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Archive for the ‘César Aira’ Category

secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_08_11_14Mattotti.indd SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991).

cheeseHere they come, here comes the bastards again.  Sailing the Seas of Cheese was the band’s major label debut, and they were given a lot of freedom to do whatever they wanted.  Which they did.

The first two songs sort of ease you into the chaos that is “Sgt Baker” a noisy stomp that mocks the military. It’s followed by “American life” a relatively quiet song that is rather sad.  Although I like Ler’s solo at the end (which is rather conventional for him).

But the album really takes of with “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver”, Primus’ first real hit.  Which is amazing in and of itself given how weird a song it is and how noisy (and moshy) the middle section is.  Fun drumming opens “Eleven,” a rocking song done in 11/4 time–count it, its crazy!  I just love the lunacy of “Is It Luck?”–the bass is fast and so bizarre while Ler’s guitars are playing one simple dissonant note for much of the song.  “You wanna get lucky little boy?”

“Grandad’s Little Ditty” is basically Les singing in the shower (and one of the few songs I know of which use the word “flatus”).  It leads into the new recording of “Tommy the Cat.”  This time the role of Tommy is played by Tom Waits, which make a slot of sense.  The Primus book has a funny story about Waits singing this (he sent them a version without having heard the song and he sang it through a megaphone).  The bass in the middle of the song is just incredible.

“Sathington Waltz” continues the adventure of Sathington Willoughby, although this is a scattered instrumental with banjos and loud drums (and lots of guests).  “Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers” is a stomping song with a great riff.  I never knew exactly what it was about (not that its hard to figure out), but the book explains exactly who Les was talking about.

“Fish On” is a 7 minute song (most of the songs on this record are shorter than on Frizzle Fry) with a lengthy intro and outro.  The disc ends with “Los Bastardos” a reprise of the opening bastard music with some samples from The Young Ones and all kinds of friends playing along.  It’s a really fun record with some absolutely classic songs on it.

Shut up you bastards!

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Picasso”

The ever prolific César Aira had a new short story in The New Yorker (he usually writes novella length pieces, but this appears to be an actual short story (3 pages)) which is a little different.

In the story, the narrator says he was in the Picasso museum enjoying the artwork when a genie came out of his bottle of Miracle Milk and offered him a choice: Would he rather have a Picasso or be Picasso.  I enjoyed this twist on the typical three-wishes genie (he even mention how most people are prepared to ask for more wishes), and that this was totally unexpected.

To me, the answer was obvious from the start, Picasso was a pretty unhappy guy, why would I want to be him?  Of court, as the narrator goes through the options, he says that if you were Picasso you would automatically have all the Picassos.  Plus, he says that he himself has a pretty unhappy life, so Picasso would be a step up.

The narrator reviews Picasso’s life and output, but ultimately he decides that owning a Picasso would give him the financial security to allow himself to write his novels.

As soon as he thinks that, a painting appears on the table in front of him.  It is clearly a Picasso.  He spends the next few paragraphs describing the painting and then comes upon a “meaning” for it.  It’s an interesting look at a Spanish fable or joke.  The fable involves a queen who is lame and her servants who want to tell her without actually telling her.  The punchline of the joke comes down to “Su Majestad, escoja” which translates as “Your Majesty, choose” or if the last word is broken up (into es coja) “Your Majesty is lame.”  It’s a pretty elaborate painting or what amounts to a joke (and I have no idea if this is a real painting or not).

As the story comes to an end, the final paragraph introduces a whole new aspect of the story which was hilarious and unepxetced.  It was a great twist.  I do have to wonder if this is part of a bigger story because although it feels complete, I could easily see him following this character further.

This was translated by Chris Andrews.

For ease of searching I include: Cesar Aira

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shantySOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Mrs. Robinson’s, Kitchener, Ontario (December 20, 1997).

kitchener

What’s most fascinating about these Rheostatics live shows is coming across venues that have no internet presence.  I can’t find a photo or anything of Mrs Robinson’s in Kitchener.  Did it even exist?  Who knows?

The quality of this show is very good although the overall volume is too low. There are also complaints from Dave about his monitor not working.  It doesn’t impact the sound for us, but I guess he couldn’t hear very well.  The intro of “Michael Jackson” is all messed up, but they play on through it.  Then they actually take a pause for an unspecified length of time to fix it (but still do a show that’s over 2 hours long).

Martin and Dave are very chatty for this show.  The intro is quite long, with some good banter including a discussion of the weird table in front of the stage which people can use for stage diving or go go dancing.  Martin explains the origins of “Junction Foil Ball” (about a guy who makes a ball out of the tin foil in cigarette packs.  They make a joke about Don the drummer being from Kirkwood Lake which is where Alan Thicke is from.  And a joke about Polkaroo.

They also introduce Tim Mech (their guitar tech) whose band PEEP-SHOW was one of the winners of Musician magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band Competition” in 1997.  He takes a long solo in “Claire.”

This was their last show of 1997, so this wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

[READ: March 3, 2014] Shantytown

This has been my favorite Aira book so far (and I’m now caught up to his English language releases).  The plot was simple and interesting, and the fantastical elements really worked with the story instead of overshadowing it (which his stories sometimes allow, but which isn’t really a criticism per se, just a point of fact).

This story begins with Maxi, a kind-hearted, but not terribly smart or sensible young man.  He is unemployed, did not finish any real schooling and doesn’t have a lot to do.  He has been going to the gym daily, so he is very strong. And he has recently begun helping the garbage scavengers.

These scavengers are people who live in the Shantytown nearby.  It is a collection of houses, most very tiny and quickly constructed, where the poorest people live.  And many of these people collect and either sell or use rich people’s garbage.  They come up every night before a garbage pick up and root through the streets for anything they can use.  And Maxi has begun helping them shift their carts  Since he is so strong, he finds that none of the their carts are very heavy.  And although he has never spoken to any of them and they have not spoken to him, he decided to start helping them and now he gets great satisfaction in carrying their stuff.

The shantytown is an unsavory place where drugs are sold and not too long ago a young girl was murdered.  Recently a policeman, Agent Cabezas has been trying to get to the bottom of this whole drug thing.  The drug of choice is proxidine which makes things clearer. Even Cabezas himself takes it (even though it is illegal).  But there has been a lot of suspicious activity with a man dressed as a pastor who might be a dealer.  And then there’s Maxi who is suddenly hanging around the shantytown.  And, quite frankly, Cabezas has decided that he’s tired of being a good cop.  He is ready to take what is his. (more…)

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hare1SOUNDTRACK: THE AVETT BROTHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #18 (June 22, 2009).

avettI have recently become a fan of The Avett Brothers.  Indeed, my first review of one of their songs was very mixed.  But I have come around.  And this Tiny Desk show is a great example of the power they have in a live setting–especially one as personal as this.

For this set the two brothers (Seth on guitar and Scott on banjo) play a song from their then new album (the beautiful “Laundry Room” complete with amazing harmonies and beautiful cello) I & Love & You.  It builds slowly but after about two minutes, it turns into a big (upright bass is included, too) catchy song.  And in the last minute it becomes a huge stompin’ track (predating those other banjo bands by a few years).

Scott’s voice is really powerful (Bob Boilen asks if he swallowed an amplifier).

The second song is a the time not released yet, “Down With the Shine” (they joke that they’re then going to play a song they haven’t written yet).  It’s full of phenomenal harmonies.  And the commentary afterward about traveling with the brothers is very funny.

The final track goes back to their previous EP and is called “Bella Donna,” a pretty ballad sung by Seth–he seems to do the more mellow tracks.  It’s a pretty ending to this all too short Tiny Desk Concert.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 10, 2014] The Hare

The Hare was the first of Aira’s books to be translated into English (back in 1998 with this simply gawdawful cover).  It has recently been republished by New Directions Press with a far more tasteful cover.  The translator, Nick Caistor, is the same although I noticed in an online excerpt that while the English language is the same, the New Directions version has translated a Spanish newspaper (El Grito) into English (The Crap) when it wasn’t translated in the earlier version.  But aside from that, it all appears to be the same.

I had been putting off reading this book because it is his largest book (most of Aira’s books are barely over 100 pages, while this one is almost 250) and I’d also read some lukewarm reviews of the book, so I saved it for last.  Of course, now he has a newly translated book out, so I decided it was time to read The Hare.

Not the best attitude for a book an it definitely impacted my early reading of the story.  And I’ll sum up that impact as saying I thought that the book itself was strangely flat but that the ending was fantastic.  Had I been more open t0 the absurdity I think I would have enjoyed the whole thing a lot more. (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oPio60mK4]

[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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curesSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Billy Breathes (1996).

billyBilly Breathes is a much more mellow, acoustic feeling album from Phish.

Although the opener “Free” is a great song, with wonderful riffs.  It’s another of my favorites live, although the production sounds a little flat here, but the harmonies are great.  “Character Zero” again has a real ZZ Top feel (something many don’t really associate with Phish I’m sure).  But once the song proper kicks in, it rocks in a very Phish way.  “Waste” is a delicate song about insecurities that turns into a nice love song.  “Taste” is a rollicking piano-heavy song that gets played live pretty often and it sounds good here.

“Cars Trucks Buses” is a 2 minute instrumental that has a lot of organ in it, it’s very groovy.  “Talk” is an acoustic guitar/folky song.  You don’t hear it much live.  “Theme from the Bottom” gets us back into often-played territory, with its weird opening riff.  I really enjoy the way the bridge goes into a brief minor key, despite the overall happy vibe.  I like the harmonies towards the end, although the actual end of the song is a bit dull (the live endings are a bit more fun).

From here the album mellows out a lot.  “Train Song” is a pretty acoustic number with nice harmonies.  “Bliss” is an acoustic guitar solo.  “Billy Breathes” has more delicate harmonies and an acoustic feel.  “Sept Away” is another delicate short (90 second) song, with some more great harmonies. “Steep” is a slow, simple song (also 90 seconds) that has a pretty melody but serves more as an introduction to “Prince Caspian.”   “Prince Caspian” is a great epic-seeming song (even though it’s only 5 minutes long).  The build up is long , with the pretty chords repeating and growing fuller.  It’s a great live song and a great ending to this disc.

Although this disc has some great songs on it, it’s definitely not my favorite overall.

[READ: October 4, 2013] The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

This was another weird and fun book by César Aira (one of about six books he wrote that year). This one was translated by Kathleen Silver.  Ever since reading that Aira doesn’t edit his books—that he simply begins writing and lets the story keep coming out–I’ve grown suspicious of the beginnings of his stories. And so I am with this one. In the beginning there’s a whole thing about Dr Aira sleepwalking through a town.  He wakes up in various places, unsure where he is, but he’s never lost because he knows the streets so well.  This goes on for a few pages and then the plot kicks in.

Dr Aira is picked up by an ambulance—a man is dying right there in the ambulance and only Dr. Aira can save him.  Won’t Dr Aira help him? The Dr. refuses point blank.  He is convinced that this whole thing is a set up—why else would the ambulance (which he had heard for many blocks going up and down the street) be driving around with a sick man looking just for him instead of going to the hospital?  He will not help this man.  Disgusted, the ambulance driver pulls over and the Dr gets out.

So what is all this about? (more…)

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seamSOUNDTRACKELFIN SADDLE-Devastates [CST087] (2012).

elfinElfin Saddle continues their streak of oddly juxtaposed music that works very well.   The band specializes in a kind of Middle Eastern folk music (there’s a lot of Jewish-style singing), but with Emi Honda singing Japanese-style vocals it really alters the overall sound.  They also use a lot of raw sounding “instruments” many of which are found or quite simply, junk.  Check out the instrumentation list: Jordan McKenzie: voice, guitar, half-accordion, drums, varied percussion, membrane pipes, organs, piano, pvc processing, tapes, phonographs, speakers, etc.  Emi Honda: voice, ukulele, drums, half-accordion, musical saw, extra percussion.  It’s that extra percussion and etc. that you hear a lot, rattling around in the background of these songs.

They play complex rhythms (with lots of low end drumming) underneath ethereal noises (music boxes and the like).  And all the while, Honda and McKenzie trade off their unusual vocals.  It’s mesmerizing.  When the band really starts rocking, like in “The Changing Wind” you hear how well it all works together, and how well the two play off each other.  The slower pieces, like “Boats” are very cinematic, probably because everything sounds so real–you can see the items that are making these odd sounds.

The music is definitely not pop, but with just a listen or two, you can really appreciate what they’re doing.  If you like your folk a little noisy or your rock a little experimental, this is a great record to check out.

[READ: January 13, 2013] The Seamstress and the Wind

Things that I have said about every book of Aira’s that I have read: they are all short, he writes a lot of books (according to Wikipedia he has written at least 45 books since this one came out about twenty years ago), and they are all nonlinear.

And so it is with this 130 page book.

As the book opens, a young boy named César Aira is playing with his friend in the back of their neighbor Chiquito’s truck.  They are playing a game of ghosts when suddenly, César finds himself walking in a trance back to his house.  Turns out his friend Omar couldn’t find him for hours (and when César snaps out of it, indeed hours have passed).  And yet, despite this story, it turns out that really Omar is missing (what? who knows?).  Omar is the son of the local seamstress, Delia Siffoni.  She is sewing a wedding dress for the art teacher, Silvia, who is (scandalously) pregnant.  When she hears that her son is missing, she freaks out and calls out a search party.

She concludes that Omar was hiding in Chiquito’s truck when he left for Patagonia.  So she takes a taxi to chase after Chiquito.  Since the dress is due to be finished right away, she takes it and her supplies with her in hopes of finishing it on the road.  When Ramón, Delia’s husband realizes what she has done, he chases after her.  And when Silvia realizes that her dress is driving away in a taxi she follows Ramón.  And so it becomes a road novel in which none of the characters are together.

By the end of the story there has been a terrible accident with a taxi crashing into a truck.  There has been a poker game where one of the two women has been lost in a bet (unbeknownst to her) and we have met The Wind (Sir Ventarrón) who helps the seamstress with her problems.  Indeed, Sir Ventarrón becomes an integral part of the story, including a flashback when Sir Ventarrón assisted a snowman in his quest for eternal life (yes). (more…)

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