Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Arthur Bradford’ Category

artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: MO PHILLIPS-“Big Red Truck” (2012).

This track was number two on the OWTK March 2012 playlist.  This song has a kind of late X, or maybe The Knitters kind of feel–male and female vocals with a heavy bassline and a slightly ominous feel–although it is just about a big red truck.  I like t he song a lot, but I’m not sure if my kids would.

The chorus of “bringing all my loving taking all my loving home to you” seems like an odd one for a kids song.

[READ: September 30, 2012] Benny’s Brigade

Yes, this is the same Arthur Bradford whom I have written about and read all of his works–McSweeney’s McMullens has been publishing children’s stories from unexpected adult authors!  This is Bradford’s first foray into children’s books, and I think it’s quite successful.  Benny’s Brigade came with the Ionesco book, but my kids enjoyed it much more.

I was a little concerned exactly how this would turn out (the combination of McSweeney’s and Bradford could have gone dark), but I needn’t have worried.  It is a kids book after all. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Rock and Roll Over (1976).

After Alive!, Kiss released what I think of as the cartoon albums.  These next three discs all had cartoon covers, which also coincides with their huge ascent into fame.  I tend to think of Destroyer and Love Gun more than this one (maybe full-bodied pictures are more memorable than just their faces), even though this one has a huge share of important Kiss songs like “I Want You” (which has an amazingly long version on Alive II). 

I never really liked “Take Me,” there’s something about the chanting backing vocals that irks me (although “Put your hand in my pocket, grab onto my rocket” is one of my favorite Kiss couplets).  But “Calling Dr. Love” is a wonderful twisted song (the falsetto backing vocals are so doo wop, it’s funny to contemplate the band’s musical direction at this point).  I loved this song so much it even features in one of my first short stories

As an eight year old, I could never figure out what Gene would be doing in the “Ladies Room”–since he was a boy and all.  Naiveté is a wonderful thing to have as a young person listening to Kiss–I had no idea what was going on in most of the songs–I wonder if my parents bothered to listen to the lyrics at all.

I also never really liked “Baby Driver” all that much–I don’t know if it’s Peter’s voice, or that I can’t figure out what the hell this song is about but it’s still just okay to me–although I like the guitars at the end.   I love the solo in “Love ‘Em Leave ‘Em”–although the sentiment is not the best.  Of course, the sentiment in “Mr. Speed” cracks me up: “I’m so fast, that’s why the ladies call me Mr. Speed.”  Did that mean something different in 1976?

“See You in Your Dreams” was covered by Gene on his solo album, and I think I like that version better (it’s more theatrical).  Although this one has very interesting use of Beatlesesque harmonies.  “Hard Luck Woman” is wonderful song, and I do like Peter’s voice here, yes.  But who the hell is Rhett?  “Making Love” ends the disc.  I like the break in the middle and the awesome guitar solo.  Also, Paul’s vocals have some cool effects on them. 

This is a fun album.  Even the songs I don’t love are still songs that I like quite a bit.  It’s a nice contrast from the bombast of Destroyer.  The amazing thing is that both this album and Destroyer are barely over 30 minutes long.  Were they making albums so frequently that they didn’t have any more songs, or were they just following the Beatles model: make an album every 7 months to stay in the public’s eye?

[READ: October 2, 2011] Dogwalker

I can’t believe how quickly I read this book.  I wasn’t even planning on reading the whole thing just yet, but I started the first story and it was so quick to read and so enjoyable that I couldn’t stop.  I finished the whole book in a couple of hours (it helps that a number of stories are barely 4 pages and that it’s barely 150 pages).  The title of the book is something of a mystery as there are a lot of dogs in the stories, but walking is about the furthest thing from what happens to them.  I was also somewhat surprised to see how many of these pieces I had already read (Bradford was in five of the first six McSweeney’s issues). 

This collection is certainly not for everyone.  In fact when I recounted the story “Dogs,” Sarah was disgusted and said she would never read the story.  Bradford definitely pushes some boundaries, but they’re mostly in an attempt to find humor, so I think that’s cool. Sarah even admitted that the end of “Dogs” sounded funny (although she was still disgusted).  The two things I found odd about the stories were that two of them featured a three-legged dog, which seems a little lazy to me–although I don’t know what the dog might signify.  And two of them featured someone or something singing unexpectedly and the narrator getting a tape recorder to surreptitiously save this special recording.  Again, it’s a really unusual thing to happen at all, but to have that happen in two stories?

Aside from those little complaints, the stories were fun, funny and certainly weird. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Raditude (2009).

I didn’t buy this Weezer album when it came out because I had heard really bad things about it (like the “guests”), but when I saw it cheap I decided to check it out.  This has to be the most polarizing Weezer album of them all.  I listened to it twice yesterday.  The first time I thought I had been too harsh on it.  The second time I thought it was godawful.  It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do.

It opens with a wonderful bit of poppy wordplay ala Cheap Trick: “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.”  It’s catchy as anything and is a wonderful start to the album, even if it is probably their poppiest song ever.  From there though, the album really degenerates.  And mostly it’s because it’s so dumb.  I mean the album title should tell you what you’re in for, but who would have expected the moronic sub-pop-metal of “The Girl Got Hot” or even the reprehensible lyrics of “I’m Your Daddy” “You are my baby tonight And I’m your daddy.”  It’s just creepy.  Or gah, a song about the mall?  “In the Mall.”  It’s not even worth mocking.  And really, try to picture Rivers Cuomo in a mall.  Any mall.

But nothing could prepare anyone for “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Unlike Andrew WK’s ouvre, which is so sincere about partying that you can’t take it seriously, this song really seems to be about the guys partying.  It’s laughable.  The anemic rap but Li’l Wayne certainly doesn’t help.

Even the collaboration with Indian musicians on “Love is the Answer” (yes, seriously) doesn’t really work.  It feels like they wrote the song and then said, “Hey let’s throw some sitar on it.”  It’s not enough to be exciting but too much to ignore.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t catchy.  I mean, geez, I still have “Can’t Stop Partying” in my head while I’m listening to something else.   Rivers knows how to write a pop trifle.  And the more he writes songs like this, it makes me thing that Pinkerton was the fluke.  Which is fine. The music world needs poppy songs, right?

[READ: early August 2011] various nonfictions

I thought about doing individual posts for all of Arthur Bradford’s non-fiction that’s available on his website (that’s right,  yet another author that I have read short uncollected pieces by without having read any of his bigger works–I’m looking at you Wells Tower).  Bradford has links to all of his nonfiction ( I assume) on his website.  There are 12 links in total.  One is to his blog (which I’m not reviewing).  The rest are for articles covering a pretty broad array of topics from a pretty broad variety of sources.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BUFFALO TOM-Buffalo Tom (1988).

After listening to the new Buffalo Tom song, I decided to go back and reappraise their back catalog.  This first album was produced by J. Mascis, and a lot of reviews talk about the album sounding very Dino Jr.  But I have to say that rather than Dino Jr, I hear Hüsker Dü.  There’s some big loud choruses and, to me, the vocals sound much more like any of the screamier Hüsker Dü songs than anything Dino did.

There are a couple of songs that have the catchy urgency of Hüsker Dü, but for the most part the disc feels like it’s all urgency, with little in the way of songcraft.  There are elements of something here but it feels underdeveloped, especially compared to their later releases (an unfair comparison, I suppose).

 It’s also a surprise to hear just how punky this is when as recent as their next album, they would be far less abrasive.  I don’t dislike the album, but it didn’t leave a very big impact on me.

[READ: July 18, 2011] “Wendy Mort & I”

Bradford has a second story published by Nerve.com.  This one, while again featuring a rollicking sex scene (more explicit than your average short story) ultimately also went in an unexpected direction.

The narrator is dating an actress named Wendy.  Wendy is not so much an actress as an “actress.”  The narrator first sees her in an experimental play in which she is naked for the entire second act.  He’s pretty psyched to have this naked woman right next to him after their second date.  In fact, sex is the bulk of the beginning of the story,  Their relationship is very physical.  In the beginning, he is expressly forbidden to go without a condom.  But later in the story, there’s an intense scene where they have sex without one.

Now the gun on the wall must go off by the end of the story, right?  And yet this one doesn’t (minor spoiler).  The story does not focus on anything that could go wrong without using a condom–in some ways its nice that the condomless sex is all about pleasure.  (Of course, this is for nerve.com, which is all about sexual pleasure). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: TOKYO POLICE CLUB-“Everybody Wants You” (2010).

Tokyo Police Club explained that they chose this song for their AV Club cover because they had no history with it. Of course they had only three songs to choose from in total. I have a history with this song–I loved it back in the 80s, and I still think the riff is pretty great.

The song is incredibly simple–just that riff and a chorus. TPC state that they’re going to have fun with the song.  And they do. TPC is known for their short, punky tracks.  So it’s no surprise that they start off playing the riff at what’s almost double speed.  They blister through the first two verses.  Then they slow things down for the final verse and keyboard solo.  For the outro they slow it down even further.  I kind of wish they’d have done an entire verse at that speed but oh well.

The cover feels like a Sonic Youth cover to me (could be that the lead singer looks (and sings) like Thurston Moore).  The only problem I have with the cover is that it’s very tinny.  The original riff was so bass heavy that this cover feels a little anemic.  Nevertheless, it’s enjoyable. And since I don’t listen to Billy Squier anymore, now I’ve got this version.

[READ: July 19, 2011] “Lost Limbs

I don’t know anything about Vice Magazine.   I have to assume, given the look of the website, that the fiction here is more about the story than Literature.  It’s funny to me that Bradford appears so much in these slightly-off-the-usual-path-but-not-entirely-obscure locations.

From what I’ve seen of Bradford he really revels in the quirk.  In the introduction to this story, he admits, “I myself have a chronic circulation issue with my lower right leg and expect one day to lose that foot.”  I wonder what’s up with that two years later.

The story starts out amusingly: “It wasnt until my second date with Lenore that I discovered one of her arms was missing.”  She was wearing a reasonably realistic prosthetic on the first date and he is apparently not that observant.  On the second date she is wearing the claw-like prosthetic which is far more practical–this is when he notices her missing arm.

They date a few times but it doesn’t go very well.  She tells him about how she got the prosthetic (in a van accident).  But she doesn’t seem altogether truthful.  He fantasies about what sex with a person wearing a prosthetic would be like, but he doesn’t ever get to find out.  Rather, their relationship just kind of peters away. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »