Archive for the ‘Maile Meloy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Earth Divison EP (2012).

Oh wait, this isn’t the Mogwai EP.  What CD did I put in?

Holy crap, it IS the Mogwai CD.  And it opens with a beautiful piano and violin ballad called “Get to France.”  While it’s true that Mogwai has always been about melody (under the noise), I never expected this.  It sounds like a gorgeous soundtrack to a sad film.  It’s followed by “Hound of Winter” a gentle ballad of acoustic guitars and strings.  I know that Mogwai has a softer side, it’s just surprising to hear it all at once like this!

“Drunk and Crazy” is more like it.  It opens with a wall of guitar noise which…vanishes after about two minutes into a gentle, dark string section (strings are by Luke Sutherland of Bows and Long Fin Kille).  And while the distortion never entirely goes away (it’s evident in the piano), it is certainly pushed to the background until about 90 seconds later when it begins to overtake the track again.  It’s nowhere near as dynamic as their best stuff, but it really showcases what Mogwai can do in just over 5 minutes.

The EP ends with “Does This Always Happen?”  While it reintroduces electric guitars, it’s still a mellow song–a pretty electric guitar riff repeated while piano stabs and chords flesh out the tune and strings make it a fuller song.

None of  these songs will become “classics” (although Does This Always happen?” sounds the most like  a Mogwai song).  But it’s always great to hear them expand what they can do.   And these EPs give them a chance to show off some new styles.

To learn more about these tracks, read Stuart’s explanation of them at The Guardian.

[READ: May 25, 2012] “The Proxy Marriage”

I love Maile Meloy and I was crazy excited when I saw that she had a story in this issue.

Meloy writes stories that seem simple—they avoid a lot of the trappings of contemporary stories, indeed, they often feel like they are set in the past, even if, like in this one, they are very current.  Part of that is setting.  She tends to write about people and family interactions, which don’t require a time frame.  She also tends to set her stories in unlikely places—Montana, for instance, where not too many stories are set.  Of course, this one is set in Montana for a good reason.  It is the only state that allows double proxy marriage.  Which is what?  In a proxy marriage, if your beloved can’t make it, you can have a stand-in for him or her do the speaking and signing.  In a double proxy marriage, neither person is present but they agree to let proxies serve for them.  Why on earth would you do this?  Well, this is common in military cases, where one member is serving overseas and the other doesn’t live in Montana—this allows the non-military person to get all of the military benefits that a spouse is entitled to.  Since Montana allows this, and since this story is set soon after the 9/11/01 attacks, it all jibes.

But this story is really about unrequited love.  And I have to say, now that I’m an adult, that unrequited love sucks.  I mean, true it sucks when you’re in it too, but I hate stories that romanticize the idea that you should hold fast to the belief that this person who doesn’t  think about you that way will somehow come around. It happens a lot in stories (and always swells the heart) but when have you ever heard of it happening in real life?  Most of the time the person isn’t worth it , but realistically, once you have left school (it always happens in school) that person has found someone new and that’s the end of it.

This story’s unrequited lover is William, a shy awkward boy who plays the piano.  The girl he pines for is Bridey Taylor, with golden curls and dreams of being an actress.  William never asked her out.  Bridey was popular and other boys asked her out—and William suffered through every one.   But they were friendly—she sang while he played piano, and he helped her with school work.   Then the 9/11 attacks happened.  And this is where the story gets interesting.  Because although neither of  the main characters are not directly involved in the attacks, when the requests start coming in for proxy marriage, Bridey’s father, who was willing to perform them, asked William and Bridey to be the proxies. (more…)

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I’ve said before that Sigur Rós was one of my favorite live shows ever.  They created an amazing atmosphere that went beyond the music and the visuals.  It set the bar very very high.

So here is their first official live album and it does not disappoint.  It clearly cannot live up to the live experience (there is so much to see after all), but it really conveys just how amazing these guys can sound live.

Sigur Rós feels like they should only be a studio band–they are so atmospheric, so ethereal, that it doesn’t seem like it should translate live.  But they do, in fact , it brings a new energy to the music.  And the fact that Jonsi can easily hit those unearthly notes just blows my mind.

I’m not sure whether to say that Sigur Rós have hits or not, but this is like a best of playlist from all of their albums.  From their “debut” Ágætis Byrjun, we get the ten minute opener “Svefn-G-Englar.”  Although the songs all feel long, they run the gamut from two to three minutes through eight and nine up to fifteen.  They also play the awesome “Ný batterí” a few songs later.

There’s a number of songs from Takk… “Glósóli,” “Hoppípolla,” “Með Blóðnasir,” and “Sæglópur.”  There’s a couple of songs from () as well (of course, since they were untitled it takes a bit of work to know that . “E-bow” ends disc one and the concert ends with the glorious 15 minute “Popplagið”

From Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, we don’t get “Gobbeldygook,” their sort of hit, but we do get “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur,” “Fljótavík,” “Festival,” “Við spilum endalaust” and “All Alright”

The set also includes “Hafsól,” a B-side of “Hoppípolla” (which was a remake of a song of their real debut Von).  The best example of how Sigur Rós is not just wispy music comes in “Hafsól.”  After a few minutes of their atmospheric stuff, the drums kick in and the song becomes incredibly loud and chaotic with crashing cymbals and grinding guitars and feedback.  It’s amazing.  That it ends with a tin whistle solo just highlights the what the band is willing to put into just one song.

“Popplagið” closes out the concert with more of that dynamic.  At 15 minutes, it takes a while to get there, but somehow the drums feel more grounded.  And at the 6 and a half-minute mark when the drums really kick in and guitars get noisy and raw, it’s an unbelievable moment.  The song turns tense and intense and doesn’t let up for the rest of the track.

The encore is an unreleased track called “Lúppulagid.”  It is a slow, relaxing kind of track (it plays over the credits of the DVD).  Yes, there’s a DVD that comes with the two disc set.  I have not yet watched the DVD, but I’m pretty psyched to check it out.

This disc can’t convey the magic that is Sigur Rós live, but it really shows what they are capable of.

[READ: February 2, 2102] The Apothecary

Maile Meloy has written some of my favorite books (novels and short stories).  She is an excellent writer with a wonderful sense of reality–I’ve described her as unsentimental: her characters are typically downtrodden and not likely to follow flights of fancy.

And that’s just one reason why this book is so surprising–it is about magic!  It’s also surprising because its written as a YA book (the protagonists are fourteen).  And finally, it’s surprising because it is set in England, and previously, Meloy had been a small town America kind of writer (as far as I remember, anyhow).

Although I found the opening a little slow going (more on that in a minute), by about the third or fourth chapter I was totally hooked on this fantastic story.

The book is set just after WWII.  The main character (and narrator) Janie and her family live in Hollywood.  Her mom and dad are both television writers who are being hunted as Communists.  They tell her that they must flee for London.  (This was told briskly, and I wonder if teens know about the Communist trials in the 50s).

They move to London (where they have jobs set up as BBC writers) and learn to cope with the move from warm, sunny, prosperous Hollywood to cold, gray and still-under-rationing London.

One problem I had with the beginning (in addition to the Communist part) was that Janie talks a lot about Katherine Hepburn–walking like her, being strong like her.  Both of these things seemed like they maybe weren’t explained enough for the intended audience.  Perhaps I’m not giving young readers enough credit, but I was very distracted thinking, would a teenager want to read this?  I mean I barely know Katherine Hepburn as a young beauty.  The other problem I had was that the kids felt too modern to me.  Or maybe not modern so much as out of time.  It doesn’t really feel like the 50s.  It’s not really a problem, but every once in a while I had to remind myself that it was set in the 50 at the height of the nuclear scare.

Of course, once Janie gets to school, those concerns evaporate.  Janie goes to a fancy London school–they wear uniforms and learn Latin)–I guess it is timeless.  She is immediately introduced to Sarah Pennington, a very very rich girl (she has a butler).  What I liked is that even though Janie is different and from California and Meloy shows that they are different, she doesn’t exploit these differences.  She doesn’t make it a clique story between Janie and Sarah.

Things are dire in post-war London.  It is cold all the time and you need to put pennies in the wall to get the heat to come on–this is why people from England like hot water bottles so much!  So Janie and her dad go down to the apothecary to get hot water bottles and pennies.  When the apothecary hears that they are American, he offers Janie some homesickness medicine.  Janie and her dad don’t believe it will work but she takes some anyhow.  And she seems to feel a bit better.

Soon after this, Janie learns that the apothecary’s son is a boy in her class named Benjamin.  In school, Benjamin stood up to the lunch lady when she insisted that everyone “duck and cover” when the air raid siren went off.  He’s nobody’s fool, he knows how dangerous the Bomb can be.

Janie is surprised that Benjamin and the apothecary are related.  The apothecary is nice and mild-mannered whereas Benjamin is strong-willed.  And, it turns out that Benjamin wants nothing to do with his father’s business–even though the Society of Apothecaries has paid for his education.  He wants to be a spy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Raditude (2009).

I didn’t buy this Weezer album when it came out because I had heard really bad things about it (like the “guests”), but when I saw it cheap I decided to check it out.  This has to be the most polarizing Weezer album of them all.  I listened to it twice yesterday.  The first time I thought I had been too harsh on it.  The second time I thought it was godawful.  It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do.

It opens with a wonderful bit of poppy wordplay ala Cheap Trick: “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To.”  It’s catchy as anything and is a wonderful start to the album, even if it is probably their poppiest song ever.  From there though, the album really degenerates.  And mostly it’s because it’s so dumb.  I mean the album title should tell you what you’re in for, but who would have expected the moronic sub-pop-metal of “The Girl Got Hot” or even the reprehensible lyrics of “I’m Your Daddy” “You are my baby tonight And I’m your daddy.”  It’s just creepy.  Or gah, a song about the mall?  “In the Mall.”  It’s not even worth mocking.  And really, try to picture Rivers Cuomo in a mall.  Any mall.

But nothing could prepare anyone for “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Unlike Andrew WK’s ouvre, which is so sincere about partying that you can’t take it seriously, this song really seems to be about the guys partying.  It’s laughable.  The anemic rap but Li’l Wayne certainly doesn’t help.

Even the collaboration with Indian musicians on “Love is the Answer” (yes, seriously) doesn’t really work.  It feels like they wrote the song and then said, “Hey let’s throw some sitar on it.”  It’s not enough to be exciting but too much to ignore.

This is not to say that these songs aren’t catchy.  I mean, geez, I still have “Can’t Stop Partying” in my head while I’m listening to something else.   Rivers knows how to write a pop trifle.  And the more he writes songs like this, it makes me thing that Pinkerton was the fluke.  Which is fine. The music world needs poppy songs, right?

[READ: early August 2011] various nonfictions

I thought about doing individual posts for all of Arthur Bradford’s non-fiction that’s available on his website (that’s right,  yet another author that I have read short uncollected pieces by without having read any of his bigger works–I’m looking at you Wells Tower).  Bradford has links to all of his nonfiction ( I assume) on his website.  There are 12 links in total.  One is to his blog (which I’m not reviewing).  The rest are for articles covering a pretty broad array of topics from a pretty broad variety of sources.  (more…)

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maileSOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS-Stems and Seeds (2009).

benI enjoyed Way to Normal, although not as much as previous Ben Folds CDs.  I was listening to Pandora Radio at work and I heard a version of one of the songs from Way to Normal, but it listed it as coming from Stems and Seeds, which I hadn’t heard of.

Stems and Seeds is a sort of fan club release of Way to Normal.  That whole album is remixed, remastered and in a different track order.  It also features B-sides and the “original leaked versions” (ie. not real versions at all) of several of these tracks.

The second disc (actually the first disc) is a collection of audio files that you can upload to the GarageBand program where you can manipulate the files yourself.  I have not even popped the disc in the computer to look at this yet, and I don’t foresee myself doing it any time soon.

But onto the music.

The differences are not vast in the remixes and yet I like them better.  Some excessive bits are lopped off (the “Japanese doctor” voice before “The Bitch Went Nuts” is thankfully gone) as well as a few bits that dragged out “Free Coffee”).   I don’t think of myself as a massive audiophile, but in a side by side comparison the new songs (which are apparently uncompressed like radio-ready songs are) sound cleaner, brighter and just better.  (Which again, is weird since Way to Normal was released just months before this.  Why bother releasing that version at all, I have to wonder.)

There’s also something about the new track order that I like better.  It just flows more smoothly somehow.

And the bonus tracks are also fun.  There’s a live version of “You Don’t Know Me” from a pre-show at Conan.  They practice it without the curse in the lyrics, but they all get a hearty curse-laden shout out at the end.  The “leaked” tracks are also fascinating. Even though they are lyrically not quite up to snuff, they’re not that far removed from Ben’s sillier songs.  But it’s the idea that he wrote these entire songs just to jam the leakers is fascinating to me.  He wrote new melodies and recorded entirely new songs that aren’t real.  And yet now he’s officially released them and they are real. Trippy.

So, if you haven’t yet, skip Way to Normal and get Stems and Seeds. If you already have Way to Normal and didn’t like it, try a track or two from this one, it may turn you around.

[READ: September 13, 2009] Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

In his Infinite Summer post Colin Meloy plugged the new book that his sister had just written. I wasn’t aware of the book coming out so I was pretty excited to hear about it.  I picked up a copy and finished it in like 2 days.

This is Meloy’s 2nd collection of short stories.

The characters in almost all of the stories are failures. Not losers, mind you, but failures. They have failed at jobs or love or with their family, and the storylines show them coping with the aftermath of their failures.  And note that the failures are never because of inaction, they are because the characters are stuck between two impossible choices or literally insurmountable problems. (more…)

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half.jpgSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Stunt (1998) & Maroon (2000).

stunt.jpgStunt. BNL took over the world with “One Week,” one of the most ubiquitous songs of 1998, and one that I never actually got sick of, which is pretty surprising. But it’s got many different elements and–and I think this is the clincher–the words are so hard to understand, that I spend most of my time while listening to the song, just trying to figure them out. Weird Al even parodied it (called “Jerry Springer”) so you know it was big.

[DIGRESSION]: Some day I’d like to plot the fortunes of any band that has been parodied by Weird Al. My theory is that a parody by Weird Al = instant commercial failure on future records…some day when I have free time I’ll see what I come up with.

This song helped Stunt sell millions of copies. But to me, Stunt is, overall, one of their weakest efforts. It starts off so strongly with “One Week” and “It’s All Been Done” (a song that is even catchier than “One Week.”)  There are some other strong songs on the disc: “I’ll Be That Girl” is a pretty ballad, and “Never is Enough” is another poppy gem. While “Who Needs Sleep” is one of their silly sounding songs that packs a great chorus. However, the rest don’t so much balance out the mania of the rest of the album as deaden it. I’ve listened to the album twice in the last few days and can’t really remember what some of those middle songs sound like.

Despite that, I made sure to buy the limited edition with bonus tracks, and I must say the bonus track “She’s on Time” is one of the best things on the record.

maroon.jpgMaroon. When I grabbed this record next, I had complete forgotten it existed. I assumed that the next one was Everything for Everyone, so imagine my surprise to find Maroon. And, evidently I’m not the only one who forgot about that album: allmusic says sales were off pretty far for this one (do I blame Weird Al?)

Regardless, I think that Maroon is a far superior record to Stunt. Reviewers suggest that it is sort of a Stunt 2.0, but I think the melodies are stronger and the hooks are sharper. “Pinch Me” is a fun conflation of ballad and the manic energy of “One Week,” while “Too Little, Too Late” starts the record off with a strong singalong. And “Sell Sell Sell” is a fun, over the top rocker.

Steven Page, for the most part, could sing anything and make it interesting. However, when BNL fall into a slightly more “adult contemporary” vein as they did on Stunt, Page tends to lose the pizazz that makes his voice interesting. He gets it back on Maroon, so even some of those middle songs that aren’t awesome, are still enjoyable. Of course, Ed Robertson, the other singer doesn’t fall into that same trap, but I think that’s because he doesn’t often do the mellow songs.

There’s also a bonus song by Kevin Hearn at the end of the album. And, I hate to say it, but I’m just not that big a fan of his. His songs and singing style are all very pleasant, but his whole style is just a little too pleasant. There’s no edge, and I find myself drifting away during his songs. He has more songs coming on later albums too, and they’re all very pleasant, but often very forgettable.

[READ: September 2006] Half in Love

As you can tell by the date, this is one of those books from over a year ago that I read at my previous job. I’ve been reading pretty quickly lately and haven’t had a chance to catch up on some of the old ones on my list. So, my memory is a little rusty of the details (always a danger if you read a lot). (more…)

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fa.jpgSOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Industry (with Danny Thompson) (1997), Mock Tudor (1999), 1000 Years of Popular Music (2003).

My wife heard the new RT song on the radio (hooray for WXPN, Philadelphia…oh and go listen online, it’s great stuff!) and asked if he had a new song out. She likes RT but isn’t a huge fan; she was amazed at how she knew immediately that it was him, but that it didn’t sound like an older song that she knew already. I think that’s a great feature of RTs style. He is clearly himself, and yet he’s not afraid to experiment.


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liars.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Mass Romantic (2000).

I was introduced to this album via “Letter to an Occupant,” the great sing- along-at-top-volume song that features Neko Case. The title track also features Neko, and her voice is just so dynamic that I really never listened that much to the rest of the album, which features the boys’ singing. Well, after looking up some information about Destroyer, I learned that he was part of the New Pornographers, so I figured I’d give another listen. I was really pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the album. I still think that Neko’s songs really stand out, but that seems to be because she really belts out her vocals, while the guys seem to be more subtle, I guess. (more…)

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