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Archive for July, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-“Cars” (2011).

When Sloan went to the A.V. Club to record their cover, they were disappointed by the selection.  Of course, that’s the game, so suck it up Sloan.  But they decided to do Gary Numan’s “Cars.”

Now, I feel compelled  to say that Gary Numan’s “Cars” may be my least favorite song of all time (it’s very close to Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face”).  I understand that “Cars” was “groundbreaking” or whatever.  But gah, it is boring and monotonous and just awful (and I say that while admitting that I like Phillip Glass, so i know from monotonous).  While I will admit that the riff is pretty great, everything about the song, from the performance to its endlessness (it’s like 8 minutes long, right?) drives me nuts.

And that may be why I love this cover so much.  It keeps the riff but it adds music to it.  All of that horrible “one guy with a cheap keyboard” sound is taken away.  It’s replaced by a great full-sounding band bringing live joy to the song.  I love that the whiny keyboard is replaced by a guitar and that the drummer rocks the hell out of the ending.  I mean really rocks the hell out of it.  Well done, Sloan.  You’ve been a favorite for years, and you’ve now redeemed my most hated song.  I think Billy Idol just peaked on my list.

You can watch it here.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “The Money”

Junot Díaz’ story in the New Yorker’s Fiction Issue is also a Starting Out piece.  This story is about how his mother always sent money home to her family.  No matter how little money they had, she would always scrimp and save and stash away until she had a few hundred dollars to send every six moths or so.

From Diaz’ other work, we assume that he was not a model citizen as a youth, but even he knew not to tamper with his mother’s money.  (Stealing from her purse was one thing, but the wrath of stealing from the “to be sent money” was unfathomable).

Then one week when they go on vacation they return to see that their house has been robbed!  Some of Junot’s things were taken as well as the money.  The Money!   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Wasting Light (2011).

The Foo Fighters are huge.  Duh.  But when I think of that, it amazes me that a) the Foo Fighters are the band from “the drummer from Nirvana” and that b) while Dave Grohl knows his way around a melody, he is a metal dude at heart, and some of his most popular songs are really heavy.  He can scream with the best of them.

I’ve enjoyed the Foos for many years, but I didn’t listen to their previous discs all that much (or at least I didn’t listen to the mellow disc from In Your Honor and I don’t remember anything off of Echoes…), but this new one is fantastic.  There’s not a dull song on the disc, and Grohl has hit new heights of catchiness and singalong-ness. 

I also like how noisy the disc is.  It opens with some great discord before turning in a majorly heavy rifftastic scream fest in “Bridge Burning.”  Despite the screaming and noise of the opening, the chorus is super catchy.  “Rope” was said to be inspired by Rush.  Knowing that, I can hear a lot of little Rush-isms in the track: The main riff is very Rush-like, there’s a cymbal tapping that reminds me of Neil Peart in the verses, as well as a little drum solo in the middle (with a cowbell!) and the solo is very Alex Lifeson. (It also feels longer than 4 minutes).

“Dear Rosemary” features Bob Mould on backing vocals (but you can hardly tell it’s him).  It’s got a great chorus as well.  “White Limo” is a wonderful punk song, completely incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Meanwhile “Arlandria” (whatever that means) is another totally catchy track (I find myself singing it a lot).

“These Days” should be the next single: catchy and easy on the ears.  I wonder why it hasn’t been released yet.  “Back and Forth” has another great noisy riff.  One thing that I like a lot about the Foos is that they put different things in the same song:  so “A Matter of Time” has a very simple verse and a catchy chorus, but there’s some really buzzing heavy guitars too.  “Miss the Misery” has a kind of sleazy feel which I think is new for the Foos.  And “I Should Have Known” is a kind of angry ballad (I’d like to see Richard Thompson cover it). 

The final track, “Walk” is a fast rocker that sums up the album really well.  Bravo Dave Grohl.  I can’t get enough of this disc, regardless of how popular it is.

[READ: July 2, 2011] Five Dials Number 15

After the brevity of Number 14, Five Dials Number 15 comes back to a fuller size.  It’s strange to me that the issue is titled The November Issue, in part because they never tell us when the issues were published, but even more because this is actually the Québec Issue.  Most of the authors are Quécbecers and the issue release party was in Québec as well.

I’d like to point out that while I was looking something up about this issue (more later) I discovered the Five Dials News Page.  There are currently 43 pages worth of posts.  But most of them are short.  If there are any especially noteworthy ones, I’ll add them to reviews of future issues, but for the most part so far they’re just announcements of how well received their books are (I’ve already made notes to read two of them).  They also give release dates for the issues, which is how I have been able to retroactively attach dates to some of them.

There are many Québecois writers included in this issue (thoughtfully translated into English), as well as some standard features by Alain De Botton and frequent contributors David Shields and Raymond Chandler.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Our Québec Issue, and Young Novelists
Taylor’s introduction discusses many Canadian’s attitudes about Québec and their (seemingly perennial) vote concerning separation from the country (“so, let them go”).

creepy beard

The confusing thing here is that it appears that Taylor is Canadian (or at least lived there in 1995/6).   But surely he is British, no?

There’s lots of information about Québec in here but no grand statement (except that Celine Dion’s husband’s beard is still creepy).

He also introduces a new section called “Our Town” which is all about London.  The final section of the note says that

we are releasing our second Five Dials list of Top Ten Novelists Under Ten (or ‘Ten Under Ten’,or ‘Ten-Ten’, or as some of the writers themselves call the list: ‘Tintin.’) As you know, many of the writers we chose for our first Ten Under Ten list went on to things such as high school.

This is how I discovered the Five Dials News page, because there certainly was no Ten Under Ten section in a previous issue of the magazine.  Of course, nor is there any mention in the news that I have seen.  So I can’t decide if the whole thing is just a big joke or what.  I assume it is (but I’d hate to not give credit to the waaaay precocious kids at the end of the issue). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSH CATERER-“Ask” (2011).

Josh Caterer is the main guy behind The Smoking Popes, whose first album, Born to Quit, Morrissey has said was his favorite –and which is also not only no longer in print, it’s not available on Spotify! (the first album that I have looked for which was not available).

Anyhow, this cover comes from The Onion’s A.V. Club’s Undercover series.  (The current series offers a list of 25 songs from which the bands can choose to cover–but each time a song is chosen, it is removed from the list.  Soon, bands will cover songs they may not even like!)

Anyhow again, this cover is delightful.  I was going  to say that “Ask” is one of my favorite Smiths songs, but I think they’re all my favorite songs.  Nevertheless, this one is pretty high on my list.  And this version is, indeed delightful.  Caterer is accompanied by a guitar, a violin and a viola.  The strings cover most of those catchy melodies, while the guitars keep the song propulsive (you don’t even miss a rhythm section).  Caterer’s voice, while not as distinctive as Morrissey’s is perfect for the song.

Overall, an excellent cover.  Watch it here.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “Archeology”

This was the first of five “Starting Out” pieces in the New Yorker’s fiction issue.  The Starting Out pieces are one page (or less) and are a look into the author’s childhood/adolescence.

Egan, who wrote  A Visit from The Goon Squad, talks about what she wanted to be as a child.  First, she wanted to be a surgeon.  She saw blood and that was the end of that.  Then she thought that maybe she could be an archaeologist.  She desperately wanted to become one, even sending her resume (which was: high school and a desire to dig) to every place she could think of (only one even bothered to write back). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BUFFALO TOM: “Guilty Girls” (2011).

Holy cow, Buffalo Tom!  I more or less forgot about these guys (who I really liked back in the 90s).  Some of their songs from that period are fantastic.  They never had any major success, but they had a series of great releases.  Evidently they reformed a few years ago and released a reunion album.  And now, in 2011, they have a brand new record.  Wow.

I haven’t listened to them in a few years, (although their albums covers are still very fresh in my head).  But I listened to a few older songs for comparison’s sake.  To me the biggest difference between Tom in 1999 and Tom in 2011 is that the singer now sounds even more like Elvis Costello.  Bill Janovitz has always had a strong baritone voice, but with a few extra years thrown on, it has maturity that it lacked back then (not that it needed it, but the songs are more mature lyrically now, and the voice fits it well). 

This song is a kind of punky (poppy punk, but still punky) rocking anthem.  It’s under three minutes and it aims for mega catchiness.

[READ: July 18, 2011] “The Orderly

Having read the brief story by Arthur Bradford in Five Dials, I realized that I knew the name and decided to see what else I had read by him. It wasnt much, but I enjoyed what I’d read.  I decided to look him up and discovered that he really only wrote one book, a short story collection called Dogwalker, before switching media to TV (and a show called How’s Your News?).

On his website, he has links to a number of published stories (fiction and non-); since the Esquire pieces have been collected in his book, there’s really only three unique fiction stories available here.  So i decided to read them all.

Now Nerve.com was a site for “literate smut.”  I remember when it came out and it was somewhat revolutionary in the sex world because it tried to raise the bar of quality and to include some decent writers.  I didn’t actually know that nerve.com was still active (it is, and there’s some really good stuff there).  As such, I feel like perhaps the stories at nerve aren’t entirely top-notch.  Not Penthouse forum, mind you, but not Hemingway either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRENDAN PERRY-Live at KEXP, July 26, 2011 (2011).

Brendan Perry was the mastermind behind Dead Can Dance, one of the more influential bands on the 4AD label.  I really haven’t listened to them in ages (goth is so 1990s), but I was delighted to see that Robin Guthrie and Brendan Perry performed a live set at KEXP.

There’s an interview explaining what Perry has been up to since his last solo album (in 1999)–he has a new one from 2010 that was just released in the States.  He explains a lot about his early musical career and his interests (and living in New Zealand).  But the magic really comes when he starts singing.  And sadly his set has only two songs: “Song to the Siren” and “The Carnival is Over.”

Indeed, I had forgotten what a great, resonant voice Perry has.  It is instantly recognizable and brought me back to Dead Can Dance immediately.  “Song to the Siren” is a Tim Buckley cover, which he (and others) recorded for This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End in Tears album.  This version has Robin Guthrie on guitar. 

The other song, “The Carnival is Over” is a Dead Can Dance song (from Into the Labyrinth).  This song is piano and strings and is immediately recognizable as a Dead Can Dance song.  I admit it’s not as moving as the Tim Buckley song but that would be hard to accomplish (what is it about Guthrie’s echo pedal that is so amazing?).  Nevertheless, it’s a great reunion and wonderful to hear his voice again.

[READ:  July 19, 2011] Modelland

When I was at BEA, there was a lengthy line forming at one of the publisher’s tables.  I found out that it was for Tyra Banks, who was making a “surprise” appearance.  I certainly wasn’t going to wait for her, but after a few minutes, I heard people saying that she would be coming momentarily.  So I hung out and when she arrived with her entourage, I snapped a few pictures and left.

A few days ago, my former co-worker Sandy came to work and left me a [signed!] copy of this excerpt (she had waited for Tyra and got her autograph).  I really had no intention of reading the book, but I was delighted to have a copy of it.  In the interest of embarrassing full disclosure, Sarah and I watch ANTM.  However, in our defense, we FF just about every time someone speaks.  We basically like it for the photo shoots and the final pictures.  But we both feel that Tyra is a looney-tunes egomaniac. 

But seeing the book on our table made me have to read it. 

So how good could this book possible be, especially when the main character is named (seriously) Tookie de la Crème (and her sister is named Myrracle).  Oh and holy cow Tyra’s own introduction says that this is the first book in a trilogy!  Good grief.  

The summary of the story is:

Welcome to Modelland, where every girl dreams of the beauty and glamour of the Land on the top of the mountain. Every girl but one.

Right.

Well, surprise, surpise…the story is actually quite interesting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKETZ (2005).

I’ve enjoyed My Morning Jacket since I bought their live album Okonokos.  I’ve enjoyed all of their releases since, but I never listened to Z, the album that forms the basis of much of Okonokos. Finally, I saw it cheap and picked it up.

And I was really surprised.  The reason I hadn’t gotten it was because I figured I had all of the songs already in live format, so who needed the studio?  Well, it turns out that the studio versions are quite different from the live ones.  In fact, on my first listen, I didn’t really like the studio versions all that much.  After a few listens of course, I like them just fine, but they are indeed quite different.

There are three songs here that didn’t make the live record: “Into the Woods,” “Anytime” and “Knot Comes Loose.”  But the other seven songs appear (often in slightly longer form) on the live disc.  And the live disc is fuller, louder and more energetic than the studio.  That’s what a live album is supposed to sound like.

Z, on the other hand, sounds a bit more polished, more almost dancey–reflecting the kinds of sounds they would incorporate down the road (like on Circuital).  But Z isn’t quite as full-sounding.  Despite that, the songs are top-notch.  And Jim James’ voice is truly a thing to behold (check out that crazy high note at the end of “What a Wonderful Man”).

I hate to sound like I’m down on this disc, because indeed, I am not.  It’s a really fascinating mix of psychedelia and Prince-inspired keyboard rock (I’m not going as far as funk, but it’s certainly Prince-y.  There’s some folk tracks, there’s the amazing “Wordless Chorus” which has a kind of 70;s soft rock feel, which is followed by the Prince-titled “It Beats 4 U” which sounds nothing like Prince, but has a great subtle guitar intro.  “Gideon” doesn’t match any of the over the top epics of earlier records, but it sure feels close.  And “Off the Record” is a practically ska.  The album even has a near 8 minute closing track, the awesome “Dondante.”

All in all, Z is pretty great.  But I still like the live versions better.  That’s what happens when you listen to things out of order, I guess.  But when do live albums count for anything?

 [READ: July 11, 2011] 3 book reviews

According to Five Dials, Zadie Smith is an official member of Harper’s staff now (funny I found out about it from Five Dials, but they really do have tentacles in all aspects of my life).  Congratultions, Zadie.

I can’t imagine having to review two or three books a month (I know I review a lot here, but most of them are short stories).  Zadie plows through a lot of books for this column, but what is wonderful is that the diversity of what she reads is really pronounced.  Just witness this months’ books.

MELA HARTWIG-Am I a Redundant Human Being?
Zadie takes a great angle on this novel.  She (with the help of an online reviewer) compares the protagonist of this novel (written in the 1930s) with Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City.  Why?  Because both protagonists seem to live their lives in the male gaze.  And yet they both also continue on their merry way regardless of what the men say or do.  True, Hartwig’s novella has much more angst, but really, there is a similar attitude present.

I especially like Zadie’s argument that women writers have never really had they way to express the bragging rights that men have employed time immemorial “We can’t, as the saying goes, pull it out and slap it on the table.”  And as such, women have had to achieve their victories through more roundabout means.  I rather liked this analysis.  And, I think it makes for more interesting reading most of the time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-Sasquatch Festival, May 28, 2011 (2011).

I loved Hüsker Dü.  I loved Sugar (a tad less).  I loved Mould’s Workbook.  And then I kind of loss interest in the guy.  He recently wrote an autobiography, which I would consider reading, but musically, I assumed he was done.

So I wasn’t even that interested in listening to his set (shame on me).  This turns out to be a really cool set in which it’s just Bob and his electric guitar.  He plays a varied set of songs from throughout his career.  He plays some of his hits (“See a Little Light,” “Hoover Dam”) but mostly he plays interesting non-hits (“Chartered Trips” (!!), “I Apologize”).  (Is it possible that Grant Hart wrote all of Hüsker’s big hits?)

The most amazing thing about the set is Bob himself.  He sounds so cool and chilled out (even though I think he was like the very first opening act of the concert–which is a pretty shitty time slot).  He seems to be really happy playing (hearing him respond to a request with “I forgot how to play that one” is pretty darn funny.)  Of course, a little later when he says “What’s that?  I’m trying?” he almost sounds like Al Bundy.

But then, look at him, he’s an old man now.  And sure, he’s been playing music forever, so gosh, he’s got to be super old, right?  What?  He was born in 1960?  He’s nine years older than me?  Oh good grief.  So, wait the first Hüsker Dü album came out when he was 22?  He really crammed a lot of music into just a few years.  Not bad, Bob.

And yes, I’m fully invested in relistening to all the great music you’ve made now.  Thanks, Sasquatch.

[READ: July 13, 2011] “Incident in the Orient”

This very short story features a dead dog. I’m getting that out of the way since I know some people won’t read any further once they know that.

I rather liked the brevity of this story, how Theroux is able to cram a lot of information and a lot tension into just a couple of pages.  The story is also a strange little onion of a tale, with the narrator working for a man (Moses) who is a sort of mercenary construction boss.  The narrator gives a lot of insight into Moses, although he also admits that he doesn’t really know the man very well (how could anyone know him).

He has done work in various war-torn countries and has effectively built a crew out of a small group of devoted men, mingled with local help.  The most fascinating thing is that Moses is a short man with a lisp and yet he commands the respect of everyone who works for him.  He takes no shit, but he pays well and uses local materials (including tearing down materials from destroyed buildings if necessary).   (more…)

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