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Archive for the ‘Max Barry’ Category

SlexOUNDTRACK: FRANK TURNER & THE SLEEPING SOULS Live at the Newport Folk Festival (2013).

frakWhenever NPR streams and saves festivals shows, I like to check out the bands I love (of course), but I also check out some of the bands I’d never heard of before.  And sometimes it leads to a fantastic discovery.  Like Frank Turner.  I had no idea who he was, but he was described as folk-punk which is quite accurate.  He reminds me of Billy Bragg in his younger, harder days.  Turner is British, he has a very thick accent when he sings and while he is nowhere near as political as Bragg, he treads in that same line of folkiness.

His lead off track, “Four Simple Words” (the words are “I Want to Dance”) begins as a folkie song, but it quickly morphs into a rollicking stomper (louder than most bands at Newport, he theorizes).  But a song like “Try This at Home” seems to speak to his overall ethos—music for the people by the people:

Because there’s no such thing as rock stars There’s just people who play music
And some of them are just like us And some of them are dicks
So quick, turn off your stereo Pick up that pen and paper
Yeah, you could do much better Than some skinny half-arsed English country singer

There are a few more specifically pointed messages like “Glory Hallelujah,” whose chorus goes “There is no-o-o God, so clap your hands together.”  As well as a funny (but not really) song which he introduces as being written because he read Gene Simmons’ autobiography.  Simmons says he slept with 4,600 some women which he knows because he has taken a Polaroid of each one.  Turner is appalled “what an ass” and wrote “Wherefore Art Thou, Gene Simmons” as a response.

But the majority of songs are about love and life, going home again and playing music.  And, in this live setting Turner is fantastic—getting the crowd to sing along, having great banter and being a wonderful showman.

The final song is a great sing-along with the simple but effective chorus of: “I won’t sit down and I won’t shut up.  And most of all I will not grow up.”  I’m totally enjoying Turner’s music and now I’m going to have to check out his actual releases (he has four or five).  See more about him at his website.

[READ: July 20, 2013] Lexicon.

Virginia Woolf has gotten a hold of a word which has caused untold destruction in a small town in Australia.  W.B. Yeats has sent T.S. Eliot and a non-poet named Wil to get the word back and, if possible to kill Virginia Woolf.

Intrigued?  Yeah me too.

I saw this book in Barnes & Noble and was really excited that Barry had a new book out.  And when I pointed it out to Sarah she said , “I already have a hold on it.”  So, when it came in I took it from her pile and now it has to go back before she gets a chance to read it.

Imprinted in the crazy cover image are a series of odd characters and amid them it says 4 why did you do it.  I was trying to figure out if there was more to this secret message, but there isn’t.  However, it is a clue to what lies inside.

I guess in the grand scheme of things, the story is pretty simple (if not a little confusing).  What I laid out above is the skeletal outline; however, Barry interweaves the story with past and future (and a whole lot of mind control) and he begins the book right in the middle of utter chaos. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEREOLAB-Chemical Chords (2008).

You never really know what you’re going to get with Stereolab. Well, that’s not entirely true, you know you’re going to get some unusual sounding loungey keyboard songs with lyrics that are either in French or in highly accented English.  But beyond that each Stereolab album tends to go in its own direction.

Chemical Chords creates its own poppy bouncy bliss, making it one of their most approachable albums.  “Neon Beanbag” even features the chorus: “there’s nothing to be sad about” over a set of the bounciest keyboard riffs around.  “Three Women” has a brisk pace and some bright horns.   “One Finger Symphony” has a minor key and as lightly sinister tone (but it’s only 2 minutes long).

The title track has some cool echoed vocals and a wonderful break in the song that allows a sweet little string section to sneak through.  “The Ecstatic Static” is another pulsing song that seems alive somehow and “Valley Hi!” is a short darker piece with cool sound effects.

“Silver Sands” is a wonderfully bubbly pop song–the kind that Stereolab does so well, with vocals that seem like they might belong to another song.  “Pop Molecule” is a great minor key instrumental, which is a nice introduction to the super pop of “Self Portrait with ‘Electric Brain'” another bubbly song with a cool break in it.  “Nous Vous Demandons Pardon” opens with a martial beat before it settles down into a groovy song with French lyrics.

“Daisy Click Clack” shows off Stereolab’s totally unexpected lyrics:  “Snap snap snap snap with your fingers/Off beat on time make it linger/Enriching the rhythm/Do away with skepticism/Come and join the hymn, tap/Sensing the symbiotic force.”  From nonsense to the sublime in just a few short lines.

The final song “Vortial Phonotheque” reminds me of “I am the Walrus” in the music, but the gentle lyrics change the tone completely.  It’s a wonderful disc full of all of the bright sounds Stereolab does so well.  This would be their second to last disc before they went on a hiatus.

[READ: February 28, 2012] “How I Met My Daughter”

Two baby stories in a row!

Those following closely think that I was done with Max Barry last week.  But there was one final piece for me to read.  Technically this doesn’t make the last post wrong because although this story was on his website, it was also published in a magazine called The Bulletin.

If I thought that last week’s “Cement” story was dark, it’s nothing compared to this one!  Barry, while a somewhat violent writer (his last book was all about surgical procedures), is usually quite funny as well.  But this story eschews all humor for a walk through the dark side of man’s nature.

It opens with this incredibly dark couple of sentences:

They dragged this bloody, howling thing from my wife’s abdomen, its limbs twitching and clawing, its face like an angry pumpkin, and asked me, “Do you want to take a photo?”

Yes. I want to take a photo, so I can look back on the end of my life.

This story explores the feeling that men apparently have when their baby is born–jealousy at the lack of attention they will now receive.  I didn’t experience this at all and frankly it seems like a fictional thing to me, because I don’t know of any men who felt real jealousy of their babies.  But it makes for an interesting story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MARK LANEGAN BAND-“The Gravedigger’s Song” (2012).

Sometimes a song works perfectly with a story.  Titles alone, these two pieces work wonders together.  And then musically–sweet perfection.

I liked The Screaming Trees just fine.  Although they were always a third tier band for me–someone I enjoyed a song or two, but not much more.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell together.  And now, here’s a “solo” Lanegan song.  For this song (and with Isobel Campbell), his voice sounds more mature, more robust–almost as if since he doesn’t have to rock out, he can make his voice more sinister.

In spirit it reminds me of Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, but it’s got a very different sound.  It’s less claustrophobic–no doubt because of the grungy guitars.  In fact, sound-wise, it sounds more like Queens of the Stone Age (less trippy and more dark, but that may be more because of  the vocals).

The guitars are spare but have a  great sound (and cool solos).  And while the relentless drums are never in your face, they keep the song moving nonstop.

It’s a really gorgeous song (although obviously very dark) and makes me want to re-inspect more of his work to see what I’ve been missing.

[READ: February 17, 2012] “I Should Buy Some Cement”

This is the final piece from the maxbarry website that I’ll be talking about here. Thanks, Max for getting me through the dry spell.

The thing that made me laugh the most about this story was that at the very end he has a large box with these words:

Author’s Note: This was a Work of Fiction.

Yay fiction!  But it’s a good thing he includes that, this story is dark.  Very dark.

As you may guess from the title, Max is thinking he should really have some cement on hand.  Now, I also think that quite often.  I was delighted to have a couple of bags of cement in our shed on the afternoon that I erected our birdhouse.  But Barry has something else in mind. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FEELIES-Crazy Rhythms (bonus downloads) (2010).

The other day when I was playing Crazy Rhythms I noticed a little card that I had never noticed before.  It said that if I went to the label’s website, I could download bonus tracks.  That was pretty cool, so I did.

The are five tracks.  “Fa Cé-La” says it is a single version although it sounds even more spare and underproduced than the album version (and it’s a tad slower). “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” and Moscow Nights” are demos.  “Boy” really sounds like a demo (the wood blocks are almost piercing!).  It’s interesting that the guitar solo, which sounds random on record was planned that way.  On “Moscow” the singer’s channeling Lou Reed pretty intently.

The next two tracks are live from a reunion tour in 2009.  I’m not exactly sure who was in the band, but that’s okay, the songs sound good.   “Crazy Rhythms” has a (simple) drum solo in the middle (more of a beat-keeping than a solo per se), and an extended jam towards the end song.  And the final song is a cover of Jonathan Richman’s “I Wanna Sleep in Your Arms,” at a frenetic two-minute pace.

Not bad for free downloads, eh?

[READ: December 31, 2011] “A Shade Less Perfect”

After reading all of those Max Barry blog posts, getting to read a real story is a real treat.

This is a very simple story of one-upmanship (a common trope of sitcoms–in fact just the other night Up All Night ran the “two brothers who must compete against each other at everything and never admit that they have failed at something” script).  And this story falls into the same general area, but Barry puts a surprising twist on the end.

Jonathan and Elizabeth are going to house of Jonathan’s boss, Dave.  Elizabeth likes Dave’s wife Julie.  They both had babies around the same time and met in birthing classes, so they are excited to catch up (it’s been about ten months since they’ve all seen each other).

Dave tends to lord everything over Jonathan at work.  Jonathan says he’s okay with this at work–Dave is his boss after all, but he doesn’t want to deal with it out side of work, too.  Naturally, Dave has a huge house and a convertible and every other material joy.  Even a nanny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOGOL BORDELLO-Live from Axis Mundi (2009).

This is a strangely-named disc collection.  The CD is actually live shows from the BBC as well as a few demos and other sessions.  The DVD that comes with it is actually a 2007 show live from Axis Mundi (Irving Plaza NYC).  For this review I’m only talking about the CD.

The BBC Sessions, as always, sound great.  The band is wild and spirited although a little less than in a typical concert setting.  They plays “Ultimate,” “Wanderlust King,” “Mishto”, “Alcohol,” “American Wedding,” and “You Gave Up (Roumania)” (all of which come from Super Taranta except “Mishto!” (from Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike) and “You Gave Up (Roumania)” which I believe is exclusive to this disc.

The band is clearly having a lot of fun with the songs (the nine minute “You Gave Up” is a great jam) and they are perfectly in sync with each other.  At the end they even do a couple of promos shout outs for Radio One.

“Stivali E Colbacco” comes from something called the “Super Taranta Sessions” and was recorded by Steve Albini (his presence isn’t really evident, except maybe when the aggro guitar kicks in, but the song sounds great).

“Troubled Friends” comes from the “Gypsy Punk Sessions” and was recorded by Victor Van Vugt (who did the Super Taranta album).  It’s the first thing that slows the album down and feels like a B-side or a tack-on.  Mostly because the music is too minimal and meandering (and at 6 minutes is too long).

“60 Revolutions” makes up for the previous song with some solid songcraft.  At 6 minutes this is also a bit too long.  But it’s good exploration of Gogol Bordello’s flirtation with Spanish lyrics.

The last two tracks are a demo of “Immigrant Punk” which sounds different but not radically so (the lyrics seem clearer) and probably the least essential track of all, an instrumental version of “Immigrant Punk.”

The BBC stuff certainly makes this worth tracking down.  The rest is filler; but it’s pretty good filler.

[READ: December 31, 2011] “Blog This”

This is the final blog post from Max Barry’s website that I’ll be talking about (yaaay)–there’s two short stories left after this.

Like all good blog posts, this one is about the creator of the blog.  Barry was searching the web when he found a post called “Writers Who Blog.”  Barry posted a link to the article but the link is now dead and a very cursory websearch came up empty, so alas, there will be no confirmation of sources here.

So Barry says that this article about Writers who Blog totally trashes him.  He was going to let it go until he saw that a) the author was the same guy who wrote the worst review ever of his book Jennifer Government (this link is also down…I guess Barry really got to him!) and b) the critic was going by a lame pseudonym for the review but now he has revealed himself.

This post revealed to me that Barry created something called NationStates, a nation simulation game (which I would love to explore but don’t have time, which appears to be thriving).

Anyhow, the critic, Todd Bunker criticizes Barry’s blog posts, claims barry lies about his number of visitors and calls his readers sycophants.  Harsh cries indeed.  I think some of the many comments for this post include deliberately sycophantic comments.

Bunker also looked at Neal Pollack and Wil Wheaton’s blogs.  I happen to like Pollack, although I’ve never seen his blog.  But I have to say I have been following Wil Wheaton on G+ for a while now and he is a delight. I’ve never seen his blog, but I am never not amused by him (little shout out to the guy who inspired Wesley Crusher.die.die.die).  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MITCHMATIC-“Ella MPC” and “Joplin MPC” (2010).

I haven’t quite figured out what the MPC stands for, but I really like these two short songs.

In “Ella MPC” Mitchmatic takes some Ella Fitzgerald scatting (I don’t know the source) and makes a new song out of it.  After 30 seconds or so, he throws a simple drumbeat over the whole thing and off it goes. I love that he even makes different “parts” of the song with different scatting sections.  It’s very clever.

In “Joplin MPC” he takes a Scott Joplin rag (I can’t tell which one, but there’s a plunger-trumpet on it) and loops it around on itself.  It creates an entirely new song that sounds nothing like a Joplin rag.  Indeed, if it weren’t  titled that way, it may not even be obvious that that’s where  the music is originally from.  It’s also very clever.  Especially when the drumbeats turn it into a much faster dance song in the middle.

Both of these songs come from the Two Weeks Off album, and frankly I should have just reviewed the whole thing by now, but these two songs really stand out as a cool experiment.

[UPDATE: Mitchmatic just left a comment on my About me page (cool!) and he gives me the answer to the mysterious MPC question–it’s the name of an AKAI sampler.  I’m including this video where you can watch him play “Joplin MPC” live.  It blew my mind]

[READ: December 31, 2011] “We’re not in Redmond Any More, Toto”

This post is all about Barry’s switch from Microsoft Windows to Gentoo Linux.  He explains that it was “a lot like moving to another country, both in the sense that I didn’t know where anything was or understand the local language.”  But Barry is not looking back.

He makes eight statements contrasting Linux and Microsoft.  I’ve never used Linux so I can’t really chime in, but I will say that this blog post had the most comments of any one of his by a huge margin.  (34!–Computer geeks are passionate, man).

1. Linux is a religion.
And practitioners have a born-again look in their eyes.

2. Windows thinks you’re an idiot; Linux thinks you’re a genius.
I agree with the first half, although I do like that you just hit ENTER to install stuff.  While I like to do my own tech repair, letting the machine do the obvious stuff is nice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MITCHMATIC-“Why Don’t You Know” (2012).

This song reminds me in spirit of the old Fresh Prince songs–buoyant and fun, funny and a little silly.  And although it doesn’t sample I Dream of Jeannie, the mood is the same.

The track opens with a great sound of an old rotary phone.  When the music comes it, it’s completely loungey: strings and easy music propel this song to the heights of Cool.

The delivery style is gentle but fast and the lyrics are funny “I’m gonna tell you some reasons that you wanna date me.”

Mitchmatic is a Canadian rapper and his record is coming out soon on Old Ugly records.  Listen to the track at NPR and explore his stuff at his bandcamp site.

Darling I would like you so much more if you loved me back…

[READ: December 31, 2011 and January 24, 2012] “Wolves at the Door” and “Comment”

This is a blog post from Barry that deals with politics.  Although it was written in 2004 it is completely relevant to the current state of affairs in American politics.  I suppose it was ever thus, but it sure seems worse now.

He opens, “Stop me if I ‘m getting too cynical, but I think elections are won by the guy with the stupidest policies.”  He explains that it’s not because people are dumb; rather, it’s because when you are marketing to an entire country, “your best strategy is to scramble straight to the bottom of the barrel and start groping around in the muck there for the lowest common denominator.”  This is very true.

But I think the perfect summary for politics is (as Barry writes): “smart is complicated, but dumb is catchy.” (more…)

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