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Archive for the ‘Franz Kafka’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHOVELS AND ROPE-Tiny Desk Concert #304 (September 16, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert starts with the most fun opening of any—the duo of Shovels & Rope brought their dog along, and as they are warming up, the dog roams around, getting pet by people and sneaking treats.

As the blurb notes:

But once Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent showed up, the office quickly lost sight of the approaching performance, as the murmurs began: “There’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office!” You could practically see our coworkers’ brains short out from a combination of cognitive dissonance and canine adoration.

I’ve enjoyed Shovels and Rope’s punky folky country music, But I didn’t know much about them:

As endearing as our new friend was, Shovels & Rope soon won back the crowd’s attention [with] the husband-and-wife duo’s mix of rowdy folk-rock and rootsy balladeering. After opening with the plaintive ballad “Carnival,” the South Carolina duo ripped through one of its signature rockers — “Birmingham,” during which the pair held eye contact sweetly while singing in unison — before closing with “Bad Luck,” a clattering gem for which the two swap instruments (he on guitar, she on drums). The song, originally from a Michael Trent solo album, most recently appeared on a deluxe version of Shovels & Rope’s 2012 debut, the winning and appropriately titled O’ Be Joyful.

The band’s music is definitely steeped in country and yet there’s something about it that I like—they have country spirit without all the twang—or perhaps it’s just the gorgeous harmonies that elevate it above pedestrian country fare.

“Carnival” is a slow, sweet song.  She plays guitars, he plays keys and he gets a harmonica solo.  For “Birmingham,” he jumps up and switches to drums. And it’s amazing how much power that simple drum beat puts into these songs.  This is a hootin’, hollerin’, country stompin’ song.  There’s a punky element to it- sort of an X vibe (although I think its more like The Knitters than X) with their voices mingling.

As that song ends, they switch places–he takes guitar she takes the drums.  Before starting, he asks, “Where’d our dog go?  Anyone got a line on a hound dog?”  She jokes, “If your ham sandwich is half eaten?”  Then corrects: “He won’t half eat it, he’ll get it all.”

The final song “Bad Luck” is a big stompin’ fun song. There’s simple loud punky drums and she hollers the vocals for extra fun

The dog even gets an on-screen handshake at the end (and then the duo shake each others’ hands, too).

[READ: July 30, 2016] The Metamorphosis

I’ve been enjoying the art of Peter Kuper lately.  So I found a few of his older books, like this adaptation of The Metamorphosis, which is pretty great.

I don’t know if this is meant to be a complete telling of the story.  I’ve read it a few times, but I don’t know all of the details.

I liked that he clearly doesn’t include all of the dialogue or text–it’s not a comprehensive version of the story.  Rather, he uses a the art to move the story along.

The cockroach is drawn in Kuper’s very blocky, very robotic style–it’s cool and creepy.  But not bug-creepy just inhuman-creepy.

As the book opens, he flashes back to his life and job as a traveling salesman .  He hates the work–it is exhausting–and if his parents didn’t need the money he would have quit a long time ago.

But while he’s thinking all this he realized that he is late for work.  He tries to get up and that’s when the limitations of being a cockroach really hit him.

His supervisor comes to tell him that he is fired because of poor performance and when his family sees him, they are disgusted by him.

Only his sister Grete treats him kindly–bringing him scraps of foot (real food at first and then rotting food, since he is a bug). We learn that in the family only Grete and Gregor are close–their father is distant and cold.  The father is really annoyed at Gregor the bug still being in the house–how do they even know he is that creature or if he is even still “in” there.  He throws an apple at Gregor and it gets embedded in his back (ew).

Without Gregor’s income the family must take in lodgers, who are bossy and inconsiderate  Gregor wants them out but when they see him, they freak out and storm out without paying.

Can a story like this find any happiness at the end?  Well, sort of, in a very unexpected place.

Even though this is primarily a visual work, it really conveys the horrors of the original in a very clever way.

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oct28SOUNDTRACK: JASON LYTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #249 (November 5, 2012).

sonJason Lytle was Grandaddy.  Sure there were other people in the band, but it was pretty much all him.  And then he dissolved Grandaddy and started recording discs under his own name.

I loved Granddaddy, but didn’t listen to any of his solo stuff.  So I don’t really know how different it sounds.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, he plays two songs from his 2012 solo album Dept. of Disappearance and one Grandaddy track.

“Willow Wand Willow Wand” is a catchy song with just him and a drum machine playing a backing beat.  He sounds like the guy from Grandaddy but slightly different….

Introducing “Get Up and Go,” he explains that he’s been really enjoying playing his songs in this stripped down format.  He really likes making records that are big and produced.  And now he likes not feeling pressure to do them in concert that way.  He’s happy to not try to pull off all of the bells and whistles in a live environment.  “Get Up and Go” is a “happy and peppy song and this isn’t a happy and peppy version of it.”

This song is quite slow.  Again its him on guitar but at the appropriate moments in the chorus he hits a key on the keyboard and a little melody (very Granddaddy) plays briefly.

After this song you can hear Stephen Thompson ask “Robin, you like this?” to much laughter.

He says he finished an hour long session at Sirius XM.  He was completely by himself and he was really comfortable.  But playing music in front of people makes him nervous—you’d think he had it down by now.  But he tells us “if you’ve never done it before as weird as you imagine it being… it’s that weird.”

The final song is a request for Grandaddy’s “Jed the Humanoid” and that’s when I realized why he sounds different.  He sings slightly more falsetto in Granddaddy than on the solo songs.  It’s very subtle, but I can hear it.  The original of this song is very synthy, so hearing it on acoustic guitar (with the lyrics very clear) really changes the feel of the song.

After a verse, he turns a knob on the keyboard and this weird frog-like sound bubbles under the song (similar to the one on the record, which is neat).

And as he leaves the Desk, you can hear Robin say “the saddest song in the world.”

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Samsa in Love”

Basing a story on another story can be risky, especially when the story you base yours on is incredibly famous with a first line that many people can quote without looking.

But Murakami does something very interesting with Gregor Samsa in this story.  “He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.”  We don’t know who or what “he” was before this and neither does he.  He’s not even sure exactly what he is–but he knows his name.

The first few paragraphs are all about him getting used to even being human–scoffing at his body, wondering why he was so cold and what that gnawing pain was in his stomach–hunger, it turns out.  He spends several paragraphs just trying to learn how to walk on two legs.  It’s all somewhat comical although not exactly funny.

Finally he gets downstairs–the table has been set for a meal but no one is there. Everything is still warm and yet the house appears empty. No matter, he tucks into the food wand eats everything.  Then he sets about trying to cover himself.  He looks out the window and sees everyone dressed, but he’s not willing to even attempt to put clothes on so he grabs a dressing gown and slips into that. (more…)

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godboutSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-“Carry the Zero” (1999).

zeroI loved “Carry the Zero” so much that I immediately bought the CD single (that’s what you did back in the 90s).

The Ep contains 6 songs.  There’s two tracks from Keep It Like a Secret (“Carry the Zero” & “Sidewalk” which is good in itself), 2 new songs (“Forget Remember When” and “Now & Then”) and 2 live songs “Kicked it in the Sun” and “Big Dipper.”

The two unreleased songs are good, but neither one is quite as immediate as anything on the album.  Of course, if you’re looking for extra BtS tracks, these are just waiting for you.

The real gems are the two live songs.  Both of them are solo acoustic guitar recordings recorded in a tiny setting.  They are quite different from the album.  I feel that “Big Dipper” fares a little better since the song is simpler.  There are some complex chord changes in “Kicked It in the Sun” which lose a little of their immediacy in the stripped down version.  Which is not to say that it’s bad–the first half of the song sounds great–it’s when it gets to the middle that it feels a little cumbersome.

So this is certainly a die-hards only release, but if you’re looking for some unusual BtS recordings, this is a great place to start.

[READ:October 2, 2015] Amerika

This is a graphic novel version of Franz Kafka’s Amerika.  And it is really well done.  The artwork is fantastic–clean lines, distinctive characters and wonderfully detailed background scenes.

I don’t know the original story at all, so I assume that Godbout was faithful to it (the back of the book says he was). Actually, this graphic novel was translated by Helge Dascher, so I wonder if she translated Godbout of Kafka?

Unlike so much of Kafka, this story isn’t really “Kafkaesque.”  There is some darkness to it and there are machinations of trouble for the main character, but it is not a perpetual state of nightmarish life.

Karl Rossmann is a young immigrant to America.  (Kafka had never been to America, but he gets quite a lot right).  He was sent to America because of an embarrassing sexual incident (which is rendered rather humorously).  When he arrives in New York harbor, he disembarks from the ship but forgets his umbrella.  So he races back on the ship.  But instead of finding it, he runs into the ship’s engine stoker.  The hulking man is suspicious if him, but after they talk for a few minutes Karl convinces the stoker to air his grievances about his supervisor to the ship’s captain. (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: MODEST MOUSE-“Lives” (2000).

This song (quoted in the story) comes from the first Modest Mouse album that I ever bought, The Moon and Antarctica.  I have very vivid memories of listening to this album on a long dark stretch of road–not a bad image to connect with the album.  This song comes near the end of the album after the stomper “I Came as a Rat” and the slow guitar and slightly ill sounding bendy note really set the unease of the song.  After about 45 seconds the tribal drums kick in and change the pace of the song.  But rather than bursting forth, the song kind of falls back in on itself until what feels like a brand new song comes out of this little cocoon–an upbeat acoustic number with strings that tries to remind you to live before you die.  After a brief flirtation with yet another style, the song returns to whence it started.

It’s representative of Modest Mouse’s quieter side, although it barely showcases the extremes that the band is capable of.

[READ: July 11, 2012] Arach nID

My former co-worker Jay is one of the few people I know who is “writing a book” who has actually written most if not all of said book.  He has been writing a sci-fi opus for a few years now and at last count it eclipsed 600 pages.  I mean, sure, I’m “writing a book” but it’s all in my head.  Anyway, I told him about a short story contest and asked if he had any short stories to submit.  We once had a discussion about how novelists shouldn’t really write short stories if what they wanted to write was a novel, so I didn’t know if he had anything handy.  He told me he had this work partially written and, with a deadline in mind, he polished it up and finished it off.

Because the story is unpublished, I’m not going to give away too many details, as that’s not cool (and because he may always revise it).  But I will talk about the basics of the story because I think it’s pretty interesting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEGAFAUN-Live from the World Cafe, November 9, 2011 (2011).

I loved the Megafaun song “Get Right,” a trippy 8 minute workout.  So I was interested to hear them in this live setting.  There’s a lengthy interview with WXPN’s Michaela Majoun (full of all kinds of details about Bon Iver–whom they used to play with before they broke up and he became Bon Iver–and about, North Carolina and Wisconsin and lutefisk).  And the band plays three songs, too.

“Real Slow” opens with a banjo (and it is real slow).  It has a very Grateful Dead feel to it and beautiful harmonies.  After the freak out of “Get Right” I was quite surprised to hear such a traditional folky song from them.  “Second Friend” is a but more upbeat–bright guitars and more beautiful harmonies.  It’s a simple song.  “State/Meant” has a bit more electric guitar, but it continues in the folkie vein.

I admit I didn’t enjoy this set as much as I expected.  The songs were really nice, but they didn’t really push any envelopes sonically, especially compared to “Get Right.”  But at the same time, what they do, they do very well.

You can hear it here.

[READ: April 23, 2012] “The Investigation”

This is an excerpt from a novel called The Investigation which is coming out in English (translated by John Cullen) in July.

I don’t know what the story is all about because this excerpt is really bizarre and wonderful, but it’s certainly not any indication of what the storyline will be.  However, it is a huge indication (I imagine) of what the story will be like.

The word “Kafkaesque” is thrown around a lot (well, in my house it is anyhow), but this excerpt is really and truly Kafkaesque.  The Investigator wakes up in a tiny hotel room to the sound of a telephone ringing.  He is naked and has no idea how he got there. And the telephone appears to be attached to the ceiling.  He has a confusing conversation on the phone that opens more questions about his situation. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait, Vol 1 (2010).

This first Live Bait release contained songs from Phish’s 2010 tour.  It was a good way to see how the band sounded these days and, as the title suggests, it was a good way to bait the fans into buying full shows.  The sampler covers shows from NJ, NY, GA and MA and it runs about 80 minutes.

Although it features primarily older tracks (a great version of “Tweezer” and a lengthy “Slave to the Traffic Light”) it also includes my first exposure to a live version of one of their new songs: “Backwards Down the Number Line.”  It also contains “Show of Life” a song that’s really a Trey Anastasio solo song–although frankly it doesn’t sound any different from a Phish song here.

The band sounds great–the hiatus did them wonders and it’s an auspicious beginning to a whole bunch of free music.

[READ: September 25, 2011] 3 Book Reviews

When I first discovered that Zadie was going to be writing the New Books column at Harper’s I deliberated about whether or not to write about each one here.  I mean, first off, it’s book reviews, how much can you say about someone else’s book reviews?  But second off, would I be writing about her reviews forever?  I mean, it’s a monthly column, it would be exhausting.

Well, it was exhausting–for her anyhow.  At the end of the column she admits that she can’t keep up the schedule (and frankly, reading that many books a month would be exhausting for me, but she’s also trying to write a novel, teach classes and “bring up a kid.”)  So this is her last one.  She had a pretty decent run from March-October 2011.

And she ends unexpectedly (for me anyhow) by talking about science fiction! (more…)

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