Archive for March, 2012

SOUNDTRACK: FIGURINES “The Air We Breathe” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

Figurines are from Denmark.  This song has a very distinctive Mercury Rev feel (late-period  Mercury Rev) with high pitched vocals and delicate intertwining melodies.

The verses are done on simple piano and the bridge has some nice harmonies.  This is a cool alt rock song that stands up to repeated listens.

[READ: March 28, 2012] “Into the Unforeseen”

The timing of this article is quite amazing.  Having really enjoyed Galchen’s short story, I decided to see what else she had written.  It’s not a lot, but she has written three things published in Harper’s–two essays and one short story.  This first essay is all about César Aira.  I didn’t even know who Aira was when it came out in 2011, but now, I get to read it again having just finished another of his novels.  (The essay concludes with information about Varamo, a novel that was just recently translated into English which I picked up at the library, yesterday).

This essay is about the week that Galchen spent with Aira in and around Aira’s home (but not his birth town of Coronel Pringles which he kind of jokingly forbids her from seeing.  Galchen loves Aira’s writing (and has a kind of crush on him, although they’d never met before).  She doesn’t say in this article but she was a Spanish language major, so she has clearly been reading his books in Spanish.

She lets us know that the day before she met Aira, her ten-year relationship ended (she hints at the reason but is quite discrete).  She brings this up because of an emotional moment later in the article.  And that’s what I loved about this article–it was personal and really invited the reader in to experience this meeting with her.   (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: UNDER BYEN-“Samme Stof Som Stof” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

Under Byen is a Danish band and has only one song on Viva Piñata.

I had originally written a review under the impression that it was different song (the CD and even iTunes confuses this song with “Kiss ME” by Uncut.  And you can see my initial impression below).  Now, knowing that this band is not singing in English changes a lot about my perception of what the sounds actually are.

This is one of the few remixes on the disc where I listened to the original first (to make sure I had the right song).  The original is an interesting mix of peculiar instruments and some cool soundscapes.  This remix chops it up into pieces and puts it back together.  It’s an interesting twist on the song but man, the original is so much better.

[Here’s my original thoughts, when I read a bit about the song when I thought it was by the band Uncut and I thought that it was not a remix.  And I saw that they were described as a poppy fuzzy band.

this song comes from one of their official releases.  “Kiss Me” is not a remix but it sure sounds like one.  It is kind of warped and the sounds feel manipulated in crazy ways. The vocals are mostly moans and noises. But it has a catchy beat and some interesting sounds. This is a weird song, and I’m not sure how it fits in with the rest of the album.  I do kind of like it, but I wouldn’t hunt them down for more.

Of course, now that I know it’s supposed to sound like that, I change my tune completely. And I will hunt down some other songs for comparison.

[READ: March 23, 2012] An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

This is the third novel from Aira that New Directions has released (translated wonderfully by Chris Andrews). It’s the first one they published and the first one of his that I had heard of.  I actually heard of it long before I knew of Aira because the Preface is by Roberto Bolaño.  And if you do a search for Bolaño, this title always comes up.

And so now I finally got to read this mythical essay.  Sadly, it turns out to be an essay called, “The Incredible César Aira” which was recently published (2011) in Between Parentheses–bad timing for me.  It also has nothing to do with this novel specifically

But on to the novel itself.

This short book is about the German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas.  Little did I know that he was real.  He was a landscape painter (a profession which became obsolete with the invention of cameras) and he was very well-regarded.   Twice during his career he went to the Americas to paint the land.  On his second journey (from 1831-1847) he went to Mexico, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina, which resulted in thousands of paintings.

The opening of the book is rather philosophical (and a little dry).  But after about ten pages, the book picks up with the titular episode.  Rugendas and a German painter named Robert Krause set off in 1837 from Chile.  They got on well.  Rugendas was far superior technically and Krause, although also quite talented, was always respectful.  Rugendas had sold prints and books and his Picturesque Voyage through Brazil was printed on wallpaper and China. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOW,NOW-“Dead Oaks” (2012).

How do you make a song that I want to listen to over and over again?  Easy chord changes?  Sure.  Add instruments as the song goes on?  Absolutely.  Have a simple chorus that’s easy to sing along to?  Indeed.  Bring in a harmony vocal to repeat the chorus?  Definitely.  But the best way?  Do all of those thing and make your song 90 seconds long.

Holy cow.   This song starts with simple acoustic guitars and a charming girly voice (not unlike Juliana Hatfield).  At 40 seconds the drums kick in for the chorus.  After one run through, a harmony vocal comes in with all of the “oh oh ohs” that make this chorus so irresistible.  And just as the song shifts back to the guitars for the verses…it ends.

And I had to listen to it again and again.  As will you.

[READ: March 27, 2012] “Appreciation”

The first thing I thought when I read this story was that it was like David Foster Wallace.  Superficially because it opens with a lengthy segment about finances and taxes and the IRS (which was the subject of his unfinished novel The Pale King).  But once the story started going, it had mannerisms that were similar to DFW’s occasional style–a kind of detached narrator (no names are given in the story) coupled with a very formal style and excessive detail (repeating information, including which “she” the pronoun refers to in parentheses after the pronoun, etc)..

None of this is to say that the story is bad or a rip off of DFW’s style.  Just that I noticed it immediately.  In the Q&A that accompanies the story, no mention is made of DFW.  So perhaps that style has simply been assimilated.  Which is cool.

But beyond style, there’s a lot to like about this story.  The title is a clever play on words.  The story is about a mother and a daughter.  The mother has paid for a lot of the daughter’s expenses in her life, including buying her a house which was worth much more when they sold it.  And so, with the title we have two meanings of the word “appreciate.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA BARRETT-“Deception Island Optimist Club” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

This is a musically simple song–it appears to be played entirely on, I gather, a thumb piano or kalimba.

The melody is complicated, however.  And Barrett’s voice is beautifully naked.  I especially like the way her voice doesn’t follow the musical melody exactly–she plays around with sounds and ideas a little bit.

I also just found out this neat little piece of information: Her first public performance was a cover of “Smells Like Nirvana” at a “Weird Al” Yankovic


tribute concert.  Okay, who even knew there were “Weird Al” tribute concerts?

I’m very much intrigued by this woman, and you can hear a whole bunch of her stuff at her CBC Radio 3 site.

Oh, and that Weird Al song?  You can hear it (there’s no video) right here:

[READ: March 20, 2012] “Sea-Serpents and Scientists”

This was the second archived article that my company sent around for enjoyment.

I like any article about sea serpents, especially The Loch-Ness Monster.  But I was really surprised at the attitude taken in this article.  It actually seemed like it might be a joke, although upon further consideration, I believe it is entirely serious.

As the introductory line says, “The emergence of a fabulous monster in Loch Ness is greeted with debatable reserve by men of science.”

The first paragraph taught me something i did not know: The Loch Ness Monster’s name is Bobby!  And while Wilson says he is not going to “offer a belated biography of Bobby, the sea serpent of Scotland, as he swims like a submarine in Loch Ness,” he is sure going to take scientists to task for not investigating him.

Wilson does not argue that Bobby exists, indeed he claims not to be an expert, “All my life I have abstained strictly from the alcoholic inducements which on these occasions are said to contribute to what around Loch Ness, is called ‘perfect visibility.'”  Although I gather he does believe in him.

Rather, his point is that scientists have dropped the ball by not even looking into “by far the most interesting event in the modern annals of natural history.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ACORN-“The Flood Pt. 1” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

The Acorn are a folk band from Ottawa.  This song sounds a lot like later Talking Heads.  Talking Heads are not really a band that many other bands sound like.  And yet they have such a distinctive sound that when a band sounds like them it’s hard not to think “another Talking Heads.”

Having said that, this is a fun and interesting song.  It has a world music feel in the rhythms.  And the vocals are in the vein of David Byrne (but not aping him or anything like that).  The big difference from the Talking Heads comes near the end of the song when a second voice (who sounds a bit like Bono) comes in to do harmonies.

All in all it is a very satisfying song.

[READ: March 20 2012] “Roy Lichtenstein and the Comic Strip”

This is the first of three new articles that my company send around as samples of interesting articles that we have archived.

I’ve always enjoyed Lichtenstein’s comic-book-style art.  It’s kind of pop and very commercial, and I’ve always appreciated it, even if I didn’t really like the comics that he took his inspiration from.

Despite my enjoyment of his work, I never really bothered to investigate how he did it.  I wasn’t sure if he just took a comic page and blew it up or added color or what.  But it turns out that he did actually recreate the pictures from scratch.  This article shows side by side some original cartoon panels and then Lichtenstein’s version.

In most of them he keeps things relatively the same.  But even in those it is quite clear that he is redoing the art with his own lines and style–he is not copying the faces, he is simplifying them even further in some cases or making them more beautiful in others.  You can see that he has changed little things to make them more artistically satisfying–stretching out a window to connect characters, removing background images or zooming in more in a frame to make the image more striking–although the are always recognizable as the original.   The most drastic change, and the focus of the article, is his use of the balloon quote. (more…)

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When I saw Marvy’s Mothers, it was hard not to pass up the connection to Zappa and his band.  But oh, what album to pick?  (He released like 40). I chose the one released in the same year as Gravity’s Rainbow.

It also happens to be full of all kinds of sex (imagine that).

It opens with “Camarillo Brillo” the kind of simple, catchy song that Zappa seems to whip out very easily.  I assumed that the title was some kind of sexual slang (not a bad assumption), but Wikipedia suggests it has something to do with an insane asylum (Camarillo) and the crazy hair they often had, which makes sense given the crazy lyrics.  It starts kind of trippy with inscrutable lyrics.  And then the bridge, “she was breeding a dwarf” is pretty insane.  It also features a very funny sequence that was oft-quoted in MST3K–“Is that a real poncho or a Sears poncho.”

“I Am the Slime” is a funky (a great Zappa riff) diatribe against TV (because it makes you buy crap you don’t need and makes you listen to the government).  “Dirty Love” is a perverse song with lots of guitar solos.  There’s some kind of bestiality in this song (which also ties in with parts of this section).

“Fifty-Fifty” features the vocals of Ricky Lancelotti (in a screaming style that would later be used a lot by Terry Bozzio).  It’s about an ugly guy who is crazy enough to sing to us.  The songs seem to be more about solos though, as there’s a keyboard solo an electric violin solo (from Jean-Luc Ponty) and some crazy guitar solos.

I don’t know what “Zomby Woof” is about, but it has some wicked guitar soloing and horns playing Zappa’s staccato riffs up and down the scale.

“Dinah-Moe Humm” is a song perfectly suited to this book–it’s a song in which a woman bets the narrator that he can’t make her have an orgasm.  The melody is twinkly and silly.  It’s shockingly explicit. But it’s even funnier to know that the backing vocals are supplied by The Ikettes (Ike and Tina were recording in the next room).  They got paid almost nothing and when Ike heard the song he called it “shit” and asked that their name be removed from the credits.

It also plays around with hippy slang.  “Kiss my aura Dora/It’s real angora/Would you all like some more-a/right here on the floor-a/and how about you fauna/You wanna?”

He also starts talking about Zircon encrusted tweezers, which come back in “Montana.”  “Montana” is about moving to Montana to raise dental floss (really).  It features some wonderful fast pizzicato notes that are more or less Zappa’s signature.  The middle section is  hugely difficult and very impressive for the backing vocalists (Tina apparently was really impressed that one of her girls could do it).

Zappa packs a lot of music into 35 minutes, and this album seems to be a turning point in his desire to cram sex and craziness into his commercial music.  Just about every song on this disc was played a lot live and this album has become something of a classic.

[READ: Week of March 19] Gravity’s Rainbow [3.1-3.5]

This week’s read has been the most challenging for me so far.  I enjoyed Section 2 very much.  The Slothrop scenes were funny and wild and even advanced the plot.  I never expected that Section 3 would introduce a ton of new characters, more or less ignore the old charterers and stay with these new characters so that by not paying close attention to them in the beginning I was just confused by the end.

I do admit that while skimming again for this post, I was able to focus on the new characters more and found it far less confusing.  It’s just that on a first read, suddenly there’s this whole new sequence of people and their histories to deal with!  Wow.

It was especially surprising because Section 3 begins with Slothrop (so it’s not like in 2666 where a new section means a new cast).  But he meets new characters and then we flash all the way back through each person’s life.  And yes, it was quite interesting once I actually paid attention, and the connections were pretty awesome.  But it was still pretty surprising on the first read through.

Section 3 is called In the Zone.  And the Zone is mentioned quite a lot, although I never figured out where it is meant to be exactly. (more…)

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Greetings faithful readers.

This weekend I went on a Cub Scout Overnight with my son.  Between the camping and the preposterous lack of sleep, I didn’t have time to complete my usual Monday morning spiel.  So until I finish it up, enjoy this:

Hmm, Thomas PynCHON?

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