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Archive for October, 2009

conj17aSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Bloomsbury Theatre 12.3.95 (1995).

bloomsburyThis is a rare and out of print live CD from an early Tindersticks show.  My friend Lar found it used for me in Ireland (thank you!).  But it turns out he found it for me about a week before it was reissued as a bonus disc with the Second Tindersticks CD.

It’s a great concert, with Tindersticks in fine form.  After the amazing creative success of the second disc, the band sounds energetic and Stuart Staples’ voice is fantastic. Live Tindersticks don’t sound drastically different from the record, but there is a very cool “close and intimate” vibe to  this show that makes the songs sing a little more.

Normally, I’d encourage anyone to try and find this disc, but since it has been reissued with the second disc, it’s worth getting that package instead.

[READ: October 25, 2009] “Order and Flux in Northampton”

This is the final uncollected DFW short story that I hadn’t read yet (not including the excerpts from The Pale King).   And it’s a very good one!  The story is chock full of DFW’s awesome character descriptions and hilarious word play.  He also has a bit of fun with James Joyce, which is always a treat.

This story concerns three characters who live in Northampton, MA.  Barry Dingle is a severely cross-eyed hippie who owns The Whole Thing, one of two local health food stores.   He harbors unparalleled love for Myrnaloy Trask. Myrnaloy works at Collective Copy, the copy shop next to The Whole Thing.  Barry has never talked to her, but he fell madly for her when he saw her reflected in a bus window.  But Myrnaloy is only interested in Don Megala, a professional student (he’s on his seventh unfinished PhD). (more…)

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actsSOUNDTRACKTINDERSTICKS-What is a Man (2000).

manThis is a soundtrack to a TV mini-series called The Sins (which I know nothing about).  The song (for there is only one) is a cover of a Four Tops song (which I do not know).  The “B-side” is an instrumental version of said song.

And, sadly, that’s all that comes on this disc.  It’s a good song, yes, but at a combined total of about 5 minutes, it’s rather skimpy as a disc (Hey that’s what singles used to be back in the day).  Normally I don’t encourage the downloading of tracks (I’m more of a physical medium kind of guy), but I think if you’re looking for this for this particular song, you’re much better off just downloading it.  I don’t think it’s available on any other discs.

[READ: October 24, 2009] “The Balloon”

[UPDATE: November 25, 2009]  For the new review of the story, click here.

I just received a copy of Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts and have learned that the version of “The Balloon” that I read and which I linked to below is NOT the entire story.

Aside from a couple of inexplicable word changes (!) the version online leaves out the final four paragraphs.  And, with Barthelme’s prose being so dense, that’s quite a lot of information.

This changes my reading of the story quite a lot as there is now a DIFFERENT ENDING!  So I have to more or less disown this review.  But I will leave it up for posterity.  I’ll include a new review when I finish the short story collection.

[original review commences here]

David Foster Wallace in a Salon.com interview, said that this was “which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer.”  I have recently read a few Barthelme pieces (that were in Harper’s) and I found them to be weird, kind of interesting, but nothing inspirational.

But, heck, why not see what got DFW going?

So this story was, in fact, very cool. It was written before the pieces that were in Harper’s, and, as with most artists who end up in a weird and out-there place, he started off in a reasonably normal place.  In other words, this story is actually something of a story with a beginning and sort of an end.  There’s no plot, per se, but the story does lead somewhere. (more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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cbtSOUNDTRACK: TORI AMOS-Abnormally Attracted to Sin (2009).

aatsIt’s been almost a decade since I was blown away by a Tori Amos album.  I feel like she has really been so engaged in the concept of her albums, that she has lost track of the tunes.  And while I don’t hate anything she’s done in the last few years, I was seriously getting to the point where I wasn’t sure it was worth getting her new releases.

But I was pleasantly surprised with Abnormally Attracted to Sin.  The opening track “Give” reaches back to some of the cool trip-hop stuff from from the choirgirl hotel.  And, the wild guitar work is such a welcome change.  It’s followed by “Welcome to England” which has a cool bass line that also makes me think of choirgirl era Tori (I saw her about three or four times on that tour).  “Strong Black Vine” is middle eastern tinged,  with a cool percussion-filled bridge.  But my favorite part is the dirty-sounding “baby” that opens the chorus.  The chorus also calls back to Boys for Pele era stuff where she used multiple backing vocals (from herself) in the choruses.

“Flavor” brings in some mellowness (and sounds like she was recorded in outer space).  “Not Dying Today” is definitely a silly song (and the one that mentions Neil) but the weirdo bassline is so catchy I am totally hooked by it (I’m also not sure if it says something about me or her that I thought the line was “Neil is thrilled he can say he’s Canadian” (when in fact he’s thrilled that he can say he’s mammalian (I’m not sure which is weirder)).  This also leads to a weird little spoken bit.  The whole thing feels very 80s to me.  But in a good way.

“Maybe California” is one of her piano songs.  When listening to it by itself, it’s quite enjoyable.  But I think it kind of slows the album down after those openers.  Tori has a lot of gorgeous piano ballads (“Northern Lad” still blows me away), and this one is good but not great.  “Curtain Call” is kind of a dud, but it has a great chorus.  And that’s what a lot of the rest of the album feels like for me.  Each song has one part that really hooks me, but it’s usually not a whole song that keeps me.

“Fire to Your Plain” is another bit of a dud.  The little keyboard hits don’t do this song any favors.  “Police Me” has cool guitars and weird sound effects and could have been a choirgirl B-side.  (Although, again, there’s a part after the chorus which is very cool).  And then comes “That Guy.”  I want to like this song so much.  The lyrics are fun, the sound is very torchy and music hall, but I just find it to be ultimately as nondescript as the title.

The title track has a great weird sci-fi keyboard sound, with cool guitars.  But this is yet another example of “Why does she pronounce words like this now?”  If you listen to her earlier records, she had a full command of the English language.  So, why does this song start out with her saying “Impeccable Pec-a-dell-o” (when we all know it is pecadillo).  And what on earth happened to the words in the chorus?  This is the title song.  Why does it sound like she’s singing “I’m marmalade. I trah yak toosee.”  Sure, once I realized it was the title track I could figure it out, but Jesus, woman, what happened to you? (That aside, the song is pretty cool, especially the quiet but bitchin guitars in the way back).  “500 Miles” is a cute song. I sort of don’t like it but the chorus is so frikkin catchy that I can’t turn it off.

The end of the disc feels kind of tacked on to me.   “Mary Jane” is a weird one.  It sounds like an extended version of “Mr Zebra” from Pele, (which I loved, but it was only a minute long), with all kinds of weird lyrics getting tossed around.  It does seem odd to hear her singing about pot, but whatever.  “Starling” sounds great but just never really catches me.  And “Fast Horse” starts out so great: the riff is very cool, but I don’t care for the direction of the chorus. (And the Maserati bit more or less kills the song off).  “Ophelia” has awesome potential of being one of those affecting piano songs, but rather than pulling out all the stops with a kick ass chorus, it just sort of wanders around (I wonder if I’d change my mind about this song if it weren’t so close to the end).  And the disc ends with “Lady in Blue.”  This is definitely one of the weirdest songs she’s ever done.  And I sort of love it.  The sounds she’s twisting out of her organ are insane.  It sounds like her speakers are at the bottom of a pool.  And the chord choices are unexpected.  She really stretches this weird sound for all its worth (including the most egregious of her pronunciations problems: “What es layuft is right.”  Really, Tori, emphasis is one thing, but it’s not cool to make the words wrong).  But anyhow, this undersea adventure stretches out for over 4 minutes, and I’m just about to throw the disc against the wall because it seems like it will never end, and I’m in some kind of trippy suffocating nightmare (in which you kind of like what’s happening at first and then you realize that the pillowcase they put over your head is really a plastic bag) but then she kicks in a solid piano riff and the song absolutely rocks out for the next three minutes.  It’s confident and infectious and ends the disc on a fantastic note.  If that early section were about 2 minutes shorter this would be one of my favorite Tori songs ever.  But I keep reaching that take-the-disc-out! moment before the greatness kicks in.)

My biggest problem with the disc is that (as with past discs) at 75 minutes  it’s just too damned long.  Again, I can’t pick a least favorite song because they all have parts that I really like, I would just like to put the cool parts together and get rid of twenty minutes of the blahs.

The other problem is that I really don’t know what Tori is singing about half the time.  When I first got into her, I was drawn by her lyrics, which were weird but also evocative.  I didn’t really know what she was singing about exactly back then, but I had a pretty good idea.  However, lately it’s just all weird abstractions and general concepts.

I know that I fell for Tori back when she was writing emotionally naked songs.  She was sexually honest and was a breath of fresh air in 1992.  And, sure I wish she would make albums like she did back then, but I know artists need to grow and expand.  And it would be frankly creepy to hear 2009 Tori, wife and mother, singing about guys who can’t make her come.  Right?  I mean, I found her “MILF” line on a recent album to be rather disturbing.  And, I also don’t think I want to hear about the highs and lows of motherhood and parenthood.  So, personal stories are out, I guess.  Alas.  I just hope she can get a little back down to earth (and not necessarily need to be so “wicked” all the time).

The final gripe relates back to what I said in the beginning.  This disc is littered with pictures of Tori in various costumes, evidently acting out scenes from her songs.  The bonus DVD is full of videos for each song.  But each video is basically just her in some outfit and wig wandering around in various places.  It’s a strangely egomaniacal video collection even for a musician.  But so yes, she clearly enjoys this role playing exercise that she’s been on since Strange Little Girls, but it seems like so much extra time is being spent on these “personas.”  I don’t care which personality wrote the sing, I just want it to be good.   And I just miss the old Tori.

I also don’t like to criticize people physically, but I feel like she also looks less pretty than she used to.  After watching 70some minutes of those videos of pretty much just her, I felt like she was too harsh or angular or, dare I say it, old looking.  And I only mention it because she seems so focused on presenting these characters with wigs and make up and the whole shebang, but I think she doesn’t look nearly as pretty as she when she was just Tori, piano player.

But that’s no way to end a music review.  Abnormally Attracted to Sin is certainly her best disc in a decade.  It’s got some great songs and some great sections of songs.  With a judicious editor and someone who can keep her on track when her words start drifting away from what they should properly sound like, (maybe it’s time to look for a producer other than her husband?) Tori could be well on her way to making another totally stellar album.

[READ: October 2009]  Comic Book Tattoo

Sarah gave me this book for Christmas and I’ve been reading it on and off for about 10 months now.  I finally finished the first read through and decided to give it a second go before writing about it.  It took so long not because I didn’t like it but because it is a very awkward book.  It is HUGE.  It is the size of a vinyl LP, but is as thick as about 15 of them.  And it’s heavy!  I had to store it under the bed so I wouldn’t kill myself on it.

What I’m getting at is utter value for money ($30 retail).

But what is it?  Okay, so it is a collection of comics that are “inspired” by Tori Amos songs.  But let’s be clear, these are NOT IN ANY WAY illustrations of the songs.  The stories that are created here have virtually nothing to do with the lyrics, in most cases.  They seem to be inspired by the titles and maybe (sometimes) the mood of the songs themselves.  In many cases, it’s hard to even see what the stories have to do with her at all.  And, I have to say, it makes the whole collection that much stronger.  Even if I love most of the songs that they draw in here, I wouldn’t want to “see” Tori’s songs.  Rather, taking them as a jumping off point lets the authors and artists use what inspired them and ignore the rest. (more…)

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sonoraSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Nénette et Boni [soundtrack] (1996).

boniAfter releasing two albums of atmospheric brilliance, Tindersticks were called upon to score the music for the film Nénette et Boni.

And this disc answers the question of whether it is Stuart Staples’ voice that is the driving force behind the band.  And the answer is, indeed not.  This disc is almost entirely instrumental (except for “Tiny Tears” which is a different version from the second disc and is here titled “Petites gouttes d’eau”).  The band brings the same atmospheric/noir quality to this disc that they bring to the ir previous works, but you get to hear it in all of its glory (since you’re not trying to figure out what Stuart is talking about).

I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t say how well it works for the film.  But I feel like I know the film quite well from the tone and music (and what I think may be sounds from the film) that are present.  If you like the band musically, you absolutely cannot go wrong here.  There’s not a bad track on the disc.  Even the half dozen or so tracks that are only about a minute (this is a soundtrack after all) are quite evocative.

I read a brief description of the film online, and I’m not entirely sure I want to see it.  But I sure do enjoy listening to the music.

The reissued disc comes with a bonus disc called Marks Moods.  Marks Moods was a promo disc sent out to film producers to showcase just what the band could do (again, without Stuart’s vocals).  So this is another moody instrumental disc.  The difference is that there are many songs from other discs that are done (or re-done, I can’t be entirely sure) as instrumentals.  The four tracks with vocals are “Sleepy Song,” “Don’t Look Down,” and “Buried Bones” which is actually a duet.  And then there’s “For Those…” one of my favorite songs which seems to crop up all over the place but never on an actual album.

This appears to have been something of a find back in the day.  I’m not sure if it was really worth hunting down, but it is a nice bonus to this disc.

[READ: October 18, 2009] “/Solomon Silverfish/”

The last few uncollected DFW stories that I read were a little less than satisfying.  So I wasn’t looking forward to this one very much.  But man, was it good.  It seems to be a hearty precursor to Infinite Jest (without the endnotes).  It even has a character named Wardine!

The story is typographically a little odd.  The title and “section” headings are in backslashes.  (I have no idea if that signifies anything other than a typographical choice of DFW or the magazine).  The section headings are the names of the character whose point of view the section is.  So, when the story opens we see /Solomon/.

But aside from that, the most unusual thing in the story is that it is written in the voice of a very Jewish individual.  For Solomon Silverfish speaks in an almost stereotypical Jewish vernacular.  Solomon is married to Sophie Shoenweiss, a Jewish woman who is dying of breast cancer.  As the story opens, Solomon is fielding a phone call (at 2 in the morning) from Sophie’s brother Ira.  Ira has just been caught with his third DUI and he’s begging his brother-in-law, a fine public defendant, to bail him out (again). (more…)

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harperSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS: Tindersticks [the black and white one] (1995).

tinderThis second album (often called II, but according to the band, is called Tindertsticks) continues the coolness of the first disc.  But this disc seems to have a few more “singles” (or what could have been singles) on it.  “A Night In” has a great slow building, string filled chorus that reaches tremendous heights.  Staples’ voice sounds even better, too.  A bit fuller, a bit less hesitant.

It also features the gorgeous, vibe-fueled, spoken word tale called “My Sister.”  And then there’s the fantastic, monumental “Tiny Tears.”  (It was featured in a Sopranos episode (Season One, Episode 12: “Isabella”) perfectly, and I was delighted to hear it. (I’m not the only one who thinks it was perfect, see here]).  It begins as a quiet piece with the fantastic opening lyrics:

You’ve been lying in bed for a week now
Wondering how long it’ll take
You haven’t spoke, or looked at her in all that time
It’s the easiest line you could break
She’s been going round her business as usual
Always with that melancholy smile
But you were too busy looking into yourself
To see those tiny tears in her eyes.

And of course, it builds into a string filled melancholy ballad.  Beautiful.  Another great track, “Talk to Me” gets so intense as the song progresses (dissonant strings and horns cranked to ten), that it’s almost scary.  This is followed by the contrite and very mellow “No More Affairs.”  Oh, and then comes the stunning duet “Travelling Light” which is sheer beauty.

I also really enjoy the two instrumentals “Vertrauen II” and “Vertrauen III” for their creepy atmospherics and theremin use.

It’s another stellar collection from Tindertsicks.  And another triumph of atmospheric music.  And, frankly, it’s just as well that they gave this disc the same name as the first as they are practically a continuous cycle of awesomeness.

This disc was reissued with the previously hard to find “Live at the Bloomsbury Theatre 12.3.95.”

[READ: October 19, 2009] “Prosperous Friends”

This story of a disaffected married couple didn’t really appeal to me at first.  The characters (especially the wife) seemed very caustic but there hadn’t been enough setup or explanation for the causticity.  When they visit his old (girl?)friend, the four people have an uncomfortable meal together.  I also had a but of trouble keeping the two men straight: Ted and Ben are a little too similar as names. (more…)

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pla

Although entire issues are available in PDF, I could find no cover images online.

Public Libraries is the magazine you get when you belong to the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association.  As you might gather, this division is for public librarians.

Like American Libraries, this magazine starts with a letter from the President of PLA.    But it’s the Tales from the Front section that I look at first.  This section discusses interesting events at public libraries around the country (Libraries using solar panels or digital bookmobiles, or even successful programs that other may wish to emulate). (more…)

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