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Archive for the ‘R. Crumb’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (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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SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH on World Cafe, August 21, 2006 (2006).

Travelling back even further on the NPR timeline, Sonic Youth appeared on World Cafe in 2006 to promote Rather Ripped.

This is a brief session (only three songs) but as with the interview with Thurston Moore, David Dye does another great interviewing the band here.  Although it must be said that saying the band is once again a four piece (when clearly there are five people in the picture and in the studio and when he later says two guitars, two basses and drums–which I also think is incorrect, as I’m pretty sure Kim switched to guitars at this point, although I don’t know if she did during this set) is not a great way to start the interview.

Facts aside, the interview is informative and interesting and provides a glimpse into the band’s psyche all these years into their career.

The set is also good (although Thurston’s voice sounds a little off on the opener “Incinerate”).  The surprising thing about the set is that even with the five of them, the feeling is one of restraint. True, the songs on Rather Ripped are not as noisy as previous records, but this feels like they are trying not to wake anybody up the NPR folks.  It’s a weird feeling for a Sonic Youth set, but the plus side to it is that you can really hear everything clearly.

The other two songs are sung by Kim: “Jams Run Free” and “What a Waste” (why do they never promote any of Lee’s songs??).  And there’s the very amusing comment that the first time they played “What a Waste” Thurston and Kim’s daughter said it sounded like the theme from Friends.  Ha!

[READ: April 15, 2011] The Best American Comics 2006

I just recently learned about this series from The Best American line of books.  I had known about the Best American Short Stories and Essays and even Non-Required Reading (which I have not yet read).  But once I found out about the best comics, I knew I had to check it out.

The first issue came out in 2006.  The series editor is Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Guest Editor for this volume was Harvey Pekar.  Each of them has an introductory essay in the book.  To me the amazing thing about Pekar”s essay is how aggressively defensive he sounds (a sort of, “you may not like this one, but try this one” attitude) about these comics and comics in general.  I don’t know much about Pekar’s work.  I know he’s a kind of underground icon, but I seem to have missed him.  My impression of him is that this sort of antagonistic/defensive attitude seems to go along quite well with his comics, so I guess that makes sense, but I didn’t find it very welcoming.

But that’s okay, because I really enjoyed the comics.  And quite a few were by artists that I had never read before, which is even better! (more…)

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cover_newyorker_190SOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Tim (1985).

timMany people consider this to be the best Replacements album.  It features one of their best songs “Bastards of Young” (which has one of the best anti-videos ever created (available here)).

For me, I think the second side (how quaint) is stronger than the first.  And, it’s not quite as diverse stylistically as Let It Be.  I think there’s something to do with the production that makes it a bit more polished-sounding.  And yet, despite all of this seeming Tim-bashing, it is still a fantastic record.

“Kiss Me on the Bus,” continues Westerberg’s streak of catchy poppy indie rock.  “Left of the Dial” is an awesome tribute to college radio stations.  And “Little Mascara” is another great, simple rocker.

Tim also contains a few ballads, “Here Comes a Regular” is another great TomWaitsian bar song. And “Waitress in the Sky” is a sweetly depressing song.

All signs indicate that The Replacements matured on this record (which makes this one seem less teenagery than Let It Be).  And after recording this, they kicked out Bob Stinson, founding member and brother of the bassist,  for being too drunk and reckless for the band (for THIS band!).  In fact, their next album will be even more “mature” (but I like that one more).

But Tim stands as one of the 80’s classic indie rock albums.

[READ: June 8, 2009] “The Book of Genesis”

As a general rule, I don’t like R. Crumb’s drawing style.  He’s a little too rough, a little too crass for my tastes.  This is no to say that I don’t appreciate his iconic images and the fact that his style is so recognizable. I just don’t happen truckinto like it all that much.  (Although I think his original characters are all pretty cool–the Keep On Truckin’ guy, of course).

Having said this, I appreciated his somewhat toned-down style in this excerpt.  Crumb decided to do a faithful, respectful illustration of the Bible (or at least the Book of Genesis).  And so he did.  The illustrations are really striking and, as is crumb’s way, he doesn’t hold back. (more…)

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