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Archive for November, 2009

SOUNDTRACK: THE CARDIGANS-Best of (2008).

I’ve been a huge fan of the Cardigans since their first U.S. single “Carnival”.  I was living in Boston and I vividly remember the first time I heard it on the radio.  It was bubbly and treacly and then about halfway through it turned into something fantastic.

And that’s how I’ve felt about them ever since.  They obviously hit the big time with “Lovefool” and then became something of a one hit wonder band (in the US, although not in Europe).  Which is a shame because they’ve written some amazing songs.

I just learned about this Best of (not released in the US). It’s got 22 tracks on disc one including all of their international hits and a few surprises.  Disc Two features a ton of B-sides and other fun things.  I have a lot of these tracks from when I was a singles collector, but it’s a lot more fun to have them in one place.  And, I stopped collecting singles quite a few years ago, so it’s nice to have these newer B-side too.

But perhaps the most fun part of this collection is the liner notes.  You get a band’s eye view of all of the songs–where they recorded them, what worked and what didn’t and even what it’s like to have unexpected enormous success (for a short period of time).

I’ve seen the Cardigans live about three times.  Their live shows bring out a whole new layer that is not apparent on their discs (except for their Black Sabbath covers).  They can be a pretty heavy, rocking band.  On the last tour I saw, Nina came out in leather pants and they opened with a cover of “Iron Man.”  It was pretty intense.  Don’t judge by their adorable looks, they’re a solid band, and this is a great place to delve into more than the hit.

[READ: November 30, 2009] “Mermaid Fever”

This story has a fairly simple premise: a mermaid washes up dead on a beach.  The town where she was found claims her as their own.  They display her in a museum and everyone from miles around comes to see her.  Mermaid fever sweeps the town.

What was interesting about the story, beyond the supernatural premise, was the amount of detail Millhauser threw in.  Everyone is familiar with when some kind of fever sweeps a town, but with the mermaid, it took on far more unrealistic proportions.  Perfect for humor but also for the underlying message.  So, it was fun to see the way everyone started dressing like a mermaid: bathing suits that taper down like a tail. But it was also interesting to hear people complaining about how dehumanizing this new trend became. (more…)

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I received my second issue of Prospect magazine just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I’m pleased to say that this issue not only confirmed my suspicions of the magazine, it actually impressed me a little bit more.  And it sort of made me wish I had done something similar with all the magazines:  do a write up and then see how the latest issue compares (but I won’t).

I’m not going to go into extravagant detail with this issue, since I just wrote about the previous issue, but I wanted to mention the article that I was not only fascinated by, but that made me wonder why I had to cross the Atlantic to read about them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FEELIES-Only Life (1988).

The Feelies were based out of Haledon, NJ, a town not more than fifteen minutes from my house.  I’ve always felt this weird association to them.  One day a coworker drove me past one of the band members’ houses when I worked in North Haledon (in retrospect this was probably bullshit).

It was this album that introduced me to them.  Prior to the internet, it wasn’t always easy to find out how many albums a band had out, so I assumed this was their first.  I’d assumed that we were close in age and that I could have run into them at any local club or hangout.  Well, it turned out that this was their third and their first came out in 1980.  When I was 11.  So, clearly  there is absolutely no way we were peers.

Somehow, when I first heard The Feelies, I had not been exposed to The Velvet Underground (what?).  So, when I heard them, it didn’t occur to me to say, “Hey that guy sounds just like Lou Reed.”  And he does.  Almost uncannily so on “It’s Only Life”.

But hey, get past that and you’ve got a really great jangly alterna-pop record from the late 80s.   While R.E.M. is sort of the master of the jangly pop song, there’s no real comparison here (okay, actually “Deep Fascination” could be mistaken for R.E.M. until the vocals kick in).  The biggest difference is tempo. The Feelies just kind of meander along at a calm and relaxed pace.  Not slow enough to be, god forbid, dull, but not exactly peppy either.

One thing I like about the band is that the bass and drums are always out in front.  The bass, in particular seems to really propel the songs (especially “Too Much”) which provides a great rhythmic feels and allows the guitars ample room to roam.

And the guitars do roam.  There are two guitars and they share soloing duties.  This soloing bit is rather a departure for college radio bands in the late 80s.  So, it definitely set them apart (as did the fact that there are like 30 words in each song).

The gorgeously simple yet very compelling “Higher Ground” is certainly a high point for the disc.  As is their cover of the Velvet’s “What Goes On.”

When I was a DJ in college, I randomly selected “Away” to play during a show (the first Feelies song I’d heard).  Even after twenty-one years it’s still as fresh and interesting.  It’s also rather different from the rest of the album.  It’s uptempo for one thing.  But it also starts with a cool slow guitar opening.  The song builds faster and faster and has a great sing along chorus.   The drums also sound wonderfully abrasive.  It’s really a great song and a great introduction to an underappreciated band.

[READ: November 22, 2009] Intermere

Following hot on the heels of Symzonia, I received Intermere through Inter Library Loan.  Intermere is even shorter (at 150 pages)!

What I liked about the story is that it removes all pretense as to the setting up of and the getting to the inner earth location.  As the story opens, our narrator, Giles Anderton, is pretty much immediately in massive trouble.  The boat he is on is about to sink and he is soon plunged headlong into the ocean.  (What an exciting opening!)

When he wakes up a short time later, he is on an island and is warmly greeted by a group of very short but very beautiful (ie, very pale) people. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-The Red Shoes (1993).

The Red Shoes is something of a disappointment. While I enjoyed The Sensual World, it was definitely moving in a more adult contemporary vein.  The Red Shoes proceeds even further in this direction.  Since Kate is getting older, it makes sense that her music would change as well.

But there are some really fun tracks on here as well.  And Kate’s initial experiments with world music (the Bulgarian Choir) has really expanded into a more global palette (the island feel of “Eat the Music,” for instance).

The first four songs of the disc are really great.  They show an amazing diversity.  The first single “Rubberband Girl” is quite fun and bouncey.  It has a rather silly middle section where she makes rubberband-like sounds.   “And So is Love” sounds like classic Kate, with some wonderful vocals.  “Eat the Music” is a crazy, up beat horn fueled island track (with wonderfully suggestive lyrics).  And  “Moments of Pleasure” is a delightfully romantic song.

However, beginning with “Song of Salomon” with its awkward chorus of “don’t want no bullshit, just want your sexuality” the album trails off a little bit.  The rest of the songs feel kind of hurried and unspecific; there’s nothing really grabby about them.  They’re not bad, but they’re not all that memorable.  In fact, “Constellation of the Heart” is one of those rare aspects of a Kate disc: a song that sounds really dated.

The one exception to this decline is “Top of the City,” a really nice ballad that features some classic Kate vocals.

Of the remainder, “Big Stripey Lie” has some cool sound effects and lots of weirdness floating around it (and I do quite like it) although it’s really not as substantial as her previous experimental pieces.

Probably the most controversial song on the disc is “Why Should I Love You?” a duet with Prince.  While the main chorus is pretty cool (and uncannily Prince-like) the rest of the track sounds (again) very dated.  The track also features the great comedian Lenny Henry on vocals.  However, since Henry is responsible for what may be the worst sitcom theme song ever in the history of music (it may actually make you want to not watch the rather funny Chef, it is so awful) his inclusion isn’t really all that wonderful.  The disc ends with “You’re the One” a weird (in a good way) track that features The Bulgarian Chorus again.  They seem to do a great job of keeping Kate’s songs focused, so the disc ends on a high note.

This disc is pretty soundly dismissed by even diehard Kate fans.  And it is definitely her least satisfying overall. But if you look deeper into the disc, there are some unfairly overlooked gems.

[READ: November 20, 2009] Symzonia

After reading Etidorhpa, I started looking around at other Hollow Earth books.  And thankfully, someone has done most of the work already. So, for an absurdly long list of Hollow Earth books, check out this link.  I was delighted to see that so many of them are quite short!

When I saw this book, and realized that it was about the world mentioned in “Symmes Hole” (from McSweeney‘s) and that it was very likely written by Symmes himself (there is still debate, but it is convincing that he wrote it) I decided to check it out.

Sadly, this book was considerably duller than Etidorhpa.  It was 250 pages and the first 100 were details of his journey to the South Pole.  Which would be fine except that since the author is a sailor he gives excruciating details about not only sailing, but even shipbuilding (including how smart he was for making the ship as strong as he did,) and the directions of the wind and speculation about longitude and all that great seafaring stuff.  That’s not my thing, so I found it rather tedious. (more…)

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[WRITTEN: October 2000] “Just Like Gene”

Back in June of 2008, I posted a short story that I wrote about 8 years ago.  As it’s the holiday season it seemed like a good time to post another of my old stories.  I’ve got about a dozen more stories stashed away on a disc somewhere.  And I’ll likely post them in the near future too.

So, here’s my second published online story called “Just Like Gene.” (more…)

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17Many many years ago, I discovered Might magazine.  It was a funny, silly magazine that spoofed everything (but had a serious backbone, too).  (You can order back issues here).  And so, I subscribed around issue 13.  When the magazine folded (with issue 16–and you can read a little bit about that in the intro to Shiny Adidas Track Suits) it somehow morphed into McSweeney‘s, and much of the creative team behind Might went with them.

The early volumes (1-5 are reviewed in these pages, and the rest will come one of these days) are a more literary enterprise than Might was.  There’s still a lot of the same humor (and a lot of silliness), but there are also lengthy non-fiction pieces.  The big difference is that McSweeney’s was bound as a softcover book rather than as a magazine. And, I guess technically it is called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern as opposed to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. (more…)

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esquireSOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-Aspects of the Sensual World (1989).

This was the first CD single that I can remember acquiring.  I got it from the radio station at school, and I felt like I was in on a big secret having all of these bonus tracks.

There are five songs on this disc.  The original “The Sensual World” and an instrumental version of the song.  The three bonus songs are pretty rocking songs that fit nicely with this era of Kate’s output.  “Be Kind to My Mistakes” sounds like it should be a sweet ballad, but no, it’s all percussion-heavy and fun.  And “I’m Still Waiting” is even more intense, with some of Kate’s over the top vocals added in.

The final track, “Ken” is the theme song to The Comic Strip Presents short film The GLC.  It’s a wonderful theme song, even if the film is a parody.  It’s got a singalong “da da da” chorus and fist pumping backing vocals and all sorts of fun things.  You can see the “preview” for the film along with Kate’s song, on YouTube.

This disc is something of a trifle compared to her full CDs, but it’s an easier way to get these tracks than buying This Woman’s Work!  When The Sensual World came out I assumed that Kate cut off all her hair (judging by the cover), but this cover belies that.  I wonder which one is a wig.

[READ: November 13, 2009] “An Insurrection”

This story won the Esquire fiction contest.  I fully intended to submit a story to this contest, but, well, I forgot.  I didn’t write a word for it (although I did spend a few days thinking about what I would write about).  If I had won the contest, I would of course have wanted people to read my story, so I felt it was the least I could do to read the winner’s story.

And I’m a little mixed about it.

I’m not at all certain why there was such emphasis placed on the fact that it was a post- 9/11 scenario.  The jokes about cashing in on people’s insecurities about terrorism were fine but it didn’t really warrant all of the set up about when the story took place. (more…)

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