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Archive for the ‘J. Malcolm Garcia’ Category

12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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41

SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, October 2, 2011 (2011).

swansatpBefore Swans released this year’s amazing The Seer, they toured supporting their previous album (with a number of songs from The Seer included). This set has two songs from The Seer, “The Apostate” and “The Seer, Pt 1” together they comprise 50 minutes of the nearly two hour show.  The set also includes “No Words No Thoughts” (24 minutes) and “Jim” (a teeny 6 minutes) from 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.  The final track is an eleven minute version of “I Crawled” which goes all the way back to 1984’s Young God EP.

I would never have thought of Swans as a jam band, and yet here they are, with 5 songs in 2 hours.  Although unlike jam bands, they aren’t showing off their musical chops or noodling solos, they are created expressive and moody soundscapes–not as scary as in days of old, but very intense nonetheless.

The set sounds great, although I imagine this would be more enjoyable to watch than to listen to (there a great swaths of music where there’ s not a lot happening).  I wonder what Gira is doing during these stretches.  My friend Phil (or Phillipe Puleo as Gira calls him here) plays drums on the album and on this tour, and I have to say he must be exhausted–man he hits the drums hard.

I listened to this show before I heard The Seer, but it didn’t prepare me for what the album would contain.  Now having heard that album, I appreciate this live show even more–they really master these long songs.  I am going to have to try to see them the next time they swing by.  I admit I used to be afraid at the thought of seeing them because their early music was so intense, but this seems to be a different Swans now, one that an old man like myself could even handle.

The set is no longer available on NPR.

[READ: December 10, 2012] McSweeney’s #41

The cover of this issue has a series of overlapping photographs of lightning.  I didn’t really look at it that closely at first and thought it was an interesting collage.  Indeed, Sarah said it looked like a science textbook of some kind.  But when I read the colophon, I learned that Cassandra C. Jones finds photographs of lightning and (without manipulating them digitally) places them together so that the lightning bolts create shapes.  And indeed, that is what is going on.  And it’s amazing!

The cover’s pictures create a greyhound running (front and back covers show different stages of the run).  There’s also circles and a rabbit running.  It’s incredibly creative and very cool.  You can see some of her work at her site.

The feature of this issue is that there are four stories from Australian Aboriginal Writers, a group that I can honestly say I have never read anything from before.  There’s also beautiful art work accompanying most of the longer stories, three gritty non-fiction pieces and some letters, most of which aren’t very silly at all.

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KANYE WEST-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010).

Before buying this album I really only knew of Kanye West as a loudmouthed guy who tweeted a lot and told off George Bush.  But then everyone was raving about this album (Pitchfork gave it a 10 out of 10!).  So I decided to check it out.  And I can’t get over how great an album it is.

Now I’m going to start this review by mentioning a few things I dislike about rap as a genre.  1) I dislike all of the “guests” that appear on a record–I bought the album because for you, not your friends.  2) I dislike excessive use of “unh” and “yeah” at the beginning of a track; when you have nothing to say–let the backing music flow, save your voice for actual words.  3) Rap is still terribly misogynist and vulgar–I’ve nothing against vulgarity per se (I do have something against misogyny) but excessive use is lazy, and it stands out much more in a rap song since you’re saying the words not singing them.

The Kanye West album is guilty of all three of these things, and yet I still think it’s fantastic.  The first reason is because it goes beyond a lot of rap by introducing real musical content into the songs.  This is not an “all rap is just a beatbox” dismissal of rap, it’s an observation that rap tends to be more about the lyrics and the musical accompaniment can get kind of lazy.  West’s songs have (beautiful) choruses, strings, and samples that augment the rest of the song, as opposed to samples that ARE the song.  And Kanye West’s voice is great.  His delivery is weird and twisted, a little cocky but more funny, with a twisted attitude that is really cool–and to my rather limited palate of rappers, it’s original.

The opening of the disc “Dark Fantasy” has a chorus singing “Can we get much higher” which is catchy and cool (and is used in the promo for The Hangover 2).  The switch from this opening to the rapping works well (aside from the FOUR “yea”s).  Although I don’t love the yeahs, I love his delivery, and that he occasionally ends lines with these weird “hunh” sounds, that are wonderfully emphatic.

The guests start showing up on track 2, but even the guests can’t detract from the excellent guitars of the song (and the cool solo). And I’ll say about the guests that I like some of them, but for the most part I’d rather hear Kanye.

“Power” samples King Crimson’s, “21st Century Schizoid Man”; anyone who samples King Crimson is alright with me.  But to use it so perfectly, to make it part of your song is real genius.  It works musically as well as within the overall concept of the album.

“All of the Lights” (with the pretty piano intro) features scads of guests including John Legend, The-Dream, Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Elton John (!), and Rihanna.  I can hear some of these people but not Elton John (why would he agree to be on a track where you can’t even hear him?).  It is a beautiful pop track nevertheless.

“Monster” is a monster of tracks with yet more guests (I like that some of these guests break with the typical guest, like Bon Iver (!)).  And I really like Nicki Minaj’s verse.  [I’m not familiar with her work at all (in fact I keep wanting to say Minja instead of Minaj) but her verse with the wonderfully crazy vocal styling she displays is weird and cool and very powerful–I would like to check out her solo album, but the samples I heard weren’t that interesting].  It also has a great repeated chorus of being a “motherfucking monster.”

It’s followed by the even more catchy “So Appalled” (with FIVE guest rappers–some of whom I’ve never heard of but who do a good job.  I love Cyhi da Prince’s lyrics: “I am so outrageous, I wear my pride on my sleeve like a bracelet, if God had an iPod, I’d be on his playlist”  or  “So call my lady Rosa Parks/I am nothing like them niggas baby those are marks/I met this girl on Valentine’s Day/fucked her in May/she found out about April so she chose to March” or this line, “y’all just some major haters and some math minors.”

“Devil in a New Dress” opens with a bunch of “unhs” (which I dislike) but this is nice ballad in the midst of all of the noise (and it has some clever lyrics).  It morphs right into “Runaway” one of the more audacious singles I can think of.  The piano melody is so simple (a single note to start) and the lyrics show Kanye as a loser in relationships.  It’s a surprisingly thoughtful song for a song with a chorus that goes: “Lets have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the asshole; a toast for the scumbags every one of them that I know.  You been putting up with my shit for way too long…runaway fast as you can.”  It gets even more audacious when you realize the last 4 minutes of the song are a solo with distorted voice.  And the video…the video is 35 minutes long!

The sentiment of that song is erased by the next one, “Hell of  a Life”.  It opens with a great distorted guitar riff and lyrics about sex with a porn star.   “Blame Game” is a surprisingly honest song about being nasty to your girlfriend (“I’d rather argue with you than be with someone else”).  It features a sample of Aphex Twin’s (!) “Avril 14th”.  And it’s quite a sad but lovely track.  It ends with a very long skit by Chris Rock.  I like Chris Rock, but this dialogue is kind of creepy because the woman who Rock is talking to (about the great sex she gave him) seems to be a robotic sample–why not have an actual woman talk to him?

The final track, “Lost in the World” has a lengthy intro by an auto-tuned Bon Iver.  It’s one of my favorite tracks on the disc, especially the end, where the processed vocals get even weirder but accent the beat wonderfully.  This track morphs into what is the actual final track, “Who Will Survive in America” which is basically a long recitation from Gil-Scot Heron.  It works great as an album closer.

So, despite several things I don’t like about the disc, overall, it’s really an amazing release.  And I can overlook the few things I dislike because the rest is so solid.  I can’t decide if it’s worth looking for his earlier releases.  How can they live up to this one?

[READ: May 6, 2011] McSweeney’s #37

This is the first McSweeney’s book where I’ve had to complain about the binding.  The glue peeled off pretty quickly from the center cover.  Fortunately, the back cover held up well.  I’m guessing it’s because there’s an extra book tucked into the front cover which prevents the book from closing nicely when it’s removed.

But aside from that, the design of the cover is very cool.  It is meant to look like a book (duh), but actually like a 3-D book, so the bottom right and top left corners are cut on diagonals (this makes for a very disconcerting-looking book inside–with triangles cut across the top).  The artwork inside is also cool.  In keeping with this appearance, each two page spread looks like a book with a spine drawing in the gutter of the pages).  And the bottom of each page has lines making it look like the bottom of a book.  (The illustrated margins are by SOPHIA CARA FRYDMAN and HENRY JAMES and there are interior paintings by JONATHAN RUNCIO).

The front matter is wonderful.  Although it gives the usual publishing information, the bulk of this small print section is devoted to counteracting all the claims that the book is dead.  It offers plenty of statistics to show that not only are the public reading, they are reading more than ever.  The introduction also goes a long way towards arguing against the idea that people are reading less now than in the past.  When was this “golden age” of readers?  There’s also the wonderfully encouraging news that 98% of American are considered literate.

This issue opens with 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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