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Archive for December, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: LEMONHEADS-Varshons (2009).

This is a Lemonheads covers album.  The amazing thing about this covers album is that mot of the originals are quite unknown (heck I didn’t even recognize some of the artists).  But he manages to put a good Lemonheads spin on most of them (the  later country/folk Lemonheads style) and it makes for an enjoyable listen.  ALthough truth be told, most of the songs aren’t as catchy as a good Lemonheads song.

“I Just Cant Take it Anymore” and “Fragile” are folky/country songs, not too far out of line with the Lemonheads sound.  “Living with Linda” is a strange choice on the disc.  It’s a cover of a song by G.G, Allen, a performer who I know a lot about (he’s infamous) but who I have never heard.  I assume that the original is a brutal punk song (it’s about killing an ex girlfriend, after all) but Dando turns it into something of a Johnny Cash type song (using his best deep voice).

“Waiting Around to Die” is a dark song, another good country ballad.  “Green Fuz” has a cool backwards guitar solo.  “Yesterlove” is a long, slow builder of a song that, intriguingly seems to move seamlessly from one section to another.  I really like it.  “Dandelion Seeds” is a trippy weird song  that works quite well in the Lemonheads universe.

“Dirty Robot” is the really big surprise on the disc. After all of the folky country music, this song is a totally electronic song (and a very simple one at that). In addition to the electronic surprise is the fact that the lead vocals are supplied by Kate Moss (Dando has a robot-processed spoken verse).

The only song I knew here was the cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”  This is a fine but very quiet version which features a duet by Liv Tyler (!?).  (It would be impossible to screw up this song).  The final song is probably my favorite.  It’s a cover of Christina Aguilara’s “Beautiful.”  I’ve always liked the song (it’s quite touching) but I must say I like Dando’s version better.  It’s very understated (and he changes the words to “I am Beautiful” instead of “You are beautiful”–interesting change or egotism?).

So this is a strange covers album, quite atypical for the world of covers.  It’s not often that a covers record introduces yo to a whole bunch of new material.

[READ: December 30, 2011] “Succeeding in Business Through Marketing Fads”

I am running dangerously close to not having anything to post about in 2012.  Not for the entire year, but on a daily basis.  I have effectively caught up to all of the posts that I had planned to write.  I have read all of the New Yorker and Harper’s stories that I had lying around and because of my new job it’s taking me considerably longer to read books.

I was seriously planning on having this post be about how I wouldn’t be able to have any more daily posts in 2012.

Enter Max Barry.

I’ve read all three of Barry’s previous books (indeed I read his first book years and years ago and didn’t even tie it into his other ones until his bio did it for me).  I’ve enjoyed them all.  He has a new book out that I am currently enjoying called Machine Man.  Anyhow, reading this book made me want to see about his short stories and the like.  Well, his website has a few short pieces on it.  Enough to get me through the next week anyhow.

For you, dear reader, that means you’ll get a whole week’s worth of Max Barry before you can get to whatever else I manage to finish next year. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-The Double Cross (2011).

Sloan never fail to make enjoyable punky pop songs.  Surely it has something to do with having four songwriters in the band (which must minimize clunkers).  I can never decide who my favorite songwriter of the group is as they all do fairly varied work.

“Follow the Leader” is a fast rocker (with a very cool guitar solo bit and a nice acoustic break in the middle).  While “The Answer Was You” is a bouncy piano-based song that starts out fast and then settles into one of the more recognizable Sloan voices (I wish I knew who was who–even after twenty years I have never quite determined who was singing what).  This song also has a great third part, minor keys and very dramatic structure.  It’s the first of several songs that hover around the 2 minute mark, as well.

“Unkind” is a simple guitar based song and man is it catchy, with a chorus that sticks with you.  “Shadow of Love” is a great fast rocker and even at only 2 minutes long it has several great parts.  “She’s Slowing Down Again” has some great bah bahs and a strong chorus.  “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” actually slows things down, with a gentle acoustic ballad.  But it’s followed by one of their screaming punk tracks, “It’s Plain to See,” simply put, it’s two minutes of adrenaline.

The album changes somewhat with “Your Daddy Will Do,” a catchy disco song.  Yes, disco.  How else do you explain those keyboards riffs?  And man is it catchy.  “I Gotta Know” may be the stupidest song they’ve recorded yet.  How many times is the phrase “I gotta know” repeated in 82 seconds?  Still, you can’t deny how catchy it is.  “Beverly Terrace” returns to that cool pizzicato piano that they do so well.

“Traces” is the longest song (almost 5 minutes) and is one of the longer Sloan songs in general.  It feels like  an old classic rock song for many reasons (including Doors-y keyboards), and yet it doesn’t feel retro at all.  Neat trick, that.  The disc ends with “Laying So Low,” a piano ballad with a great catchy melody.  It slows the album to a nice ending.

12 songs in 33 minutes.  Multiple genres, multiple styles, multiple singers.  All of it wonderful.  Just an other typical Sloan album. Great jobs guys, here’s to twenty more years.

One word to yeprock records, though.  If you offer “free bonus” songs for purchasing their album, I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that the four bonus songs should not be one song each from their previous records.

[READ: December 29, 2011] Chew: Volume Three

We were quite excited to get this book–we were on the Hold list forever at the library.  So I’m surprised to see it came out back in 2010!  I assumed it was much newer than that.  I guess there’s a Volume Four out already (yes it came out, and they have just published issue 22 in single issues).  Volume three covers issues 10-15.

This mini-arc, as they call it, isn’t so much of an arc as a continuation of the awesome story line.

For those in the dark, read the first two posts.  But in a nutshell, Tony Chu is a Cibopath, which means that anything he tastes he knows the entire history of, be it vegetable, meat (ew) or, since he is a cop, human (bleagh, but hey it’s a comic book, right?).  His partner, John, is part machine now, having been practically blown up and then put back together.  And, as we start Chapter One (Issue #11), Tony is out on his first date with Amelia Mintz (alright, they got together!).  Amelia Mintz is a Saboscrivner which means she can write about food so wonderfully that you can literally taste it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-BANG goes the Knighthood (2010).

I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Comedy since their earliest Michael Nymanesque music.  I loved the orchestral pop that Neil Hannon seemed to effortlessly create.  His last few records have been less exciting to me.  He has toned down the orchestration and made his songs more subtle.  They’re still beautiful but they’re not always as immediately arresting.  I thought that was true of this album as well, although I found that when I sat down and really listen to the music and words together (what a novel idea) the music played so well with the lyrics that the album overall is easily one of his best.  Although I still prefer the pomp and full orchestration of the earlier music, this newer stuff is very interesting. An artist has got to grow, right?

The new sound is more Tin Pan Alley.  It’s piano with guitars and occasional horns–very limited strings are present at all.  And, as any fan knows, Neil writes wonderful songs about love, and the songs on here are some more great love songs.  The non-love songs span the gamut of ideas–from emotionally wrenching to downright silly.  Neil is definitely a “get to know him” kind of songwriter.  And it’s rewarding when you do.

“Down in the Street Below” is a piano based song that morphs into a jaunty little number after some quiet verses.  It features yet another of his great melodies.  “The Complete Banker” is a jaunty piano song that mercilessly mocks the banking industry.  Not terribly original but certainly fun and lyrically it’s quite clever.  “Neapolitan Girl” is a faster song (reminds me of a Broadway musical or movie instrumental) which is (as they all are) very fun to sing along to).  “Bang Goes the Knighthood” is a musical hall song that is really quite funny despite the somber sound of the music (it’s about a knighted man who indulges in certain proclivities that might cost him what he has).

“The Indie Disco” is the exact opposite, it’s bouncy and shuffly and yet understated as only an indie disco can be (this may be the softest, least excited “yea!” in any song ever.  Name checking Morrissey may not be original but it would be a less real picture without him.  The songs he mentions are kind of dated, but are probably pretty accurate to what gets played in an indie disco these days.  “Have You Ever Been in Love” could be used in any rom-com film montage.  Although maybe it’s too obvious?  Sweetly filled with strings (yes strings).

“Assume the Perpendicular” is a slightly faster song, as befits lyrics, “I can’t abide a horizontal life while “The Lost Art of Conversation” is another bouncy tune with a whistle for an ending!

“Island Life” is one of the first duets I can think of from the Divine Comedy–it sounds like something out of the movie Brazil.  “When a Man Cries” is an emotionally wrenching song.  It seems somewhat out of place for Hannon’s usual topic, but it’s quite beautiful.  The silly fun of “Can You Stand Up on One Leg” is the perfect antidote.  Each verse provides something that’s harder to do than you think.  The final verse offers, “can you hold a singing note for a stupidly long time…. Let’s see how long you can hoooooooooo….oooold on to a note.” For the record, Neil’s note is 29 seconds long….stupidly long!  Is that really him holding that high note for 29 seconds?

The final song “I Like” is a wonderful poppy ditty, in which the full band rocks out (more or less) to another great melody.  It’s a perfect love song (even modernized to include a kind of rhyme with sexy and texting).

Initially I was a little disappointed by this disc, but it really proved to be fantastic.  More, Neil, more!

[READ: December 28, 2011] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Mindy Kaling a big enough celebrity to write a book (memoir or otherwise?).  To use her own in-book comparison, she’s nowhere near Tina Fey’s level of fame, right? (although I actually think she is funnier).  I mean, she’s a minor character on a popular show.  True, she’s also a writer and producer, but that’s not going to lead you to fame or anything.  The more I read about her in the book, the more I wondered exactly who would know her aside from fans of The Office.

None of that is to say that Kaling isn’t awesome.  She is.  She’s funny and talented and I am thrilled she wrote a book–sometimes within an ensemble your individual voice will get lost.  But I have to wonder how much name recognition she has.  And the book doesn’t do a lot to dispel this sense for me.  I mean, she tells about everything she’s done, and really all she had done was write Matt & Ben (which sounds awesome and which I remember hearing about back in the day) and work (a lot) for The Office.  Not minor accomplishments by any stretch, but not a fame-inducing resume.  Nevertheless, good for her that someone was interested in letting her write a book.  And good for us who read it.  If you are amused by the use of the subtitle of the book (which I am) you will like enjoy the humor here.

I had read some excerpts from the book so I assumed it was all funny essays and whatnot, but it’s not.  It’s actually a memoir with funny essays mixed in.   Of course, Mindy’s life before Matt & Ben isn’t really very “interesting” (the book is very funny during this time of her life, even if she really didn’t do much more than babysit for rich folks and watch Comedy Central).

In the Introduction, Mindy provides a FAQ about the book.  One of the questions is if she is going to offer advice and she says yes.  And here’s the thing, Mindy’s advice is outstanding.  She offers advice about many topics and I don’t think I disagreed with her about anything (except maybe pea coats).  She’s like the voice of reason in a world gone mad and an excellent role model for anyone. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Below the Belt (2010).

I love Danko Jones.  He’s bad, he’s cruel, he’s crass and he rocks.  He’s everything a 15 year-old boy loves in rock.  And yet there’s something about him that even I (far older than 15) think is wonderful (perhaps he’s the thinking man’s Andrew W.K.?). 

I’m sure it’s because his early stuff was short, fast blasts of over the top machismo.  He hasn’t started too far from that template (his songs are now three minutes, but that’s okay).  And I still love him even if every song is a cliché (and that he still thinks a Cadillac is the height of coolness).

“I Think Bad Thoughts” is a stupid balls-out rocker about how bad Danko is.  Best line, “That’s how it is as a knight in Satan’s service.”  A nice nod to Kiss.  And this song is followed by the very early-Kiss sounding “Active Volcanoes.”  “Tonight is Fine” is a heavy rocker (okay they all are, that’s redundant), but “Magic Snake” is surprising because it seems to be addressing impotence (“It’s friday night but your magic snake don’t slither no more”.)–not doing anything about it, just addressing it.  “Had Enough” has a great sing-along chorus (when Danko is not yelling at you, he croons with the best of ’em).

Of course a song title like “I Can’t Handle Moderation” should tell you all you need to know about Danko (he must have his tongue in cheek, at least I hope he does.  I’ve never seen him in anything other than album covers, so I have no idea what his off-stage life is like).  It’s always a surprise when Danko reveals a softer side.  And even though “Full of Regrets” seems like it would show that softer side, it’s actually about how he’s full of regrets about any lonely nights he spent.  Heh.  “The Sore Loser” is a not very nice song about a woman.  But it’s funny.  “Like Dynamite” is all about sex, of course.

I love the aggressive riff of “Apology Accepted,” it’s faster and more furious (even if it is about accepting an apology).  And the final song “I Wanna Break Up with You” cracks me up.  It’s a song about wanting to break up with someone.  Did he imagine it as a breakup anthem?  Something you play in the background when you dump your significant other?  I particularly like the chanting “break up break up everybody break up” at the end.

There are two bonus songs on the disc (an idea as antiquated as his lyrics, but which is strangely charming).  Neither sounds like it shouldn’t be on the record–they continue what he does so well.  They’re both about guest lists, but I particularly enjoy “Rock n Roll Proletariat.” It sounds a lot like AC/DC but who fits the lyric “I pledge allegiance to the Rock n Roll Proletariat” into a chorus?  Genius!

Yup, his album covers are as sexist as his lyrics.  But there is something just cartoonish enough that I can’t help but think hes a really nice guy under it all (maybe it’s because he’s Canadian).

[READ: December 28, 2011] “Creative Writing”

Sometimes a very short, very well written story can really make your day.  I read this story this morning (because it was so short–a page and a quarter) and I was immediately hooked. 

It opens with a woman, Maya, taking a creative writing course (at the suggestion of her mother).  Maya just had a miscarriage and has been just sitting in the house not doing anything, and her mother thought that an activity wold be beneficial.  Maya’s first story was quite interesting.  [In fact, I LOVE the conceits behind each of her stories and while I immediately thought I’d like to read them, I’m not sure how will they would work beyond the simple concept presented here.  But the ideas are so clever that I wanted to read the full things right then!–maybe make this story longer and include Maya’s full works?]

All of her stories have to do with love or marriage or birth, but in wonderfully metaphorical ways.  The first story, about people who split in half to generate offspring has an ending that her teacher calls wonderful but which her husband finds quite dull.  [Incidentally, I’m all for reading stories from other cultures.  It’s fun and interesting.  But man, sometimes it’s so hard to tell the  gender of a person by his or her name is you don’t know the culture.  This story was written in Hebrew (translated by Sondra Silverston) and the secondary character’s name is Avaid.  In addition to not really knowing how to say the name, I had no idea if it was a male or female name.  I suppose it is not really up to the writer to compensate for ignorant audiences, but perhaps sometime earlier in the story an author can subtly hint at the gender of the person?  (We get the “he” in paragraph three).  Shy of a dramatis personae, there’s little that you can do organically for the story, I suppose. ] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SWELL SEASON-Strict Joy (2009).

I bought this disc for Sarah after it came out.  I didn’t think that I would enjoy it that much because while I loved the movie Once, I wasn’t sure if I needed more from Glen and Marketa.  But then I found a whole slew of free concerts from NPR and I became hooked on the band.

The disc opens with “Low Rising” (what I think of as the “Van Morrison” song).  It gets better with each listen.  It’s a slow ballad which is followed by “Feeling the Pull,” a more up-tempo song that really highlights Marketa’s beautiful harmonies.  “In These Arms” is a gorgeous song.  The verses are downbeat and somber “if you stay…with that asshole…it will only lead to harm” but again the harmonies are gorgeous.  “The Rain” is a more rocking tune (within reason, of course).  It has an interesting middle section that quiets down, but it’s a solid folk rocking song.

“Fantasy Man” is Marketa’s first lead vocal song on the disc.  I like her voice but sometimes I find her lead songs to be a bit too wispy, too quiet.  I like this song, but it feels long (and at 5 minutes, it is).  “Paper Cup” is one of Glen’s quiet ballads.  It’s a pretty song.  “High Horses” is one that I didn’t know from the live sets, I guess it’s not too popular with the band, but I think it’s strong.  It runs a little long but that’s because it has a cool middle section that keeps building and building with more instruments and voices.  “The Verb” is another song that I didn’t know.  It has a cool intensity to it and while it doesn’t stand out as a hit, it’s certainly an enjoyable song.

“I Have Loved You Wrong” is another pretty Marketa song, but again it’s very slow and very long.  I don’t think I could buy her solo album because although her voice is lovely and her melodies are nice, they’re just so ephemeral I can’t really get into them.  “Love That Conquers” is an interesting song.  It sounds nothing like The Swell Season (must be the banjo).  It’s a nice addition to the album and should maybe have been placed a little earlier to break up the sound style a bit more.  “Back Broke” ends the disc very strongly.  Although I think the song works better live (with audience participation), the melody and tone of the song are somberly beautiful.

There are moments of this disc when it turns out to be what I feared the whole disc would be–bland folkiness. But overall this is an enjoyable album for a rainy day.  And Hansard really has an amazing voice.  However, I really like them better live.

[READ: December 26, 2011] Third Reich

I was pretty excited when I heard about this book, although I must admit I was a little concerned by the title.  Bolaño has a kind of weird Nazi fascination.  There is Nazi Literature in America and then a whole section of 2666 is given over to Nazi Germany.  He doesn’t like Nazis or anything but he writes about them a lot and it can be a little exhausting.  So it was with some relief that I learned that Third Reich is the name of a game that the main character plays.  It is a kind of historical reimagining kind of game (I guess like Risk but more specific and with more at stake).  It is set during the time of the Third Reich and the players represent various countries (or perhaps even powers).

I am giving up on explaining the game from here on because a) there’s a lot about the game in the book and b) I’m not sure if it wasn’t explained very thoroughly or if I just missed out on exactly what was happening.  During the book he talks about Hexes 65 through 68 and so on.  So I assume the map of the world is a hex grid.  But he never gives any context (or even a picture!–and this makes sense as it’s written as the diary of a well-regarded player who is not trying to teach us the game).  So while I understand the general tenets and play of the game (there’s a die (or dice) and tokens that reside on the board), the specifics are completely nebulous.  But that’s okay.  Because the game specifics don’t impact the book, but the game overall is at the heart of the book.  I think it’s neat that Bolaño invented a game (and several others games are named, but no details are given).  He is clearly very gifted at inventing people, games, things.

But as I said, the game is only a part of the book and in fact, the game details don’t enter into the book until about half way through. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKBABE THE BLUE OX-“Basketball” (1998).

This was the first song I’d ever heard from Babe the Blue Ox, and I was hooked (sadly, The Way We Were, where this song is from was their last album).  This is also my favorite songs about sports (and it will never be played in an arena).

It opens with this great funky keyboard over a cool walking bass line.  And after a verse about playing basketball, we get the gorgeous bridge: “pass it to me, I am free, look there’s no one guarding me) sung by one of the women in the band (who sounds vaguely like Edie Brickell).  When the chorus kicks in “And when she gives it to me, I am as high as can be” both singers harmonize wonderfully.

There’s even a cool instrumental break.

Everything about this song is catchy and wonderful.  And it should have been huge.

[READ: December 21, 2011] Grantland

McSweeney’s seems to keep trying to push me away.  Or maybe they are just trying to push me out of my comfort zone.  First they publish Lucky Peach, a magazine about cooking (with recipes that contain ingredients that I couldn’t find anywhere).  I don’t read cooking magazines, but I loved this one.  Now they publish Grantland, a book about sports.  I don’t follow sports.  At all.  I used to play sports and I used to watch sports, and then when I got out of college, I did neither.  I have a very good knowledge of most sports (so I can still follow any game that’s on), but as for actual people playing the games right now–I’m ignorant.  So, why on earth would I want to read this book about sports?

I was pretty sure I would finally not be getting this book until I read the author list: Chuck Klosterman, Colson Whitehead (!), Malcolm Gladwell (?)  I knew this was going to be no ordinary sports book.

So it turns out (and I didn’t know this until just now) that the book is a collection of works from the website Grantland, which is created and run by Bill Simmons.  I haven’t explored the site but it sure looks interesting enough–longish articles about sports and culture and all kinds of interesting things.  And evidently this issue is a sort of best of the website.  The whole Grantland experience, including this book, are connected to ESPN, indeed, ESPN gets a copyright for the book, McSweeney’s is just the publisher.

And this volume was wonderful.  I couldn’t put it down.  I even wound up putting aside a book I was in the middle of to read it.  None of the articles are terribly long and, despite the basketball textured cover (which is very cool–no one can walk by and not touch it) the variety of sports covered is wonderful: from boxing to cricket!  And there are short stories and essays about the entertainment industry as well (articles on Shia LeBeouf and Amy Winehouse (!)).

If I had one complaint about the book it’s that many of the articles don’t give a time from when they were written.  I assume they are all fairly recent but since I don’t follow sports I can’t say for sure.  The other problem is that several of the stories end with a game/match unresolved.  Clearly they have been resolved since then, but even one line saying what happened would be comforting for those of us not glued to ESPN. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BIRD AND THE BEE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (2011?).

I’ve heard this version of the 12 Days of Christmas twice.  Once in Ulta and once on the show New Girl (in the Christmas episode, where Jess and her friend are (ew) sitting on the floor in the bathroom, you can hear it faintly behind them).

This is a very intriguing version of the song.  It sounds like the Cocteau Twins–a kind of lush, waves upon waves sound.  There’s a female singer (who sounds like Liz Frasier) and as the song progresses down through the numbers it almost seems to be done in a minor key or something.  Of course I’ve only heard snippets of the song so I don’t have any major moments to report about.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it.

The problem is I have no idea who sings it! (circa 2014: well now I do).

Obviously the people in Ulta were useless, and I’ve been trying to find out from TV song sources, but I still don’t know who it is.

And you know, the internet is a wonderful thing, but trying to find a song that has been covered at least 100 times and using a search term like “new girl” is not going to give you results that you want.

If anyone wants to give me a Christmas gift, tell me who sings this!

[READ: December 22, 2011] A Very Babymouse Christmas

I have caught up with the Babymouse books!  And look, I finished the Christmas one for Christmas Day!  Hosannah!

I set little goals for myself, most of which I never meet.  But one of my little goals was to read all the Babymouse books by the end of the year (not a difficult task, admittedly), and I did it!

I really enjoyed the series (the end of the book says there’s a new one due out in August 2012 (wow, serious withdrawal) so the series isn’t over or anything.  It’s funny to me that she never made a Christmas book before (the series has been around for years), but it wraps up my reading nicely.

My favorite part of the story has been the growing depth of the narrator.  We find out that the narrator has parents! (although I’m still not sure if it’s a man or a woman–I assume a woman).

But really Christmas is all about the presents and the big present this year is the Whiz Bang™.  I love this conceit–the Whiz Bang™ is a Kindle/iPod/techie product that does everything–it even has a calculator!  And when the moment of truth comes, there’s even a surprising surprise twist.  (more…)

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