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Archive for the ‘Ben Katchor’ Category

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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hapersSOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981).

sorrymaSince I’ve been talking about The Replacements so much, it made me want to go back and listen to their stuff.  The Replacements are the quintessential band that “grew up” or “matured” and for better or worse sounds utterly different from their first album to their last (a span of only nine years!).  In fact, I don’t imagine that there are too many people who would enjoy all seven of their discs.  One suspects that if the band themselves were given a copy of their All Shook Down disc in 1981, they would have smashed it.

So this was their first release. It has 18 songs in about 30 minutes.  That’s pure hardcore, right?  Well, not exactly.  Even though the songs are short and fast and quite sloppy, there’s something about Paul Westerberg’s voice and delivery that makes these songs seem not quite hardcore.  He enunciates!  And you can understand him most of the time. And, maybe this is a better indicator: there’s parts to these songs, it’s not just breakneck pacing.  They also have song titles that belied how good their song writing would become.  Like: “Shiftless When Idle.”

In fact, “Johnny’s Gonna Die” isn’t fast at all.  It shows what the kind of songs that they would eventually write: literate and moving indie rock.

There must have been something in the water in 1981 in Minnesota.  Hüsker Dü, the other amazing punk outfit out of Minnesota (referenced in the ‘Mats song “Something  to Du”) also put out a blistering live hardcore record in 1981 called Land Speed Record (17 songs in 26 minutes, listed as 2 tracks on CDs because they don’t pause in between songs).  Like the ‘Mats, Hüsker Dü wouldn’t recognize their later incarnations in 1981 either.  And why are The Replacements abbreviated as The ‘Mats?  I don’t know.

But this ‘Mats record is the kind of sneaky record that can get you to enjoy punk even if you don’t think you like it.  There’s something so fun about Sorry Ma, that you don’t really notice that it’s all done so fast.

[READ: May 22, 2009] “My Great Depression”

This essay collection is tough to catalog.  Do I include all of the authors in the title of the post, do I pick selected ones, or just go with none.  Yes, go with none.

Harper’s asked ten authors/artists to send stories from the near future, after the economic collapse of the country. All of the pieces are three columns or less, and some are more enjoyable than others. (more…)

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