Archive for April, 2012

SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBUS CARTEL-“Difficult,” “Asylum Energy,” “November”

If I had any idea how many bands were named after things in Gravity’s Rainbow, or were perhaps tangentially related to it, like this one, I would have never bothered mentioning bands that I actually know.

Phoebus Cartel is a heavy metal band based out of Denmark.  And…  well, that’s really all I know about them.  I found this image for them online which linked me to their site on bandbase (if you must, you can also get it in English–although there’s no extra information).

There are three songs here on the site.  They are all sung in English and all have heavy guitars.  The band is clearly heavy metal inspired, but they also classify themselves as “alternativ.”

“difficult” has elements of Marilyn Manson in the singing (and even the melody). It’s a very catchy interesting song and very heavy.  “asylum enemy” has some great heavy chugging guitars. I like the part in the middle where we just get two heavy notes and a pause.  It reminded me a lot of Tool.  “November” has the most normal sounding singing in the bunch–it’s also the least metal sounding–more like heavy alt rock.  Although the break in the middle with slow guitars is nicely atmospheric.

I really enjoyed all three songs.  I’d like to learn more about these guys but I literally can find nothing else about them anywhere.

[READ: Week of April 23] Gravity’s Rainbow 4.1-4.6

Section 4, the final section is here at last.  We are out of The Zone and into The Counterforce.  The epigram here is by Richard M. Nixon.  Hilariously it is simply, “What?”  Unfortunately, I found it to be way too apt for my own feelings while reading this pretty confusing section.  While some sections advanced the “plot,” there were a ton of new characters added and, even more confusingly, a bunch of scenes that were either hallucinations or fantasies  or both.  And none of these do much for you sense of what the hell is going on. (more…)


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[ATTENDED: April 20, 2012] MOMIX Remix

One of Sarah’s surprises for her birthday was that after an evening of fine dining at The Frog and the Peach, I had gotten us tickets to Momix.  This was a total surprise because neither one of us had ever heard of Momix.  I wanted to so something fun for us, and this show was being performed on her birthday weekend.  The write-up at the State Theatre made Momix seem weird, interesting and very cool.  So, even though we’d never heard of them, it seemed worth the risk.

A rose waited for us at our seats (A date night package for us).  The curtain went up and the music started and we were blown away from that moment on.

We decided the best description of Momix is as kind of dancey version of the Peking Acrobats (they do show up a lot in my posts).  I’ve never really seen modern dance on any grand scale, so I hesitate to call this modern dance, but what else can it be?  The music (none of it original) was primarily world/ambient (Dead Can Dance was a band I recognized).   And the men and women of the troupe performed nontraditional dances to it.

Okay, but what’s this about acrobats?

Well, the dances were more about showcasing the body–in its beauty, in its strength and in its grace.  And it was amazing to watch. Our favorite piece, called “Tuu,” featured a man and a woman.  She began the dance wrapped around his neck (by her knee?!) and proceeded to uncurl herself into amazing positions, all while he himself balanced and did wonderfully graceful moves.  And here’s the difference between a dancer and an acrobats–these dancers never wavered, never wiggled, never seemed for a second that they were uncomfortable–they were beyond graceful.  So at one point when he did a hand stand and she id a handstand on his back, it was fluid and amazing.  I mean, look at that picture. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOREVER THE SICKEST KIDS-“What Do You Want from Me?” (2010).

I wanted to a pick a song from this soundtrack to add here.  Evidently there isn’t really a soundtrack so much as a score (who is buying the score from this film?).  Well, I’ll bet it was fun to write a piece called “Zoo Wee Mama.”

Anyhow, this song is apparently in the movie (over the end credits).  According to Amazon, you can order the MP3 that is somehow affiliated with the soundtrack.

So this is a poppy emo song.  It’s got loud guitars and a chanting chorus and it’s pretty darn catchy.  It sounds like so many other bands that I’d never have guessed it wasn’t by any of  dozen bands that are kinda punk but not really with high-pitched singers who are kind of bratty.  This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it–in small doses I like emo a lot.  I dislike that this had a lot of “Hey Ho” chanting which is just way too easy to make it catchy.  But aside from that, I would leave this song on at a party.

The actual Amazon MP3 is a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Mix”.  I have no idea what they have changed about it, though as I only listened to the original.

[READ: April 25, 2012] The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

I have enjoyed every one of the Wimpy Kid books (and now my son is enjoying them too, although he’s still too young to “get” them).  But I never bothered checking out this book because it seemed, well, unfunny.  Then I saw the book at Five Below for a couple bucks so I grabbed it.

This is a movie tie-in book.  But what’s nice about this book as opposed to many other tie-ins is that Jeff Kinney actually wrote it (I think–his name’s on it, after all).  There are also new drawings that tie in to what he’s writing about and lots and lots of pictures from the movie.

If you’re a fan of the books, this book won’t do a lot for you.  Although there are a few insights into how Kinney got started making his series–including some original drawings.  But if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll learn a lot.  Kinney talks about how they chose the actors they hired (which was quiet interesting), where the movie was filmed (Vancouver) and what kind of homework he made the two leads do (they had to write an essay from the point of view of who they were playing to make sure they understood the character). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-“Don’t Destroy This Night from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 This is one of my favorite tracks on this compilation.  The New Pornographers grab this song and don’t let go.  It’s loud and catchy and wonderful.  I didn’t know the original of this song either (evidently I don’t know any bands on Merge Records except for Superchunk).

The original is by the Rock*A*Teens, whom I don’t know at all.  I listened  to the original and while the chorus is very similar, the verses are much slower (which is funny given their name).  The Rock*A*Teens version is even kind of moody.  The New Pornographers don’t really increase the pace at all, but there’s something about it that make it seem brighter, poppier.

Once again, I like both versions, but the New Pornographers edge out a bit.

[READ: April 6, 2012] “Dream Machine”

After reading all of those Harper’s pieces by Rivka Galchen, I decided to see if she’d written anything else that I could get my hands on.  Turns out that she has written this essay for the New Yorker (and a short story that I hadn’t seen as well as a few other short pieces).

This essay is about quantum computing.  I had recently read something about the potential of quantum computers, so I was intrigued to read this more lengthy and detailed piece.   As she states: “With one millionth of the hardware of an ordinary laptop, a quantum computer could store as many bits of information as there are particles in the universe.”  Not bad, eh?

It could also do what other computers only dream of (heck, it could probably even dream).  The key is that quantum computers are not binary.  Regular computers do either 1 or 0.  That’s all.  Quantum computers can do 1 and 0 and both–all at the same time.  Exactly what that means is a bit harder to grasp, and although the article helped, my summary is about as good as I can do.

For the article, Galchen talked with David Deutsch, the “founding father” of quantum computing (as well as a few other physicists). Deutsch believes that if quantum computers work, it validates the Many Worlds Interpretation (which is just what it sounds like).  But many physicists who believe in the potential for quantum computing either do not care about or simply avoid talking about Many Worlds. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-“Drug Life” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 I could tell this was a Mountain Goats song right from the start–it’s lo fi and yet it sounds clear (especially the vocals). Normally with The Mountain Goats you talk about the lyrics, but since he didn’t write the song, there’s not much to say about them (in this paragraph anyhow).

The original, by East River Pipe is also very lo-fi.  It’s a very catchy song and it’s all about drugs: (“If it comes down to the drugs or you…baby we’re through.”).  The original is guitar and keyboards and Cornog’s straightforward singing.  The cover is simply acoustic guitar.  It’s a little faster (and a little shorter) and because I like The Mountain Goats, I prefer the cover.

Although really, they’re not very different.

[READ: April 16, 2012] “Transatlantic”

This story was out of my comfort zone–it’s about army men and airplanes, that’s not my scene, man.  And after reading the first few paragraphs, I wondered if I should keep reading it.  But McCann wrote a compelling story and I’m really glad I finished it.

The story is basically an account of two men, Teddy Brown and Jack Alcock, as they attempt the first transatlantic flight in their modified bomber called The Vickers Vimy.  Anyone with a working knowledge of the flight, or post WWI history knows that these are two real historical people.  I do not have such a working knowledge, so I had no idea that this was based on a true story.  If you know anything about them (and I swear, Google either of them and you will find all the details that you need) then you know how the story turns out.

I didn’t know how the story turned out and I found it thrilling. In part that’s because it’s an exceptionally exciting moment in history–two former army men modify a bomber and try to fly from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland.  And really, there’s no way it should work–bombers don’t have enough fuel, they have no radar.  It could take days.   Hell the planes don’t even have a windshield that covers them.  But the excitement is also because of the way that McCann tells the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIONA APPLE-“Every Single Night” (2012).

Many things have been said about Fiona Apple, and I’ll not repeat them here.  I will say, however, that she has put out some of the most consistently interesting music over the years.  From her introspective pop to her lavishly orchestrated pop, to the two mixes of her last album (one official, the other leaked), I’ve enjoyed all of it.

This is her first song in some seven years.  And it doesn’t skimp on what makes Fiona Fiona.  Specifically, it really showcases her voice.  And that’s because it is practically a capella.  The music is very spare–simple instrumentation (which sounds like a music box) and it more or less simply keeps the pace for Fiona’s voice (which sounds more full and powerful than ever) which creates the wonderful melody.  This may sound like a weird comparison, but I actually hear a bit of Eddie Vedder in her voice, too.

It’s a haunting song and the arrangement is curiously cool.

And I’ll share it here (well, actually I won’t share it, I’ll give you the link because it doesn’t want to embed):


[READ: April 18, 2012] Varamo

Varamo is the most recently translated of César Aira’s hundred or so books.  It was written in 2002 and translated by Chris Andrews.  So far it is my favorite of the Aira books I’ve read.

It’s a fairly simple premise, although like most of Aira’s books, the premise isn’t exactly followed from start to finish.  And like his other books, there are fun avenues of detours.  But unlike his other books, it is a remarkably consistent story.  Except of course, that even though the book is set on the day that Varamo writes his famous poem, we never even get to see him entering his house to do so.


Well, I’m going to quote from the beginning because it really summarizes the “plot” of the story: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MERCURY REV-Deserter’s Songs (1998).

Mercury Rev has changed a lot as a band over the years.  They began as a noisy punk outfit who was getting kicked off of airplanes, and by this album (seven years after their debut), they’ve turned into a kind of sweet orchestral pop band (a transformation not unlike The Flaming Lips).  I got into them with their album before this See You on the Other Side with the seriously rocking song “Young Man’s Stride.”  This album came as something of a shock, it is often so delicate.

I used to really love this album a lot and then one day I thought that it was a little irritating sounding, and that has stuck with me ever since.  The irritation comes from a combination of the really high-pitched vocals and the musical saw that seems to accompany most songs.  However, I hadn’t listened to it in quite some time and hearing it now, I found it enjoyable once again.

It opens with “Holes” a five-minute song that layers many different instruments (musical saw, of course, and horns) over Jonathan Donohue’s timid and wavery voice and gentle keyboard washes.   “Tonite It Shows” continues in the pretty vein–a beautiful song that name checks Cole Porter.  “Endlessly” features more unearthly soprano singing (there’s a lot of high-pitched music on this disc).  It has a lovely melody and references “Silent Night” on the flute.

The first highlight has to be “Opus 40” which tempers all of the potential irritants but maximizes the beauty and wondrous songwriting.  It soars to the heavens but stays grounded with a cool retro organ solo.  The other major highlight is “Goddess on a Hiway.”  “Hiway” is even better than opus 40 at blending the wonderful elements of this album.

“Hudson Line” is an anomaly on the disc–raw saxophone solo and low vocals change the pace of the album quite a bit.  “The Funny Bird” actually sounds like a Flaming Lips song circa 2008.  The Flaming Lips comparisons aren’t all that surprising since Donahue played with the Lips back in the early 90s.  And “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” is a pretty raucous song (“stomp” is correct).  It has a traditional feel and ends the disc on an upbeat note.

So, yes, although some of the effects on the disc veer into annoying, it’s still a great disc overall.

[READ: Week of April 16] Gravity’s Rainbow 3.25-3.32

We have finally exited The Zone this week.  The lengthy Section 3 has come to a close with an unceremonious send off to Slothrop, who I assume we’ll see in Section 4, with the reintroduction of old characters and with a chance meeting that made me go wow!

I’m really amazed at the interconnectedness of the book.  While I didn’t think that things would be unrelated, the number of unexpected connections is really tremendous.  And while I missed many of the other characters, seeing the occasional one pop up is pretty exciting.

I’m happy to leave the Zone, not because I didn’t like it (although I admit I Slothrop’s slog from one place to another was getting a little tiring), but because I really want to see how he wraps all this stuff up.  Connections are popping up everywhere, and I feel like he’s doing a whole lot more than I initially thought. (more…)

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