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Archive for July, 2009

ij4SOUNDTRACK: The Best Albums of the Year

morningAndrew Womack, fellow Infinite Summer player and founder of The Morning News has begun retroactively listing The Best Albums of the Year for each year since 1978.  This is a project that I have often thought about doing myself, yet never had the time to sift through all the music I have.

I was delighted to see how much I not only knew, but also agreed with his decisions.  Although if I’m honest, my list would have more metal and less new wave in it.  But the overall tenor is pretty on par with my feelings.

But, imagine my surprise to see that on the 2004 list I barely knew any of the discs at all!  I wonder what happened to make us diverge so much in that one year.

Anyhow, it’s a noble, well, not noble so much as worthwhile pursuit.  One that we can all enjoy.

[READ: Week of July 27] Infinite Jest (to page 434)

In the August 2009 issue of Wired, they have a little scroll across the bottom of one of the pages that lists  “Word Counts”.  King James Bible: 784,806; Where the Wild Things Are: 338; Infinite Jest: 483,994.  So, at almost halfway done we’ve read over 240,000 words!

Also, I haven’t sufficiently acknowledged some of my fellow Infinite Summer bloggers.  So I want to send a shout out to Infinite Tasks.  I especially enjoyed this post which takes a decidedly more philosophical approach than I did about a section that I found really enjoyable.  And Chris Forster, who gives a lovely discussion about Eschaton.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention Infinite Zombies, just because he may have written a letter here but his posts always get sucked up into spam, so I’ll never know.  (And because the posts are really thoughtful and worth reading too).

But enough back patting, onto the book.

solIt was a fun place to pick up reading.  At the small paragraph where I left off, we learn that the Statue of Liberty’s book now advertises that year’s Subsidizer.

On a couple of occasions there is the suggestion that the year 2000 is the first year of Subsidization, as they talk about things being different in the new millennium.  Although Matthew Baldwin’s argument here is very convincing which would make Subsidization begin in 2002.

And then we return to A.A.

(more…)

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this-is-waterSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH in concert from NPR (July 7, 2009 at Washington DC’s 9:30 Club).

syI’m not sure how I learned that this show was online.  But I was pretty delighted to see NPR hosting a live Sonic Youth show (this is actually the 2nd Sonic Youth show they’ve hosted and the older one is still online.  Sorry, the previous concert is removed, but there’s a three song set from WXPN (with interview) available here).

The coolest aspect of this is that it is downloadable.  The uncool aspect is that it is one long stream, so it’s not easy to split.  Although they do give a track listing, which is nice.

This is a good, if somewhat mellow show.  It features all of their new album, The Eternal, as well as a few choice oldies: “Hey Joni,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” and the opener, “Tom Violence.”  There’s not a lot of crazy noise, and most of the songs don’t last more than 4 or 5 minutes.  In fact, the photos show pretty standard guitar setup (no drum sticks in guitar strings or anything).

I was only able to listen on really crappy headphones, which I ‘m sure do nothing to the layers of noise that the band produces, but as soon as I can get it switched over for car playing, I’m sure it’ll bust out the speakers.

The whole set is about 90 minutes.

And if anyone knows just what is going on at the 59 minute mark (just before “White Cross”), and possibly even what song that is, let me know!”

[READ: July 26, 2009] “This is Water” [sort of]

I hadn’t been planning to read any other DFW pieces before I finished Infinite Jest (why, I figured, confuse the issue?).  But when I was looking around Amazon for something or other, I saw this “new” book and was obviously intrigued.  Then I read the reviews, and almost every review (both 1 and 5 star) said that it is a speech from 2005 commencement at Kenyan College and that it’s available online.

But now, with the publication of the book, it pretty much isn’t available online anymore.  [I found my copy though the Internet Archive, and marginalia.org.]  The copy that I have isn’t exactly the same as the book (in the only part I compared, the word “uniquely” appears in the book where it didn’t in the transcript, while at the same time, in the transcript there’s a preface that is funny and endearing which isn’t in the book).  But for all intents and purposes, let’s say that I have read the book.  (Plus it was easier to put the cover image than to find an image from the speech). (more…)

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dont lookSOUNDTRACK: RALPH’S WORLD-Peggy’s Pie Parlor (2003).

peggyWhen my son Clark was born, Sarah and I made a conscious effort to find music for him (really for us) that wasn’t, well, Raffi.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Raffi per se, but well, he’s kind of annoying.

In the 4 years since he was born, there’s been an awful lot of cool bands making kids records.  And I’m all for that (sometimes it’s nice being in tune with zeitgeist).  Although it is nice to hear one of the guys who started the whole movement.  Ralph himself was a member of Bad Examples a fairly forgettable band, nowhere near as fun/clever as Ralph’s World.

This was the first Ralph’s World disc we bought.  And it’s still in pretty heavy rotation (although, now, really, the kids just listen to what we listen to…maybe when they’re a little older and actually understand Decemberists lyrics, we’ll be playing more Ralph).

Ralph’s songs rock, they’re amped up and excitable, like a toddler.  They’re simple, easy rock songs in a multitude of genres.  He also mixes his own originals with covers and even a public domain track (“Yon Yonson”).

And so overall you get a disc that sounds like a children’s disc from They Might Be Giants, before They actually made children’s discs.  (TMBG’s children’s discs aim a little younger).  Ralph’s songs are whimsical and catchy, in the way of TMBG’s adult songs, although the lyrics skew more towards about 6 or 7.

If you don’t have kids you probably won’t enjoy these discs, although really all is takes is a silly streak to enjoy them when the kids aren’t around.

[READ: July 24, 2009] Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now

My son has just started watching Charlie and Lola, a delightful show based on the books by Lauren Child.  [And it has one of the single coolest theme songs of any show ever.  Seriously.  It’s fantastic.  Here, listen.]  When I mentioned that Clark was watching this, my friend Eugenie said, Oh, Lauren Child, of Clarice Bean!

I wasn’t familiar with Clarice Bean.  And then, as coincidence will have it, I was showing a patron some books in the Ch section, and there was a Clarice Bean book.  I grabbed it and only found out later that it is the last (or at least that latest) book in the Clarice series.  Well, it’s a kids book, I thought, I’m sure  I can join the series late and not miss anything.  And I was right.

I was also surprised by how into this book I got.

Oh, and also how eerily appropriate it was that I selected this particular book while I’m in the midst of Infinite Summer.  I figured Clarice Bean would be a nice relaxing thing to read in my Infinite Jest Downtime.  But Clarice Bean starts out: Part One: Where does infinity end?

Seriously. (more…)

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kvmanSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-EVOL (1986).

evolAh, EVOL.  Here’s where Sonic Youth became Sonic Youth.  Who knows how much Steve Shelley had to do with it, but he shows up and the band becomes amazing.  The cover art is pretty darn scary and yet the music inside is amazingly beautiful.  While by no means a commercial album, the album is chock full of melody.

And yes, I believe it is mandatory to type the title in all capitals.

“Tom Violence” opens it up with a fantastic chord progression and words that are sung almost delicately.  And “Shadow of a Doubt” is amazing!  Guitar harmonics drift around while Kim whispers about a dream.  An astonishing leap from their past records!  “Star Power” seems like their attempt to right a catchy hit.  It would certainly never be one, but it’s pretty close.

“In the Kingdom #19” is a lengthy spoken piece by Lee Renaldo.  My friends Lar, Aurora and myself saw Lee play a show with Mike Watt in the city on Bloomsday.  We have a  special affinity for Lee’s songs.  I’m going to try to remember to point out all of his vocal turns on SY discs, but on those first few, it’s nigh on impossible.

“Green Light” seems like it could have been a Velvet Underground song.  “Death to Our Friends” is a pretty instrumental, while “Secret Girls” morphs from a noisy abstract soundscape to a delicate piano backed poem read by Kim.

I tend to think that SY’s early stuff was all noise and bombast, and yet only three albums in and they produce a masterpiece like this.

Known as “Expressway to Yr Skull,” the originally titled “Madonna Sean and Me” shows just how much SY knew about catchy tunes.  And maybe that’s the key to longevity, having a catchy tune somewhere underneath whatever layers of nonsense you throw on top (and SY throws the best nonsense I know).  Admittedly, “Expressway” kind of devolves into a few minutes too many of fading notes. The disc ends with “Bubblegum” a surprisingly rock and roll song.  I especially like Kim’s “hit it girls” comment.

EVOL marks the beginning of a staggeringly fantastic collection of discs.

[READ: July 16 2009] A Man Without a Country

I hadn’t been planning to read any of Vonnegut’s book out of sequence (except for the collected stories which I figured I’d read in their own sequence).  But when I went to join my local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program (in mid-July, how punctual!), I received a coupon for a free book from their free book shelf. Largely they were books that I didn’t want.  And just as I was about to give up, I saw this small Vonnegut book poking its spine out from the rest.

I grabbed it and brought it home. (more…)

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wiredMany many years ago (1995), while I was in Boston, I bought my first copy of Wired magazine (how could I forget the absurd cover to the right (yes, there IS a picture there) [And I’m very impressed that you can easily link to all of their back issues, just as I did with the link above].  I’m not sure how long it had been in print , but I think it was still young and buzzworthy. [Research shows that this was its 3rd year].  I remember thinking the magazine was very difficult to read.  Literally.  Text ran across pages, the colors were all wild.  The ads blurred completely with the content (by design).  And it was very “techie.”  I don’t remember if I subscribed exactly then, but I did subscribe eventually.  And then I stopped (sometime in 1999).

Recently I got an offer to re-subscribe, for a dollar an issue.  (This is where my idea that I will cancel a magazine once I stop getting a dollar’s worth from it).  I wasn’t sure if I should subscribe, but I figured what the hell.

Not a resounding chorus of cheers for this publication, huh?

Well, since I’ve subscribed I have been pleasantly surprised by the magazine.  And interestingly, the cover story almost never interests me.  In fact, and my brother in law Tim first pointed this out: the cover stories and the big articles take themselves very seriously.  Everything is always The Future Of This.  The New That.  Don’t Be Left Behind!  It’s over the top in its wanting you to take them seriously. (more…)

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in hereSOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-We Are the Same (2009).

Itragically hip first heard of The Hip when I saw their video for “Nautical Disaster.” This is back in the day when I first got Canada’s MuchMusic on my Brighton, MA cable system, and when I actually watched Music channels. Anyhow, the song was intense and very cool and it built to a great climax, and I was totally hooked.

I got their back catalog and continued to get their new releases.  Since then they’ve released some really good songs, and some pretty good discs.  It almost feels like since their live disc they decided to switch from intense songwriting to more simple, straightforward rock. This is a little disappointing to fans of their intense stuff, and yet if you accept the change in style, the music is quite solid.

So this disc seems to be shooting for an even broader, more commercial appeal.  And, in the first half, at least, they emphasize a more folksy/country feel.  All of this should make me flee from the disc, and I think longtime fans are pretty disappointed by it.  And yet, I can’t get over how much I like it. There’s something slightly off about the Tragically Hip that keeps them from being overtly commercial.  So that even when they release a disc like this, which is quite mellow in places, it still sounds alternative.  Maybe it’s Gord Downie’s voice, maybe it’s something in the melodies; whatever it is, it keeps this disc from being blah.

The final track, Country Day” seems to sum up the overall feel of the disc: meandering country roads.  And “Queen of the Furrows” is about farming.  The opening few songs have a Neil Young folkish feel, since “Morning Moon” and “Honey Please” have big catchy choruses with folky verses

“Coffee Girl” actually reminds me of a serious Barenaked Ladies type song, which is disconcerting coming from the Hip, but could possibly become a hit (it’s probably their most overtly commercial song I can think of since “My Music at Work”).  Actually, I take that back, one of the final tracks on the disc, “Love is  a Curse” sounds like it’s their last ditch attempt to have a big hit in the States.  And if they were a more well known (or on a bigger label) it would be a huge hit.  It rocks pretty hard and screams radio friendly.

The Hip of old do surface on two songs though: “Now the Struggle Has a Name” is one of those great sounding Hip songs:  as you’re singing along to the swelling chorus you wonder why they aren’t huge down here, and then you realize the song is 6 minutes long and will never get on the radio.   There’s also a 9 minute song, and the good news is that it doesn’t get boring (no mean feat).

The second half of the disc has more loud guitars.  The cool riff of “The Exact Feeling” is pretty great.  While “Frozen in My Tracks” is probably the weirdest track on the disc, with a very cool, off-sounding chorus.

So yeah, the disc has horns and strings and is maybe a little too polished and produced.  But the songwriting is still stellar.  I’m sure that if I had heard these songs now without knowing the Hip, I wouldn’t be all that impressed.  Maybe as I get older I’m less critical, or maybe I’m just happy to mellow out a bit more.

[READ: Week of July 20] Infinite Jest (to page 367)

Even though last week I said I would keep to the Spoiler Line Page, I am breaking the promise already.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving a passage unfinished, so I just continued to the section break of Gately’s A.A. meeting.

When I first read IJ way back in 1996 I, like most Americans, didn’t really think too much about Canada.  I liked a lot of Canadian music and The Kids in the Hall were awesome, but beyond that I was pretty oblivious to our neighbors to the north.  Since then, I have become something of a Canuckophile.  I did Curling for two years and have visited up North a number of times.  We even had a Canadian satellite dish where we watched most of our TV (like Corner Gas and The Rick Mercer Report) until that moderately legal company was sued out of business.  Now I subscribe to The Walrus which keeps me well informed. Anyhow, this is all to say that I have a greater understanding of Quebec separatists and the state of US border relations.  This makes this whole Marathe-Steeply section more interesting to me this time around.  I sort of went from Hal (apolitical) to a quarter of the way to Avril in my understanding.

But before we get to that, lets get into the book and learn about Orin. (more…)

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harpersaugSOUNDTRACK: Songs That Got Us Through WW2 (1993).

ww2My dad was in World War II. He was a Navy man, and he worked on airplanes.  He was stationed in the South Pacific.  When I was growing up, he listened to a lot of big band music (while most of my friends’ parents were listening to folk music).

This collection of songs is a favorite of mine whenever I’m feeling nostalgic for my parents.  Although not every song on this disc was one I knew, the majority are greatly familiar.  My dad even had a lot of these records on 78 vinyl (and I have begun a small 78 RPM collection of my own).

When I think of a lot of these songs and what they meant to the people back home they go from being upbeat fun dance songs to being songs that people held onto during such a tough time.  There hasn’t been a lot of documentation about what families hold onto during our current wars (emails I gather are pretty important), and I suspect that with popular culture being fragmented so much, there aren’t really any unifying songs like in WWII. I’m not sure if that’s a shame, but it does mean less that nostalgia like this isn’t as likely 60 years from now.

[READ: July 19, 2009] “Kinds of Killing”

Normally I don’t write about book reviews.  However, since I enjoyed William Gass’ The Tunnel, and I am fond of his writing in general.  In fact, Gass is such a powerful writer, and he spends such a great deal of time honing his words, that anything he writes is worthy of a read.  And since this book review was something like 8 pages long, it seemed worthy of a few words. (more…)

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