Archive for January, 2015


onionThis is the first and so far only studio album from the Les Claypool Frog Brigade (line up slightly different from the live albums).  I think it’s one of his best solo releases in terms of overall musical complexity.  The addition of Skerik on sax makes a world of difference to Les’ songs and even better is percussionist Mike “Tree Frog” Dillon on vibraphone–which adds a new level of depth to these songs.  Also having a backing vocalist seems to add even more to them.

Psychotic circus music opens the saga of “David Makalster.”  It’s a riff on the news (where everything’s exactly as it seems).  The chorus is a fun vibraphone filled section–cheerful and fake.  It’s a decent song.   In true Les fashion, he follows it up with a Part II later in the disc in which the truth of the unhappiness is revealed.  Between the two songs it’s 11 minutes long which is too much for this one conceit, although I do like the way the part II revisits the first song in a different way.

But there’s so much else that’s so good on the record.  Like “The Buzzards of Green Hill” which opens with a jaw harp and some cool bass.  It’s a simple up and down riff that is incredibly catchy.  Later it’s got some great guitar and horn solos.  “Long in the Tooth” sounds like a Primus song, but the crazy sax noises turn this into something else entirely.  “Whamola” is a cool song that features Les’ work with the whamola, a one string instrument that features prominently on the song–it’s like a viola that you can do bends on.  It’s a great jam with Fish from Fishbone on drums and Skerik’s crazy sax as well.

“Ding Dang” sounds like it would be a silly song but it actually attacks all forms of prejudice–racist, homophobic ignorance all gets taken to task and then put to a rather cheerful-sounding chorus.  There’s some wild solos on this in song too.   Tolerance is a good thing.

“Barrington Hall” is an interesting creeping sounding song with vibes and bowed bass.  It feels like a kind of silly horror movie song.

“D’s Diner” opens with some backward percussion.  It has a creepy sinister bass line and some crazy vocal all about a yummy dinner.  It features Gabby La La on sitar and Norwood Fisher from Fishbone on bass.  “Lights in the Sky is an atmospheric song which is a bit too long.  “Up on the Roof” has a great slapping bass thing going on and the vibes solo is wonderful.

“Cosmic Highway” ends the disc with a pretty lengthy jam.  It has some great solos from the various instruments–I actually would have preferred this as an instrumental–I think it would have removed the slower parts.  But it’s a fun, trippy album closer.

And after this, Primus would (briefly) reunite.

[READ: January 19, 2015] “The Alaska of Giants and Gods”

In this story (which I imagine is the beginning of a new novel from Eggers), Josie has packed her kids into a (cheap rented) R.V. and has taken them to Alaska.

Josie used to be a dentist.  She was sued by a woman who claimed that Josie should have seen the cancer in her mouth.  Josie was so disgusted, she threw up her hands and said to take everything.  Which the woman did.  She felt the lower forty-eight states were full of cowards and thieves so it was time to get out.

And yet when they crossed the border, the Alaska she imagined was nowhere to be seen–no magic, no pure air, just a regular old city. (more…)


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nov3SOUNDTRACK: OYSTERHEAD-The Grand Pecking Order (2001).

oysterheadThis is a really fun album.  Despite the three big personalities here–Trey Anastasio, Steward Copeland, Les Claypool, they work so well together.  Some songs feel like Phish songs (Trey has a song or two that is just him), some feel like Les songs (ditto for Claypool), but you never feel like they are trying to outdo each other.  And of course Stewart Copeland plays his great drums all the way through.

Les and Trey share vocals on “Little Face” which features Phish sound effects and some great Les wild bass.  “Oz is Ever Floating” has jam feel–lots of soloing.  Unlike some of Les’ projects though, on many of the songs, like this one, his bass fits right in.  And the vocal harmonies from all three sound great in the chorus.

“Mr. Oysterhead” is a fun song with Les’ wild bass sounds.  This one feels kind of Primus like but with very different guitar sounds coming along.  This even has a big ol’ bass solo.  “Shadow of a Man is very Primus sounding–it was written entirely by Claypool and is primarily bass with some smattering of (wicked) guitars).  While “Radon Balloon” is a pretty acoustic number from Trey.  He sings gently (and if Les’ bass is there, it’s very subtle).

“Army’s on Ecstasy” has Les’ more cartoony voices, but some interesting jazz guitars and drums.  “Rubberneck Lions” is a fantastic song, one of the most Phish like songs on the disc (even if Les sings the first verse–it’s the chorus that screams Phish).  It’s got a rocking ending with great drums.  “Polka Dot Rose” has some fun group vocals at the end of the song.

“Birthday Boys” is another very Phish seeming song–very Trey influenced–some great guitar picking and subtle work from the other two guys.  It has a great chorus.  “Wield the Spade” seems like a goofy song that might be short (Trey repeating a few words as the song opens), but it proves to be one of the longer songs on the disc.  I gather it is about Ceausescu, and has Stewart Copeland doing all the lead vocal talking/shouting).

“Pseudo Suicide” has a big wild Primusy bass riff.  There’s a great jamming section in the middle, when Trey takes over vocals.  “Grand Pecking Order” is kind of a goofy Primus stomp while “Owner of the World” is a kind of catchy sing along to end this disc.

 There’s some really good songs on this disc and it works for fans of Phish and Primus.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Picnic in the Yard”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The final was by Jaime Joyce (there’s a name with literary aspirations, eh?).  The three essays so far have talked about food in medical school, the army and college. This one is about food in prison. (more…)

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nov3SOUNDTRACK: TREY ANASTASIO-Tiny Desk Concert #414 (January 5, 2015).

treyI’m introducing this delightful little Tiny Desk Concert here because Trey Anastasio joined up with Les Claypool and Stewart Copeland for the band Oysterhead, coming up next.

Anastasio is the lead singer and guitarist of Phish (and several side projects).  Because I tend to hear him amid the noise and jamming of Phish, it’s easy to forget that Trey has a very nice, delicate voice.  It’s also easy to forget amid all of his jamming guitar solos that he plays a lovely acoustic guitar as well.

He plays 3 songs in 12 minutes and is as affable as ever.

“Sleep Again” is a really pretty song.  In introducing the second song he says that he and his wife lived in a farmhouse in Vermont and listened to NPR all the time–the radio was tuned to Vermont Public Radio 24 hours a day.  And he says that NPR entertained his family for so many years that it’s an honor to do something for them.  This song, “Summer of ’89”  is a tribute to his 20th anniversary of being married to his wife Sue.  It’s quite lovely and moving.

He ends with a sweet version of “Backwards Down the Number Line,” one of my favorite new Phish songs.  I don’t think I ever quite realized what the lyrics were before.  I prefer the album version (mostly because of the gorgeous backing vocals) but this is a really nice version.

As they say in the write up, it’s interesting to hear him in this very quiet setting rather than in big arenas or in collaboration.

Check it out here.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Immovable Feast”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The third was by Chang-Rae Lee.

Lee talks about eating in the dorms at Phillips Exeter and how the food was universally disgusting.  [When I was in school there were rumors that the meals were consistently labelled Grade D But Edible (this from our food provider: ARA (which we named American Retards of America–such is the cleverness of college)).  Of course, now that I work at Princeton, I can report that the food here is outstanding.]

He offers one of my favorite quotes about dining ever: “You could fix yourself a basic salad or a bowl of cornflakes, but I always wanted hot food for dinner, and still do.  A cold supper for me is like being dipped in a melancholy sauce.” (more…)

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220px-Live_Frogs_Set_2After few months after releasing Set 1, Claypool released Set 2.  At the end of Set 1, he concluded by saying that the next set would feature: “more Pink Floyd than any human being should ever withstand.”

And indeed, Set 2 is the entire Pink Floyd Animals album.

Do the Flying Frog Brigade still includes former Primus guys Todd Huth (guitar) and Jay Lane (drums) in addition to guitarist Eenor, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Skerik on saxophone.  And of course, Les on bass and vocals.

Les says he always wanted to get a band together that could do justice t o Pink Floyd and he certainly found one.  The album sounds great here.  All five songs sound spot on.  I believe someone other than Les sings lead on “Sheep,” but I see no evidence of that.

There are some lengthy jams, and of course, sax where there isn’t any, but this isn’t meant to be a note for note recreation.  Rather it a respectful rendition with some excellent musicians who are willing to have a little fun with the songs too.  It’s a great release.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Lamb Stew”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The second was by Will Mackin.

Mackin was a soldier north of Basra.  And he talks about ow the desert cooked everything.  Iraqis call it “the date cooker,” the British soldiers call it “the face cooker,” but in his experience it cooked everything. (more…)

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220px-Live_Frogs_Set_1With Primus on hiatus, Les Claypool set out to do some solo work with a band that was quite different from Primus’ three man set up.  But staying ever true to his roots, he included former Primus guys Todd Huth (guitar) and Jay Lane (drums) in addition to guitarist Eenor, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Skerik on saxophone.

The band in this incarnation released two live albums that were recorded in 2000.

This first one is the first set which is a couple of covers and some Les solo work all extended into lengthy jams.

The opening track is a cover of King Crimson’s-“Thela Hin Ginjeet.”  Musically they are great–the get all the complicated sounds perfectly.  Les can’t quite hit all the vocal notes that Belew does, but that’s okay.  There are a few lengthy jamming solos, which are quite different from the original.

Next comes the Sausage song “Riddles Are Abound Tonight.”  It’s the shortest song on the disc even with the sax solo.  Then come’s Les’ solo song “Hendershot.”  I like the album version better because of the dynamic way it is sung, but it’s cool live too.  “Shattering Song” has more energy live than on record.  I enjoyed the segue into “Riders on the Storm.”

“Running the Gauntlet” has a weird opening with that crazy watery bass and a song about a chicken laying a hard-boiled egg.  Then it gets into the song proper. After each section, a musician gets to take a solo.  Skerit goes over his allotted time  and Les gives him a hard time about it.  “Girls for Single Men” sounds much more sinister here and Les sings it very quickly–it’s a weird version.

The set ends with a really good version of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.”  They really nail the music of it and Les sings it quite well, too.  This is a really solid collection of songs, especially if you like prog rock.

[READ: January 20, 2014] “Medical Meals”

This week’s issue of the New Yorker was its semi-annual food issue.  As such there were four food-related essays by writers who I’ve written about before.  The section was called “Rations.”

The first was by Rivka Galchen.  I’ve enjoyed Galchen’s writing quite a bit in the past.  And while I may have known she was a nurse, I never thought about her going to residency school or anything like that.

So this essay is about the kinds of crappy food that medical school students would eat during their rotations.  This is of course kind of funny to think that they are eating badly while they are supposedly taking care of other people.  It seemed especially obnoxious that they were eating this badly while working at a bariatric surgery center. (more…)

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nov3SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Antipop (1999).

This wasantipop the final album that Primus made before going on hiatus (ostensibly breaking up, but they did reunite a few years later).  I have distinct memories of buying this album and listening to it on the way home in the car.  I remember liking the songs but having the very distinct feeling that it didn’t really sound anything like Primus.  And that is still the case.

This album has a whole mess of guest producers and guitarists and critics seem to think that every song feels very different.  But I disagree.  It feels like a very heavy Les Claypool solo project.

About the album Claypool has said: “Antipop was the most difficult record we ever made, because there was a lot of tension between the three of us, and there was some doubt at the label as to whether we knew what the hell we were doing anymore… Primus sort of imploded.”  In the Primus book, Larry says that a few times he wondered why he was even there since there were so many other guitarists.  I noted that even though there were other guitarists, there were no extra bassists or drummers present, which is kind of shitty.

Producers include Fred Durst (!), Jim Martin (from Faith No More), Stewart Copeland (!), Matt Stone (!) and Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine) and Tom Waits.

Tom Morello features quite prominently on the disc, producing and playing on 3 tracks.  And on the songs he’s on, I feel like you can’t even hear Larry (if he’s on them at all).  Morello gets co-writing credit on the songs too, and they feel more like Rage songs than Primus songs–they are very heavy and very metal.  “Electric Uncle Sam” is certainly catchy and rocking.  I rather like it although it feels far more Morello than Claypool.  “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool” also sounds quite Rage like to me.  There’s certainly Primus elements, but it feels very conventional–it’s again very aggressive with no sign or Ler.  “Power Mad” is Morello’s third song. It’s the least interesting song on the disc.

Matt Stone from South Park produced “Natural Joe.”  It feels quite like Primus–a bit heavier, perhaps tahn usual and with that now ever present slap bass.  The “son of a bitch-a” line seems like it might have had a Matt Stone influence.

Fred Durst produced “Lacquer Head” the album’s only single.  It is really catchy.  Durst says it was his idea for Primus to get more heavy (like in the old days) but this is much heavier than anything they had done.  I have to think that the “Keep on sniffing” section was Durst-influenced as it sounds kind of rap-metally.

“Dirty Drowning Man” was produced by Stewart Copeland and features Martina Topley-Bird on backing vocals.  The opening sounds very Primus, but the chorus is very conventional.  Martina barely registers on backing vocals, which is a shame.

Songs credited to just Primus are “The Antipop” which is also quite heavy and strangely catchy given the sentiments.  Perhaps the most unusual track on the disc is the 8 minute “Eclectic Electric” which has three parts.  The first is slow and quieter with a catchy/creepy verse.  Part 2 is much heavier, while Part 3 revisits part 1.  I do rather like it.  James Hetfield plays on it although I can’t tell where.  “Greet the Sacred Cow” has a funk bass part and a real Primus vibe.  It’s a quite a good song.  “The Ballad of Bodacious” seems like a Primus cover band from music to concept.  The final song they did was “The Final Voyage of the Liquid Sky.”  I love the crazy watery bass that opens the song.  The verses also have a real Primus feel.  And those choruses are unreasonably catchy.

The final song was produced by Tom Waits.  It doesn’t sound like Primus at all. Rather, it sounds like a big ol’ sea shanty  A perfect Tom Waits-ian song.  And it’s a really good song too.  You can definitely feel the Primus vibe though, even if it doesn’t really sound like a Primus song exactly.

There’s a bonus track, which is a cover of their song “The Heckler” from Suck on This.  This version is good (although not quite as good as the original version).  But it shows how far removed the new stuff is from their earliest recordings.  This also means that “Jellikit” is the only song from Suck that has not been played on another record.

So while I can see that many fans of Primus would hate this album, fans of heavy rock from the era should certainly check it out.  Les’ voice is heavier, more metal, and the guitars are pretty conventional.  And I still think there are some good songs here.

[READ: January 16, 2015] “The Empties”

This story is set after the end times (which happened in August 2015).  I enjoyed that in the story two characters argue over whether they are living in dystopian or postapocalyptic time.  The one guy argues that “dystopia means an imaginary place where everything’s exactly wrong and what we’re living in is a postapocalyptic prelapsarian kind of thing.”  Our narrator says they are both wrong because those two words pertain to stories and this is real life.

It has been two years since E.T. (End Times).  Very few people still bother to charge anything on the extant towers.  And most of the weak died in the first winter.  Our survivors are in Vermont which has brutal winters but also have wood burning stoves which she imagines many city folk do not have.

Our narrator has been writing in a journal that she received B.E.T. (Before End Times) and then one day she decides to go to the library (the only building still with a lock) to see if she can use the type writer to write a history of their lives since E.T. began.   The “librarian” is heavily armed and is frisking everyone who leaves–books are valuable commodity.  She says they don’t have any paper but that she is welcome to use the reverse side of her own novel (Shroud of the Hills by Matilda Barnstone copyright 2003) which she sent out to many places but never got a response. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-“Mephisto & Kevin” (1998).

chef aid oct27On the South Park Chef Aid album, Primus played this song.  It’s not one of their best, but it’s a fun little number.  The bass is interesting and once the chorus comes along, there are some great guitar sections.

The lyrics are a childish thing about Michael Jackson’s semen–and I don’t think they have anything to do with these two characters directly.

It is of course fun that Isaac Hayes sings the chorus (which has to have been kind of cool).  And the music in the pre-chorus is heavy and interesting.

Apparently, that’s Trey Parker singing at the very end.

[READ: January 16, 2015] “Alan Bean Plus Four”

Yes, THAT Tom Hanks.

Who knows what to expect from an actor, especially one whom you’ve never heard of writing a story before.  And who knows even more what to think when the story is as strangely written as this one.  Well, not strangely written… it’s pretty normally written. But the content is quite unexpected.

The story is about a four people who build a rocket and fly it around the moon and back.

What is strange about the way it is written is that there is never any doubt from anyone that it will work or questions about how it will work.  Even though some of the things they discuss are preposterous, it will still work and does still work. So it seems like the narrator is crazy, and yet we are not given that information.

It begins with the premise that if you could throw a hammer with enough muscle, it would sail around the moon and return to earth like a boomerang.  Of course Anna points out that a hammer would melt upon reentry, so why not just make a shuttle and they could all fly round the moon.  They could succeed where the Russians failed.  And so they set out to build one and sail it on the anniversary of when Apollo 12 landed in the Ocean of Storms (forgotten by 99.999 per cent of the people on Earth). (more…)

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