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Archive for the ‘Oscar Wilde’ Category

earnestSOUNDTRACK: THE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward [CST018] (2001).

Born_into_Trouble_as_the_Sparks_Fly_UpwardNotice that the band’s name has gotten longer.  That could be because they have added three new members (which means they are slowly growing to be the size of GYBE anyway). In addition to Efrim, Thierry and Sophie, there is now Becky Foon on cello, Ian Ilavsky on guitar and organ and Jessica Moss on violin (all Constellation stalwarts).

The first song is the nine minute “Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling From the Sky!”  Echoed drum sounds slowly grow louder before a slow violin plays a mournful melody.  But with the new members, there is now a cello to accompany the violin, making this album sound even more classical.  Three minutes in, the piano takes over (and the strings slowly fade).  The piano is a bit prettier and more accomplished sounding (even if it has only been a year since the last album).  Despite the addition of all of the extra instruments, the song still veers pretty far from GYBE territory.  It feels very acoustic (what with the piano), and while the song is repetitive it never feels like it is epic or building towards something–it just grows bigger and more beautiful as more instruments enter the mix.

“This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird’s Fallen” opens with what sounds like bird noises, but may actually be a child.  The song is primarily echoed guitars which lay a foundation over which the violins and cellos play slow mournful notes.  The song grows as more instruments  play along, including some gentle percussion, and it all seems to end too soon.

“Built Then Burnt [Hurrah! Hurrah!]” is a spoken piece.  Efrim doesn’t recite the words–it sounds like a child (but may be a young woman).  The reading is dramatic and works very well with the slowly building strings that comprise the bulk of this song.

some lines:

Why are we all so alone here
All we need is a little more hope, a little more joy
All we need is a little more light, a little less weight, a little more freedom.
….
Good words, strong words, words that could’ve moved mountains
Words that no one ever said
We were all waiting to hear those words and no one ever said them
And the tactics never hatched
And the plans were never mapped
And we all learned not to believe
And strange lonesome monsters loafed through the hills wondering why
And it is best to never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever wonder why

As that song fades, the aggressive strings of “Take These Hands and Throw Them in the River” take over. This song features Efrim singing in full voice–the recognizable voice of SMtZ.  On this song his voice is processed and echoed and so the strange timbre of his voice doesn’t quite register because it sounds so…unusual anyway.  I really enjoy the way this song sounds so much bigger than the rest.  At around 4 minutes, while the song begins to build –both instrumentally and vocally, new strings bring more intensity until the whole thing just fades away to the sounds of actual birds which chirp for about 2 minutes.

“Could’ve Moved Mountains…”is eleven minutes long and shows incredible restraint, especially in the vocals.  It opens with slow bass notes.  The whispered spoken vocals return and the song is kind of ominous..  About three minutes in quiet harmony vocals accompany him and soon after, strings are added and continue to grow louder.  The instrumental section is quite pretty although still melancholy.  Around 8 minutes in, a guitar riff begins playing a similar melody to the strings. It plays for a bit and then the strings rejoin the song, playing a more hopeful melody.  The song ends with some kids talking and singing as the song melds into….

“Tho You Are Gone I Still Often Walk W/You”  This song opens with piano and cello, a sad intro indeed.  I like that after a minute the song jumps keys unexpectedly while keeping the rhythm otherwise the same.  The song doesn’t vary much from this simple piano and strings feel although it ebbs and flows in intensity.

“C’monCOMEON (Loose An Endless Longing)” breaks the melancholy of the previous son with a big buzzy electric guitar chord.  Strings eventually come in and the song builds and builds, complete with interesting percussion.  This song is probably the closest to a GYBE song with a dramatic build and very satisfying chord progressions.  When the fast bass notes kick in around 3 minutes it seems like the song is going to grow even faster, but instead, it fades away to some ringing chimes–what sounds like a giant echo chamber (a really neat effect).  That calm is broken by a series of horns playing one note at a time, louder and louder (this whole middle section reminds me of the middle of “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd–in fact I have found a number of comparisons to some of Floyd’s trippier moments on this and other albums).  And then the drums come crashing back in.  It’s a very different song that resumes–loud bass, lots of drums and everything mixed loud enough to distort the sound.

The final song is “The Triumph of Our Tired Eyes.”  It opens with guitar harmonics and Efrim’s disatnat voice.  It’s a pretty and delicate song, joined by strings and a genuinely pretty vocal melody: “There’s beauty in this land, but I don’t often feel it.”  And as the strings swell and swell, the voices sing the refrain: “musicians are cowards” over and over.  The song and disc end on a surprisingly quiet and beautiful note.

When the songs ends, there’s a few seconds of children singing lyrics to the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” melody although the words don’t fit like: “when we finally cross the barricade…”

I really like the way this album plays with the new style of music the band has embraced but also admits some of the strengths from pretty much everyone else’s other band.

[READ: April 4, 2016] The Importance of Being Earnest–The Graphic Novel

This play is one of the great plays in English literature.  Oscar Wilde is at his best, writing witticism upon witticism–each line is a funny rejoinder to the previous one and the wit is infectious.

The story is fairly simple, but he adds so many twists that it’s almost easy to get lost in the story.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that reading the play is a sure way to get lost in the deceptions.  And that’s why this graphic novel is so excellent.

I’ve always maintained that it is difficult to “read” a play, especially if there are dozens of characters.  The short, one act plays that I’ve been reading over the last years are fairly easy to follow, but when you have 20 named characters in three acts, it’s not always easy to keep people straight.  And that’s why to really appreciate Shakespeare you need to see it.  Well, this graphic novel effectively performs the play for us.  The dialogue is exact and there are no changes from the original (except for any stage directions, which are left out of the text, but are presumably addressed in the art).

What’s (intentionally) confusing about this play is that the two main characters are trying to deceive other people about their identity.  Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing are two gentlemen–well off, single, clever.  Algy talks about how he likes to go Bunburying.  Which means he has “invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down unto the country whenever I choose.  …If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinarily bad health, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you.”  This comes up because John has informed Algy that he “has always pretended to have a  younger brother of the name Ernest, who lives in the [city] and who gets into the most dreadful scrapes.”

They have lies in common: each man lies to a group about a phony other person whom they use as an excuse for bad behavior. (they are old friends as well, of course). (more…)

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naughty SOUNDTRACK: GEM CLUB-Tiny Desk Concert #181 (December 16, 2011).

gem clubGem Club is a quiet band.  During this set there are three members:  Christopher Barnes on keyboards and lead vocals, cellist Kristen Drymala and vocalist Ieva Berberian (who is eerily silent and still for much of the performance).

The first song, “Animal” features Barnes on keyboards, playing a simple melody and Drymala, playing a low and loud cello to accompany (when her first note comes in, it’s really striking).  She also sings a wonderful harmony vocal.  Barnes’ voice is almost a whisper, but between his voice and the vibrato on the keys, it sounds really big (but still quiet).  I really enjoyed the way the only “melody” she played on cello was at the very end of the song–a brief riff to signal the end.

“Breakers” opens with some rough cello playing and then a gentle echoed keyboard.  Ieva Berberian didn’t do anything in the first song, she just hovered mysteriously in the background. But for the second song she hits occasional tambourine notes (which sound practically like explosions amid the delicate echoing keyboards).  Perhaps the most interesting part of the song is watching Drymala tap on some  colorful bells with her foot to create a lovely melody.

For the final song, “252” Barnes says it is kind of a beast, (although it doesn’t sound any more complex than the previous two to me).  The piano is echoed and Ieva Berberian finally sings backing vocals.  Her voice is a little haunting and it works very nicely with Barnes’ voice.  The melody is beautiful.

Incidentally, the blurb says that this is the first time they’ve amplified a singer’s voice (they ran his voice through a chorus pedal to give it that otherworldly echo).  I have been listening to a lot of loud music lately, and this was a perfect counterpoint.

[READ: December 20, 2015] History’s Naughty Bits

This is the kind of book that promises to be very funny.  And then it turns out to be mostly funny but also rather scholarly.  Which is not bad thing, it’s just not as raucous as one might have imagined.

Dolby begins by dismissing the idea that “naughty” things are a recent invention and then proceeds to go through the history of human culture to show examples of things that would certainly be considered naughty today (some are quite shocking).

She starts with Classical Greece where women were expected to remain chaste, except for hetairai, high-class courtesans, who were well-educated and respected.  That’s some choice.  Adultery was considered less of a sin if was committed with a prostitute. (more…)

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may2016SOUNDTRACK: FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE-Tiny Desk Concert #164 (October 6, 2011).

fowI have never really gotten into Fountains of Wayne even though a) they write incredibly Cathy indie pop, the kind of music I rather like and b) their name comes from a store that I have driven by many times in my life.  I think I didn’t like their first single when it came out or something, so I just dismissed them and never looked back.

Which is a shame because this set is full of delightful, slightly dark pop gems.

Fountains of Wayne put out a couple records in the 1990s and then went away and put out a couple more in the 2000s.  There are two excellent songwriters in the band singer guitarist Chris Collingwood and bassist Adam Schlesinger.  Schlesinger has been writing pop hits for (a lot of) movies and other lucrative gigs.   Clearly he has a knack for pop goodness.  And Fountains of Wayne is on the good side of pop.

“The Summer Place” opens with bouncy chords (the two guitarists play acoustic guitars).  But despite the poppyness, the lyrics are a little dark: “She’s been afraid of the Cuisinart since 1977 / now when she opens up her house she won’t set foot in the kitchen.”  I love the harmony vocals and how the second acoustic guitar sounds vaguely like a violin on the single notes.  “Valley Winter Song” is an older song.  It still has that sound–catchy guitars, nice harmonies and a notable bass line.

“A Dip in the Ocean” (like the first song, it comes from their then new album) features a prominent bass line and wonderful oohs and ahhs.  The lyrics are clever and funny.  Based on these two songs, I’d say that the 2011 album is pretty excellent.

When they ask if they can do one more, Stephen Thompson says that “that clock is one song fast,” and they launch into one of their older songs, the lovely ballad, “Troubled Times.”  The video of the song gets cut off just before the end, but if you listen to the audio you can hear the last few chords.

My friend Steve yelled at me for not liking this band, and I can see that he was right.

[READ: April 21, 2016] “In the Tower”

I had been trying to get caught up on all of the Harper’s stories that I’ve read.  These next two get me caught up to the present, with a couple really old ones left. And man, these two stories are pretty dark.

This is an excerpt from a short story (it must be a long short story).  The narrator, now forty-two years old, explains that he has found a refuge from his family–his tormentors–in the tower of their house.  The tower is a long-unused library which he was familiar enough with to know that the left side was philosophical books and the right side was belletristic books.  He was told over and over to not go into the library.  But it was his refuge.

He grabbed a book, it was by Montaigne.  He didn’t know what he was grabbing as he didn’t light a lamp for fear of mosquitos.

Much of this excerpt is filled with a kind of perverse Oscar Wilde litany:

“In every one of my statements there was nothing but this mockery and scorn in which they will one day perish, but I think that one day I will perish in their mockery and scorn.”

“Our unhappiness isn’t something we are talked into, unlike our happiness, which we talk ourselves into daily”

After several paragraphs denouncing his parents as conflating everything he has ever said he says he has always been in good hands with Montaigne.

“My family was too late in seeing that they had bred their destroyer an annihilator….How often they said that they would have preferred a dog to me, because a dog would have guarded them and cost less than me.”

As the excerpt ends and he is hiding with his Montaigne, he hears his family looking for him saying they hope nothing has happened to him.

It’s hard to know what is really going on, as this narrator sounds totally paranoid, but I didn’t love the excerpt enough to want to find out more.

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Dynasty (1979).

I was pretty excited to buy this album when it came out–a new Kiss album that wasn’t solo albums!  Woo hoo!  And the fact that it was disco?  Well, even though I said I “hated disco,” I didn’t really know what disco sounded like then (and really, aside from the middle “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” it’s not really a disco record) and plus my other favorite band was the Village People (and really, that makes a lot of sense–tw0 bands in over-the-top costumes talking about sexuality that I totally didn’t understand).

So, this album is hard for me to be critical about because it was such an essential part of my childhood, especially “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  I love it, and yet I can listen critically and appreciate that it’s really not that good.

But I’ll move on to the other songs.  “Sure Know Something” and “Magic Touch” really don’t seem that out of place chronologically with, say, the Kiss solo albums–they sound an awful lot like something off of Paul’s album.  So, despite the sort of slinky 70’s bass on “Sure Know Something”, they can’t have been that much of a surprise.  The guitar solos are short but have some interesting Ace sounds (I like the harmonics on “Magic Touch”).  It seems that while the other guys were embracing disco, Paul was keeping the Kiss sound alive.

Then there’s the Ace songs.  “2,000 Man” made total sense as an Ace song. I had no idea it was a Rolling Stones cover until fairly recently (and I like Ace’s version much better).  “Hard Times” feels like the sequel to “New York Groove.”  Not the music so much although maybe a little, but the lyrics–now that he’s in the city here’s what happened–the gritty reality. It’s one of Ace’s great, lost songs.  And check it out, Ace sings on three songs here!  (Guess having a #1 hit wasn’t lost on the Kiss powers).  “Save Your Love” has a cool descending chorus and a nice bass feel to it.  Ace certainly wins on this record.

Peter got only one song, “Dirty Livin'”.  In fact, this is the only song that Peter had anything to do with (his drums were re-recorded by Anton Fig).  It reminds me (in retrospect) of the Rolling Stones disco era even more than “2,000 Man,” the backing vocals remind me of something like “Shattered.”  I always liked this guitar solos on this (cool feedback).  Although I liked the song (along with the rest of the album), I don’t think it holds up very well.

Gene only gets two songs.  It amuses me how little he has to do with these late 70s albums even though he is always the leader of the band.  I always liked “Charisma” (I had to look the word up back then) even though it is, admittedly, rather discoey and really not very good.  It is fun to ask “What is my…charisma?”  But “X-Ray Eyes is the better Gene song on this record.  It harkens back to earlier Kiss songs and even has a bit of menace in it.

So, Dynasty was a huge hit for the band.  And they even got to mock it in Detroit Rock City the movie.  Cynical marketing ploy or genuine fondness for disco?  Who would ever know.

[READ: November 1, 2011] “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

Readers of this blog know that after finding an author I like, I will try to read everything that he or she has written.  Close readers will know that if a writer is reasonably young and reasonably unpublished, I will try to read his or her uncollected work as well.  Well, I really enjoyed Oscar Wao the novel, so I decided to see what else Díaz had written. There’s really not a lot, to be perfectly frank.  There’s his short story collection Drown and a few fiction pieces published here and there (mostly in the New Yorker) and a few non-fiction pieces as well.

So this “short story” from the New Yorker (with the same title as the novel) is in fact an early, mostly the same, version of the Oscar story in the novel.  The thing here is to note the date: 2000(!).  The novel came out in 2007.  So, Junot had been working with this character for easily five years (giving time for the publishing industry to get a book out and all). The remarkable thing the is just how accomplished and polished this piece is and how much of it was used in the novel.

I’m curious to know whether this was written as a short story (it’s quite a long short story) or if it was always intended as a part of a novel.  Interestingly, when you read this story by itself and you realize that it is pretty much all of Oscar’s story in the novel, you realize just how little of Oscar is actually in the novel.  The novel is about Oscar, obviously, but it is really about his family and the fukú that was placed on them by the Trujillo clan.  Oscar is sort of the touchstone for the fukú, and the person whom the narrator knows most intimately but his story is also brief. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Wasting Light (2011).

The Foo Fighters are huge.  Duh.  But when I think of that, it amazes me that a) the Foo Fighters are the band from “the drummer from Nirvana” and that b) while Dave Grohl knows his way around a melody, he is a metal dude at heart, and some of his most popular songs are really heavy.  He can scream with the best of them.

I’ve enjoyed the Foos for many years, but I didn’t listen to their previous discs all that much (or at least I didn’t listen to the mellow disc from In Your Honor and I don’t remember anything off of Echoes…), but this new one is fantastic.  There’s not a dull song on the disc, and Grohl has hit new heights of catchiness and singalong-ness. 

I also like how noisy the disc is.  It opens with some great discord before turning in a majorly heavy rifftastic scream fest in “Bridge Burning.”  Despite the screaming and noise of the opening, the chorus is super catchy.  “Rope” was said to be inspired by Rush.  Knowing that, I can hear a lot of little Rush-isms in the track: The main riff is very Rush-like, there’s a cymbal tapping that reminds me of Neil Peart in the verses, as well as a little drum solo in the middle (with a cowbell!) and the solo is very Alex Lifeson. (It also feels longer than 4 minutes).

“Dear Rosemary” features Bob Mould on backing vocals (but you can hardly tell it’s him).  It’s got a great chorus as well.  “White Limo” is a wonderful punk song, completely incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Meanwhile “Arlandria” (whatever that means) is another totally catchy track (I find myself singing it a lot).

“These Days” should be the next single: catchy and easy on the ears.  I wonder why it hasn’t been released yet.  “Back and Forth” has another great noisy riff.  One thing that I like a lot about the Foos is that they put different things in the same song:  so “A Matter of Time” has a very simple verse and a catchy chorus, but there’s some really buzzing heavy guitars too.  “Miss the Misery” has a kind of sleazy feel which I think is new for the Foos.  And “I Should Have Known” is a kind of angry ballad (I’d like to see Richard Thompson cover it). 

The final track, “Walk” is a fast rocker that sums up the album really well.  Bravo Dave Grohl.  I can’t get enough of this disc, regardless of how popular it is.

[READ: July 2, 2011] Five Dials Number 15

After the brevity of Number 14, Five Dials Number 15 comes back to a fuller size.  It’s strange to me that the issue is titled The November Issue, in part because they never tell us when the issues were published, but even more because this is actually the Québec Issue.  Most of the authors are Quécbecers and the issue release party was in Québec as well.

I’d like to point out that while I was looking something up about this issue (more later) I discovered the Five Dials News Page.  There are currently 43 pages worth of posts.  But most of them are short.  If there are any especially noteworthy ones, I’ll add them to reviews of future issues, but for the most part so far they’re just announcements of how well received their books are (I’ve already made notes to read two of them).  They also give release dates for the issues, which is how I have been able to retroactively attach dates to some of them.

There are many Québecois writers included in this issue (thoughtfully translated into English), as well as some standard features by Alain De Botton and frequent contributors David Shields and Raymond Chandler.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Our Québec Issue, and Young Novelists
Taylor’s introduction discusses many Canadian’s attitudes about Québec and their (seemingly perennial) vote concerning separation from the country (“so, let them go”).

creepy beard

The confusing thing here is that it appears that Taylor is Canadian (or at least lived there in 1995/6).   But surely he is British, no?

There’s lots of information about Québec in here but no grand statement (except that Celine Dion’s husband’s beard is still creepy).

He also introduces a new section called “Our Town” which is all about London.  The final section of the note says that

we are releasing our second Five Dials list of Top Ten Novelists Under Ten (or ‘Ten Under Ten’,or ‘Ten-Ten’, or as some of the writers themselves call the list: ‘Tintin.’) As you know, many of the writers we chose for our first Ten Under Ten list went on to things such as high school.

This is how I discovered the Five Dials News page, because there certainly was no Ten Under Ten section in a previous issue of the magazine.  Of course, nor is there any mention in the news that I have seen.  So I can’t decide if the whole thing is just a big joke or what.  I assume it is (but I’d hate to not give credit to the waaaay precocious kids at the end of the issue). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VAMPIRE WEEKEND-Vampire Weekend (2008).

There’s some hype surrounding this record. And of course, I wouldn’t have heard about it without the hype. But I have to say this is my favorite record in a long, long time. It has everything! It’s got really tight, fun catchy songs…some as short as 2 minutes. It has wonderfully pretentious lyrics, and outrageous instruments, like the mellotron and harpsichord. And yet somehow, it manages to avoid all manner of pretension. Rather, it’s just catchy as all get out.

I can’t even pick a favorite song, as they are all great in their own way. I’ve heard that this album is compared to Paul Simon and that it’s being described as AfroPop. I only see the Simon comparison on one song, and I’m not sure what AfroPop is exactly, so I can’t address that. But I will say that it reminds me of many different genres as the record speeds by. There’s even a retro ska feel to a couple of songs, and I do loves me some ska! No song overstays its welcome, and it all seems so effortless and joyful. I finally got to listen to it in the car on a warm night and it was absolutely perfect.

Yet despite all the simplicity and brevity, the album has a lot going on underneath it. The rhythms are fairly complex, the basslines are fantastic–not show offy, just busy–and yet they perfectly propel the songs along. And, since I love smart lyrics, I love these guys for their great couplets. The songs are smart, without being cute and even though they do boil down to basic love/lost love themes, the words within are original and wonderful.

I absolutely love this album.

[READ: April 10, 2008] The Lunatic at Large

This book is from 1899 and was reissued by McSweeney’s in 2007. I bought this book without knowing…anything about it. I’d certainly never heard of it before. I had put it aside with low expectations.

The introduction indicated that this book is a missing link between the humor of Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse. That was a promising idea, and I’m delighted to say that it is quite true.

(more…)

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