Archive for the ‘Michael J. Nelson’ Category

axe3SOUNDTRACK: SPIRITS OF THE RED CITY-“Halfway Poem” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

spiirtdLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, but I assume that this folkie collective uses this kind of instrumentation all the time, although I have to suggest that two upright basses and a viola seems excessive.  The beginning of this video shows an early aborted attempt with different instruments (accordion, banjo, flute, drum and ukulele), so that sounds promising–and honestly the overload of large strings doesn’t sound bad at all in the final product.

It’s interesting that bands with lots of members are a kind of trend–it’s so impractical.  And yet when done well, it’s quite lovely.  And when these seven folks starts singing along near the end of the song it’s really pretty.

The story of this video is also interesting.  They had planned to film their video outside.  But on the day of their video shoot it was 33 degrees below zero (in Minnesota).  They have some brief footage at the beginning and then the video switches to them inside a quite cozy cabin.

It’s hard to tell from just this one song what kind of folk collective Spirits of the Red City is, but I enjoyed this song quite a bit.

[READ: February 20, 2015] Axe Cop Volume 3

Axe Cop Volume 3 returns to the format of Volume 1 (the one I liked better) with a mix of shorter comics and the return of Ask Axe Cop!

The first comic we see features the return of Bat Warthog Man and features the practical science of Chemist M (whom Axe Cop buys for ten dollars). It also has a chihuahua who was a soldier that was turned into a chihuahua when the soldier’s dog bit him (Malachai’s understanding of how transformations work makes me hope he never gets bitten by anything).  The dog can turn back into a man “only when I am not ready to fight…which is almost never.”  There’ also a hilarious scene where Axe Cop is inside the imagination of a mouse which is in color and is “full of unicorns and cheese.”

The Ask Axe Cops are more intense in these later variations, like the one that asks if he ever got in trouble (he got in trouble with his mom when he chopped the head off a rabbit who was not following rabbit rules).  We also see the introduction of head trash–a place where all the heads that axe cop has removed are disposed.  There’s dating advice (very sound); a jumping competition and a hilarious bit about Halloween (where he gets 1,051 candies to share with his friends, but the bad guys have poisoned 1,040 pieces of it.  There is also Axe Cop’s strangely violent generosity on Thanksgiving (yipes).  (more…)

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yourlifeSOUNDTRACK: PORTISHEAD-Third (2008).

3rdThis is probably one of the spookiest albums I’ve heard in a long time.  And, boy, do I love it.

Portishead has been away from the music scene for about ten years.  They’d had a couple of hits, sort of gloomy trip hop all held together by Beth Gibbons’ otherworldly voice (“Nobody loves me, it’s true, not like you do”).  But frankly, after ten years I wasn’t even sure if I cared about Portishead anymore.  And then, I heard the songs!

Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds even more ghostly than before.  And the noises that Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley make are totally beyond the pale.  Some of the music sounds like pieces from a late night horror movie.  Take the bizarro verse music of “Hunter,” guitar chords stretched beyond recognition alternating with a keyboard riff straight out of “Revenge of the Cheapo Zombie Monster.” Or the aggressive soundtrack of “Machine Gun,” in which Gibbons sings over a musical piece that is more or less an electronic drum that sounds like a machine gun.  It’s pretty intense.

But just when you think the whole disc is nothing but uneasy listening, they thrown in the beautiful acoustic simplicity of “The Rip,” a simple acoustic guitar playing over Gibbons’ sultry voice, or “Deep Water” a minute and a half of old timey ukulele music.  Of course, these songs are bookeneded by two creepy tracks: “Plastic” in all its eeriness, and “We Carry On” some of the most unusual sounds ever to be called music (aside from Einsturzende Neubauten, of course).

Somehow all of the unsettling sounds work wonderfully together.  And, although I haven’t processed all the lyrics yet, previous Portishead albums would lead me to believe that things aren’t very peachy in Gibbons’ world.  And yet, despite that, I find the album very uplifting and not at all depressing.

Maybe every band should take ten years between records if it yields results this great.

[READ: November 16, 2008] The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life®

I used to work with the author of this book.  Perhaps a dozen or so years ago, Christopher (just Chris back then) Monks and I worked at Wordsworth Books in beautiful Cambridge, MA.   When I learned that he was writing for McSweeney’s (and has since become the editor of their online website) I was very impressed and happy for him and not at all jealous or seething with envy at his wonderful, picturesque life in the Massacusetts suburbs.  But, more to the point, when I read his works, and his website, he displayed humor that was in little evidence at work.  (Talk about compartmentilization…).

Anyhow, he recently sent a generic email to everyone who has ever written him to say that he has a book out (and would we all go buy it, please).  Well, I’m always game to help someone who over the years I have come to consider a former co-worker. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ART BRUT-It’s a Bit Complicated (2007).

Art Brut is a really great punky band from England. Their first album contained two great singles: “Formed a Band” and “My Little Brother.” The premise of the band is that they play fast but melodic songs–they’re punk, but not thrash, and the songs are crisp. But the really unique aspect is the singer, Eddie Argos, who basically talks rather than sings, in his strong London accent. In fact, in “Formed a Band” he states: “And yes, this is my singing voice; It’s not irony; And it’s not rock and roll; I’m just talking; To the kids.”

This sets the stage for the rest of that album and this, the successor. Now, a band like this is stuck with two options: continue with this style of speaking/singing and possibly become a novelty or move on to a new style, thereby belying the lyrics from their manifesto. They chose option one. And the good news is that, while not making a better album that the first one–which is pretty fantastic–they come up with a slightly more mature album, which is still pretty great.

When your style of music is almost a gimmick, it’s not easy to get past that. The first two or three times you listen to the record, you are totally sucked in by Argos talking to you. Sometimes he’s yelling, sometimes he’s almost singing, and most of the time he’s being cockily self-deprecating (how you do that, I’m not sure). And you start to think of the band as little more than a spoken word record with backing music. Until you start to listen to the music. Then you gain a fuller appreciation for the band. The musicians are all top notch, playing rhythmic and catchy punk. Some songs have great chugga chugga riffs, others have really catchy guitar soloing type riffs, and all the time, the songs maintain a verse/chorus structure that keeps the songs from being simply rants set to music.

The album is fast and furious. The songs are funny without being twee, or tiring themselves out. The closest band I could compare them to is King Missile. Those of you who remember “Detachable Penis” from the 90s know King Missile. (more…)

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goth.jpglove.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE MONKEES: Best of the Monkees (2003).

monkees.jpgOne of my college roommates (a guy from Ireland) absolutely LOVED the Monkees (and he was from Ireland, which may not be that weird, but were the Monkees big in Ireland?). Anyhow, he not only had the boxed set that Rhino put out several years ago, but he actually owned all of their records. All of them! I didn’t even know they put out enough for a boxed set. (Evidently, they put out something like six, and then someone left the band and they kept going…what a sordid career!).

My wife, it turns out, also loved the Monkees, but that was when she was a kid, and she and her best friend watched them daily and knew all the songs. I recall watching the show myself, but when we Netflixed the first season I realized I didn’t remember anything about it. Oh, and that you really have to be in junior high to watch it, but I digress.

As a surprise I bought her the Best of the Monkees CD. She was thrilled to get it, and I’ve just been listening to it and realized that it’s a really great collection of songs. There is, of course, the argument that they didn’t play their own instruments, and this is true, somewhat. Although they did eventually start playing their own on later albums. But all that is just splitting hairs.

The album is certainly great. Wonderfully poppy songs, that are clearly from the late 60s/early 70s. Okay, so they didn’t write most of them, but who cares. Back then (as now of course) poppy bands didn’t write songs, they just sang them. I’m not sure if people know the Monkees anymore. I don’t know if the huge hits (“Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) are still familiar to people but man, they brought back fun memories. And, really, they hold up quite well as great little pop gems.

In addition to the poppy songs, there’s a few pretty ballads, a few all-out rockers, and, as befitting the trippiness of the show, some psychedelic freak-outs (check out “Randy Scouse Git” and “Porpoise Song”). It is nothing if not enjoyable. So put aside all the negative associations you may have with them, and cheer up, sleepy Jean. Oh what can it mean?

Oh yeah, and the CD comes with a 5 track bonus karaoke version of their biggest hits. Whoo hoo!

[READ: December 4, 2007] Goth-Icky & Love Sick

I discovered these books (and his other two in this series) when I was mooching around looking for information about Mystery Science Theater 3000. I learned that Mike Nelson had not only written some books, but that he got involved in this fun series of graphic heavy, silly confections. I bought one in the series, Happy Kitty Bunny Ponybecause how could you pass up a title like that? And, when Sarah looked at it, she discovered that the pictures in it would be make awesome decoupage. And, if you go to her Sew Buttons site, you’ll see some fabulous creations with some groovy pictures and instructions for how she did them.


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megacheese.jpgSOUNDTRACK: SPOON-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007).

gagaga.jpgThis record was heralded as the greatest thing ever when it was released. Every review I read tried to outdo the other reviews with praise for this record. I can be swayed by reviews, especially if everyone is in consensus of a CD. And, I had put Spoon on my short list of bands to check out, so why not check out the best record of the year?

Well, as it turned out I was really unimpressed with it when I put it on. The first song, “Don’t Make Me a Target” was really solid, but the rest sort of drifted away into a mist of meaninglessness. In fact, the repetitive riff of “The Ghost of You Lingers” made it impossible for me to think of anything but Bon Jovi’s “Runaway,” and I will forever curse them for that.

Usually, if I’m not that impressed with an album, I don’t listen to it that much. I try to give everything 3 or 4 listens to make sure, but if nothing clicks, then that’s it. For reasons that I won’t go into, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga got multiple airings in my house, and then, sometime around the 12th listen, it really clicked, and I got it. What’s especially weird about this is that it’s not even a very complicated album (usually some of those prog rock records take lots of listens to really get it), in fact many of the songs are downright minimalist. So what was the hold up? I have no idea.

I’m not willing to say it’s the best record of the year, or even that it’s my favorite recent record. But now that I found the key to it, I really do enjoy it, and I’m listening to it with new ears. It reminds me of a more commercial Wilco (the harder, rockier Wilco of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot). So if you’ve been put off by the hype of this record and aren’t impressed, let it sink in, maybe you’ll find it enjoyable too.

[READ: November 8, 2007] Movie Megacheese.

The most exciting thing that happened to me when I went to Boston College was that my cable TV selection improved vastly. I was exposed to the Comedy Channel or Ha! or whatever it was called before it turned into Comedy Central. And the best thing I had ever seen was Mystery Science Theater 3000. It had everything–cheesy movies, snarky comments, puppets, a silhouette on the bottom of the screen! It was amazing. My only regret was that I had missed so many seasons of it. Well, of course, silly me, Comedy Central is king of the reruns and soon, I too was circulating the tapes with the rest of them. (more…)

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