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Archive for February, 2010

Eight years ago, during the winter Olympics, I fell in love with curling. The strategy was amazing, the excitement, yes, excitement of an end coming down to one final stone, and the total coolness of seeing one stone take out 4 others blew my mind.

I joined the Plainfield Curling Club and played for two years there.  Then I had kids and put aside my Olympic aspirations. But I still love watching a bonspiel.

And this years’ Olympics were amazing!  The caliber of play was fantastic and watching Kevin Martin go undefeated for his first gold was spectacular.  Kevin Martin showed poise and grace and proved to be my favorite Olympic athlete of the games.  Sorry Sean White, your jumps were definitely awesome, but they don’t compare to winning eleven matches in a row.  And remaining very cool under pressure.

Fellow Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard also played an amazing Olympics.  She played some fantastic matches, pulling out a number of squeakers and shooting an amazing percentage.  Her miss in the final end to send it into extras, and her miss in the extra end belied a fantastic tournament.  And, I have to say the gold medal game was a crushing defeat.  Not to take anything away from the Swedish team who played wonderfully.  I would have just loved to see a Canadian sweep of gold.

Cheryl Bernard proved to be my second favorite Olympic athlete (Johnny Weir & Evan Lysacek (with his feathered hands) were also favorites and the ice dance team of Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir were also quite tremendous).

This was a really great Olympics, and we haven’t even seen the hockey results yet!

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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT–Blue Öyster Cult (1972).

Craig Ferguson mentions that the only concert he saw as a teen in America was Blue Öyster Cult.  My guess is that it would have been around the Agents of Fortune or Spectres tour (ie, around “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”) so that must have been a killer show.

In honor of his book, I’m going to look at the lesser known early work of BOC.  Their first disc is a fascinating amalgamation of hard rock, blues, boogie and psychedelia.  All of that is coupled with the utterly perplexing lyrics that they came up with. In addition to the huh? factor of titles like “She’s a Beautiful as a Foot” and “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” we also get fascinating title like “Transamaniacon MC” (later on John Shirley would write a book called Transmaniacon as a tribute to this song).

The album isn’t heavy by today’s standards, but at the time, this was some pretty heavy stuff.  The rocking chorus of “Transmaniacon,” the blistering speed of “Stairway to the Stars,” and yes, the undeniably heavy riff of “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” let you know that this is no simple rock album.

And yet, they work so well with the fundamentals: Steppenwolf is clearly an inspiration.  This is classic rock that doesn’t quite fit the classic rock mode (which, frankly, makes it far more interesting).  There’s a lot to like here, and there’s more to come.

[READ: February 26, 2010] American on Purpose

I keep saying I don’t read memoirs but then I keep reading them. Yes, I’m a liar.

Well, in this case, I felt it was justified because a) Craig Ferguson is hilarious and I assumed his book would be too and b) he has already written a novel that I really liked (as well as 3 screenplays which I have not seen). So I figured it would be a well-written, funny book.  And, since it turned out I had two days off because of the “snow” I finished the book in a couple of days.

Right, so Craig Ferguson is the host of The Late Late Show, a show that Sarah and I fell in love with last year and then kind of forgot about it. And then we caught it again recently and have been enjoying some TiVo’d bits every now and then. Ferguson has a wonderfully warped sense of humor and his show veers into the bizarre more often than not.   But he is always enjoyable, and his celebrity interviews are worth watching for how funny and un-promotional they are.
But what about this book? This book basically details his life growing up in Scotland, moving to the States and becoming a “huge star.”

But the crux of the book is about his descent into alcoholism, how it destroyed his first marriage and several other long term relationships, as well as potentially his career. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: lions.chase.tigers: To Their Blood EP (2009).

I learned about lions.chase.tigers from the Dromedary compilation Make The Load Lighter.  When I looked them up online I found this site, where you can download their debut EP.  (Normally I’d encourage purchasing the CD to give the band some £, but it ships from the UK and would probably take weeks and cost a fortune in shipping.  So, download and spread the word).

lions.chase.tigers play a fascinating mix of noisy shoegazey guitar rock combined with very delicate quieter ballady bits.  There are only four guys in the band.  I was sure there were at least five maybe six.  They have  one guitar which plays beautiful picked guitar chords (high notes), and another which plays harmonized lower notes and sometimes big power chords.  The drums and bass complement perfectly.  And the vocals offer this great understated focus to these dramatic songs.  I imagine Sigur Rós jamming with Mogwai with vocals by Bob Mould.

All of their songs work to a dramatic climax; the tension builds like a mini epic.  The title track is the most dramatic (with that crazy screaming in the background!), and I think it’s the best track on the EP, but with each listen I hear more in the other songs to like, too.

I’m also delighted that one guy’s last name is the same as another guy’s first name: Fraser Sanaghan (guitar/vocals) and Seoridh Fraser (bass/vocals) [and no I can’t pronounce his first name but I love Gaelic names like that].  There’s also Iain Thomson (vocals/guitar), David Watson (drums).  There’s a live video on their myspace page, which shows that they sound amazing (possibly better?) live.

Scotland has been producing some amazing indie bands over the last few years, and lions.chase.tigers sis definitely a great one to add to that list.

[READ: February 5, 2010] “William Burns”

This was the first short story I’ve read since beginning 2666, (before I decided to find everything I could Bolaño).  I saved this story for last because it is the most recent release.  I initially noted: I’m in the midst of 2666, and lo, here’s a Bolaño story to read (and to hopefully not confuse matters).  It didn’t confuse matters, but I was a little concerned when I saw that it was set in the same town (Santa Theresa) as the bulk of the 2666 action.

One of the things I have grown to like about Bolaño is his multiple layers of removal from the action of the story.  So in this one, William Burns tells the story to a guy named Pancho Monge who tells the story to the narrator who tell it to us.

After that brief introduction, the rest of the story (in Burns’ own words, mind you) come in one long passage with no paragraph breaks.

Burns is living in Santa Theresa and is bored.  (Is there any other state of mind in Santa Theresa?).  He is living with two women and their dogs.  They asked him to stay with them for protection from a man who is coming to kill them.  (And, of course, they are each his lover as well). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOTHING SMELLS QUITE LIKE ELIZABETH compilation (1992).

This was Dromedary Records’ first big release: a statement of purpose if you will.  This is a compilation of unsigned Jersey indie bands.  I listened to this all the time as it was being compiled and mastered.  It’s been a while since I listened to the disc start to front.

It’s funny to hear some of these tracks now 18 years later, to see what stands up.

Melting Hopefuls’s “Gondola” has always been a favorite of mine, a weird intertwining vocals/guitars mix.  I’ve no idea what it’s about, but it sounds great.  Oral Groove’s “She’s Still Here” is okay.  The opening riff is pretty great, but the rest of the song isn’t all that memorable.

Planet Dread’s “What We See” is all over the place but manages to be a reasonably cohesive metal song. The time changes are still unexpected and are quite interesting.  This was a band who liked to throw everything into a song, so when the trippy middle section comes in, it sounds almost like a different band until that same crazy riff brings it back to metal territory.  The triangle at the end is a nice touch too.

When this disc came out, Eternal Vision was this huge buzz band, Jersey’s (specifically my home town of Hawthorne’s) up and coming Dream Theater.  And you can hear the talent in this song.  I have to say I much prefer the instrumental section to the parts with vocals.   Bassist Frank LaPlaca (who yes I played little league with) is now in the prog rock band 4front. His bass work has always been amazing and no doubt still is.

Footstone’s “Forbidden Fruit” is one of the poppier/groovier numbers here.  It’s always made me smile, as it’s about office furniture: “That’s not your chair.”  The unexpected funk freak out in the middle is just a bonus.  And cuppa joe’s “Meanings” is one of their lighter songs with some of my favorite lyrics on the disc.  When the song starts I think it’s going to be a bit too twee, and yet it always redeems itself wonderfully.

Ya-Ne-Zniyoo’s “The Man in My Dream” is as peculiar as the band’s name.  Jangly guitars, tribal drums, and cool vocal twists (nice background vocals in particular).  And, like a lot of these songs, there’s a wild middle section, this one with heavy groove guitars.  Ya-Ne-Zniyoo have a disc available on Amazon (at least I assume it’s the same Ya-Ni-Zniyoo).

Godspeed have a really raw, heavy sound on “Child Bride.”  When I was younger I always laughed at the “So soft, it makes me hard” line (that’s mixed quite loudly), but now it seems a little too silly.  However, it’s a good set up for the weird and almost jokey mosh section that ends the track.  I also enjoy any song with a coda that has nothing to do with the rest of the song.

Rosary was my friend Garry’s band. They were a really interesting band out of Hasbrouck Heights.  “Asylum”  holds up quite well.  The guitars sound great and the vocals at the end sound fantastic.  There’s something about the overall mix that’s a little muddy, which I think hides how good this song is.  The disc ends with Grooveyard’s “Child Bright” (huh, two songs with almost the same title).  It’s probably the most metal song of the bunch, even though it has a very jam-band guitar opening.  But with the heavy guitars and strong vocals, (and the “time to die” lyrics), this is easily the heaviest song on the disc.

So, 18 years later, this is still a fun compilation.  I’m not even sure how many of thee bands are still around.  You can hear a few songs on Dromedary Radio.  He might even have a few CD compilations left over, if you ask nicely.

[READ: February 18, 2010] “The Insufferable Gaucho”

This is the longest Bolaño short story of this batch.  This is a slow paced story following a man in his steady decline (or is it?) from urban lawyer to small town rabbit hunter.

As the story opens, we meet Héctor Pereda an irreproachable lawyer and caring father who lives in the wonderful city of Buenos Aires.  His son Bebe and daughter Cuca later accused him of sheltering them from life’s harsh realities.  But when Pereda’s wife died (the kids were 5 and 7) he wanted to respect her memory, so he never remarried (and he didn’t want to burden his children with a stepmother).

Cuca eventually married and Bebe became a very successful writer. Both kids eventually moved away.  And Pereda seemed to age prematurely.  Then the Argentinian economy collapsed.  He couldn’t afford to pay his cook or maid, so he decided he would move to his country house where he could be more frugal.

When he gets out to the country, he find the place to be desoltae.  His house is in terrible disrepair.  He tries to fix it himself, but he finds that he needs to call on the help of some lazy gauchos (who do, in fact, play guitar all day). He buys a horse, meets with people and slowly, slowly starts building a small farm.

By the end of the story he is unrecognizable: unshaven, dirty and dressed like one of the gauchos.  But the real question is, is he happy?

There’s some (to me) unbelievable parts of this story: rabbits attacking people on horseback?  But it occurs to me that Pereda may be going slowly crazy.  Surely his son (and writer friends) think so.

It’s a long story where not very much happens, but I still enjoyed it.  Despite the apparent lunacy, it was a very engaging portrait.

For ease of searching I include: Bolano

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SOUNDTRACK: FOOTSTONE-Lippy (1995).

This is the debut CD put out by Footstone.  Dromedary has made it available for download on their site. This disc jibes nicely with the songs the band was releasing at this time: kinda heavy, but mostly melodic indie rock (emphasis on rock).

Unlike some of the other dromedary releases, there’s not a lot of diversity on the disc.  And that’s not a bad thing, it’s 12 (well, really 11 if you discount the silly first track) tracks of first rate 90s rock. There’s a few surprises, like the cool bass break in “Supwerworld”, or melodic expanses on other tracks there, but largely you get loud rock songs.  And there is something creepily irresistible about the track “Watermelon.” I’m not exactly sure what it’s about but I can’t stop listening to it.  It reminds me vaguely of Mother Love Bone, but I think more in spirit than anything tangible.

Ralph, the singer, has a really strong voice.  He can hit a note and hold it which works really well with most of these choruses.  And the music is consistently solid.  There’s even a cover of the Juicy Fruit jingle!

The downloadable tracks make this available for the first time in 15 years.  And you can listen at Dromedary Radio at any time.

[READ: February 18, 2010] “Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey”

This story, translated by Chris Andrews,  starts out with a delightful bit of Bolaño dark humor.  “Keen readers of mid-twentieth-century Argentine literature, who do exist…”  It follows the life of Álvaro Rousselot, who published his first book in 1950 at the age of thirty.  It sold poorly but was eventually, surprisingly, translated into French.

A few years later, a French film came out which was petty clearly an adaptation of Rousselot’s book, although Rousselot’s name was never mentioned in connection with the film. He never addressed the issue directly with anyone, but lawyers suggested he take action.  He never did, besides, by then, he had written a second book, quite different from the first.  This was later followed by a collection of short stories and then a third novel.

Shortly after this third book came out and before it was even translated into French, Morini made a film that was clearly based on this book (again, Rousselot was unacknowledged).  This time he was enraged, but he remained passive, preferring to get on with his life, but always preparing for another shock.

But that shock never came.  Morini’s next film was wholly unrelated to anything Rousselot has done.  In fact, Morini seemed to move in a new direction for the remainder of his films.

Some time later, Rousselot was invited to Frankfurt for a literary festival.  Being so close to Paris, he couldn’t resist trying to track down Morini, just to talk to him.  The rest of the story concerns Rousselot’s long and winding journey in trying to track down this mysterious filmmaker.  He receives numerous leads, all of which lead him closer to his man.

This was a peculiar story which I enjoyed quite  bit.  It had all of the trapping of a thriller, but it was written with such a slow meandering pace, with so little in the way of suspense, that it was more of a road trip.  The ending was very strange indeed, unsatisfying in some ways and yet inevitable in others.

I’m really starting to enjoy these meandering Bolaño stories.  It seems so unusual especially when compared to his fast paced poetry.

For ease of searching I include: Bolano  Alvaro

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOMMYHEADS-Flying Suit (1994).

The Mommyheads continue the Dromedary catalog’s streak of consistently poppy indie rock.  Throughout the disc, the The vocals are gentle and falsettoed, setting kind of a trend on the label thus far.

What sets this disc apart from a lot of comparable acts of jangly, light-on-the-bass 90s rock is the subtle complexity of the songs.  Even though most of the songs are fairly simple pop confections, there’s usually an unexpected moment that pops up, making things a little more than what they appear.

The opening chords of “Sandman” are, well, weird, angled and minor, but they somehow lead into a very poppy catchy verse about a sandman.

“Saints Preserve Us” opens with a crazy, no wave guitar lick that, somehow, is matched by a vocal line.  And yet, they can’t resist a smooth an catchy bridge, even if it is only two chords long.  Meanwhile, “Spiders” sounds like a long lost Moxy Fruvous track, kinda funny but kinda serious at the same time.

The only thing odd about “Bottom Out” is how normal it is…a fairly simple, undeniably catchy little pop song that would have fit in very nicely on the Juno soundtrack

“Annabell Ann” plays with the listener’s head by sounding for all the world like an orchestral pop song with a weird arrangement until the chorus pops in with poppy chords and harmonies.  And what of “Worm”?  An opening set of bizarre chords that sounds like it’s coming from next door, followed by a delightfully obscure jazzy bassline.  The song wanders around into interesting corners for a few minutes before ending just as suddenly.

The wonderfully titled “Henry Miller is Dead” shows the heavy side of the band, with noisy guitars and raucous lyrics until the very gentle bridge grounds the song back into familiar Mommyheads sound.  The disc ends with “Valentine’s Day” a gentle sorta jokey sounding song about, well, Valentine’s Day.  It sounds like an even indier version of something off of The Replacemnets’ Hootenanny disc.

The disc is less than half an hour long, making it close to an EP.  But it’s a wonderful half an hour.  You can hear the tracks on Dromedary Radio.

[READ: February 17, 2010] “Gómez Palacio”

This short story comes from Last Evenings and Other Stories, and was translated by Chris Andrews.

Bolaño is from Chile and Mexico City, and he seems to have a rather disparaging view of small Mexican cities.  Gómez Palacio is a small Mexican city where the narrator is assigned to teach a short term writing workshop.  The narrator is a poet himself.  His class is attended by only 5 people, none of who are very good.

The bulk of the story concerns his relationship with the director of the Arts Council where the class was held.  She has bulging eyes and is quite short.  Yet every day she picks him up from his seedy motel and drives him to school.  While driving one day she asks him to take the wheel but he doesn’t drive.  Regardless, he drives down the road until a car pulls over in front of them.  The director says that it’s her husband.  She then regales him with a story about her unhappy marriage. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CUPPA JOE-Nurture (1995).

Fuzzy guitars, distortion, rocking noise and…that delicate voice.  cuppa joe breaks out their harder side with this album. What’s nice about this full length is the way the band really pushes the boundaries of its indie pop sound.  They explore different styles but never go so far as to lose their identity.  It’s most notable in the bass, which sounds so different on different songs, quick and jazzy on “Swinging on your Gate” full of high notes and full on “Broken Arms.”

And, of course, “Bottlerocket” is back for another go.  This sounds like a re-recorded version than the EP, louder and fuller.  And frankly, after writing a song like this how do you compare?

But just showing some of the diversity on the disc, “Sitting Limit” has some major distortion on the guitars.  It’s funny how almost deadpan the vocals are in comparison.  I’ve finally concluded that the vocals sound kind of like the alternate leads singer from The Dead Milkmen (Joe Jack Talcum, the one who sang “Punk Rock Girl”).  In fact, a few of their slower songs sound like Talcum’s ballads.

“Decline” offers some vocal harmonies which bring an interesting depth to the song (which in this case is much lighter in the jangly guitars) and almost sounds like a demo.

“Poster” stands out for its deep almost punk bassline and aggressive (relatively) vocals (and fr the fact that it’s under 2 minutes long).  It’s funny how much more intense the vocals can sound on these tracks.  And just when you think you have them figured out as a pop band with punk leanings, they throw in a song like “long Walk” with some wild music lines and an almost world music influence.

Even as the disc comes to a close, “Beauty of of an Unshared Thing” is like a long lost 90’s college radio gem.  It’s got the wash of guitars, the great bassline and a propulsive beat.

Listening carefully to the lyrics, the word that comes to mind most is earnest.  A song like “Self Confidence” is a mellow song about empowerment.  Or “Medium Well” with the line  “A kiss means so much more when it doesn’t taste like alcohol.”

The bonus track on the disc is a cover of an old Irish song by the band Bagatelle.  The song “Second Violin” is astonishingly catchy.  Given my proclivities, I prefer the harder rocking stuff on the disc, and there is certainly plenty of that.

It’s going to be re-released from Dromedary, with extra bonus tracks!

[READ: February 17, 2010] “Luz Mendiluce Thompson”

This story is taken from Nazi Literature in the America.  It’s translated by Chris Andrews.

The book is evidently a collection of fictional biographies of Nazi writers who live in the Americas.  The contents is simply a list of names (and this is the only one I have read, so I can’t confirm that the rest of the collection is like this).

But, lo, that summary is true of this piece.  Luz Mendiluce, born in Berlin 1928, died in Buenos Aires in 1976.  Her proudest memory and most sacred possession is of her being dandled on Hitler’s lap.  This is the photo she would rescue if her house was on fire.

And this story, which is quite easily my favorite short fiction by Bolaño thus far is a fast paced, exciting and strangely moving portrait of this fascist poet. (more…)

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