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Archive for October, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-“Meow Meow Lullaby” (2004).

On the For the Kids Too! compilation, Nada Surf have a wonderful song called “Meow Meow Lullaby.”  It’s got a beautiful melody and is a really adorable song.  Lyrically it is very simple: “I am just a kitten, hardly fit my mittens, much too small I figure, one day I’ll be bigger.”  And the chorus is predominantly the band singing the word “Meow.”

It’s a wonderful lullaby and we have put it on many of the mix CDs we play for the kids.

Not many bands can successfully transition to kids’ music (a trend that as a dad I am down with, even if it can be annoying).  It’s clear that Nada Surf aren’t doing that–this is a one-off for a good cause.  But this song is a winner.

[READ: October 27, 2011] Babymouse: Puppy Love

This is my sixth Babymouse adventure.  It was quite different from the other ones which I’ve read (which is good).  Rather than focusing on school or Babymouse’s friends, this one focuses exclusively on Babymouse’s pets.

Babymouse is a terrible pet owner.  As the story opens we see that she has lost yet another goldfish.  (We see the previous fish in order of their demise).  Babymouse wants a new pet but she thinks that fish are too boring.  She wants to move on to something bigger! (Despite her clear inability to care for pets).

Then we see the succession of pets that Babymouse acquires, as she builds up to a puppy–hamster, ferret, etc.  My favorite part of this story was that Babymouse loses all of these pets (the hamster instructions say: “Do not leave cage open” which she reads a little too late), but we see where all the lost pets wind up–which was very funny indeed.

And then Babymouse gets her wish–sort of.  A stray dog comes up to her and she adopts it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUEENSRŸCHE-Rage for Order (1985).

Thinks looked to be very different for Queensrÿche on Rage for Order.  I mean, look at them.  On the back of The Warning they were leather-clad hellions.  On Rage, they are quite the dandys (man, I wanted Geoff Tate’s coat!).   This would be the first of many times that they confounded their fans with a style change.

Yet despite the look of them, the album opens with a scorcher, “Walk in the Shadows.”  It’s not as heavy as their earlier songs, but it has perfected many of the elements of those earlier records: the chanted vocals, the great riffs and the screaming solos.  “I Dream in Infrared” shows their they’ve always been interest in technology.  It’s ballady, but it’s got some really sharp guitars and some more soaring vocals.

The keyboards at the end of the song segue into “The Whisper,” the first indication that things would be different on this record–orchestra keyboards hits (which I have always loved) are used to punctuate verses, and there are cool, whispered words (which would be used prominently on Operation: Mindcrime

Then comes the big shock, “Gonna Get Close to You” a weird synth/metal hybrid with a strikingly catchy and poppy chorus (that seems ever-so-80s to me)–see below for a fun surprise about this song.

Then “The Killing Words” opens with a keyboard riff that sounds not unlike 80s-era Marillion–Tate even whispers words not unlike Fish does on early Marillion albums.  Of course, when the chorus comes in it is pure Queensrÿche .  There’s more orchestral hits and cool effects on “Surgical Strike.”

I love everything about the opening of “Neue Regel,” from the unusual guitar to the “steam” sounds used as percussion to Tate’s processed, minimized voice–it makes for a wonderfully claustrophobic song.  It’s made even more so by the overlapping, intertwining vocals later on. 

“Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)” is a cool sparse song (the opening in particular). But it also shows their interest in, if not politics, then at least contemporary society (again, more foreshadowing of Mindcrime).  “London” just builds and builds in intensity, while “Screaming in Digital” takes the technological aspect one step further with all kind of sinister synthesized sounds and the crazy way it ends.

The album ends with “I Will Remember,” an acoustic song complete with mournful whistling from Tate.   But even as a ballad, it’s not your typical lyrical content: “And we wonder how machines can steal each other’s dreams.”  I don’t love it as an album ender, although it does wind things down pretty nicely.

This is my favorite Queensrÿche album, hands down.  I know most people like Mindcrime better, but for me, this one is more progressive and showcases a lot of the risks the band was willing to take.

Incidentally, there’s a wonderful review of Rage here, in which I learn that “Gonna Get Close to You” is actually a cover of a song by the Canadian singer Dalbello (who is really crazy and fun, and whom I’ve never heard of until I just looked her up).  How did I not know it was a cover?  (Or more like, I knew it, but forgot it over the last twenty some years)?  I might actually like the original better.

[READ: October 25, 2011] “This Cake is for the Party”

This was a very short story that crammed a lot of emotion into two pages.

As the story opens, Bonnie is finishing a cake for a party.  The party is to celebrate the engagement of Janey and Milt.  Janey is one of Bonnie’s older friends and she’s happy for Janey.  She likes her fiancée, Milt (even if he did just get a black eye).  The black eye came from a misunderstanding.  Milt was in a pub “lasciviously” twirling the mustache that his high school class dared him to grow.  Someone in the pub thought he was making advances on his woman and punched Milt in the face. 

But Bonnie’s boyfriend, David doesn’t like Milt.  He won’t say why, he just doesn’t.  It could very well have to do with the fact that he and Janey used to date, and it’s possible that Janey dumped David for Milt (that’s a little unclear in the story). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUEENSRŸCHE-The Warning (1984).

Queensrÿche fulfilled the promise of their debut EP with this album.  It takes the blueprint of the EP and expands it wonderfully.  They introduce some cool low vocal chants to compliment Tate’s soaring alto (like on “En Force”), they also introduce some wonderful effects and riffs and scales (also on “En Force”).

There’s also some really great, odd “keyboard” bits thrown in as kind of sound effects or jarring moments (“Deliverance”).  “Deliverance” also has great backing vocals, and I love the way the “Deliver Us” part of the song is quite different from the soaring of the rest of the vocals.  The back and forth of “No Sanctuary” also showcases the bands skills very well.

The band even shows signs that they’re not sticking to standard heavy metal.  On “N.M. 156” there’s some sci-fi chanting and the really cool section of the song in which Tate sings “Forgotten…Lost…Memories” and the “Lost” part is a completely unexpected note.   They were taking chances from the beginning.

“The Lady Wore Black” is updated with the stunning “Take Hold of the Flame,” a slightly more progressive version of that first song.  “Before the Storm” was the first song I heard from this album and it has always been my favorite on the record (this is one of those few albums where the better songs aren’t front loaded).  “We watch the sun rise and hope it won’t be our last” (they were always happy guys).

“Child of Fire” opens with a wonderful riff and the compelling, “the souls that are damned by the pain that you bring send you higher.”  The song settles down into a slow part and Tate growls “Damn you and the pain they must feel” and you can tell he means it (whatever else the song is about).

All this time I don’t think I ever realized that “Roads to Madness” was nine minutes long.  It is definitely foreshadowing the kind of epic work they would do later.  And it closes out the album in a cathartic blast.  It’s wonderfully pure metal from the mid-80s.

[READ: October 20, 2011] Celebrations of Curious Characters

I had never heard of Ricky Jay before getting this book, but apparently he is a reasonably well know radio personality (on KCRW), he is also an actor on Deadwood, and he’s a magician.  This book is a collection of his KCRW radio show broadcasts along with accompanying pictures from his vast collection of obscure ephemera.

There are forty-five entries in the book–each one is a page long (it’s an oversized book and they are two columns each).  Each essay is Jay’s take on a particular subject or, as the title says, curious character.  Jay is a collector of esoteric information, especially that related to magic and, for lack of a better word, freakish behavior.   One of the most enjoyable parts of the book are the pictures that accompany each entry.  The pictures come from Jay’s collection and each picture’s provenance is given in the back of the book.  So we get pictures like “The little Count Boruwlaski, engraving by A. van Assed ([London]) Borowlaski [sic], 1788). or Lithograph of Chung Ling Soo (Birmingham: J. Upton, c. 1912) or Frontispiece portrait from George Devol, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (Cincinnati: Devol & Haines, 1887).  Some of these photos you can see on his website.  Or you can enjoy this picture of a chicken firing a gun that is not in the book (it comes from his site). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUEENSRŸCHE-Queensrÿche EP (1983).

Back in high school, I spent many a night listening to M-m-m-m-metal Shop on the radio.  When I first heard “Queen of the Reich” I was blown away.  It was heavy, with blistering guitars and, amazingly, that Voice.  Many is the argument that my friends had about just how great Geoff (Jee-oph) Tate’s voice was. 

But this EP came out before most people had heard of them.  At this state they were a speed metal band from Seattle.  And, yet, despite all of the accolades they would later receive and the huge hits they would have and the prog-metal sound they would develop, for me this EP is the purest Queensrÿche.

I am particularly in love with the wild soloing that happens at the end of “Blinded.”  The guitars are sailing and wailing way.  Then the voices begin chanting and Tate’s voice is screaming (then hitting a minor note) and then screaming again until it just–

Opens the awesome “Lady Wore Black.”  Queensrÿche (yup umlaut on the y, thank you much) have done ballads throughout their career and this is where it started (true, nothing original about a song that starts slow and builds to heavy, but man how heavy this song gets).  The solos are also stellar.

My version of the vinyl has only 4 songs.  The CD added an extra track and the remastered version added like ten more songs.  But to me, these 4 songs are quintessential heavy metal.

[READ: October 27, 2011] “Tenth of December”

This was a surprisingly moving and reasonably dark story from “humorist” Saunders.  I really enjoyed it quite a lot and was very engaged with the whole thing.  And, yes there was a funny line or two in it, but it can hardly be called a funny story.

There are two main characters in the story: Robin, an overweight boy who spends most of his time playing with imaginary friends and Eber, an old man who is slowly losing his faculties.  While they have nothing to connect each other, it soon becomes apparent that their stories will intertwine.

Robin is playing a game in the woods–it’s the kind of game that I think is wonderful for kids to play, and I have to say that I didn’t think it was sad that he had such a creative imagination and played with imaginary friends–of course, since he doesn’t seem to have any friends in real life, I guess it is pretty sad.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Plays Covers on World Cafe (May 13, 2010).

I didn’t even know that Nada Surf had released a covers album (sometimes things slip through the cracks), but when NPR previewed their new song, I learned that they played some covers for World Cafe (not downloadable, sadly) to promote the album. 

So I’m going to be investigating that covers album shortly.  In the meantime, we get this very enjoyable four-song set (three covers and one of their own tracks). 

The band chats with David Dye briefly (about 5 minutes) before busting into the songs (a wonderful explanation of Bill Fox and a mention of reading about him in The Believer).  Their own track is “Whose Authority” one of their many wonderful songs.

The three covers are “Love Goes On” (by the Go-Betweens), “Enjoy the Silence” (by Depeche Mode) and “Electrocution” (by Bill Fox).  I didn’t recognize the first song until the Ba-ba-ba chorus kicked in, although I admit I’m not terribly familiar with it.  Similarly, the final song by Bill Fox is very obscure (as is Fox himself).  Both of these two songs are played with jangly guitars and are poppy and quite enjoyable.

The Depeche Mode song is the one that I already really knew well.  And boy do they make it their own.  They turn it from a somber dirge (catchy but somber) into a more upbeat almost poppy folk song.  It will probably be a polarizing cover (if anyone cares enough about Nada Surf to listen) and while I don’t think it’s as good as the original, it works so well in the context of a Nada Surf show, that it’ hard to argue with it.

Nada Surf is one of the great unsung bands and it’s hard to believe they aren’t more successful.

[READ: October 21, 2011] Mission Street Food

With Lucky Peach, McSweeney’s entered into the world of food publishing.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lucky Peach.  But when I received Mission Street Food, I was no longer in the frame of mind to get excited to read this book, which, as the subtitle says, promises recipes and ideas.  And when I first flipped through it, I got to the recipes pages and said, well, when will I ever read this?

Then one night recently I couldn’t sleep and Mission Street Food was there, so I read the Preface.  And Anthony Myint has a great writing style, a great flair for telling a story and a wonderful story to tell.  Needless  to say, I read almost the whole first section before falling asleep.  And I was excited to tackle the rest of the book.

I hate to sound like I think that McSweeney’s has changed the way food book publishing is done, because that would be unfair.  I don’t read food publishing as a rule.  I can’t even enjoy looking in my wife’s cooking magazines.  Seeing names of foods and recipes for preparing them just doesn’t do anything for me.  But maybe the narrative of those books is more interesting than I give them credit.  Maybe I should sit down with another foodie book and see what it’s all about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-“When I Was Young” (2011).

This is a new song from Nada Surf’s new album (due out in January 2012).  Nada Surf aren’t changing much from their tried and true sense of pop hooks, but this is a slower, statelier song (with strings!).  It features a challenging-to-sing-along-with chorus (“I wonder what was that world I was dreaming of”).

It’s a bit longer and slower than my preferred Surf songs, although I can see it working well in the middle of an album.  About two minutes in, the guitars kick in and the song really comes to life.  It’s catchy and fun and has me excited for their new disc.

[READ: October 23, 2011] “Memory Laps”

This article came around the same time that our tickets for Sedaris’ upcoming performance at Raritan Valley Community College arrived in our mailbox (nicely timed, that).

It did make me wonder if I shouldn’t be reading anymore of these pieces, since I don’t want to spoil the humor of Sedaris live (although I think Sedaris is funniest when delivering his pieces–his monotone is just wonderful–even if I have heard them before).  And plus, the show is not until April, so chances are I’ll have forgotten about it by then.

This essay is all about young David when he was on the swim team (this guy has done so much in his life–who knew he was a swimmer too?).  The crux of the essay is that David’s father never praised him for his swimming; instead, he heaped tons of praise on David’s teammate Greg Sakas (I wonder if names have been changed in these essays). 

True, Sakas was pretty great, and he won every meet, but even when, on that one freakish instance when David beat Greg, David’s father was unimpressed, saying that Greg must have been ill or something. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YEASAYER-Odd Blood (2010).

Sometimes albums have a single that is nothing like the rest of the album.  So you buy the album and hate everything but that one song.  This album is almost the exact opposite.  It opens with a song that is so odd–noisy and with massively manipulated vocals, that you would never guess the rest of the album is like some of the best Depeche Mode-friendly pop in the last thirty years.

That opening song, “Children” is creepy, with lots of percussion and atmosphere.  And it gives you no expectation for what comes next: “Ambling Alp” a bouncy track with a super catchy chorus.  This track reminds me of Erasure at their heyday.

“Madder Red” seems to be comprised mostly of (rather nice) backing vocals) with lead vocals done in a mellow Depeche Mode style.  “O.N.E.” sounds pretty much exactly like a keyboard-heavy alt-radio hit from 1991 (it’s fantastic).  And “Love Me Girl” with its tremendous dual-vocals sounds like one of the best pre-guitar Depeche Mode songs ever.  It’s amazing. 

And yet for all of  this talk of sounding like mid 80s alt rock, Yeasayer adds enough new ideas–recording techniques, fullness of sound and current studio tricks that they don’t sound dated.  Or like a rip off.

The frantic keyboard lines of “Rome” propel that song, while “Strange Reunions” slows things down considerably.  Things pick up again with the chanting and the cool keyboards (and great post chorus riff) of “Mondegreen.” 

The disc ends with “Grizelda.”  It continues with this current groove.  Not the best song, but a decent ending to a great disc.  Just don’t let that first song scare you off of what’s inside.

[READ:  October 21, 2011] “Sez Ner

Sez Ner is evidently a place.  And this story is a snapshot of a day or two of that place. 

Sez Ner has a swineherd, a cowherd, some other farmhands and a priest.  This snapshot shows the men in their daily lives: accepting the fate of the dying animals, pushing the living animals to the edges of abuse and/or not really caring that much about them.  Some animals escape.  Some die.

The priest blesses everyone, takes his bounty and leaves. (more…)

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