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Archive for the ‘John Brandon’ Category

joySOUNDTRACK: STEVEN PAGE-Page One (2010).

pageoneThis is the first proper solo album for Steven Page, former Barenaked Lady.  He did have a side projet while he was still a BNL guy, called The Vanity project, but this comes after he left the band.  As a lead songwriter for  BNL, this album sounds an awful lot like a BNL album.  But he does branch out a bit for better and worse, on a couple of songs.  I like that the record is designed sort of like a book.  And that there’s a library check out sleeve and that one of the names who checked out the “book” is Leland Palmer (ha).

“A New Shore” sounds like classic Barenaked Ladies, with a big chorus (and Page’s great voice), strings and even a whistling section.  If you imagine the harmony vocals are by Ed Robertson, this could easily fit on a BNL disc.  “Indecision” sounds like latter BNL with the “whoo hoos” and the way the verses really slow down the craziness of the chorus.  The big difference is the female backing vocals.  “Clifton Springs” opens with a ba da da section and a very catchy melody that sounds like a sitcom theme song (hey sitcoms, check this out!).  It’s a mellow song that really highlights Page’s voice.

“Entourage” is a kind of dance song.  It has a kind of Pet Shop Boys feel (or else I’ve been listening to the Pet Shop Boys too much).  It even has a line “I only love you when I’m drunk” which echoes Pet Shop Boys’ “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.”  But I love the way Page says “Alright” at the end of the chorus and it could possibly have been a dance hit.  It ends with a minute or so of a jazzy coda.  “Marry Me” could also be a theme (to the new show Marry Me, duh).  It’s energetic and poppy.

“All the Young Monogamists” has cello and violin and in some places, little else.  It’s quite a different sound for the album, like a minor orchestral piece.  It works mostly.  “She’s Trying to Save Me” is a great return to the bouncy single that BNL did so well.  “Over Joy” has a very sixties feel (the way Page’s voice is processed).  I believe it is also the same melody as the Barenaked Ladies song “Hannukah Blessings” which Page wrote.  And why not?  It’s very catchy.

“If You Love Me” has a very synthy 90s pop feel.  I can see it being on the far end of Page’s fun zone, but I don’t really like it.  When the song ramps up to the next notes around 2:50, it is excruciating.  On the other end of the spectrum is “Leave Her Alone” which opens like a big band number (and stays that way in the chorus) but has verses that are very electronic.

“Queen of America” is a big bouncy song, that I wish I liked more.  The final song, the five and a half-minute “The Chorus Girl” is a sad ballad (the kind that Page also writes very well).  The song seems to want to be an epic (with horns an extended coda), but I think it drags on a bit too long.

Anyone who misses Page in BNL will certainly like this album.  And those who are a little disappointed in the Page-less BNL newer records could easily mix half a dozen songs from this and some of the best songs from the newer BNL records into a very satisfying BNL+Page disc which would sound totally coherent.

[READ: April 25, 2014] Further Joy

This is Brandon’s first collection of short stories and I enjoyed them all quite a lot.  Brandon specialized in disaffected protagonists, settled and settling in the South.  And there is a nice amount of diversity in these stories.

The Favorite
In this story, Gardner returns to his home town after ten years of being away.  he was quite a success when he left, but his return is less than exciting.  He lives in small town that was big into high school football and he was glad to be away from it.  But now that he is back he goes to games with his mother. The locals are happy he’s back, they think it’s great that he returned to be with his mom and to look after her.   But he is miserable.

The only thing that makes the return palatable is seeing Ainsley.  They dated in high school but didn’t have a bad breakup when he left.  She is divorced now and single. She works in a doctor’s office and tells him stories about patients (despite it being against HIPPA–although she ever gives names).  Since he is short on cash, he uses some information that she gives him to bet on an upcoming football game (he was able to figure out one of the players from the injury she described). Now the question is, could he go through with the scheme.  He calls on a favor from another former friend who has never had much success.  It could all go horribly wrong, of course.  I really enjoyed this story a lot, and I loved the way the title played into the story unexpectedly.
(more…)

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millionSOUNDTRACK: RE:Mnant [CST015] (2001).

cst015webThere is a (tiny) gimmick with this album.  The band is called Re: and all of the songs have titles that work when you add “re” as a prefix.  So song titles include: 1. scue 2. duce 3. solute 4. cipe 5. straint 6. buke 7. pent 8. legate 9. volve 10. ject 11. gulate.  This makes me smile, even as the music can be a bit more challenging.

The first track is simply noise and electronic pulsing for 2 minutes. It melds into track 2 in which the noise ends but the electronic pulsing continues. Then a faster, newer noise comes in and stays there while the beeping gives us a rhythm. Then all the noise drops out and it is replaced by a more delicate wave of almost strings. Then what sounds like detuned strings play some notes while the noise is buzzing in the background and swirling around your head.  The 7 minute track 3 is a bit much. It opens with the sound of a kind of static and mechanical sounds. It has a feel of a horror movie soundtrack, especially as it builds and tension mounts with the “bass” notes that come through. Even though I find it long, by the time it really gets going I could listen to a lot more of it, I think the buildup at the beginning is too long.

The fourth track brings in some interesting percussive sounds, but mostly it seems to be about the background noises that swell and get in your head (those piercing high notes).   Track 5 introduces an acoustic guitar. I feel like this should have gone earlier so it’s not as much of a surprise at this stage. It’s quite a pretty melody (with more of those electronic noises floating around the background and it’s a nice interlude among all of the mechanicals. 6 also has a guitars–this time electric–playing a staccato rhythm. The chords are nice and there’s that persistent electronic noise floating around to keep it somewhat edgy.   7 employs feedback sounds and beats with what sounds like human voices. And interesting piece of soundtrack noise.

Track 8 starts off quietly but introduces some more guitar. There’ an interesting melody with the electronics buzzing around in the background.  9 has big percussion sounds and lasts a reasonable 3 minutes. 10 is an acoustic guitar song that reminds me of something Beck might do, and it’s too short at 2:15. The final track, 11, is mostly low pulsing sounds. It’s kind of meandering end to the disc that features a lot of uptempo noisy music.

[READ: April 25, 2014] A Million Heavens

I’ve enjoyed John Brandon’s other novels, and I had read an excerpt from this one in McSweeney’s #41.  I found it enjoyable and somewhat confusing.  And, actually that’s a bit how I feel about the book as a whole.

Each section of the book (from a paragraph to several pages) has a different character as its title.  What’s confusing is that it starts off with “The Wolf” who is a major character and is (for the most part) sentient and thoughtful.  The wolf roams the periphery (as wolves do) coming close to interacting with characters but seeming more like  a narrator than a character.  The next character we meet is Soren’s Father.

Soren’s Father’s story is a catalyst for much of the book’s action.  Soren was at piano practice.  He was a new student.  When the teacher walked away, he played a piece of beautiful music for about 15 seconds and then passed into a coma.  He has been in the coma for a few months now with no real hope of recovery but with no real indication of not recovering either.  Soren’s Father is a pragmatic man, not interested in the music his son played, nor in the plans and prayers of the people who are holding a vigil outside.  Really he just wants this over so he can go back to his old life.  But he is ever faithful to his son, sitting with him every day, letting his business slowly erode.  Over the course of the story, several people become connected to Soren’s Father.

The Piano Teacher is another character.  She feels responsible for all of this.  She didn’t want any kind of prodigy, if that’s what Soren is, she just wanted kids to play the piano badly so she could teach them to do better. (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: WILD FLAG-Wild Flag (2011).

For reasons unclear to me now, I wasn’t psyched when I heard about this band.  Despite the fact that it was 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney and the force behind Helium joining together, I didn’t jump for joy.  But now that I have listened to the album a million times, I can say that it is one of the best albums not only of that year, but of many years.  Man is it good.

Sleater-Kinney was a great band, they were melodic and tuneful but also abrasive and occasionally off-putting.  Who knew that the majority of the adhesiveness came from Corinne Tucker (well, she was the screamer, admittedly).  It’s pretty clear that Carrie Brownstein is bringing a ton of melody (and a wee bit of amativeness) to the mix.  Mary Timony always included trippy imagery and a weird kind of whispered/loud singing voice.  The tunes are so catchy so strong, so singalongable.

There’s little moments in each song that are amazing.  The backing vocals (and the pitch shift in the chorus) in “Romance”.  The way “Something Came Over Me” sounds so different from “Romance” (and is clearly a Timony-sung song).  I absolutely love the guitar “solo” that begins each verse and how it stands out but fits in so nicely as a baritone guitar sound (I assume from Carrie?)  “Boom” is just a full-on rocker with some great guitar pyrotechnics and Carrie’s more extreme vocals.  And man is it catchy.

“Glass Tambourine” is a cool trippy psychedelic workout  that’s still catchy and interesting.  “Endless Talk” has a strange British retro vibe.  (Carrie seems to be singing with a kind of punk British voice).  And there’s lot of keyboards.  It’s great that the album has so many different sounds, but still sounds cohesive.  “Short Version” has some great guitar soloing in the front and back.  “Electric Band” is like a perfect pop song–great backing vocals, great poppy solos and a cool video to boot.  “Future Crimes” is another amazing tune, with a keyboard solo!

“Racehorse” is probably my least favorite song on the disc.  It’s got some cool parts and some interesting swagger (and I like the live versions where they really jam) but the album version feels a little dragged out (although the chorus is really hot).  The disc ends with the wonderful “Black Tiles” which could easily be a Helium song, but which still sounds very Wild Flag.

And, I can’t say it enough, Janet Weiss is amazing on drums.  I feel badly because I tend to leave out the keyboardist–because I don’t know who she is or the band that she came from.  But her keyboards play an essential role in the music.  They fill out the spaces that the two guitars don;t always fill.  They even introduce the opening of the album.

If you go back through previous posts you’ll see I’ve mentioned them 3 times already because they have special bond with NPR and three of their concerts are available there.  I can’t wait for more from them.

[READ: May 8, 2012] Grantland 2

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Grantland #1.  So I was pretty excited to get Grantland #2.  #2 has all of the elements that I loved about #1–non-sports articles about entertainment (video games, music, TV), and sports articles that are short and digestible for a non-sports fan.  This issue also features a number of really long articles about basketball.  I like basketball fine, but I can’t say I paid any attention to the lockout.  Thus, much of this was lost on me. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t know any sports people either.

I may have said this last time, but I will reiterate for Issue #3–for those of us who don’t follow sports, or those of us who may not remember back to September when most of these articles were written, or heck, for people who are going to read this in ten years’ time:  For certain articles, can you give us an epilogue about what happened after the article was written.  If you speculate about  the lockout. Have an epilogue to say about how the lockout turned out.  If you talk about a game 5 of a series and the series didn’t end, have an epilogue that tells us how the series ended.  It doesn’t have to even fit the style of the article, just a few words: so and so ended like this. It can show how prescient the writers were.  And it can help us complete the stories.

So, despite a few articles that I thought were too long, (although probably aren’t if you love basketball) I really enjoyed this issue of Grantland, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WAVVES-“Post Acid” (2010).

Wavves’ King of the Beach CD made many Top Ten of 2010 lists.  I listened to a track somewhere and wasn’t all that impressed.  Right now there’s a live show on NPR, which I listened to a bit (and which made me investigate them further).

They have a few songs on their My Space page and I really like this one.  It is short and fuzzy and catchy and cool.  It’s a fast blast of punk nonsense.  I have no idea what it’s about (and I rather like the weird break in the song where the singer can barely get words out).

I’m not sure if I’d listen to a whole record of them (although I love their hair).  But this was sure a fun track.

[READ: February 17, 2011] Arkansas

John Brandon did a pretty amazing thing with this book.  He took two rather unlikable characters and made them sympathetic and, eventually, compelling.  The unlikability may have come from the detached style of their introduction.  Each of the main characters is introduced separately with a brief anecdote that seems to end abruptly.  In fact, I wondered if it was going to be a series of brief character sketches and nothing more.  I’m thankful that that wasn’t the case since, each character’s “section” could have been a complete (but very unsatisfying) story.  When I saw more of Swin, I was pleased, even though I didn’t really “like” him.

First we meet Swin Ruiz, a very intelligent guy who makes it to college.  While in college a foolish mistake (resubmitting an essay to a teacher) costs him his scholarship, which essentially means he’s out of school.  He scams some money from the rich students and then takes off, leaving his family and his beloved younger sisters with their jerk of a stepfather.  From there, he drifts aimlessly until he meets a bartender who sets him up with someone to help “break the laws of the land.”

Kyle Ribb is the other main character. He’s a harder man, something of a bastard.  He tries to go legit by working in a bike store.  When that doesn’t pan out (the story of that is pretty funny) he reverts back to his “no boss” ways.  He eventually meets a guy who introduces him to Colin, a man with criminal connections.

The third character we meet differs from these two.  First, a date is given as an introduction (1974).  Second, the whole section is written in second person (“You are Ken Hovan”).  We learn about his life and his background and how, eventually, he took the nickname Frog and became a shop owner, a dealer of unusual merchandise (which begins with bootleg tapes and, naturally, transforms into drugs).

The story of Frog’s life from 1974 to the present intersperses the main story (which is really about Swin and Kyle).  And each time frame jump ties together some of the mysteries of the book (Frog, being the boss, ties the thread together).  And there are many mysteries.

Kyle and Swin move up the ranks of the ne’er-do-well scale, until they land a job in an underused state park in Little Rock, Ark.  They get a “legit” job manning the booth, checking visitors in and out, and cleaning up the brush, but their “real” job is to deliver packages to random locations in different states.  They drive a car to a parking lot, wait for a person to get in and then drive off in a different car with a package for the other end.  And that’s pretty much it. It’s obvious they’re doing illegal work, but they don’t ask questions and don’t know too many details.

Their boss at the park is Bright, a man who seems to really enjoy the park and genuinely likes to take care of it.  He is a middleman for Frog, but a rather benevolent one.  There are some other characters as well.  The first is Her, (that’s the only name she gives out), she gives Bright the details about the packages.  Bright’s boss at the park is Wendy, she knows what they do and receives a cut.  She only wears pink and wishes to be a painter.  She recites a quotes from a different painter before she leaves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: All Songs Considered Year End Music Roundup (2010).

Every year, I like to check various sources to see if there were any albums that I missed.  My definition of good resources: allmusic, amazon, pitchfork.  (There’s another fascinating list available here at Best Albums Ever, a site I’ve never seen before, and I have a large portion of the Top 50 albums.  I didn’t buy a lot of music this year, but evidently I chose wisely!).  I don’t necessarily agree with these lists, but if I see the same album on a few lists, I know it’s worth at least listening to.

This year, since I spent so much time on All Songs Considered, I thought I’d see their Best of Lists.  What’s awesome about the site is that you can hear not only selected songs in their entirety, you can also download the audio of the original show…where the DJs talk about their selections and play excerpts from them.   There are many different lists to investigate.

The most obvious one to star with is 50 Favorite Albums of 2010.  This shows the staff’s 50 favorite albums in all genres.  I admit that there’s going to be a lot on this list that I won’t bother exploring (I’m not really that interested in new classical or jazz and I’m not too excited by most pop music, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Kanye West songs here).

But some albums did stand out that I hadn’t heard, and I will investigate them further in 2011:

Buke And Gass, ‘Riposte’
Deerhunter, ‘Halcyon Digest’ (I know, this is on many best of lists)
The National, ‘High Violet’ (This is also on everyone’s list)

Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered’s most awesome host, picks his Top 9 of the year.  I’m on board with about 1/2 of his list (haven’t heard the other half).  Sufjan Stevens is his #1.

Robin Hilton, Boilen’s partner in crime, has a Top Ten which is remarkably similar to Boilen’s.  It has most of the same albums just appearing in a slightly different order.  Lower Dens is #1. (I’ve never heard of them).

Carrie Brownstein (of beloved Sleater-Kinney and now evidently a permanent member of the NPR team) has a Top Ten (Plus One)–funny that she liked more than ten when Boilen liked less than ten.  I’m really surprised by her selection of albums because her own music is so punk and abrasive, but her top ten features R&B and some folky bands.  Her top album is by Royal Baths, a band I’ve never heard of.

Stephen Thompson also picked his Top Ten.  He has an interesting mix of alt rock and jazz.  His number one is by Jonsi from Sigur Rós. (A great album).

Perhaps the best list comes from 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010.  I didn’t know any of the 5.  Sarah bought me two CDs for Christmas (and she was pleased to have gotten me good music that I hadn’t heard of!).  The Head and the Heart hasn’t arrived yet, but The Capstan Shafts is great.  I’m also really excited by Tame Impala.

Another great list is Viking’s Choice: Best Metal and Outer Sound (stay tuned for much more from this list).  It is dominated by black metal, but there are a few surprises in there as well.

Even the All Songs Considered Top 25 Listener’s List was great.  I had most of the list (except for The Black Keys who I simply cannot get into).

Although I enjoyed a lot of new music this year, it’s always nice to see that there is some new (to me) stuff to investigate.  Who knows maybe some day I’ll even have listened to enough new music in a year to make my own Top Ten.

[READ: December 31, 2010] McSweeney’s #36

With McSweeney’s #36, it’s like they made my conceptual ideal.  Its weird packaging is fantastic and the contents are simply wonderful.  But let’s start with the obvious: this issue comes in a box.  And the box is drawn to look like a head.  You open up the man’s head to get to the contents.  Brilliant.  The head is drawn by Matt Furie (with interior from Jules de Balincourt’s Power Flower.

Inside the box are eleven items.  The largest are smallish books (postcard sized) running between 32 and 144 pages.  The smaller items are a 12 page comic strip, a nineteenth century mediation (8 pages) and 4 postcards that create a whole picture.  The final item is a scroll of fortune cookie papers.   The scroll is forty inches long with cut lines for inserting them into your own fortunes (I wonder if they will sell this item separately?)

Aside from the bizarre head/box gimmick (and the fact that there is ample room in the box for more items), the contents are really top-notch.  For while many of the books included are individual titles, there is also an actual “issue” of McSweeney’s (with letter column and shorter stories) as well.  So let’s begin there

ISSUE #36: New Stories and Letters.  The resurrected letters page continues with more nonsense.  I’ve often wondered if these are really written like letters or if they are just short pieces that have no other place to reside.  (Oh, and the back of this booklet contains the bios for everyone in here as well as assorted other folks who don’t have room for a bio on their items).

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A HOUSE-Live in Concert (1998).

This is a strange live collection of songs.  The first half are “band” efforts.  And they are pretty good, although the backing vocals on some of the later songs seem a bit much.

The second half of the disc, however, is an acoustic set.  I initially thought it was just Dave Couse, but there are clearly two guitars.  This more intimate set is cool because it shows that their songs are solid even without the effects and silliness some of the originals had. I especially liked “Blind Faith” because he sort of teases the audience into singing with him.

This disc is certainly not essential A House listening (In fact, I can find virtually no record of its existence on line–Wikipedia and Zop list it but there’s precious little information about it).  Hey, maybe it’s a collector’s item (that I bought used for $2 used).  But since there’s no other live recordings of A House that I’m aware of, this will have to do.

[READ: June 26, 2010] Citrus County

I read this book several months ago, but with all of the big summer projects, I didn’t have a chance to say anything about it.

Citrus County is a dark book.  Make no mistake.  It is set in a world of adolescents, high school and crime.  And even within those dark boundaries, this book is quite dark.  And yet it is also kind of funny.

The story is also something of an indictment of Citrus County, Florida, a county I didn’t know existed, although sure why wouldn’t it.  When Shelby Register moves there, she thinks that she’ll be in Disneyland, or at least by the beach, but what she finds herself in is a kind of backwater swampland.  Just what ever teenaged girl wants. (more…)

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