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Archive for the ‘Allen Ginsberg’ Category

Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #577 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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fivedials_no28SOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-The Twelve Days of Christmas (2010).

phineasWhile The Bird and the Bee has become my new favorite serious version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, this Phineas and Ferb version is my new favorite silly version of the song.  Sure it’s especially funny for fans of the show but, as anyone who has seen the show knows, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is comedy gold and so his wishes for Christmas and his updates and concessions (and the fact that he is a traditionalist) absolutely make this worthy of repeat listens.

[READ: December 19, 2013] Five Dials Number 28

Five Dials #28 is vaguely thematic–about heroes.  Some items are literal (the writers-as-heroines drawing), some are speculative (my favorite conceit–the stories of quickly killed side characters in movies), and some are unrelated at all–the guy who helped out Will Self.  This issue was launched from Sydney, Australia.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Heroes and Convicts
Taylor talks about everything mentioned above and then talks about Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and his primer on modern art: The Shock of the New (which has an accompanying documentary series). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998).

Suffice it to say, if it were not for this album I wouldn’t have read this piece by Blake.  I have been aware of it through the “doors of perception” quote that created the band name The Doors, but I never had any compelling reason to read it before.

Of course when I first listened to this, I had no idea that it was literally the entire work of Blake’s piece set to music.  And I had no idea that there would be so many diverse styles of music on the album.  I’m going to focus more on the music, as I’ll address the “lyrics” later. 

The first song starts out in a kind of synthy way–maybe early Depeche Mode.  But it quickly become more sinister, with a heavy guitar section and then a spoken word over industrial keyboards like early Nine Inch Nails.   Track two, simply called “Plate 3” is a mournful guitar solo which plays behind a woman reciting plate three.  Strangely enough, this plate is split in two parts where Blake references the bible and so Ulver end the spoken part in the middle but keep the ominous music going for the final two minutes of the track.  The next track picks up with “Plate 3, Following,” a slower piece with creepy echoey male vocals that echo the female lead.

“The Voice of the Devil, Plate Four” is a very delicate guitar part.  The female voice introduces the piece and the male voice recites the statements .  It;s the most easily understood of all the tracks (the vocals are crystal clear).  When the parts are done, the song turns in to a heavy metal guitar solo over some heavy chords. It’s a really great mix.  “Plates 5-6” is also a very clearly spoken/sung track.  Over a classical guitar with occasional heavy beats, the voice narrates (with amusing mispronunciations (there are many thoroughout the piece, but hey English isn’t their first language)).

“A Memorable Fancy (Plates 6-7)” is the first of five fancies.  This one has a very electronic feel (later period Nine Inch Nails).  This one even creates its own chorus by repeating “fires of hell” where the words do not belong.  “The Proverbs of Hell” is probably the most complex and multifarious musically.  It goes through many different musical and vocals styles.  The opening is barely audible while later parts are spoken clearly.  Other lines are hidden under a fog of noise.  Musically it’s very engaging, but it’s a shame to miss out on the poetry without a lyric sheet.

“Plate 11” also opens virtually inaudibly, with a crazy echo placed on the female vocals.  Half way through the voice become clearer and the music, which was quiet and mellow, picks up, but retains the simple melody it had.  “Intro” is an instrumental, an odd thing to include if they are following the book so specifically, as there is no intro.  It is simple, repeated waves of chords which grow louder for 3:30.   It ends with some maniacal drumming .  However, it is a nice breather as we head into “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13,” which opens with a very slow piano.  It turns into a largely drum-based song with a clear spoken word.  Until about half way through when the voice is heavily distorted until the end.

“Plate 14” is a percussion heavy electronic track with heavily distorted vocals (this is where “the doors of perception” bit comes from).  It leads to “A Memorable Fancy (Plate 15)” which opens with more low rumblings (like “Intro” above).  When the vocals come in, after 3 minutes, they are distant and tinny, but very clear.

Disc 1 (did I mention there were two discs) ends with “Plates 16-17.”   It opens with quiet music that slowly grows louder and more electronic.  The vocals are echoed and distorted and hard to understand.  The end of the track picks up the electronic beat for about a minute.

Disc two opens with the eleven minute “A Memorable Fancy (Plates 17-20)”.  It opens with a cool beat and a dark tone with vocals that are mostly understandable.   After a couple of minutes, the song settles into a late period Depeche Mode style–distorted guitars and vocals that sounds not unlike Dave Gahan’s.  By the end, it’s a pretty standard heavy metal chugging guitar (with a simple but interesting solo).

This is followed by another “Intro,” this time a rather pleasant guitar solo over picked guitars.   “Plates 21-22” is quite enjoyable as the vocals are clear and emphatic over a standard heavy metal song.  It feels like comfort food after all of the different styles of the disc.

“A Memorable Fancy Plates 22-24” has a great weird keyboard style (kind of Marilyn Manson).  The penultimate track is another “Intro.”  This one has some swirly minor-key guitars that sound  a bit like the guitar outro to Rush’s “Cygnus X-1.”   It goes through several iterations before ending in distorted waves that lead to “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27”.   There are three guest vocalists on this track: Ihsahn and Samoth from Emperor and Fenriz from Darkthrone.  The interesting thing about this is that Garm (the male vocalist on all the tracks) has so many different styles of singing/speaking throughout the album that it’s hard to even notice that there are guests.

It start as mainly electronic piece with heavily distorted vocals (Ihsahn sounds like he is being strangled).  In the second part, the vocals are clearer.  The drums gets louder (sounding like the Revolting Cocks, maybe).  By the third part (Fenriz) the song turns into a guitar solo and the style of recitation reminds me of Allen Ginsbregr’s Howl.  His section ends with a distorted voice chanting the final lines and then twenty minutes of silence (the track is listed as 25 minutes, but there’s only 5 minutes of song and then 30 seconds at the end).  The final “Chorus” of the book is pretty well inaudible.

Despite the complexity of the album and the hard to follow lyrics and all of that, the entre work is really something. It is powerful and complex and runs through so many wonderful pieces and movements.  I have no idea how to classify it as it has pieces of metal and electronica as well as classical.  Perhaps it’s safe to just call it a soundtrack.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this CD, but I barely scratch the surface of what could be said about it.  Check out this amazing review from Encyclopaedia Metallum who go into wonderful depth and a thorough comparison of the music to the text.

[READ: November 27, 2011] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 

The Blake piece is available online in several places, although I got my copy from the library.  Mine contained several critical essays which I looked at briefly but decides they simply weren’t all that compelling, especially since Blake’s work (aside from details that simple footnotes might hep to clear up) is pretty understandable. 

In total, Blake’s work is 27 plates long. Each plate is hand written (in a fancy script) and many have illustrations (also hand drawn and colored).  There are allusions to many different things and it helps to be familiar with the Bible and with Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell which is directly referenced several times.  Indeed, this work is clearly a response to that one; the opening states “and it is now thirty-three years since its advent” when Swedenborg’s book was published 33 years before Blake’s.

The gist of Blake’s piece is that God did not intend for man to separate the sensual and physical from the spiritual and mental.  It is basically a plea to hedonism, although not even seemingly to excess.  More like an “if it feels good, do it” attitude.  And he lays out these ideals pretty clearly in many of the passages.  True, there are many passages that are inscrutable (like the crazy opening–don’t be put off bu Rintrah), but when he gets to his main points, he is quite clear.  Blake attacks established religion but does not condemn God or endorse atheism.  So we get quotes like this:

“Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”  And shortly after: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”  Blake cites Paradise Lost as a history of the separation of these two ideas and concludes “that the Messiah [Reason] fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Gene Simmons (1978).

Even all these year later I feel like there is something very “polished” about this album.  It feels different from the others for an intangible reason.  I like it quite a bit,and yet it doesn’t sound like a record from a demon with blood leaking out of his mouth.  Maybe it’s the surprisingly faithful (and delicate) cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star”?  Maybe it’s the cameo by Cher?  Maybe it’s the weird effects on “Radioactive”?  The whole things just seems different to me.

It starts out menacing enough with the creepy laughing and the crazy strings (like a Disney nightmare) and the chanting (what is that chanting–its sounds demonic but they seem to be saying Hosannah?).  And it all swirls into a…disco sounding guitar?  “Radioactive” is a wonderful ditty and shows that Gene, while not exactly a good singer, has more range than the God of Thunder would have suggested.   (That’s Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on guitar).  “Burning Up with Fever” opens with a bizarre, really out of tune guitar intro (that’s two songs with crazy intros).  This feels much more Kiss than anything else on the album, although again, it’s very slick feeling.  And surprisingly, I like the backing vocals on this track–especially the solo that the woman takes–hey is that Katey Segal?  No evidently it is Donna Summer (!!).  I guess Katey was one of the backing chorus on some other songs.  (And that’s Steely Dan’s Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitar).

Musically, I rather like “See You Tonite,” but I find his vocals a little weird on this one.  It’s such a sweet song…again, unusual for the demon (Skunk Baxter on guitar, again).  “Tunnel of Love” seems quite sinister in the beginning with a great bass line.  And then the chorus kicks in with these delicate la las (Skunk Baxter on guitars again–Katey Sagal must be in there somewhere).  “True Confessions” has a pretty hilarious choir in the middle of the song.  My mom felt that “Living in Sin” was bad publicity for the Holiday Inn.  Although I thought it was a very funny line (and yes, Cher is the squeaking fangirl and Joe Perry is on guitar again).  “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide” is a really slick track in which Gene shows of his more delicate singing style.  The first half is a gentle acoustic track but it builds into a high concept highly produced track–and let’s not forget the amazing high notes he hits (is that really him?).

“Man of 1,000 Faces” is another song with sinister sounds in the verses (cool strings, and is that french horn?) and then a gentle, swelling chorus.  “Mr Make Believe” begins the delicate ending of the album (Skunk Baxter, again).  This is a sweet ballad, showing a very gentle side of Gene.  There’s a little diversion in his cover of Kiss’ “See You in Your Dreams.”  This version rocks harder than the Kiss version, and the backing vocals lend a weird edge to the song which is why I like it better than the one on Rock and Roll Over (that’s Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen on guitar).  And then yes, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  My dad laughed about as hard at the demon guy singing this song as he did about the butch biker guy singing “Oh Danny Boy” in the Village People movie Can’t Stop the Music (which we watched as a family.

Gene’s solo album charted the highest when they were released, although now Ace’s has sold more.  It’s pretty great.

[READ: October 8, 2011] “To Catch a Beat”

There were four one-page pieces in this week’s New Yorker under the heading “Sticky Fingers.”  Each one was about theft in some way (this being the money issue, that ‘s a nice connection).

Lethem, who now appears here twice in just a few short days, also breaks the mould set up by Miranda July (so I guess 2 of four stories about shoplifting is not so much a mould as a half).  Indeed, Lethem goes against all the conventions of the other pieces, for in this story, Lethem is not the thief at all.  There is hardly any thieving going on here.

This story is about Lethem working in used book stores in Brooklyn as a kid.  He mentions several different places where he worked, nut the story focuses on one in particular.  The name isn’t important to the story (in fact it doesn’t exist anymore).  But what happens there is the crux of the story.  It’s basically about a friend of Allan Ginsberg’s armed Herbert Huncke (who I’ve never heard of).  Huncke was a major fixture for the Beats, and is written about (in disguised form) by Burroughs and Kerouac.   But he was also a junkie and an ex-con.  And he came into this bookstore regularly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS/NICK HORNBY-Lonely Avenue (2010).

As the cover of this album notes: “Ben Folds adds music and melody to Nick Hornby’s words.”  And that is true. The only surprising thing about this combination is that Folds is quite a good lyricist himself, so it’s surprising that he would sacrifice his words.  But regardless, the fit is a good one.

Sometimes it seems like Hornby is challenging Folds to come up with melodies for some of his more difficult lyrics which Folds lives up to).  But they have such similar sensibilities that (aside from occasional references to British things) the words could have come from Folds himself (although, Hornby’s a better writer, so Folds wouldn’t have written exactly the same things).

The big surprise is the diversity of musical styles on the disc.  Folds of course does play lots of different types of music on his previous discs, but I guess since the cohesion is Hornby’s words so Folds can really let loose.

The opener, “A Working Day” is a keyboard pop confection, a surprisingly 80s sounding synth song with some wry lyrics about being a writer/performer (“some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know, he’s got his own blog”).  “Picture Window” is a beautiful downer, a string-filled song that seems like a companion to Folds’ “Brick” (“You know what hope is, hope is a bastard”).  It’s just as sad but the melody is gorgeous.

“Levi Johnson’s Blues” is a strangely topical song (in fact, it took me a minute to remember who he was when I first listened to the song.  Anyhow, it’s a silly song about what happened to the father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild.  And yet, despite the novelty of it, it’s actually a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the guy (sure he’s a redneck, but he’s just a normal guy thrust into a ridiculous spotlight–the liner notes say the chorus came from Levis (redacted) Facebook page).

“Doc Pomus” feels like a classic piano song.  While “Young Dogs: is a fast romper (with great vocals) and more keyboards.  “Practical Amanda” is a slow ballad (and Hornby says it’s not autobiographical at all).  While “Claire’s Ninth” is a story about a young girl of divorced parents who hates having two birthdays.  (With sweeping choruses!) Hornby states that this was his first accepted short story (modified for the song, of course) but the magazine that accepted it stopped publishing before his appeared.  D’oh!

“Password” is a wonderful song which only makes sense when you know the name of it (which I didn’t at first, as I usually don’t look at titles right away).  Throughout the song Ben spells words which leads to a cool conclusion–it’s wonderfully clever writing and it’s done in a fascinating R&B-lite style.

“From Above” is a jaunty rocker about people who never meet, although their paths cross quite often.  “Saskia Hamilton” is the “single” from the record.  It’s another great 80’s keyboard fueled romp.  Since I have a friend named Saskia (hi, Saskia) I’m fond of this song–her name is fun to say.  They have a bunch of fun in the recording too.

The final track, “Belinda” is designed like a classic 70s piano ballad (there’s a lengthy email printed in the notes that explains the construction of the song–reading that makes the song even more impressive).

It’s a great Ben Folds album.  It’s not as tidy as some of his other ones–but all of that experimentation leads to some new avenues of melody. It’s a risk that paid off.

[READ: May 10, 2011] Five Dials Number 7

This issue of Five Dials was primarily about Memoir.  Typically, I don’t like memoirs, but I’m finding (and this coincides with what one of the memoirs below states), that I just don’t like celebrity memoirs.  Or perhaps I just like three page accounts of an incident in someone’s life (which these are).

Each of the writers below is given an introduction in which they summarize WHY they write memoirs.  It’s interesting to see that many of them do, in fact, take other people’s feeling into consideration (not as seriously as Mark Twain who waited 100 years for the publication of his), but they try to do something or other to spare people’s feelings.  I was intrigued also that several of the writers also talk about finding themselves through writing.  One or two of them make the exercise of writing memoir sound obnoxiously solipsistic (which of course it is), but it’s nice to read ones that are interesting and not too self-centered.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: “On Audio Detective Work and Memoir”
This letter explains the extent of the audio detective work that went into the interview (presented later) between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.  Since I love playing with audio software, this was of especial interest to me.  And it made me really look forward to the interview. (more…)

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