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Archive for the ‘Colleen Werthmann’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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back coverSOUNDTRACK: HÜSKER DÜ-Metal Circus EP (1983).

HuskerDuMetalCircusAfter the insane hardcore mess of Land Speed Record, this EP is a bit of a change.  It’s still pretty hardcore, but now you can tell that the noisiness of the guitar is deliberate.  Bob Mould is playing around with multiple layers of feedback and distortion to create a wall of noise that sometimes hides, sometime accentuates the overall sound.

What strikes me as odd in retrospect is that I think of Bob Mould as one of alternative rock’s poppier songwriters.  And yet when you listen to this disc the two poppiest (which is a relative term to be sure) tracks are by Grant Hart.

The first two tracks are fast and furious.  But what separates them from 4 x 4 hardcore is, mostly Greg Norton’s bass.  He’s all over the place.  There’s also some diversity within the songs themselves (a little guitar squeal in “Deadly Skies”).

“It’s Not Funny Anymore” (Hart’s song) is surprisingly upbeat (with guitar harmonics) and is not quite as noisy (although it’s still pretty noisy, and is not going on the radio anytime soon).

The next two track are more of Mould’s screamy hardcore.

The longest song (4 and a half minutes) is also by Hart. “Diane” is a creepy song about abduction and murder (yet with something of a  singalong chorus).  I actually know the Therapy? version better because I had listened to that disc a lot when it came out.  But the Hüsker’s version is even creepier.  Wikipedia says it is about a real incident (which makes it less creepy than if Hart has made it up, I suppose).

It ends with Mould’s least hardcore song, although the guitar solo is pretty insane.

And then it’s over.  7 songs in twenty minutes.  That’s nearly half as many as on Land Speed Record.  You can see the songs changing already.  Just wait till the next disc!

[READ: June 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #5

McSweeney’s #5 plays with cover ideas again.  On this one, frontthe cover idea is actual different covers and slipcovers.  The book is hardcover, with three different cover designs.  It also has 4 different slipcover designs. The colophon explains that if one wanted one could have requested for free) each of the cover designs because they did not intend to make people buy multiple issues.  Click on the covers to see them enlarged on flickr (all images are copyright McSweeney’s).

This is the Koppel front cover.

I will quote from the McSweeney’s site their description of the covers:

As many of you know, the new issue of our print version is out, and by now is in most stores. This issue is a hardcover book, and features four different dust jackets. One dust jacket has on it a man who seems to be suffering from terrible skin lesions. The second cover looks very much like the cover of Issue No. 1, with the addition of a medical drawing of a severed arm. The third cover is blank, with all of its images hiding on the back. Hiding from the bad people. The last cover is just red. Or, if you will, simply red.

In addition, under each dust jacket is a different cover. One features pictures of Ted Koppel. One features new work by Susan Minot. And a third features a variation on the second cover, described above, though this version is legible only with aid of mirror. This inner cover also is featured under the red dust jacket.

I was quite surprised when I took the slipcover off mine, (more…)

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mcsweeneys3SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Riot Act (2002).

riotactThis album seems to get overshadowed by the anti-George Bush track “Bu$hleaguer.” Evidently many people were turned off by this track, and that may have had an impact on sales. Of course, I’m sure many other people were introduced to the band by this song, too. Regardless, the rest of the album shouldn’t be judged by this track, as it is rather unusual.

This disc is the first one to feature a dedicated keyboardist, “Boom” Gaspar.  He’s present on all of the live discs from this concert tour, and it is quite disconcerting the first time you hear the audience yell “Boooooooooooom” when he comes out.  But he plays a mean organ solo.

“Can’t Keep” opens the disc sounding unlike other PJ tracks.  It has a vibe like Led Zeppelin III–almost a world-acoustic feel.  “Save You” rocks out with the classic chorus, “And fuck me if I say something you don’t wanna hear.  And fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear.  Fuck me if I care.”  A great fast song with a cool bassline.  “Love Boat Captain” feature Boom Gaspar’s first contribution to a song: lots of organ.  It’s a rather touching song, a gentle piece, except for a center part which rocks out. “Cropduster” features a delicate chorus after a skittery verse.  If you are familiar with Matt Cameron’s contributions to the band, you’ll not be surprised by the unusual sound of this song.

“I Am Mine” starts a section of three great songs. This one is acousticy and uplifting.  “Thumbing My Way” is a pretty PJ ballad.  Then “You Are” has a really funky wah wahed sound on almost the whole song.  Three great tracks in a row.

Not that “Get Right” is bad.  It just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the previous three.  Rather, this is a punk blast that feels more than a little off-kilter (another Cameron track, of course).   “Help Help” begins the really weird section of the disc with this peculiar song (catchy chorus though).  It’s followed by “Bu$hleaguer” a spoken word rant, with an abstract chorus.  The chanting aspect is interesting, th0ugh.  “Arc” is a short chant, no doubt reflecting Eddie’s duet with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

“1/2 Full” returns to the “proper” songs with this sloppy jam.  The verses are quiet but the choruses rock.  “All or None” is another mellow disc ender, this one has some good subtle drumming that really propels this jazzy song.

At this point in Pearl Jam’s career, we get yet another solid effort.  You more or less know what to expect on their releases although there’s always a surprise.

[READ: May 7, 2009] McSweeney’s #3

This is the third volume of McSweeney’s print journal.  This one, like the first two, is a white, softcover edition.  If you click on the cover above it will take you to the flickr page with a larger picture.

[UPDATE: September 25, 2009]

It has just come to my attention that David Foster Wallace DOES have a  piece in this magazine.  (See my comment on the Notes from the authors).  His piece runs on the spine of the book and is called:
“Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected but not Improbable Transcript of Author’s Parents’ Marriage End, 1971” (which is also available in his book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men under the title “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)”).

The piece itself is almost shorter than the whole title and is basically a funny argument about which parent would get the double-wide trailer and which parent would get him.  Pretty funny stuff, and even funnier for being on the spine.

Okay, back to the issue.

[end UPDATE]

The opening colophon on this one explains the price increase (from $8 to $10).  It’s because this is a longer issue, it has color plates (foldouts!) and because of a sad but amusing anecdote of a lost bag with $2,000 cash.
There’s also notes about some stories (the Hoff & Steinhardt pieces are true) and an apology of sorts for running a story about the Unabomber.

And an actual (presumably) envelope sent from the titular Timothy McSweeney, as a way of verifying the authenticity of the title of the journal.

The final page of the colophon shows a sample of how long it will take for them to respond to submissions (which should not be funny fake news).  And it ends with a half a dozen or so random questions, which they do answer: ARE THE RIVERS THAT FLOW FROM HOT SPRINGS HOT? They are often very warm.  DO THEY GIVE OFF STEAM? Yes, and they smell vaguely of sulfur. MARTIN VAN BUREN: He had a certain charm.  etc.

LETTERS PAGE:

JONATHAN LETHEM
Ride with Jonatahn Lethem and the Mad Brooklynite as he narrates Manhattan’s superiority complex when it comes to the other boros.  Funny stuff. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (2008).

sigurSigur Rós are nothing if not ethereal.  Their music is constantly floating up in outer space somewhere.  So imagine the surprise when the first song of this disc opens with some thudding drums.  And, there are acoustic instruments aplenty this time around.  Their previous disc Hvarf/Heim had them playing a number of acoustic pieces in various unexpected settings.  And clearly the experience must have been a good one.

“Illgresi” is largely played on an acoustic guitar and “Ára Bátur” opens with a very pretty piano melody.  But lest you think this is Sigur Rós unplugged, “Ára Bátur” turns into a nearly 9 minute epic complete with orchestra, choir and as much ethereal sounds that you can cram into one song.  Indeed, a few songs before that is “Festival” another nine minute epic.  Although like in the beginning, there is a lot of bass, and a lot of drum.

But despite all of the musical changes, the band is still clearly Sigur Rós.  Jon Thor Birgisson’s voice is still unmistakable, and his lyrics are still inscrutable.  In fact, the final song, “All Alright” is sung almost entirely in English(!) and I didn’t realize until I just read about it recently.

In some ways this disc is not as satisfying as previous Sigur Rós releases as it doesn’t take you to quite the same planes of existence as past discs have.  And yet, in other ways it is more satisfying as it shows an earthbound side of them, allowing us to see their craft in action.

Despite any criticisms, Sigur Rós is still an amazing band, and this is an amazing record, too.

[READ: March 14, 2009] McSweeney’s #2

McSweeney’s 2nd issue retains some of the features from the first, and yet, some things have changed.

Similarities:

First: The cover retains that very wordy style that the first issue had.  There are more jokes (a good pun about Big Name authors).

Second: The letters column is still there.  What’s different is that in addition to some unusual letters (including the complete address of a letter writer), there are conversational letters between Gary Pike and Mr. McSweeney.  There’s also several small entries from Brent Hoff.  We are also treated to a letter from Jon Langford of the Mekons, Sarah Vowell, and a piece from Jonathan Lethem (the last of which was put in the letters column because they didn’t know what else to do with it). (more…)

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