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Archive for the ‘Julie Doucet’ Category

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: THE DEARS-Degeneration Street (2011).

I’ve loved The Dears for a long time now.  And yet with every new album I feel like I have to prepare myself for what’s to come.  And with every release I’m a little disappointed when I first play it.  Maybe for the next release I’ll realize what my problem is–The Dears do not stand up to cursory, casual listening.  They demand attention.  If you put them on as background music, you miss everything.  So when I finally gave Degeneration Street some attention, I realized how great it is.

The Dears write emotional songs that are fairly straightforward.  But the magic of their music comes in the layers of ideas and sounds that they put on each track.  And of course, there’s Murray Lightburn’s voice.  He sounds like Damon Albarn if Damon Albarn could sustain a note for a long time–could emote with his voice.  Now I happen to like Damon Albarn quite a lot, but Lightburn can really just out-sing him.  It’s wonderful.

“Omega Dog” opens with an electronic drumbeat, eerie keyboards and skittery guitars.  When the vocals come in–falsettoed and earnest, you don’t anticipate the full harmonies in the forthcoming chorus that lead to an almost R&B sound.  Not bad for the first 80 seconds of a song.  That the song is actually 5 minutes long and by minute 3, it sounds like an entirely different song is even more testament to the versatility of The Dears (check out the harpsichord solo that more or less ends the song).

“5 Chords” is a chugging anthem, a song with potential to be a hit (but which of course never will).  I find myself constantly singing the infectious chorus of “Blood”: “Since I was a baby I have always been this way; I could see you coming from a million miles away.”  Or the excellent chorus of “Thrones” “Plucking our eyes out, turning to stone, give up on heaven, give up the throne.”

“Lamentation” mixes things up with a slower pace and backing vocals that come straight out of Pink Floyd (any era really, but probably more of their later albums).  It adds an amazing amount of depth.  “Galactic Tides” has more Floydian stuff–the guitar solo (and the instrumental break) are really out of mid 70s Floyd–more backing vocals again).

Follow all of this intensity with the super poppy “Yesteryear”. It’s got an upbeat swing to it: happy bouncy chords and an inscrutable chorus: “What’s the word I’m looking for; It starts with ‘M’ and ends with ‘Y'”  It’s followed by the more sinister “Stick w/Me Kid,” in which Lightburn shows off his bass range.  There’s an awesome guitar riff in “Tiny Man,” simple and mournful that sticks with you long after it’s over.

The last couple of songs don’t really live up to the excitement of the first ten or so.  But the final song brings back the drama, with a swelling chorus and soaring vocals.  The Dears have managed to do it again, an emotional album that comes really close to being a concept album yet with none of the pretensions that that implies. 

[READ: July 13, 2011] Five Dials Number 16

Five Dials Number 16 is a brief Christmas Present from Five Dials.  The issue even seems longer than it is because the last ten pages are photos from the Five Dials launch party in Montreal.  The photo essay, titled In Montreal, includes local scenery and (unnamed) people photographed by ANNIKA WADDELL and SIMON PROSSER.

That leaves only 7 pages of text: The Editor’s Note, a look at London, a Christmas Poem and a short story from Anton Chekov.  And there’s another cool illustration from JULIE DOUCET

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor
Taylor thanks Montreal for their warm welcome (despite the crash course in what Wind Chill actually means).  He also hopes we enjoy the Christmas offerings contained within: the traditional Christmas poem and the Chekov story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Wasting Light (2011).

The Foo Fighters are huge.  Duh.  But when I think of that, it amazes me that a) the Foo Fighters are the band from “the drummer from Nirvana” and that b) while Dave Grohl knows his way around a melody, he is a metal dude at heart, and some of his most popular songs are really heavy.  He can scream with the best of them.

I’ve enjoyed the Foos for many years, but I didn’t listen to their previous discs all that much (or at least I didn’t listen to the mellow disc from In Your Honor and I don’t remember anything off of Echoes…), but this new one is fantastic.  There’s not a dull song on the disc, and Grohl has hit new heights of catchiness and singalong-ness. 

I also like how noisy the disc is.  It opens with some great discord before turning in a majorly heavy rifftastic scream fest in “Bridge Burning.”  Despite the screaming and noise of the opening, the chorus is super catchy.  “Rope” was said to be inspired by Rush.  Knowing that, I can hear a lot of little Rush-isms in the track: The main riff is very Rush-like, there’s a cymbal tapping that reminds me of Neil Peart in the verses, as well as a little drum solo in the middle (with a cowbell!) and the solo is very Alex Lifeson. (It also feels longer than 4 minutes).

“Dear Rosemary” features Bob Mould on backing vocals (but you can hardly tell it’s him).  It’s got a great chorus as well.  “White Limo” is a wonderful punk song, completely incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Meanwhile “Arlandria” (whatever that means) is another totally catchy track (I find myself singing it a lot).

“These Days” should be the next single: catchy and easy on the ears.  I wonder why it hasn’t been released yet.  “Back and Forth” has another great noisy riff.  One thing that I like a lot about the Foos is that they put different things in the same song:  so “A Matter of Time” has a very simple verse and a catchy chorus, but there’s some really buzzing heavy guitars too.  “Miss the Misery” has a kind of sleazy feel which I think is new for the Foos.  And “I Should Have Known” is a kind of angry ballad (I’d like to see Richard Thompson cover it). 

The final track, “Walk” is a fast rocker that sums up the album really well.  Bravo Dave Grohl.  I can’t get enough of this disc, regardless of how popular it is.

[READ: July 2, 2011] Five Dials Number 15

After the brevity of Number 14, Five Dials Number 15 comes back to a fuller size.  It’s strange to me that the issue is titled The November Issue, in part because they never tell us when the issues were published, but even more because this is actually the Québec Issue.  Most of the authors are Quécbecers and the issue release party was in Québec as well.

I’d like to point out that while I was looking something up about this issue (more later) I discovered the Five Dials News Page.  There are currently 43 pages worth of posts.  But most of them are short.  If there are any especially noteworthy ones, I’ll add them to reviews of future issues, but for the most part so far they’re just announcements of how well received their books are (I’ve already made notes to read two of them).  They also give release dates for the issues, which is how I have been able to retroactively attach dates to some of them.

There are many Québecois writers included in this issue (thoughtfully translated into English), as well as some standard features by Alain De Botton and frequent contributors David Shields and Raymond Chandler.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Our Québec Issue, and Young Novelists
Taylor’s introduction discusses many Canadian’s attitudes about Québec and their (seemingly perennial) vote concerning separation from the country (“so, let them go”).

creepy beard

The confusing thing here is that it appears that Taylor is Canadian (or at least lived there in 1995/6).   But surely he is British, no?

There’s lots of information about Québec in here but no grand statement (except that Celine Dion’s husband’s beard is still creepy).

He also introduces a new section called “Our Town” which is all about London.  The final section of the note says that

we are releasing our second Five Dials list of Top Ten Novelists Under Ten (or ‘Ten Under Ten’,or ‘Ten-Ten’, or as some of the writers themselves call the list: ‘Tintin.’) As you know, many of the writers we chose for our first Ten Under Ten list went on to things such as high school.

This is how I discovered the Five Dials News page, because there certainly was no Ten Under Ten section in a previous issue of the magazine.  Of course, nor is there any mention in the news that I have seen.  So I can’t decide if the whole thing is just a big joke or what.  I assume it is (but I’d hate to not give credit to the waaaay precocious kids at the end of the issue). (more…)

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