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Archive for the ‘Alison Bechdel’ Category

jun9SOUNDTRACK: MYRKUR-“Nattens Barn” (2014).

myrkurMyrkur is a black metal band whose sole member is a woman–Amalie Bruun, a Danish model who co-leads the Brooklyn indie-pop band Ex-Cops.

This six-minute song has elements of black metal (loud guitars, fast drums) and elements that transcend the genre (the first entire minute of beautiful choral voice).  As the song opens, multilayered voices sing (presumably in Danish) about what I imagine is the heavens (I’m curious about a translation, but won’t look for one).  After a minute the heavy guitars kick in–loud, but not scary loud (a kind of pleasant black metal, if you will).

Until 1:43 when she creams, the drums kick in, and it becomes black metal as we all know it is meant to be.  The song is loud fast and heavy.  But unlike most black metal, there are no vocals (at least that I can hear).  So the song cycles through a few sections.  After returning to the more melodic style, that heaviness keeps pushing its way back in.  It all ends rather suddenly after that five minute buildup.  Although there is a return to the choral voices of the beginning.

I’m intrigued by this and I love that the choral voices (something black metal has done in the past) are done (I assume) by Bruun herself, rather than a male band tacking on the ethereal voices.   Her new release is an EP, and I would like to hear some more of it, just to see what kind of vocals she uses.

[READ: June 17, 2014] “Gradual Impact”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  And thus, we have a series of personal essays which fall under the heading of “My Old Flame.”  There are several short pieces.  And this year there are two illustrated stories by two wonderful artists.

The first is by Alison Bechdel.  Although I honestly don’t know if Dykes to Watch Out For is still an ongoing concern (which is a shame since i have so many of the early books), I love that Bechdel’s “self” character looks an awful lot (bit not identical to) DTWOF‘s Mo.  It brings a sense of comfort to the story (which I know is not her intention, but still).

In this story, the main character talks about falling for a woman in her karate class.  As it opens, the narrator berates herself for breaking off an affair with a woman who was “kind, beautiful, smart, interesting, sane and available.”  She asks, “What the fuck was my problem?” (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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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-compilations and live releases (1978-2010).

For a band that had basically two hits (“Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You”) and maybe a half a dozen other songs that people might have heard of, BOC has an astonishing number of “greatest hits” collections.

Starting in 1987 we got Career of Evil: The Metal Years (1987), Don’t Fear the Reaper (1989), On Flame with Rock n’ Roll (1990), Cult Classic (which is actually the band re-recording their old tracks (!)) (1994), and the two cd collection Workshop of the Telescopes (1995).  There’s even Singles Collection, (2005) which is a collection of their European singles & Bsides.

This doesn’t include any of the “budget price” collections: E.T.I. Revisited, Tattoo Vampire, Super Hits, Then and Now, The Essential, Are You Ready To Rock?, Shooting Shark, Best of, and the 2010 release: Playlist: The Very Best of).

The lesson is that you evidently won’t lose money making a BOC collection.

I don’t know that any of these collections are any better than the others.

The 2 CD one is for completists, but for the most part you’re going to get the same basic tracks on all of them.

And, although none of them have “Monsters” for the average person looking for some BOC, any disc is a good one.

Regardless of the number of hits they had, BOC was tremendous live.  And, as a result, there have also been a ton of live records released.  Initially the band (like Rush) released a live album after every three studio albums. On Your Feet or On Your Knees (1975) Some Enchanted Evening (1978) and Extraterrestrial Live (1982) were the “real releases.”

Then, in 1994 we got Live 1976 as both CD and DVD (which spares us nothing, including Eric Bloom’s lengthy harangue about the unfairness of…the speed limit).  It’s the most raw and unpolished on live sets.  2002 saw the release of A Long Day’s Night, a recording of a 2002 concert (also on DVD) which had Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma an Allan Lanier reunited.

They also have a number of might-be real live releases (fans debate the legitimacy of many of these).  Picking a concert disc is tough if only because it depends on the era you like.  ETLive is regarded as the best “real” live disc, although the reissued double disc set of Some Enchanted Evening is hard to pass up.  Likewise, the 2002 recording is a good overview of their career, and includes some of their more recent work.

If you consider live albums best of’s (which many people do) I think it’s far to say that BOC has more best of’s than original discs.  Fascinating.  Many BOC fans believe that if they buy all the best of discs, it will convince Columbia to finally reissue the rest of the original discs (and there are a number of worthy contenders!) in deluxe packages.  I don’t know if it will work, but I applaud the effort.

[READ: October 2009-February 2010] State By State

This is a big book. And, since it’s a collection essays, it’s not really the kind of big book that you read straight through.  It’s a perfect dip in book.  And that’s why it took me so long to get through.

I would love to spend a huge amount of time devoting a post to each essay in the book.  But, well, there’s 51 (including D.C.) and quite a few of them I read so long ago I couldn’t say anything meaningful about.  But I will summarize or at least give a sentence about each essay, because they’re all so different.

I’ll also say that I read the Introduction and Preface last (which may have been a mistake, but whatever).  The Preface reveals that what I took to be a flaw in the book was actually intentional.  But let me back up and set up the book better.

The catalyst for the book is the WPA American Guide Series and sort of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  The WPA Guides were written in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.  48 guide books were written, one for each state.  Some famous writers wrote the books, but they were ultimately edited (and many say watered down) by a committee.  I haven’t read any of them, but am quite interested in them (and am looking to get the New Jersey one).  Each guide was multiple hundreds of pages (the New Jersey one is over 800).

State By State is written in the spirit of that series, except the whole book is 500 pages (which is about 10 pages per state, give or take).  And, once again, famous writers were asked to contribute (no committee edited this book, though).  I’ve included the entire list of authors at the end of the post, for quick access.

So I started the book with New Jersey, of course.  I didn’t realize who Anthony Bourdain was until I looked him up in the contributor’s list (I’m sure he is thrilled to hear that).  And his contribution was simultaneously exciting and disappointing,.  Exciting because he and I had quite similar upbringings: he grew up in North Jersey (although in the wealitheir county next to mine) and had similar (although, again, more wealthy) experiences. The disappointing thing for me was that Bourdain fled the state  for New York City (and, as I now know, untold wealth and fame (except by me))  I felt that his fleeing the state, while something many people aspire to, is not really representative of the residents of the state as a whole.

And that dissatisfaction is what I thought of as the flaw of the book (until I read the Preface).  In the Preface, Matt Weiland explains that they asked all different authors to write about states.  They asked some natives, they asked some moved-ins, they asked some temporary residents and they asked a couple of people to go to a state for the first time.  In reality, this decision makes for a very diverse and highly entertaining reading.  In my idealized world, I feel like it’s disingenuous to have people who just stop in to give their impression of an area.  But hey, that’s not the kind of book they wanted to compile, and I did enjoy what they gave us, so idealism be damned.

For most of the book, whenever I read an essay by someone who wasn’t a native or a resident of a state, I assumed that there weren’t any famous writers from that state.  I’ve no idea if that played into anything or not.  From what I gather, they had a list of authors, and a list of states (I was delighted to read that three people wanted to write about New Jersey-if the other two writers ever decided to put 1,000 words  to paper, I’d love to read them (hey editors, how about State by State Bonus Features online, including any extra essays that people may have wanted to write).

From New Jersey, I proceeded alphabetically.  And, I have to say that I’m a little glad I did.  I say this because the first few states in the book come across as rather negative and kind of unpleasant.  Alabama (written by George Packer) comes across as downtrodden, like a place you’d really have to love to live there.  Even Alaska, which ended up being a very cool story, felt like a veil of oppression resided over the state (or at  least the part of the state that Paul Greenberg wrote bout.)  But what I liked about this essay and the book in general was that the authors often focused on unexpected or little known aspects of each state.  So the Alaska essay focused on Native fisherman and the salmon industry.  Obviously it doesn’t do justice to the rest of that enormous state,  but that’s not what the book is about.

The book is meant to be a personal account of the author’s experiences in the state. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Dressed to Kill (1975).

I feel like I used to  give this disc short shrift because (horrors) its cover is in black and white.  But, unlike the first two discs which were heavy (poppy, but heavy), Dressed to Kill is very anthemic and, well, a little wimpy.  Despite these caveats, I still know every word to the disc, and I do rather enjoy it.

In fact, the first four songs on the disc are not featured on Alive!.  It starts out really poppy with “Room Service” which has a pretty wild guitar solo.  The next track, “Two Timer” is a Gene-sung slow track which even has Gene getting into a spoken word bit: “That’s the truth baby, you’re a two timer.”  “Ladies in Waiting” is one of those fun Kiss songs that starts out a little off-sounding but ends up being a really poppy singalong.  “Getaway” continues a trend of songs that Ace wrote but which Peter sings.  (Evidently Ace didn’t feel confident in his vocals yet).  The side ends with the cool “Rock Bottom,” a slow, pretty guitar intro opens into a rocking song.

This is the rare Kiss disc where Side Two has more hits than Side One.  “C’mon and Love Me” (an unusual request, frankly) is a fun rocker with a lot of baby baby’s.  “Anything for My Baby” is a really upbeat song which amuses me for all of the things that he swears he would do for her: steal, wheel and deal, crawl or kneel, etc.  Next is “She,” one of the all-time great Kiss songs.  It’s heavy, it’s menacing, it has an awesome guitar riff and a great guitar solo.  The fact that they tucked it away in the middle of side two is really weird.  “Love Her All I Can” is a fast rocker that’s followed by Kiss’ most popular song of all time, “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  At this point in my Kiss listening career I’m a little tired of this song.  It’s a very catchy anthem, no doubt, but it’s really not a very good song as far as Kiss songs go.

The recordings for the Kiss Alive! disc were taken on the Dressed to Kill tour and yet the live album has the fewest songs taken from this album.  It’s kind of funny that their most popular song comes at the end of this disc.

[READ: December 22, 2009] Wet Moon

This is a fantastic goth-inspired graphic novel with the absolutely worst title ever.  Wet Moon is the name of the town the book is set in, but it is never mentioned beyond the welcome sign, and I just can’t imagine what inspired the name.

Okay, actually, I just looked up wet moon on Wikipedia, and found out that it is an astronomical term for when the “horns” of a crescent moon point up, away from the earth (like devil horns).  And so I completely take back my complaint, as I now think the term is pretty cool and very appropriate.

And that is the only thing that I find disagreeable about this book.  (Well, actually I don’t like the lettering either, but more on that on a moment).

The town of Wet Moon is a college town where goths live and thrive (and no doubt many fans of the book wish the could live there).  Our heroine is Cleo, a young, slightly overweight goth with a pierced nose and bottom lip.  She has just moved out of her parents house and is living on campus.  (There is an implication that her house is a dorm, but if so, it is the single most beautiful dorm ever, anywhere, so I’ll pretend it’s an apartment–I mean, there’s a walk-out balcony for cripes sake). (more…)

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fun.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BATTLES-Live from Chicago (2007).

This is the very rare online soundtrack that I am actually listening to as I type this. My friend Lar sent me a link to the concert, and since I’m at home with a computer with speakers instead of my silent “work world” I can actually enjoy the tunes. I’d never heard of this band, and upon reading up, I see that the drummer is from Helmet, and one of the other guys is from Don Caballero. Its very noisy and math rock-y. Very, very cool and unorthodox. Thank you, Lar. I’ll definitely be checking these guys out some more!

[ACTION: Today] I went to BEA today. It was simultaneously over- and underwhelming. (more…)

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