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Archive for June, 2012

SOUNDTRACK: SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE-“Even If You Knew” (2012).

Lars from NPR’s All Things Considered picked this as his summer music preview song.  I don’t know a thing about Six Organs of Admittance, but their discussion of this song makes it seem like this is atypical for the band (which has a massive output).  Evidently they’re usually more droney sounding. But man, this song is pummeling and wonderful.

It’s seven minutes long and opens with a simple, plodding heavy bass riff.  The vocals are kind of whispered and strained.  But then comes the guitar solo–a raging piece of distortion that complements the bass.  And that’s just the first three minutes.

The second half of the song features a quieter section–the bass is quieter, while the guitar noodles around and the vocals play over the rhythm.  The song slowly builds again, and by the last minute or so there’s another fierce guitar solo. Until the song is exhausted by the final distorted notes.

This is some beautiful noise.  And, no I have no idea what the band’s name means.

[READ: June 27, 2012] Deadeye Dick

Deadeye Dick is the last Vonnegut book that I was completely unfamiliar with.  I had no idea what it would be about.  So I didn’t realize until very late in the book, and then I looked online and confirmed that this book is set in the same location as Breakfast of Champions, Midland City, Ohio.  Indeed, some of the same characters appear in this book as appeared in that book.  But more about that later.

Vonnegut is not known for his happy books.  Misanthropy is pretty rampant in his pages.  But this book is one of his bleakest books yet.  The story concerns the Waltz family–Rudy (the protagonist) and his brother Felix are the only children of Otto and Emma Waltz.  Pretty early in the story we learn that Rudy is a double murderer.  Yipes!

As with most Vonnegut stories, this one is told in a convoluted and non-linear fashion.  He foreshadows (and really just casually mentions) a lot of crazy things that are going to happen in the book.  Like the fact that Midland City is going to be devastated by a neutron bomb.  In fact, his preface (like with many of his prefaces) tells us a lot about what’s in the book and who the characters are based on and the fact that there is a neutron bomb (but the reality of a neutron bomb is different from what he says).  There is something about knowing this information ahead of time that impacts the way you read the story.  Whether you think maybe he’s not telling the truth about what will happen (can the narrator really be a double murderer?) or maybe somehow the foreshadowing makes it even worse when it actually happens–the revelations are perhaps more deliberate.  But the style–a recursive style in which he says what happens and then he goes back and fills in the details, makes the events that much more powerful.

The funny thing about this story is that a lot happens to the characters in the beginning of the story and then not too much happens to them after that.  But that early stuff is pretty exciting and it has an impact all the way through. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EAST OF THE WALL-“False Build” (2011).

Viking picked this song back in September of 2011 as his song of the week (or however often he posted then).  I’d never heard of East of the Wall, despite their New Jersey pedigree.  (I know I don’t know every band from New jersey, but usually by the time a band has three records out I’ve at least heard of them).

This song is just over five minutes long and the vocals don’t come in until about three an a half minutes.  By the time the vocals come in, we’ve had three or four different stylistic changes.  And, by  the time the vocals have been with us for a minute it’s possible that there are four vocalists in the band.

It opens with some clean guitars playing an open (but slightly off) chord progression.  Over that comes a slightly distorted guitar and a bass playing mostly the same notes but just enough to be notably different.  Then add some drums so the song is builds very nicely.  The solo gets more and more complicated and when the drums rumble in for a climactic progression…the songs shifts into a kind of loud heavy rock/almost funk.  A new more angular solo plays over the funk riffs and it all works wonderfully.  Then the song becomes a rapid fire snare drum metal song and that’s where the vocals kick in.  I assume this is all one vocalist but who knows.  For the sake of argument I’ll pretend they are all different.

The first vocalist is a screamer–hard to understand but fitting in perfectly with the now heavy riffs.  He doesn’t say much before the second vocalist comes in.  This section of the music is mellow and kind of prog rocky and the vocalist fist perfectly–actually crooning along with the melody.  Until vocalist three comes in with a kind of cookie monster vocal which is interspersed with a different cookie monster vocalist.  By the quarter to 5 moment the first vocalist comes back, and there’s more screaming until the song ends.  It’s chaotic and cool and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  I wonder what they’re singing about.

Wow.  If I’m this exhausted writing about it, imagine how they must feel playing it.  I’m going to have to check out more from them.

[READ: June 28, 2012] “Another Life”

This story is disconcerting in that the first paragraph is a page and a half long.  And it works very well stylistically.  The whole first paragraph concerns a man (the husband) as he returns from a party for father-in-law.  He’d rather not have gone to at all, but since he is also sick and on medication, he takes the opportunity to leave early.  He arrives back at the hotel and sits down to read Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.  (Holy crap!).  He can’t focus on the book so he decides to go down to the hotel bar (with the book) just to mix things up.

There are a few people in the room, but he sits alone at the bar.  The bartender (whose name is later revealed to be April P) is very nice and chats as she serves him.  She sees his book and asks what he’s reading.  He’s a bit embarrassed, because she’s never heard of Rousseau.  But she says that she reads everything and her favorite is Emily Dickinson.  He is thrown by her choice of authors and by the fact that he can’t think of anything clever to say about Dickinson.  He fumbles a bit.  She remains nice but is clearly unimpressed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS-“Rockin’ the Suburbs [Over the Hedge version]” (2006).

I love Ben Folds. And I love this song.  But it is not in any way kid friendly (he threatens to cuss on the mic and he does–a lot).  So I was surprised to hear these distinctive opening chords when Over the Hedge‘s credits rolled.

But Ben has nicely changed all of the lyrics to make it more relevant to the movie (it’s still funny for adults, and in fact, kids may not even get all the jokes: “around the block one more time…cause I can’t tell which house is mine”  “they got better looking fescue right across the cul de sac.”

It’s cool that he was completely able to change the song (the meaning is now entirely different) yet still have it retain that snarky attitude of Ben Folds.  True the grown-up version is funnier, but this one is still good.  Not least of which is from the crazy rant by William Shatner.  Shatner is the neighbor “Bill” who complains about their dog and threatens that he knows karate.  It’s quite funny (if perhaps a little exhausting to listen to more than two times).

I like that the end of the song includes the really heavy section (that really only makes sense with the original lyrics).  A perfect example of change that works.

[READ: April 2012] The Secrets of Droon: Books 26-28 & SE#4

As I mentioned in the last post I am completely hooked on Droon.  And my son is very excited that we are getting close to the end!  What will we do?  The series itself has always been good, but it keeps getting better, with the stakes getting higher and higher.  And with Sparr being a good guy now, everything is different!  There are only three books before the Special Edition this time–it’s a strange non-pattern he’s got going on.  The Special Editions are longer and SOME of them written in a different way, but sometimes they just seem like longer books. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: INVISIBLE GUY BLOG (2012).

Jonas from Invisible Guy contacted me about a project he’s working on.  I’m not quite the right fit for it, but I had to check out his site to see what he was all about.  As his About page explains; “This blog is generally a platform for unknown bands to get promoted and interviewed.”  That’s pretty awesome in itself.  But as I browsed the site, I saw that in his post Invisible Guy recommends: 80s Post-Punk – 1982 (Part II) he includes not only The Birthday Party but also The Virgin Prunes.  Much respect there (especially for someone who wasn’t alive when those records came out!).

But the bulk of his site is full of really obscure bands (lots of bands that I’ve never heard of).  He interviews band members (sometimes in Swedish!) and has quite an impressive list of publications that he’s worked for.

So head on over to Invsible Guy for a wonderful collection of punk and hardcore music as well as some iconic (and really obscure) new wave and post-punk tunes.  He’s also got some great stuff on death metal too.  Not bad for a site that’s only a few months old.  Invisible Guy has a lot of samples and videos as well as a bunch of streaming music from unreleased or just-released albums (like this demo from the Swedish band Regimen called Välkommen hem).

And here’s a video for the Swedish stoner metal band Skraeckoedlan.  The song is “Apple Trees” and no you can’t understsnad the words because they are in Swedish.  I love that.

It’s a great site.

[READ: June 15, 2012] “A Psychotronic Childhood”

The more I read Colson Whitehead, the more I like him, not just as a writer, but as a “person” (the person he presents to us anyhow.  Although I met him briefly at a convention and he was super friendly and very nice).  This essay shows that he and I occupied some of the same headspace when we were kids (we were born in the same year)—watching sci-fi and horror movies on Channel 7 & 11 after school and on the weekends.  Of course, I didn’t really get into horror movies until much later them him (his first time was when his parents took him to  a horror film in the theater at the age of 5).  FIVE!

These early horror movies really shaped his outlook.  He lists about 70 movies in this article, of which I have seen at least half (although more from MST3K than actually sitting through them unaccompanied) and his summaries about them (four or five parenthetical words) are apt and often hilarious:

  • Food of the Gods (giant chickens rain pecking doom on a small island)
  • Alien (an outbreak of tummy trouble among space miners)
  • Demon Seed (rom-com about a horny computer that wants to impregnate Julie Christie)
  • The Devil’s Run (A negligible and mind-numbing film, notable only for the utter ineptitude of its attempt to cash in on the brief occult-movie fad that followed Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

The Devil’s Run is the first movie he saw, back in 1975, in the theater.  He says that there was something good in it, that it really captured the element of terror when your loved one turns on you.  And he tapped into this for his novel Zone One.

Then he reflects back on 1981, when his family bought a VCR and he and his brother would head to Crazy Eddie (remember Crazy Eddie?) to rent 5 movies for the weekend (I didn’t even know they rented movies!).  The movies were inevitably 4 horror movies and one mainstream film.  And the family would gather by the TV and watch together.  How wholesome!  Except when you read what they were watching (I can’t IMAGINE my family watching these together when I was a kid–even now, Sarah hates horror films).   This is getting into the era of Friday the 13ths and Halloweens as well as classics like Terror Train, Prom Night, Slumber Party Massacre, Silent Night, Evil Night, Mother’s Day and My Bloody Valentine (“not even the holidays, hallmark or otherwise were safe”). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NOW,NOW-“Thread” (2012).

I really enjoyed Now, Now’s last single “Dead Oaks” quite a lot, and here’s another one.  A beautiful shoegazer song, hints of My Bloody Valentine, hints of early Lush.  The singer has a great voice soaring over the chugging and swirling guitar chords.

The song is smooth and dreamy, but when the guitar solo comes in, it’s kind of jagged and really unexpected–a nice treat to keep a sing from becoming too obvious.

“Now, Now” is kind of a crazy name for a band–i assumed that it would be difficult for search engines to find them.  But no.  Type in now now and there they are.

[READ: June 20, 2012] “Monstro”

I’ve read a bunch of stories by Díaz, and I was a little surprised to see him in a sci-fi issue.  Although his characters are typically nerdy sci-fi fantasy geeks, his stories are pretty much all about reality–scoring women, losing money, fighting cancer, getting women back.  And, that’s what this story is about too.

One thing that I especially liked about the story is that it is such a conventional Díaz story–his main character g0es to the Dominican Republic to be with his ailing mom.  (They live in the States but her medical costs would be much cheaper there).  So he goes to the DR for the summer.  And he meets up with a fellow Brown student who just happens to be a Very Important Person in the DR (he’s related to the 99th most wealthy person on the planet).  And this guy, Alex, hooks him up well–he gives the narrator the royal treatment all over the country.  Alex also introduces him to Mysty, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

And so they spend the summer together.  The narrator knows that Mysty is out of his league, but he lusts after her anyhow.  He confirms with Alex several times that the two of them are not an item, and that seems to be true. It’s clear that Mysty likes him–he doesn’t put up with Alex’s shit or with hers, but it’s also clear that they will never be together.

Díaz doesn’t skimp on the story either–we learn all about Alex’s background (and the fact that despite all of his wealth, he’s not coasting–he’s pulling down a 4.0 from Brown).  We also learn all about Mysty–her history, her desires and her disdain for the Dominican Republic.  And, naturally we learn all about the narrators mother–what’s wrong with her, how she’s coping and how she’s tells him that he doesn’t have  to stick around–he’s not doing her any favors.  And so he leaves her to have fun with his friends.  As he says, “What an asshole, right? What a shallow motherfucker.  But I was nineteen–and what is nineteen, if not for shallow?” (more…)

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The edition I’m using.

SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD WAGNER-“Ride of the Valkyries” (1856).

Possibly the most famous piece of music from any opera (known for a billion reasons other than the opera itself).  This song was introduced to be by Bugs Bunny.  And then cemented in my consciousness in Apocalypse Now.

It’s really impossible for me to listen to it without seeing helicopters dropping napalm.

I’ve never seen it performed before.  Most of us think of it as an instrumental, but there are vocals, and they add a lot to the performance.  I also didn’t realize that the whole first minutes is a prelude to the third Act–with a darkened stage.  I just watched this version by the Danish Royal Opera in which the setting is updated.  The Stage is amazing and it’s a pretty powerful image, that won’t leave me head too soon.  And of course, the women sound phenomenal.

Smells like victory to me.

[READ: Week of June 19, 2012] JR Week 1

And so begins the saga of JR.  A little of my background:

I read JR about a decade ago.  I recall the structure and some of what happens, but not enough to actually remember anything ahead of time, plotwise.

Usually for these weekly group reads, I post fairly detailed recaps of the book.  And usually I do that because there’s so much going on in a large book, that it’s one way for me to keep track.  JR is going to be a little different.  If you’ve gotten this far in the book, you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of plot going on.  There’s a few scenes with lots of dialogue and maybe something comes of it, maybe not.  So, I’m certainly not going to try to recap everything that happens in the dialogue, nor am I even going to try to figure out who said what or even who is in every conversation–I’m not even sure that’s possible.  But I am going to talk about each scene a bit and see if I can pick out anything that seems important.

The book strikes me as being like an unedited film.  Or like a Picasso–Gaddis wants to show you everything, and let you pick out the important bits.  And so the book feels like a boom mike has been inserted into a room or scene.  We’re not really sure who everyone is, or even who is talking at a given moment.  But we hear everything that’s said. And then the boom mike pulls out and the camera pans somewhere else and the boom mike goes down and we hear some more.  It’s not always clear even that a scene has shifted–although usually a dense paragraph of prose indicates a shift in scene.

As far as characters, it’s not clear if anyone mentioned early on is going to stay with us through the book.  It’s clear that JR will be here (although his first real scene is right after my spoiler line for this week).  There’s also the Bast family who will no doubt play some ind of important role.  Then there’s a lot of teachers as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FATHER JOHN MISTY-“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” (2012).

This song is also on the list of NPR’s Top 50 songs of the year (so far).  It comes so far out of left field in terms of who the guy is and the way the music sounds that I can’t believe it made it to  their list.

Father John Misty is comprised of former Fleet Foxes dude J. Tillman.  I was bummed that the Foxes were not the original lineup anymore (although Tillman says he didn’t really want to be part of someone else’s vision, so that’s cool).  And if this is Tillman’s vision that  makes sense.

This is a simple guitar and drums kind of song;  There’s a ton of reverb (on the vocals, the guitars and especially the drums).  It has an incredibly retro feel.  It reminds me of someone like Pugwash, although it sounds nothing like them, really.  It feels like an older song (aside from the reverb, the guitar sounds very clean) and then the lyrics kick in: “Jesus Christ girl, what are people going to think”  And the song is all about death and cemeteries (“Someone’s gotta help me dig”).

I wasn’t sure about the song when I first listened, but then I couldn’t stop replaying it.  Yes the song is very simple–chord structures are pretty basic, but it feels so raw that it’s hard to stop listening–especially when the song starts to pick up more…instruments, and vocals, before it ends.

There’s a video for the song (in which Aubrey Plaza (from Parks and Rec) goes batshit crazy).  And the video version is a bit longer (a lengthy coda is added on).  Well, hell, here it is:

I will definitely have to hear more from this album.

[READ: June 23, 2012] “In Space No One Can Hear You Slay”

As I mentioned yesterday, The Guild was backed with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic for Free Comic Book Day.  I loved Buffy the show.  I loved Buffy the comics.  I loved the idea that Joss was keeping the series alive in the comic books.  And then somehow I fell behind in the series.  I haven’t really read much of Season 8 (some day…some day). So there was a little bit of a context issue for me here (very minor, but still there).

True context is kind of unnecessary here (except that I don’t know what Spike and Buffy are doing together–their past relationships are so complex, who knows where they may wind up).  Anyhow, as I said context is irrelevant because this issue takes place in…outer space.  That’s right, Spike suggest that Buffy go on a space vacation to see a nebula explode (what?).  Massive cerebral cortex confusion aside, this one-off does indeed see Buffy on a spaceship.  (more…)

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