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Archive for the ‘Chris Bachelder’ Category

2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: COWBOY JUNKIES-Tiny Desk Concert #211 (April 26, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

cowboyAfter all of these years there’s not much to say about Cowboy Junkies that hasn’t been said.  They sound a certain way and only ever sound that way.  Their songs are slow, “mournful and thoughtful,” relatively long (because they are so slow) and Margo Timmins has a beautiful voice which hasn’t changed in 25 yeas.

There are no surprises in this set.  (Well, except for the fact that in the two years from 2010 to 2012, the band released four albums).

This concert features Michael and Peter Timmins on guitar and mandolin accompanying their sister Margo.

They play three songs, two new ones “Angels In The Wilderness” and “Fairytale” and an oldie “Misguided Angel.”  “Angel” is the only song I knew already and it seems so much louder tan the other two because there’s a surprisingly loud harmonica to open the track.

I think that Timmins’ voice is lovely and I like a few of their songs, but I simply can’t listen to more than a song at a time—it’s just too depressing.

[READ: December 7, 2016] “Deep Wells, USA”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I have had a mixed reader relationship with Chris Bachelder.  I either find his stuff pretty funny or just weird and kind of pointless.

This is a weird one.

The premise of this story is about babies in well and the kind of media sensation they can create.

It is set up in XXI sections (and an epilogue) in which we get to hear input from dozens of people involved directly or not with this issue. But the crux here is that no one is even sure if there is a baby in a well–they just all sort of hope there is.

It is set up like a play, sort of, with “characters” speaking dialogue.  It begins with a Celebrity saying there is an unconfirmed report of a baby in a well.  Consumer: “Hot damn. I love well babies.”  And off we go.

Professors, students, experts, pollsters, historians, and even Flannery O’Connor all weigh in.

Eyewitnesses are deemed unreliable: “That’s not a baby in a well.  That’s a wino in a sandbox.

And then of course there is the Mayor, who tries to calm everyone during this excitement.

But the main voices seem to come Celebrity–asking if this story harms the sheriff or proposing that certain people who have come forth are the baby’s parents.  Celebrity lists all of the previous well-babies and what has happened to them since (it’s not promising).

Even the news of a murder (of adults only) is dismissed for this potential well-baby story.

So do we ever find out if there was a baby in the well?  Sort of.

As this story ends we see the sheriff and his wife heading home, remembering back to Baby Finkerton.

I didn’t realize that I had read this before (in McSweeney’s 14, back in 2013).  I didn’t remember it, obviously.  But this story is not really something that would stick with me.

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14

SOUNDTRACK: DEFTONES-Diamond Eyes (2010).

diamondBefore releasing Diamond Eyes, Deftones had two band crises. The first was that they didn’t really seem to like each other anymore.  The previous album was fraught with tension and they barely toured.  After deciding that they wanted to remain as a band, they were invigorated and made an album called Eros.  But during the recording, bassist Chi Cheng was in a car accident and was in a coma.  As of yet he has not fully recovered.  So they shelved Eros, hired a temporary bass player Sergio Vega and set about recording Diamond Eyes.  And for whatever reason, it proved to be one of their best releases so far.

“Diamond Eyes” opens with a heavy down-tuned guitar–very abrasive–until the chorus come in and it’s their most beautiful ones yet–with soaring keyboards and  harmonies.  And then the heavy guitars come back–it’s what Deftones do so well–beauty and ugly together.  Stephen Carpenter really shines, as always.  “Royal” is a fast song with a great harmonizing chorus.  “Cmnd/Ctrl” has a shocking low riff that explodes into a  bright chorus.  “You’ve Seen the Butcher” has guitars that seem almost untuned as the song starts.  But it morphs into a kind of sexy butt-shaking chorus.  And Abe Cunningham’s drums are, of course, fantastic.

“Beauty School” is the first that doesn’t really start out heavy, it’s a got a gentle guitar intro and the first song where Vega’s bass is really prominent as a separate instrument and it creates a beautiful alternative song–great vocals throughout.  “Prince” brings in a lot of new textures to the album, including a clanging guitar sound and a great screamed chorus. “Rocket Skates” is one of my favorite songs on the record, it has a classic metal riff and the great screamed-beyond-comprehension chorus of Guns, Razors Knives and a weird little whoooo that ends the chorus.

“Sextape” is a surprisingly gentle song, opening with an echoed guitar riff and one of Chino’s most gentle choruses.  “976-Evil” has an echoey guitar and voices not unlike the Cocteau Twins.  “This Place is Death” has another great alt rock feel–a big song with bright guitars and dark lyrics.  I haven’t really mentioned Frank Delgado on keyboards and samples.  He’s been with the band since White Pony, and I feel like his presence was made notable on a few songs here and there.  But it seems like on this disc he really comes to the fore, adding new textures and sounds to the album which really fill it out.

[READ: March 12, 2013] McSweeney’s #14

After the colorful extravaganza of the Comics Issue of McSweeney’s #13, this book settles down into something more somber  The book is softcover and all white.  The cover depicts a cartoon of George Bush with both legs blown off and the caption, “I Am So, So Sorry.”  On the spine in small print: “We’re praying as fast as we can.”  It is the most context-full cover they’ve done yet and, nearly a decade away it seems like a rather mean cover, but if I remember correctly at the time it seemed apt and delicious, especially in light of the upcoming election.

Yet despite the overtly political cover, the content inside is not political or even thematic (although it is pretty dark stuff).  Nevertheless, the table of contents gives us a small joke when it says “To help you know which stories to read first, we have indicated with either a * or a † those that deserve special consideration from you, the reader.  If you see either a * or a †, do not miss that story.”  Of course every story has either a * or a † but they cleverly did not put any kind of pattern to the symbols.

The colophon explains that when they were in Ireland, they met an actual Timothy McSweeney.  He had been given a copy of Issue #3 and then promptly forgot about the magazine.  But when McSweeney’s was in Galway to do a reading at the Galway Arts Festival, Timothy (Ted) McSweeney traveled from Dublin to check it out (not a short trip).  This also resulted in a letter from Mr McSweeney which is actually quite funny.

There are also illustrations in the book, although they are small illustrations and are placed on the title of each piece in the book.  All of the illustrations are old, mostly coming from the 1800s, although one dates back to 1670.  They illustrations are all technical scientific ones and don’t have anything to do with the stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AZTEC CAMERA-“Jump” (1984).

This is a wonderfully twisted covered of Van Halen’s “Jump.”  VH’s version of “Jump” is bouncy, lively, fun, it makes you want to yes, Jump!  It was many years after the release of VH’s “Jump” that I heard the Aztec Camera version (even though it was released the same year).  The first time I heard it I assumed it was a joke.

I didn’t know much about Aztec Camera (and actually still don’t–looking at their Wikipedia page I don’t recognize the names of any of their singles).   But I have grown to love this cover of “Jump.”  In fact I prefer it to the original.

The opening chord structure makes me think it’s going to be the Rolling Stone’s “Waiting on a Friend” but instead of Jagger’s ooh oohs we get Roddy Frame’s deep voice practically whispering the lyrics that David Lee Roth made famous.  And it stays with this delightfully mellow acoustic style and pacing throughout.  The guitar work in the bridge is actually much more interesting than the bridge in the Van Halen version (ouch).

The chorus seems kind of odd with his very mellowly saying “jump” (although David Lee Roth doesn’t scream “jump” either, it’s the backing vocals that do the exciting part).  I feel like the original VH version hasn’t held up that well, but the Aztec Camera version shows that it’s quite a good song.

Check it out here.

[READ: Week of November 8] Consider David Foster Wallace [first three essays]

I lied.

I said that I wouldn’t feel up to writing posts about all of the articles in this book on a regular basis.  As it turns out, I don’t have a lot to say about these essays, but I had a few thoughts about each one.  Since there’s a group reading going on, I thought it might be fun to post these thoughts now while people were still speaking about the articles instead of waiting until the end.

Before I say anything about this articles, I want to preface that I’m not going to repeat things that were said in the group read (for a couple of reasons).  Everything here is going to be things that I felt about the article and maybe, if something another reader says really sticks with me, I’ll mention it as an influence on me.

Having said that, in one of the comments, author Clare Hayes-Brady says that her article is a part of a longer thesis.  I found this to be a very useful thing to know, and I assume that she is not the only one who had to compress her article because of size and time constraints.  With that in mind, I’m going to accept that if it seems like the author could/should say more about a certain thing within the article that there is probably a larger version of the piece.

And finally, because I don’t have a lot to say about the pieces, I’m only going to mention things that I found puzzling/confusing.  But be assured that if I don’t mention the vast majority of the article it’s because I found it interesting/compelling/believable.  I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing the articles’ argument.  Besides, what would be the point of that?

(more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (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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LoveLettersSMSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-SYR 7: J’accuse Ted Hughes/Agnès B Musique (2008).

syr7The first side of the disc (for it was only released on vinyl) is a ballsy blast of music.  Ballsy because it was the opening track of their live set at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000.  And who opens up their set at a festival that features bands like Super Furry Animals, Sigur Rós, and Stereolab (basically a who’s who in awesome Brit-rock) with this 22 minute shriek of noise?

The set was so derisively received that the cover of the NME (hilariously reproduced on the cover of the LP) stated “Goodbye 20th Century, Goodbye Talent.”

The noise is palpable: squeals and squalls and all manner of feedback.  Kim even gets a strange little spoken word section in the middle.  I would think fans might have enjoyed it for 5, maybe even 10 minutes, but by 23 it’s pretty numbing.  The rest of the set included instrumentals from the not yet released NYC Ghosts and Flowers.  It almost seems like the set was payback for the invitation.

The B-side is an 18 minute “soundtrack” of sorts.  Agnes B. is a French clothing designer and yet somehow the music feels like it could be for some scary kids’ movie.  It has a number of creepy elements to it.  I kept picturing people sneaking around a little cottage.

The liner notes are written in Arpitan, a steadily-declining-in-use language spoken mostly in Italy and Switzerland.

Not for the faint of heart (or the vinylphobic).

[READ: August 31, 2009] Four Letter Word

I read about this book in The Walrus and then I ordered it from Amazon.ca as it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.

The book is a collection of “love letters.”  What is so very interesting about the collection is the varied nature of the letters themselves.  It’s not just: “I love you XOXO” (of course).   There are letters to mothers, stepmothers, mountains, and the Earth itself.  There are letters of love, lust, anger and respect.

I was most attracted to the book by the great list of authors, some of whom I read religiously and many others whom I just really like (and of course a bunch who I’ve never heard of).

It’s hard to review a collection of short stories that is as varied as this, especially when the pieces are this short (as most of them are).  And, I guess technically, they aren’t even short stories.  They are just letters. I would never base my opinion of these authors from this work.  Although some of the authors that I know well definitely retain their signature style.  There were only one or two letters that I didn’t enjoy, but for the most part the entire collection is very good.  And if you like any of these authors, it’s worth checking out.

I’m going to list all of the authors, mention who the letter is to, and any other salient features (without trying to give anything away–several letters have a surprise in them)! (more…)

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