’s good.  But in addition to being Substantial and Substantive, it was also a really enjoyable read.  I admit that some of the classics are difficult to get through, but this one was so great I practically rushed through to the end.

So, of course, this is where Boo Radley comes from.  It’s also where Atticus Finch comes from.  It’s also a story about race, rape and a lawyer who is willing to stand up for what’s right even in the face of violence. That’s a lot to pack into a small book. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Ogre Tones (2005).

No one should be made to feel ALONE! And with that Kings X are back.  It’s the most aggressive scream I’ve heard from King’s X (and it comes from Ty, not Doug no less).

After what seemed like something of a hiatus with Black Like Sunday and Live All Over the Place, King’s X seem rejuvenated and excited to be rocking out.  Despite the hardcore opening scream of “Alone,” the song is their catchiest single yet.  Lyrically the song is about tolerance and compassion.  Its also pretty short (just under 3 minutes), as are the next 4 songs.  It’s as if they had these great ideas and just had to get them out.  “Stay”  returns to the style of old King’s X, with a minor change: it’s the vocal harmonies that are dissonant not the guitars.  “Hurricane” also tinkers with the formula where part of the chorus revels in their harmonies of old and the other part plays with a new aspect: gang vocals, bringing power rather than subtlety.  “Fly” is yet another great shoulda-been a single.  And “If”is yet another Stellar ballad, where Doug sings verses and harmonies bring in the chorus.

A controversial song (for fans anyway) is “Bebop.”  This is one of their experimental tracks, and it kind of hearkens back to some of the tracks off of Bulbous with very staccato guitars, unusual bass lines and the nonsense lyrics of “Bebop be alive ya’ll. Awhop boba lo bop a wop bam boom!.”  While it’s not their best work, it’s certainly catchy as anything, and I give them credit for throwing in some experimentation.  And frankly, it’s pretty fun if you loosen up a bit.

The next few tracks play with the basic formula of the album, until you get to “Sooner or Later” which, lets Ty noodle around on the guitar for 5 or 6 minutes, like an extended jam off of Faith Hope Love.  “Mudd” ends the album proper with a really touching, sweet song.  It could easily fit on Gretchen.

The last two songs I don’t really count.  “Goldilox (Reprise)” is, as you might guess a remake of “Goldilox.” I don’t know why they’d remake one of their most beloved songs.  Aside from the fact that they’ve been playing it since 1987, and the band has changed their style somewhat, they could show everyone what it would sound like if they made it now.  Otherwise, why bother.  It does sound good, mind you, but the original sounds better.  The last track, “Bam” is a historical recording of Thomas Edison’s phonograph.  It’s a weird way to end a record.  But nothing can take away from the fact that King’s X are back in form and they still sound great.

[READ: October 24, 2008] “Whyte Avenue Blue,” “Just the Thing,” “Terminal City,” “Red Carpet Caper,” “Beyond the Overpass,” “The End of Pinky”

I had put off reading these stories because I was in the middle of a couple of other things at the time.  When I finally got around to reading them (and they’re all very short…about a page or two each) I had forgotten that the “theme” behind the stories was noir.  When I started reading them, I kept thinking…none of these stories is even remotely believable.  It’s like the authors are trying really hard to craft stories that are transgressive, almost beyond belief in some way.  Well, when I re-read the sub-heading for the stories, I realized: “The Walrus asked Canadian novelists to sketch their cities as grittier, sexier, and darker than you might ever have imagined…”  So that explained it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Black Like Sunday (2003).

This is a collection of old and rare tracks that King’s X decided to record anew, rather than releasing older versions.  This makes for an unusual scenario of a band recording songs that the wrote some twenty years earlier.  It’s a weird collection of songs to me, as some of them, the ones that I assume are early songs, really sound like they’re early songs: without all of the interesting aspects that later King’s X became known for (musical complexity, meaningful lyrics).  I can’t help but wonder if they thought about “updating” the songs more than just by re-recording them.

And, I have mixed reactions to this disc.  It’s not King’s X as I like them, yet there are moments that are really great.  And, there are even a couple of songs that I don’t think are very good, yet which I can’t get out of my head (“Danger Zone” comes to mind…it sounds like an 80s metal ballad, and yet it’s been in my head for 3 days).  Some other tracks are really good, and must be B-sides, rather than old songs: “Black Like Sunday” is great and “Screamer” is a wonderfully dark song, even if the chorus is pretty much just Doug screaming.  There’s also a good chance for Ty to get a soloing workout on “Johnny,” an 11 minute song that is mostly guitar noodling.

Overall this disc feels like something of a stopgap.  And, when you combine it with the live album Live All Over the Place (2004) which came next, it really seemed like King’s X were winding down their career.

[READ: October 22, 2008] Nation

Terry Pratchett has a new book out and — NEWSFLASH — it’s NOT set on Discworld.  There’s no mention of Discworld, and Pratchett’s character-in-every-book Death does not show up (although there is a Death-like character, and there are voices in the main character’s head that are in all caps, just like Death).

I’ve not read anything about why he set this book on earth (or, as the epilogue notes…a parallel universe earth), so I’m not sure if there’s something more to it than just wanting a change.

And so, no speculating from me, just a review of the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEU THÉRÈSE-Ca Va Cogner [CST049] (2007).

I struggled ever so much over what disc to attach to this book review, thinking that any disc would be seen to have some correlation to Obama.  So, why not just go all out: a Canadian indie band that sings in French!

This is Feu Thérèse’s second disc.  It comes from Constellation records, home of noisy, lengthy, downbeat records.  In fact, Feu Thérèse is chock full of some of the big names in the Montreal underground: Alexandre St-Onge plays with noisy bands like Shalibi Effect and Jonathan Parant comes from noisy bands like Le Fly Pan Am.  So, how did all of these factors possibly unite to make this disc?

Ca Va Cogner sounds like a analog synth party from 1980!  The whole ensemble would be completely and utterly cheesy if the secret ingredient (which I cannot identify) did not make the whole thing work so well.  The whole disc seems to be washed over with these groovy synths. I want to make comparisons to Kraftwerk, but that seems a little too cold.  All of these songs are warm and soft, there’s even a children’s chorus on one of them.  Other songs are instrumental, or have minimal singing.  And “Le Bruit Du Pollen La Nuit” has a wonderfully smutty sounding spoken word track that recalls, of course, Serge Gainsbourg at his naughtiest (although I have no idea what this song is actually about).

I think what saves the disc from just being an 80’s French Europop band is the guitar and bass interplay.  Those two guys take a lot of the sounds that they’ve mastered in their respective bands, and play them beneath all of the synths.  It undercuts the intentional cheesiness of the keyboards with some awesome textures, and really brings everything to a remarkable whole.  This probably won’t be anybody’s favorite disc, but it is very enjoyable, and worth tracking down, especially if you’re a Francophile.

[READ: October 15, 2008] The Audacity of Hope

Since I’ve been for Obama since the beginning, I figured I ought to read his book.  It seemed especially apt now, since the McCain campaign is saying that we don’t “know anything about” Obama. Well, if you read this book, or, I suspect his OTHER autobiography, you could learn quite a bit about him.  Unlike some other people who don’t grant interviews, hmmm.  Okay, I had thought I would be able to review this book without referencing the current campiagn or the upcoming election, but it is simply impossible.  Please deal with my Partisan Review. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Manic Moonlight (2001).

This disc is not terribly popular among the King’s X fans.  A big complaint is that they dared to use drum loops.  It’s kind of a funny complaint because aside from adding a bit of texture (and for some reason, having each song start out with the drum machine), it’s not like they’ve suddenly gone all techno.  In fact, overall the album has a feeling of insular claustrophobia.  It feels like the songs are just densely packed with little room to breathe.

To me, the loops aren’t that odd for a band that’s big into experimentation (although you’ll note they were not used again).  What’s unusual is the addition of funk elements in “Believe,” and some really funky elements in “Vegetable”  There’s also some noisy/crunchy guitar workouts in “Yeah.” This song is also kind of odd as the verses are practically inaudible, but the choruses (which consist of the word “Yeah”) are just so great! Perhaps the most unusual track on the disc is “Skeptical Wind” which comes across as a rhymed/spoken-word piece that references Mia Farrow among other things.

But the title track sounds most like the King’s X we know and love.  In addition, “False Alarm” and “Jenna” are pretty close to the earlier Ty ballads (even though Ty doesn’t sing them).  They contain the harmonies we’re used to, but really they are sort of smothered in all of the surrounding noise.

The album is still full of great songs…the guys never lost their songwriting chops.  It’s just the way the songs are presented that makes them sound so different. It’s an interesting experiment, for which I give them credit, but it really doesn’t showcase the best aspects of the band.

[READ: Throughout 2008] Schott’s Miscellany 2008

In the best case of “but I thought you liked him” ever, Sarah bought me this book for Christmas, certain that I had read and enjoyed other books by him.  Interestingly, I had never heard of him or his books.  But I was very intrigued by the concept of it.

As you might imagine, I enjoy trivia and I like facts.  And for a person like me, this collection is fantastic.  As the subtitle says, it is an almanac; however, unlike the standard almanacs (Information Please, etc.) which are just lists of information.  Ben Schott (could he be the only one who works on this book?) gathers all of the interesting things that happened from September 2006 through August 2007 into interesting, subjective groups, with interesting, subjective names, and then writes about them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HRSTA-Ghosts Will Come Down and Kiss Our Eyes [CST048] (2007).

Hrtsa has another record out from Constellation.  This band is the brainchild of Michael Moya.  Moya writes some really fantastic melodies with interesting and unusual instrumentation.  The first song contains a pump organ, I believe (the liner notes don’t go into any detail).  And throughout the album, whether the songs are long or short, either the guitar lines are great or the different instruments creates atmospheric swells that are really something.

My only problem with this record is the singing. There is occasional singing.  On my first listen, I thought the voice was a woman with a deep husky voice like Carla Bozulich or Marianne Faithfull.  On the second listen I realized the voice is probably that of Moya, making it a reedy tenor voice.  At times he sounds a bit like Gordan Gano from the Violent Femmes.  The problem is that his voice doesn’t really have the power to pull of the songs.  The voice often gets lost in the mix or just distracts from the instruments.  This disparity is heightened even more because there are a number of fantastic instrumentals on the disc.

I certainly enjoyed the disc, I just would have preferred no words or a more interesting singer.

[READ: October 2, 2008] “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”

Sarah and I watched The Last Mimzy a few weeks ago.  I didn’t know it was based on a short story.  I also had never heard of the author.  Well, it turns out that the author is a pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, two other authors I also hadn’t heard of.  This edition of the story comes in a book attributed to Henry Kuttner (originally published as The Best of Henry Kuttner, but released now as The Last Mimzy). Phew.

So, where was I?

Well, if I didn’t know that the story was the basis for the movie, I never would have guessed.  The only thing relating to the story is that two kids find a box full of inexplicable toys which behave in a manner that is unlike anything on earth. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Please Come Home Mr Bulbous (2000).

I’ve always loved the silly side of King’s X, especially when it comes to titles.  And here we have yet another bizarro album title.  And King’s X’s 8th disc actually lives up to the title.  Well, sort of.  But it is one of the band’s most unusual records musically.  They experiment with many different sounds and textures.  There’s a lot of really spare sections, where Doug’s bass is not the heavy, smooth sound we’ve become used to, but rather, single notes (or sometimes two notes at once) played staccato.  There’s also a lot of different styles within one song–King’s X have always experimented with sounds, but it was usually one style per song.  This one mixes things up tremendously.

“Fishbowl Man” has the rather unique distinction of being a chunky heavy guitar riff with vocals by Doug, a pretty, softish chorus sung by Ty and, even weirder, a spoken word center.  “Julia” follows with several different parts: a rather mellow opening, with a harmony-filled chorus, a suddenly heavy heavy post-chorus, and a little psychedelia thrown in for good measure.  “She’s Gone Away”‘s catchy chorus sounds an awful lot like one of King’s X catchy Ty ballads, but musically it’s quite different. There’s some two-notes-at-once bass playing, and–despite the soaring harmonies of the chorus–the guitar work is much heavier and darker for a Ty-sung song.  The solo also has an unusual part in which the bass and drums are very sparse while Ty noodles away.

“Marsh Mellow Field” sounds like a typical King’s X song, but there’s new stuff added: Doug singing a call and response chorus to himself, Ty and Doug splitting vocals in the verse, but it all comes back to a catchy chorus.  “When You’re Scared” has a really weird (for King’s X) recording sound that sounds like they’re in a huge, empty field.  But it works really well with the gentle harmonious chorus.

Consistently the highlight for most listeners is “Charlie Sheen.”  It is upbeat and pretty and what the hell it has to do with Charlie Sheen no one knows.  There’s great vocal interplay on this, and it ranks pretty high on the Ty ballad list.  And, somewhat unusually for this disc, there’s nothing unusual about it.

“Smudge” contains some of the darkest lyrics I can think of for King’s X.  Doug even sings of breaking a rosary.  Evidently the backlash from the Christian community was pretty strong.  “Bitter Sweet” has a loping bass that plays nicely over this tender, short ballad.  And the disc ends with 11 minutes of the sweet “Move Me (Parts 1 and 2)”.  Despite the oddities at the beginning of the album, the bulk of the disc is pretty conventional King’s X.  And they’ve still got it.

One other unusual thing: between some tracks on the CD there are tongue twisters in Dutch and Japanese. (I lifted this from Wikipedia, by the way)

* At the end of track 1: Acht-en-Tachtig-Prachtige-Grachten
This is Dutch for “88 (achtentachtig) beautiful (prachtige) canals (grachten).”
* At the end of track 3: Tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da
This is a Japanese tongue twister (hayakuchi kotoba) meaning “The adjacent (tonari) customer (kyaku) eats (kuu) persimmons (kaki) often (yoku).”
* At the end of track 4: Zes-en-Zestig-Sinaas-Appel-Schillen
This is again Dutch and means “66 (zesenzestig) orange (sinaasappel) peels (schillen).”
* At the end of track 5: Hottentotten-Tenten-Tentoonstellingen
Dutch tongue twister meaning “(an) exhibition of tents made by the Hottentots.”
* At the end of track 6: Chikushō, nante hidee sandoicchi da
Japanese meaning “Damn (chikushō)! How awful (hidee) this sandwich (sandoicchi) is!”
* At the end of track 10: Acht-en-Tachtig-Prachtige-Grachten
See first tongue twister.

[READ: October 1, 2008] Vacation

I received this book in the mail as part of my McSweeney’s Book Club.  I tend to put new books at the bottom of my pile, but I decided to break it up and read this one right away.  It sounded really interesting, I liked Unferth’s flash fiction, and it was fairly short itself (216 pages).  I would say that aside from Harry Potter, this may be my fastest turnaround on a book coming out and me reading it.

But enough about me.  This book is about Myers and his wife, Gray and his daughter, Claire and the Untrainer, and Spoke and Sexy Woman in Bikini.

The set up of the book caught my attention right away.  It begins with Claire’s story.  She sees a man on her train.  He looks familiar, but his head is oddly misshapen.  She finds it very unsettling.  The man walks off the train and out of her life.  And then we follow the man.  It reminded me of Slacker, where people’s lives intersect briefly and we follow the next person. (more…)

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