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Archive for the ‘J. Robert Lennon’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Don’t Believe in Christmas” (2002).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

Although yesterday’s song was full of Christmas cheer, this one is a rocking raspberry for Christmas.

It’s a pretty standard blues riff with the verses being just drums and vocals.  And it’s all about how last year’s Christmas was a real downer so he has given up on the holiday

I hung my stocking on a wall
I didn’t get a thing at all

It’s got the simple sing-along chorus:

I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
I don’t believe in Christmas
’cause i didn’t get nothin’ last year

But as always, there’s a sly wink with all the bah humbug

Well i tried to get a little kiss
From a pretty little miss
She slapped me down and said “you jerk
Mistletoe doesn’t work”

There’s a nice guitar solo and then a surprising organ solo before the song wraps itself up in an tidy bow.

[READ: December 4, 2019] “The Unsupported Circle”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This is the kind of story that I really like and J. Robert Lennon is an author I would like to read more from.

The story is a series of unrelated vignettes–each one a movie or video–described by a narrator who we don’t meet for a while.

The first one is of a corporate retreat situation–a trust fall of sorts.

Next is a boy rapping on the street.  He has a humorous accident mid-video. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: dvsn-Tiny Desk Concert #806 (November 19, 2018).

I love when an artist appears on a Tiny Desk and the blurb is going crazy with excitement and yet I have never heard of them.  When I saw the name dvsn I assumed it was a techno band.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong:

With a four-piece band and three pristine backup vocalists for support, singer Daniel Daley flexed his falsetto pipes and a shiny gold grill, running through a sampler of fan-favorites about breaking up, making up and trying to move on. The short-and-sweet set is an example of the kind of audible acrobatics you don’t often hear at contemporary R&B shows anymore. … Though it’s easy to mistake dvsn as simply the stage moniker of Daley, the act is really a Toronto-based duo comprised of the singer and Grammy Award-winning producer Nineteen85, the (almost) secret weapon behind the boards.

The band has only released two albums, so they’re not especially long-lived, but clearly they have fan-favorites.  And they’ve been playing live for a number of years”

When dvsn visited NPR for this Tiny Desk concert, it reminded me of the first time I saw them two years ago in New York City. They decided to wash the desk in vibrant blue, purple and orange lighting, brought in by dvsn’s team to make the space feel like a concert hall. And while the audience at NPR was almost as densely packed as that NYC venue, it felt much like my live introduction to the group — grandiose in presentation, but at the same time, deliberately intimate in delivery.

They play three songs, “Too Deep” “Body Smile” and “Mood.”  Daniel Daley has an amazing falsetto–hitting crazy high notes almost randomly.  And thee lights are certainly a cool effect.  But these three songs are indistinguishable from countless cheesy-sounding R&B songs.

Of the three, “Body Smile” has the least amount of cheese–his voice sounds good and real and not smoove.

My favorite part of the Concert is actually after he says thank you and walks off because the band jams for an extra minute and they are great.  The guitarist plays a sick solo and then the band plays a gentle little jam to close out the show.

[READ: January 29, 2017] “Happyland”

This story behind this story is pretty fascinating.  Essentially he was inspired by the life of the American Girls creator Pleasant Rowland.  Although as he puts it in the introduction to the eventually-published book in 2013 (he wrote it in 2003), “I didn’t mean to write anything remotely controversial. A former doll and children’s book mogul started buying up property in a small town and the town got mad.  Wouldn’t this make a good novel, people kept asking me?”

He had friends who lived in the town that Pleasant was buying property in and told them not to send him any information about the story.  He didn’t want to write the story of Pleasant, he wanted to take that idea and write the story of Happy Masters a woman with a similar career but clearly a very different woman altogether.  He says, “To this day I know nothing of the real [doll mogul] that I didn’t learn over the phone, from lawyers.”

The original publisher, fearing imaginary unthreatened lawsuits, dropped the book.  As for the mogul herself she had no intention to sue. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: SOUAD MASSI-Tiny Desk Concert #231 (July 15, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

souadSouad Massi has a fascinating story:

Born in Algeria to a Berber (Kabyle) family in 1972, Massi grew up in the capital city of Algiers. On her way to rehearsals with her rock band as a teenager, men used to spit at and harass her for wearing jeans and toting a guitar. When civil war erupted in 1992, life became even more dangerous for Massi: After she released her first album, she was targeted for assassination by Islamic fundamentalists.  Now based in Paris, she’s since become one of the major musical stars of the Arab world: Massi has sold hundreds of thousands of albums across Europe and North Africa,

She sings unflinching, deeply intimate songs in a mix of North African Arabic, Berber and French

Since I don’t know what she’s singing I’m going to use some of the blurbs

  • “Raoui” (Storyteller) is a beautiful delicate song with lyrics like: “Every one of us has a story in his heart… Storyteller, tell us stories to make us forget our reality. Leave us in the world of once upon a time.”
  • “Ghir Enta” (No One but You)  has a faster tempo–Confessional love songs like “Ghir Enta”bear little resemblance to the sappy sentiments that dominate Arab pop ballads. There’s a trembling note of fragility within: “Now you’re by my side,” she sings, “But tomorrow, who knows? That’s how the world is — sweet and bitter at the same time.”
  • “Amessa” (A Day Will Come) a much faster track in which she says she needs help with the rhythm, which the crowd provides.  You can still feel the North African undercurrent which propels the song that was sung in Arabic in the beginning and in Berber in the second part
  • “Le Bien et le mal” (The Good and the Evil)  is a pretty, slow song with lyrics like: “There are people who lament over their destiny, people who cry on their own tombstones while they are still alive … There are people who grow old before their time. We’re fed up with this life.”

Massi’s voice is really lovely on top of it.

[READ: December 14, 2016] “Blue Light, Red Light”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I have read an enjoyed J. Robert Lennon’s stories in the past.  But as with yesterday’s story, this one had the potential of being very dark indeed.

This is the story of a 7-year-old boy.  When his baby sister is born he is quite jealous of her.  But he soon grows affectionate towards the little creature who stares at him so intently and for so long.

One night, when the boy can’t sleep, he goes downstairs to his parents. They let him sit with them for a while in front of the TV. The parents fall asleep but the boy does not.  And on comes a real-crime show.  In this show, which the boy is mesmerized by, a man breaks into a house and kills an entire family, including a baby. (more…)

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1-19SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Green Naugahyde (2011).

greenAfter the EP and tour, the reunited Primus (with Jay Lane still on drums) made Green Naugahyde.  And the album sounds fantastic.  They veer away from the longer jammier songs and get back down to business–it’s also notable that Ler contributed music to a number of songs.  I reviewed it a while back when it came out and I’m pretty much all in agreement with what I said then.  I was a little critical of a few things which I find less annoying now.  I still admit to not loving Les’ deeper singing voice, but it seems here to stay.

Some thoughts from the original post edited with new feelings added

As  they have done before, this album opens with a brief instrumental “Prelude to a Crawl” which sort of sets the tone for “Hennepin Crawler.”  As soon as “Hennepin” opens you know that this is classic Primus–bass loaded and crazy rhythms.  But it’s also apparent that Les is bringing some of the weird effects he’s been playing with in his various other bands to Primus–the bass is wonderfully distorted with crazy effects.  I love that he’s also playing harmonics on the bass.  It’s really hard to tell what is the guitar and what is the bass on this song.

Having said that, there’s some great musical ideas here.  I love the riff of “Last Salmon Man” (again, the lyrics are hard to decipher) and the way it changes from verse to bridge.  “Eternal Consumption Engine” is a great title.  It’s the first song where Les’ old vocals come back, and it’s nice to hear him.  It’s funny and frenetic.

“Tragedy’s A’ Comin’” is classic Primus, a funky rubber bass line, and group vocals.  I think what I really like about it is the openness of the music–so that you can really hear the fun things that original drummer Jay Lane  is doing.  There’s a live break in the middle of the song which is unusual and seems mostly to be for a bass solo.

When I recently wrote my thoughts on “Eyes of the Squirrel” they were exactly the same.  It is probably my least favorite song which is a real shame because the opening bass riffs are INSANELY wonderful!  I don’t know how anyone can play that fast.  I really like the way the song opens.  But it just seems to drag.  “Jilly’s on Smack” I like less this time around, although it does have an earworm quality to it.

So after two meh songs, the rest of the disc is great.  “Lee Van Cleef” is a fun stomper about missing Lee.  “Moron TV” is infectiously catchy (especially the dang a dang a dang a dang dang part) and the lyrics are wonderful.  The spoken word/jam section is also really fun.

“Hoinfodaman” is awesome and listening to Les pitch for fake products is hilarious.  It also features what may be a first for Primus: guitars in the lead melody line.  I especially love the crazy (and I think rather funny) guitar line that works as the bridge, it’s one of my favorite Primus songs.  As is “Extinction Burst” which ends the album on a major high note.  The harmonics from the bass jump into the really heavy main riff.  And Ler’s bizarrely fiddly guitar section is great–easily comparable to any of Les’ fiddly nonsense.  And on top of that, the outro is just great.

I have to agree with my earlier assessment: this makes for one of Primus’ best releases overall.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “Breadman”

I haven’t read a lot of J. Robert Lennon, but everything that I’ve read I have enjoyed.  And I would like to read more from him.  This story was fantastic, both in the plot and the way it was written.

It starts more or less in the middle with the narrator saying that “Of course he’d seen them, his customers.”  He proceeds to describe exactly the kind of people you’d imagine would line up in front of an artisanal bake shop.  He says he wouldn’t have gone there in a million billion years, but “My wife sent me.”

And of course he was late.  Which means he was there ten minutes before the store opened, but if you got there less than 30 minutes ahead of opening time you were pretty much guaranteed to miss out on the special focaccia.  (The fact that the store is inside another store front is a wonderful detail).

While waiting on line for bread, he made a joke about Soviet Russia which didn’t go over well.  Clearly the Breadman was far too good for jokes like that. (more…)

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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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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIZ PHAIR-Exile in Guyville Live October 6, 2008 (2008).

Like all indie rock hipsters I loved Exile in Guyville when it came out.  And like all indie rock hipsters, I hated that Liz Phair later made an album that is had the top cover below.  I didn’t even care anymore when she made the album with the second cover below.

The irony of course is that Liz made Guyville because she was sick of the hipster boys who were living in Chicago at the time.  And now it was the same hipster boys (only older) who were dismissing her for selling out.  (At least, that’s what I get from the interview that’s attached to the end of the concert and this separate interview from around the same time).

But regardless of my hipster cred (and subsequent loss of same) I really didn’t like Liz’s new pop style (but good for her for still being hot, right?).  In fact, I hadn’t even really listened to her since 2000 anyhow so when she came out with her pop albums I just kind of shrugged.

So, what’s up with this return to Guyville?  Well, the interviews mention her needing some closure on the rough time in her life when she made the record.  And also feeling that since could actually play her guitar now, it was worth giving fans (and herself) the experience of actually enjoying playing the album live.  So, good vibes and happy feelings all around (and sex and sex and more sex).

The concert is the entire Guyville album, played start to finish, with occasional banter in between.  And she is quite faithful to the original (she even has a special guest sing the “Every time I see your face, I get all wet between my legs” line on “Flower.”  The main flaw with the concert is that the bassist hits a number of flat notes and also on at least two songs is either out of tune or just mixed too loud or something.

The other flaw is directly related to Liz saying how much better she is at performing.  Because as the set opens, her voice sounds really off on the first couple of songs.  In the interview, she says that she still feels uncomfortable on stage until about the fourth song. And maybe that’s what’s happening on 6′ 1″ or, quite possibly, she can’t hit those notes anymore (her voice is considerably higher on her newer songs and 6′ 1″ is a low register, almost flat singing style and she just doesn’t seem comfortable doing it).  Indeed, by the fourth or fifth song, she seems more comfortable and seems to be having more fun and the set moves pretty smoothly from there.

She has a good rapport with the audience.  Humility was never her strong suit, and it shows, which makes me her a little less likable, but she still has good banter.

When the album is over she comes back for a brief encore.  She plays two songs solo (which are okay).  And then the band comes back for two of her other hits: “Supernova” and “Polyester Bride” which both sound fantastic.

Listening to Exile in Guyville again was great, the songs hold up really well.  I’ll have to pull her old CDs out and listen to the originals again (the concert is mixed a little low, but–good on NPR–all of the bad words are left in!).  The NPR page also said that Guyville had gone out of print until it was reissued recently.  Is it really possible that Matador let it go out of print?

[READ: April 22, 2011] Five Dials Number 4

The conceit behind this issue is “Eleven writers tell us Exactly What Happened …Days Before It Happened.”  And the authors tell us in past tense what happened on the fateful night of the election between Obama nad McCain.  (even though they are written some time before it has happened).

This issue is short again (all of 14 pages), but with such a tidy topic, the fourteen pages are packed with information.  There are eleven authors who write about the election.  Most are just a couple of paragraphs, so I’m not going to try to summarize them.  I’m going to say their predictions for what happened and (in one case) the uncanny accuracy.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor “On Elections and Chomsky”
He lays out what the point of this speculation fiction is: “We’ve become tired of the uncertainty and of the waiting.  It’s time someone told us exactly how this election ends.”   And also, Chomsky is almost 80, and he’s still vibrant. (more…)

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