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Archive for the ‘John Updike’ Category

5dials31SOUNDTRACK: BEACH SLANG-Tiny Desk Concert #431 (April 10, 2015)

beachslangI had never heard of Beach Slang before watching this Tiny Desk Concert.  Evidently they are a new band with only a couple EPs out.  The write up says they are a punk band.  But in this Tiny Desk show, it’s just lead dude James Snyder and his guitar.

He plays four songs.  They are all sort of jaunty acoustic songs.  They are almost anthemic, but not quite.  The strangest thing is Snyder’s super-raspy singing voice, especially since his speaking voice is gentle and his laugh is kind of high-pitched. He is very funny and nervous when he talks, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

Exploring a little their bandcamp site, I see that they do a cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way, and that sound is pretty apt.

Their recorded versions are heavier and actually sound a bit like the Goo Goo Dolls.

This is a brief but enjoyable set.  I find him so charming that I like it more than I might normally.

[READ: April 1, 2015] Five Dials 31

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a Five Dials.  And that’s no fault of the magazine–its all on me.  I always think, I’ll just put it off till I have time, and then I realize that I can always find something to read…so I just need to actually make time for Five Dials because it is totally worth it.

So this issue came out about a year ago.  Maybe that’s not too bad?

It begins with the contributors page and is followed by the Unable to Contribute page which lists five journalists who are currently in prison (find out more at the Committee to Protect Journalists).  Page 5 is a Table of Contents which I feel they haven’t done before.  It has a cool drawing on the bottom.  All drawings from this issue came from The Public Domain Collection of the British Library.

Then there’s a Frequently Asked Questions page.  Many pertain to corresponding with Five Dials, but others, well: (more…)

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McSweeney’s #13 (2006)

13SOUNDTRACKPARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).

partslaborParts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers.  This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated.  Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge.  The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals.  By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects).  It’s an aggressive opening for sure.  Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.

“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes).  It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals.  The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song  very cool.

“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up.  “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars.  “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what  they wanted anyhow?).  The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise).  The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.

The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos.   Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks.  If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy.  It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13

I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time.  Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it.  It only took eight years.  For this is the fabled comics issue.  Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover.  Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.”  And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything.  On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares.  It’s quite cool.

So, yes, this issue is all about comics.  There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists.  But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods.  It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me!  Angst fills these pages.  Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor.  A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.

There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby.  But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes.  There’s also two introductions.  One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do).  And the other by Ware.  Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUDIOSLAVE-Audioslave (2002).

Despite the pedigree of this band: Rage Against the Machine + Chris Cornell, I wasn’t all that interested in the band when they came out.  I was over Rage and was bored by Cornell’s solo stuff.  But then recently, someone donated a copy of this album to th elibrary, so I thought I’d see what all of the fuss was about (nine years ago).

There are times when this album is really superb.  The Rage guys get an amazingly full sound out of their instruments (the choruses of “Show Me How to Live” are so full).  And when it works, and Cornell’s amazing voice is in full force, this seems like a genius pairing.

But there’s a lot that feels kind of clunky here (and there’s some really bad choices of guitar solo work by Tom Morello–the weird noises that compriose he solo of “What You Are”–in Rage the noises were weird but exciting and inflammatory, these are just kind of dull.  Worse yet, is the, well, stupid solo in “Like a Stone”–boring and ponderous at the same time).  Although he redeems himself somewhat with the cool solo on the otherwise dull “Intuition”.

The biggest surpise comes in “Like a Stone” which is insanely catchy and mellow–something one assumed Rage didn’t know how to do).  Lyrically the song is pretty stupid (as are most of the songs), but the combination of melody and Cornell’s great vocal lines really raise this song high–shame about the solo).  Also, a song like “Shadow of the Sun” seems to highlight Cornell’s more mellow moments (and shows that the Rage guys can actually play that slow), and they all seem to be in synch.

And there are several songs that rock really hard, sounding at times like Rage and at time like Soundgarden, but working on all cylinders together.  “Cochise” and “Set It Off” are simply great riff rock songs.

But ten or so years later, and twenty years since Badmotorfinger (my favorite Soundgarden album), it’s nice to hear Cornell rocking again.  Although man, the record is too long!

[READ: June 1, 2011] Five Dials Number 8

For Issue Number 8, Five Dials went to Paris.  And so the whole issue is given over to French concerns and ideas.  For a magazine that didn’t need a change of pace, it’s a delightful change of pace.  The feel of the magazine is different, and there’s an air of vacation about it (which is not to suggest that it is slacking off in any way), and it feels really vibrant.

I don’t know a lot about France in general.  I mean, I’ve been there, and I keep up with things, but I am not a Francophile by any means. So a lot of this stuff was simply new to me, which is always fun.  What I especially liked about the issue was that they were not afraid to show some of France’s uglier sides as well–it’s not just a tourism booster.

It even starts out differently than the other issues. (more…)

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[READ: September 24, 2001 & May 9, 2011] Talk of the Town

After 9/11, I read everything about the incident (like the multiple comics that came out).  About a week after 9/11 my friend Al and I went down to Hoboken and absorbed the decay (and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I’ve developed adult asthma).  My 9/11 story is no more compelling than anyone else’s and may even be far less compelling (you can read a snippet at Al’s blog, should you care to).  Anyhow, when this issue of The New Yorker came out (with the amazing cover that you can’t really see here–the towers are in a shiny black that reflects the light), I read all of these accounts and recollections.

I came upon them again recently when I was doing a New Yorker search for Jonathan Franzen.  I recently read all of his New Yorker entries, but when I saw that he had one that was part of this 9/11 issue, I decided to put it off.  It was reasonably close to the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, and I told myself I’d wait until then to reread and see what I thought.

And then President Obama gave the order to capture and kill Osama bin Laden (hooray!) and that seemed like a far more propitious reason to go back and re-read these articles.  Now I can feel a bit lighter about the whole thing (just a bit, but a bit can be a lot).  And so, here’s a somewhat facile reaction to these reactions.

I’ll preface by saying I can’t imagine what it must have been like to write something, anything at that time.  Some people respond well to pressure and tragedy and perhaps that’s what happened here.  I can’t help but wonder how paralyzing it must have been for other writers (as it was for most people).  So that these writers had the wherewithal to write anything coherent is pretty amazing.  And the fact that the could express the range of emotions that they do is extraordinary. (more…)

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