Archive for the ‘Ian McEwan’ Category

328SOUNDTRACK: MOTHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #520 (April 8, 2016).

mothersMothers is an unusual band.  There are four members (which isn’t that unusual) but their music has a number of elements that makes them hard to classify.  Their songs are slow and somewhat meandering, with a lot of ethereal qualities. There’s no drums and the bass is spare.

On “Too Small For Eyes,” lead singer and guitarist Kristine Leschper sings in a very high, delicate voice and she plays vibratoed guitar lines high on the neck of her guitar (she even holds the guitar very high on her body).  There’s another guitarist who plays similarly high notes and a keyboardist who is playing single notes that sound almost like a steel drum—in the most nontropical way ever.  The music is pretty and feel  like it could float away at any second.  But Leschper’s voice veers towards the harsh from time to time which comes as a surprise.  And as the song nears the end (it’s unclear just how long this song is going to be since there’s no conventional structure—the song could go for 20 minutes longer), the guitars start playing a slightly more dissonant sound.

“Burden Of Proof” is similarly slow with washes of spooky keyboards growing louder.  If they didn’t pause between songs I would have thought it was the same song.  The second guitarist is on the floor playing with effects pedals.

As the song ends, the music continues as the bass player thumbs some notes to keep the sound going.  The second guitarist and keyboardist switch places.  When I first listened to the show without watching I thought they only played two songs.

The third song sounds a little different from the other two (it is a newer song not on their debut album).  The guitar line is a little deeper.  Like the first song, this one turns a little unsettling in the middle with notes that don’t quite seem t go with the music.  It feels like things are slightly awry as they play.  The song returns to normal and then as it reaches the end there is that slightly seasick-sounding wave of keyboards that bring the song to its conclusion.

The blurb says that, kind of like with Ane Brun, the band chose to play their most mellow songs for this show.  In some ways that makes sense, but it also lost me as an audience member because I felt like their music was too samey.

[READ: April 6, 2016] “My Purple Scented Novel”

I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from McEwan, but this is by far my favorite story from him.

It is about two writers–Jocelyn Tarbet and the narrator, Parker Sparrow.  Forty years ago, they went to school together and were the best of friends.  They took holidays together, made love to each others’ girlfriends and even tried a homosexual relationship.  That last attempt didn’t work–they were repelled by each other’s penises.

But that was fine, because they were each successful in their own way.  Parker had his story published first.  But soon after Jocelyn had his story published.  And things were great.

Until Jocelyn wrote a TV play and made a fortune.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO & PHARMACISTS-“The Numbered Head” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 I really like the guitar sound that Leo creates for this song—angular and reminiscent of late 80s alt rock.  It’s not that different from the original, but it really grabs you.  By the time the big chorus kicks in, there are big vocals and big guitars,  It’s a nice pairing with the noisy solo and more aggressive verses.

Once I realized it was a Robert Pollard cover it made complete sense—it sounds exactly like a Guided By Voices song. Pollard’s version is about thirty seconds longer and I think that makes the difference.  I’ve always been kind of eh about Pollard.  I think some of his songs are awesome and some are just okay—he needs a serious editor (which is a funny thing to say about someone who has so many songs that are about a minute long).  I’ve also never really gotten into Ted Leo, although everything I’ve heard by him I like.  And this is no exception.

I prefer the Ted Leo version, and maybe it’s time to see what else he and Pharmacists have done.

[READ: April 4, 2012] “Hand on the Shoulder”

Its funny how different writers handle pacing so differently.  It’s kind of amazing in general how writing can have such different pacing.  Typically, Ian McEwan’s pacing is slow.  Not dull, but slow.  His stories evolve, they don’t just happen.

And that’s why it takes a little while to read this story.  It’s not especially long, but the pacing is very detailed (as befits who the main character becomes).  It also turns out that this is an excerpt from a novel (New Yorker, you fooled me again—although I kind of assumed this was an excerpt because I don’t think of McEwan as being a short story writer).  Knowing it’s an excerpt means the pacing makes even more sense.  This is a story that will unfold—there’s no hurry.

Serena Frome was recruited by the British security service forty years ago in 1972.  She was attending Cambridge and had just started dating a boy named Jeremy Mott.  Jeremy was an amazingly selfless lover—lasting for hours but never seeming  to reach orgasm himself.  We twenty-first century types know what this probably means about Jeremy, but Serena (and presumably Jeremy) didn’t find out until after they had broken up and he was then dating a man. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2004 Music Issue CD (2004).

Every year since 2004, The Believer magazine has published a Music Issue which comes with a CD.

I recently received the 2009 CD, but I thought it might be fun to go back through the previous ones and see what kind of music they put on them since the beginning.  I was delighted to see how many bands I like now that I was either introduced to or SHOULD have been introduced to by these discs.

The inaugural issue was a fantastic collection of then-underground alt-rock (the issue also featured interviews with a few of the artists–you can see the Colin Meloy interview here).

The collection contains all previously released songs (I think).  But for me it was a great introduction to a number of bands that I didn’t know: The Walkmen, The Mountain Goats, Ted Leo + Pharmacists.  It also contained a new release by a band I did know, The Constantines.   And, this was my introduction to a band that turned out to be one of my new favorites: Death Cab for Cutie.

There’s a lot of great songs on here, and it would make a great hanging-out-at-a-party-with-friends soundtrack.  There’s not a lot of diversity on the disc which is a bit of  a bummer (although it’s good for a mellow party).  However, the 19 second blast of “You Got the Right” by the Tiny Hawks does break things up a bit.

But with a great collection of songs it would be wrong to complain.  For a complete listing (and another review) check out this page.

[READ: December 9, 2009] “The Use of Poetry”

Ian McEwan writes fantastically engaging stories about relatively simple things, oftentimes relationships.  And he has these relationships so well sussed out that a simple six-page story like this can pack in a ton of humanity.

In a post some time ago I wrote about how World War II affected Britain much more than it affected the U.S.  And, how artists of a certain age have found great drama from the war.  This story is no exception.  Except that the war veteran is not the main character.  But I loved this summary of the main character’s dad, the typical “stoic British man.”

Like many men of his generation, he did not speak of his experiences and he relished the ordinariness of postwar life, its tranquil routines, its tidiness and rising material well-being, and above all, its lack of danger–everything that would later appear stifling to those born in the first years of the peace.

That’s an amazing encapsulation of a generation of men.  And it rings very true to me.  But what’s more amazing is that that description is not even about the main character Michael, it’s about his dad, Henry. (more…)

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chesilSOUNDTRACK: There Will Be Blood Motion Picture Soundtrack (2007).

therewillbeThis soundtrack was composed by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.  I have not yet seen the movie so I can’t speak about its use in the film (which I assume is very good given all the raves I’ve read about it).

Anyone expecting something Radioheadesque will be disappointed in this soundtrack.  There’s nothing electronic or weird (well, not too weird), or anything resembling any of the work he’s done with Radiohead.  Rather, the entire work is “classical”: strings abound!  Now, I like classical music, and I have some favorite composers.  I also like some younger/avant garde composers.  So, the fact that this release is on Nonesuch Records, home of Kronos Quartet (one of my favorite classical artists) among other similarly minded artists should tell you something.

The first two tracks are the most gripping.  I assume that “Open Spaces” is the “theme” of the movie, and the strings are really arresting.  It certainly sets the tone for the movie and the music within.  While “Future Markets” presents a very tense, fast score.  Another interesting track is “Proven Lands” which is primarily percussion with some pizzicato strings thrown in as well.  The rest of the disc consists of very moody, very scene-setting pieces.

By itself the music is rather tense, and you certainly don’t expect a happy ending by the time “Propectors Quartet” finishes up the disc. It sets a dark mood.  As Sarah asked when she walked into the room, “What’s this depressing music?”  That sums it up right there.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s used in the movie.

[READ: November 13, 2008] On Chesil Beach

My friend Ailish encouraged me to read an Ian McEwan book several years ago called Enduring Love.  I really enjoyed it.  And they have now made his book Atonement into a film.  But I hadn’t read any other books by him until now.  This book was on our donations shelf at the library, so I grabbed it.

It’s a tiny book…200 pages and the dimensions of a paperback, but it seems even smaller.  I was able to polish it off in a couple of days.

This is the kind of story in which, as they say, nothing happens.  (more…)

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