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Archive for the ‘Jonathan Lethem’ Category

concavityStarting this month, Matt Bucher and David Laird, scholars and fans of David Foster Wallace have created the first regular Podcast devoted to Wallace.  And the intro and closing music is from Parquet Courts’ “Instant Disassembly” which is also pretty cool.

This introductory episode serves as an introduction to Bucher and Laird, their love of Wallace’s work, and what they hope to do in future episodes.

Matt Bucher lives in Texas, not far from the Ransom Center where the Wallace archives have been settled (he assures us that he moved there before the site was selected). David Laird is from Kelowna, in British Colombia (4 hours east of Vancouver).  The claim to fame of Kelowna is the mythical lake monster Ogopogo.  But in Infinite Jest, a character is spoken of as being addicted to a thick apple juice that comes from BC.

Bucher also runs Sideshow Media Group which published Elegant Complexity, Nature’s Nightmare, and Consider David Foster Wallace. He says he and his brother founded the press because no one would publish Elegant Complexity, and he felt it needed to get out there. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_07_14DeSeve.inddSOUNDTRACK: JOHNNYSWIM-Tiny Desk Concert #352 (April 28, 2014).

johnnyIt was with this Tiny Desk Concert that I was able to get the numbers of the more recent ones.  They proudly announce that this was the three hundred and fiftieth TDC.  Which is pretty hard to believe.  They have almost a year’s worth.  And it seems lately that they have been putting them up at the rate of more than one a week.  How;sa guy ever supposed to catch up?

So I’d never heard of Johnnyswim before.  The band is comprised of husband and wife Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano.  They sing duets mostly but he seems to have the main voice.  And it is booming and powerful.  They have been street buskers and they have a great chemistry with each other and the audience (she says she wants to have his baby someday).

The two start as duo then for the last song the full band comes out.  And their third song with the full band “Diamonds,” is a big catchy uplifting anthem that could be absolutely huge, especially with the big sing along oh’s.  And yet the thing is, I don’t really like their voices.  I completely understand the appeal of catchy sings like “Home” and “Falling For Me,” but I just didn’t really enjoy them.

I imagine their songs will be in soundtracks this summer and I’ll get tired of hearing them.  But for now, they’re just not my thing.

[READ: June 6, 2014] “Pending Vegan”

I enjoyed most of this story because it deals with issues that I think many carnivores (at least those who are relatively sensitive) deal with—how do you eat animals but also like animals.  And yet this is not a preachy story.  I also liked it because it is set at Sea World, a place that the narrator (and many people) find questionable (at best) with regard to its animal care.

The protagonist, Paul, is taking his family to Sea World even though he really doesn’t want to go.  His wife thinks its important for their kids to see the animals before they are all gone. Paul is also quitting the antidepressant Celexa, which his therapist (a very funny, inappropriate man who says things like “black folks and Orientals”) says will make him see a lot of bad things (like bums and pickpockets) wherever he looks.

We also learn that in his own mind, Paul has changed his name to Pending Vegan.  It was a bit of a mortification but something that he felt was a step in the right direction (even if he still ate what he wanted).  He of course doesn’t know how to explain this name change to anyone (especially his daughters).  And of course, he doesn’t know how to explain the questionable (at best) behaviors at Sea World.  But he toughs it out for his family. (more…)

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44SOUNDTRACK: WNYC SOUNDCHECK GIG ALERTS (2009-).

soundcheck There are so many places to listen to free music.  But i prefer places where you can (legally) download free music.  So here’s a place I’ve just discovered: WNYC Radio’s website which features a section called “Gig Alerts.”  The feature talks about a different interesting band playing that night (in New York).  After a small blurb, there is (almost always) a free downloadable track.   There’s twenty listings per page and 86 pages.  Do the math and that’s a lot of songs.

The feature covers virtually every genre, although there is a preponderance of alt- and indie- rock (mostly lesser known bands).  If you are interested in new (to you) music and in exploring different artists, this is a great resource for a ton of free music.  So, check out Gig Alerts here.

[READ: May 20, 2014] McSweeney’s #44

I was pretty pleased with myself when I got caught up on the McSweeney’s issues.  But I remember wanting to take a break when this one came in.  I now see it has been almost a year since I read the last issue.  So the break was too long and now I have three issues to catch up on again.  Sigh.  But this one proved to be a great issue to return on.

This is a pretty quintessential issue of McSweeney’s.  It’s got letters, some fiction, a special section dedicated to Lawrence Weschler (which includes a lot of art), and a cool, interesting section of plates with full color art.  It’s also got an interestingly designed hardcover with a kind of raw cardboard in the back, a slightly raised colorful section for the spine and then a further raised section for the giant 44 on the front cover.

LETTERS (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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CV1_TNY_05_06_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: BOY-“Little Numbers” (Live at The Current, April 6, 2013) (2013).

boyI am totally hooked by this single–a song which sounds like the next huge Feist hit.  It’s got a great piano melody that just grabs on and won’t let go.

So how does the song hold up on acoustic guitars?  In a recent interview the two Swiss/German band members, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, say that the song was originally written in this slower more acoustic vein.  On first listen this version is not very appealing–there’s something so bubbly and bouncy and joyous about the single version.

The immediacy of the song is gone and the “woah-o” section seems more mournful than joyous.  I suppose it is actually more true to the original intent of the song (I read your name on every wall, is there  cure for me at all).  Although this version features Boy’s beautiful harmonies, especially the concluding moments, I still prefer the more upbeat single version.

[READ: May 21, 2013] “The Gray Goose”

When this story started, I was a little concerned that it was going to be another story about a repressed childhood under the thumb of an oppressive Jewish mother.  It begins by telling us that Miraim’s father left in 1948, when she was little.  One of the only presents she had been given was an album by Burl Ives.  And that album could be played on her family’s hi-fi/radio housed in a rosewood cabinet—“the most fantastical item of furniture in their lives.” Her father hated that they gave into consumerism to buy such a thing, but it was revered.  And all vinyl was held very delicately, as if a breath of air might warp it.

“The Gray Goose” was her favorite song and she listened to it often, trying to scrutinize the songs—just what was this gray goose that could not be killed, Lord, Lord, Lord.  (The traditional meaning of the gray goose that could not be killed appears to have something to do that with the hunter went hunting on the Sabbath, so the goose could not be killed). Although in the story, Miriam’s mother, Rose, says that the goose represents the heart of the working class.  For Rose and her husband, Albert were fiercely Communist.  We learn about Rose and Albert’s marriage—they were passionate about their beliefs, and this passion seemed to transmit to each other.  And then Rose got pregnant, so they married.  And then Rose had a miscarriage, but now they were stuck with each other so they decided to have a child—Miriam.  (His parents didn’t approve of any of it, especially Rose).

Then Albert was offered a job back in Germany—the only Jew to return to Germany so soon, and Rose and Miriam were on their own.  Well, Miriam was on her own, Rose had many many suitors, although none could stay the night.

That’s all back story for the evening of the action—the evening that Miriam and some friends have gone to Greenwich Village to a jazz club.  Miriam is precocious, having finished school a year early and started college (and apparently already dropped out).  She is out with some friends, the wonderfully named Rye Gogan, the horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Porter, assorted girlfriends and Miriam’s boyfriend who is referred to hilariously as Forgettable.  As in “of course Forgettable weighed in with, ‘What?’” (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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SOUNDTRACKFUJIYA & MIYAGI-Live at Gibson Showroom, New York (2008).

This set is available for Download from KEXP.  I don’t know Fujiya & Miyagi all that well, but I really enjoy everything I’ve heard from them.  They place a keyboard-heavy, almost-dance music, but they use a lot of guitars to propel their songs further.

The most noteworthy thing about the band is the vocals–they are whispered (and often nonsensical–“Vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker glory”) but the whisper seems to make the song move faster somehow–adding an almost sinister edge to the tracks (although sometimes it can feel sensual as well–it’s a neat trick).

This show has five songs from the album Lightbulbs–and it’s their first tour with a live drummer, which adds a nice complexity to their set.  One of these days I’m going to have to check out  their studio releases.

[READ: September 8, 2012] “My Journey to the Outer Limits of Funk”

Here’s another author I admire writing a short piece in Rolling Stone.  This one, unlike Lethem’s recent contribution, is about something he himself has done.  This article is a kind of music-based background explanation of his new book, Telegraph Avenue.

The premise of one of the plotlines is that two guys work in a record store, Brokeland Records, and are aficionados of jazz.  But he felt that was kind of dull, so Chabon delves into how he was able to get his characters to feel more interesting.  He didn’t wan them to just be “into jazz”–blah–he needed to add even more details so that they were more than just jazzies.  So he talks a bit about what he learned from Wax Poetics a magazine that refracted black popular culture through hip hop.   (more…)

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