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SOUNDTRACK: CAFÉ TACVBA-Tiny Desk Concert #794 (October 12, 2018).

Back in the 1990s I was quite the fan of Café Tacvba (I was exposed to a lot of rock en Español in the 90s and Café Tacvba stood out).

I’d never seen them and wasn’t even sure they were still together.  So it was great to see them in this Tiny Desk Concert.[“the four principal members together for almost 30 years”].  I didn’t know much about them back then (their liner notes are all in Spanish).

As usual, lead vocalist Rubén Albarrán is a captivating central presence, evoking a sense of down-home camaraderie with his ever friendly smile that has become the band’s most outward image. Having seen the band play in front of dedicated fans in massive stadiums in Mexico City, it’s striking to see his movements limited to a few careful spins and dance steps while still managing to embody the intense energy of their music.

The first song is “Olita del Altamar” (“Waves from the High Seas”) from the group’s 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.   Albarrán says it is “dedicated to the sacred water–not for mining, not for fracking but for humans and all living beings.”

It’s essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band’s since their start almost 30 years ago.

The song has a real folk quality.  Their instruments are all acoustic (two of those tiny Mexican guitars and a full-sized guitar).  There’s a delightful solo on the melodica. Despite the song’s poppiness, at one point Albarrán begins screaming happily away from the microphone and dancing.

They then fast forward to “Diente de León” (“Dandelion”), from their 2017 album Jei Beibi. It’s a majestic, stripped-down version that puts the emphasis back on the lyric, a plea for existential and environmental harmony using the metaphor of the weedy flower.

It’s a beautiful song with Albarrán’s voice at times gruff and at times soaring.  The addition of electronic percussion is a little jarring, but it is quiet and works well with the music.

The third song is one that I knew and it was great to hear it again.  Introducing “The Flowers,” he says, “When we play this live we ask the people to raise heir hands so we can see a beautiful garden of different colors, different perfumes.  if you want you ca try it, it’s free.”

Their song “Las Flores,” from their 1994 album Re, slips into the ska groove that attracted fans to rock en Español in general and to Los Tacvbas in particular, a beat that captures the adventurous musical energy that swept all of Latin America in the early 1990s.

Clearly this energy is what swept over me in 1994.  Once again that melodica solo is delightful.  But so is everything else about this song–the guitar notes, the upright bass and of course, Albarrán’s infectious singing.

Not all bands would end their set with a power ballad, though very few bands hold their audience’s attention and dedication like Café Tacvba. But that’s just how they close their set.

“Que No” is their latest single, a pretty ballad.  Once the full band kicks in, it’s got a fun beat (that upright bass really keeps he beat).  Albarrán’s once again steals the show.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Death of Lazarus Averbuch”

This is an excerpt from The Lazarus Project.  It is story set in 1908 Chicago and one that I wasn’t very interested in until the very end.  Read as a short story it takes way too long to get where it is going, but as a part of a novel its a nice build up to the climactic scene.

A scrawny young man went to the house of the chief of police.  The chief’s wife told the man the chief didn’t see anyone before 9 AM.  The young man leaves and says he’ll come back.  Chicago is cold, bitter cold, and the man is sick of being so cold.  He had a nice summer here and even a  lovely autumn day in October, but he want the cold to end.

He decides to go into a grocery store because of the smell of warm bread.  The owners suspect of the man immediately–his stomach growls when he smells the fresh bread.  Meanwhile, another man walks in and has a friendly chat with the owners. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2016 Tour Box (2016).

This was the third Tour Box containing material that is similar in spirit, but different in fact to the previous two.

As always, it starts with the Wind extract, the sound of Fripp’s mellotron warming up and a voice saying “I prefer the early ones.”  It segues into a beautiful instrumental of “Moonchild.”  Once again, the lyrics are interesting in the song, but it sounds great without them.

The music stays in somewhat chronological order of release, but often with contemporary versions.  Like the 2015 recording of 1970’s “Peace” (which is okay) and “Pictures Of A City” (which is great).

“Prince Rupert’s Lament” is a two and half-minute guitar solo which has the Toronto crowd from the previous track overlaid, making this recording sound like a live one, when it is in fact an except from the recording session of Lizard.  There’s a rehearsal of the full 10 minute “Islands” from 1971 or so.

Then a “new” song, the two and a half-minute 2014 “Threshold Soundscape” which segues into the 2014 live version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I” which is quite bass heavy.  Up next is a recording session of “Easy Money” without all the bells and whistles.

Then comes two live recordings from 1974.  “Improv I” which is full of gongs and guitars and chaos and segues into “Doctor Diamond.”  This is a song I had never heard before.  It never had an official release and this version seems like they’re just trying it out, like they weren’t really sure about the words, especially.  It’s heavy and  more than a little odd.

After a 30 second clip “From the Drummer’s Stool” which is the a drummer playing the intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” drums, the full song is played from 1974, sounding quite old in the mix.

The second disc continues with all manner of things in no particular order.

There’s more extracts from Lizard, this time a very pretty solo piano version of “Prince Rupert Awakes.”

And them it’s on to a non-Crimson album.  “The Other Man” is an alternate early version of the song from the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles which I don’t know at all.

Next comes “Making Of Discipline,” it’s clips from bulk of the album spliced together into one song.  It’s very nifty.  There’s a demo instrumental of “Walking on Air” and then a three-minute live track called “Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind).”

There’s a demo of “Meltdown” (with guide vocals) and then a 40 second clip “From the Drummers’ Stools I” and a 20 second clip “From The Guitarist’s Stool I” which is part of the 21CSM solo.

Then comes some heavy stuff.  “The ConstruKction Of Light” live from 2014 with no vocal tag at the end followed by the bizarre Beatles mashup “Tomorrow Never Knew/Thela” live from 2000.

There another sample “From the Drummers’ Stools II” this one from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I” which is followed by “Nuages” (which I read as Nu-ages.  It’s trippy with bouncy bass

There’s a 2014 recording of the slow, jazzy “The Light Of Day” also originally from Scarcity of Miracles. It’s followed by a Lizard excerpt “From The Guitarist’s Stool II” and then a fast complicated 40 second 2014 soundcheck for “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I.”

Moving away from that classic business, we jump to a new mix of “Dinosaur” from THRAK.  It’s followed by a final 45 second “From The Drummers’ Stools III” and then concluding with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This version is from 2000 and I find it kind of weak, especially compared to the powerhouse versions they would unleash later.

Overall there’s some cool stuff on this box, but I feel like there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not quite my Crimson taste.

[READ: January 12, 2018] The Nix

The Nix received some pretty positive reviews and I was quite interested to read it–even though I had no idea what it was really about.  It’s not until nearly page 100 that we find out what the title even means.

The Nix (in the story, not the novel itself) is a ghost story from Norway.  The protagonists’s mother heard about The Nix from her Norwegian father.  The Nix was a horse.  It encouraged you to ride it.  When you did, it never stopped running until it ran off a cliff with you on it.  In modern terms, The Nix is a person–usually someone you think you love. Someone who will leave you.

Summarizing the book is either really easy or something of a challenge depending on how many aspects you want to include.

The book more or less follows one man–starting with his failing writing career and then flashing back to how he got where he is.  That sounds pretty dull, but the book is set on the backdrop of contemporary America–from the rebellions of hippie parents to the rebellions of the 99%ers.

There’s also these wonderful subplots that prop up the main story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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tyrantSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTINE SALEM-Tiny Desk Concert #326 (December 14, 2013).

As with many artists behind the Tiny Desk, I had never heard of Christine Salem.  So who is she?

Christine Salem sings songs that are old: They’re work songs and chants from the maloya tradition on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. I first heard her in New York City as she shook a flat board called a kayamb, made of cane reeds, with two percussionists flanking her to provide rhythm.

Salem makes powerful, strongly focused music in which all the elements are essential, with nothing superfluous. She says it feels like the spirits move through her when she plays, and though you may doubt her if you’re a nonbeliever, you’d be hard-pressed to deny her your attention once you hear her.

And that’s pretty spot on.  She sings like a woman possessed–but in a good way–serious catharsis for these intense pieces which are amazingly musical for songs with no instruments except percussion.

“Listwar” showcases her strong, powerful voice when she sings by herself but the whole thing grows amazing when the other voices come in.  But even that doesn’t even prepare you for the wonders of the percussion that come next—that kayamb is mesmerizing, the big drum is so deep and the percussive sticks (which seems like he’s hitting what might be a lectern) all work perfectly.  All of the melody comes from their voices.  The backing guys also seem possessed by the music and the drummer is even laughing he’s so filled with joy.

“Alouwe” begins with claps and rhythmic chanting, which is pretty cool, but again, when the drums come in its even better. Halfway through the tempo picks up and she grabs that kayamb again and the intensity ratchets up.  There’s chanting from the men with lots of laughing and clapping at the end.  The final song is “Komor Blues.”  For this one, she is just by herself playing the drum.  While not as big as the other songs, it is just as intense, especially when the pace speeds up about halfway through.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Tiny Tyrant

I read this book last year, never even imagining that it could somehow be comparable to our then highly unlikely leader.  Reading back on it now, I can’t get over the similarities between this fictional character and our television-inspired president.  I mean, look at how King Ethelbert is described: “Selfish, short-tempered, unscrupulous, stubborn, and willing to do anything to get what he wants.”

This book collects all of the Tiny Tyrant stories into one volume (Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus & Volume Two: The Lucky Winner) were published by First Second with six stories each).  They were originally collected into four books in French (and translated into English by Alexis Siegel).

First Second had a lot of books by Lewis Trondheim in their earlier publication days but that seems to have gone by the wayside somewhat this decade.

Perhaps it is because his books are hard to classify.  They are basically kids books but they are pretty dark kids books–there’s usually death and blowing up and horrible things happening to people.

Tiny Tyrant is one of the sweeter Trondheim books that I’ve read.  Because even though the Tyrant is a tyrant, he is mostly unsuccessful  in his demands and nobody blows up [let’s hope we are so lucky with our country’s current wanna-be-dictator]. (more…)

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2010 SOUNDTRACK: ANTIBALAS-Tiny Desk Concert #243 (October 4, 2012).

antibAntibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble.  Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk.  And they are quite the ensemble.  There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion.  There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).

The blurb states:

There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.

It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.

They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm.  “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections.  While the whole band sings the backing voices.  And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a  groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine.   All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm.  One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.

“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound.  Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own.  The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up  go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.

It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.

[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”

This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.

The story is told in first person by a priest.  He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.

As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.”  Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”

The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.

But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic. (more…)

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black-daimons SOUNDTRACK: LAST EX-Last Ex [CST107] (2014).

last-exOne of the things I love about Constellation Records is that you often never know what you’re getting.  They used to very specifically release a certain kind of music, but they’re now just releasing interesting and exciting music.  But also, a band name can’t really tell you what to expect from this label.

So who knows what a band like Last Ex will sound like.  And how cool that their first few songs on this are so good.

The disc’s sides are split into Side X and Side XX.

“Hotel Blues” opens with some scattered drums and chords.  It has  vaguely early-Pink Floyd feel to it.  But around a minute in, the synths pick up a repetitive melody and the bass and drums kick in to give it a very Can or Kraftwerk vibe.  The song is fairly straightforward, but there are sprinklings of notes—sometimes slightly off and vibrated that add some very cool textures to this pulsing track. It’s really groovy and fun.  But it’s “Girl Seizure” that I find so strangely compelling.  Again, over simple repetitive drum and bass, the guitar (or keyboards) play warbling notes that are unsettling and yet enticing.  The song quiets to almost nothing and then resumes in much the same way—and you welcome that weird warble and its of Moog feeling.  At just under 3 minutes its just the right length.

“Flûte magique” slows things down with some simple arpeggios.  There’s not a lot to the song, but it is wonderfully soothing as the bass notes tick away and then the guitar notes rise higher and higher.  The song picks up speed as it goes along and leads to a middle section that’s almost stiffly funky, if that’s possible.  The ending gets a little louder as it thuds to a conclusion.

“It’s Not Chris” opens with some static and strange noises and some soaring keyboards.  About a minute and a half in a strange staccato organ melody comes in with a violin sound doing a kind of solo over the top.  It’s all a little strange but it drops out in the middle to a kind of sinister pulsing, and when the melody resumes, it seems strangely comfortable again.  The end of the song has some high-pitched violin notes that sound almost like a theremin.

“Resurrection Drive” is mostly drums and echoed surf guitar chords. After a minute or so some strings are added to the mix.  It’s only 2 minutes long but it introduces some interesting tension.

Side XX has a quieter feel overall.  “Nell’s Theme” opens with acoustic guitars playing a simple, pretty four-note melody.  The song slowly grows more complex as a violin is added to the song. With about 30 seconds remaining, everything drops away save for a mournful violin.

Thudding bass and picked notes echo through “Trop tard.”  It has a slow, spacey feel (like mid-period Pink Floyd).  A guitar is added and it speeds up some but still sounds of the era and then settles back down to a languid pace.  “Cape Fear” is less than 2 minutes of swirling outer space sounding synths—a creepy, lonely feeling.

“Cité d’or” has more slow pulsing rhythms and more echoing surf guitars and the whole thing feels rather tension filled.  Some squealing  feedback intersperses the surf guitar.   “Hotel Blues Returns” for 1:43.  It’s primarily the drumming pattern of “Hotel Blues” with some swirling synth noises (it’s good for headphones).  “Hotel Kiss” ends the disc with sirens and then a slow thudding drum and more noir guitars.  This could be used in a Twin Peaks scene.

So this album is an interesting mix of rocking songs with unsettling noises and mellower songs with cool synth effects.  It’s a great find.

[READ: September 24, 2016] The Black Diamond Detective Agency

I read this book a while ago, but I never posted about it.  And that gave me the opportunity to re-read it and, frankly, to enjoy it more.

This is the third book by Eddie Campbell that I have read.  I have found his stories to be complicated and hard to follow on first read.  They really demand a second and even a third read.  Part of it is that he writes complicated and somewhat intentionally convoluted narratives.  And part is because of his drawing style.

I love the cover of this book, how it is set up to look like an Old West placard: ORPHANS! MAYHEM! TERROR!  “In This the most recent offering from The First Second Quality line of Books.  An epic take of a newly industrialized America as revealed in words and pictures by the inimitable Mr Eddie Campbell.  Based upon  the manuscript of a Kinematographic play by Mr C. Gaby Mitchell.”

And its this last part that I missed when I first read it–that it was based on a screenplay.  And this book does resemble a screenplay.  However, I noted that in my other posts about Campbell that I’ve said of this book: I liked and didn’t like this book.  Well, which is it?

The story is incredibly complicated–with double and triple crosses.  And the visuals call for mistaken identity and hidden identity as well as new characters who all look vaguely the same–like pale photographs of turn of the century urban gangsters. But the story is really interesting. So I liked it, although I think I’d like to see it more as a film. (more…)

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elmer SOUNDTRACK: R.E.M.-Collapse into Now (2011).

R.E.M._-_Collapse_into_Now“Discoverer” opens this disc with ringing guitars–not exact R.E.M. replicants, but familiar.  And then Stipe comes in and the refresher course in R.E.M. begins.  Collapse Into Now proved to be R.E.M.’s final album, and while some of their latter albums weren’t great, Collapse seems to revisit everything that was great about R.E.M. and tries to spread it all over this album.

The blueprints for classic R.E.M. songs form the structure of a lot of these songs, with chiming guitars, and Stipe’s recognizable vocals.  “All the Best” sounds like classic R.E.M. (although Stipe’s delivery is more current sounding).  It also fits in well with the faster songs from Accelerate and is only 2:46.  But it’s “Überlin” that really sounds like a classic R.E.M. song.  That notable guitar style with Stipe’s very specific delivery style.  And then come Peter Buck’s harmonies.  It sounds like a good outtake from, say, Automatic for the People.

Stipe tends to do a lot of his sing-speaking on this album (and i think the one thing I don’t like that much about the album is that early R.E.M. seemed to obscure Stipe’s vocals and lyrics a little bit, giving them an air of mystery.  Whereas the newer records are all pretty well laid bare).  So “Oh My Heart” has Stipe almost speaking his poetry.  It’s got mandolin and Buck’s mildly annoying backing vocals (I’ve never thought that about his backing vocals before).

An Eddie Vedder cameo is utterly wasted on “It Happened Today,” you can barely hear him as all he does is backing crooning near the end of the song (and frankly the “hip hip hooray” chorus is lame).  “Every Day is Yours to Win” is a pretty slow song.  It doesn’t amount to much but the melody is really beautiful.  “Mine Smell Like Honey” is a crazy bad title, but it’s a great rocking song, really hearkening back to classic R.E.M.–ringing guitars and Stipe’s vaguely disguised voice.  “Walk it Back” is another slow ballady type song and is really pretty.  While “Alliagtor_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is a rocker with Peaches singing and speaking backing vocals.  “That Someone is You” follows up with another speedy track.

I tend to dislike the really slow R.E.M. songs, so “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” doesn’t do much for me.  The disc ender, “Blue” reminds me of Out of Time‘s “Country Feedback” (I keep waiting for him to say “I need this”).  And the Patti Smith backing vocals recall “E-Bow the Letter.”  “Blue” is meandering and unfocused but Buck’s atmospheric guitars are quite effective, even if the song itself is nothing special.  I don’t quite get the coda of tacking the opening chords of the album on to the end, but whatever.

So basically this album feels like some mostly great outtakes from earlier R.E.M. albums. And there’s really nothing wrong with that (well there would be if R.E.M. was still trying to release a lot of new music).  But since the band was ready to call it quits anyway, it’s a nice recap of their career.  True, I’d rather listen to their earlier records, but you could definitely throw most of these songs into a mix with the earlier ones and they would sound perfect.

[READ: October 25, 2014] Elmer

Elmer has a  chicken on the cover.  It also features this quote at the top of the book: “It’s the Great Filipino Novel, with chickens.”  What to expect from this book?  Well, chickens, obviously, but I never would have guessed what this book contained.  Indeed, this book is pretty mind-blowing (in a good way).

It has a simple premise, which seems comical but is actually taken very seriously: what if chickens became “aware” and learned to speak?  It sounds funny, right, but Alanguilan really explores this issue seriously–if a species of animal that we normally eat suddenly talked to us en masse, how quickly would we deal with this, and what would humanity’s reaction be?  It tackles issues of slavery and racism and pushes them further.  And while the “change” takes place in 1979, it addresses contemporary society with an inquisitive glare.

While there is some humor in it, this is a serious book.

Jake Gallo is a modern chicken (the book is set in 2003–two decades after chickens became “human”).  He has just been rejected for a job, and he pulls the race card (this would be the hilarious reveal that our main character is a chicken).  While he’s feeling sorry for himself, he gets word that his father, Elmer, is dying and he returns home to be with his mother and family.  On the way home he runs into Farmer Ben, the farmer who helped to raise Elmer’s family.  And he is genuinely glad to see Jake.  Jake seems somewhat put off by Farmer Ben and declines his offer of a ride. (more…)

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