Archive for April, 2009

harpers-maySOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Yield (1998)

yieldThis Pearl Jam disc is something of a return to form after the experimentation of No Code.  Part of me feels bad that they experimented less, because I do enjoy a band’s wild side, and yet these songs are uniformly fantastic, and they include some of my favorites by Pearl Jam.

“Brain of J” bursts out of the speakers, as one of their heavier opening tracks.  Catchy and fast.  “Faithful” starts as a ballady song but the choruses once again build into a great sing along.  “No Way” is a more experimental sounding song.  It’s right in the middle of their speeds, but the guitar has a mysterious echo on it that gives it an eerie feel. “Given to Fly” is a classic: slow, building, anthemic.  “Wishlist” is another of Sarah’s favorites: a simple, catchy melody that builds and builds.

“Pilate” is a rather confusing song: “Like Pilate, I have a dog”  Okay.  A gnashing rocking chorus with verses that are actually catchier.  “Do the Evolution” quickly became my favorite Pearl Jam song from the live sets.  This studio version is a little slower, and to me it sounds off.  But it’s such a weird little song, what with the “choir” singing “alleluia” and yet it is just a perfectly tidy punk song.  Certainly one of my favorite PJ songs.  The next untitled song (a red dot) is one of those weird, forgettable tracks that PJ throws on their albums, it’s less than a minute of steel drum inspired chanting.  It’s quickly followed by another of my favorite songs “MFC” a rocking song that sounds like its subject matter (driving).

“Low Light” is a slow song that builds, but it is a very full song; the whole band plays, keeping it from being dull. “In Hiding” has a great guitar opening and one of those great Pearl Jam singalong choruses. “Push Me, Pull Me” is another weird little track, that reminds me of some of the Who’s wackier numbers. “All Those Yesterdays” ends the disc on a quirky song.  It’s catchy but not as catchy as some tracks.

The album ends with an untitled hidden track. It’s a Middle Eastern style guitar solo. Amazon says the song is called “Hummus.”

I really enjoy this disc, it’s a shame it took me so long to discover it as I had given up on PJ after No Code.  But now it ranks as one of my favorites.

[READ: April 24, 2009] “Two Cosmicomics”

I’m not sure why all of these Calvino stories are appearing in magazines all of a sudden.  But after the one in the New Yorker not to long ago, I figured I’d give this one a try, too. (more…)


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walrusSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-No Code (1996).

nocodeI’d always sort of liked this disc because of its principles–I believed that the title came about because there is no barcode on the disc.  Pearl Jam is always tilting at some windmill or another, and I can support that.

I’ve also learned that this is PJ’s least popular and lowest selling album.

And I can see why.  Although there are a number of great songs on the disc, the overall tempo is somewhat flat.  The disc is also quite varied, without any of the really typical Pearl Jam songs on it.  None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it adds up to a Pearl Jam disc that doesn’t rock as hard as the others, and sounds rather unfamiliar.

“Sometimes” starts off the disc very slowly.  Something of an anomaly in itself for PJ. The song is strong but it doesn’t really build.  This is a stronger track live, where the atmospherics kick in better.

“Hail Hail” is a typical Pearl Jam number, perhaps the only one on the disc.  It’s pretty fast and furious and features some great bass work.  “Who You Are” was the first single, a slow Middle-Eastern tinged song.  The drums are also quite different on this track, as they are more tribal than rocking.  It’s a really enjoyable song but it’s not the kind to attract the masses.

“In My Tree” and “Smile” form the middle/mellow sound of this album.  Neither one has very loud guitars, although the chorus of “Smile” allows Eddie to give a good yell “I miss you already.”  (It also features a Neil Youngesque harmonica).  “In My Tree” features what sounds like a zither(!), and comes with more tribal drumming.

“Off He Goes” is one of the mellowest songs PJ have done.  The live song tends towards more emotion.  Its a great song, but it loses a bit in this studio recording.

On what would be the second side, Pearl Jam flexes its punk muscle: “Habit” and “Lukin” are some of the heaviest/hardest songs they’ve done.  And live, they are even faster.  The songs themselves are great, yet they really stick out on this mellow disc.

“Red Mosquito” is another midtempo rocker, although the guitar solo is pretty scorching.  “Present Tense” begins very slowly and sparsely.  It takes a long time to build although the conclusion is satisfying.

Another anomaly for this disc is the new vocalist: Stone Gossard sings “Mankind,” a pretty straight ahead rocker, that only stands out because of Gossard’s unusual voice.  It’s always funny to hear them play it live as it’s something of a unique treat, even if the song itself isn’t amazing.

I guess really the problem comes at the end…the disc just sort of fades away.  Neither of the last two songs is bad, but neither is really memorable.

I hate to dismiss the album as I do because the good songs are very good, it just feels kind of hodgepodgey.  There is talk of a lot of dissent within the band at the time of this recording and maybe that has something to do with it.

[READ: April 24, 2009] “The Intruder”

This story started out a little slow, progressed into an adrenaline rush, twisted into something potentially comic and then inverted itself in the last sentence. (more…)

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masksSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vitalogy (1994).

vitalI always think of this as the “weird” Pearl Jam disc.  Mostly that’s because the contents are certainly weird (in that it’s made up like an old book, including excerpts from the book in the liner notes).  But also because it has some of Pearl Jam’s strangest songs on it, especially “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” easily one of the weirdest songs in their canon, and possibly the weirdest song on a major label.  It’s 7 minutes of samples and scratchy guitars.  And it’s more than a little creepy.  The disc also contains “Bugs” an accordion-based rant about, well, bugs. and “Aye Davanita” a sort of Eastern chanting type piece.

And so I tend to let these oddities overshadow the fact that Vitalogy is an amazing album full of some of Pearl Jam’s classic tracks.

The disc opens with “Last Exit” a song that packs in everything that Pearl Jam is known for: rocking guitars, a great chorus and a great guitar solo.  It’s followed by PJ’s ode to vinyl singles, “Spin the Black Circle,” a fast and furious punk song, not unlike “Whipping.”  Next is “Not For You” a slow builder that ends in some raucous screaming.  And “Tremor Christ”, whatever that means, continues in this rocking vein.

Then we get to “Nothingman” the first ballad on the record.  I never really cared for this song all that much, although after rocking out this record, I’ve been singing “Nothingman” for the last few days.  I guess I do actually like it.  I think the live version tends to have more oomph, though.

“Corduroy” is another classic Pearl Jam song, it opens slow, but builds to an infinitely singable chorus…no idea what corduroy has to do with the sing though.

“Better Man” is a wonderful ballad and is one of Sarah’s favorite songs.  It’s always a crowd pleaser .  The album ends with “Immortality” (except for “Foxymophandle…”) a great song of longing that really comes alive live.

And so, Vitalogy really is an amazing record. The eccentricities of the disc do not overshadow the great music at all, and it is easily one of the best.

[READ: May 2007 & April 21 & 22, 2009] Ulysses Moore Books 1, 2 & 3 & 4

I started this series almost two years ago.  In the midst of Sacred Games, I needed a break and this little series seemed ideal.  It’s a suspenseful mystery about three kids on the island of Kilmore Cove.  I had intended to read the third book, but it didn’t come out until a  few months later, and, believe it or not, my library never got a copy of it.

I had intended to write about the series back in May of 2007, and yet I didn’t.  Now that I’ve finished the fourth book, and will continue to read the series, I’ll start the write ups now.  (According to Wikipedia, there are eight [UPDATED: 11/16 there are now NINE] books in the series already, although only 4 have been translated into English at this point).

Scholastic doesn’t seem to know what to do with this series, which is a bit of a shame.  In fact, there’s very little about this series online.  I couldn’t even find a cover picture of books 3 or 4 that matched the style of 1 and 2.  (Leading me to believe that they were never released in hardcover).  It’s marketed as  a good series for fans of Spiderwick, and I guess that’s true, but they are not doing much to gain an audience for it. (more…)

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bookpeopleSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vs. (1993).

vsTen was a solid record, and although it had diversity within it, overall the sound was pretty consistent.  On Vs., Pearl Jam mixed it up sonically and otherwise.

It opens with “Go,” a track that rocks harder than anything on Ten but which retains a great Pearl Jam chorus.  “Animal” is also loud, with Eddie’s voice sounding incredibly rough and raw.

It’s on the 3rd track that PJ begin to really mix it up with their first ballad: “Daughter,” their first acoustic track.  It’s catchy, and really works with Eddie’s voice.  I can never listen to the next track “Glorified G” without thinking of my college roommate who spoiled it for me.  And I’ll spoil it for you because every time you hear the chorus you will now think “glorified version of a pelican.”  It’s not my favorite song anyway, as the chorus is kind of weird, but the verses are really strong and do redeem this track.

“Dissident” and “Blood” continue the great rocking vein.  Although they are quite different from each other, (“Blood” being much harder) they both showcase Pearl Jam’s excellent rock aesthetic.

The track between them, “W.M.A.” is the other track on the disc that shows Pearl Jam’s experimental side.  It’s percussion heavy and seems like a rambling track…it works much better live, actually.

“Rearviewmirror” on the other hand is PJ at their best, a fantastic rocking (but not too heavy) song with a great chorus, and excellent vocals by Eddie.   Its complement is “Elderly Woman…” which highlights the other end of PJ’s spectrum: a sort of ballad that rocks more than you might think.

“Rats” and “Leash” are two rough, almost punk songs that continue to mix up the tempo and tenor of the disc.  “Rats” seems to get ignored a lot even though its chorus is a good one, and “Leash” is another angry song that’s, again, enjoyable live.

“Indifference” ends the disc and it’s a song that I wasn’t all that excited about initially.  However, again, after hearing the live versions, I gained a much better appreciation for the song and now I really enjoy it.   All in all Vs, is a great step forward for Pearl Jam, strangely enough pulling them away from arena anthems and into more intimate areas.

[READ: April 16, 2009] The Book of Other People

I discovered this book by searching for A.M. Homes in our catalog.  I was surprised I had never heard of it.  The premise of this collection, put out by McSweeneys and benefiting 826 is that each author was asked to make up a character.  The requirement was that the story would be named after the character.  There were no other rules.  And as such, you get a wide variety of stories about all different characters: people and otherwise.  In fact, it’s surprising what a diverse collection of stories have arisen from this rather simple concept.

bookpeople2Zadie Smith is the editor and she wrote the introduction.  I like to cover all of the written pieces in the book, but there’s not much to say about the introduction except that it fills you in on the details of the collection.  She thanks Sarah Vowell for the idea but I gather that the rest of the work was done by her.

I’m not grousing about the different covers this time, I’m just showing the UK one.  It has the same basic set up, including pictures by Daniel Clowes, but as you can see, it’s slightly different.

And check out this roster of talent that has written (or drawn) a story: it’s like a who’s who of contemporary young writers. (more…)

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walrus-409SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Ten [remixed] (2009).

ten1Pearl Jam reissued Ten this year with a new mix by Brendan O’Brien, the producer who has mixed the bulk of their catalog.  So, this gives everyone a chance to hear what it would have sounded like if it were released after Vs., or something like that.

The great news is that he barely changed anything on the record.  In fact it still sounds fantastic and rocks just as hard as the original.  Really there are two notable differences: the guitars sound a lot cleaner (word is that the band has been displeased with how much reverb was on the original recording).  And cleaning up the reverb has the same effect as if you had a copy of the tape and listened to it 100 times and then bought a new copy…everything sounds clear and bright and amazing.

This clean up allows you to hear a lot of the subtleties that were lost in the original mix: acoustic guitars and some bass parts come through, as does Eddie’s vocal track.  And that’s another feature of the remix: Eddie’s vocals are very clear.  Some of those lyrics where you never quite understood what he was saying are now clear, and his voice is closer in the mix, like he’s in the room with you.

There’s a few other minor changes, mostly in the end of songs, where one aspect is louder than it used to be.  Or, for instance the harmonic notes in the beginning and end of “Jeremy” are a little quieter.

All in all, there’s nothing revolutionary about this mix, it just makes the disc sound better.  I listened to the disc several times this weekend, and I really enjoyed it.

[READ: April 14, 2009] “The Whole Story”

This is a brief story about writer’s block.  The narrator is spending time in an artists’ colony as a way to be away from the world and finish her novel.

As the writers’s block and procrastination sets in, she finds new ways to not write her novel: playing piano, drawing swans, wandering around the grounds.  It is only when she actively helps some of the other artists, that she feels that she herself is no longer broken.

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CV1_TNY04_20_09.inddSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Ten (1991).

tenFor me, Nirvana was the band that brought the 1990’s into alternative-rock-land.  But, it was Pearl Jam that brought hard rocking music back to the masses. Like everyone I know, I loved Ten.  But I gradually lost excitement about Pearl Jam over their next couple of records.

Then something interesting happened; in the span of a few months, someone loaned me a copy of Binaural and Pearl Jam released a whole bunch of live CDs all at once.  (72 to be exact).   Being indecisive, I decided to get the whole set (directly from the band), and so I immersed myself in Pearl Jam.  (My friend Lar asked if it was because I wanted to have 72 copies of “Jeremy.”   Amusingly “Jeremy” actually only appears on a couple of the discs, but I think there are 72 versions of “Do the Evolution.”)   By the end, I had a fundamentally new respect for the Pearl Jam albums that I hadn’t really listened to.  I also had some newly favorite Pearl Jam .

The interesting thing about the live discs was that many of the songs were performed faster than on the originals, but not so much with the songs from Ten…they kept all of the power and excitement and transported it perfectly to the stage.

Ten has just been reissued as a remastered disc and a remixed disc. (It comes in 4 different packages, but I couldn’t justify splurging on the big package even if I did splurge on the live discs way back when…I’ve got two kids now, after all).  I’m currently digesting the remixed version of Ten, but I wanted to revisit the original disc for comparison.

Man, I must have listened to this disc a hundred times.  And even though I haven’t listened to the disc in quite some time, I was amazed at how I remembered everything.  And it still sounds amazing.

One of the things I noticed this time around that deepened my appreciation for the disc was Jeff Ament’s bass.  Unlike some albums where the sound is consistent on every track, on Ten, Ament plays two or three different bass sounds that bring a strength of diversity to the album.  He’s got a watery, fretless bass sound that brings fantastic fat bass to some songs, and then he’s got his hard, electric bass for some others, and the 12-string bass that you hear in “Jeremy.”  He’s also not afraid to mix up the bass lines, so he’s not just keeping time with the beat.

And back to the album: there’s not a bad song on Ten.  The first 6 tracks, in fact, would be classic tracks for anyone.  “Once” starts of with a bang; “Even Flow” shows a slower and more melodic side; “Alive” introduces the anthemic chorus, “Why Go” shows their punk roots; “Black” has just about everything; and “Jeremy,” well, everyone knows “Jeremy.”

The next song slows the album down a little.  “Oceans” is a bit of a misfit on this disc: it’s rather mellow, it doesn’t have a chorus per se and I don’t know that it would be anyone’s favorite song.  And yet, that great watery bass plays through the whole thing making it exquisitely beautiful.  It’s also a fun one to sing along to as it’s mostly just ooohs.  They wisely kept it to under three minutes, providing a nice break from the proceedings but not losing the overall momentum of the disc.

And then we’re back: “Porch,” starts fast and gets furious as the chorus culminates, “Garden” is a slow but intense number, and “Deep” gives Eddie one more chance to scream before the conclusion. “Release” provides a great slow down after the adrenaline of the disc.

The entire disc is singalongable.  And there’s not a bad thing I can say about it.  Even after nearly twenty years the disc still sounds fresh and amazing.

[READ: April 16, 2009] “A Tiny Feast”

This has such a weird conceit for a story.  A little boy has contracted leukemia, and his parents sit with him every day as they do the chemo.  The twist is that his parents are actually immortal beings, and he is a human.  They acquired the little boy (named Boy) when Oberon was feeling guilty for making Titania mad. He stole a human boy from a family and presented him to Titania as a gift.  At first she was still mad at Oberon and wanted nothing to do with her new pet, but she slowly grew to love the Boy.  And when the boy became sick they took him to a human hospital. (more…)

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esquireI don’t recall why I started getting Esquire. I think it was because I got some kind of discount magazine subscription card. And since Sarah gets lots of women’s magazines, I thought I’d try a men’s one.

I’ve been quite delighted with it since I subscribed. And one thing that I like about it is that I don’t feel compelled to read everything in it. I enjoy the letters, although my favorite part of the letters page is the “Context-free highlight from a letter we won’t be running” which always contains a random sentence or two from a letter. This sentence is always weird and it’s awesome to imagine what the rest of the letter contained. An example: “Our prime minister is pretty harmless, but he licks his lips a lot when he speaks.”

As the Man at His Best section starts, I enjoy “The Vocabulary” which defines the words they will introducing in the section. And of course this section has The Rules, a randomly selected number assigned to a rule that should be followed. Example: “Rule No. 815: Of the clocks in the house, the coffeemaker is the least likley to be accurate.”

This section also contains the usual line-up of media reviews: books, music, film and TV. These are all short and sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t, and that’s fine. Usually the books and movies they like are too “butch” for my taste, and that’s a general note about the magazine that I’ll get to shortly.  But the music section tends to introduce me to stuff I don’t already know.

There’s also stuff about food and drink, and I always want to try the food advice, because it’s mostly about foods I try to make, but I never save the pages so I always forget the clever suggestions. (more…)

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