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Archive for the ‘Jeffrey Eugenides’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NINET-Tiny Desk Concert #601 (March 3, 2017).

One of the things I’d hoped to do this year was to finish posting about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts.  I didn’t know how I’d do it, but at some point I just decided to plow through them all.  And as of today, I have posted about all of the Concerts from the first one through March of this year.  There’s about 25 newer ones left.  It’s a pretty good feeling to accomplish arbitrary goals.

Ninet is the first of the newest Concerts.  Ninet Tayeb is an Israeli singer but she doesn’t sing any kind of “ethnic” or “world” music.  Rather, she and her band simply rock out.

As the first song, “Child” opens, the band sings in great harmony.  I love that the drummer (Yotam Weiss) is using a box drum but also a small hand drum (tapping with his fingers) and a cymbal (playing with his hands perfectly).  Ninet herself plays acoustic guitar and I love that you can hear her strumming and scratching on the guitar even with everyone else playing.  After a few verses, the whole band starts to rock out.  The great guitar sounds come from the electric guitarist (and main backing vocalist)–Joseph E-Shine Mizrahi.  I loved watching his guitar solo and the way he was occasionally hitting all of the strings to make them ring them out as he soloed.

I love the melody of Elinor–the way the guitars and bass (Matt McJunkins) play the same thing but in different tones.   The song takes off and runs nonstop with some great riffing in the middle and Ninet’s angry, snarling but catchy voice rising over it all.  I also love the great use of snyths (Doron Kochli) to play divergent and dark swells underneath the main riffs.

The song rocks to an end and they laugh as the guitarist picks some things up off the floor and says sorry Bob.  To which he says “what did you break now?”  That remains unresolved–I’m not even sure when it happened.

“Superstar,” the final song has the same snarling coolness as the previous two.  But it adds an interesting middle Eastern vibe from the keys as well as during the vocal lines near the end.  It sounds amazing.

The blurb has this to say:

“[Ninet is] one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today.”  She has recently settled in the States.  She has released five albums, “and their most recent, Paper Parachute, is the home of the songs she brought to us. It’s filled with a her husky-toned voice and guitar lines straight out of stateside ’70s rock, with a Middle Eastern lean. It’s a winning sound, performed by an unrestrained talent.”

I really enjoyed this set–her voice is really captivating and the riffs are wonderful.  As the song ends, Bob says “and that was the stripped down version,”  I’d like to hear the full on rocking version too!

[READ: January 12, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

Just the other day I learned that Yiyun Li would be joining Princeton University’s Creative Writing team.  That’s pretty exciting. If I was a groupie it would be even more exciting.  It would certainly be awkward to go to her office and thank her for all of the great fiction she’s written.  But how cool would it be to walk down the hall and see her and Jeffrey Eugenides, A.M. Homes, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates chatting by the literary water cooler?

This is the story of Becky.  Becky’s son, Jude has autism and is being seen by two specialists.

She is in the remodeled San Francisco museum, talking to a man who says he hates museums–he hates sharing art with others.  The man is wearing a red tie that reminds her of Spongebob Squarepants.  She will write about him in her journal (mentioning only the red tie).  Her journal is comprised solely of descriptions of people.  She imagines that one day Jude will read it and be appreciative for all of her words. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_11_18_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Tiny Desk Concert #26 (September 14, 2009).

tmoeI was not aware of The Tallest Man on Earth before hearing him on All Songs Considered.  And then WXPN started playing one of his songs, so he became somewhat familiar to me.  I have since listened to some of his concerts and this Tiny Desk Concert and I really like him a lot.

So the Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson, a Swedish folksinger with a great guitar picking style and a deep powerful gritty voice.  He plays three songs in this set.  “I Won’t Be Found” has wonderful fast guitar picking that contrasts wonderfully with his simple singing melody.  It’s a great song.  As is “The Gardener” which sounds very different.  This one is largely strummed–a bouncy, jaunty strum. It seems to contain the origin of his unusual stage name (or perhaps it just a fun allusion to it).

“Pistol Dreams” has more great finger picking (and reminds me a little of Richard Thompson).  It’s a sweet song, and his gruff voice once again provides excellent contrast.

I hope to hear more from The Tallest Man on Earth.  Check it out.

READ: “Find the Bad Guy”

This story was surprisingly dark (I don’t think of Eugenides as quite so dark).  It starts out with the narrator talking about the house that he and his wife have owned for 12 years.  And yet they still haven’t gotten the smell of the previous owners completely out of it.  (There’s a nice payoff to this idea later in the story).

But that’s not the point.  The point is that he has recently been kicked out of his house—given a restraining order, in fact.  But since he knows the plans of his house he knows that he can stand right where he is—just inside the front fence—and know that he’s not too close.

The story has trappings of being current—he plays Words with Friends with his daughter (her name is mrsbieber), which I found to be just slightly out of touch.  But that’s irrelevant.

The narrator is Charlie Daniels (not that one—he goes by Charlie D to avoid confusion, especially since he works in music).  He met his wife at a radio station.  She worked at a country station, although she didn’t like country music.  Johanna was from Germany (her name was Lübeck, but everyone pronounced it Lubbock).  But the thing about her was that she was very tall (not that tall in Germany, she said).  And Charlie D was suave, so he asked her clever things like how the weather was up there and if she ever played basketball.  She didn’t fall for this, of course, but then one day she asked if they could get married so she could get a green card.  He said sure. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (2012).

Nada Surf continues to put out poppy guitar rock.  I tend to link them with Guster, in that they write really catchy pop songs about unexpected things.  The songs are usually fast, but they also writes some slower songs too.  They would make a good double bill.

This album with the wonderful title is 38 minutes long, a perfect light summer album.  If you don’t get “Waiting for Something” (which I agree is repeated waaay too often in the chorus) stuck in your head, then you haven’t been listening to this record.

All ten songs feature bouncy guitars (except “When I Was Young” which opens as a slow ballad), although even this song, after about 2 minutes, calls forth loud electric guitars.  There are some elements that show the band “maturing”–strings on “When I Was Young” horns on “Let the Fight Do the Fighting.”  But one of the songs references Gilligan’s Island, so they’re not maturing too much.

And some of the songs sound like throwbacks to other eras too, the 60s guitar intro of “Jules and Jim,” the R.E.M. ish intro of “Waiting for Something.”  It’s a great album, fun, catchy and perfect for driving.

[READ: July 24, 2012] Emmaus

I had no idea who Alessandro Baricco was when I got this book as part of my Book of the Month deal with McSweeney’s.  But I’ve never been disappointed by one of their new books before, so it was worth checking out.

The book is short–134 pages–and is novella length, which is the perfect length for this story.  [I had just read about Jim Harrison and his novellas, and I believe that there needs to be more novellas published].  This book was originally written in Italian and was translated by Ann Goldstein.

There is a prologue which is completely exciting and absolutely wonderful.  It’s only a page and a half, but it is intriguing, funny, deep and, most of all, really surprising.

The opening of the book doesn’t quite match the excitement of the prologue, but that’s because this novella has two aspects–deep, thoughtful introspection and base, animal instinct.  And Baricco/Goldstein does an excellent job keeping the flow and continuity going between these two very different writing extremes.

The book reminds me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides for two reasons.  One: it is written about a group of boys and is written in the second person plural (at least the beginning is) and two: they are all watching a girl who is beyond their ken–someone of their world but not, someone who is en route to hurt herself.  And there’s nothing they can do about it.

But this book is entirely its own.  There are four boys who make up the initial “we” (and when it diverges from plural to singular, you really feel the loss of the other boys).  And so the book starts: “We’re all sixteen or seventeen years old, but we aren’t really aware of it.”  The four boys are good boys–Catholic (and believers, at that), who play in the church band, who volunteer removing catheters at the poor person’s hospital and who plan to not have sex before marriage (heavy petting is okay but it never goes too far).  The four boys are: the narrator, whose name is never given I don’t think; Luca, whose father is rumored to be suicidal; Bobby, the most outgoing of the bunch and The Saint, a very pious young man who has designed for the priesthood and who is not afraid to be seen as more pious than you. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Shadows of the Sun (2007).

I really wanted to like this album because of the cover–which is striking.  I know, I know, never judge…  My initial reaction to the disc was kind of poor.  I’ve followed Ulver’s progress through their many incarnations, and it’s not entirely surprising that they should make an entirely ambient record.  It just strikes me as an odd release–mellow and almost lullaby-ish but also a little creepy (the voice mostly).

But at the same time, musically it’s quite pretty.  And while it wasn’t a very good listen for a car trip to work, it was actually really perfect for listening to at work–where headphones allowed for hearing so many nuances.

There’s not much point in a song by song listing, as the songs are similar–washes of music with slightly distorted, deep vocals.   But there are some interesting musical choices that make each song unique, and consequently better than a lot of ambient in which all of the songs use the same musical palette.  “All the Love” employs piano and come cool electronic sounds near the end.

“Let the Children Go” is a much darker song (with drums!).  “Solitude” is the most melodic song of the bunch.  It reminds me of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (which should tell you something about the overall tone of the album).  It has a noticeable vocal line (and really audible lyrics, which are quite melancholy and more emotional that I would have expected: “You just left when I begged you to stay.  I’ve not stopped crying since you went away.”

Another observation.  At times when he actually sings, the vocals sound a bit like XTC–“Shadows of the Sun” in particular.  And since that song has pianos it’s not inconceivable that this could sound like XTC (although not really).

With the right atmosphere, this record proves to be a very impressive listen.  Kristoffer Rygg’s vocals really suit the mood and, all in all, it does reflect the album cover rather more than I initially thought.

[READ: March 18, 2012] The Marriage Plot

I had put this book on hold a few months ago.  And I was ninety-something on the list, so I didn’t think too much about it.  I looked the other day and I was 10.  Yipes.  How was I going to read this 400 page book  in three weeks while also reading Gravity’s Rainbow??

Well, amazingly, The Marriage Plot worked as a nice foil to GR. It is a supremely easy read.  It is completely uncomplicated.  And, it actually has some unexpected parallels to GR–specifically, two of the characters travel to Europe, one on a pilgrimage the other on a honeymoon, and they travel to Paris, Geneva, Spain, Zürich, and even Nice.  There is literally no connection between these two books (although Mitchell does bring Pynchon’s V along with him), but it was fun to see new people go to the cities that Slothrop has been traveling to for very different reasons.

I powered through the book, reading large chunks and staying up way too late both because I liked the book and because I wanted to get it back on time (beware the library police!).  And there really is something about finishing a book quickly, it really keeps the story and characters fresh and makes the experience more enjoyable.

But on to the book.

This book centers around three people in a kind of lover’s triangle.  The woman at the center is Madeleine (and yes there are wonderful tie-ins to Madeline the children’s book series). The two men are Leonard and Mitchell.  All three of them are graduating from Brown in the mid 80s.

I identified with the book immediately because Madeleine is an English major (as was I).  She studies the Victorian era [and I had just read the piece by Franzen about Edith Wharton] and is on track to write her thesis on this era.  The title of the book comes from this section–novels written at that time were especially focused on marriage–if a woman did not marry, she was more or less doomed, and so the plots centered around her quest to find a suitable mate.  As Franzen noted in the above article, Wharton and some of her predecessors sounded the death knell for the “marriage plot” and Madeleine was going to do her thesis on that.

As the pieces of the triangle fall into place we learn (skeletal at first with much detail added later) that Madeleine and Mitchell were very good friends initially.  So good, in fact, that she invited him back to her parents house for a vacation.  He was head over heels in love with; however, out of fear (mostly) he never acted on the opportunities she gave him, and she thought that he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship.  Basically, he blew it (although he doesn’t learn this until much later–I can relate to this all too well). As the story opens, she has just woken up, hungover, smelling of a party, with a mysterious stain on her dress.  She knows she did something with someone last night but she’s not sure what.  Not atypical college behavior.  But the kicker is that it is graduation morning and her parents are ringing the doorbell of her dorm right now. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLINIC-Funf (2007).

I received this disc when it was donated to our library.  Clinic is an art-punk band from Liverpool.  This is a collection of B-Sides (that’s an unusual place to start when you’ve never heard a band before). As such, it’s hard to tell if this is what the band sounds like or if these are crazy experiments (because the songs are pretty crazy).  Even if they are experiments, they’ve got me very interested in hearing what the rest of their stuff sounds like.  And since these songs are all over the map I’m still not sure what their albums may sound like.

There are twelve songs on the record: only three are over 3 minutes long, the rest are just over 2 minutes (with a couple under 2 minutes).  This whole collection is under half an hour.  And yet it feels like they take you all over the place, music-wise.  The collection covers from 1999-2007, but they’re not in chronological order, so you can’t even tell if any of this is a progression in musical styles or just a bunch of experiments.  The willful obscurity is quite exciting.

“The Majestic” is a grand, building monstrosity.  It is full of pomp, which is immediately deflated by the slightly off-key organ.  “Nicht” is a 180 degree turn—a blistering hardcore song. It’s played very fast and yet it is not sloppy (and it’s 90 seconds long).  “Christmas” flips the sound again, with a delicate, slow song about, yes, Christmas.  “The Castle” has a lot of organ sounds, which reminds me of early weirder Who songs and even Stereolab.  “You Can’t Hurt You Anymore” is an instrumental (with cowbell!).  “Dissolution” has a distorted guitar and tribal drums.  It breaks after a few riffs to showcase some bizarre distorted spoken words.

Speaking of lyrics.  A lyric sheet is included which is very helpful because the lyrics are utter nonsense: “Pork pie had to know uncle now you can elope” “Diktat no fat fun eyebrow shhhh for the one and the one with horrors”  “Cheat the bored, cheat thee sup at the toast.”  I suspect they are just making sounds while they play and then figuring out what the words might be later.

“Magic Boots” returns to that punk sound with distorted guitar solos at the front (and distorted vocals in the back).  “The Scythe” has a kind of western guitar feel (simple, but interesting).  “Lee Shan” is the slowest song on the disc (spoken/chanting vocals are low in the mix).  “J.O.” is a slow keyboard song.  “Circle I” is another blistering noisy punk song. The collection ends with “Golden Rectangle” which is a slowish surf-sounding song, but with keyboards.

It amazes me that this band has so many full length records out.  They must have a cult following, even though I’d never heard of them before.  I’d really like to check out what their main releases sound like.

[READ: March 11, 2012] “A Rooting Interest”

Hot on the heels of Jonathan Fraznen saying he hates Twitter, I get to read how much he loves Edith Wharton.

It’s no secret that Franzen is a curmudgeon–he is an emotional guy who believes in authenticity; there is absolutely no surprise that he would hate Twitter.  And, while I think Twitter is good for some things, he is absolutely correct when he says, “Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis.”  [Actually I’m not sure that that simile is apt, but I get the point.]

He may be a little overstepping with the rest: “Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”  I think there is some fun to be had yakking about ourselves, but the point is well taken.

It also seems quite appropriate for this article in The New Yorker in which he lauds a writer who wrote almost one hundred years ago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPEARL JAM-Austin City Limits (2009).

Pearl Jam records (and sells) most of their shows and they occasionally videotape them as well.  But they don’t do TV all that much (excepting the recent Late Late Show episodes).  There seemed to be something special, or at least different, about Pearl Jam on Austin City Limits.  Think of it almost like Unplugged Updated.

It opens slow with Eddie on an acoustic guitar and strings behind him.  In fact, the whole set seems less heavy than many of their sets.  But that’s not to say that the band doesn’t rock out, because they do.

The first six songs of the set come from Backspacer.   And then they bust out “Army Reserve” (which makes sense given who is in the audience, see below).  Then there’s a wonderfully raucous version of “Do the Evolution” (one of my favorite PJ songs).

After that riotous track, they bring the strings out for one more song.  It’s a rather funny little joke because it’s just the strings and Eddie on acoustic guitar playing “Lukin,” the 80-second song that is so fast you can barely hear the words.

For an extra treat, touring mate Ben Harper comes out to play slide guitar on “Red Mosquito” (which is always a treat).  And the set ends with an amazing version of “Porch” with a super long guitar solo in which Mike McCready really shows off his chops.  There’s even a moment where Mike and Stone are riffing off each other, classic rock style.
The set ends the Eddie talking about playing for the wounded veterans in the audience and how it was quite moving for him given all they have done for us.  Over the closing credits you see the band mingling with the veterans (including a guy who has lost a leg).  It’s all surprisingly touching for a rock show.

[READ: November 20, 2011] “Perchance to Dream”

A while back I read all of the Jonathan Franzen articles that were published in The New Yorker.  I thought I had read everything he’d published until I realized I had forgotten to read this piece (possibly his most famous) that was published in Harper’s.  It fits in well with this weekend’s theme because it was mentioned in Evan Hughes’ article that I talked about yesterday and because David Foster Wallace is mentioned in it.

As with most of Franzen’s non-fiction, it’s not easy to write about critically unless I want to argue with him, which I don’t necessarily want to do.  So instead, I’ll try to summarize.  Of course, this is a long and somewhat difficult article, so let’s see what we can do with it.

The first surreal thing is when you see the byline: “Jonathan Franzen is the author of two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, and is writing a third.”  It’s hard to imagine he got a huge article in Harper’s before he wrote The Corrections.

The second surreal thing comes in the text: It opens with “The country was preparing for war ecstatically, whipped on by William Safire (for whom Saddam Hussein was ‘this generation’s Hitler’) and George Bush, whose approval stood at 89 percent.”  And it is only a few paragraphs later when he mentions Patriot missiles that it clicked that this was written in 1996 and not 2001 and that he was talking about the 1991 Iraq invasion.  He mentions this as a prelude, saying that he was trying to sequester himself in order to start writing again.

Then he talks about Paula Fox’s novel Desperate Characters as a benchmark in terms of insight and personal conflict, even if it is so crazily outdated (that someone would throw an inkwell!).   He talks about this book quite a bit. I’m, not sure I found it compelling enough to want to read, but it’s always interesting to hear a fan write about a book I’ve never heard of.  He will return to this book throughout the essay. (more…)

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