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Archive for January, 2009

fox1SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-In aPriest Driven Ambulance (1990).

priestThis is where the Lips really hit their stride.  While they are still experimenting with sonic noises, the dedication to songcraft takes precedence.  It’s as if they wrote cool songs first and then fiddled with them, rather than using the fiddling as the main focus.  The album is divided into two sides: Smile Side and Brain Side.  Amusingly all songs are listed as being 3:26 long, and yet none of them actually are.

“Shine on Sweet Jesus” is catchy as hell and also features some of the interesting effects that Wayne & co would really play with later (multi layered deep voices, etc).”Unconsciously Screaming” is another simply great thrashy song.

“Rainin’ Babies” seems like it would be a pretty harsh song and yet it isn’t.  Its got a catchy chorus (“this is my present to the world”) and is one of many highlights on the disc.  “Five Stop Mother Superior Rain” has pretty weird lyrics over a nice acoustic bit.  It sounds so innocent and yet it starts: “I was born on the day they shot JFK”.  It slowly builds to a singalong chorus of “You’re fucked if you do and fucked if you don’t.  Five star mother superior rain.”  Whatever that means.

Brain Side doesn’t start out too auspiciously with the rather meandering “Stand in Line.”  But it is quickly redeemed with the epic “God Walks Among Us Now.”  It’s squeals and squalling and distortion and it’s catchy as all get out, and it contains the wonderful chorus:  “Used to be alright then things got strange.”  “There You Are (Jesus Song No. 7)” is a more delicate ballad.  (It’s surprising how much acoustic work there is on the disc).

“Mountain Side” returns us to the rocking noise.  It’s another simple, catchy song with enough distortion to keep it interesting.  “What a Wonderful World” is a cover of the classic song.  It seems so much like a parody, and yet knowing Wayne’s later lyrical work I’d suggest it isn’t.  It’s done  genuinely, despite themselves, and you never get a sense that they’re snickering at all.

The two bonus songs are okay, but they tend to ruin the rather nice ending of the disc.  (But such is the problem with bonus tracks).

[READ: January 17, 2008] Lady into Fox

In the first few pages of this book, as the title implies, a Gentleman’s wife turns into a fox.  The fact that Garnett was able to write 78 pages about this and keep it interesting is pretty remarkable.

Basically, when Mr Tebrick’s wife turns into a fox–more or less before his eyes–he decides that he will bring her home in hopes that this will just wear off.  The story turns into something of a fairy tale, with Mrs Tebrick wearing a house coat and playing cards (although she cannot talk) and with them trying to lead a normal life. (more…)

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curiousSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Telepathic Surgery (1989).

telepathicAlthough the overall sound of the Lips on this disc isn’t that much different, the band sounds more accomplished. Rather than just banging out songs in a garage, this one sounds like a bunch of guys banging out songs in a studio and then experimenting the hell out of them.  In fact, the experimentation often takes over the quality of the song itself.  Wikipedia states that this album was originally going to be released as a thirty minute sound collage, although that was modified to what we now have, and that makes some sense.  This experimentation will certainly pay off in later years as the Lips hone their studio skills.

Even though the experiments tend to overshadow the songs, the compositions are more intricate, the playing is more precise (even though it is still somewhat sloppy sounding) and they sound like a real band.

The album is a lot of fun, although the middle two tracks: “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” and “UFO Story”could easily be removed and made a separate EP.   (And yes, I realize that “Hell’s Angels” is a bonus track not on the original LP, but it really messes with the flow when dropped in the middle of the disc).

But back to the beginning.  “Right Now” has a great, weird squeaky opening riff and a fantastic chorus that is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” “Chrome Plated Suicide” is a surprisingly poppy song, drenched in distortion to give it anice edge.  “Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon” is subtitled “(Fuck Led Zeppelin)” which is pretty funny since so many of their earlier songs sound so Led Zeppelinish.

There are two super-short pieces that fill up the disc: “Michael Time to Wake Up” is a thirty second feedback squall and “The Spontaneous Combustion of John” is 53 seconds but is an actual song song, with acoustic guitars.  “UFO Story” is in fact a 6 and a half minute spoken word story about UFOs.  It’s a mellow drony piece with a barely audible (presumably stoned) Wayne relating a tale about seeing the same UFOs on two distinct occasions.  The middle two minutes are basically just  guitar squalling feedback, and the  final the two are a pretty piano melody.  “Miracle on 42 Street” isgentle instrumental, with a lot of cool bass, that opens with some fun radio snippets.

The second “side” of the disc is pretty different from the first. It contains a series of rather short, rather simple songs.  The experimentation has also mellowed somewhat.  It’s not as crazy as the first half and, in fact is a return to the acid rock of the first two albums.  “The Last Drop of Morning Dew” is another short song although it’s not silly.  “Shaved Gorilla” begins with a classical sample (which I cannot place), and then turns into a tidy little rocker.  And the disc ends with the wonderfully titled “Begs and Achin,'” a solid distortion filled rocker.

Two bonus tracks come on the disc “Fryin Up” (on Easter Sunday, blowing off everything off on Monday…hee). Doesn’t sound out of place on the disc at all.And “Hell’s Angels Cracker Factory” is a 23 minute (!) instrumental freak out. It opens with the roar of motorcycles and includes reversed tape loops and distortion, blessed distortion.  As a track it works pretty well, although, as I said, in the middle of a disc it’s a bit of a distraction.  On the reissue Finally, The Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid the song is reduced to 3 minutes, which gives you a taste for it without taking up the bulk of your evening.

Overall, the album is a transitional step, but it’s an important one.  And if you like your music freaky, it’s an enjoyable one, too.

[READ: January 15, 2008] Curious Men

This is a collection of articles originally published in the 1830s.  The subject is, essentially, human oddities.  Buckland was a sort of collector of oddities.  Yet unlike P.T. Barnum, he seems to have befriended, rather than exploited many of the people in question.  In fact, this collection of articles shows him investigating some of these bizarre claims, and seeing if they need to be debunked. (more…)

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A new day

inauguration

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winkieSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Oh My Gawd!!!..The Flaming Lips (1987).

gawd1The cover of this disc makes a statement.  And it should tell you everything you need to know about the music inside.  It’s got skulls and psychedelic colors and Oh My Gawd!!!  And yet, it doesn’t, exactly.  It’s not quite as out there as the cover might make you think.

Because it’s funny how much this disc’s first song sounds like the Replacements (except where he starts singing about his brains falling out and everything exploding…not quite ‘Mats material).  But Wayne sounds like early, sloppy Paul Westerberg, and the riffs are not too far off from some of the early ‘Mats records.

Even the wonderfully titled 9 minute epic  “One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Afternoon” isn’t quite as much of a freak out as you might expect.  In fact, the early instrumental part is one of the prettiest melodies they’ve done.  It is particularly interesting given its sparse instrumentation.   The song does eventually drift back into earlier Pink Floyd territory (“Astronomy Domine” etc). But it’s “The Ceiling is Bendin'” that is the freak out you’re looking for, with a fun drum fading and the chaos.  “Maximum Dream for Evil Kenevil” on the other hand is a noisy mess (a fun noisy mess, but a noisy mess nonetheless).

It’s clear that they’re doing some good experimentation with audio effects.  And yet “Can’t Exist” is a delicate little song with just a light touch of feedback.

The first half of “Prescription: Love” is a rocking instrumental that would not sound out of place as a Nirvana B-side (but since it came before Nirvana, let’s say maybe on an SST Records track.  The second half returns to the garage rocking sound (with some funky deep vocals dubbed on…the first of many experiments with voice on future albums).

“Ode to C.C., Pt. 2” feels like it’s going to take of in an explosion but never does. But it has the excellent line “Hell’s got all the good bands anyway.”  “Can’t Stop the Spring” is another fantastic riff rocking song, and it starts and end with a classical music sample.  [Which I can’t place right now, sadly].

The disc ends with “Love Your Brain,” a 7 minute piano workout –which ultimately ends in the destruction of the room.  It sounds like every instrument in the place is destroyed.

So this disc expands the sonic weirdness of the Flaming Lips’ first disc, and it also showcases their growth as musicians.  It’s not a brilliant album by any means although it is quite good.  The most interesting thing is seeing how much they are experimenting with sounds now, and how it will pay off for them later on.

[READ: Late 2006 & December 2008] Winkie

I read this book two years ago, and my memory of it is not that great.  I’m only including it because I really enjoyed it at the time, and would like to make some record of having read it.

UPDATE: I have decided to re-read this book while on P breaks at work.  I am now utterly unsure whether or not I read the book fully last time.  I have just finished it again, and I was totally surprised by so many things (although one or two things did trigger my memory) that I really had to wonder if I finished it.

So, the story is about a stuffed bear named Winkie.  Winkie was a beloved toy of the Chase family and most recently of Clifford Chase [see author’s name now].  As the story opens, Winkie, the stuffed bear, is being tackled by the FBI as they arrest him for terrorist activities.  [You can re-read that sentence to see if your brain digested it.] (more…)

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mcsweeneys1SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Hear It Is (1986).

hear-it-isI’ve claimed that I love the Lips, but then I was very harsh about their cover of “White Christmas,” and I noted that I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack of  Christmas on Mars very much.  So, I felt I owed them some love.  But my recollection of their early stuff was that it was pretty weird and hard to listen to.

And yet, I proved myself wrong.  Hear It Is is not the Flaming lips of the early 2000’s.  It’s almost like the bratty younger brother of that band.  Only Wayne and Michael Ivins are present, and the band is pretty much just guitar, bass and drums.  The guitar is distorted and noisy (except when it’s acousticy and mellow).  The album doesn’t sound too far out of place for a college radio record in the late 80s.

Except of course that Wayne and the boys are pretty out there. The music is psychedelic, acid inspired and quite punk.  So you get songs like “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” a seven minute epic of heavy riffs and screaming, but also of background “Ahhhh’s”.  You also get “With You” a song that starts out like a pretty, acoustic ballad. “Godzilla Flick” is a ballad like no other.  And yet despite all of the freakouts and noise, really at this stage what you get is a Led Zeppelin inspired heavy garage band having a lot of fun.  To say that this is going to blow your mind would be unfair, but to anyone who says the early stuff is unlistenable, they are totally wrong.   Hear It Is is sloppy, punky and a little ridiculous, the ideal incubator for what will become the Lips of 2000.

This CD comes with a cover of “Summertime Blues.”  This disc was reissued along with their initial EP and some bonus tracks on the disc Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid.

[READ: 1998 and January 10, 2009] McSweeney’s #1

I have been reading McSweeney’s since its inception.  (My copy of this issue even has the two page typed letter that explains the failure of Might magazine and the origins of this one. However, it’s been over ten years since I read the first issues.  Given my new perspective on McSweeney’s, and how I read just about everything they release, I thought it was about time to go back to the beginning and proceed through the issues until I meet up where I first started reviewing them.

Issue #1 has many features that are absent in later issues:

First is the cover.  This cover is simply filled with words; practically littered with them.  There are subtitles, there are jokes, there’s all sorts of things (I mean, just look at the full title of this issue).

Second is the letters column.  The difference with this letters column compared to most publications is that they are all (or mostly) nonsense.  One comes from an author whose piece is accepted into the issue (Morgan Phillips).  Another is a funny/silly letter from Sarah Vowell.  And there’s a letter to his cousin from John Hodgman (whose comic potential may not have been tapped at this point?). (more…)

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mc29SOUNDTRACK: FISHBONE-Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe (1993).

monkeyI had actually forgotten about this album, because it was so overshadowed by Truth and Soul and Reality….. When I put it on I wasn’t expecting much (Fishbone had something of a precipitous decline around this time).  So, I was amazingly delighted with how much I remembered this album and how much I enjoyed it (which shows to me that I must have listened to it a lot back in college).

This album is much much heavier than anything they’ve done up to this point (I can’t speak for the releases that came after it).  It does have some variety of songs, but not nearly as much as their previous releases.  The other notable thing is that there’s no short songs on it.  There’s none of the one minute songs that they’ve put throughout their discs.

“Swim” was the single from the album and it is heavy and moshy.  The video, I seem to recall, was a lot of people crowd surfing.  “Black Flowers” slows things down a bit, but unlike previous ballads, this one is still pretty loud.  It’s got a great catchy melody, but it’s still  quite dark. “Servitude” reminds me of some of King’s X’s s darker moments, with their riffs and dark harmonies.  (This just shows how Fishbone is much more metal on this release).  Their first “lighter” song is the return to ska with “Unyielding Condition.”  It’s a nice let up from the heaviness, and is still catchy. “Lemon Meringue” is the other lighter moment, with a nice bass riff included.

Funk returns with “Properties of Propaganda” and the repeated chants of “Fuk This Shit on Up.”  “The Warmth of Your Breath” is hardcore insanity, the type of song that would have been about 2 minutes on another disc sort of overstays its welcome, although the often repeated line “may your dog’s colon be familiar with the warmth of your breath” while barely audible can’t help but raise a smile.  And even though “Drunk Skitzo” features Branford Marsalis, it’s still too long for such silliness.

So, it’s really the first half of the disc that I liked a lot…I guess some discs run too long.

I never got a Fishbone CD after this one.   The reviews were pretty lousy by then.  But of course, the reviews of this one were lousy too, so maybe I’m, selling their later output short.

[READ: January 3, 2009] McSweeney’s # 29

My cover for this book happens to be red.  Huh.

This issue comes as a hardcover book.  There are planets on the cover, including a die cut hole that shows the moon of the next page.

On the bottom of every page of the book are matchbox labels.  Most of them are Eastern European in origin.  They were collected by Jane McDevitt, a web designer in the UK.  Some of the images are available on her Flickr site: www.flickr.com/photos/maraid.  They are a pretty cool collection of images.  And, they brighten up all the work . (more…)

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TNY 12.22&29.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS–Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage-Songs for Christmas Vol. VIII (2008).

sufjan-viiiI downloaded this disc from an online source.  And no I don’t feel bad about it because it wasn’t officially released, so no one is losing money.  If it ever gets released I’ll surely buy it.

Volumes VI and VII are unavailable anywhere, so maybe when he finishes vol X, Asthmatic Kitty will release another box set of his Christmas EPs.

So this disc is a radical departure from the five volumes in the box set (who knows what he got up to from 2006-2007).  It is so different that I had to wonder if it is actually his release or just an internet prank. I mean, the cover is crazily different, the title is outrageous, and the music is…well, I’ll get to that.  On the other hand, Sufjan’s voice is so distinctive, that it’s hard to see how anyone could have pulled that off.

The title certainly implies space-age keyboardy stuff and that is exactly what you get.  There are virtually no acoustic instruments at all (except for “Christmas in the Room,” which is done mostly on piano.)

The traditional songs include: “Angels We Have Heard on High”  which has a fully electronic sound, but which works very well with the ethereal nature of the song.  “Do You See What I See” on the other hand is very mechanized.  It has vocals processed through a robot voice for some of the song.  And the backing vocals seem to be deliberately dissonant. The chorus, on the other hand is still quite cool.  “Good King Wenceslas” has the same electronic robot type voice, but that voice performs the entire song.  It’s disconcerting at best.  “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is a keyboardy instrumental, with space effects thrown in for good measure.  “Joy to the World” is next to last.  It runs over seven minutes and is very mellow.  As with his previous recording of the song, I don’t care for the pacing of this version.  It’s very slow and meandering for what I often think of as a, well, joyous song.

“Christmas in the Room” is an original that is sung by someone other than Sufjan (no liner notes for the download).  It’s the only song that is not electronic, being done on a piano (although there are some keyboard flourishes in the background). “The Child with the Star on His Head” is a 13 minute (!)  song that is primarily instrumental. The first half of the song is very mellow (with gentle horns and a mellotron, I think).  The last 7 minutes are a cycle of the same refrain (with la la las) and a gorgeous trumpet solo (!).  The final three minutes are sort of a keyboard winding down, almost like a space ship lullaby.  It’s a beautiful piece even if it is wholly unexpected on a Christmas EP!

[READ: January 6, 2009] “The Gangsters”

I enjoyed this story immensely.

This line sort of sets up the basis of the story: “According to the world, we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses.” (more…)

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