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Archive for the ‘Neal Pollack’ Category

lou_reed-620x412 SOUNDTRACK: LOU REED-Metal Machine Music (1975).

mmmfrom Wikipedia:

Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, intricately mixed at varying speeds by Reed himself. In the album’s liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre.

I don’t know how many people have actually listened to this album all the way through.  There are four 16-minute tracks.  Each one is, on the surface, exactly the same: feedback and more feedback.  In truth, the album is a bit more complicated than that.

There is a guitar in the left speaker and a guitar in the right speaker and each one is feedbacking in very different ways.  Indeed, if you listen to only one speaker at a time, you get a very different experience (I haven’t done that with the whole album, although that’s only because I really only found out about that recently, I did for a few minutes and it was pretty fascinating).

And fascinating is what this release is.  It was unlistenable in 1975, there is no question.  Just as something like Slayer would have been unlistenable in 1975.  But twenty years later, when Sonic Youth was riding high, Metal Machine Music seemed a lot less outrageous (indeed, their 1998 release Silver Sessions was essentially the same structure of feedback).

And now MMM seems very forward thinking.  Whether or not it was a joke or some kind of payback to the label or whatever (liner notes suggest he just really enjoyed enveloping himself in feedback), it’s a remarkable record.  If you can actually sit through it, there are some really interesting moments in it.  There are times when the squall and noise turns eerily beautiful, when the ringing notes take on chime-like status.

And unlike the aforementioned SY album in which they just turned up their amps and left, it sounds like Reed was actually hanging around and manipulating the sound.  You can hear times when new notes/strumming comes in and changes the mood.  And of course, Reed had to edit it for the album.

One of the more interesting moments comes right at the end of the disc.  On the vinyl release, he made a locked groove so the final rotation would keep repeating over and over until you had to get up and manually lift the needle (as if the album wasn’t difficult enough).  On the CD, they repeat that section for about a minute.  And that little repeated section is noteworthy for the rough distorted guitar and chiming feedback that all sounds very cool.

All of this is not to say that this album is enjoyable.  It’s really not.  It’s brutal and harsh and best handled in small doses (even Reed admits that in the notes).  But it is noteworthy and fascinating.  And it may have inspired as many feedback based bands as the Velvet Underground inspired droning bands.

[READ: November 2, 2013] “I loved Lou Reed more than you”

I was sad at the passing of Lou Reed, although I’ve never been a huge fan.  But of all of the eulogies, I knew that Neal Pollack would write the best one.

Neal Pollock is a wonderfully pompous “character” (who is the main character in most of the writing of his that I have read).  This article—while much briefer than most of Pollack’s short pieces—is an honest eulogy of Reed, but is also a hilariously over the top profession of fandom.

When Pollock heard the news of Reed’s death, he was polishing the acetate of his producer’s cut of Metal Machine Music.  He wept, mostly for himself but also “on behalf of all cultured people everywhere.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Kicking a Dead Pig + Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes (1998).

This release came out soon after Young Team, when it seemed like Mogwai was just flooding the market.  It’s a remix album of a number of tracks from Young Team. And, when it was re-released it contained several mixes of the track “Fear Satan” as a bonus disc.

In general, I’m not a fan of remixes.  There, I’ve said it. Back in the flush 90s, when I used to buy a lot of import singles, I enjoyed the B-sides, but was always disappointed when there was a remix rack.  Some are fine.  Indeed, some are pretty good.  But for the most part you get a very long song that is mostly drum machine and sounds and noises.  And I know that they are designed for dancing, but I’m not a dancer, so despite how much techno I own, I’m very rarely thrilled to ge a remix.

Which is  as good a way as any to say that this is a pretty inessential disc, even for Mogwai fans. Even though Mogwai themselves throw a couple of remixes on there.  And for the most part, what we get are washes of sound.  Since Mogwai don’t really do lyrics, it’s not always very obvious what song the remixers are remixing.

  • Hood: “Like Herod” has some interesting staccato, which Mogawi typically doesn’t have.
  • Max Tundra: “Helicon 2” is primarily ride cymbal although a guitar motif does come in (with some pretty harmonics) eventually.
  • Klute: “Summer” (Weird Winter Remix). There’s nothing distinctive about this.
  • Arab Strap: “Gwai on 45.”  I actually expected a lot from this mix because Arab Strap are a weirdly wonderful band and the guys have worked with Mogwai.  But then, they’re not an exciting band–they’re very good, just understated.  And as a result, this remix is okay but nothing too exciting.
  • Third Eye Foundation: “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters” (Tet Offensive Remix) is also okay.
  • Alec Empire: “Like Herod” (Face the Future Remix).  Alec Empire usually turns all of his remixes into super fast like 500 bpm noise explosions (just like Atari Teenage Riot). He doesn’t do that here, and the song just kind of melds in with the rest.
  • DJ Q: “R U Still In 2 It” has a vocal, but it is mostly one word repeated over and over.
  • Kid Loco: “Tracy.”  I liked this track more than many others.
  • Mogwai: “Fear Satan.”  It’s weird to me that you would remix one of your own songs, although I guess it’s fun.  I still like the original better.  And I’m fairly certain this one is different from the one on the next disc.

The four “Fear Satan” remixes are by:

  • Mogwai: delicate, the washes of sound are quiet and warm, and it really features the flute quite a lot. Although by the end, the feedback does come in.
  • μ-Ziq: remix is much more staccato. The washes have been removed.  There’s very little connection to the original.
  • Surgeon: remix begins electronically and builds as a slow wave.  It’s pretty much one note getting louder and louder until about a minute left when it changes tone.  It’s hard to imagine even calling this a remix.
  • My Bloody Valentine: at 16 minutes,  the MBV remix stands out for length. After about five minutes of interesting feedback squalls it shifts to a high-pitched noise, almost like a drill. After a few minutes of this it shifts into a very pretty electronic song.  By the end it’s a pounding heavy drum fill rocker.  Any resemblance to “Fear Satan” seems purely coincidental, but it’s a wild ride.

[READ: March 11, 2011] The Revolution Will Be Accessorized

I only heard about this anthology when I read the Sam Lipsyte piece from it.  I didn’t really like his piece, but the rest of the anthology sounded intriguing.  It was put out by BlackBook magazine, which I have a sort of vague awareness of, but couldn’t really say anything about (it’s some kind of counter-cultural fashion magazine or something).  But it seems like the counter-cultural aspect really lends sway here.

This anthology is a collection of short stories, essays and interviews.  There’s also an introduction by Jay McInerney

JAY McINERNEY-Introduction
He talks about BlackBook and the essays contained here. (more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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nealSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Made in USA (1986 released in 1995).

usaThe liner notes explain a lot of what was behind this disc.  The then largely unknown Sonic Youth was asked to score a cool indie film, which later became a less cool more mainstream film and ultimately went straight to video.

The CD is mostly background music, but it is notable for how mainstream it sounds (for Sonic Youth in the mid-80s) and for how bad it sounds–like it was recorded in a can.

It’s mostly completely listenable soundtrack mood music.  It’s nothing to rush out and buy, especially if you like the noisier SY stuff, but, and this is something of a shock, its sounds quite nice, almost ambient at times.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, it’s worth noting that “Secret Girl” from EVOL appears in a slightly different form (twice actually).

[READ: July 29, 2009] The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

This is the first book published by McSweeney’s Books.  And it is indeed handsome, with a nice yellow ribbon for marking your page.

And so, who is Neal Pollack?  Well, as you all know, Neal Pollack is the greatest living writer today.  He has been writing for decades and has written some of the most important books, and the most important articles that anyone has ever read. His book on life as an African America has not only impressed Oprah, but it has inspired Toni Morrison and Henry Louis Gates.

And, as you can see from the back of the book, everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to Normal Mailer sings his praises. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (2008).

sigurSigur Rós are nothing if not ethereal.  Their music is constantly floating up in outer space somewhere.  So imagine the surprise when the first song of this disc opens with some thudding drums.  And, there are acoustic instruments aplenty this time around.  Their previous disc Hvarf/Heim had them playing a number of acoustic pieces in various unexpected settings.  And clearly the experience must have been a good one.

“Illgresi” is largely played on an acoustic guitar and “Ára Bátur” opens with a very pretty piano melody.  But lest you think this is Sigur Rós unplugged, “Ára Bátur” turns into a nearly 9 minute epic complete with orchestra, choir and as much ethereal sounds that you can cram into one song.  Indeed, a few songs before that is “Festival” another nine minute epic.  Although like in the beginning, there is a lot of bass, and a lot of drum.

But despite all of the musical changes, the band is still clearly Sigur Rós.  Jon Thor Birgisson’s voice is still unmistakable, and his lyrics are still inscrutable.  In fact, the final song, “All Alright” is sung almost entirely in English(!) and I didn’t realize until I just read about it recently.

In some ways this disc is not as satisfying as previous Sigur Rós releases as it doesn’t take you to quite the same planes of existence as past discs have.  And yet, in other ways it is more satisfying as it shows an earthbound side of them, allowing us to see their craft in action.

Despite any criticisms, Sigur Rós is still an amazing band, and this is an amazing record, too.

[READ: March 14, 2009] McSweeney’s #2

McSweeney’s 2nd issue retains some of the features from the first, and yet, some things have changed.

Similarities:

First: The cover retains that very wordy style that the first issue had.  There are more jokes (a good pun about Big Name authors).

Second: The letters column is still there.  What’s different is that in addition to some unusual letters (including the complete address of a letter writer), there are conversational letters between Gary Pike and Mr. McSweeney.  There’s also several small entries from Brent Hoff.  We are also treated to a letter from Jon Langford of the Mekons, Sarah Vowell, and a piece from Jonathan Lethem (the last of which was put in the letters column because they didn’t know what else to do with it). (more…)

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nevermindSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003).

yoshimiHow do you follow up the fantastic Soft Bulletin?  If you’re The Flaming Lips, you simultaneously pull back and push forward.  I often thing of Yoshimi as Bulletin part 2 but that’s really not right or fair.  Yoshimi has a more Pink Floyd vibe: it’s quite mellow and folky.  But nothing the Lips do can be completely commercial, so you get things in every song that add immensely to the sound, yet prevent it from complete accessibility.

The opening song “Fight Test” begins with an ominous voice saying “The test begins…  NOW!!” with loud distorted crashes, and yet it quickly turns into one of their most delicate and catchy songs.  The only nod to peculiarity is the watery bass lines that fill the song.  It’s a mystery why this song wasn’t huge.

The next track, “One More Robot” is a delicate song reminiscent of Radiohead with the walking bassline and soft vocals.  This leads to the fabulous title track “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Ropbots Pt 1.”  In which yes, Yoshimi disciplines her body to take on the evil machines.  It’s another shoulda-been single, with strumming acoustic guitar and more of that fabulous fat bass. ” Pt 2,” on the other hand is a noisy cacophonous march depicting the fight.  It includes Yoshimi P-We from the Boredoms and OOIOO adding appropriate shrieks and screams.

Two more delicate songs follow: “In the Morning of the Magicians” is one of their longer songs and is quite mellow.  It also features a very lengthy instrumental section with more of that awesome bass.  “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is the most techno sounding song I can think of by the Lips.  It seems like maybe that touring work with Beck influenced them a bit.

“Are You a Hypnotist??” is a little louder and plays with the ascending chord progressions that Wayne does so well.   An uplifting track, with fun, interesting notes thrown in.  “It’s Summertime” has some great rubbery bouncing bass noises in the beginning, and it slowly morphs into a heavenly chorus.

The real highlight is “Do You Realize??”  It’ a song that goes from happy to sad to happy all in the space of a few lines.  But musically it is uplifting, with choruses and swelling orchestration.  I gather this was used for some ads, but I’m just surprised it wasn’t everywhere!

“All We Have is Now” is another delicate song, with gentle verses sung in an impossibly high falsetto.  The chorus is the most interesting part, with great bass notes interrupting the reverie.  The album ends with a gorgeous instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” which is an apt title (Pavonis Mons being a volcano of Mars) and it sounds quite interstellar.

What’s most notable about this album is that there’s nothing that stands out as peculiar from the rest of the record (except “Yoshimi Pt 2”). It’s a very  constant record, mellow and comforting.  And yet I’m not going to call it safe, because it’s not.  I don’t know if it made as many critical lists as Bulletin, but I know it sold better, and it seems like a really good place to start for latter days Lips.

[READ: February 18, 2009] Never Mind the Pollacks

After reading several Pollack stories in McSweeney’s I discovered that he had written a novel. This novel.

With an awesome title! Most of the awesomeness is purely luck that his name is Pollack (Never Mind the Debraskis doesn’t have the same ring). (more…)

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mcsweeneys1SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Hear It Is (1986).

hear-it-isI’ve claimed that I love the Lips, but then I was very harsh about their cover of “White Christmas,” and I noted that I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack of  Christmas on Mars very much.  So, I felt I owed them some love.  But my recollection of their early stuff was that it was pretty weird and hard to listen to.

And yet, I proved myself wrong.  Hear It Is is not the Flaming lips of the early 2000’s.  It’s almost like the bratty younger brother of that band.  Only Wayne and Michael Ivins are present, and the band is pretty much just guitar, bass and drums.  The guitar is distorted and noisy (except when it’s acousticy and mellow).  The album doesn’t sound too far out of place for a college radio record in the late 80s.

Except of course that Wayne and the boys are pretty out there. The music is psychedelic, acid inspired and quite punk.  So you get songs like “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” a seven minute epic of heavy riffs and screaming, but also of background “Ahhhh’s”.  You also get “With You” a song that starts out like a pretty, acoustic ballad. “Godzilla Flick” is a ballad like no other.  And yet despite all of the freakouts and noise, really at this stage what you get is a Led Zeppelin inspired heavy garage band having a lot of fun.  To say that this is going to blow your mind would be unfair, but to anyone who says the early stuff is unlistenable, they are totally wrong.   Hear It Is is sloppy, punky and a little ridiculous, the ideal incubator for what will become the Lips of 2000.

This CD comes with a cover of “Summertime Blues.”  This disc was reissued along with their initial EP and some bonus tracks on the disc Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid.

[READ: 1998 and January 10, 2009] McSweeney’s #1

I have been reading McSweeney’s since its inception.  (My copy of this issue even has the two page typed letter that explains the failure of Might magazine and the origins of this one. However, it’s been over ten years since I read the first issues.  Given my new perspective on McSweeney’s, and how I read just about everything they release, I thought it was about time to go back to the beginning and proceed through the issues until I meet up where I first started reviewing them.

Issue #1 has many features that are absent in later issues:

First is the cover.  This cover is simply filled with words; practically littered with them.  There are subtitles, there are jokes, there’s all sorts of things (I mean, just look at the full title of this issue).

Second is the letters column.  The difference with this letters column compared to most publications is that they are all (or mostly) nonsense.  One comes from an author whose piece is accepted into the issue (Morgan Phillips).  Another is a funny/silly letter from Sarah Vowell.  And there’s a letter to his cousin from John Hodgman (whose comic potential may not have been tapped at this point?). (more…)

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