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Archive for the ‘Anarchy’ Category

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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 emikoSOUNDTRACK: DIANE CLUCK-Tiny Desk Concert #343 (March 17, 2014).

cluckI know of Diane Cluck only from one song that was played on an NPR show.  I really liked it (it’s called “Sara” and she plays it third here). Cluck has an unusual yet very compelling voice and a guitar style that is simple yet also unusual.

“Trophies” has a kind of Joni Mitchell feel to it–the whole thing feels kind of sixties, although not in the way she sings or plays, there’s just something about it that skews sixties–perhaps its the unusual vocal melodies in the verses?

For “Grandma Say,” Cluck switches to the piano and plays a bouncey but dark song with a fantastic vocal delivery and rather funny (but meaningful) lines.  For “Sara,” Diane puts some bells on her boots.  And when asked where she got them she sheepishly admits the truth.  “Sara” sounds as good live as it did on record–Cluck’s voice is just as compelling in this setting.

I really enjoyed this brief set.  And I was really struck by Cluck’s appearance.  She is quiet tall and extremely thin, and she seems even more stretched out by her tall hair and long neck.  And yet she seems to be putting no effort into anything that she’s doing.  She makes for as mysterious a figure as you might expect from these songs.   I was as captivated by watching her as I was listening to her.

[READ: June 26, 2014] Emiko Superstar

As part of this recent influx of graphic novels, I also scored Emiko Superstar.  This title looked familiar from the Minx sampler that I have, so I was excited to read it.

The story is by Mariko Tamaki and is about a young Japanese-American girl named Emily.  We meet her family right away–her father is a big burly American guy and her mom is a demure Japanese woman.  She is named for her grandmother Emiko, who was a vivacious and fun dancer (although Emily’s mother now frowns on dancing and public fun).  As might be expected, Emily is a quiet, nerdy girl, hanging around with the nerdiest kids in school.

She doesn’t really mind being a nerd until before one summer break, when all the other nerds plan to go to a convention that will help them land great jobs.  Emily doesn’t know when nerd meant being a corporate sellout, and she refuses to go.  Rather, she decides to stay around town and get a crummy job at a coffee shop.  But after one regrettable (or not) incident, she realizes she may be unemployed for the rest of the summer.

Her mother will have none of that, and finds her a job babysitting most days during the summer.   The family she babysits for seem pretty perfect.  The husband is an athletic happy, loud guy who is proud of his life, his wife, his kid and his house.  The wife is much quieter and seems a bit embarrassed by her husband, but otherwise seems reasonably content with her son and her life.  And there’s the baby, who is drooly but pretty easy to deal with.

One day at the mall, Emily sees a wild-looking girl dancing around, making a racket and advertizing a place called The Factory, where the freaks all go.  Before being dragged away by security, she throws flyers out into the crowd and Emily grabs one.  And Emily feels an electric shock in her body at the thought of going to this place. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_02_10_14Hanuka.inddSOUNDTRACK: AGES AND AGES-“Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” (2014).

agesagesI’ve enjoyed this song in a couple of formats so far–studio version and Tiny Desk version.  Now here’s another one. Here’s how it was set up according to front man Tim Perry:

“We surrounded ourselves with friends, family (my mom is one of the violinists), and all of our favorite musicians from all of our favorite Portland bands,” says Perry. “We reached out to people who’d inspired us over the years: other artists, activists, organizers. We reached out to Northwest Children’s Choir. We reached out to PHAME, a choir of adults with disabilities. We reached out to a lot of other people we didn’t know but wish we did. It was all over and done in four short hours. And it was one of the best days of my life.”

If the song was inspirational before, it’s crazy emotion-inducing now.

[READ: June 10, 2014] “Moonlit Landscape with Bridge”

This title is surprisingly calm and pretty for what the story is really about.  The previous story of hers that I read was set in a kind of dystopian land.  And this one is set in an unnamed country after a life-altering storm.  Either she is writing a post apocalyptic type of novel, or she is exploring very dark themes indeed.

As this story opens we see the Minister of the Interior packing his things.  Slowly it is revealed that the country has been decimated.  He thinks to himself that he was prepared for crippling winds, but not for the water that came with the winds.  Consequently, most of the country is apparently underwater (the details of the storm and the details of the aftermath are incredibly vague).

There is no more Ministry, so his title is superfluous, but because of his title he is given an opportunity to flee the country in a government jet (all other airplanes have been grounded).  On his way to the airport, he sees people struggling, crying, looking for… anything.  They crowd his car and he longs to help them.  His driver, Ari, tells him to ignore them, there’s nothing that he can do for all of them.  But the Minister insists that they pull over so he can dole out the bottles of water he has in the trunk. (more…)

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momentSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzNick Buzz is a side project of Rheostatics singer/lead guitarist Martin Tielli.  This album was reissued in 2002, when I bought it  But it came out in 1996, right around the time of the concerts I’ve been posting about.  Martin says that this album is pure pop, and that he is genuinely surprised that people don’t see this.  Of course, when your album has screeching monkeys, cars honking and circus music, pop is not the first thing that comes to mind.  There are certainly pretty songs on here, but it is an album that resists easy entrance.  There are short manic pieces, slow, languorous, almost lounge music pieces, and an improved cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then there’s the instrumentation: piano, violin, guitar, voice (no drums, although there is percussion on some tracks) and other weird sound effects.

“Step Inside” opens the disc.  It seems like a normal, mellow song (with slightly falsettoed vocals).  But 34 seconds in the circus music starts—a deviant and unsettling circus that pushes its way into the song briefly then vacating and allowing the pretty melody to return.  It’s like a mild form of Mr Bungle (with more actual circus).  It’s unsettling at first but then strangely catchy after a few listens.  There is fanfare as the song ends, interrupted by the sound of a tape speeding up (or going backwards) until song two bursts in.

“That’s What You et for having Fun” is less than three minutes and while weird, it is certainly accessible and funny.  The guitar sounds like he is slapping the strings rather than strumming them.  The refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear” gives a sense of the absurdity (especially when the President of Canada (sic) says he has one too).  “Just Because” mellows things out a lot—simple guitar with a kind of lullaby feel (it’s a bout wishing on stars).  It’s so slow after the craziness of the first two songs.  After  3 minutes of a lounge type song, it ends with a distant radio sound of an even more loungey song which melds into the live version of “River.”

The mellow “River” is followed by a raucous bass clarinet solo and wild guitar solo that is interrupted by the long (nearly 6 minutes) “Sane, So Sane.”  This is the most conventional song on the record—a simple piano melody with repeated lyrics (conventional aside from the weird distant music in the background of course).  Although it does gone on a bit long.  “A Hymn to the Situation” is an eerie two-minute wobbly song.

“Fornica Tango” is indeed a tango presumably sung in Italian. This song features a crying baby, an interesting sounding “Italian” chorus and the screeching monkey at the end.  “Love Streams” is a pretty, slow ballad.  “Aliens Break a Heart” is another pretty song.  Although this is the song that ends with traffic sounds.  “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick the Buzz” has a kind of Kurt Weill atmosphere to it with spoken words and falsettos.

It took me several listens before I could really find purchase with these songs.  I find that I really enjoy most of them now–some of those slow ones are a little too meandering for my liking.  But it seems like a fun outlet for Tielli’s songcraft.

[READ: October & November 2013] A Moment in the Sun

I read this book last year…finished it just before Thanksgiving, in fact (I was proud of my pacing).  But it was so huge that I didn’t want to write about it until I had a good amount of time.  And now here it is four months later and I probably have forgotten more details than I should have and the post will be nowhere near as in depth as I was saving time for in the first place.  Bah.

When people see this book, they say, “That’s a big book.”  And it is a big book.  It’s 955 pages (and they are thick pages, so the book itself is nearly three inches thick–see the bottom of this post for an “actual size” photo); it’s got three “books” and dozens of characters whose stories we read about in full.  It is about the United States, racism, The Gold Rush, the assassination of a President, the Spanish American War, a World’s Fair and even the exploration of moving pictures.  This is a fairly comprehensive look at the Unites States from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  And, man was it good.

John Sayles is known more for his movies than his books (18 films directed, nearly as many different ones written and only 4 novels), but the cinematic quality that is clearly in his blood comes through in this book as well. (more…)

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youdont SOUNDTRACK: INSANE CLOWN POSSE-“Bang! Pow! Boom!” (2009).

icopSince I have posted about Phish already, it seemed like time to listen to an ICP song.  I admit that when their first album came out, they seemed goofy enough to check out their album.  I love a cartoony band that is going to “ruin America.”  But I had heard that their music was just too awful to enjoy ironically, so I never bothered with them (if I had been a few years younger, I probably would have embraced them wholly).  In the book below, Rabin says that their newer stuff is not only a ton better than their early stuff (which he admits is raw and pretty terrible) he says that it is quite poppy.

So I listened to a few of the songs that he mentions (and there are some funny lines), but I decided to focus on this one which Rabin describes as “a groovy throwback number that finds ecstasy in a bleak moral reckoning…finding the joy in the macabre and the celebration in the gothic.  Also, it’s catchy as fuck.”

That’s a highfalutin way of saying that they sing about blowing shit up.  Lyrically the song seems to be about ICP talking to their fans (in the harshest terms possible, which I guess is affection: “Cuz you’re the evilest pedophiles, rapists and abusers/All together we’ve got fifty thousand of you losers”).  It’s an insider tract and if you don’t like it or get it, well, you’re not supposed to.

But aside from the lyrics about rapists and all the cursing, this song could easily be a big hit.  It is, yes, catchy as fuck.

But I won’t be listening to more from them.

[READ: January 2, 2013] You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me

Every year my brother-in-law gets me cool and unusual books, most of which I’ve never heard of.  This year, he got me this book which I’d never heard of.  I was confused by the title (which is confusing).  The author’s name sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure—until I saw the A.V. Club connection.  So, at first I thought this was going to be about going to interesting shows or basically having something to do with the A.V. Club.  But, as the subtitle says, this book is exclusively about Rabin’s travels following Phish for a summer and also going to some ICP Gatherings of the Juggalos.

The theme of the book is how most people have never heard the music of either band, but they have formed opinions not only of the bands, but their followers.  Rabin points out plenty of exceptions to the stereotypes, but you won’t be leaving this book thinking much more of the preexisting stereotypes than you already do.  Sure, some Phish heads are doctors, and some Juggalos are employable, but the majority are (despite his best efforts) what you think they are.  But one of the main messages that he seems to promote in the book is that each of these groups have created tribes around them.  And those who aren’t part of the tribe may scoff, but they secretly wish they could be having as much fun as the members of the tribes.  And that may in fact be true.

I’ve enjoyed Phish’s music for years, although I’ve never seen them live.  And as for ICP, I didn’t even realize they were still around—although that Workaholics episode should have clued me in.  Naturally these two bands could not be more polar opposite in terms of music and fanbase (although Rabin did encounter some crossover). So he sets out to show how he can enjoy both groups. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_09_16_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: SAM PHILLIPS-Tiny Desk Concert #3 (June 25, 2008). 

Isamt took a month and a half to get the second Tiny Desk player in, but it took only 20 days to get Sam Phillips to come in after Vic Chesnutt.  Sam Phillips plays four songs (in what is sauna-like conditions apparently) all from her then new album Don’t Do Anything.

Phillips has had a couple of incarnations as a performer (first as “Leslie Phillips” Christian singer).  This incarnation sees her as a kind of folky troubadour with dramatic flair.  She played a lot of the music on the Gilmore Girls (she does the la las), so of course I’m a fan.

Sam is a funny performer, introducing herself (and then asking is she is allowed to talk) and later playing Bob Boilen’s cow in the can (and even questioning the way to say This is NPR).  She is accompanied by Erik Gorfain, who plays a Stroh violin which you can sort of see in this picture (there’s a better one below) and which Phillips suggests is plenty loud enough thank you.

Her first song, “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us” opens with big strumming guitars and a bouncy melody.  It’s a great song that is a lot of fun–that violin brings great counterpoint.  “No Explanations” is a bit more rocking (with Gorfain on electric guitar).  It has a catchy chorus.  “Signal” returns to that kind of bouncy tin pan alley style which she does very well.  “Little Plastic Life” ends the set with… a screw up, which she handles wonderfully, and which makes the song seem all the better when she plays it again.

I really enjoyed this Tiny Desk and am going to have to listen to more of her work.

Check out what a Stroh violin looks like:

stroh

[READ: September 25, 2013] “By Fire”

Here’s another story about unemployment.  I had intended to post this back in September, so when I originally typed that this story is more dramatic than “yesterday’s,” I meant Lisa Moore’s story from September which was also about unemployment.

I wasn’t sure where this story took place (it was originally written in French).  The story is about Mohammed.  He graduated from University a few years ago with a degree in history.  It has been useless thus far.  When his father dies, and he is once again incapable of getting a teaching job, he gives up and burns all of his paperwork.

Then he sets out with his father’s fruit cart, determined to make some money selling fruit so he can move out of his house and in with his girlfriend.

There is ample back story in this piece.  We learn about Mohammed’s family—his mother has crippling diabetes, his brothers work but not very hard (one is downright lazy).  And we learn that the person who Mohammed’s father bought his fruit from was a crook who demands more and more money from Mohammed.

But the bulk of the story shows the daily life of Mohammed.  He is routinely harassed by the police for not having the proper paperwork or for being in the wrong place or just for being.  They start with simple harassment, but soon they turn to beatings.  Mohammed refuses to bribe anyone, even when the police give him the opportunity to turn in his former students. (more…)

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McSweeney’s #13 (2006)

13SOUNDTRACKPARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).

partslaborParts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers.  This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated.  Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge.  The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals.  By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects).  It’s an aggressive opening for sure.  Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.

“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes).  It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals.  The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song  very cool.

“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up.  “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars.  “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what  they wanted anyhow?).  The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise).  The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.

The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos.   Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks.  If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy.  It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13

I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time.  Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it.  It only took eight years.  For this is the fabled comics issue.  Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover.  Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.”  And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything.  On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares.  It’s quite cool.

So, yes, this issue is all about comics.  There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists.  But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods.  It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me!  Angst fills these pages.  Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor.  A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.

There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby.  But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes.  There’s also two introductions.  One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do).  And the other by Ware.  Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)

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