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Archive for the ‘Alain de Botton’ Category

SOUNDTRACK:THEM CROOKED VULTURES-Live on Austin City Limits, Feb 13, 2010 (2010).

This set from Them Crooked Vultures is outstanding. I really like the album, but in a live setting these three (technically 4) guys are on fire.  They extend the songs a bit but are always tight as a drum.  Josh Homme is a great front man, even if he’s not that animated.  He shares guitar duties with Alain Johannes who is not on the album, but who gets some great sounds out of his guitar.

Dave Grohl is in his drum-pounding glory back there.  Man, he hits the drums hard.  And he seems to be really enjoying himself .

 And the biggest surprise (sort of, but not really) is John Paul Jones.  He fits in perfectly with the two younguns, and he really shows them how it’s done.  His bass work is phenomenal: fast, furious and accurate to a fault.  He also plays keyboards, an LED pulsing 12-(at least) string bass and a fascinating purple electric slide guitar contraption on “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I”.   Matt Rosoff from cnet explains this guitar here:

It looked like some sort of slide guitar with an electronic screen. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I did a little digging and found out from a March interview in Bass Player that it’s a custom-made axe created by Hugh Manson, who has been Jones’ tech for some time and who owns a renowned guitar shop in England. It’s essentially laid out like a lap slide guitar, modified so Jones can sling it over his shoulder and carry it around on stage, and with two extra bass strings at the bottom.

So what about that rectangular screen? According to a forum post on the EMG pickups site, it’s a MIDI controller that Jones can use to trigger stage lights. I imagine it could also be used to trigger various effects, similar to the modified Korg Kaoss controller that Manson built into a guitar for Muse’s Matt Bellamy.

If you’re already a fan of the band, you really need to check out this live show; they are amazing.  And if you’re not a fan, you will be after this show.  This is how I first heard  them and I was blown away.

You can watch the show online on PBS.

[READ: July 27, 2011] Five Dials Number 20

I didn’t expect to get caught up to Five Dials issues so quickly (has it really been 20 weeks already?).  This is the most recently releases issue!  They aren’t getting published as often as I expected.  Which is fine.  But the funny thing with this issue is that there were several printing errors in the initial run of this issue.  I don’t know if this has happened before, but it seemed so noticeable to me, that I had to wonder how it slipped by everyone.  The most obvious was that the front page had many ƒƒƒƒ characters (these were also evident in the Word Cloud later on).  There’s a word missing from the fiction “the thin cold stillness you got [  ] this part of the country” and there’s a crazy typo in the Fiction story later on. The errors have now been fixed.  But, the letter to the editor (and this has not been fixed) promises us a picture which isn’t there. “Here’s a photo of Doni at the reading – he did a brilliant job.”  I’ll assume they were partying too hard at the Port Eliot Festival to make sure  the issue was launch-ready

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Cable Street and General Interests
There were some serious race riots on Cable Street back in 1936.  Indeed,the head of the British Union of Fascists, Mosley, and his aggressive supporters were turned back by a noisy crowd (Irish women throwing fishy potatoes at them).  The rest of the magazine he says is general Interest, an anachronistic term from the 20th century before all magazines had to specialize in something.  I mentioned in my introduction that there was a photo error here.  Doni Gewirtzman performed a reading at the launch of Five Dials 19.  They couldn’t out the picture there, so they added it here.  Perhaps in Issue 21? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Trans (1982).

By most standards this Neil Young album is a disaster.  It’s so bad that despite updating his entire catalog and releasing all kinds of bootleg concerts, he has never issued this disc on CD in the States.  So, just what’s so awful about this disc?

Well, mostly it’s awful as a Neil Young disc.  Meaning, if you like Neil Young (either flavor: country/folk or hard rock/grunge) this disc is a big fat HUH??  Neil Young has gone all synthy?  And not just synth but computerized synthy–sometimes his voice is utterly like a computer.  It’s a travesty, it’s a shame, it’s an incredible surprise.  Unless you listen to it without thinking of it as a Neil Young record.

But after all that introduction, the biggest surprise is the first song.  You’ve been prepped for this weird album full of computer nonsense and you get the fairly standard (if a little dull) rockabilly type music of “A Little Thing Called Love.”  It’s a pretty standard Neil Young song for the time.  Hmm, maybe the album isn’t that weird.

Well, then comes “Computer Age” and the keyboards kick in.  Interestingly, to me anyhow, this is the year that Rush released Signals.  Signals was the album where Rush fans said Woah, what’s with the keyboards guys.  Similarly, “Computer Age” makes you say, geez, was there a sale on keyboards in Canada?  The keyboards are kind of thin and wheedly, but the real surprise comes in the processed vocals (Rush never went that far).  The vocals are basically the 1980s equivalent of auto-tune (no idea how they did this back then).  Because the song is all about the computer age it kind of makes sense that he would use this weird robotic voice.  Sometimes it’s the only voice, although he also uses the computer voice as a high-pitched harmony over his normal singing voice.

“We R in Control” sounds like it might be a heavy rocker (anemic production notwithstanding) until we get more computer vocals.  Again, conceptually it works (its all about the dominance of CCTV), but it is pretty weird as a Neil Young song.

And then comes yet another shock, “Transformer Man.”  Yes, THAT “Transformer Man,” except not.  This original version of the song is sung entirely in a processed super high pitched computer voice that is almost hard to understand).  The only “normal’ part of the song is the occasional chorus and the “do do do dos.”  It sounds like a weird cover.  Sarah, who loves Neil Young, practically ran out of the room when she heard this version.

“Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)” continues in that same vein.  Musically it’s a bit more experimental (and the computer vocals are in a much lower register).  Although I think it’s probably the least interesting of these songs.

Just to confuse the listener further, “Hold On to Your Love” is a conventional poppy song–no computer anything (aside from occasional keyboard notes).  Then comes the 8 minute “Sample and Hold” the most computerized song of the bunch and one of the weirder, cooler songs on the disc.  It really feels like a complete song–all vocodered out with multiple layers of vocals, not thin and lacking substance like some of the tracks.  It opens with personal stats (hair: blonde, eyes: blue) and proceeds through a litany of repeated “new design, new design” motifs.

This is followed by a remake of “Mr Soul” previously only on Decade.  This is a new vocodered-harmonies version of the song.

The biggest failure of the disc to me is “Like an Inca” it’s nine minutes of virtually the same guitar riff.  The chorus is pretty wonderful, but it’s a very minor part of the song itself.  It is fairly traditional Neil song, I just wish it were much shorter.

So, this travesty of a disc is actually pretty interesting and, for me, pretty enjoyable.  Most of these synthy songs sound kind of weak but I think that has more to do with the production of the time. I’d love to hear newly recorded versions of these songs (with or without the vocoder) to see what he could do with a great production team behind him.

Trans is not a Neil Young disc in any conventional sense, but as an experiment, as a document of early 80s synth music, it not only holds up, it actually pushes a lot of envelopes.   I’m not saying he was trying to out Kraftwerk Kraftwerk or anything like that, but for a folk/rock singer to take chances like this was pretty admirable.  Shame everybody hated it.

[READ: July 5, 2011] Five Dials 19

Five Dials 19 is the Parenting Issue.  But rather than offering parenting advice, the writers simply talk about what it’s like to be a parent, or to have a parent.  It was one of the most enjoyable Five Dials issues I have read so far.

CRAIG TAYLOR & DIEDRE DOLAN-On Foreign Bureuas and Parenting Issues
I enjoyed Taylor’s introduction, in which he explains that he is not very useful for a parenting issue   That most of the duties will be taken on by Diedre Dolan in NYC.  They are currently in her house working while her daughter plays in the next room.  His ending comment was hilarious:

Also, as is traditional at most newsweeklies, someone just put a plastic tiara on my head and then ran away laughing at me.

I resist Parenting magazines, from Parents to Parenting to Fretful Mother, they all offer some sound advice but only after they offer heaps and heaps of guilt and impossible standards.  So I was delighted to see that Five Dials would take an approach to parenting that I fully approve of.  Dolan writes:

Nobody knows what works. Most people just make some choices and defend them for the next 18 to 50 years – claiming nurture (good manners) or nature (crippling shyness) when it suits them best.

And indeed, the magazine made me feel a lot better about my skills (or lack) as a parent. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Wasting Light (2011).

The Foo Fighters are huge.  Duh.  But when I think of that, it amazes me that a) the Foo Fighters are the band from “the drummer from Nirvana” and that b) while Dave Grohl knows his way around a melody, he is a metal dude at heart, and some of his most popular songs are really heavy.  He can scream with the best of them.

I’ve enjoyed the Foos for many years, but I didn’t listen to their previous discs all that much (or at least I didn’t listen to the mellow disc from In Your Honor and I don’t remember anything off of Echoes…), but this new one is fantastic.  There’s not a dull song on the disc, and Grohl has hit new heights of catchiness and singalong-ness. 

I also like how noisy the disc is.  It opens with some great discord before turning in a majorly heavy rifftastic scream fest in “Bridge Burning.”  Despite the screaming and noise of the opening, the chorus is super catchy.  “Rope” was said to be inspired by Rush.  Knowing that, I can hear a lot of little Rush-isms in the track: The main riff is very Rush-like, there’s a cymbal tapping that reminds me of Neil Peart in the verses, as well as a little drum solo in the middle (with a cowbell!) and the solo is very Alex Lifeson. (It also feels longer than 4 minutes).

“Dear Rosemary” features Bob Mould on backing vocals (but you can hardly tell it’s him).  It’s got a great chorus as well.  “White Limo” is a wonderful punk song, completely incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Meanwhile “Arlandria” (whatever that means) is another totally catchy track (I find myself singing it a lot).

“These Days” should be the next single: catchy and easy on the ears.  I wonder why it hasn’t been released yet.  “Back and Forth” has another great noisy riff.  One thing that I like a lot about the Foos is that they put different things in the same song:  so “A Matter of Time” has a very simple verse and a catchy chorus, but there’s some really buzzing heavy guitars too.  “Miss the Misery” has a kind of sleazy feel which I think is new for the Foos.  And “I Should Have Known” is a kind of angry ballad (I’d like to see Richard Thompson cover it). 

The final track, “Walk” is a fast rocker that sums up the album really well.  Bravo Dave Grohl.  I can’t get enough of this disc, regardless of how popular it is.

[READ: July 2, 2011] Five Dials Number 15

After the brevity of Number 14, Five Dials Number 15 comes back to a fuller size.  It’s strange to me that the issue is titled The November Issue, in part because they never tell us when the issues were published, but even more because this is actually the Québec Issue.  Most of the authors are Quécbecers and the issue release party was in Québec as well.

I’d like to point out that while I was looking something up about this issue (more later) I discovered the Five Dials News Page.  There are currently 43 pages worth of posts.  But most of them are short.  If there are any especially noteworthy ones, I’ll add them to reviews of future issues, but for the most part so far they’re just announcements of how well received their books are (I’ve already made notes to read two of them).  They also give release dates for the issues, which is how I have been able to retroactively attach dates to some of them.

There are many Québecois writers included in this issue (thoughtfully translated into English), as well as some standard features by Alain De Botton and frequent contributors David Shields and Raymond Chandler.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Our Québec Issue, and Young Novelists
Taylor’s introduction discusses many Canadian’s attitudes about Québec and their (seemingly perennial) vote concerning separation from the country (“so, let them go”).

creepy beard

The confusing thing here is that it appears that Taylor is Canadian (or at least lived there in 1995/6).   But surely he is British, no?

There’s lots of information about Québec in here but no grand statement (except that Celine Dion’s husband’s beard is still creepy).

He also introduces a new section called “Our Town” which is all about London.  The final section of the note says that

we are releasing our second Five Dials list of Top Ten Novelists Under Ten (or ‘Ten Under Ten’,or ‘Ten-Ten’, or as some of the writers themselves call the list: ‘Tintin.’) As you know, many of the writers we chose for our first Ten Under Ten list went on to things such as high school.

This is how I discovered the Five Dials News page, because there certainly was no Ten Under Ten section in a previous issue of the magazine.  Of course, nor is there any mention in the news that I have seen.  So I can’t decide if the whole thing is just a big joke or what.  I assume it is (but I’d hate to not give credit to the waaaay precocious kids at the end of the issue). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GIRL TALK-All Day (2010).

Girl Talk is the product of Gregg Gillis.  Gillis doesn’t play any instruments.  All he does is mash-up different songs into a killer DJ mix.  There is absolutely nothing legal about what he does (in terms of copyright), and for that reason alone, I love it.  But beyond that,  he does a great job of mashing two (and more) songs together.

Mostly this is a fun way to play “spot the song” [Hey: “In Your Arms,” Hey “War Pigs”].  And when you give up you can check out the samples list (which has 37 entries under the name D alone). [Hey, Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”]

I knew a lot of the songs that he sampled, but he also put in a lot of rap which I didn’t know.  The rap works well over the original music (what sampling would be like for real if it was legal).  [Hey, Portishead!]

Mostly you get a minute or maybe a little more of each song, [Radiohead’s “Creep”] sometimes the clips are sped up or slowed down to merge perfectly with the other.  And it’s a whole lot of fun.  [The Toadies!] As someone described it, it’s like listening to a whole bunch of radio stations at once [“Cecelia”].  And, if you don’t like the song that’s on [two seconds of the Grateful Dead?], just wait a couple seconds. [INXS].

Gillis doesn’t (really) sell his music.  Indeed, you can download all of All Day for free fromIllegal Art.  [Hey, the middle of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”].

I’m not sure if it’s art, per se, but it’s clearly a lot of work, and it takes a lot of skill to make it so seamless [White Zombie!].  It probably works very well at a party too.

[READ: June 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 13

Five Dials 13 is more or less the music issue.  It is specifically dedicated to festivals and their overindulgence of everything.  And so it is long (63 pages), it is full of rather diverse points of view, it even has clouds!  Thankfully it’s not full of overflowing portapotties.  It also has lots of artwork from Raymond Pettibon, which is pretty fantastic in and of itself.

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: On Festivals and George Thoroughgood
The letter opens with some comments on Festivals–two paragraphs of complainants about festivals with a final admission that the interlocuter is going to Glastonbury.  The end of the letter is devoted to a story from George Thoroughgood.  Usually I agree with the Five Dials‘ tastes without question, but I have a serious complaint about their love of Thoroughgood, about whom it would be charitable to say that he has written one song seventy-five times.  And I have absolute incredulity at this quote from George:

The promoters had gone to another festival where we played on Thursday before Roskilde, and they were so knocked out by the power of the performance they called me the next day and asked if we would mind if they changed our show time to close the festival.

Are you seriously telling me that they would change the headlining act a weekend before the festival?  How pissed would you be if your headliner was bumped for 90 minutes of ‘Bad to the Bone’?  Good grief. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Easy Wonderful (2010).

This Guster album is confusing.  It’s rather short (compared to their other discs).  Combined with the (kind of flimsy) cardboard packaging, it feels almost like an EP.  It also seems to be kind of religious (although I don’t think it is)–like a themed EP.  And yet it isn’t off-putting or anything (a few mentions of Jesus is all, although that’s a lot more than usual).

But, like most of Guster’s releases, it’s super catchy kind of alternative jangly pop.  After one or two listens the songs are instantly recognizable.  There isn’t a bad song in the bunch.  However, they’re also mildly underwhelming compared to their previous releases.  The songs feel a bit more subtle, but really it seems like they might be just a little too smooth.  The dynamics aren’t quite as exciting as they have been.

Having said all that, the disc is still pretty great and I find myself humming a lot of these songs all day long.

[READ: June 18, 2011] Five Dials Number 12

Five Dials Number 12 has a theme explicitly stated on the cover.  The premise of the theme is that the Conservative Party of Britain had been claiming (in their TV ads and billboards) that Britain was broken.  This idea was relentlessly pushed across Britain.  And Five Dials wondered if people thought that that was true in general.  So they asked 42 citizens (no idea what kind of random sample it may have been, realistically) and they recorded the results.

The rest of the issue has some of the standard Five Dials material we’ve come to expect: essays and fiction, advice and lists.  The theme gives an interesting tone to the proceedings.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Broken Britain and Nick Dewar
Taylor addresses much of what is said above.  David Cameron (I still can’t get used to him being Prime Minister, it’s still Gordon Brown in my head–I guess Cameron hasn’t done much yet) is the man who keeps trying to “mend our broken society.”  Even though (and statistics are similar in the U.S.):

They found that violent crime had almost halved since 1995, while crime generally fell by an extraordinary 45%. The figures for teenage pregnancies – a favourite of those talking about social decay – remain constant since Labour came to power in 1997; so too do those for teenage abortions.

The rest of the letter is devoted to the passing of Nick Dewar.  Dewar drew the illustrations for Five Dials Number One.  I really liked Dewar’s style, and his absurdist sensibilities.  Taylor says that Dewar’s color work was even better.  And I think he’s right. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE RESIDENTS-Meet the Residents plus Santa Dog EP (1973/1972).

Like a proto- Negativland meets Primus, The Residents took the world by storm in 1973.  Their debut album (pictured here) bore the unmistakable tagline: The First Album by North Louisiana’s Phenomenal Pop Combo.  And so it is.

Read more about the album in the Jon Savage essay below.

“Boots” is a sampled and remashed version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”  “Gylum Bardot” sounds like a Primus demo.  “Breath and Length” is noise and noise and effects and a soothing female vocal singing the title.   “Consuelo’s Departure” is a noisy soundtrack to nothing and “Smelly Tongues” sounds like a hammered dulcimer with a menacing bassline behind it until the vocals come in: “Smelly tongues looked just as they felt”.   And all 6 of these songs last less than ten minutes total.

“Rest Aria” changes tempo of things.  It’s five minutes long.  It starts as a simple piano track (slightly out of tune) but it slowly adds crazy horns and what sounds like children’s instruments.  The other longish song, “Spotted Pinto Beans” comes with a kind of faux chorus (female and then male) singing a kind of call and response which is overtaken by noise.

The one-minute “Skratz” comes between these two longer songs and is mostly  mumbling spoken vocal.  “Infant Tango” sounds like a normal song.  It opens with a funky wah wahed guitar.  Of course, the skronking horns and mumbled bass vocals tell you this is not going to be a hit.  It runs 6 minutes long with a strange little “guitar solo” in the middle.

“Seasoned Greetings” (with it’s weird holiday wishes at the end) segues into the 9 minute “N-Er-Gee (Crisis Blues”).  “N-Er-Gee” is a piano “melody” which is really someone banging the same notes very hard on the piano.  The voice on both tracks sounds like the aural equivalent of blackface until the sample (a very long sample that apparently voided placement on some releases) of “Nobody But You” morphs into a manipulated sampling of the word “boogaloo” and eventually becomes a dissonant chant of the title.

The appended Santa Dog is a bit more song-like.  Totally weird songs yes, but there’s actual melodies and lyrics.  Like on “Fire”: “Santa dog’s a Jesus fetus.”  “Aircraft Damage” is mostly a bunch of people reciting bizarre lyrics over each other.  The whole EP was about 12 minutes.  It’s weird but more palatable than the LP.

Despite how much this album foreshadowed loony alternative bands in the future, there is a clear predecessor in Trout Mask Replica.  Although Captain Beefheart followed a (relatively) more conventional song structure, you can hear elements of the Beefheart within.  This album is also notable for being made in the early 70s when the technology to do this easily was very far away.  You could whip this album up in a few minutes now, but back then with splice and paste, it would take ages.

It did not sell as well as the similarly titled Meet the Beatles.

[READ: June 16, 2011] Five Dials Number 11

Five Dials Number 10 was a special issue, but Number 11 goes back to the format we know.  It sort of has a theme about lists.   It contains half a dozen short essays and one long short story by Paul Murray (author of Skippy Dies).  This issue is also something of a surprise as it weighs in at a fairly small 16 pages (sometimes smaller is perfectly fine).  The issue also raised a couple of totally weird coincidences which I will point out as they come up.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Wilton’s and Lists
Number 10 was designed to be ready for an evening at Wilton’s Music Hall on February 26th.  But the real theme of the issue is lists.  In part this is inspired by the Raymond Chandler entry, it’s also inspired because Taylor keeps lists around the office.  At the end of the letter he provides a list of all of the notes he’d left to himself in the office.  Some are about the issue (Paul Murray manuscript), other are seemingly more random (USA 5 Canada 3, men’s Olympic ice hockey result;  Canada 7-Russia 3, men’s Olympic ice hockey result; ‘Range Life’–Pavement).  And the one that is most coincidental to me–(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg–Jacques Demy).  This is coincidental because on the day that I read this, my friend Lar wrote a post about this very movie, which was completely unknown to me. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TEENAGE FANCLUB-Shadows (2010).

Back in the 90s, Teenage Fanclub released a few noisy, feedbacky records that were quintessential 90s alt rock.

Since then they have mellowed considerably, and this album is one of their most mellow to date. Usually for me this kind of mellowing is a sign that I’m done with a band; however, Teenage Fanclub’s songwriting gets better with every disc.  And these folky tracks are all fantastic.

What’s neat about the arrangement of the album is that each of the three members of the band writes four songs.  They are collated so that you cycle through each singer before repeating. You get maximum diversity–and it’s easy to tell which songwriter is your favorite.

The opening two songs, “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything” and “Baby Lee” are two wonderful upbeat pop confections.  They sound very different and yet both are infused with wonderful pop chops.

It seems that Blake is my favorite songwriter on this disc. He did “Baby Lee”, “Dark Clouds” (a pretty piano based number) and by far the prettiest song on the disc “When I Still Have Thee.”  It’s an amazingly catchy folk song that sounds timeless (and even has the great couplet: “The Rolling Stones wrote a song for me/It’s a minor song in a major key.”

That’s not to dismiss the other songwriters at all.  In fact, hearing their different takes on pop music is really pretty amazing.  It’s a shame that it takes them so long to put albums out (about 5 years these days).

[READ: June 10, 2011] Five Dials Number 9

Five Dials Number 8, The Paris Issue, was pretty big (45 pages), but it had a lot of pictures.  Five Dials Number 9 is also pretty big (41 pages) and it’s (almost) all text.  For this is the Fiction Issue, and there are a lot of short stories in here.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On ‘Summer Reading’ and Fiction Issues.
Since most of what I talk about in the introduction to these posts is covered in Taylor’s Letter from the Editor, I figured I’d switch formats and start talking about his letter right away.  In this letter, Taylor talks about the serious pitfalls of  ‘Summer Reading’: We pledge to read mammoth books over the summer, but really we never finish War and Peace over the summer, do we? (except those of us who finished Infinite Summer, am I right?).  And so, this Fiction Issue was released in December (finally, a date is given to a Five Dials!).  Taylor briefly talks about all of the authors who contributed (including a pat on the back to Five Dials for securing the rights to a Philip Roth contribution in its first year of publication).  He also talks about the essay from David Shields that is decidedly anti-fiction.   And the final note is that Taylor’s own father has a piece in this issue (nepotism is alive and well!) (more…)

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