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Archive for February, 2009

wikiI finally decided I had something worthwhile to add to Wikipedia.  Since I have been writing so extensively about McSweeney’s Books, I decided to create a more or less comprehensive list of all of the books that they have published.  (I once asked a McSweeney’s rep if he had a list and he said he didn’t think anyone there did, which was somewhat surprising).  Anyhow, I used my librarian access and knowhow to create the chart on THIS WIKIPEDIA PAGE.  I’ve never felt such POWER!!

If you see any errors, please correct them!

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nevermindSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003).

yoshimiHow do you follow up the fantastic Soft Bulletin?  If you’re The Flaming Lips, you simultaneously pull back and push forward.  I often thing of Yoshimi as Bulletin part 2 but that’s really not right or fair.  Yoshimi has a more Pink Floyd vibe: it’s quite mellow and folky.  But nothing the Lips do can be completely commercial, so you get things in every song that add immensely to the sound, yet prevent it from complete accessibility.

The opening song “Fight Test” begins with an ominous voice saying “The test begins…  NOW!!” with loud distorted crashes, and yet it quickly turns into one of their most delicate and catchy songs.  The only nod to peculiarity is the watery bass lines that fill the song.  It’s a mystery why this song wasn’t huge.

The next track, “One More Robot” is a delicate song reminiscent of Radiohead with the walking bassline and soft vocals.  This leads to the fabulous title track “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Ropbots Pt 1.”  In which yes, Yoshimi disciplines her body to take on the evil machines.  It’s another shoulda-been single, with strumming acoustic guitar and more of that fabulous fat bass. ” Pt 2,” on the other hand is a noisy cacophonous march depicting the fight.  It includes Yoshimi P-We from the Boredoms and OOIOO adding appropriate shrieks and screams.

Two more delicate songs follow: “In the Morning of the Magicians” is one of their longer songs and is quite mellow.  It also features a very lengthy instrumental section with more of that awesome bass.  “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is the most techno sounding song I can think of by the Lips.  It seems like maybe that touring work with Beck influenced them a bit.

“Are You a Hypnotist??” is a little louder and plays with the ascending chord progressions that Wayne does so well.   An uplifting track, with fun, interesting notes thrown in.  “It’s Summertime” has some great rubbery bouncing bass noises in the beginning, and it slowly morphs into a heavenly chorus.

The real highlight is “Do You Realize??”  It’ a song that goes from happy to sad to happy all in the space of a few lines.  But musically it is uplifting, with choruses and swelling orchestration.  I gather this was used for some ads, but I’m just surprised it wasn’t everywhere!

“All We Have is Now” is another delicate song, with gentle verses sung in an impossibly high falsetto.  The chorus is the most interesting part, with great bass notes interrupting the reverie.  The album ends with a gorgeous instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” which is an apt title (Pavonis Mons being a volcano of Mars) and it sounds quite interstellar.

What’s most notable about this album is that there’s nothing that stands out as peculiar from the rest of the record (except “Yoshimi Pt 2”). It’s a very  constant record, mellow and comforting.  And yet I’m not going to call it safe, because it’s not.  I don’t know if it made as many critical lists as Bulletin, but I know it sold better, and it seems like a really good place to start for latter days Lips.

[READ: February 18, 2009] Never Mind the Pollacks

After reading several Pollack stories in McSweeney’s I discovered that he had written a novel. This novel.

With an awesome title! Most of the awesomeness is purely luck that his name is Pollack (Never Mind the Debraskis doesn’t have the same ring). (more…)

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boschSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Soft Bulletin (1999).

bulletinThis album brought The Flaming Lips out from the underground (or one-hit wonder status) into the spotlight of Well Respected Bands.  It made a whole bunch of best of 1999 lists and even a few best of the 1990s lists.

The album is a lot more commercial than their previous records.  The choruses are catchy and they swell in beautiful strings.  And the songs themselves display amazing songwriting prowess.    Lyrically, the songs are also much deeper and more sophisticated.   While writing this up, I learned that this record was something of a payback for Zaireeka. (They promised a more commercial release in exchange for the crazy experiment).

And yet despite all of that, in no way is this a sellout album, or an obvious contender for top 40 status.  The lyrics are neither cynical nor ironic, they are simply human, emotional pleas for friendship, for love.  It would be embarrassing if they weren’t so thoughtful.

“Race for the Prize” (two versions on the disc) is full of big, loud, brash drums, smashing away as a beautiful synth intro fades away into quiet verses and a very tender bridge. It’s followed by “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” a  delicate ballad, with a minor orchestral feel to it.  At times the tinkling pianos are almost Disneylike.  And then the big brash heavily distorted, and yet not unpleasant, bridge crashes in, keeping you dizzyingly off balance.

“The Spark That Bled” is yet another song with several different sections that meld nicely together.  The opening is emotional and delicate: “I accidentally touched my head and noticed that I had been bleeding.”  This portion morphs into the uplifting, impossible no to sing along with:  “I stood up and I said Hey! Yes!” string chorus.  And just to show that that’s not all they have, the next portion of the song is a smooth and funky guitar/synth shuffle.

“The Spiderbite Song” is the most obvious, by hardly the only, use of really cool and wholly unusual drums on this album.  The track starts with an extremely fast (too fast for human) drum roll that flanges around into a martial beat.  And it repeats this way throughout the song.  The lyrics are an earnest appeal to friendship when one of the band members got a spider bite and there was concern that he would lose his hand.

“Buggin'” is a demented pop song about bugs.  More wonderfully brash drums underscore a poppy verse about mosquito bites…  This segues into “What is the Light?” a ponderous track with a drum like a heart beat.  During their live show, they projected a giant eyeball whose iris changed color with each beat.  The next track (the instrumental “The Observer”) uses the same heartbeat drum as its foundation too.

“Waitin’ for Superman” (two versions as well) is the most straightforward track on the disc.  I think of it as an uplifting song because it is musically so upbeat, and yet lyrically it is quite sad.  No wonder it wasn’t the huge hit it should have been.  It’s followed by “Suddenly Everything has Changed” has another fantastic bassline.  And, like the title, midway through the song everything changes into a spacey keyboard motif that is so airy it almost floats away.

“The Gash” opens with what sounds like some weird Beatlesey syncopation, but it continues with the heartfelt “will the fight for our sanity be the fight of our lives?”  “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” starts with such a fantastic opening: a voice drumming “bah rup bup bup bah rup up up up up.”  And the drums eventually kick in following this same pattern.  And once again the earnest lyrics: “Love in our life is just too valuable, to feel for even a second without it.”  Fantastic.

I saw the Lips on this tour and their show remains one of the top 5 shows I’ve ever seen.  Everything about the show was magical, from the band handing out little FM headphone sets so you could hear the whole show in stereo (!) to the video screens, to the simply jubilant atmosphere that the band sent out.  My only regret is that this was the tour BEFORE they used the giant hamster ball or the bunny costumes.  We did get hand puppets though (and real fake blood!)

I also just learned that the UK edition of the disc had a different song than the US version.  Huh.  And it was recently released in 5.1 surround sound mix.  Who hoo!

[READ: February 10, 2008] If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
This is the sequel to Bosch’s The Name of this Book is Secret. I was really hooked by the first book, and was pretty excited to hear that the sequel had arrived.  To see a summary of that book and for background info, click here.

At the end of book one, Cass and Max-Ernest were on the verge of joining the Terces Society. This book picks up several months later with the pair still waiting to hear from their secret contacts: either Owen or Pietro Bergamo.

One day at lunch, Cass receives a letter in secret code telling her to come to the docks. When they board the boat they are dismayed to see that it is full of Midnight Sun members (The Midnight Sun is the group of bad guys that they defeated in the first book. They include: Dr L. (twin brother of Pietro), Ms. Mauvais, and the Skelton Sisters). This boat trip puts in motion most of the events of the story. (more…)

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mother[READ: February 14, 2009] Mother on Fire

I heard about this book on The Sound of Young America.  Sandra Tsing Loh was pretty funny.  She’s a writer/performer and a contributor to NPR. This book is all about being a mother at 40.

I read about 15 pages and decided that a) the book is more for moms than dads; b) it was funny in parts, but was more of a potential one woman show of quips than a book and c) I just really didn’t care about her or her husband very much.

I tried again to read the book last night, I even skipped to another chapter, but it just kept eluding me.

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metalSOUNDTRACK: Hmmm….

There’s so much to choose from to go with this book.  And yet, despite how much I loved metal in high school, I really didn’t like hair metal at all.  In fact, when looking at the bands listed at the end of this book, there were very few that I own or intentionally listened to.

The bands that I liked in this book were: Ratt and Whitesnake.  I also liked Motley Crue’s first two records, but I gave up on them once their makeup went from Kiss to CoverGirl.  Nevertheless, I’m not going to review any of that music here, I’m just going to let you soak in the beauty of this book.

[READ: February 8, 2009] American Hair Metal

My brother-in-law received this book for Christmas. And he proudly showed it to me when we were visiting this weekend. I was immediately hooked, and rather than just flipping through the photos as I thought I might, I actually read the thing cover to cover.

So this book is a loving (or so it says) look at American hair metal of the 1980s and 1990s. The book is basically comprised of three things: outrageous photos, hilarious quotes and occasional comments from Blush. (more…)

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strwaSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Waitin’ for a Superman [US maxi single] (1999).

supermanmaxiThis single contains the official stereo mixes of two Zaireeka tracks: “Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)” & “Thirty Thousand Feet of Despair.”  Unlike the downloadable homemade mixdowns, these were  created by the band.  The tracks are modified somewhat from the originals.

On the album, “Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)” is 7:02, and on the mixdown, it’s only 5:54.  While “Thirty Thousand Feet of Despair” is the same length: 4:59.

Because they are mixed down properly, they do not present the glorious insanity (out of synch items etc.) like the online versions, but they sound really good and allow you to appreciate the songs.

[READ: February 3, 2009] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Boy I love this series.

This is the 3rd book in the Wimpy Kid series.  I was very excited that it came out, and I plowed through the book in a couple of hours.  Although I can’t be certain, I think that this book may be even funnier than the first two. (more…)

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originalSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Race for the Prize (1999) & Waiting for a Superman’ (1999) singles.

race11race21When these singles were released, Zaireeka was out of print; these discs were the only way to get any of the tracks.  So, each of these singles has two track from a Zaireeka disc as a B-side: “Riding to Work in the superman1superman2Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)” & “Thirty Thousand Feet of Despair.”   “Race for the Prize” (1 and 2) have the tracks from Zaireeka discs 1 and 2, and “Waitin’ for a Superman” (1 and 2) have the tracks from Zaireeka discs 3 and 4.  The singles aren’t really worth hunting down at this point since Zaireeka is now available, but at the time, they were worth it.

[READ: January 18-Feb 5, 2009] Schott’s Original Miscellany

This is the book that started the Schott empire!

Ben Schott wrote this book (the origin story will appear shortly) and it was so successful that he wrote 2 more volumes (all reviewed here).  This led to his annual almanacs/miscellanies. There are different versions of the annual almanac for England and the U.S. (and Germany too!) and I can’t help but wonder just how different they are.  So if any one has an old UK edition of a Schott’s almanac that they want to send me, let me know!

For all your miscellany needs, check out  http://www.miscellanies.info/. Lots of information here! (more…)

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