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Archive for March, 2014

harperSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-INXS: Kick (2010).

inxsOf the four Record Club releases, this is actually the album I like least.  And that is mostly because of my college roommate.  He believed that rock music was the devil’s music (or so he told me).  And so he only had a couple of albums.  Most of the Beatles records (amusingly enough) and, totally randomly–INXS’ Kick.  So I got sick of this really fast.  It’s nearly 25 years later, so I’m okay with the album, and I do like some of the songs again, but boy can I pick out flaws.

This recording seems a lot more causal than the other Record Club releases—the original recording bleeds in front of some of the tracks and I believe they play around with the lyrics on a few.  They also really rearrange some of the songs, making them quite different from the original.

Form the Beck/Record Club site:

Record Club No. 4 is here…! Joining in this time we had three of my favorite bands— Liars, Annie Clark and Daniel Hart from St. Vincent, Sergio Dias from the legendary Brazilian band Os Mutantes, as well as RC veteran Brian Lebarton, just back from the Charlotte Gainsbourg tour. The record covered this time was 1987 blockbuster ‘Kick’ by INXS. The record was chosen by fellow Aussie, Angus from the Liars. It was recorded in a little over 12 hours on March 3rd, 2010. It was an intense, hilarious, daunting and completely fun undertaking. Thanks to everybody for being there and putting so much into it. Many classic moments, inspired performances and occasional anarchy.

Overall, I enjoyed this release quite a bit and found St. Vincent’s contributions to be quite excellent.  I didn’t know Liars before this, but I really like his voice.

Guns In The Sky (2:21). Loud drums open the song and the synth is buzzy and noisy. Angus’ vocals are very similar to Michael Hutchence’s.
New Sensation (3:40) Begins with a poppy synth rendition (and people rapping over it), but that’s like a teaser version. The real version is quite mellow and interesting—a very slow song sung by St Vincent and Angus from Liars.
Devil Inside (5:16) This sounds very different–it’s slow and menacing with a sax section.
Need You Tonight (3:06) St Vincent on vocals—a rather sexy version.
Mediate (2:32) The intro has them talking about the words they’ll use, like “shake and bake and wake and bake.” With much giggling.  Done as a simple rap over a handclap drum
The Loved One (3:37) This sounds like a sixties song–acoustic but kind of psychedelic.
Wild Life (3:10) Slow and a little creepy.
Never Tear Us Apart (3:06) This one has strings and synths–St Vincent sings this in a very beautiful way.
Mystify (3:18) Sung well by Angus with a slow picked guitar.
Kick (3:14) This is a buzzy punky version with an aggressive feel.
Calling All Nations (3:04) Acoustic guitar played and sung by St Vincent–it sounds very much like a St Vincent song.
Tiny Daggers (3:30) This is a silly electronic ranting song that ends up lasting 12 minutes (which is about 9 minutes too long).

Overall this has a raw feel that I like better than INXS’ more polished version. And anything with Annie Clark participating is a plus.

[READ: March 14, 2014] “The Mission”

This story started out as an interesting personal drama, with a very memorable scene.  A woman is sent to prison.  She will only be there for nine days (which the other inmates hear about and which causes them to grumble).  The drama comes when the try to remove her wedding ring but cannot (they have to cut it off).

The memorable scene is the reason why she was sent to prison in the first place.  She was drunk driving and drove into a cemetary. She crashed through the fence and into several gravestones.  The arresting offer’s opening remark was “You’re lucky you didn’t kill somebody.”  After a few days, she believes she is going to be released, but her lawyer informs her that things are going to be really rough for her out there–the people whose graves she broke are super mad.  So she should just hold tight and be happy to have some freedoms in here. (more…)

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cacnelAs yet another TV season sort of winds down, and a few more shows get cancelled, I decided to compile a list of shows that I miss. This isn’t going to be one of those lists of the best shows that shouldn’t have been cancelled or killed off too early or some other kind of list (I agree with just about everything on these lists).  So, I’m not including Arrested Development or Freaks and Geeks (which I don’t really miss because I didn’t watch it when it came out so I knew what I was getting when I watched the DVDs, plus every actor from the series is seen in something or other all the time) or even Veronica Mars (now that the movie has come out, all is well).

Of course, there are shows that I miss because they were great, but many had a sense of closure, which is nice. Or shows that were great and then weren’t great anymore so I stopped watching, which is less nice but which doesn’t leave me pining for them. Rather these are shows that were cut down unexpectedly (or expectedly) and didn’t give closure (or generate enough momentum for closure).  In fact, shows that weren’t brilliant and probably deserved to be cancelled soon, but were cancelled a little too early so I have no closure. Or, worse yet, shows that could have improved over the next season or two and become really solid shows.  And so from time to time I wonder what the characters are up to (which isn’t as sad as it sounds).

I’m starting with the most recent cancellation because it is freshest: (more…)

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2014 continues to throw new shows into the mix while other shows are already reaching their conclusions.  It’s very hard to keep regular track of shows when networks don’t follow the rules.  It also means that new shows pop up and quickly become favorites before going away possibly never to be seen again.

We’ve learned about the cancellation of a number of shows (but fortunately, none of the great ones and surprisingly not all of the bad ones).  And of course I’ll be sad to see How I Met Your Mother end, but it had a very good run.  And Cosmos has been mind blowing.

But I find that more and more my attention is turning to cable shows.  Although we don’t watch horror shows, I’m intrigued by Fargo.  And the cable shows are so much better at taking risks with their comedies.  We started to watch Orphan Black a while ago and then lost it, but I think we’ll be trying to catch up this summer.  And in old TV news, we just learned about Destroy Build Destroy (from 2010) and we are hooked.  Good thing there’s only 20 or so episodes.

So last time, I did a tally of networks.  Let’s see who wins this time (nightly shows like Late Night boost the numbers so I put them in parentheses):
FOX: 5 NBC: 4 (6)  CBS: 3 (4)  ABC: 3 SyFy: 3 Comedy Central: 2 (4) Lifetime: 1  IFC: 1 FX: 1

I can’t believe Fox still wins, but it has four comedies that I really like.  Actually Fox comedies are almost always good until they cancel them.
NBC is teetering away, but Thursday night helps it.
CBS is the old person’s network, and they’re losing a comedy that I like (and none of those promised new comedies look any good).
ABC is slowing building it’s comedy line up back, which is nice
And the cable networks combined really shine.

Oh and speaking of TV…how awesome was the Veronica Mars movie!!!!!!
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hiltonSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-SKIP SPENCE: Oar (2010).

skipOf the four Record Club discs, this is the only one I don’t own.  Although I do have a different covers collection called More Oar (which Beck also appears on). I may have never heard any of the original songs on this disc, so I can’t even compare them.

For those who don’t know (as I didn’t), Skip Spence was one of the founders of Moby Grape, a band who was vaguely successful in the late 60s and then sort of fell apart (especially when Spence tried to kill his bandmates and was put in an asylum for a year).

Beck doesn’t have anything special to say about why they picked this album.  But he must have been very excited that Wilco and Feist were around to play on it.  He says

This one took place last June when Wilco was in town for the release of their new eponymous album. They came by after a long day filming a TV appearance and still managed to put down 8 songs with us. Jamie Lidell was in the studio with me working on his new record. Leslie Feist happened to be in town editing her documentary and heard we were all getting together. Recording took place at Sunset Sound Studios in the room where the Stones did a lot of Exile On Main Street (and looking at the records on the walls it appeared that the Doobie Brothers recorded most of their output there too). Sitting in on drums, we had James Gadson, who’s played on most of the Bill Withers records and on songs like ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘I Will Survive.’ Jeff Tweedy’s son Spencer played played additional drums. Also, Brian Lebarton, from the last two Record Club sessions is back.

And if you don’t know what Record Club is, see the summary on yesterday’s post.

Wilco plays on 8 tracks (of 12) and they sound great.  Indeed, overall this is the most “professional” sounding recording.  Which is not to say that they don’t have fun. It sure sounds like they do.

Little Hands (2:59).  This has a traditional folk band sound.  It’s a great recording.
Cripple Creek (4:14).  This is not THAT “Cripple Creek,” by the way.  “Jamie takes the lead and Gadson gets behind the kit, while Beck and Brian back them.”  There’s a funky drum breakdown in the middle.
Diana (3:48).  Another good sounding song.
Margaret/Tiger Rug (2:27). This song is a little boppy and slightly silly sounding, but not really that silly.
Weighted Down (The Prison Song) (4:58) “Feist takes the lead this week with Nels Cline arpeggiating some ridiculous 64th notes on a toy guitar.”  Feist adds some beautiful vocals to this song.
War In Peace (5:04).  This begins a little slow and shambolic but it soon builds into a full band that gets even crazier when they start playing “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It was fun to hear them let loose.
Broken Heart (3:39).  This sounds like a traditional song.  A little drunken and fun–a nice duet with Feist.
All Come To Meet Her (2:02).  This is a simply beautiful harmonized a capella rendition.
Books Of Moses (7:21) “Gadson lays down the heaviest RC beat ever, while Jamie loops his voice into a voice army and Brian plays some kind of octagon shaped synth.”  This had a kind of Primus-y weird synth opening.  But as Jamie loops his voice over and over it sounds really good, although it is too long.
Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin For Yang) (3:56).  This is a synthy bouncy song.  It’s a little silly, especially with th Ace of Base coda at the end.  But it sounds good.
Lawrence of Euphoria (5:17).  The lyrics of this song are very silly. This version has a fake cowbell and  funky bass but is otherwise just electronic drums and vocals.
Grey/Afro (7:35).  This has echoed vocals and noisy bass.  It’s hard to figure out what’s going on here, especially at the chaotic ending. But it’s nice to hear them all let loose a bit.

As I said, I don’t know how this compares to the original, but I really enjoyed it.

[READ: March 23, 2014] White Girls

This book was madly hyped and I was pretty excited to read it (even though to be honest I didn’t know if it was fiction or non-fiction–and wasn’t even entirely sure as much as half way through the first piece).  I knew Als’ name from the New Yorker, although I wasn’t really conscious of having read anything by him.  It turns out I read one of these essays in McSweeney’s 35 about four years ago.  The fact that I didn’t remember reading that essay does not speak all that well about it.  But overall I enjoyed most of the essays in the book quite a lot; however, the two longest ones I found, well, way too long.  And I honestly don’t understand the title.

Overall the book is a collection of essays (often told from an interesting perspective, like from the dead person’s first point of view).  The problem with pretty much every essay in the book at least for me was that Als presupposes a base knowledge of these people.  Without that, the essays can be frustratingly vague and unclear.  But again, these people are all famous enough that it seems likely that one would have that base knowledge (even if I don’t).  I do wish there was a small bio or even a photo with these essays (as there was with the Truman Capote one) as I feel that grounded me nicely.

I was a lot more confused by his essays that were more personal.  I didn’t really understand the context for what he was talking about, since i know very little about him.  And as you’ll see from the first essay, he covered a lot in a very un-straight way. (more…)

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endofloveSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-LEONARD COHEN: Songs of Leonard Cohen (2010).

leonardcohenI won’t say anything because no one ever listens to me anyway. I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record.

-Neil from The Young Ones.

This second recording from Beck’s Record Club is, indeed, a Leonard Cohen record.  I like Cohen and have a bunch of his stuff.  Although he’s never been a huge favorite, I find his songwriting to be top notch.  And, since his arrangements are usually pretty sparse, it’s easy to cover his songs in a myriad of ways, which these artists certainly do.

But just to catch you up to speed about this whole Record club business:

According to the Beck/Record Club website:

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. As you will hear, some of the songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens. And those who aren’t familiar with the albums in question will hopefully look for the songs in their definitive versions.

Introducing this second recording, Beck explains:

This time around the group includes Devendra Banhart, Ben, Andrew and Will from MGMT, Andrew from Wolfmother, Binki from Little Joy, and Brian and Bram returning from the first Record Club.  ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’ by Leonard Cohen was chosen by Andrew from MGMT. For those interested, our close second choice was Ace Of Base, which we’ll keep on the list for next time.

So, here we have Cohen’s debut.  I own it and am familiar with about half of the songs, but I didn’t want to listen to it before hearing their covers.  And so, the track listing and comments:

Suzanne (4:54)–A classic song, here given respectful treatment.  And yet they’re not afraid to play around with it, so they give it a dance beat and group vocals, all of which sound great.
Master Song (6:37).  I don’t know this song, and I don’t recognize it from this cover which is perhaps the greatest twist of a Leonard Cohen song ever. They sample Metallica’s “Master!” every time they sing the chorus.  The song is done as a rap with the voices pitched differently in every verse, there’s also a great funky bass throughout.  I assume the lyrics are the original, but I’m not sure.  The only problem with it is that it goes on for way too long.  But otherwise this is what record Club is about–having fun experimenting with songs.
Winter Lady (2:46). This is done as a pretty folk song, the way Leonard intended.
Stranger Song (5:26). This song is also dancey (with MGMT, that makes sense).  It has big drums and cool harmonies.
Sisters Of Mercy (4:36).  This is also pretty, done on an acoustic guitar with multiple singers taking turns.
So Long, Marianne (6:54).  This is also pretty faithful (of another classic).  There’s a group chorus which again sounds great.  The one difference is buzzy guitar solo.
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (4:27).  This has a cheap Casio vibe, yet it still sounds good.  Beck sings and the whole things is quite nice.
Stories Of The Street (5:06).  The songs starts with a simple bass and xylophone, but it gradually builds into a full band song which sounds great.
Teachers (4:04).  This is an insane punk version of the song.  It is super fast with a crazy guitar section and shouted vocals.  It shows just how adaptable Cohen’s music is
One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong (5:42).  This is a pretty, slow version of this song with keyboards as the main instrument.  It’s a very nice song until it nears then end when the singer just starts screaming and going nutty  Which is okay, but that goes on for too long at the end.

So overall, this is a very enjoyable collection of covers.  The faithful ones sound wonderful and the silly songs are, yes, silly, but they are not just tossed off (except maybe Master Song.  This must have been a lot of fun to record.

[READ: March 14, 2014] The End of Love

The End of Love is four long short stories.  Each one is about the end of a relationship.  Even though I enjoyed all four stories quite a lot, the book was a lot slower to read than I would have anticipated from its scant 163 pages.  And surprisingly, the stories weren’t sad or mopey–rather, they looked at the relationships via a slightly distant narrator who was engaged and engaging.

I have been reading a lot of Latin American writers, but this book, which was written in Spanish and translated by Katherine Silver, was written by a Spanish writer.  So that’s a little bit different in feel.

“We Were Surrounded By Palm Trees”
This story is not set in Spain. It is set on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa.  It is about a man and his girlfriend, named Marta.  They have gone to this remote island for some secluded time alone.  But it turns out that they have to share the small boat (and therefore the small island) with another couple.  Christine and Paul are a German couple who are not outgoing and friendly as the narrator fears (he doesn’t want to spent his romantic vacation with those two), but are cordial and looking to share some of the troubles of their vacation.  One such trouble is meeting with the village elder and the chief, which Paul offers to do.

The details of the island were a little unclear to me.  I think that is somewhat intentional, but there is some confusion about the nature of the power structure on the island and what exactly people get up to there.  So when Christine goes missing, Marta is instantly concerned.  And then when Paul and Christine don’t turn up for dinner, they decide to go and find them.  Christie and Paul are involved in something that I found a bit confusing, but which involved elders of the island.

As the story draws to a close and there is yet more confusion as to where the Germans are, Marta and the narrators are at odds with each other about what to do.  And the strain begins to form between them.   Even though the details of what happened with Paul and Christine are vague, the details of Marta and the narrator are very powerful and really tell the story.  It was wonderful. (more…)

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Harpers-1404-302x410SOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-VELVET UNDERGROUND: Velvet Underground & Nico (2010).

velvetAccording to the Beck/Record Club website:

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. As you will hear, some of the songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens. And those who aren’t familiar with the albums in question will hopefully look for the songs in their definitive versions.

Introducing this first recording, Beck explains:

For this first edition, after lengthy deliberation and coming close to covering Digital Underground’s Sex Packets, all present voted in favor of the ‘other’ Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico. Participants included this time around are Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Brian Lebarton, Bram Inscore, Yo, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Holmes, and from Iceland, special guest Thorunn Magnusdottir, and myself. Thanks to everyone who helped put this together, and to all of you for indulging in this experiment. More soon.

That’s a lot of introduction for this record, which, as you have surmised is a full cover of the Velvet Underground’s debut album.  And, as the blurb promises, it is chaotic, but often charming.  I am not a huge Velvet Underground fan, although I have this and some of their other albums.  I appreciate them more for what they spawned than what they played.  But having said that I know this record pretty well.  I did make a point of not listening to the original before listening to this.

The track listing:

Sunday Morning (3:15).  This version is pretty faithful.  Beck sings and sounds a bit like Lou Reed.
I’m Waiting For The Man (4:04).  This song is very silly indeed–instruments detuned and loopy sounding.  It’s a little funny but a little annoying too.
Femme Fatale (2:42).  This is a straight version with Beck taking the Nico part and doing a nice job of it.
Venus In Furs (5:22).  This song is a little noisy & feedbacky but it’s a great version. Probably my favorite song of the bunch.
Run Run Run (4:25).  They’ve turned this into a little synth pop song.
All Tomorrow’s Parties (5:16).  This has vocals by Thorunn Magnusdottir.  She doesn’t quite have whatever Nico had and consequently although the songs tarts out pretty, the length and tempo turns it a little dull by the end.
Heroin (6:40).  This version is insane, with Brian Lebarton getting more and more frantic.  If the instruments didn’t sounds so cheap, the intensity would be pretty awesome.  But it’s a little wonky sounding (and a too long).
There She Goes Again (3:02).  This song is like “Waiting for the Man” detuned and silly.
I’ll Be Your Mirror (2:33).  This is a pretty version which would, once again sound a little better if the instruments didn’t sound cheap.
Black Angel’s Death Song (3:43). Beck sounds more like Dylan on this song, which i don’t know that well at all.
European Son (3:26).  This song is a little dull, I don’t recognize it.
Heroin (Bonus Alternate Version) (5:05).  This version of Heroin is a bit more reasonable than the other version, although I wish it had a little of the first version’s chaos.  Maybe a meeting of the two would be ideal.

So this is a fun project where talented friends get to make some music together.  It gets an even higher “grade” overall because he’s not releasing it officially, not asking money for it.  Not every song is a winner, but those that win are quite good.

[READ: March 17, 2014] “Family and Others”

Nadezhda Teffi was alive from 1872-1952 and wrote this in 1912.  It was translated from the Russian by Anna Summers.

This is a very simple story that doesn’t feel like a story so much as a friendly lecture about family.  The story begins with the statement that we tend to divide people in to family and others.  Which is true.  he continues that Family knows everything about us while Others know very little about us.  Sometimes when people get closer, they move from other to family.  However, it is the family that tends to give us the most grief.

When you are sick, others send you flowers but family interrogate you about when you caught the cold and what you were doing when you got it.  They don’t try to make you feel better, they want to know more about the problem.  He offers several similar situations in which family is less than cuddly with us.

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when di dSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010).

220px-Scott_Pilgrim_soundtrackI somehow missed Beck’s next album, Modern Guilt.  Whether I was bummed about not loving The Information or that Iwas just out of the loop, I’m surprised I wasn’t all over this collaboration with Danger Mouse.  But I plan to give it a closer listen soon.

After that, Beck wrote several songs for Sex Bob-Omb, the band in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

In a confusing annotation, he wrote 4 songs that Sex Bob-Omb play on the soundtrack.  Three of those songs, Beck also performs on the deluxe version of the album.  Beck also recorded two versions of a song that he wrote for the soundtrack.  And, according to Spin, there are four more unreleased tracks that you can listen to on their site.

I’m only going to mention the officially released tracks here.

“We Are Sex Bob-Omb” is a great punky fuzzed out rock song (as all four turn out to be).  It has a very Stooges feel and at only 2 minutes (including the intro) it’s quite the punk anthem.  Beck doesn’t do a version of this one.

“Threshold” is a punk blast (less than 2 minutes).  Beck’s version is fuzzed out with all kinds of interesting noises swirling around.  The chorus is very traditional punk (ie. surprisingly catchy).  The Sex Bob-Omb version is very close to the original.  It’s actually a little cleaner (you can understand most of the lyrics), but I think all of the noises are the same, so maybe its the same music with different vocals?  Well, according to the movie Wiki, the actors played the music, but of the three it’s the closest musically to the original.  There’s also an 8-bit version of the song which sounds like a warped video game playing along to the melody.  It’s created by Brian LeBarton.

“Garbage Truck” is a big dumb slow track.  In Beck’s version, there’s more fuzzed out guitars and it sounds more 70s rock than punk.  There’s big drums and dumb lyrics.  It’s great.  The Sex Bob-Omb version sounds quite different in the recording.  It’s a wee bit slower, and once again the vocals are much cleaner, but the music is wonderfully fuzzed out again.

“Summertime” is the same style of song–fuzzy and simple (Beck must have had fun writing these).  This one is the longest of the songs, at just over 2 minutes. Beck’s voice is once again super distorted.  The Sex Bob-Omb version feels slower, but maybe that’s just because the vocals are so much cleaner.

Although I thought I’d enjoy the Sex Bob-Omb versions more, I side with the Beck versions on all of them.  None of the songs are great, but they’re not supposed to be (Sex Bob-Omb isn’t meant to be a great band).  But they are a lot of fun, especially if you like garage punk.

There are two versions of “Ramona” on the disc.  The acoustic one is just a minute long and is Beck strumming and singing the word “Ramona” a few times.  It sets the stage for the full version which has strings and actual lyrics.  It’s a pretty song, reminiscent of the string style of Sea Change.

So this is an interesting collection of songs for Beck fans.  And, in fact, the entire soundtrack is quite good.

[READ: March 16, 2014] When Did You Last See Her?

I enjoyed Book 2 in this series a lot more than I remember enjoying Book 1.  And it was great to get back into the fun writing style of Lemony Snicket novels.

The first book left us with the quest for the Bombinating Beast sculpture which, as the story ended, was taken by Ellington Feint, a girl who Snicket was just starting to like.  The first book was full of (intentionally) confusing writing in which Snicket knows that the things he did were wrong, and things like the true nature of what happened were written in a weird way.

There was some of that in this book, but the focus was more on the story than the weirdness of Snicket’s situation (which I’m still not entirely clear on).  Without dwelling on book 1 too much, suffice it to say that Lemony Snicket is an apprentice to the terrible mentor S. Theodora (we still don’t know what the S. stands for).  We also don’t even exactly know what they do, in other words what his he apprentice-ing in?  He claims it’s not detective work.

Despite the disappointment of losing the Beast statue, there is a new problem in Stain’d by the Sea, which Snicket and S. have not left yet.  It turns out a girl, heir to the Knight fortune, has gone missing.  Cleo Knight, budding chemist, and girl with a plan to save the dying town of Stain’d by the Sea was last seen leaving town in her indestructible car, the famous Dilemma.  And yet, she was also seen (by the proprietor of Partial Foods (ha!)) leaving in a taxicab.  When Snicket and S. Theodora investigate the house, they find that the Knight parents are being sedated by a Dr. Flammarion–who seems very suspicious.

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