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Archive for May, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: THE AMOEBA PEOPLE-“Cosmology, Your Futon and You” (2010).

I found out about The Amoeba People from the Kids Corner Top Ten Songs of 2010 list (this was number one).

The Amoeba People are a fun, weird kids band who write clever, often science-based songs.  This song has a wonderful bass line that opens the song.  There’s suitably weird space sounds (theremin) and a nice choral chorus).

Lyrically it’s a distorted spoken story full of clever word play.  It features a whole lot of facts about outer space (and jokes about futons).   And while you won’t get all the lyrics on the first try, it rewards repeated listens.

You can hear the track here.

[READ: April 16, 2011] Babymouse: Our Hero

This is the second Babymouse book (nope, I’m not reading these in order, which goes against a lot of my neuroses, but I think I can handle it).

As this story opens, Babymouse oversleeps and misses her bus.  And right from the start the fantasy/dream sequence kicks in.  The voices that try to wake her are not her bratty sister, but her adoring fans!  And when she misses the bus, the walk to school is really a trudge through the desert…will she survive???

It’s all quite funny, especially the “voiceover” which she can obviously hear, and with which she argues from time to time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBYN-Body Talk Pt 1 (2010).

Robyn’s Body Talk albums got a lot of praise in 2010.   When I looked at them online, they were really cheap (and considered EPs), so I bought Pt 1.  I was disappointed when I first listened because it seemed like such a sparse album, that I felt there wasn’t much to it.  (Oh, and before I continue, yes, I knew that Robyn was a big time pop singer, but reviewers that I respected–like Sasha Frere Jones raved about the albums).

The opening song “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” is a really strange song.  The verses are simply Robyn stating that different things are killing her.  It’s strangely compelling despite the repetitiveness.  There’s virtually no music (eventually a single keyboard line keeps a bare melody.  And then the titular chorus.  After two listens I found that I really liked the song even though the first time I heard it I totally blew it off.

“Fembot” is the first proper song, and it’s a simple twist on the stereotype of “woman as robot” since she, the fembot, embraces her sexuality (over a very simple catchy pop melody).  “Dancing On My Own” is an even better song.  Fuller, more complex and with a great chorus.  Two songs seemed like they’d have been destined for Glee: “Cry When You Get Older” & “Hang with Me” they’re a bit too pop for my liking.

The second half of the disk is where it gets odd and interesting.  “Dancehall Queen” has Robyn (a Swedish sing mind you) singing in a Jamaican dancehall accent–which, since I’m infrequently exposed to it, I really like).  It’s super catchy (and I love when she sings “the riddim goes boom boom boom”).  “None of Dem” is another odd song, with a great minor key transition in the chorus and music by Royksopp.

The disc ends with “Jag Vet e Dejlig Rosa” a sweet lullaby sung in Swedish.

The entire EP displays her impressive vocal range and styles.  And even though I really didn’t like it at first it has not only grown on me but gotten my to consider getting Pt 2.  (She released Body Talk Pt 1 (an EP) and Pt 2 (an EP) and then Body Talk which is a combination of some of 1 & 2 with more songs thrown in–a cash in, in my opinion).

[READ: April 30, 2011] “The Good Samaritan”

This was a rather dark story that explores people’s generosity and gullibility.

I was confused through the whole story because the main character’s name was Szabo, and I couldn’t figure out if the ethnicity of the character made a difference (I don’t think so) or even if that was his first or last name.  But that’s a very minor criticism of an otherwise thoroughly engaging story.  I was particularly delighted that while I thought Szabo was going to be a certain kind of character, he turned out to be something else entirely.

As the story opens, it reveals Szabo’s land.  He doesn’t like to call it a ranch (the word is abused by developers), rather he calls it “the property.”  I kind of assumed this story would be about a downtrodden rancher, but that turns out to not be the case at all.  Szabo owns and runs “the property” as a not-very-lucrative side business.  He grows racehorse-quality alfalfa hay for a handful of grateful buyers (he sells in small amounts which most dealers won’t).  It’s true he barely breaks even, but he loves it.  He loves everything about the property–the planting, the reaping and especially the John Deere, which he treats like a baby.

Then one day the baby bites back.  While climbing on the tractor, Szabo slips and dislocates his shoulder.  He calls on his secretary and she assists him to the hospital.  His secretary, Melinda, is from his “real” job, and she is a saintly woman. I was delighted that the story went into so much detail about his “other” life and this woman who helps him.  Szabo’s main career is as a kind of middle man for parts.  He used to manufacture them, but he learned where the money was and took advantage of it  Now he sits in an office (and “the property” is his release).  But Melinda is his saving grace.  She knows everything about him and what he wants and their history together is wonderfully explained. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIREWATER-Performance from KEXP, July 3, 2008 (2008).

I loved Firewater when their first two albums came out and I even saw them once open for Letters for Cleo (a great show by both bands).  Then I more or less lost touch with them.  And it turns out that lead Firewater dude Tod A. had been out of the country for a while.

The interview (and concert) with them details his distaste for the Bush administration and his decision to get the hell out of the country for a while.  So he spent three years traveling around India, Turkey, Pakistan and then returned with this album.  I wasn’t aware of any of that, or even that they had a new album out in 2008.

Firewater had a very cool (and reasonably original) sound when they came out back in 1996.  They had a middle eastern vibe even back then which they blended nicely with theatrical pomp and a whole lot of punk.  They threw everything together into a rollicking good time (even if the lyrics were very dark indeed).

The 2008 album The Golden Hour seems a bit more upbeat (touring the world did him good) although it hasn’t changed the overall style of the music.  This live set includes several new musicians for Firewater, and their array of skills (and instruments) is great.  But the most surprising thing to me is how friendly and jovial Tod A. is.  As I said, I knew the band as being kind of angry, so hearing him be fun (and inviting the KEXP volunteers to sing gloriously chaotic backing vocals on “Beirut”) is really cool.

In total the band does four songs: “Hey Clown,” “Electric City,” “6:45,” and “Borneo.”  I think the biggest surprise for me is how short the songs are.  Not punk short, but more like pop song length.  And super catchy as well.

It’s a welcome return to a great band.  Although I see they haven’t released anything else since 2008.

[READ: April 4, 2011] “The Principles of Exile”

This was a fascinating and very sad story which had multiple layers and went in many unexpected directions.  It was really great.

As the story opens, Manny is sent to get some “special” cheese from a shop.  The cheese is called halloumi, and the best kind is made in a bucket behind their counter.  He is sent for this cheese because his mother is making a special dinner.

The dinner is in honor of Monsieur Sarkis’s new book.  There was a fatwa leveled against Sarkis for his previous book.  And that previous book (naturally) went on to be a best seller.  Well, Manny’s father had the publishing rights to the book (normally his publishing house was on the verge of bankruptcy, so a huge best seller was a big deal for them).  They didn’t even mind the fatwa.

Until it started to affect them personally. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BATTLES-“Ice Cream” (2011).

My friend Lar told me about Battles way back in 2007.  I listened to the concert he sent me, and it was great. But my memory of the band was that they were really heavy (the drummer was in Helmet and Tomahawk for cripessakes).

But they’re not so much heavy as noisy and crazy.  And this track is a head-spinning amalgam of keybaords, unsettling rhythms, processed guitars and singing from Argentinean techno producer Matias Aguayo.  The lyrics sound like they are not English, but they are (with heavy effects on them).

The song is weird, indeed. But after just one listen, I was totally hooked.  It’s catchy and bouncy and very sunny and it’s a real joy to listen to.   I absolutely must go back and check out their debut Mirrored.

Listen at NPR.

[READ: April 28, 2011] Five Dials Number 6

Five Dials Number 5 was an excellent issue that I enjoyed immensely.  They followed it up with Number 6, which deals with a subject that I was very passionate about in the early 90s: censorship/obscenity.  When I was in high school and college, the PMRC was the big bogeyman for advocates of free speech (of which I am one).  I still advocate passionately for freedom of speech (now that I’m in a library, the issue can be part of my daily life), but it seems like there are so many more important issues in the world, that stickers on a record seem kind of silly.

Nevetheless, as this issue reminds us, those who control what is said control what we hear.  And that’s true for music and books, as well as our everyday news.  So, free speech should never be taken lightly.  Although this issue looks largely at obscenity in England, they also pull up some good information from Jello Biafra as well.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On John Mortimer and Obscenity
John Mortimer appears later in the issue. He was the lawyer who defended Lady Chatterly’s Lover against accusations of obscenity.  And Taylor points out that Mortimer’s attitude was that he “understood the silliness of censorship.”  And with that attitude, he was able to work to convince juries of that silliness.  The rest of the issue looks at important cases of censorship over the years, from The Dead Kennedys to NWA (it’s nice to be reminded about how “dangerous” they were when they came out).  He also laughs at the lame attempts at putting adult content on network TV (Fudge you!). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POKEY LaFARGE-Tiny Desk Concert #122 (April 20, 2011).

I had never heard of Pokey LaFarge before this Tiny Desk concert was sitting in my download folder.  In fact, the notes on the page say that they had never heard of him before they saw him wandering around SXSW.  And then he climbed onstage and played a great set.

LaFarge plays an old-timey style of music.  It’s a kind of Squirrel Nut Zippers retro sound.  As with the Zippers, I love their music in small doses.  And so, this Tiny Desk set is a perfect little sample of LaFarge’s music: happy, bouncy, jazzy.  There’s an upright bass solo, songs about being happy and singing “La La La” and other upbeat stuff.  It’s quite satisfying.

Especially if, as the notes say, you use it as a kind of antidote to the raucous music that you generally listen to.  A Pokey LaFarge song will perk you out of any self-inflicted gloom.  I just don’t need to hear more than three.

[READ: April 15, 2011] 2 book reviews

It looks like Zadie Smith has become a regular fixture at Harper’s.  I’m undecided if I’m going to review all of her book reviews from now on (perhaps I’ll lump some together in one post).  But in the meantime, I’m mentioning this one primarily because she reviews the story that I mentioned in yesterday’s post: Edouard Levé’s Suicide. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LES CLAYPOOL-5 Gallons of Diesel (DVD) (2005).

I’ve loved Primus for years.  And if you love Primus, chances are you love Les Claypool.  And Les Claypool has created and released music with all manner of bands since Primus broke up (they have since gotten back together and have planned a new release for July).  I don’t love all of his solo releases, but they all have something to commend them, and he’s made some great, unheralded music during those years.

This DVD covers the years from Sausage through to 2005.  At first I was pretty excited by the DVD.  The set opens with the off the wall video for Sausage’s “Riddles Are Abound Tonight” which is followed by a mercifully short “making of” video.

Then things started to go downhill somewhat.  The rest of the DVD is live, which is fine (Les live is a thing of beauty). It’s just that for many of the videos the quality is terrible.  The audio is also not ideal all the way through (that may have been my setup, but there were certainly songs that were much quieter than others).  Now I accept that there weren’t professional film crews out for Les Claypool’s Holy Mackerel tour, and that these videos are basically bootleg, but it  seems like they may have spruced them up a bit for the DVD.

Things change with the switch to Oysterhead.  I could have watched several songs from Oysterhead and I wonder why they chose only one.  This is a professional quality mix (although it is a little dark) and I have to say that the whole song is stolen by Trey Anastasio’s guitar thing.  It’s a guitar (called the MatterHorn) but during the verses of the song it appears to be a kind of theremin on the reverse side (with a full-sized antler sticking out of the bottom) .  He holds the thing upside down and waves at it to generate noise.  It was bewitching.

But Trey wasn’t the only one with a weird instrument. For the Frog Brigade set(s) on one of the songs, Les plays a “bass” which is just one string (called the Whamola). He hits it with a stick and changes the notes with a movable handle that he raises and lowers.  I’ve never seen anything like that, either.  Most of the Frog Brigade set is outside at a festival.  The lighting is good but the sound is awful.  In one song, the poor guy on percussion is banging away at various things and you simply cannot hear them.  Les also uses a secondary microphone (the Sandman–which has a great story behind it) but its volume is also quite low, which is a shame as you can’t hear him for quite a bit.

When Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains the setting is an odd one (they appear to be on a cruise(?)).  It’s basically two lengthy jams, which is fine.  Buckethead amazes with his skills.  But the Bernie on keyboards, I can’t tell if he was screwing up or messing around during his solos.

There’s two more songs attributed to just Les Claypool, and this version of “Riddles Are Abound Tonight” is especially neat because there is a sitar playing the majority of the riff.

The DVD extras are fun.  There’s a weird set from a band called 3 Guys Name Schmo which is 2 bassists and a drummer.  The other bassist is miked very loud and it’s hard to hear Les (imagine outbassing Les Claypool!).  Then there’s the second official video on the disc for “Buzzards of Green Hill” (very low budget).  This comes with a making of the video video and a making of the audio video.  Both are interesting and brief, giving tidbits of info without overwhelming us.

The final two items come from an actual TV show called Fly Fishing the World.  I don’t fish, so I never knew this show existed.  But sure enough, there’s our Les going to two separate locations and fishing on.  The best part is that they play lots of Primus music between fishing (probably the most Primus music ever played on non-music TV), and they interview him as well (I didn’t know he had such cute kids). Despite my not knowing the show or caring about fishing, I found the whole program enjoyable and fascinating (and they catch and release as well).  It’s well worth the time.

So overall, this is a mixed bag.  There’s not a lot of video of Les’ non-Primus music out there, so in that respect this is great.  I just wish the quality was better.

[READ: March 25, 2011] “Life in Three Houses”

This is an excerpt from Suicide.  The introduction states that days after delivering the manuscript of Suicide, Levé killed himself.  I suspect that that is the main reason that this story was published here.

It opens promisingly and very interestingly in the second person.  The story tells us that you set off to play tennis with your wife, but you backtrack and go into the basement where you shoot yourself.  Your wife finds you moments later but misses the clue you set out for her (that was handled very well).

The rest of the story (and there’s quite a lot) gets confusing.  First off because it stays in the second person (even after death) but it also goes into apparent flashbacks.  Even more confusing is the addition of an I as the narrator.  An I who knows “you” but who was not present for the suicide so how could he have all these details?

The book is being published by Dalkey Archive Press.  It’s possible that the excerpts do an injustice to the full book, but I fear that I will not be reading any more by this author.

It was translated by Jan Steyn.

For ease of searching I include: Leve

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SOUNDTRACKMETRIC-Fantasies (2009).

I was hooked by the song “Gold Guns Girls.”  I liked it so much, I bought the disc, and I was absolutely not disappointed.  This disc reminds me of all of the best things about late 90s alt rock (one of my favorite musical periods).  There are echoes of later period Lush, or of Garbage or some other slickly produced commercial alt-rock.

I’m led to understand that this disc would merit cries of sell-out from older fans (their earlier stuff it a bit rougher, I gather), and yes, this is a pretty commercial release, but I don’t mind.  The songs are all top-notch: great songwriting, catchy choruses, wonderful production.  And there’s something slightly uncommercial about the lyrics which I think is what keeps this album from being too slick for its own good.

I have listened to this disc dozens of times at this point and I never get tired of it.  And, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go back and get some of their earlier releases too.

[READ: May 15, 2011] Fraud

I’ve seen Rakoff on the Daily Show, and his name has been cropping up in various places lately.  So I decided to read his actual published work to see what he was all about.

Fraud is his first book.  It is mostly funny, although it also dwells on serious matters by the end of the book.  In many ways Rakoff is like a slightly wilder, slightly edgier version of David Sedaris (the two have a long history of friendship and working together, so this may not be totally surprising).

I’m not going to compare him to Sedaris in any meaningful way, just to say that there are similarities of temperament and style; I don’t think either one of them is hilarious, but that I enjoy both of them and often laugh pretty hard at their material.

I’m also not going to review each essay in this book.  It seems to be constructed in a vague sort of narrative arc.  Well, actually, the second half of the book has the narrative arc (I suspect that the essays that were published previously were modified slightly and that the new essays allude to some of the incidents mentioned there.

The first few essays of the book are the funnier ones (insert joke about Woody Allen’s early funny movies here), and they stick more to the idea of Rakoff as a “Fraud.”  In them, Rakoff, a Canadian ex-pat (he’s from Toronto), somewhat neurotic, gay, New York Jew goes to different locations where he is an atypical person and then reports on them. (more…)

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