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Archive for the ‘China Miéville’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SQUAREPUSHER-Solo Electric Bass 1 (2009).

Yesterday I said that one Squarepusher CD was enough for me.  I did some digging and found out that he has put out a whole bunch of CDs.  And, to the surprise of me, at least, not all of them are crazy electronic music.   This CD, as the title states, is a collection of electric bass solo songs.  The songs were performed live as part of the Jazz à la Villette 2007 festival and were played on an electric six-string bass with no pedals or effects.

And that is all you get—serious solo bass songs.  The man behind Squarepusher, Tom Jenkinson, is apparently a virtuoso musician (who knew?) and these songs really show off his chops (just listen to the insanity of “Seb-1.05” (catchy title, eh?)).  He can play some impressive Spanish-sounding songs–that would probably sound better on a guitar, but sound more impressive on a bass (“Seb-1.06”).  He’s got some great slap stuff going on (“Seb-1.03”), and he really knows from melody (also “Seb-1.03”).  True, 12 all bass songs can meld into one another, but the crowd really loves it (and like a lot of things, seeing it is probably more impressive than just hearing it).

It’s not exactly “fun” listening (even if you love bass solos).  Only 850 copies of the disc were released, so it’s not like they expected a big audience for this.  But it is pretty neat to hear a) how good he is and b) that his main musical output is noisy electronic noodling.  That gives me even more respect for his electronic output.

[READ: June 5, 2012] “The Spider Women”

Margaret Atwood is another author I wish I had read more of—and I’m getting there.  I often wonder if I should just read an author start to finish and be done with him or her or if that just leads to madness.

Much like Miéville says in the previous essay, children don’t read genres, they just read what they like.  I loved Atwood’s idea that “below a certain age, [children] don’t distinguish between ‘true’ and ‘not true,’ because they see no reason why a white rabbit shouldn’t possess a pocket watch, that whales shouldn’t talk, or that sentient beings shouldn’t live on other planets and travel around in spaceships.”  After all, sometimes reality lives under the bed and has sharp claws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SQUAREPUSHER-“Dark Steering” (2012).

Hot on the heels of a review of LMFAO I get to the other side of the spectrum in electronic music—Squarepusher.   There’s no big choruses, heck there’s no words, but this music shares something with LMFAO.  Well, actually it really doesn’t—except maybe keyboards.

Squarepusher play dark angular music. It’s very electronic and alien (and sounds like it may have been used in the background of Skinny Puppy songs back in the day). It’s abrasive and the sounds are otherworldly and yet in this song, there’s a melody to it.  I have but one Squarepusher CD—that’s probably enough for me.  But I am always interested to hear new music by him.  It’s impressive the way he can take a song that starts out so noisy and get it to sound like real music by the end.  It like the science fiction of music.

[READ: June 5, 2012] “Forward Thinking”

I have read only one book by China Miéville—Perdido Street Station.  I found it to be quite challenging for a bunch of reasons and figured I wouldn’t read more by him.  And yet I find that images from that book stay with me to this day (at least ten years on).  So maybe it’s time to give him another shot.  But where to start?

This entry in the New Yorker’s Sci-Fi issue is written as an “E-mail sent back in time to a young science-fiction fan.”  And I loved it.  I enjoyed how it started (with the author knowing that E-mail doesn’t exist at the time the recipient will get this—so who will it show up?)  And I loved the central question: “How did you get into this stuff?”  The sender knows that the kid will get asked this a lot, but the question should be turned around: “How did you get out of it?”  Because all kids love sci-fi concepts.  It’s just that some move away from it as they get older.

Miéville includes a few key moments in (his) sci-fi history: Page 40 of “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher” by Beatrix Potter.  What?  Indeed, for this is the first time that (you) will be ware of knowing something the protagonist doesn’t—that there’s  fish coming up to get him.

Next is Chapter 13 of Golem100 by Alfred Bester.  I have never heard of this book.  Although Miéville does warn us about it—he read it far too young and there’s some sadistic violence in it, what attracted him (and me, now) is the disrespect for text—part of the story is a musical score, another is a picture.  It sounds cool.  And of course it is long out of print. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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