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Archive for March, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-My Father My King (2001).

Yet another EP release from Mogwai, this is a twenty-minute song that is everything that Mogwai does best.  It’s a slow builder that grows into a loud, epic track; it’s not only noisy and chaotic, but features some really catchy parts as well.

This song was produced by Steve Albini (which makes the Mogwai noise crispy and sharp and modifies their brand of waves of noise).  It’s a kind of companion to Rock Action.

It opens with a kind of middle eastern flair–Wikipedia says it was based on the melody of the Jewish prayer Avinu Malkeinu. Hear the original here.  [Man Wikipedia loves Mogwai, there are lengthy writes ups about nearly every song they’ve done.]

Even without knowing where the melody comes from, it’s a great song with wonderful structure, building and receding (in what is by now a kind of Mogwai pattern).   Twenty minutes rarely sound this good.

[READ: March 13, 2011] “Going for a Beer”

I’m currently reading Robert Coover’s A Child Again, which is a collection of short stories.  For the most part I haven’t really enjoyed it that much.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this one page story.  Part of me wonders, simply, if Coover works much better in much much shorter pieces.

So this story is a time-bending crazy quilt of reality.  And, indeed, the story is a lot more style over substance (which is kind of the point).

It opens in third person present with this mind-shredding sentence: “He finds himself sitting in the neighborhood bar drinking a beer at about the same time that he began to think about going there for one.” I admit I read this sentence three times before I gave up and accepted that he was fucking with me.

And, indeed he is. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Come on Die Young (1999).

Mogwai’s second full length record goes in a slightly different direction than Young Team. Although it is still full of somewhat lengthy instrumentals, for the most part, the loud and quiet dynamic that they’ve been mastering over their EPs and Young Team is dismissed for a more atmospheric quality.  There’s also a few vocal aspects that comprise some tracks.  One in particular is very puzzling.

The disc opens with “Punk Rock.”  The music is actually not punk at all; rather, it’s a pretty melody that plays behind a rant about punk rock spoken by Iggy Pop. It’s followed by “Cody,” a kind of  sweet slow song.  This one surprises even more because it has gentle vocals which are actually audible.  The track is surprisingly soporific for Mogwai.

And then comes the real puzzler, “Helps Both Ways” is another slow track. But this time in the background is a broadcast of an American football game.  The announcers begin by telling us about an 89 yard run that was called back due to a penalty, but the game stays on throughout the track.  And I have to admit I get more absorbed in the game than the music. After these few quiet tracks,”Year 2000 Non-Compliant Cardia” is a little louder (with odd effects).  It’s also much more angular than songs past.

“Kappa” is the song in which I realized that much of the songs here are more guitar note based rather than the washes of sounds and noise.  “Waltz for Aidan” is indeed a waltz, another slow track.  It’s followed by “May Nothing” an 8 minute track which, despite its length, never gets heavy or loud or noisy.

“Oh! How the Dogs Stack Up” changes things.  It features a distorted piano which creates a very eerie 2 1/2 minutes.  And it leads into the 9 minute “Ex Cowboy.”  Although the general feeling of “Ex Cowboy” is mellow, there are some squealing guitars and noises as well.  By about 6-minutes the song turns really chaotic, its “Chocky” is another 9-minute song (the disc is very backheavy), there’s noise faintly in the background as a simple piano melody is plucked out.  It’s probably the prettiest melody on the disc, and the noisy background keep its unexpected.  The disc more or less ends with “Christmas steps.”  This is a rerecording of the awesome track from the No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) EP.  It is shorter but slower and it sounds a little more polished than the EP. I actually prefer the EP version, but  this one is very good as well (it’s honestly not that different).

“Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist” ends the disc with a fun track sounds like a drunken Chinese western  It’s two minutes of backwards sounds and is actually less interesting than its title.

This is definitely their album I listen to least.

[READ: March 15, 2011] Icelander

It’s hard to even know where to begin when talking about this story.  So I’ll begin by saying that even though it was confusing for so many reasons, I really enjoyed it (and the confusions were cleared up over time).  This story has so many levels of intrigue and obfuscation, that it’s clear that Long thought quite hard about it (and had some wonderful inspirations).

The book opens with a Prefatory note from John Treeburg, Editor (who lives in New Uruk City).  The note informs us that the author of Icelander assumes that you, the reader, will be at least a little familiar with Magnus Valison’s series The Memoirs of Emily Bean.  As such, he has included notes for clarification.  He has also included a Dramatis Personae.  The characters in the Dramatis Personae are the characters from Valison’s series (not necessarily Icelander), and are included here for context.  He also notes that his afterward will comment on the disputed authorship of this very novel.

The Dramatis Personae lists the fourteen people who Valison wrote about inThe Memoirs of Emily Bean.  Except, we learn pretty early on that the The Memoirs were based directly on the actual diaries of the actual woman Emily Bean Ymirson.  Emily Bean died in 1985, but before she died she was an extraordinary anthropologist and criminologist.  She kept meticulous journals of all of her exploits, and Valison fictionalized it (to some people’s chagrin, but to general acclaim).

Emily Bean was also the mother of Our Heroine.  Our Heroine is, indeed, the heroine of Icelander, although her real name is never given.  We learn pretty early on is that Our Heroine’s friend Shirley MacGuffin has been killed.  MacGuffin was an aspiring author (whose only published work appears on a bathroom wall).  Her final text was meant to be a recreation of Hamlet.  Not Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Hamlet as written by Thomas Kyd.  And, indeed, Kyd’s Hamlet predated Shakespeare’s.

There’s also a lot of excitement with The Vanatru.  The Vanatru lived underground, and had a serious quarrel with surface dwellers who worked hard at keeping them down. The Queen of the Vanatru is Gerd.  She controls the Refurserkir, an inhuman race of fox-shirted spirit warriors who appear literally out of nowhere.

Okay, so how confused are you now? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK FLAG-Damaged (1981).

I’ve liked Black Flag since I bought Loose Nut on vinyl way back when (1985, the year punk broke for me).  And those four bars were iconic to me even before I had heard a note (although I just learned they are supposed to represent a flag waving).

And this is where their legend really took off.  So a few things I never knew about this album until I looked them up recently.  1) That’s Rollins on the cover punching the mirror.  2) He didn’t really punch the mirror (it was smashed prior and the blood is fake).  3) I knew that Black Flag existed for a while before Rollins’ arrival and that they’d had a series of singers before him.  But I didn’t realize what a their first EP (Nervous Breakdown–Keith Morris on vocals) came out in 1978, their second EP (Jealous Again–Ron Reyes on vocals–credited as Chavo Pederast (he left the band in the middle of a live show, so they changed his name to that rather offensive one)) came out in 1980.  Their third EP (Six Pack –Dez Cadena on vocals) came out in 1981.  Rollins joined a few months after that and Damaged–their first full length–came out in December 1981.

“Rise Above” is a wonderfully angry song.  The gang vocals of pure empowerment work so well with the chords.  It’s still effective thirty years later.  “Spray Paint” goes in the other direction: rather than an uplifting, catchy chorus, it’s a deliberately angular chorus that’s hard to sing along to (even for Rollins).

“Six Pack” represents the more “popular” side of the band.  And it is a wonderfully funny single.  I just can’t decide if it’s serious or ironic (see also “TV Party”).  These two dopey songs are great to sing along to and are simply awesome.  (Fridays!)

The rest of the album turns away from the lighthearted tracks.  “What I See” is a really dark moment on this album.  And the negativity is unusual especially given Rollins’ later penchant for lyrics about fighting back.  True, Rollins didn’t write these lyrics.

“Thirsty and Miserable” is a blast of noise with some of Ginn’s first real guitar solos (which Guitar World says is as one of the worst guitar solos in history…and I say really? that’s the solo they pick?  Ginn has done some pretty outlandishly bad solos over the years…of course the whole list is questionable at best).  “Police Story” is a simple but effective description of the punks vs cops scene at the time.

“Gimme Gimme Gimme” seems childish, but that’s clearly the point.  “Depression” is a super fast track.  (Trouser Press considered Black Flag America’s first hardcore band).  “Room 13” is an odd musical track, with pretty much no bass.  It’s just some roaring guitars and drums and Rollins’s screams.  This track stands out because Chuck Dukowski’s bass propels most of the songs here.

“No More” sounds “typically” hardcore: very fast with the chanted chorus of “No More No More No More No More.”  “Padded Cell” is also fast (and is pretty hard to understand) except for the “Manic” chant, but the following track “Life of Pain” features what would become a signature Greg Ginn sound…angular guitars playing a riff that seems slightly off somehow.  Compelling in a way that’s hard to explain.

It’s funny that a band that plays as fast as they did also released some pretty long songs. “Damaged II” is almost 3 and a half minutes long.  It has several different parts (and a pretty catchy chorus).  And the final song “Damaged I” is a kind of crazed rant from Rollins;  It’s one of his scariest vocal performances; he sounds really deranged.  Especially when it sounds like he just cant think of anything else to say so he just screams maniacally.  But his vocals are mixed behind the music as if he’s trying really hard to get heard.  There’s very little else on record like it.

It’s a wonderful end to an intense disc, and the beginning of a brief but powerful career.

[READ: March 25, 2011] The Life of Polycrates

I’ve been reading Connell for a few years now.  In fact, the first time I posted about his work came with a blistering dismissal of his story “The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon” in McSweeney’s 19.  That story is included here, and upon rereading it, I learned two things:

  • One: context is everything.
  • Two: I was totally and completely wrong in that original review, and I take it back.

But before I explain further, some background about this book.  This is a collection of eleven stories, eight of which have appeared elsewhere.  Unfortunately there’s no dates of publication included so I don’t know how old any of these stories are.

The other thing I’m fascinated about is Connell himself.  I’m not the kind of reader who wants to know a ton of details about the author, but I like a little bit of bio (or a photo) when I read someone.  The only bio that is consistently presented about Connell is that he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m fascinated by this because so many of his stories are set in Europe.  So I have concocted a master biography about Connell’s life and how he has lived and toured extensively in Europe, studied theology (and found it wanting) and investigated all of the world’s darker corners.

It’s this latter aspect that really altered my perception of Connell’s writing.  I’ve liked the last few things that he’s written, but I fear that I was not looking at him through the proper lens.  And this relates back to bullet point one above.

Connell writes in a world not unlike H.P. Lovecraft–a world that is unconventional, dark and more than a little twisted.  And yet, unlike Lovecraft, there is very little of the fantastical in his stories.  Rather, his characters reside in our own world (with a little chymical help from time to time), but they are all real.  They’re just not characters most of us choose to associate with.  So, reading that first story in McSweeney’s, where it was so different from all those others, I found it really distasteful.  In retrospect, I’m not going to say that it is meant to be distasteful, although some of his stories are, but it was certainly not a pleasant story by any means.

The other fascinating thing to note about this book is that all of the stories are written in short, Roman Numeraled segments.  So the title story has 35 segments.  But even some of the shorter ones has twelve or thirteen segments (sometimes a segment is just a few lines long).    I actually enjoy this style (especially when the segments introduce something totally new into the story–which many of these do). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI & MAGOO-Do The Rock Boogaloo (2002).

This split CD features a song each by Magoo and Mogwai.  Both songs are Black Sabbath covers, with Magoo doing “Black Sabbath” and Mogwai doing “Sweet Leaf.”  This was released by Fierce Panda records and it’s clearly kind of a joke (the top of the disc says: two sonic scratches of the big bad rock arse”).

And yet despite the jokey nature of the project, the covers are actually quite faithful.  I’ve never heard of Magoo in any other context so I don’t know anything about them.  But their version of “Black Sabbath” is pretty right on.  The big difference is that it seems like Magoo have no bass in their band.  Everything from guitars to vocals is much more tinny than anything Black Sabbath put out.  In fact, when the really fast part at the end comes up, you can hear the bass, but it sounds like perhaps just more guitar notes.  The vocalist is also far less than scary.  And yet for all of that, the song isn’t really jokey, it just doesn’t sound scary like the original.

Mogwai’s cover of “Sweet Leaf” seems even more jokey.  It opens with a pretty heavy sounding riff and then stops after a few seconds so someone can say “give me the microphone.”  There’s also a lengthy conversation going on throughout the background of the song.  The vocals are quite fascinating.  They are utterly understated, bordering on spoken.  As such, there is a notable Scottish accent for the verses.

After the main body of the song, they never quite get to the heavy drum part at the end, in fact, the song kind of just fades out while the lengthy (drunken?) conversation (and burping) continues for over a minute.

No one is going to say this is an essential recording, although it’s good for a laugh, I suppose.

[READ: February 28, 2011] Consider David Foster Wallace [essays 10-12]

More than half way through the essays, we’re moving away from infinite Jest era and into the Brief Interviews era.  These articles look at sincerity, love and footnotes.

Because I don’t have a lot to say about the pieces (I’m not an academic anymore), I’m only going to mention things that I found puzzling/confusing.  But be assured that if I don’t mention the vast majority of the article it’s because I found it interesting/compelling/believable.  I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing the articles’ argument, so I won’t really summarize. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMOGWAI-No Education = No Future (Fuck the Curfew) (1998).

This is a 3 song EP. The opener “Xmas Stripes” is one of my favorite early Mogwai songs.  The opening melody is really great, with a cool interesting bass and a nice guitar over the top.  At about 3:30 the song grows from a silent track to a menacing, growing beast until the drums start and the song and the main riff begins.  By 5 minutes it’s all out rock noise.  By 6 minutes the song is scaled back for the violin solo.  The remaining 7 (!) minutes are a denouement for the song.  Even though I love the track, I mostly love the first 8 or 9 minutes.  The ending tends to drag a bit.

But for all of their noise, Mogwai’s early releases were really quieter instrumentals, meditative songs that were really quite pretty.  “Rollerball” is a beautiful, sad three-minute track.

The last song “Small Children in the Background” continues in this quieter vein.  At nearly 7 minutes, it allows for a noisy middle section.  This noisy section is indeed mostly noise.  And yet the pretty melody of the rest of the track is just as loud throughout the mix, making for a very cool and very brief explosion mid-song.

Not all EPs are essential, but this one is pretty fantastic.  And I have Lar to thank for getting it for me.

[READ: March 10, 2011] Changing My Mind

It’s funny to me when that when I get into an author, I seem to wind up not reading the books that people most talk about until much later.  Take Zadie Smith.  Her debut, White Teeth, is something of a touchstone for many readers.  I missed it when it came out, but I loved On Beauty and figured I’d go back and read it.  That was almost a year ago.  And in that time I have read lots of little things by her and now this collection of essays.

Regardless, this collection of essays is a wonderful look in to the nonfiction world of a writer whom I admire.  And it was quite a treat.  Zadie is an intellectual, and that comes across in all of these paces.  Whether it’s the subjects she’s writing about, the footnotes she uses or just the acknowledgment that she likes art films and not blockbusters, we know where she’s speaking from.  And, of course, I’m right there with her.  The funny thing about this book then is how few of the subjects I know.

The book is broken down into five sections: Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling and Remembering.  The Reading section is basically book reviews.  The Being section is about her experiences.  The Seeing section is about films.  The Feeling section is about her father and the Remembering section is about David Foster Wallace. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-World Container™ (2006).

After delivering a number of different-sounding yet great records since their musical heyday, The Hip turned a commercial corner with this release.  The producer is Bob Rock, famed for all manner of commercial pop-metal recordings, and his style is all over this disc.  I don’t know how commercially successful this disc was or if it made a dent at all in the U.S., but it’s not for want of trying.

“Yer Not The Ocean” is the big opening song with big chords and soft verses.  The best song is the second one, “The Lonely End of the Rink” a breakneck track which brims with intensity (as a song about hockey ought to).  And then the album shows its commericalness.

“In View” is so aggressively poppy it could be on the soundtrack to any teenybopper movie.  It’s followed by “Fly” an unreasonably over-the-top ballad.  It’s somewhat unfathomable to think that the Hip had this kind of poppiness in them, as they’ve always been slightly left of pop-land.  But wow, they pull out all the stops there.

The Kids Don’t Get It” starts awkwardly (but with fun/clever lyrics) and then it gets catchy.  Those same clever/fun lyrics are repeated in the piano ballad “Pretend.”  It’s a very nice ballad, but seems odd for the Hip.  An instant encore/lighter moment, it’s not sappy exactly, it’s just lacking any kind of edge.

By this time, one hardly expects “The Drop Off” an aggressive track in which Downie’s voice sounds kind of bratty.  It’s an interesting effect.  And it leads to the final track, “World Container,” another major plea for airplay.  It is such an aggressively over the top radio anthem that you almost feel bad for the band.

I remember enjoying this album a lot when it came out, but listening to it now in the context of their other records, it seems like a strange plea for commercial success.  I’m not sure if that’s what they were after, but I hope they got a bit of it.

[READ: March 8, 2011] “Miss You Already”

I’ve read a few stories lately that have been rather dark. So when this one opened with “Mary Ann didn’t think she would want the casket open,” I thought, oh boy another one.  However, this story proved to be dark in an entirely different way.   And in fact, the darkness is tempered with incredible tenderness.

So, we know right off the bat that someone Mary Ann loves has died. It turns out to have been her husband.  He was a cyclist and was very fit.  But he was in an accident with a car and didn’t survive.  She loved him very much, and since they both agreed to never have children, they were very content with their lives.   So it was a surprise to many of her friends how quickly she seemed to move on.  But indeed, she was moving on in her own unique way.

And here’s where the story gets oddly touching and yet kind of creepy. She buys a camper van and drives around the country following a map that she has highlighted in pink.  We don’t learn what the locations are until she gets to the first one.  And here I have to give a kind of spoiler because there’s no way to talk about the story without revealing this bit so, the next paragraph will be a spoiler but nothing after that will be.

SPOILER: When her husband died, he had agreed to donate his organs.  She travels around in her van visiting all of the men who received his parts.  She wants to see her husband in these men, and when she finally arrives at everyone’s doors, she believes she does.  Indeed, as she gets closer she can see (in the eyes) or feel (in the scars) or smell (from the lungs) her husband, so she gets closer and closer.  And closer.

When she arrives unannounced at each circled destination, the people at the other end are overjoyed to see her, for she (via her husband) gave something so precious to each of them.  She spends some time with each one and then moves on to the next.  I found myself tearing up at the warmth and emotional reunions these people had, especially when she realized that she could see her husband in these man.  Yet at the same time I was kind of creeped out by it how close she wanted to get with everyone.

She proves to be a tender woman, expressing her love in an unusual way.  And the multiple uses of the title are really wonderful.  And all of that made it a very good story indeed.

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Kicking a Dead Pig + Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes (1998).

This release came out soon after Young Team, when it seemed like Mogwai was just flooding the market.  It’s a remix album of a number of tracks from Young Team. And, when it was re-released it contained several mixes of the track “Fear Satan” as a bonus disc.

In general, I’m not a fan of remixes.  There, I’ve said it. Back in the flush 90s, when I used to buy a lot of import singles, I enjoyed the B-sides, but was always disappointed when there was a remix rack.  Some are fine.  Indeed, some are pretty good.  But for the most part you get a very long song that is mostly drum machine and sounds and noises.  And I know that they are designed for dancing, but I’m not a dancer, so despite how much techno I own, I’m very rarely thrilled to ge a remix.

Which is  as good a way as any to say that this is a pretty inessential disc, even for Mogwai fans. Even though Mogwai themselves throw a couple of remixes on there.  And for the most part, what we get are washes of sound.  Since Mogwai don’t really do lyrics, it’s not always very obvious what song the remixers are remixing.

  • Hood: “Like Herod” has some interesting staccato, which Mogawi typically doesn’t have.
  • Max Tundra: “Helicon 2” is primarily ride cymbal although a guitar motif does come in (with some pretty harmonics) eventually.
  • Klute: “Summer” (Weird Winter Remix). There’s nothing distinctive about this.
  • Arab Strap: “Gwai on 45.”  I actually expected a lot from this mix because Arab Strap are a weirdly wonderful band and the guys have worked with Mogwai.  But then, they’re not an exciting band–they’re very good, just understated.  And as a result, this remix is okay but nothing too exciting.
  • Third Eye Foundation: “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters” (Tet Offensive Remix) is also okay.
  • Alec Empire: “Like Herod” (Face the Future Remix).  Alec Empire usually turns all of his remixes into super fast like 500 bpm noise explosions (just like Atari Teenage Riot). He doesn’t do that here, and the song just kind of melds in with the rest.
  • DJ Q: “R U Still In 2 It” has a vocal, but it is mostly one word repeated over and over.
  • Kid Loco: “Tracy.”  I liked this track more than many others.
  • Mogwai: “Fear Satan.”  It’s weird to me that you would remix one of your own songs, although I guess it’s fun.  I still like the original better.  And I’m fairly certain this one is different from the one on the next disc.

The four “Fear Satan” remixes are by:

  • Mogwai: delicate, the washes of sound are quiet and warm, and it really features the flute quite a lot. Although by the end, the feedback does come in.
  • μ-Ziq: remix is much more staccato. The washes have been removed.  There’s very little connection to the original.
  • Surgeon: remix begins electronically and builds as a slow wave.  It’s pretty much one note getting louder and louder until about a minute left when it changes tone.  It’s hard to imagine even calling this a remix.
  • My Bloody Valentine: at 16 minutes,  the MBV remix stands out for length. After about five minutes of interesting feedback squalls it shifts to a high-pitched noise, almost like a drill. After a few minutes of this it shifts into a very pretty electronic song.  By the end it’s a pounding heavy drum fill rocker.  Any resemblance to “Fear Satan” seems purely coincidental, but it’s a wild ride.

[READ: March 11, 2011] The Revolution Will Be Accessorized

I only heard about this anthology when I read the Sam Lipsyte piece from it.  I didn’t really like his piece, but the rest of the anthology sounded intriguing.  It was put out by BlackBook magazine, which I have a sort of vague awareness of, but couldn’t really say anything about (it’s some kind of counter-cultural fashion magazine or something).  But it seems like the counter-cultural aspect really lends sway here.

This anthology is a collection of short stories, essays and interviews.  There’s also an introduction by Jay McInerney

JAY McINERNEY-Introduction
He talks about BlackBook and the essays contained here. (more…)

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