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Archive for the ‘Millard Kaufman’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Dry (1992).

This first PJ Harvey album was a revelation in 1992.  It was angry and loud and awfully disconcerting. And, perhaps most importantly, it showed a strong woman, unafraid to point fingers at foolishness around her. (Yes, I miss the 90s).

It was also raw and abrasive and, at times, scary.  The opening track featured discordant music and vocals that were more than a little uncomfortable.  “O Stella” has more uncomfortable vocals with super cool and slightly off harmonies.  The guitar is a great distorted mass and the bass is low and heavy.  A great track.

“Dress” is one of the least abrasive tracks musically, which really lets the lyrics come to the fore. And her lyrics are wonderful throughout the disc–she attacks conventions of femininity and flips expectations.  And although “Dress” has a very simple chorus–just the line “If you put it on”–it is catchy as anything.

But it’s not all loud songs, either.  The wonderfully titled “Happy and Bleeding” features some intriguing quiet guitar work and whispered verses.  It grows in strength but never wails like the other songs.  For real wailing, “Sheela-na-Gig” is your song. Terrifically rocking and obscene, it’s a funny, clever awesome alt rock song.

Harvey experiments with falsetto (although nothing like she will on Let England Shake) on “Hair,” a cool twist on the Samson and Delilah story.  “Plants and Rags” makes exquisite use of a creepy violin to bring some extra sounds to an already cool song.

It’s a stunning debut and showed that Harvey was a fearless singer.

[READ: February 27, 2011] Misadventure

This is Millard Kaufman’s final novel (after the very cool Bowl of Cherries).  The Afterword (written by Kaufman’s son) seems to suggest that Millard actually wrote this back in the 60s.  There are elements of this book that make me thing that he did write it in the sixties (and then obviously updated particulars to make it contemporary).  It just feels circa the 60s and it feels like the book of a younger man (Kaufman was 92 when he died).

The story opens with a dead body and a real estate agent.  And it quickly develops into a tidy noir fiction with double-crossing and undermining and all kinds of interesting twists.  I don’t read noir or “mysteries” as a rule, so this is kind of a novel novel to me.  Accordingly, I can’t compare it to the genre. (more…)

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bowl.jpgSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Evangelista [CST041] (2007).

carla.jpgThis record comes from the mighty Constellation label. Don and Ian are super nice guys in Montreal who release some fantastic music. I have been a fan for years, and I have all of their releases. I get them sight unheard, because I know they release good, quality music with great packaging. They came to my attention through Godspeed You Black Emperor, a fantastic instrumental band, and their spinoffs (A Silver Mt. Zion, etc.).

Initially, they released pretty much only bands that had connections to each other (to see who plays on each others’ records, you’d need a spreadsheet about ten pages long). They have since branched out to include some really notable musicians like Vic Chesnutt (!) and Carla Bozulich.

Carla Bozulich was the singer for the great band The Geraldine Fibbers. gfib.jpg She has a very strong voice, and sounds not unlike Diamanda Galas, meaning she can hit the high notes, and the powerful notes, and the screechy notes, and tends to be a bit scary from time to time. In the context of the Geraldine Fibbers, it was really an amazing thing to behold.

They were a sort of country-punk band, and they were really tight. Carla’s vocals could scream or soothe depending on her mood. And working together, they were pretty great.

I mention this band because Carla’s solo album is a little too free-form for her own good. She thanks the producers for letting her get out things that have been inside. And I’m sure that was cathartic. However, I find that her voice needs the stabilizing force of a solid backing band. This solo album has very erratic (and very interesting) music, but when combined with her voice, it’s just a little too much chaos. With the Fibbers, the grounding of the backing band and structured songs really made her voice shine. On this one, there’s just so much going on that it’s all a bit of a mess.

The music itself is actually pretty great. It’s very unusual, with strings, and staccato sounds. Her voice also sounds great. After all, it’s been a few years since the Fibbers broke up, so it’s nice that she can still hit the notes. It’s just that the off-kilter music really competes with her off-kilter voice leading to an overall unsatisfying experience.

She has a new one coming out with a full band called Evangelista. I’ve listened through once, and it sounds much more cohesive. I think the solo record was just something to get out of her system.

[READ: March 10, 2008] Bowl of Cherries

McSweeney’s published this book. And the only story behind this book that you may have heard is that the author is old. Really old, not just old for McSweeney’s old, but like nineties old. It’s something of a shame that this was the first (and pretty much only) thing I heard about this book. And yet it is an interesting background in and of itself. (more…)

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