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Archive for the ‘Michael Chabon’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-“Have You Seen My Son” (Field Recordings, September 3, 2014).

This Field Recording [Benjamin Booker: Newport Folk Gets The Summertime Blues] opens with Benjamin Booker taking his tuner off of his guitar and dropping it down a rain grate, never to be seen again.

Like many of the Field Recordings, this one also takes place at the Newport Folk Festival. NPR has a great relationship with the Newport Folk Festival, but they don’t have as much footage that’s available at any time as they used to.

There’s some kind of archway that they seem to use a lot for these Recordings.  Although in this instance, he is not in the archway, but just outside of it.

In 2014, Booker released his debut album.  As of now in 2018, he has quite a following. I know I hear his name on the radio a lot.  Booker has a distinctive voice, raspy and old, even though he himself is young (much younger than I realized).  And, as I thought last time, his speaking voice is so very different from his singing voice.

Even before releasing his debut album last month, Booker’s gravelly voice and bluesy swagger had guitar fans buzzing with anticipation. It didn’t hurt that he’d nabbed a gig touring as the opening act for Jack White, one of his idols.

With a borrowed acoustic guitar, Booker joined us outside one of the secluded secret tunnels in the heart of Fort Adams State Park after his set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. While we were setting up for this Field Recording, Booker offhandedly mentioned that a few years prior, he’d applied to become an NPR Music intern. He didn’t get that gig, but he told us that missing out spurred his desire to explore another side of his passion for music.

“Have You Seen My Son?” is a quiet shuffle of a song.  Frankly it’s not that impressive as a song, at least you wouldn’t think much of him from just this song.  Except for that voice of course.

[READ: October 7, 2017] I Know What You Read Last Summer

This essay opens with an epigram by Ruth Franklin from Slate, May 8, 2017.

Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.

LeGuin has a lot of fun with this premise.  She begins with a scary opening about something crawly, squelching, stomping–an unknown force smelling of broken rotting flesh: Goddamn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it.

Could he not see that Cormac McCarthy–although everything in his book (except the wonderfully blatant use of an egregiously obscure vocabulary) was remarkably similar to a great many earlier works of science fiction about men crossing the country after the holocaust–could never under any circumstances be said to be a sci-fi writer, because Cormac McCarthy was a serious writer and so by definition incapable of lowering himself to commit genre. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WOLF ALICE-Visions of a Life (2017).

Wolf Alice’s second album explores a great deal of diversity.  Nearly every song is in a different style–and yet none of them sound out of place.  It just sounds like Wolf Alice pushing their sound in many different directions and seeing what sticks (and most of hit sticks quite nicely).

It opens a lot noisier than the first album, but the shoegaze element is still prominent.  “Heavenward” is all distorted guitars and soaring melodies before settling down into a quieter verse and then a really catchy, bouncy chorus.  It’s followed by the loudest craziest song they’ve recorded thus far.  The 2 minute “Yuk Foo” is a solid blast of aggressive punk with a thumping bassline, squealing feedbacking guitars and Ellie Roswell screaming and cursing like a fiend.   Catharsis in 2 minutes.

It’s followed by “Beautifully Unconventional,” yet another terrific and, for them, a rather different style of song.  A staggered guitar phrase and a cool staccato chorus.  It’s wonderfully catchy.

“Don’t Delete The Kisses” is a surprisingly sweet pop song. The hook of the shouted singular words is undeniable.  “What if it’s not meant for me? love” with a happy ending “Me and you were meant to be in love”  “Planet Hunter” slows things down a bit with a quiet guitar and Roswell’s voice out front, but it leads into a full and really catchy chorus and a great ending section with a loud bass that takes the song to the end.

A lot of the band’s songs feature Roswell whispering the lyrics. “Sky Musings” is one of those songs.  It’s propulsive with Roswell’s vocals slightly obscured as she speaks out.  If she were a tad louder in the mix, the song would feel incredibly intimate.

“Formidable Cool” shifts things agin, with an almost Beatlesqsue guitar riff that turns very loud for the chorus.  The lyrics get really angry and the song grows pretty intense.  “Space & Time” is a bouncing song that lets up in the middle until the second half roars to the end.  Live, this song was amazing with guitarist Jeff Oddie just banging the crap out of his old guitar and making all kinds of sounds.

“Sadboy” is a bit of slower song but it’s got some great noises and sounds on it.  The hook is one that will stay with you.  The second half, with the “waiting for love” refrain features a whole chorus of backing singers (or Ellie)–quite a surprise–as well as some deep, processed vocals and what I assume is Roswell screaming in the background.

“St. Purple & Green” opens with a similar chorused vocal effect before roaring out with some loud crashing guitars. The band plays especially wonderfully with loud/quiet dynamic because during the quiet sections, Roswell’s voice is so delicate and soothing.  The contrasts are tremendous.

“After the Zero Hour” is a pretty folk song with acoustic guitars and Roswell’s layered soaring vocals.  It’s quite a lovely piece.

The disc ends with the title track “Visions of a Life,” an 8 minute epic of heaviness with multiple parts and time signatures.  It’s a fanatic conclusion to the disc–even if 8 minutes is nowhere near long enough.

I feel pretty lucky to have seen them in a small venue as I can imagine them really taking off.

[READ: January 29, 2018] “The Recipe for Life”

This is an essay about Chabon’s father and his own childhood.

His father was a doctor–an excellent doctor, by all accounts.  He worked all day as a hospital pediatrician and then at night he did house calls for U.S. Public Health Service for insurance claims.

He often took Michael with him.  And Michael often had his own doctor bag (made of plastic) and his own stethoscope (made of plastic) and a needle (made of plastic).

He recalls one night when the patient asked him if he wanted to be a doctor like his father.  He felt, even then, that he could never live up to his father’s work.  He saw (and still sees) his father as an excellent diagnostician (he gets every diagnosis correct very early on while watching Marcus Welby).  But Michael is more impressed at his father’s ability to reassurance patients.  he is warm and thoughtful and consoling.

Except toward Michael: “Unless I am gravely ill or seriously injured–and I am almost never either of those things–I don’t even rate the bedside manner.  My father’s response when I cut a finger, stub my toe, twist an ankle or fall of my bicycle never varies: ‘We’ll have to amputate.'” (more…)

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instruct SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Record Body Rheos Day#6, Toronto, ON (November 12, 2001).

Sometimes you would go see Rheos and they would play a show packed with rarely played songs. This is one of those shows – The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos, SRBM, Onilley’s, Jesus Was Once A Teenager Too, Public Square, Halloween Eyes, Satan Is The Whistler, PROD, Martin’s First Day Of School, Home Again…a treasure trove for hardcore fans. This was night 6 of Winter Nationals 2001 aka Record Body Rheos.

This is the only show remaining in 2001.  It is also only the second show of this run available on RheostaticsLive.

The recording of this show is spectacular—loud and very clear soundboard recording.  It features Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums–the band’s final drummer before their dissolution in 2007.

Dave as always is very chatty: “Is it the first night for a lot of you folks here?  Oh you’ve been here before?  Cool.  We mixed it up for you tonight.  We got a lot of stuff we haven’t played over the last 4 or 5 nights.

Mike says, “A lot of stuff I haven’t played.”  Apropos of nothing Martin says, “We’re going to play a new song called ‘Couscous.'”  [They don’t].

The show starts with “The Midnight Ride Of Red Dog Ray.”  I’d always assumed this song was by Stompin’ Tom, but in fact it was by Washboard Hank Fisher.  The songs sounds sounds big and full–much louder than other versions of this song.  Tim has lots of backing vocals: “riiiiide” “Raaaaaay.”  Dave rolls his rs in the last chorus.  It ends and Dave asks “That wasn’t too hard was it, Mike?”

Dave says, “we’ll stay in Ontario for this next number.”  It’s a nice, spare version of “Christopher.”  I like when Martin is singing “we used to take trips,” he plays the melody on the guitar the same notes.  And when he “setters” ‘trips’ a second time he plays the guitar note as well.  They have a really hard time with “The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos.”  They play it twice way too fast for Tim to sing.  The guitar in the beginning feels way too fast even if you don’t know the song.  Tim says, “Hey this is way too fast.”  Martin agrees: “Bit of a wrist twister.”  Tim: “I only go so fat.”  They try again, Martin slows down but the drums are the problem.  It’s pretty much the same tempo.  Then MPW gets it right and Tim does a good job—it’s still a pretty fast song.   During the end part they mess up that final riff, but they do manage it after another try.

Martin jokes: “The woods are full of caca” (chukcle).

Tim says, “Speaking of that band, Gordon Cummings’ new band Precious Little is playing with us this week.”  He asks when and Dave says “It’s in the paper, Tim.”  Tim: “‘I don’t subscribe to such things.”

A fan says something and Dave replies, “I’m not smoking.  My playing is pretty hot, but I’m not smoking, sir.”  He then tells a story about playing hockey at 2PM at the Annual Green Sprouts Game.  He says he normally wears full pads, but this time he wore pants and water got all over him–it looked like I peed myself.  Tim: “remember that gig in Victoria when you actually peed yourself?”  Dave says something about a toilet and then says “And you were drawing it in your sketchbook.”

Martin has his new robotic voice synthesizer and speaks “SUPERdifficult.”  It’s fun to hear this song after so much time in the mid-1990s.

Dave: “I sense that you are a loud crowd.  Sometimes smaller bodies of people should be louder”
Martin: “The example of the Belizian howler monkey–small body, loud sound.”
Dave: “Any howler monkeys here tonight?”

They thank the opening acts: Some Guy with a Guitar (is that the guy’s name or are they joking about who it is?  I can’t find anyone with that name).  And The Keep On Keepin’ Ons  they should lose that Dave Love guy he’s gonna destroy them if he doesn’t destroy himself.  [Can’t find anything out about him either].

Martin introduces “PIN”:  “This is a song about stuff that goes like this.”  But for “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” Dave says, it’s a song from The Blue Hysteria which we recorded in 1996.”
Martin: “Really eh?  This is song about probiscis monkeys and how good they are at sweeming…swimming.”
When they start there’s a terrible flat note on bass.
Martin says, “No, no, its not gong to be that interesting.”
Dave: “I mean how many fucking songs do we have to have about proboscis monkeys who swim?  Shit.”
Tim: “Martin, can you stretch a little?”
Martin: “All my songs are about apes.”  Fan: “What about ‘That’s How They Do It in Warsaw’?”  Martin: “Polish apes.  It’s about a zoo I visited there in the elate 60s.  Zoos at the at the time, ooh la la.
Before this gets out of han Dave says “Let’s go capo monkey.”
When Martin gets to the “sweetest ass” part he chimes in: “all red and blue and such.”

When the song ends, Martin says “Archie” in Edith’s voice (why he is talking about All in the Family I have no idea).  Dave says, “All I could think of the tragedy in the towers.  (this show is just a couple months after 9/11) Archie Bunker lived in Queens and when they showed the footage of the plane wreckage all the houses looked like Archie Bunker’s house.”  Martin: “704 Hauser Street.”  Dave: “Alright Tim [Mech], atta boy.  Pretty good to have a guy feeding you lines in the wings.”
Tim: “No more monkey jokes, Tim.”
Martin: “Yeah, cool it on the ape shit.”

While they’re bantering, someone says, “That last song was really fucking good.  Dave: “Thank you, sir.”

This next song [“Mumbletypeg”] is dedicated to Tim’s tie.  Dave says that Night of the Shooting Stars is out in a couple weeks.  The album cover is a cross between Spinal Tap, Charlie’s Angel’s and Metallica’s black album.  And it sounds like a cross between those three things.
Martin: “Precisely.  With nothing else.”
Mike: “As a total marketing move the last night of our run here is the night of the shooting stars.  So everyone should go up north and watch the Leonids
Martin: “When does the meteor shower start, Mike?”
Mike: “Well 4 in the morning. Until the 18th”
Dave: “We should probably end the night with a processional chant of LEE-OH-NiD.”
Mike: “With flutes and a bus.”
Martin: “The flute bus!”
Dave: “The flute bus, I think The Medieval Babes have it.  They did beautiful older music but they added a sexy edge to it.”

They play another song from NotSS called “Reward”: “We’re gonna do a song we did last night but it didn’t turn out to good, so we’re going to try it again for you. No, No, for us.  For the greater good. We are true artists.”

“Oneilly’s Strange Dream” sounds so much like “Saskatchewan” in parts.   Those three harmonica notes before the solo are just like in “Claire.”  Dave seems to fill in on some of the words if Martin forgets them.  The end of the song has a really noisy section of chaotic chords and drums.  Martin ends the song with the lyrics from the first verse instead of the final verse.  Dave rescues the song and Martin finishes it.

Tim: All we did was smoke pot in the Bahamas when we recorded that album.  Sorry about that.

Dave tells a very long story about he Bahamas that is very funny (drinking, missing planes, throwing up).

This leads to a mellow, almost acoustic “Jesus.”  Martin messes up a lyric and Dave feeds him a line, so he continues.

Dave: “Pretty great fun for a Monday night for us.  We’re usually at home watching Golden Girls by this time.

They go all the way back to their debut album for “Public Square,” a song they didn’t even play that much back then.

Someone shouts “Halloween Eyes.”  Dave: Halloween has passed, ma’am.”  But they play it anyhow. Really goofy.  They don’t play it much at all: “Don’t look at me with your Halloween eyes.  Don’t hit me with your pumpkin pies.  Devils got horns devils got a tail.  666 gonna fuck you up.  Some even say that he’s got scales. 666 you’re a sitting duck.”  Dave: “They actually really were stones when they wrote that.”

This next song [Bad Time to be Poor] is dedicated to the retirement of Mike Harris [Harris was the 22nd Premier of Ontario from June 26, 1995 to April 14, 2002. He is most noted for the “Common Sense Revolution”, his Progressive Conservative government’s program of deficit reduction in combination with lower taxes and cuts to government spending].

“Satan is the Whistler” is sloppy but rocking with more of that robotic voice “he is the whistler.”

There’s an interesting surf guitar like opening to “Four Little Songs.”  The whole thing is crazy fun.  For Tim’s: “Lets go to France, beautiful France.”
I’m not sure who is singing Don’s part, but they stop “we should get these guy to sing that one.”

Huge creatures prowl the streets tonight
Moon and antlers set the sky alight

Martin: “These beast have antlers, perhaps they’re just moose.”  After the first attempt, Dave chides, “Wait that’s really terrible, hold on.”   They resume the middle part and then the audience sings along pretty well.  During the Neil Young part there’s some gentle jamming with funky bass from Tim.  Whoever sings it has a crazy voice.  They slow things down at the end for “and my brain goes….”  The sound goes slow and woozy.
When they stop that, Martin says, “This is the morning after” and they resume properly, except Dave sings “We drank all our beer and ate all our pizza.” at the end.  And then he introduces, “Drunk guy.  Drunk guy.  Thanks, Justin.”  Mike says, “Dave, I love it we your son gets up to sing with us.”

On his way out Martin says, “Rush never sleeps.”

Thanks to The Keep on Keepin’ Ons and the Poppy Salesman (this makes me think the guy with a guitar was Martin).

The encore starts with “CCYPA.”  Dave says this is the lead off track or the emphasis track about Canadian politics.  As the song ends, Martin says, “Pleased to meet ya.  Dave Love of Love Your Stuff Records.”

It’s followed by a wild “PROD.”  Dave: “Tim’s got the urge, we got the urge”  ….Tim gets a small bass solo.  Then “Let’s give the drums some space.” (a small solo).  And then they say goodbye.

They come back and Tim asks Martin for a few bars of “Martin’s First Day of School.”  “I’ve always liked that song.”  Martin: “The last time we played that was in 1992.”  Dave: “Not even.”

Martin: “Before the world changed.   Before the horrible events of Dave’s birthday.”  Dave’s birthday is September 11.  He said people were calling him up saying, “Dave, happy birthday.  What a tragic day, terrible day, your birthday.”

They end with “Home Again” from Harmelodia and then “Song of the Garden” which they re-recorded fro NotSS.

As they head out, Dave reminds everyone: Tomorrow’s free, so you got no excuse.  Tomorrow night: Precious Little at 9:30.  John Ford at 10: 25 and  Rheostatics later on.

[READ: June 30, 2016] The Instructions

I put off reading this book for six years.  And I see that I started to write about this over a year ago.

The book is massive!  (Category Thirteen even created a web page comparing the size of the book to other things).

It has been a major conversation piece.  I was reading it at the mechanics and an elderly lady and I wound up talking about books for 20 minutes because of it (she was reading Michael Chabon).

I had heard that even though it was big, it was not particularly challenging to read.  So while it is physically bigger than Infinite Jest (see the link above), it has about 40 fewer pages (and while it does have footnotes, there are not very many).

This story is all about Guiron ben-Jusah Maccabee, a ten-year old Israelite who may just be the next Messiah.

The book itself looks like a Bible (from the sheer size) and, indeed, as it opened we see that The Instructions were written by Guiron and translated and re-translated from the Hebrew and the English by Eliyahu of Brooklyn and Emmanuel Liebman.

Then there is a note from the publisher in 2013 (the book came out in 2010) saying that Guiron received no fanciable remuneration for his work, but money will go to the Scholars Fund.  Whether the U.S. Government “convicts, acquits, or fails to prosecute him for crimes relating to “The Damage Proper,” “the 11/17 Miracle,”: or any other event pertaining to “The Guironic War,” note that the Scholars Fund “in neither a terrorist organization nor a sponsor of terrorist organizations.”

That’s a pretty intense introduction.

The whole 1000 page book takes place in just a few days Starting November 14, 2006 (between second and third period).
Although the book is about Guiron, there are dozens of characters in the book–those who are “faithful” to Guiron and those who are not.

Benji Nakamook and Vincie Portite are his two closest allies.  They go to school with him at Aptakisic Junior High.  And they are all in The Cage.  The Cage is sort of a detention class–a high-security education experiment–the kids have all of their classes in this one room that has more security than any other room.

Guiron has been expelled from two other Jewish day schools.  In both instances he was considered brilliant and a genuine scholar but he was removed from both because of his violent tendencies.  And those violent tendencies are right up front.  As the book opens, Benji, Vince and Guiron are trying to waterboard each other. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #545(June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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awesomemanSOUNDTRACK: RALPH’S WORLD-Green Gorilla, Monster & Me (2005).

gorilaI remember being pretty excited about this album because it was Ralph’s newest album after Clark was born.  And it was fun to have a “new” children’s album (they were of course all new to us since we hadn’t bought any children’s music before but the fact that Ralph was still putting new stuff out was good news).

And so it will always be cool (and has a couple of my favorite Ralph songs).  And yet, overall it’s not quite as exciting as some of the other ones.

“Dance Around” is a fun upbeat song that should get everyone moving as each verse gets progressively more energetic.  This would certainly be a favorite.  “Hideaway” sounds like any jangly pop song on the radio—even lyrically it’s not really geared to kids exclusively.  This could have had crossover appeal.  “Red Banana” is a fun song full of absurdities—catchy and wonderful.  “Guitarzan” is a song I never much liked, although this version is a bit more fun than the original.  Nevertheless, it’s so much longer than the better songs, that I get tired of it pretty quickly!  “Me & My Invisible Friend” is  sweet song about having an invisible friend, but I find that I clearly like the more upbeat songs like “Old Red #7” a cool song about making and racing a car.

“River Flow” is a fun travel song, but “Liesl Echo” is our favorite Ralph’s World song of all time! We even named our cat Liesl Echo. in honor of the song.  Ahhh.  “Monster” is a wonderfully funny song about a “scary” puppy.  It’s on a song like that this Ralph’s details shine.  “Tim the Boy” is actually about a series of kids who are contrary and refuse to change their minds.  The end shows how being so stubborn never works out quite as they wanted.  “I Don’t Wanna” is a great punk song (gentle punk of course, but in the spirit of The Ramones).  It’s all about saying you don’t want things because you have to do some work to get them (I don’t want dessert, I don’t want to watch TV).  It’s very fun to sing along to.

“Tower of Blocks” is about the man on the moon, but it pales in comparison to “Yum! Yuk!” which is just fun to sing a long to and gets very silly by the end.  “Swingset” ends the album in a rather generic way—which reminds me more of the kind of music that Ralph’s adult band plays.   So the highs on this disc are pretty great, but there’s a bunch of songs that don’t really grab me.  This was actually Ralph’s last disc on beloved indie label Minty Fresh before he made the jump to Disney.

[READ: July 21, 2013] The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man

Since I’m a fan of Michael Chabon, I’m including this children’s book since we read it this past week.

I’ve enjoyed most of everything I’ve read by Chabon, and I know he has a connection to the comics world.  So a children’s superhero book seems like an obvious hit.

And it is a clever idea.  Awesome Man talks about all of the things he can do (fights bad guys has cool powers), but also talks about the frustrations of being a super hero.  Awesome man gets mad and wants to break things, and sometimes he needs to sit on his bed and relax to calm down.  So the secret identity is not too hard to figure out.  Indeed, the idea of the narrator imaging a super hero identity is cool and fun.

But if the secret identity is pretty easy to figure out, I guess it is therefore not really astonishing?  And that’s just one thing that’s a little unsatisfying about this story. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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mister orangeSOUNDTRACK: MUSE-The 2nd Law (2012).

2ndlawMuse are over the top.  No question about it.  And that’s why I like them so much.

So when the new album opens with crunchy guitars that give way to keyboards that sounds not unlike a Bond movie, it’s not really surprising.  The first verse is fairly mellow, building until Matt Bellamy hits some crazy high notes and the heavy bass guitar kicks in.  But unlike some previous albums, this one is not all heavy heavy guitar rock.  There’s some electronic elements as well.  Especially on the single “Madness” (which was debated about on the alt rock station I listen to, wondering if it was too dance-oriented).  The song uses a dub format for repeating the Muhmuhmuhmuhmuh madness, but the verses are so catchy it’s hard to resist.  It also has a major Queen feel (a common complaint about them, although it’s not like Queen are still making music).  For Muse, this song is kind of understated until the big verse at the end when Bellamy can really soar.  “Panic Station  has a big thumping bass and drum along with some screams that sound out of an 80s metal band but there are horns that give it a dancey feel–always a contradictory outfit, Muse.

“Prelude” sounds indeed like a prelude to what proves to be “Survival” it is big and anthemic (as Muse tends to be).  It is uplifting and, as one may recall, it was the official song of the 2012 London Olympic Games (which is fitting it’s all about winning).

“Follow Me” slows things down a bit in the beginning, but it of course comes back with lots of bombast (this is Muse after all) but there’s also elements of electronica (is that  dubstep sound?) and backing vocals that remind me a lot of U2.  “Animals” has a kind of slinky bass line that wends its way through the song’s guitar solos.  By the end of the song it has grown much heavier with shouting crowds and a furious double bass drums.

“Explorers” is a ballad that grows and retracts.  “Big Freeze” has another big chorus. It’s followed by “Save Me,” a gentle ballad with harmonies.  Then “Liquid Freeze” picks up the pace a bit.  This is all leading to “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” which is my favorite weirdo song in ages.  It is so crazy over the top and audacious that I love it.  It opens with crazy strings and a fast talking jittery computer voice.  And when she reaches the word “unsustainable,” the song goes absolutely bonkers, with crazy sound effects–I would assume most people hate this track, but I think it is very cool.  The final track “The 2nd Law: Isolated System” is a kind of denouement for the whole album–a piano ballad of 5 minutes that has a bit of a dance feel to it.

I can’t get over how much I enjoy this record.  It’s definitely not as heavy as past muse records, but it has some great experimentation and Bellamy absolutely knows a great melody.

[READ: March 8, 2013] Mister Orange

I was walking past the New shelves in the library and this book caught my eye (who says placement isn’t important?).  Something about the title and the cover design was really appealing.  I looked at the blurb–it’s about an American kid during WWII.  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read that, but then there was a line about an artist and comic books.  I immediately thought about The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which is also about comics in the 1940s (although this book is NOTHING like that one at all), and I decided to grab it.  Besides it was only 150 pages.

Well, I never would have guessed that the book is a historical fiction novel about Piet Mondrian, one of my favorite artists of all time.

So the story is about a boy, Linus, and his family living in New York City in 1943.  His oldest brother, Albie has volunteered for the war.  His mother is disappointed in him as she believes that all war is wrong and that nothing good every comes from war.  She is so disappointed, in fact, that she does not hang the blue star that all families with soldiers are given to hang in their windows.  Linus wonders if she is not proud of her son for fighting for what he believes in, but his mother says “Flags are for celebrating, and there is nothing to celebrate about war.”  She doesn’t even let him go to the parade for the departing soldiers.

When Albie leaves, the rest of the family is stuck waiting for word from him.  But life goes on at home and with Albie gone, that means that everyone moves up in responsibility (and shoes get handed down).  Simon (now the oldest at home and a sullen teenager) takes on Albie’s work at the newspaper, Linus picks up Simon’s grocery delivery route (their family owns a grocer’s shop) as well as Simon’s shoes, which are way too big, and Max takes over looking after the youngest children: Sis and Willy.  For the most part we follow Linus as he learns the new route and learns a bit more about the city. (more…)

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