Archive for the ‘Maria Semple’ Category

sempleSOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Nervous [CST109] (2015).

cst109covera_258x242This album begins with “Deserter,” in which a choir of children singing over a kind of spooky tone.  And then a loud rumbling bass and scratching on a guitar.  It’s quite different from the previous Siskiyou releases and outpaces the others by several steps.

Once Colin Huebert’s voice kicks in, that familiar Siskiyou sound returns—acoustic guitar and Huebert’s voice which is a mix between a whisper and Win Butler from Arcade Fire.  But “Deserter” features backing vocals and, perhaps most surprisingly, a wild baritone sax solo by Colin Stetson.  But it stays grounded with that cool rumbling bass line.

The second song “Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills (Give Peace a Chance)” opens with an echoed guitar likes some classic 1990s shoegaze music.  The vocals are a cool, intense whisper.  The verses are great and then the chorus adds a piano and his vocals rise into an impassioned wail.  The third song “Wasted Genius” adds a kind of steel drum sound that includes a great melody to the simple and slightly ominous verses.   The middle of the song switches to pummeling drums and a buzzy guitar solo before returning to the mellow verse.

“Violent Motion Pictures” has another cool whispered vocals and quiet guitars that get accented with a low bass and percussion.  There’s a neat section of falsetto vocals that remind me of Pink Floyd over a bouncy melody–before it returns to the verses.  It’s a wonderfully catchy, if brief, segment.  “Jesus in the 70s” has slow guitar lines and atmospheric keys.  “Oval Window” is a bouncy folk song (with a slightly creepy vocal over the top), but its even got a folksy kind of guitar line on it.

“Nervous” is a slow ballad.  “Imbecile Thoughts” is a fun song with stomping drums.  It has a cool ending that leads to the slow building, strings-included nearly 7 minute “Babylonian Proclivities.”  The disc ends with the 1 minute “Falling Down the Stairs.”

This album is really fantastic–an overlooked gem from 2015.

[READ: November 8, 2016] Today Will Be Different

I’ve really enjoyed Maria Semple’s books.  And this one was no exception.

She really conveys the hectic, overstimulated, over scheduled life of middle age parenting.  It helps that her stories are typically set around Seattle and that there’s a lot of excitement, tech and pop culture to throw around, too.

This is the story of a day in the life of Eleanor Flood.  Sarah pointed out, as I didn’t quite realize it, that the story takes place in one day (hence the title) although there are flashbacks that flesh out the story too.

Eleanor is, or perhaps “was” is the better verb, an artist.  She was lead animator (or something–it’s a little confusing) on the successful show Looper Wash.  When the show ended she received an advance to write a book/memoir.  That was eight years ago.

Things have been sprialling out of control for Eleanor for a while, but she vows that today will be different.  She will make a difference. (more…)

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thisoneSOUNDTRACK: JAPANDROIDS-Post Nothing (2009).

japan1Japndroids are two guys from Vancouver.  And man, they make a racket fit for a group double its size.  There’s a lo-fi quality to the recording but that’s mostly because the guitar is buzzy and noisy and distorted and the drums are miked very loud (and there’s cymbal splashes everywhere).  The vocals (which are mostly screamed/sung) are also pretty relentless (especially when the backing vocals come in).  And yet for their simple punk aesthetic  their songs aren’t short. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” which opens with some slower guitar (before crashing into a huge verse) runs over 5 minutes.  That’s five minutes of thumping drums and super fast guitars.  Well, they do take small breathers in the song, but they don’t last long.

But for the most part, the songs are simple, fast rockers and while there is a sameness to the album, there is diversity within their sound.  “Rockers East Vancouver” has a bit more treble in the guitar and a slow middle section.  It also has what sounds like a bass guitar break–but remember there’s no bass.  The thudding guitar and drums that open “Heart Sweats” also sound very different, as do the groovy Ooooohs that punctuates the verses–making it a very distinctive song.

“Crazy/Forever” opens with a nearly 2 minute instrumental before turning into a slow rocker that last for 6 minutes of catchiness.  The album closer, “I Quit Girls” has a cool feedbacky sound on the guitar that makes it sound rather different as well.  And the song itself is a slow almost ballad (bit not really a ballad, don’t worry) that really stands out on the disc.  So this debut is 8 songs in 36 minutes–a great length for a fun rocking album.

[READ:  February 19, 2013] This One is Mine

If you named a book Unlikable People Who Do Foolish Things it probably wouldn’t sell. Or maybe it would.  Regardless, it’s an apt subtitle for this novel.  Semple is extremely daring to write a story in which nobody is likable at all.  Luckily for her, though, is that she writes really well and the book itself is very likable, so much so that I stayed up way too late several nights in a row to finish it.

So this book is about a small group of people who run somewhat parallel lives.  David Parry is married to Violet.  His sister Sally is single.  Although David is the sort of fulcrum between the two women, the story is about the women far more than David.  But it’s important to start with David to set things up.  David Parry is a multimillionaire.   He works in the music industry–he’s the asshole that all the bands need on their side.  So, he has autographs with everyone (working on getting his daughter a photo op with Paul McCartney, had Def Leppard play his wedding, etc).  But he’s cold and distant to his wife.

Or at least he seems to be from Violet’s point of view.  Violet is a writer.  She wrote a very successful TV show but wanted out of that life.  When she met David, they had an amazing first date (and David still swoons when she looks at him that way, but it seems like she hasn’t been looking at him that way very much lately).  And when they settled in, she realized she didn’t have to work anymore.  But then she felt odd realizing that she wasn’t making any money herself.  So she threw her creativity into a new house.  Which took forever.  Then they finally managed to have a child (Dot), but Violet found being a mother overwhelming as well, so the nanny (called LadyGo) takes Dot much of the time (and yes, David is resentful of this too).

Violet is at loose ends with her life.  And then she meets Teddy.  Teddy is a loser–a former addict with Hepatitis C, he plays double bass in a Rolling Stones cover band.  When she first sees him, he is playing in the park for some kind of function (not as the Stones cover band, but in some other kind of band) and she is entranced by the music they make.  Teddy has a double bass and, when Violet runs into him after the show, because she parked near him, he is trying to fit it into his crappy car that breaks down all the time.  Indeed, it won’t start now.  He can;t afford to fix it which means he wont be able to get to gigs, which means he won’t have money for rent, etc.  He’s about as far from Violet’s one can get.  Yet, despite the fact that he is an asshole: verbally abusive, cocky and prone to make very bad choices, she falls for him.  She offers to pay to have his car fixed.  And then imagines when they can meet again. (more…)

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bernSOUNDTRACK: GARBAGE-Garbage (1995).

garbageWhen the debut Garbage album came out I was totally hooked.  I was initially skeptical of the album–the sneaky release of “Vow” with no hype (but hype), the Butch Vig connection.  But I heard it and wow.  Then the rest of the album did not disappoint.  I listened to this album so much it’s hard for me to even be objective about it.  For a time this was my favorite album.  My biggest celebrity bummer was when I found out that they were appearing at a Newbury Comics and I went to the wrong one.  By the time I got across town to the real location, the line was huge and the clerk cut off the line about four people in front of me.  Ugh.

I’m not sure what it was about this album–it’s slick, it’s technically overproduced (three producers who spent countless months tinkering with it) but it doesn’t really sound overproduced. It’s an interesting pastiche of pop, grunge, electronic and goth.  It’s a dark album for sure, but it has pop tones all over it.  It’s also musically interesting, like the way the disc opens.  The opening riff of “Supervixen” is a few notes and then just stops                            and then resumes.  It’s weird and off-putting for the opening of an album and it immediately grabs you.

Then you get the sultry goth-lite of “Queer.”  Overtly sexual, dark and sneaky it’s a perfectly naughty radio friendly alt rock song.  This was released during a time when women were ruling alt-rock, so it wasn’t singular in any way, but it certainly led the way for more women fronted gothy bands.  And so did “Only Happy When it Rains” –the surprise mope rock hit.

“As Heaven is Wide” is a really dark song, understandably not a hit, but really sexy and groovy.  “Not My Idea” brings in some of the first non minor key chords–where Manson sings in her sweeter voice until the raucous chorus.  “Vow” seems like such an unlikey first single–the stuttering guitar the nonsinging vocals, it really doesn’t showcase Shirley’s voice all that well.  But as a middle of the album song it’s nice and hard hitting.  “Stupid Girl” was also pretty huge–it’s got some wonderfully raw sounds to keep it from being too treacly (well and the lyrics do too, of course).

“Dog New Tricks” has a lot going on musically underneath Manson’s voice that I still find it really compelling–like the staggered guitars that don’t seem to fit, but do.  “My Lover’s Box” (which I always assumed was called “Send Me An Angel”) is another slow sultry number although the guitar riff is way too reminiscent of Aldo Nova’s one hit (“Fantasy).  “Fix Me Now” is one final loud, oddly upbeat song, followed by the wonderful gothy closer “Milk” which emphasizes keyboards in a way that the rest of the album doesn’t.

It’s a great debut, an album that I still regard very highly even if I don’t listen to it all that often anymore.

[READ: February 3, 2013] Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Sarah brought this book home and said I would like it.  And I was able to read a few pages when she ran into a store and it was very funny so I couldn’t wait to read the whole thing (despite the rather stupid cover).  Maria Semple was a writer for Arrested Development among other shows and recently turned her pen to novels (this is her second book).

One of the delights of this book was having literally no idea where it was going.  Meaning that by the end of Part Two (there are six parts), I really had no idea where it would end.  By the time it ends it all makes sense, but it wasn’t telegraphed, which is pretty cool.  This book also ties nicely to Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.  In Penumbra, much of the action took place at and around Google.  In Bernadette, much of the action takes place in and around Microsoft.  Based on these two fictionalizations, it sounds like Google is a more enjoyable place to work as Google gave you free food made to your specifications whereas in Microsoft all they had was free candy machines (and lots of layoffs and jealousy that they can’t use an iPhone).

The story is narrated by Bee, and eighth grader who scores all S’s on her private school report card (S is the highest you can get, since they don’t believe in grades).  The note accompanying the report card raves about Bee’s intelligence, generosity and helpfulness around the school).  That night at the dinner table, Bee tells her parents what she wants for getting such a great report card (she had always wanted a pony, but has changed her mind): She wants to go to Antarctica on a cruise with the family.

This presents a problem for Bee’s mother Bernadette because she pretty much never leaves the house.  Well, she does, but only to drive Bee to school.  She has recently started outsourcing her life to a woman in India (for 75 cents an hour). The woman does literally everything for her, including making reservations at a restaurant 1/2 a mile from Bernadette’s house.  But Bernadette wasn’t always like this.  Indeed, she was once a future star in the architecture field until the tragic event that changed everything for her.

That change inspired a move with her husband, Elgie, to Seattle (a city which she now loathes–in great detail) where he found a job at Microsoft.  He thrived there and soon was put in charge of the Samantha 2 project–a program that allows you to interact with all your devices using only your mind (his TED talk is the fourth most viewed ever!). (more…)

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brockIt’s hard to review a band that you only saw once.  It’s also surprising that said band, which appeared on Portlandia has virtually no web presence–not a video to be found!

In a previous episode, two parents at Shooting Star Preschool are distraught that the music in their children’s classroom includes the likes of Mike + The Mechanics (a gateway band) and are “getting very stressed out that the head of our school does not know about Neu!”  (and doesn’t know that there’s Clash songs before “Rock the Casbah”).  The parents stand up for indie rock: “Who’s to say a kid can’t appreciate a guitar solo in a Dinosaur Jr. song?”  And then Modest Mouse’s Issac Brock brings in a crate of LPs (from the likes of Talk Talk and Temple of the Dog) and is more or less drummed out.

Well in the continuation of this skit, the four parents decide to form a band.  It is atonal and noisy and utterly devoid of melody and at one point Carrie Brownstein screams out “Everyone leaves me!” (all of this to a room full of stunned children).  I would love to get a link to the video, but there are none as of yet (nor of the amazing Squiggleman who headline the concert).

But just remember, kids prefer repetition like Philip Glass rather than Top 40 pop.

[READ: February 3, 2013] “Dear Mountain Room Parents”

Sarah and I have just finished a book by Maria Semple called Where’d You Go Bernadette.  Semple’s bio said that she had written for the New Yorker (and Arrested Development which is all the cred I need).  Interestingly she has only written one thing for the New Yorker (but it still counts) and it’s this Shouts and Murmurs piece (which I read and enjoyed when it came out).

In light of Bernadette, it seems like perhaps Semple has had some hands-on experiences with private school buffoonery.  In this story the teacher of The Mountain Room sends an email to the parents about their upcoming Day of the Dead celebration.  Immediately she has to reply that there’s nothing wrong with  Halloween and that the parents signed up “for Little Learners because of our emphasis on global awareness.”  But of course, it doesn’t get any better for her.

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