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Archive for the ‘Anthony Doerr’ Category

kelly-linkSOUNDTRACK: THE DUDE OF LIFE & PHISH-Crimes of the Mind (1994).

Crimes of the Mind is the debut album from The Dude of Life, Steve Pollak, a childhood friend of Trey Anastasio and a lyrical contributor to many of Phish’s early songs. Phish is the backing band for the entire album.

The album was recorded in 1991 but wasn’t released until 1994. The Dude of Life performed several of these songs in a live setting with Phish on a number of occasions.

Of all of the “Phish” albums, this is the one I listen to the least.

The main riff of “Chalkdust Torture” was used in the song “Self” on this album.

Dude

“Dahlia” is a kind of sloppy rock song—it certainly has a Phish feel to it, but as soon as the vocals come in, you know it’s going to be different.  Lyrically, however, it sounds a lot like crazy early Phish—a song about a girl who is a little nuts and a really catchy melody.  The song has a weird climax with the sucking Cherry Charms Blow Pops line.

“Family Picture” opens with a watery bass, it has a kind of silly Phish-iness to it—you wouldn’t be surprised if Phish played it but again, although Dude’s voice makes it much sillier.  Once again there’s a fun chorus and a rather silly guitar solo.  “Self” is a wonderfully selfish song (“I don’t care about anyone but myself”).  I also like that he rhymes “bluer” with “sewer.”  Once the song starts rocking, it features the main riff as “Chalkdust Torture” and then it really takes off.

“Crimes of the Mind” is a simple song with a catchy chorus.  “She’s Bitchin’ Again” has a very cool guitar riff and motif, and while the lyrics are funny, the addition of the woman bitchin’ at him is a bit much (especially since her voice is quite unpleasant and isn’t quite singing).  “TV Show” is the first thing that’s close to a ballad.  It starts slowly but after the sound of keyboards building and ramping up, the song kicks into high gear with the chorus of “life is a TV show that should have been canceled long ago.”  “Trials and Tribulations” is a funny/weird romantic song about the Swiss Miss, Captain Crunch and Mr Clean, with a cute melody for the guitar riff.

“Lucy in the Subway” is of course a kind of follow up/piss take on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  It sounds nothing like The Beatles’ song, being a simple, rather than psychedelic song, but that befits the tone about a girl down on her luck–she is “with daffodils” if you were wondering about the D).   “Ordinary Day” is the kind of simple song—singing about nothing happening—that makes you wonder how people write them.  “Revolution’s Over” is as close to punk as this line up will get—fast drums, fast tinny guitar and a quick riff.  The middle has some funky weird jam stuff

“King of Nothing” is a slow, almost ponderous song (except that Dude’s voice is more goofy than deep).

Since Pollak contributed much to Phish’s early silliness it’s not surprising that these songs are rather silly too.  But the band plays really well and holds it all together.

[READ: November 14, 2016] Stone Animals

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. believing that I’d been told about a cool gem of a publisher.  And I had been. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business or so. They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Link’s book go to The Fistula Foundation.

Many of the books from Madras Press have been unusual–some of them downright surreal.  And this book, which finished up series 3, is no exception.

I started to read this when I was on a camping trip–I was tired and exhausted from a long day, and I genuinely thought I was having lack of concentration issues because this story didn’t really seem logical.  When I read it again in the light of day, it still didn’t exactly seem logical, but I was able to follow it a little better.

The story follows a family–husband and wife and two kids.  They are moving from New York City to the suburbs.  The house that they are purchasing has two giant stone rabbits on the front porch.  The children’s don’t want to leave the city exactly but the adults are pleased with the house. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE REAL TUESDAY WELD-“Cloud Cuckooland” (2007).

My friend Andrew linked me to the video for this song (after I showed him the video for “Lucas with the Lid Off.”   I’d heard of The Real Tuesday Weld, but never heard them, and I hope this is indicative of the rest of their (his?) stuff.

The video (which is hilarious and weird) supplies a wonderful videotrack to the music, but, unlike some other recent videos that I have watched, it doesn’t make a lame song seem interesting.

I likened this song to what I wanted the Squirrel Nut Zippers to sound like: playing old-timey music but with a real sense of silliness.  (The Zippers are great but are often too straight for me).  Rather than vocals, there’s a  sort of nonsensical sound-making.  And there’s some even some human beatbox in the track.

And it’s all over a very bouncy soundtrack that fits well with the black and white “movie” of the video.

It’s very cool.  Check it out here.

[READ: August 27, 2010] The Shell Collector

I have really enjoyed the two short stories that Doerr has written for McSweeney’s.  So much so that I decided to track down this collection of short stories.  And I’m delighted that I did.

Doerr’s stories are set all over the world (he himself has lived in Africa and New Zealand, although he is now from Idaho and grew up in Ohio) and there is so much diversity in this collection that I couldn’t believe he had this much information at his disposal.

One of the interesting things is that quite often the main character is named “The Shell Collector” of “The Hunter” while everyone else in the story has a name.  It’s an interesting conceit which brings at once a distance to the person and yet an immediacy to what he “is.”

“The Shell Collector” features a man who works with shells, specifically with the creatures that live in them (most of which are poisonous).  One day, a reporter is stung by a cone shell (that crawled from the ocean into his house) and goes into deathly coma.  The cone shell is a predatory sea snail called a geography cone has twelve kinds of venom in its teeth.  The woman was pronounced incurable, and yet twelve hours of catatonia later she emerged claiming to have had a religious experience.  From then on, the shell collector’s life is turned upside down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra-Kollpas Tradixionales (2010).

Silver Mt. Zion are back!  And they are noisy!

This disc continues their fine output of haunting, rambling epics.  The opener is a 15 minute slow builder called “There is a Light” and the finale is a 14 minute story called “‘Piphany Rambler.”  In between we have  a couple of multi-part tracks: “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” and “I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” which are some of the fastest tracks they’ve recorded.  The other “suite” is 3 versions (and spellings) of the title track.

The one consistent thing about Silver Mt . Zion (in whatever version of their name they employ) is that they write incredibly passionate music.  It’s often raw and it swells and ebbs with feeling.  I especially enjoy the (multiple) climaxes that fill all of the longer songs.  And when the band brings in the horns and the strings and the whole group sings along, it’s very affecting.

The one thing that I’m still not totally on board with is Efrim’s voice.  On previous releases, I bought it because he sounded very angsty, but I’m starting to think that the tenor of his voice just doesn’t work with the bombast of the music.  When the backing singers chime in, the sound is glorious, but I find his voice to be simply the wrong sound.  There’s a few parts on the disc where he sings in a lower, softer register, and I found them really moving.  I think if he sang all of the parts like that, they would impact the songs more strongly (and maybe even be more understandable).

I realize that the vocals are an essential part to the disc, and I definitely get used to them after a few listens, I just feel like the whole disc (and not just the music) would be amazing if Efrim used that deeper register more.

Nevertheless, the music is really fantastic, and if you buy the LP, you get some great artwork, too.

[READ: May 13, 2010] McSweeney’s 34

After the enormous work of Panorama, (McSweeney’s newspaper (Issue 33)), they’ve returned with a somewhat more modest affair.  Two slim books totaling about 400 pages  Each is a paperback. The first is a collection of short stories artwork, etc.  The second is  nonfiction work about Iraq.  Both books are bound together in a clear plastic slipcover (with a fun design on it).  [UPDATE: I cannot for the life of me out the books back in the cover.  They simply will not sit without ripping the plastic.  Boo!]

The first collection opens with a Letters column, something that we haven’t seen in years!  And, as with the old letters column, the letters are absurd/funny/thoughtful and sometimes just weird. (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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32SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Tindersticks [the red one] (1993).

tsTindersticks are a fascinating band.  The first distinctive thing about them is Stuart Staples’ voice: a deep rich bass that he uses almost like a whisper.  The second thing you notice is the music.  It’s an orchestral/chamber pop collection of dark rockers with fantastic moodiness to it.  And then you notice the lyrics: dark songs of lost (and decayed) love.

Yet despite the description of chamber pop, the nad is really much darker than chamber pop suggests.  The band has a very noir sound: organs that penetrate through walls of sound, tinkling pianos suring hushed moments.  The horns and strings add dark atmospherics (strings zing like a Hitchcock movie).  And the minor key chords are rich and loud.

You also get a song like “Whisky and Water” which genuinely rocks hard (loud guitars are featured).  Or a simple acoustic guitar driven song like “Blood.”  Throughout the disk you get these fantastic melodies that play off of Staples’ voice and the twisted lyrics.  “City Sickness” and “Patchwork” are just two of the tracks that are very catchy.

And then there’s the fantastic “Jism” with its awesome noir organ.  Or “Raindrops” with its accents of vibes and the beautiful piano trilling at the end (and the detailed and emotional lyrics: What we got here is a lazy love / It mooches around the house / Can’t wait to go out / What it needs, it just grabs / It never asks / We sit and watch the divide widen / We sit and listen to our hearts crumble”).  “Her” follows up with a wonderfully flamenco-infused spaghetti western number.

And lets not forget “Drunk Tank” a propulsive song that is as sinister as it is catchy.  Oh heck, I could just keep raving.  But there’s 22 songs!   Four songs are about a minute each, and the disc is about 75 minutes (not bad for a debut!).  And the disc never loses momentum or its sense of purpose.

What really distinguishes this disk is the mood of the music.  Like the best soundtracks, you can feel the emotions and imagery with the music alone, but when you add Staples’ evocative lyrics and powerful voice, it’s a deadly potent combination.

The disc was reissued a few years ago with a bonus disc of demo tracks.  The demos are surprisingly rich (they’re not at-home recordings or done without accompaniment) so they don’t differ that dramatically from the originals.  But they have a slightly less polished feel, which doesn’t hurt the band at all. There’s also a demo of the fantastic “For Those…” which doesn’t appear on the original disc.

I have to thank my friend Lar for getting me into this band. (Thanks Lar).

[READ: October 19, 2009] McSweeney’s #32

The concept for this issue is this: McSweeney’s asked several authors to “travel somewhere in the world–Budapest, Cape Town, Houston, any sleepy or sleepless outpost they could find–and send back a story set in that spot fifteen years from now, in the year 2024.”

And so, all of the stories are vaguely sci-fi-ish in that they are future related, but they are all grounded very heavily in reality, in particular, the reality of individuals trying to live in this future world. (more…)

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