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Archive for the ‘Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist

organistFor the second season of The Organist, they switched formats from the once a month 45-55 minute long amalgam of stories of last year to a one story an episode, once a week format.  The length hovers around 20 minutes now with some shows being much longer and others being much shorter.  It doesn’t make too much of a difference if you listen all at once as I did, but I can see that if you’re listening when they come out that a weekly podcast would be more satisfying.

However, they have also opted to have an “encore” episode every fourth episode in which they take one of the segments from an earlier episode and play it on its own.  How disappointing would it be to tune in and get a repeat?  And why on earth would they repeat things if all of the previous episodes are available online?  It’s very strange and frankly rather disappointing.  I mean, sure, it’s nice to have the new introductions, but it’s not like you’re getting some kind of special version when they repeat it.  It’s exactly the same.  And, boy, they tend to repeat some of my least favorite pieces.

Also the website now gives a pretty detailed summary of the contents of each episode, so you get a good sense of what’s going to happen. (more…)

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harpjuneSOUNDTRACK: みっちりねこマーチ – MitchiriNeko March (2013).

mitchiBecause Lewis-Kraus mentions “the most important internet cat band of our day” in this article, I did a search for such a thing and came across this.  This is an adorable cartoon of cats marching (and playing along to the music).

I didn’t look into this too hard, and I don’t really know MitchiriNeko, although the video says that “MitchiriNeko” is a cat-like cartoon character who is always in a group to hang out so closely with each other wherever they go.

I’ve listed below more stuff about MitchiriNeko, but really I just enjoyed watching the video.

Evidently there is a web comic for this fella:
Manga Box! English editions are coming soon.
https://www.mangabox.me/
https://www.mangabox.me/reader/247/

There are apps for this character:
iPhone
https://itunes.apple.com/jp/app/mitch…
Android
https://play.google.com/store/apps/de…

And this song “MitchiriNeko March” is now on sale.
https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/mit…

[READ: November 17, 2014] “Story A”

I enjoyed Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ previous Harper’s essay about Japan: “Sleeping Together.”  I thought it would be fun to tie it to this one which is also about Japan.

He says that for a time, he was drawn to “particular breeds of the Japanese trivial” like “the “most important internet cat band of our day” and the cafe that he describes in “Sleeping Around.”  Thus he was immediately drawn to the Japanese hole-digging contest.  He decided to go see it, which would also allow him to visit his brother Micah in Japan.

The title of the article, “Story A” refers to a journalistic practice in which “essays purport to be about one thing but reveal themselves to be about some other, profounder thing.  Story A might be about the game of Monopoly but its real role is to give cover to Story B which is about the decline of the American city.”  He imagined that the nonsense of hole digging could lead to something incredibly profound. (more…)

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wallsSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Round Room (2002).

round After Farmhouse, Phish went on a hiatus.  No one knew it would be quite so brief, but there was really a feeling that they were done.

And then they quietly released Round Room in 2002.  And it bursts forth with an 11 minute song.

“Pebbles and Marbles” has an interesting riff—complex and pretty.  And when I listened to it again recently I didn’t really quite recognize it.  But that’s because it’s nearly 12 minutes long and the really catchy part comes later in the song.  At around 5 minutes, the catchy chorus of “pebbles and marbles and things on my mind” announces itself.  And it is a good one.

“Anything but Me” is a pretty, mature song that is slow and piano heavy.  “Round Room” is a boppy little ditty (clearly a song written by Mike).  It is sweet and a little weird.  “Mexican Cousin” sounds a lot like a cover (maybe an old song by The Band) except for the solo which is very Trey.  It’s a funny, silly ode to Tequila.  “Friday” is a slow six minute song with two sections.  The verses are spaced out a bit, delicate riffs that are mostly piano once again.  The middle section is sung by Mike (which makes it more mellow somehow).

“Seven Below” is an 8 minute song.  It has another great riff (and the intro music is cool and bouncey).  When the vocals come in, it’s got gentle harmonies as they croon the sweet song).  Most of the 8 minutes are taking up with a guitar solo.  “Mock Song” is another of Mike’s songs.  This one seems to be a random selection of items sung to a nice melody.  Then when the chorus comes it’s quite nice, how this is a “just a mock song.”  The first verse is sung by Mike, then Trey does a kind of fugue vocal with different words in verse two.

“46 Days” opens with funky cowbells and turns into what seems like a classic rocking folk song—few words but a great classic rock melody (complete with 70s era keyboards).  “All of These Dreams” is a mellow piano piece, another mature song.  “Walls of the Cave” has an interesting piano melody that opens the song. The song is nearly ten minutes long and the middle part has a nice flowing feel to it.  There’s also a few sections that are separated be drum breaks—something that doesn’t often happen in Phish songs.  When the third part opens (to almost exclusively percussion, their vocals all work in a very nice harmony.  It’s a long song but with so many parts it always stays interesting.  “Thunderhead” is another piano-based song with some guitar riffs thrown on top. But it is largely a slow, mellow piece.

“Waves” is an 11 minute song with long instrumental passages.  It also begins with a kind of Santana feel to it, but it is a largely meandering song, with a simple melody that they stretch out for much of the song.  So this album proves to be an interesting mix of long jams and mellow ballady type songs.  It seems like Phish had a big mix of things to let loose.

[READ: November 1, 2013] If Walls Could Talk

This book reminds me of the work of Mary Roach—exploring a topic in great detail and including lots of amusing insights.  The two big differences here are that Worsley is British and that she goes back very far in British history to give us this fascinating information about the development of certain rooms of the house.

Worsley begins with the bedroom.  She looks at the furniture—the history of the bed from lumps with straw to fantastically ornate full poster beds that were made for kings who might never actually use them.

Then she moves on to more personal matters—sex (including deviant sex and venereal disease); breast feeding (for centuries mothers felt they were not equipped to take care of and nurse their own children, hence wet-nurses) and knickers (royalty had an entourage designed specifically to assist with underthings).  Indeed, privacy was an unknown thing in olden times.  Even royalty was expected to receive people in all of the rooms in the house.  Initially the bed chamber was for their most intimate friends, not just for sleeping.

The section on old medicine was also fascinating, they believed that it was vaporous miasma that did you more harm than say, excrement-filled water.

The section on Sleep discusses what was also in a recent article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus—that there were two sleep times at night.  With no electricity there was no artificial light to keep people up late so they would go to sleep early, wake up in the middle of the night (the best time for conception of children) and then sleep again. (more…)

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aug2013

SOUNDTRACK: GWAR-“Carry on My Wayward Son” (A.V. Undercover, October 8, 2012).

gwarIf I thought Reggie Watt’s cover of Van Halen’s “Panama” was absurd, imagine my surprise when GWAR’s version of “Carry on My Wayward Son” proves to not only be not absurd but actually rather faithful.  Well, I mean Oderus Urungus is certainly not serious, but the band sounds amazingly tight–who knew they could play their instruments so well?

The opening is played very faithfully–solos and all–it’s quite impressive under all that foam.  The verses are played at breakneck speed (with Oderus barely singing and improving at times). The chorus is fascinating though as they slow it down quite a lot–with a different singer this might bring an extra gravitas to it, although this version assuredly does not.

I never knew Oderus’ mask fit so poorly before.  And I don’t believe I’ve ever really noticed the large green item hanging down between his legs.  See for yourself:

[READ: September 6, 2013] “Sleeping Together”

The final article of this forum about sleep is set in Tokyo.  Lewis-Kraus has gone to the first co-sleeping cafe. For about $30 for a membership and $30 for 40 minutes you can sleep with a woman.  Not sex–indeed, nothing sexual is allowed to happen. You just sleep.  Or more specifically, you lie next to a woman (seems unlikely that you could actually sleep).  You can also get options like staring into each other’s eyes, being petted on the head, spooning and resting your head on her lap.

There are, of course sexual cafes, as well. The kayabakura is a bit more explicit than the sleeping cafe–the women are all made up and act servile, but this is different.

The woman who the author sleeps with is Yukiko. Yukiko admits that most men don’t sleep, they talk.  She says that in their culture shame is very big, so men seek comfort and encouragement from women. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: All Songs Considered Year End Music Roundup (2010).

Every year, I like to check various sources to see if there were any albums that I missed.  My definition of good resources: allmusic, amazon, pitchfork.  (There’s another fascinating list available here at Best Albums Ever, a site I’ve never seen before, and I have a large portion of the Top 50 albums.  I didn’t buy a lot of music this year, but evidently I chose wisely!).  I don’t necessarily agree with these lists, but if I see the same album on a few lists, I know it’s worth at least listening to.

This year, since I spent so much time on All Songs Considered, I thought I’d see their Best of Lists.  What’s awesome about the site is that you can hear not only selected songs in their entirety, you can also download the audio of the original show…where the DJs talk about their selections and play excerpts from them.   There are many different lists to investigate.

The most obvious one to star with is 50 Favorite Albums of 2010.  This shows the staff’s 50 favorite albums in all genres.  I admit that there’s going to be a lot on this list that I won’t bother exploring (I’m not really that interested in new classical or jazz and I’m not too excited by most pop music, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Kanye West songs here).

But some albums did stand out that I hadn’t heard, and I will investigate them further in 2011:

Buke And Gass, ‘Riposte’
Deerhunter, ‘Halcyon Digest’ (I know, this is on many best of lists)
The National, ‘High Violet’ (This is also on everyone’s list)

Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered’s most awesome host, picks his Top 9 of the year.  I’m on board with about 1/2 of his list (haven’t heard the other half).  Sufjan Stevens is his #1.

Robin Hilton, Boilen’s partner in crime, has a Top Ten which is remarkably similar to Boilen’s.  It has most of the same albums just appearing in a slightly different order.  Lower Dens is #1. (I’ve never heard of them).

Carrie Brownstein (of beloved Sleater-Kinney and now evidently a permanent member of the NPR team) has a Top Ten (Plus One)–funny that she liked more than ten when Boilen liked less than ten.  I’m really surprised by her selection of albums because her own music is so punk and abrasive, but her top ten features R&B and some folky bands.  Her top album is by Royal Baths, a band I’ve never heard of.

Stephen Thompson also picked his Top Ten.  He has an interesting mix of alt rock and jazz.  His number one is by Jonsi from Sigur Rós. (A great album).

Perhaps the best list comes from 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010.  I didn’t know any of the 5.  Sarah bought me two CDs for Christmas (and she was pleased to have gotten me good music that I hadn’t heard of!).  The Head and the Heart hasn’t arrived yet, but The Capstan Shafts is great.  I’m also really excited by Tame Impala.

Another great list is Viking’s Choice: Best Metal and Outer Sound (stay tuned for much more from this list).  It is dominated by black metal, but there are a few surprises in there as well.

Even the All Songs Considered Top 25 Listener’s List was great.  I had most of the list (except for The Black Keys who I simply cannot get into).

Although I enjoyed a lot of new music this year, it’s always nice to see that there is some new (to me) stuff to investigate.  Who knows maybe some day I’ll even have listened to enough new music in a year to make my own Top Ten.

[READ: December 31, 2010] McSweeney’s #36

With McSweeney’s #36, it’s like they made my conceptual ideal.  Its weird packaging is fantastic and the contents are simply wonderful.  But let’s start with the obvious: this issue comes in a box.  And the box is drawn to look like a head.  You open up the man’s head to get to the contents.  Brilliant.  The head is drawn by Matt Furie (with interior from Jules de Balincourt’s Power Flower.

Inside the box are eleven items.  The largest are smallish books (postcard sized) running between 32 and 144 pages.  The smaller items are a 12 page comic strip, a nineteenth century mediation (8 pages) and 4 postcards that create a whole picture.  The final item is a scroll of fortune cookie papers.   The scroll is forty inches long with cut lines for inserting them into your own fortunes (I wonder if they will sell this item separately?)

Aside from the bizarre head/box gimmick (and the fact that there is ample room in the box for more items), the contents are really top-notch.  For while many of the books included are individual titles, there is also an actual “issue” of McSweeney’s (with letter column and shorter stories) as well.  So let’s begin there

ISSUE #36: New Stories and Letters.  The resurrected letters page continues with more nonsense.  I’ve often wondered if these are really written like letters or if they are just short pieces that have no other place to reside.  (Oh, and the back of this booklet contains the bios for everyone in here as well as assorted other folks who don’t have room for a bio on their items).

LETTERS (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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