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Archive for the ‘John Ashbery’ Category

dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: CRYPTOPSY-“Slit Your Guts” (1996).

cryptI had never heard of this band until I saw the song mentioned in the article.  The song is impossibly fast with speeding guitars, super fast (inhuman) drums and an indecipherable growl as vocal.  In other words, a typical cookie monster metal song.  And yet, there is a lot more to it and, indeed it took me several listens before I could even figure out what was happening here, by which time I had really fallen for the song.

There’s a middle section which is just as punishing and fast but which is basically an instrumental break–not for showing off exactly but for showcasing more than the bands pummel.  It has a short guitar solo followed by a faster more traditional solo (each for one measure, each in a different ear). Then the tempo picks up for an extended instrumental section.  The melody is slightly more sinister, but it sounds great.  There’s even a (very short) bass solo that sticks out as a totally unexpected (and fun) surprise.

Then the growls come back in, staying with the new melody.  The vocals are so low and growly that they are almost another distorted instrument rather than a voice.

After that there’s a lengthy proper guitar solo.  As the song comes to a close,  it repeats some previous sections before suddenly halting.  It’s quite a trip. And it definitely makes me want to hear more from them (whatever their name means).

[READ: April 14, 2014] “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives”

Robbins, who is a poet, but about whom I know little else, takes us on a sort of literary tour of heavy metal.  His tone is interesting–he is clearly into metal, like in a big way (at the end of the article he talks about taking his writing students to see Converge (although he doesn’t exactly say why)), but he’s also not afraid to make fun of the preposterousness of, well, most of the bands–even the ones he likes.  It’s a kind of warts and all appreciation for what metal is and isn’t.  many people have written about metal from many different angles, so there’s not a lot “new” here, but it is interesting to hear the different bands discussed in such a thoughtful (and not just in a fanboy) way.

His first footnote is interesting both for metal followers and metal disdainers: “Genre classification doesn’t interest me.  Listen to Poison Idea’s Feel the Darkness followed by Repulsion’s Horrified and tell me the main difference between hardcore punk and metal isn’t that one has a bullshit positive message and one has a bullshit negative message.”

But since Robbins is a poet, he is interested in metal’s connection to poetry.  And in the article he cites William Blake (of course), but also Rilke and John Ashbery and (naturally) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Shelley, Lord Byron and Charles Baudelaire.  He talks about them not because they are cool poets, but because they have also talked about because of metal’s “most familiar trope…duh, Satanism, which might be silly–okay, its’ definitely silly, but has a distinguished literary pedigree”.  Besides, he notes that Satan has the best lines in Paradise Lost (and I note that just as Judas has the best songs in Jesus Christ Superstar).

But sometimes this Satanism turns into a  form of paganism which then turns into nature worship.  From Voivod’s “Killing Technology” to black metal’s romanticism of nature (sometimes to crazy extremes–but that’s what a band needs to do to stand out sometimes).  Metal is all about the dark and primordial, a”rebuke to our soft lives.”

And yet, as a poet, Robbins has some quibbles with metal: (more…)

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