Archive for May, 2009

pumphouseSOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-The Rhumb Line (2008).

raraI have a hard time describing this album.  It has a lot of ingredients that don’t make sense individually, yet which work very well. I would almost resort to calling them pretentious rock, but that seems so derogatory.  Vampire Weekend falls into this category of highly literate pop too, and we know how much  I love that album!

Ra Ra Riot play catchy indie pop, but their main instruments are cello and violin. And yet they’re not anything like Rasputina’s string-laden goth music.  Rather, they write catchy poppy songs that are punctuated with strings.  I even wanted to say they don’t have a  guitarist, (they do) but I guess that just shows how well his licks meld with the rest of the music. And, indeed, on some tracks, the guitar is up front and wonderful.

They also get labelled pretentious because one of their songs (and one of their catchiest) has lyrics from e.e.cummings, or rather, they use his poem “dying is fine)but Death” as the lyrics for the song “Dying is Fine.”  They also cover Kate Bush.  Now the Futureheads covered Kate Bush a few years ago, so perhaps Kate is the next go-to artist for covers.

Ra Ra Riot wins extra points for covering a fairly unknown, and utterly bizarre song, “Suspeneded in Gaffa.”  This happens to be one of my favorite Kate songs, so I’m a bit critical.  However, they do a very good job of making it a pop song (There’s enough weird stuff in Kate’s version to never give it mainstream acceptance).  And the strings work very well for it.

Ra Ra Riot was also featured on that paragon of good taste: the show Chuck [And since I have mentioned the  music of Chuck on many occasions, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a shout-out to this site which lists all of the songs in Season One–gotta update Season Two fellas].  Chuck played “Can’t You Tell” in a romantic scene, and it worked quite well.

So, after all that, what can I say about the band.  They may be too commercial for some, but I think their combination of strings, intelligent lyrics and good vocals is pretty great.  Incidentally, in case you were wondering, a rhumb line  (or loxodrome) is a line crossing all meridians at the same angle, i.e. a path of constant bearing. Following a rhumb line requires turning the vehicle more and more sharply while approaching the poles (thanks Wikipedia).

[READ: May 26, 2009] South of the Pumphouse

So this book is by Les Claypool, lead singer and bassist of Primus.

Claypool’s lyrics are typically stories, full of weird characters in weird situations.  Oh, and fishing.  Lots of fishing.  And that sums up this book pretty well.

The book is set in El Sobrante, California, a redneck haven that has not progressed along with the rest of the state.  Earl is a fisherman and meth addict.  In that order.  Fishing is Earl’s life.  His father fished every weekend, and Earl and his brother Ed went with him.  Rain or shine. (more…)


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harpers 1993I first heard about this magazine from my friend Ailish’s then-boyfriend, Dave (this was sometime in 1993, I would guess).  Dave fancied himself an artiste: he typed his novel on a portable Underwood, loved Henry Miller and read Harper‘s.   I liked him, but was always confused by his pretensions since he didn’t really fit the bill.  But regardless, when we visited, I always read his Harper’s. I very quickly got hooked on it and have been subscribing ever since.

Harper’s is another one of those magazines that I don’t immediately get excited about receiving because there’s always the possibility that there will be five really long articles that I want to read in it.  And who has the time for all of that? Perversely, I am secretly delighted when there is only one story that I want to read in that month’s issue. But I know that if I’m going to read something in it, it will be good.

Clearly the high point of the magazine is Harper’s Index.  The index is a list of various statistics.  The gimmick, if you will is that everything is written in such a way that the answer can be given in a numerical value.  for example: “Amount the ABBA tribute band Bjorn Again says it was paid to play a concert for Vladimir Putin in January (2009): $27,500; Estimated street value of drugs seized last March at three Phish reunion shows in Hampton, Virginia: $1,200,000.” (more…)

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scan0014SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008).

colinColin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists.  This is a recording of Meloy’s solo acoustic tour from 2006.  The recording is from several venues on the tour, although it is mixed as if it were one concert.

Meloy is a great frontman, and this translates perfectly into the solo atmosphere.  He is completely at ease, telling stories, bantering with the crowd, and generally having a very good time.

The set list includes some popular Decemberists songs as well as a track from Meloy’s first band Tarkio (whom I have never heard, but figure I’ll get their CD someday).  Meloy also adds a couple of covers, as well as snippets of songs added to his own (Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” gets a couple of bars, as well as a verse from The Smiths’ “Ask.”)

This disc is not going to win anyone over to the Decemberists, as Meloy’s distinctive voice is a love it or hate it deal.  However, if you’re on the fence about them, hearing these songs solo can only convince you of what great songs they are.  The Decemberists add a lot of arrangements to their songs.  You get a lot of interesting and unusual instruments.  Which I like a great deal.  But to hear that these songs sound great with just an acoustic guitar is testament to Meloy’s songwriting.

The intimacy of the venues also really lets these songs shine.

[READ: May 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #4

This is the first time that McSweeney’s showed that it might be something a little different. #4 came, not as paperback book, but as a box full of 14 small, stapled booklets. Each book (save two, and more on those later) contains a complete story or non-fiction piece.

There is something strangely liberating about reading the stories in this format. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to finish a book and put it down, so having 14 makes it seem like I’ve accomplished a lot.
This was also the first issue that I’m certain I didn’t read when it originally came out, for whatever reason. So, it’s all new to me.

DIGRESSION: When I was looking up publications for my Wikipedia page about McSweeney’s publications, I kept encountering records for these individual booklets.  This was rather confusing as I couldn’t find any other records or ISBNs for these booklets.  Rest assured they are all collected here. (more…)

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I’ve been getting a lot of hits from people looking for the Edmonton Folk Festival.  Well, on a moderately unrelated note, I’m passing along this information about an indie rock show in Edmonton.   It’s Saturday June 14th at Louise McKinney Riverfront Park.

This is the press release summary:

This free concert is conceived, produced and directed by Trevor Anderson from the Wet Secrets and includes members of Shout Out Out Out Out, Cadence Weapon, Faunts, Whitsundays, Whitey Houston and many other local acts to celebrate sustainable communities and Edmonton’s music scene.

For More info click:www.thatsedmontonforyou.com

And below the break is the entire press release. (more…)

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bogSOUNDTRACK: BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-BBC Sessions & Live in Belfast 2001 (2008).

bsbbcVirtually every review of the BBC Sessions says the same thing: these tracks barely differ from the original recordings.  And, for better or worse, that is very true.  In fact, even the trumpets and other instruments sound so perfect, you tend to forget it’s a live recording.  Clearly this sends a positive message about their live playing.  But if that’s the case, why would you buy this?

Well, clearly Belle & Sebastian devotees will buy it even if there’s only marginal differences.  But really the selling point is the last 4 songs, all of which are brand new (at least to me). It’s also amazing to me how on the first batch of live songs from 1996, the band sounds so delicate it’s as if they would fall apart just by looking at them.  The opening songs are soft, and Stuart’s voice is barely a whisper.  And yet through all of that the choruses are still catchy, and the songs are amazing.

But really the main hook for this set is the Live in Belfast disc.  It comes from 2001, and is a surprisingly rollicking set.  I saw B&S several years ago at a small club in Manhattan. It turns out to be one of my worst concert experiences.  Not because of the band, but because it was so overcrowded (B&S were the “IT” band at the time) that I had to keep moving back to stop getting crushed.  I eventually spent time in the lobby trying in vain to hear the set.

So this is the next best thing for me.

The set is an interesting mix of covers (and surprising ones at that–“The Boys Are Back in Town!”) and B&S rarities (with a couple of popular songs like “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man” thrown in as well).  There’s also a fun rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” by a fan named Barry who requested the song and then came up on stage to sing it.  The band is loose, a little shambolic and apparently having a lot of fun.

It’s a remarkable collection of tracks for any fan of the band and certainly overcomes the similarities of tracks on the first disc.

[READ: May 24, 2009] Beware of God

I read this book exclusively because of my authority as a librarian. I received an email saying that the person who had put this book on hold no longer wanted it (her book club was last week and she had to buy the book…that’s a book club I want to be in, actually).  When I took it off the hold shelf, I saw who it was by, and since I have wanted to read his stuff (and this book was fairly small) I thought I’d take it home with me.  When we canceled the hold, I learned that someone else had a hold on it, so technically I couldn’t take it.  However, I broke a rule. Since it was Saturday and Memorial Day weekend this book wouldn’t be shipped out to the net person on line until Tuesday morning!  Surely I could read this in time with no one the wiser.  Well, imagine my surprise to have read it by Sunday night…it could have gone back even if it wasn’t a long weekend!  Huzzah!

I hope that doesn’t get me fired. (more…)

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hapersSOUNDTRACK: MP3 Radio Transmitter

mp3I was looking for a solution to my broken CD Player and I recalled that there are these mini transmitters that broadcast your MP3 player like a radio station.  The broadcast range is pretty weak, but it’s usually strong enough to go from your player to your car radio.  In theory this allows for everyone to be their own tiny radio station which I find utterly cool.

In practice, however, I found it somewhat wanting.  Perhaps if I bought the really expensive one I would have had better results.  Yet in two areas right by my house, the non-station 88.1 (recommended for tuning in) would grow staticky.  It wasn’t that big a deal but it was disconcerting.

However, when we drove out to Western NJ, where there are virtually no radio stations, our transmitter just seemed to fade away. We had to turn up the radio all the way just to hear the MP3 player.  And it was still quiet and staticky.

Surely this isn’t how people play their MP3 players in their cars?  We had previously tried the MP3/cassette adapter.  That worked okay until the adapter started clicking loudly with every revolution.  So we ditched that. It also cracked me up that the highest tech downloadable-no-moving parts technology had to go through the clunkiest, ugliest, most prone to breakage music technology that I know of.

My latest solution is just to drive Sarah’s car.

[READ: May 22, 2009] “Little Drops of Water”

This short story appeared in Harper‘s and is going to be part of a forthcoming collection of stories.

I was a little nervous upon reading this story.  Faithful readers know that I am intending to read all of Vonnegut’s works.  So, imagine my disappointment when I didn’t really like this story in the beginning.

As the story opens, it sort of meanders around to the point.  In fact, almost the whole first page of this six page story seems like it’s trying to find a way to get into the actual story.

Once he finds the door, though, Vonnegut tosses it wide open and barges in with a very funny story of revenge.  (more…)

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518SOUNDTRACK Radio New York, WNYE, 91.5FM.

91.5Radio New York is a fascinatingly diverse radio station.  I have probably scanned right by it on many occasions because at the time I scanned onto it, the show was something that I had no interest in.  And yet, several hours before or after, I would have found a great resource for good music.

Their website features a cool interactive page that describe the amazing diversity in their daily lineup from Alternative rock to Cypriot Shows, BBC World Service and Haitian Perspective, even the Voice of Bosnia.  I admit I’m unlikely to listen to many of  these programs, but it’s nice that they’re there.

The morning music, however (from 6AM-Noon) is often exactly what I like.   Especially John in the Morning, whose description: “From the Pixies to Pela, M.I.A. to Massive Attack, JITM breaks new music, embraces old music and ties it all together” sounds exactly like what I’d do if I were  a DJ.

[READ: May 21, 2009] “In the South”

This short story finds Salman Rushdie contemplating death on a personal level and a grand scale.  The story concerns two old men: Junior and Senior (who is 17 days older than Junior).  The men are not related, but they grew up in the same town.  Both men also have the same first name (which they will reveal only as starting with the letter V), and nothing else in common.  (more…)

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