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Archive for the ‘Judy Budnitz’ Category

#15SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Copper Blue (1992).

copperblueAfter Bob Mould made some solo albums, he created another band.  Another trio, this one called Sugar.  Sugar seems to take Mould’s poppiest elements and wrap them in a big 90s grunge sound–a sound that Mould pretty much invented in Hüsker Dü.  And in many ways Sugar is not all that different from Hüsker Dü–maybe a bit less experimental and a little more commercial.

One thing I noticed about this album that, once I noticed it I couldn’t avoid it, was that when the drummer plays the cymbal (it might even be a hi hat with a tambourine on it), which he plays a lot, the tinny shimmer of that sound is so pervasive, I find it rather distracting.  Or should I say it adds an almost minute level of static over the proceedings.

The disc opens with “The Act We Act,” where big grungy guitars and a simple chugga chugga riff burst out of the speakers. I love the Pixies feeling of “A Good Idea” both that up front bass and the buggy sounding guitars provide an almost false introduction to the catchy verse and chorus that’s to come.  I also enjoy the unexpected break after the chorus.

It’s followed by the ringing guitars that introduce “Changes” a classic poppy rock song that is unmistakably Mould.  The uneasy almost nauseating sounds at the end of the song are again like a feint in the wrong direction as “Helpless” easily the most pop song Mould has ever written comes out.  Of course, as with Mould, this outrageously poppy song is all about feeling helpless.

Keyboards open the next song, “Hoover Dam” (something of a surprise for this album), which proves to be yet another big Mould single.  The song is so open with multiple acoustic guitars (and that cool synth solo) and a really wild reverse guitar solo.  It’s one of my favorite Mould  songs and yet another example of why this album was such a huge hit.

“The Slim” brings back the darker songs that Mould is also known for.  And just when you think that Mould can’t pull out another huge big single, he gives us “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” one of his great big bouncy acoustic guitar songs.  It is almost obscene how catchy this song is, right down to the simple scale solo at the end.  Mould has this little technique that I find irresistible where he plays a song normally and then plays two fast chord changes segueing into another section.  It’s so cool.

“Fortune Teller” is a fast rocker with Mould’s trebly guitar taking the lead.  “Slick” is the only song I’m not crazy about. There’s something about it that kind of slows the momentum down, which is odd for a song about a car.  It’s got a real middle-period-Who feel to it, which I do like (and I really like the bridge) it just feels odd in this place in the disc.  The end of the song has some snippets of chatter that could have been edited out but lend an amusing air to the final track, “Man on the Moon” which ends the disc with that same air that the rest of the album has—big guitars and Mould’s slightly distorted vocals.  The solo is weirdly processed and kind of fun.  The end of the track with its repeated half step has a very Beatles feel to it. And the very end of the disc has the sound of tape rewinding, an amusing nod to the digital era.

Copper Blue was Mould’s first huge success and in his book he talks about not realizing quite how huge it was until he was in the middle of it.

[READ: March 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #15

I was a little disappointed with McSweeney’s #14, but #15 was once again fantastic.  This issue is a smallish hardcover (I like when their books are this size).  The bottom half of the cover features a cool 2 color painting by Leif Parsons.  The issue is known as the Icelandic Issue because of a few things.  The first half of the book features stories by the usual suspects.  Each of these stories is accompanied by an illustration of a Scandinavian rune that dates to the Viking era.  The stories in the second half of the book have illustrations that are taken from Icelandic grimoires–magician’s handbooks.  It is these second half stories that are all from Scandinavian authors.  It’s a fascinating peek into a culture few of us probably get to read.

There’s no letters in this book, which removes some of the levity, but that’s okay.  The front page has a brief story that it was being written on November 2, 2004 in New Mexico, hoping to bring some voting power to “the good guys “in this “completely fucking terrifying election.”  (The bad guy eked out a victory 49.8 to 49.1).  They went canvassing door to door with an Iraqi veteran named Joey (who was 21).  He was very pro-Kerry and may have even convinced a young girl to vote (she thought her vote didn’t count because she was poor (!)).  It really evokes the feeling on that dark night in 2004 when the iota of hope was snuffed out. (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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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI: GovernmentCommissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 (2005).

It’s unlikely that Mogwai will ever release a greatest hits (well, someone probably will, but the band themselves don’t seem likely to do so).  As such, this compilation of BBC Recordings will certainly work well as one.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the BBC recordings are universally superb.  The quality of the recordings is unmatched.  And, typically the band takes the sessions very seriously.  The major different between these sessions and the official studio release is that the band is playing these songs live.  They are mixed well and sound great but they are live, so you can catch occasional subtle differences.

Mogwai, despite their seemingly improvised sound (all those noises and such) can recreate everything they do perfectly, and their live shows are tight and deliberate (except for the occasional moments where they really let loose).

The ten songs here span their career and are not played in chronological order.  This allows all of these wonderful songs to play off the tensions of each other.  And it shows that their later songs, which are less intense than their earlier ones, are still quite awesome and in a live setting don’t really lack for intensity after all.

The highlight of this disc is the scorching eighteen minute version of “Like Herod.”  The original is intense and amazing, and this live version allows them to play with the original in small ways, including allowing the quietness to really stretch out before they blow the speakers off the wall with the noise section of the track.

Even though I’m a fan of Mogwai, I don’t hear a radical difference between these versions and the originals.  Or should I say, it’s obvious which song they are playing.  There are some obvious subtleties and differences as befitting a live album, but unlike some live discs you don’t immediately notice that this version is “live.”

And that works well for both fans of the band (because as you listen and you hear the subtleties) and for newcomers–(because you’re not listening to weird, poorly recorded versions or versions that are for fans only).  And so, you get ten great Mogwai tracks.  Just enough to make you want to get some more.

[READ: June 11, 2011] The Burned Children of America

I found this book when I was looking for other publications by Zadie Smith.  This book kept cropping up in searches, but I could never really narrow down exactly what it was.  As best as I can tell, it is a British version of a collection of American authors that was originally published in Italy (!).  Editors Marco Cassini and Martina Testa work for minimum fax, an Italian independent publisher.  In 2001, they somehow managed to collect stories from these young, fresh American authors into an Italian anthology (I can’t tell if the stories were translated into Italian or not).

Then, Hamish Hamilton (publisher of Five Dials) decided to release a British version of the book.  They got Zadie Smith to write the introduction (and apparently appended a story by Jonathan Safran Foer (which was not in the original, but which is in the Italian re-publication).  This led to the new rather unwieldy title.  It was not published in America, (all of the stories have appeared in some form–magazine or anthology–in America), but it’s cool to have them all in one place.

The title must come from the David Foster Wallace story contained within: “Incarnations of Burned Children,” which is one of his most horrific stories, but it sets a kind of tone for the work that’s included within (something which Zadie addresses in her introduction): why are these young successful American writers so sad?  So be prepared, this is not a feel good anthology (although the stories are very good).
Oh, and if you care about this kind of thing, the male to female ratio is actually quite good (for an anthology like this): 11 men and 8 women.

ZADIE SMITH-Introduction
Zadie Smith was a fan of David Foster Wallace (she wrote a  lengthy review of the ten-year anniversary of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which is republished in her book Changing My Mind), so she is an ideal choice to introduce this book.  Especially when she provides a quote from DFW’s interview in 1995 about how living in America in the late 90s has a kind of “lostness” to it.  With this in mind, she sets out the concerns of this collection of great stories: fear of death and advertising.

Zadie gives some wonderful insight into each of these stories. The introduction was designed to be read after the book, and I’m glad I waited because while she doesn’t exactly spoil anything, she provides a wonderful perspective on each piece and also offers some ideas about the stories that I hadn’t considered.  And it’s funny, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMcSweeney’s #6 comes with a CD.

Most of the music on the CD is performed by They Might Be Giants (a rather perfect fit for McSweeney’s).  Some other musicians who appear are: M. Doughty, Philip Glass, Michael Meredith. Roger Greenawalt & S.E. Willis

Instructions included with book:

#3. The compact disc contains music.  There are 44 discrete pieces of music –“Tracks”–on this compact disc.  Each Track corresponds to a picture, series of pictures, or story–a Piece–in this journal.  When you are reading or looking at a certain Piece, we ask that you cue your compact disc to the corresponding Track on the disc.  The appropriate track number will appear prominently, usually under the title of each Piece.  Note: The track number will no appear on subsequent pages of the Piece.

#6. Please note that you may listen to Tracks without reading their Pieces and you may read Pieces without listening to their corresponding Tracks.  But this is not recommended.  You fucking bastard.

[READ: December 8, 2009] McSweeney’s #6

I’m finally getting back to reading some older McSweeney’s issues.  This was the final issue that I received from my initial subscription.  I distinctly remember being excited by the CD and maybe reading some of the book, but clearly never finishing it.

So yes, this issue comes with a CD.  The intro note explains that each Piece in the book has an accompanying  Track on the CD, and, you are to only listen to the Track that accompanies the Piece you are reading…never read a piece while listening to the wrong track.  Ever!  It explains that each Track has been created to be as long as it would take you to read each Piece.  But there are obviously many exceptions. The first story for instance is well over ten pages but the song is about 5 seconds long.  And, the Arthur Bradford Track is 8 minutes long when anyone could read the Piece much more quickly.

The bulk of the songs are by They Might Be Giants.  Anyone who knows TMBG knows you can’t summarize their work, and this book exercise is ideal for them: there are several pieces that are just a few second long.  But they also write some nice longer pieces as well.  And, of course, they are perfectly suited for mood music that works well with the writing.  Some of the songs have words which is a bit distracting while trying to read, but that’s okay.  I did try my best to follow the prescription about only listening to the appropriate song, but I admit to getting off pace from time to time.  (more…)

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