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Archive for the ‘Aleksandar Hemon’ Category

922 SOUNDTRACK: CORINNE BAILEY RAE-Tiny Desk Concert #565 (September 16, 2016).

cbrI don’t really know Corinne Bailey Rae.  Her name sounds familiar, but I don’t think she’s who I thought she was.  Evidently she won a Grammy a few years ago, but that doesn’t really help me.

For this Tiny Desk, she sings three songs.  She plays an acoustic guitar with a folky flair.  The rest of her group consists of an electric guitar, a keyboard and a box drum (I love those).

Rae’s voice is delightful and her backing band gives the songs a 70s soft rock feel.  It’s an interesting mix of sounds.

“Paris Nights / New York Mornings” is a catchy song based around her guitar.  It’s an upbeat song with some cool dramatic slow downs.  It sounds incredibly 1970s.

She says that “Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart” is about falling in love with a person again, a second time.  And how you have to rebuild trust. It’s a slow ballad, although it builds into a kind of R&B song.  The interesting thing about Rae is that she always has a smile on her face.  She seems so happy during every song even when she sings, “I won’t break your heart like you broke mine.”

“The Skies Will Break” is about a point in your life when you think things are hopeless.  But you should just know that things will change.  It has a 70s keyboard vibe.  I really like the chord progressions of the chorus.  The fact that it’s her acoustic guitar that plays the loud chords of the chorus is pretty cool.

It has been about six years since Rae made an album, and it’s nice to have her back (even if I didn’t know she was gone).

[READ: March 8, 2016] “The Noble Truths of Suffering”

The story is about an American abroad.  He says he was speaking Bosnian and was in the American Ambassador’s house.  The house was ugly, built by a Bosnian tycoon.  But he decided that he needed more space, so he rented it out.

There’s a funny moment were the narrator sees the cultural attaché whose name is Jonah.  He says he mistakenly called him Johnny once and has been playing up that joke “Johnnyboy!” ever since.

This seems like a political story until we realize that the narrator is there to meet Dick Macalister, the author and Pulitzer Prize winner.  The narrator had received an invitation a few weeks ago.

I enjoyed that the invitation had reached his at his parents house in Sarajevo where he was briefly staying (he lives in Chicago). He couldn’t figure out how they knew where he was, but he had lots of wild speculative ideas.  He wasn’t going to go–he was trying to clear his head of Americans, until he read a little more about Macalister.  He had heard of him but hadn’t read him.  So he read some pullout quotes by the man and decided he was okay. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-“Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream (Part 1)” (From the Basement) (2009).

My Morning Jacket is one of the few bands that has two videos up on the From the Basement site.  The two videos are parts one and two to the song “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream” (which is kind of funny as the two parts are really quite unrelated and they seem to have been recorded not consecutively in the show.

As I mentioned in the Fleet Foxes review, I love seeing bands singing harmonies.  And the voices in My Morning Jacket songs are often soaring and, sometimes unbelievable (how does Jim James hit those notes?).  So this “concert” is visually satisfying in this regard.  Not to mention, Jim James wears a cape throughout the song!

It’s also very satisfying musically.  The band sounds great (as have all of the bands during these sessions).  “Touch Me” is a great catchy, sing along song from Evil Urges.  And this version is quite perfect.

[READ: August 30, 2011] “The Aquarium”

This is the first of the longer articles in the New Yorker’s 2011 Summer Fiction issue.  But despite the issue’s title, this is not a work of fiction (at least I hope it isn’t because it’s a shitty thing to make up).  So, assuming it is true:

Hemon found out that his nine-month old daughter had a brain tumor.  This essay details his life while dealing with this unthinkable issue and also trying to maintain a normal life for his three-year old daughter.  He tells this story in a surprisingly roundabout way.  Meaning, we don’t learn the fate of his daughter till nearly the end of the essay.  And in this way it mimics his own experience of finding out the fate of his daughter: one hundred and eight days after the initial diagnosis.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CITY AND COLOUR Live at the Sasquatch Festival, May 29, 2011 (2011).

City and Colour have a new album coming out soon.  So it’s kind of surprising that this seven-song show is three songs from their previous album, two from their first album, a cover, and only one new track (“Fragile Bird”).

This is the first time I’ve heard City and Colour live with a band (most of the recordings I have by them are just Dallas Green solo).  It’s nice to hear how powerfully they work together (giving some of those songs an extra push).

Despite the brevity of the set (and the amusing banter about airport etiquette) you get a pretty good sense of what the “pretty-voiced guy” from Alexisonfire can do on his own.   I found the cover, Low’s “Murderer,” to be a really perfect choice–one that suits the band and their slightly-off harmonies, rather well.

I’m looking forward to their new release–“Fragile Bird” is another beautiful song.  But in the meantime, this is a good place to hear what they’ve been up to.

[READ: early June 2011] 2011 Fiction Issues

Five Dials seems to always generate coincidences with what I read. Right after reading the “”Summer’ Fiction” issue from Five Dials, I received the Fiction Issue from the New Yorker.  A few days later, I received the Summer Reading Issue from The Walrus.

I’m doing a separate post here because, although I am going to post about the specific fictions, I wanted to mention the poetry that comes in The Walrus’ issue.  I have no plan to write separate posts about poetry (I can barely write a full sentence about most poetry) so I’ll mention them in this post.

The main reason I’m drawing attention to these poems at all is because of the set-up of The Walrus’ Summer Fiction issue.  As the intro states: “We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists–and played by the rules.”  I am so very intrigued at this idea of artificial rules imposed by an outsider.  So much so that I feel that it would be somewhat easier to write a story having these strictures put on you.  Although I imagine it would be harder to write a poem.

The two poets are Michael Lista and Damian Rogers.  I wasn’t blown away by either poem, but then I don’t love a lot of poetry.  So I’m going to mention the rules they had to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DOMO GENESIS-“Super Market” (2010).

The other band that Sasha Frere-Jones mentions in the New Yorker article is Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All a ten-member collective from L.A.  They have released a slew of albums (all available for free on their website), but none are released under that collective name.  This song seems is released by Domo Genesis on the album Rolling Papers.

This song is really bizarre.  It’s a silly story of two guys fighting because one of them cut in line at the grocery store.  The two guys argue throughout the track with ever-escalating threats.

But the really interesting thing about the track is the backing music.  It sounds like a march from some kind of 70s TV show.  It is almost menacing but mostly it’s comical.  And when you couple that with the crazy threats: “I’m a fucking ninja and a Jedi and I’m from Compton”;   “I’ll push you into an old lady bagging plastic”;  “I’ll stab you with this fucking rocket launcher” (!), it’s hard to know what to think of them.  (I think it’s funny, but I fear that they’re serious).

It’s utterly juvenile (but then all the members of the band are teenagers, so that’s expected).  The musical choice for backing tracks is pretty inspired though, and I like to think that if the guys get some real ideas to rap about, they could really be an ungrounded sensation.

[READ: November 19, 2010] “Borscht”

It’s interesting that there is another article from an Eastern European writer in this collection.  Hemon’s family is from Bosnia (via western Ukraine), where the family developed the perfect borscht.

As with Bezgemos’ family, the recipe was never written down. Mostly, this is  because there was no recipe, it included lots of things that were in the garden, and usually at least one surprise ingredient.  But whatever the ingredients, the results were always wonderfully, vinegary tarty goodness.

The article mentions a family dinner where 42 people were counted at the table.  And borscht is a poor people’s food, where you can reasonably make enough for 42 people.  It is designed “to ensure durability.” (more…)

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