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Archive for the ‘Daniel Kehlmann’ Category

krausSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Terror (2013).

terror After the distortion heavy and heaviness of At War with the Mystics and Embryonic (to say nothing of their other experimental releases), I wasn’t sure what to expect from an album called The Terror.  Yet with a title like that the album is far more invested in psychological terror than in pummeling you with scary noises and music.  The album is more unsettling and spooky with existential dread.

Wayne Coyne has always been a pretty optimistic guy–weird, sure, dealing with feelings of dread, sure, but never so dark and insular.  But I learned that before recording this album and most likely as an impetus to record it,  Coyne separated from his partner of 25 years, Michelle, and Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd temporarily relapsed into addiction.

In an interview, Drozd says the album is like a crisis of life confidence.  He also says that the uniformity in sonic style was intentional: “Instead of writing songs and then figuring out sounds, we’d write the other way around: create sounds then make songs out of those sounds.”

So the vocals are quite low in the mix, and there is not a lot of “music” in the album.  Rather there are layers of sounds–swishing synths, spiraling noises, percussion effects that seems to almost cover up the vocals, giving it a very claustrophobic effect.  “Look… The Sun Rising” opens the disc.  It is primarily percussion with some noisy sounds and really sharp piercing guitars (that play noisy counterpoint to the soothing chorus of Oh Oh Ohs).  And yet after all of that noise and chaos, the very lovely “Be Free, A Way” surfaces as a quiet introspective song.  There are gentle keyboard notes (not unlike on Yoshimi) that propel this song along.  “Try to Explain” is a pretty song with some unusual sound effects swirling around it (The Lips can’t so straight up pretty, right?).  And yet lyrically, this song, along with the rest, is very dark indeed.

“You Lust” is a 13 minute (!) invocation about various forms of lust.  It opens with the couplet: “You’ve got a lot of nerve/A lot of nerve to fuck with me.”  The middle of the song is a kind of Pink Floydian keyboard workout.  It’s a  lengthy jam that’s kind of samey, but I’ll bet if you can really sit (with headphones) and close your eyes and focus it’s pretty intense.  After about ten minutes of that repetitive claustrophobia, some lightening occurs with sprinkled keyboard notes.

“The Terror” is primarily in Coyne’s falsetto, and it seems gentle until the mechanized noises come bursting forth.  “You Are Alone” is the shortest thing here, under 4 minutes of squeaking noises.  And again, a lovely melody despite the title.  I feel like this song summarizes the album pretty well.  In it, Coyne sings “I’m not alone” while a deeper voice replies, “you are alone.”  Whose voice will ultimately win?

  “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” returns to that abrasive guitar of the earlier tracks, but the main body of this 7 minute song is just bass, keening keyboards and Coyne’s whispered voice.  There’s a recurring synth line that is magical and/or creepy depending on your frame of mind.  It, along with many of the other songs, have a kind of coda that links the songs.  This one is mostly just choral voices, but it twists the ends of the songs in a different direction. “Turning Violent” is a quiet track, in which Coyne sounds nearly defeated until the second half of the song grows louder and more animated with layers of vocals.  The disc ends with “Always There…In Our Hearts” which seems to offer some hope…maybe.  There’s signs of uplift in the melody, and when the drums kick in at the end, it seems to propel the song into a more intense frame of mind.

And lyrically, despite all of the darkness that is always there in our hearts, there is a light peeking out: “always therein our hearts a joy of life that overwhelms.”

Although most reviewers find this album unremittingly bleak, I find the music to be beautiful in an aching sort of way–a beautiful way to deal with pain (better than getting the same tattoo as Miley Cyrus, anyway).

[READ: October 31, 2014] The Kraus Project

The title page of this book read: The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann.

So just what is this thing anyhow?  Well Karl Kraus was a German writer (1874-1936) whose main contributions to letters were some essays and a newsletter Die Fackel (The Torch).  The authors compare the newspaper (favorably) to a blog (while also complaining about what blogs have done to letters).  He started Die Fackel in 1899 and he continued to direct, publish, and write it until his death.  He used the paper to launch attacks on hypocrisy, psychoanalysis, corruption of the Habsburg empire, nationalism of the pan-German movement, laissez-faire economic policies, and numerous other subjects.  For the first ten or so years, Kraus was the editor, accepting contributions from around the German speaking word.  But in 1911, he became the sole contributor to the newsletter.

He also wrote many essays (he did not care much for fiction), including the two main ones that compression this book: “Heine and the Consequences” (1910) and “Nestroy and Posterity” (1912).  The book also includes two follow up essays: “Afterword to Heine and the Consequences” and “Between Two Strains of Life: Final Word to Heine and the Consequences” (1917) and a poem: “Let No One Ask…” (1934).

The essays themselves are quite brief.  Despite the first coming in at 135 pages, note that the left pages are all in German (so reduce 135 by half), nearly all of the English pages are filled with footnotes (reduce by half again) and some of the footnotes run for several pages.  So the essay could be said to be about 25-30 pages.

The same is true for all of the pages in the book.  The left sides are in German (except the footnotes) and most pages are split in half because of the footnotes.  Which means that Franzen and friends write far more than Kraus did.  Ultimately, this book is actually three things: It is a collection of Kraus’ essays with Franzen’s fine translation; it is an explication of Kraus’ attitude and about life in Germany during Kraus’ life and finally it is an insight into Franzen as a young man living in Germany and why Kraus was so appealing to him.

The first part: Kraus’ essays. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TEENAGE FANCLUB-Shadows (2010).

Back in the 90s, Teenage Fanclub released a few noisy, feedbacky records that were quintessential 90s alt rock.

Since then they have mellowed considerably, and this album is one of their most mellow to date. Usually for me this kind of mellowing is a sign that I’m done with a band; however, Teenage Fanclub’s songwriting gets better with every disc.  And these folky tracks are all fantastic.

What’s neat about the arrangement of the album is that each of the three members of the band writes four songs.  They are collated so that you cycle through each singer before repeating. You get maximum diversity–and it’s easy to tell which songwriter is your favorite.

The opening two songs, “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything” and “Baby Lee” are two wonderful upbeat pop confections.  They sound very different and yet both are infused with wonderful pop chops.

It seems that Blake is my favorite songwriter on this disc. He did “Baby Lee”, “Dark Clouds” (a pretty piano based number) and by far the prettiest song on the disc “When I Still Have Thee.”  It’s an amazingly catchy folk song that sounds timeless (and even has the great couplet: “The Rolling Stones wrote a song for me/It’s a minor song in a major key.”

That’s not to dismiss the other songwriters at all.  In fact, hearing their different takes on pop music is really pretty amazing.  It’s a shame that it takes them so long to put albums out (about 5 years these days).

[READ: June 10, 2011] Five Dials Number 9

Five Dials Number 8, The Paris Issue, was pretty big (45 pages), but it had a lot of pictures.  Five Dials Number 9 is also pretty big (41 pages) and it’s (almost) all text.  For this is the Fiction Issue, and there are a lot of short stories in here.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On ‘Summer Reading’ and Fiction Issues.
Since most of what I talk about in the introduction to these posts is covered in Taylor’s Letter from the Editor, I figured I’d switch formats and start talking about his letter right away.  In this letter, Taylor talks about the serious pitfalls of  ‘Summer Reading’: We pledge to read mammoth books over the summer, but really we never finish War and Peace over the summer, do we? (except those of us who finished Infinite Summer, am I right?).  And so, this Fiction Issue was released in December (finally, a date is given to a Five Dials!).  Taylor briefly talks about all of the authors who contributed (including a pat on the back to Five Dials for securing the rights to a Philip Roth contribution in its first year of publication).  He also talks about the essay from David Shields that is decidedly anti-fiction.   And the final note is that Taylor’s own father has a piece in this issue (nepotism is alive and well!) (more…)

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