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Archive for the ‘Ian Frazier’ Category

CV1_TNY_09_09_13McCall.inddSOUNDTRACK: BABY ISLAND-“King’s Crossing” (2013).

Ibabyisland have no idea where I downloaded this song from.  I assumed NPR but I can’t find it there.  So, I’ll just have to direct the reader to their bandcamp site where you can stream and order the whole album.

The song opens simply enough with two chords played in 4/4.  Then the vocals come in and they are gentle and slightly echoed (making them very soft).  The chorus has multilayered vocals and a beautiful melody line and a whole lot of oooohs. It has a feel like the jangly pop of the sixties (I mean, look at the cover), but the song is not terribly jangly and that angular guitar really distinguishes it from the bands that they sound like.

There’s also a keyboard that throws delicate melodies and riffs over the top of the confection as well.   It is a perfect folk rock pop song—reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub (and the sixties bands that they sound like of course).  It’s a very pretty, mellow song and I like it quite a lot.

[READ: September 12, 2013] “Walking Normally: The Facts”

I don’t always like Ian Frazier’s works, but man, this one was so funny (if you are a parent of a young child), that I not only laughed out loud, I had to immediately share it with Sarah (who also laughed out loud).

The set up is simple.  A Claim is made and the Claim is followed up by a Fact which disputes the Claim.

The first claim: “When we are at the mall you say that you have walked so much that you need to be carried, because your legs are ‘all stretched out.’”

The Fact: While hyper extension of muscles, tendons, and joints is a real and serious problem among certain demographics…it is rarely seen in anyone four and a half years old.

So you see, this is a dad talking to his son.  And each claim is very representative of a four year old’s (or even an eight year old’s) concerns.  And some hit uncannily close to home. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KLEZMATICS-Tiny Desk Concert #161 (September 28, 2011).  

I’ve liked the Klezamtics for a long time, although mostly I prefer their faster, more energetic pieces, to their more mellow songs.  The band plays three songs (with lengthy introductions).  I really liked “Gilad and Ziv’s Sirab” with wailing clarinet and saxophone.  I liked less the slower vocal piece “Holy Ground” (although I suppose of I was a more religious person I might appreciate it more).

But “Zol shoyn kumen di guele” combines the best of both–excited vocals and great rollicking klezmer.  The show is only 13 minutes–they certainly don’t overstay their welcome.  I might have liked one more rollicking jam.  You can watch it (and download it) here.

[READ: November 22, 2012] “All Mine”

This issue of the New Yorker came a week late.  That was due to Hurricane Sandy.  I assumed that it was late because Karen had already written about another story in the magazine and I hadn’t gotten my issue yet (although maybe she reads online, I never bothered to ask).  Anyhow, Sarah went to the post office to see if they had delivered all of our back mail (we got no mail on Mon-Wed) and the man there seemed almost offended that she asked.  Just as I was set to assume that I would have to read it online or at the library, lo, there it was in the mailbox.

None of that has anything to do with the Ian Frazier Shouts and Murmurs piece.  It’s a light-hearted one page trifle.  I’ve said before that I have enjoyed some of Frazier’s pieces in the past (although some of his stuff I think is just not funny).  But there was something especially strange about this one.

It begins as a diatribe from a rich person about the horrors of taxing the rich and how he is going to keep all his money.  And all of the historical problems that have happened when a tax-the-rich plan was invoked.  It starts out quite funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EARTH-All Tomorrows Parties, October 5, 2011 (2011).

Anyone who likes Black Sabbath a lot knows that they were originally called Earth.  About mid way through this concert, the lead singer/guitarist of Earth says that he grew up listening to Black Sabbath and reading HP Lovecraft, so Earth is clearly something of a tribute.   Incidentally, he grew up in Manalapan, NJ which is just down the road from us.

All of these bona fides means that I should love Earth.  But I have to say that although I didn’t dislike this show at all, it’s really not my thing.  Earth creates long droney songs.  I tried to measure a couple of BPM of songs and came out with 60 for one song and 42 for another (by contrast Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” is 180 BPM).

The songs are all instrumental and range from 8 to 12 minutes.  Again, nothing objectionable about that.  Indeed most of the songs are cinematic and cool sounding.  My problem with them is that there wasn’t a lot of dynamism in the songs.  The bass wasn’t crazy heavy or loud or chest rattling (as I had been led to believe Earth’s bass was).  The melodies were pretty, but it came across as soundtrack music–for a very very slow zombie chase, perhaps.

According to some basic history, Earth used to be a heavier, noisier band, but have morphed away from that, and I suspect I would have liked their earlier stuff a bit more (although the one older that they played, “Ouroboros is Broken” wasn’t that much different from the rest.

NPR broadcast most of the All Tomorrow’s Parties concerts, and I enjoyed listening to them all.  But Earth is just not my thing.  You can check it out here.

[READ: October 20, 2012] “A Farewell to Yarns”

I mentioned the other day that I read one complete piece in the three Outside magazines since I subscribed.  It was this one.  The thing that I have enjoyed about the Outside articles that I have cherry picked is that unexpected writers pop up to write an essay.  So here’s Ian Frazier, comedian and essayist, writing for Outside.  Weird.  (Or maybe not so weird, he’s an Editor).

And, unlike many of the other things I’ve read in Outside, Frazier is not, repeat not going to do anything brave or daring or stupid, he’s just going to muse about a topic.  I like it.

Basically, this whole piece is a compliant about how with everything documented and digitalized it’s impossible to tell fibs about the one that got away or as he calls it, “an outdoorsman’s sacred right to exaggerate.”  What I like is that he takes us all the way back to ye olde mapmakers who wrote Here be Monsters which leads to this wonderful idea that I have never considered “the pictures of the monsters must have been accurate; how would the mapmakers have known what to draw unless eyewitnesses had told them?”

And he moves on through those who spied the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.  He even talks about one I had ever heard of, a hidden city in Siberia called Gorod Koka-Kola, built during the cold war as a reproduction of an American city, they speak English and live and behave like Americans–perfect for spymasters to practice   Genius–and how would anyone ever know if it existed in remotest Siberia?

But Fraizer’s greater point is that “Lies make the wild scary and alluring.”  He grew up in Rural Illinois afraid of the Argyle Monster who haunted Argyle State Park–and, boy, how many adventures he had or dreamed of having back then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMcSweeney’s #6 comes with a CD.

Most of the music on the CD is performed by They Might Be Giants (a rather perfect fit for McSweeney’s).  Some other musicians who appear are: M. Doughty, Philip Glass, Michael Meredith. Roger Greenawalt & S.E. Willis

Instructions included with book:

#3. The compact disc contains music.  There are 44 discrete pieces of music –“Tracks”–on this compact disc.  Each Track corresponds to a picture, series of pictures, or story–a Piece–in this journal.  When you are reading or looking at a certain Piece, we ask that you cue your compact disc to the corresponding Track on the disc.  The appropriate track number will appear prominently, usually under the title of each Piece.  Note: The track number will no appear on subsequent pages of the Piece.

#6. Please note that you may listen to Tracks without reading their Pieces and you may read Pieces without listening to their corresponding Tracks.  But this is not recommended.  You fucking bastard.

[READ: December 8, 2009] McSweeney’s #6

I’m finally getting back to reading some older McSweeney’s issues.  This was the final issue that I received from my initial subscription.  I distinctly remember being excited by the CD and maybe reading some of the book, but clearly never finishing it.

So yes, this issue comes with a CD.  The intro note explains that each Piece in the book has an accompanying  Track on the CD, and, you are to only listen to the Track that accompanies the Piece you are reading…never read a piece while listening to the wrong track.  Ever!  It explains that each Track has been created to be as long as it would take you to read each Piece.  But there are obviously many exceptions. The first story for instance is well over ten pages but the song is about 5 seconds long.  And, the Arthur Bradford Track is 8 minutes long when anyone could read the Piece much more quickly.

The bulk of the songs are by They Might Be Giants.  Anyone who knows TMBG knows you can’t summarize their work, and this book exercise is ideal for them: there are several pieces that are just a few second long.  But they also write some nice longer pieces as well.  And, of course, they are perfectly suited for mood music that works well with the writing.  Some of the songs have words which is a bit distracting while trying to read, but that’s okay.  I did try my best to follow the prescription about only listening to the appropriate song, but I admit to getting off pace from time to time.  (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-Asking for Flowers (2008).

flowersI first heard of Kathleen Edwards because of her duet with John Doe on “The Golden State.”  I thought her voice was great and I wanted to hear more.  I picked this album because it was her newest.

My first impression was mild.  I thought initially, great, I’ve gotten yet another Canadian country singer.  And yet, as with Neko Case, there’s something about Canadian country-tinged music that I really like (I’m not a fan of U.S. country, by and large).  And so, while there are trapping of country music on this disc (slide guitar is scattered throughout), after the third or fourth listen, something clicked and I fell hard for this disc.

While listening, especially on the more rocking songs, I kept thinking of The Tragically Hip.  And while I would not in any way say she sounds like the Hip, there is something about her sensibility, lyrically and tonally, that I think is very Hip-like.  She sings with great passion about moderately esoteric things and about Canadiana (referencing Gretsky in one song, titling another song “Oh Canada”).  And as The Hip have recently released a more folky album, the two could probably share a coffeehouse stage quite easily.

Edwards’ voice is beautiful.  But it wasn’t until I really started hearing her lyrics that it made the songs that much more intense.

“The Cheapest Key” is a rollicking song (that reminds me of The Hip in many ways).  Especially the lyrics: “A is for all the times I bit my tongue / B is for bullshit and you fed me some.”  And while I think the whole disc is great, it’s the trifecta of “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory,” “Oil Man’s War” and “Sure as Shit” that makes this album amazing.  Lyrically, musically, passionately, they’re simply awesome.  Individually, each song is great, but together, the rocking humor of “Dough” followed by the moving sadness of “Oil Man’s War” and the mildly vulgar wit of “Sure as Shit” show such depth in just three songs.

She also pulls out a really powerful song in “Oh Canada.”  I recently wagged my finger at The Trews for being too preachy on their song “Gun Control,” Edwards tackles a similar subject by going in a different direction and by making poetry, not preachery: ” It’s not the year of the gun / We don’t say it out loud / There are no headlines / When a black girl dies / It’s not the lack of a sense / It’s called ambivalence.”

The final song, “Goodnight California” has a chord progression that sounds somewhat familiar, and yet the vocal line she lays on top of it is different, just off enough to be really enchanting.  And even though it is a slow moody piece, it has a fairly scorching harmonica (!) solo.

I’m delighted to see that she has other discs out because I can’t wait to hear more from her.

[READ: October 29, 2009] “Fanshawe”

This Shouts & Murmurs piece was really funny.  It was easily the funniest one I have read in a long time.  It reminded me a lot of early funny Woody Allen pieces (especially when he mentions what the mother died from).

The story is about Fanshawe.  He has just the one name (and comes from a long line of people named simply, Fanshawe.  (more…)

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ny1It took me going to Seattle to learn about The New Yorker magazine.  I was visiting my friend Rob and he was really surprised that I didn’t read the magazine all the time (my reading always seems to surprise people, see The Believer.)

Upon my first read of the magazine, I was surprised to see that the first twenty pages or so are taken up with upcoming shows: films, concerts, sports, everything.  I actually wondered how much content would be left after all that small print.

Since then I have learned that Sasha Frere-Jones writes columns in here quite ofuiten.  For reasons known only to my head, I was convinced that Sasha was a black woman.  Little did I realize that he is not.  And that he was in a band that I have a CD of called Ui.  He is an excellent resource for all things music, whether I like the artist he’s talking about or not.  Some entries are here.  This audio entry about Auto-Tune is simply fantastic.

But of course, there’s a lot of content.  And the first thing you get are letters.  I don’t think I have EVER looked at the letters section. (more…)

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