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Archive for September, 2009

glist1SOUNDTRACK: DEERHUNTER-Microcastle/Weird Era Continued (2008).

deerSomehow, I can never remmeber what this disc is going to sound like when I pop it in.  Once it gets going the songs are all familiar and very good, its just that initial listen, where I forget that the band is rather delicate and poppy.  I tend to forget this because well, the bands name doesn’t sound delicate, and the album artwork has skulls all over it.  So, to put it on and hear pleasant keyboard songs is alwaya  bit of a surprise.

The guitarsd are jangly and have an almost 60s folk rock sound and yet the drums are very electronic  (I presume its a drum machine) and the vocals stick out as rather unlike the 60s style.  There is also a wonderfully low budget/hazy quality that pervades the disc.  It sort of envelopes the disc in a layer of cotton keeping the sound consistent and sometimes narcoleptic.

And yet despite that sort of sleepy feel, the catchciness of the songs shines through.

The last few songs of Microcastle especially provide a really strong set of songs.  And they lead into Weird Era very nicely.  For although it is clearly the same band, Weird Era is a very different disc.

It is a far more rocking/noisy affair.  And although there area  number of very short instrumental pieces, for the most part, the songs are catchier and a bit more fun.  Ideally, mixing the two discs together would provide an overall more well rounded listening experience.

[READ: September 15, 2009] Glister 1-3

This is a strange little series from Andi Watson.

I’ve enjoyed just about everything he’s written/drawn, mostly for his artistic style, but really because of his off-kilter and wholly fascinating sensibilities. So what makes this series so odd is the rather almost-sloppy style he uses for the backgrounds and other characters.  Maybe it’s not sloppy so much as “fuzzy” which lend an air of spectralness to this supernatural tale.

The other thing that is odd about the series is that everything suggests that this will be a long running story.  The story has a convoluted set up and a weird plot (and Issue #1 even includes an unrelated sub-story).  The inside back cover also has all manner of things that suggest we’re in for the long haul: a letter-writing address, a contest to design a teapot, etc.  But no, the series ends after three issues. Weird. (more…)

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hideousSOUNDTRACK: TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES soundtrack (2006).

topI learned about this soundtrack from a very cool article in The Believer (the beginning of which is online here).  In the piece, the author claims to have never seen the film (he was given the soundtrack by a friend) and he doesn’t want  to change his associations with the music by watching the film.  And now, I too can say I have never seen the film, and likely never will.  And I really enjoy the soundtrack too.

The soundtrack is sort of an excuse to showcase a bunch of bands from New Zealand’s Flying Nun record label.  Featured artists are The 3DS, The Bats, The Clean, Superette, Snapper, The Chills, Straightjacket Fits, and Chris Knox.

It’s nigh impossible to give an overarching style to these songs.  Even when the bands have multiple songs on the soundtrack, they are not repetitive at all.  Even trying to represent a genre would be difficult.  The opener “Hey Suess” is almost a surf-punk song, while Chris Knox’s gorgeous “Not Given Lightly” is a stunning ballad.  There’s a cool shoe-gazer song “Saskatchewan,” and some great simple indie rock (a bunch of other tracks).

The only thing these bands have in common is that they’re all from New Zealand.  And as with any large body of land, no two bands are going to sound alike.  Nevertheless, all of the bands fall under the indie rock umbrella.  It’s a great collection of songs that many people probably haven’t heard.  It’s worth tracking down for the great collection of tunes and, if all you know about New Zealand is The Flight of the Conchords.

[READ: September 24, 2009] Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

After finishing Infinite Jest I wasn’t sure just how much more DFW I would want to read right away (of course, seeing as how I have now read almost all of his uncollected work, that is a rather moot point).  But when I saw that John Krasinski (of TV’s The Office) was making a film of this book, I had to jump in and read it again.

Obviously, there are many questions to be asked about this film ().  Is it going to be based on all the stories in the book?  (Surely not, some are completely unrelated).  Is it going to be just the interviews? (Probably, and yet there’s no overall narrative structure there).  And, having seen the trailer, I know structure is present.  I’m quite interested in the film.  In part because I didn’t LOVE the stories.  Well, that’s not quite right.  I enjoyed them very much, but since they weren’t stories per se, just dialogue, I’m not afraid of the stories getting turned into something else.  The text isn’t sacred to me, which may indeed make for the perfect set-up for a film.

Anyhow, onto the stories.

The obvious joke is that the author of Infinite Jest has created a book with “Brief” in the title!  But indeed, many of these stories are quite brief.  Some are only a couple of paragraphs (which true, from DFW that could still be ten pages).  But, indeed, most of the interviews in the book are brief too (except the final one in the book, which is nearly 30 pages).   (more…)

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genxSOUNDTRACK: THE DEAD SCIENCE-Villainaire [CST054] (2008).

villainThis is probably the most fascinating album that Constellation has released recently.  I’d never heard of The Dead Science, but evidently they have a few disc out already.

The main thing one notices about this disc is the lead singer.  His voice is fascinating: a sort of slow, whispered falsetto laced with an incredible vibrato.  It almost sounds like he’s struggling to sing (although clearly he isn’t).  So take this delicate voice and put it over a series of songs (each one very different) that feature rapid time changes, punk breaks, mellow guitars and/or a harp.

The music is definitely strange and yet I found it very engaging.  I also thought that I wasn’t really absorbing the music since it was so esoteric, and yet after listening to it again today I realized I knew when all the breaks and interesting bits were coming up.  The disc definitely needs repeated listens to get what’s going on, but it is a fascinating collection.

[READ: September 23, 2009] Generation X

As with many books with multiple covers, I never seem to be able to find a picture of my cover online (my copy is a nuclear green, which I’m sure I spent a few minutes selecting back then).  I bought this book in November 1992 (I know this because that was back when I wrote the date I bought a book on the inside cover of the book). I know that I loved the book when it came out because it made me an instant fan of Douglas Coupland (I bought Shampoo Planet just one month later).

And Gen X is a generation-defining book. The margins of the book are filled with cartoons and slogans and definitions of Gen-X speak.  Now, I’m not sure if anyone ever used these definitions or if Coupland made them up.  I certainly never heard anyone say them.  Nevertheless, real or not, they work well as a frame of reference for the way (some) 20somethings in the 90s thought about culture and their place in it.

And so, by proclamation, this book speaks to every slacker and is ever so grunge and slacker and ironic and slacker and…well, no.

I’m actually surprised that I enjoyed this story as much as I did back then, because I’m not sure how it spoke to my 23-year-old self.  And from a vantage point of 17 years later, I’m surprised at how earnest and honest the book turns out to be. (more…)

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dfwshelfSOUNDTRACK: LAND OF KUSH-Against the Day [CST058] (2008).

kushLand of Kush is a huge orchestra created by Sam Shalibi.  Shalibi is a maniac of independent releases, creating everything from orchestral pieces to solo records all with his unique blend of middle eastern tinged music (featuring his oud playing).

This album is inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, a book I have not read.  As such, I can’t say if the music works with the book, or indeed if the songs with lyrics have anything to do with the book at all.  The liner notes essay that Shalibi wrote reveal his deep appreciation for the book and how it made him hear this music.  Pretty neat.  Against the Day the book is over 1,000 pages, so I won’t be getting to it anytime soon.

The CD has 5 tracks: three of them about 8 minutes, one at 14 minutes and the centerpiece comes in at 21 minutes.  To read more than I’m going to say about this band and the album, check out the Constellation Records page.

In general, I find Shalibi’s music to be fascinating, but sometimes a bit much.  He is not afraid to pull out all the stops.  And I think that’s to his credit.  He does free jazz, psychedelic and middle eastern phrasing, often within one song.  And while it’s often very enjoyable, it can also be exhausting.

And that is the case with this disc. The 21 minute “Bilocations” is such a brilliant piece of music.  The main musical line is just fantastic: middle eastern instruments playing a sort of James Bond type suspense theme.  And the vocals are simply amazing.  The singer (and I regret to say I’m not sure which one she is) is snarling and sexy and brings the whole piece to life.  I’ve never heard anyone say “economics” with such emotion before.  And I enjoy probably the first 15 or 16 minutes of it.  The last five drifts into a sort of solo for voice which gets a bit tiresome, actually, especially after the intensity of the first part.

And yet it is then followed up by the last two songs, each about 8 minutes long, again with fantastic motifs that propel these weird and wild pieces beyond the middle eastern psychedelic soundscapes into actual songs.

Despite my amorphous criticisms (I think that the disc is just too long to appreciate in one sitting (and I find middle eastern music is hard for me to digest in more than small doses)) this is my favorite of Shalibi’s releases.  And some day I hope to read the book, too.

[READ: September 19th ish 2009] short uncollected pieces

This is my second (and final, I think) review of multiple DFW uncollected pieces.  There are a few uncollected pieces left that I’m going to read, but they’re all longer and will likely deserve their own post.  Most of these pieces are very short, and I don’t have all that much to say about them.  But, heck, I’m a pseudo-complestist, so I want to have them all here.

All the text in bold, including the links comes from (where else?) The Howling Fantods.  Thanks! (more…)

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dfwshelfSOUNDTRACKFLEET FOXES-Sun Giant EP (2008).

sungiantMy friend Jarrett introduced me to the Fleet Foxes with their self-titled CD.  I recently picked up the Sun Giant EP and it is just as good as the main CD.  It opens with a beautiful a capella introduction to “Sun Giant” in multipart harmony that melds into a nice folksy song.

The remaining 4 songs all contain these harmonies, although some rock harder than others (within their style of orchestral folk).  Orchestral folk implies a “bigness” that the band never really strives for.  In fact, some songs sounds downright pastoral.

“English House” is great for so many reasons: the fantastic guitar lines, the breaks in the song proper, just everything.  But the track “Mykonos” is probably my favorite Fleet Foxes song of all.  It has such a wonderfully catchy pre-chorus and then an even more fantastic post-chorus.  Simply amazing (even if I don’t know what they’re saying).

The EP is a great introduction to this fantastic band.

[READ: Mid-September 2009] uncollected essays

I don’t normally like to have a bunch of things appear in one post.  But this post is going to be about those small, uncollected pieces that aren’t really long enough to warrant their own entry (letters, interviews, etc).  I tracked down most of these pieces from The Howling Fantods, but I also got a few from The Joy of Sox.  You’ll notice that many of these pieces are stored at http://theknowe.net/dfw and yet I can’t figure out how to access the files there directly, so Howling Fantods links are what we get.

The text in bold comes from The Howling Fantods site (I hope they don’t mind that I swiped it).  The text underneath is my review/opinion/idea. (more…)

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shinySOUNDTRACK: NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998).

neutralI had always put off getting into Neutral Milk Hotel.  They were just another one of those Elephant 6 bands, and there were so many bands and splinter-bands and solo bands that I had to draw the line somewhere.  And Neutral Milk Hotel were on the other side of it.  I hadn’t even heard them, I just decided I couldn’t listen to them.

About four months ago, I heard a piece on NPR about a high school putting on a musical based on this album.  They played bits and pieces of the disc and I was totally blown away.  The play is somehow connected to the Anne Frank story (as the album apparently is, too, although I haven’t been able to figure that out from the lyrics at all).

It also turns out that my friend Jarrett had put “Two-Headed Boy” on a sampler disc for me, so I already DID know some of the disc.

Make no mistake, this is an unusual disc: from the bizarre cover, to the bizarre song titles (“The King of Carrot Flowers”).  And, most notably, to the instrumentation.  Sure it starts out simply enough with some acoustic guitars, but it eventually adds everything from flugelhorn (a recent safe word on How I Met Your Mother)to euphonium to zanzithophone(!) to what I thought was a theremin, but which turns out to be a singing saw (even cooler!).

“The King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 – 3” begins with the very earnest “I love you, Jesus Christ.”  It eventually morphs into the rollicking Pt 3, with the repeated effort of “I would [x] until I learn to [x]”  It’s frankly an amazing trilogy to open the disc.

The title track and “Two-Headed Boy” continue this fascinating orchestral folk with incredible catchiness and what can only be described as supremely earnest singing.  At times, the singing almost makes one uncomfortable for how naked it sounds.

“The Fool” allows for some interesting marching band type instrumentation, but it is followed by even more earnest singing in “Holland, 1945” a ramshackle song that feels like it is trying to race itself to the end.   And then there’s “Oh Comely” a simple guitar ballad that grows and shrinks for 8 minutes of raw, lyric bending.  Eventually it adds some horns as Magnum sings “we know who our enemies arrrrrrrrrre.”

The whole disc has a sound of being recorded too close to the microphone…with many many sounds crackling into distortion.  And while it does have a feeling of cheapness, it really has more of a feeling of urgency…they couldn’t wait to get these songs out, and damn the recording levels (the guitars on “Ghost” are almost outrageously too loud, even though they are not louder than anything else in the song).

The disc ends with the fun, keyboard and uilleann pipe fueled “The Penny Arcade in Calirfornia” a wonderful instrumental that reprises some of the musical lines from other songs.  And then comes “Two Headed Boy, Pt 2” which doesn’t really reprise the original song. Rather, it is a multi-versed song in which Magnum barely pauses for breath trying to get the lengthy verses (with no evident chorus) out.  It ends with an actual reprise of “Two Headed Boy” and fades out.

It’s a fantastic disc.  Simply fantastic.

Neutral Milk Hotel has basically been on hiatus since this record, so it’s not hard to catch up with their output (2 full lengths and an EP).  It’s just a shame if you waited as long as I did to do it.

[READ: September 18, 2009] “Hail the Returning Dragon, Clothed in New Fire”

When Infinite Jest came out there was a lot of discussion of its being “ironic.”  But generally, it is well established at this point (just look at virtually any post on Infinite Summer) about how un-ironic the book is.  In fact, it rather eschews irony.  (I’m not going to detail why, I promise).

This essay, if nothing else, should hammer home the idea that DFW had very little tolerance for irony (even despite the nature of this book, the magazine it comes from, and some of the other ironic pieces in it). (more…)

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aaaOkay, so this magazine doesn’t really count.  AAA World comes free with a AAA membership.  And in the past we would just recycle it unopened.  Then one month, the cover article looked interesting and we enjoyed it.  Since then, I always make sure to at least flip though it.  And, yes the target audience for the magazine is older than me.  But heck, it’s a useful place to find vacation info, if nothing else.

There’s also, of course, a lot of stuff about how much you save by being a AAA member.  I’m not entirely sure what the writers for this magazine think they’re doing.  Are they “real” writers?  Are they just shills for AAA?  It’s hard to say.  And yet almost every article has a byline, so good for them.

The opening articles are usually just things that have changed in the magazine or with AAA itself.  And then there’s lots and lots of ads.  The ads are primarily for vacations, so I guess that’s nice.

Each issue also features destination trips.  In this case: Baltimore, Williamsburg & Lancaster (the magazine is regional–we’re in the MidAtlantic region–so, aside from the article on a major destination, all of the ads and such are within reach). (more…)

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