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Archive for the ‘Paul Collins’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DJANGO DJANGO-“Default” (2012).

This song was featured in a post on NPR’s All Songs Considered site on July 31.  Django Django are a Scottish duo and they sound very retro.  The two guys sing in close harmony that is more of an echo than a harmony.  The music is mostly very old-sounding guitars–big and unprocessed–and yet the rest of the track is quite processed and electronic.

It’s a simple, straightforward song (with some cool effects).  The NPR write up about them says that they are more of an electronic band, although this song doesn’t really suggest that (except in the middle section where the sounds are manipulated in a cool way).  I’m not sure if I’m all that interested in the rest of the album  In fact, after a few listens, I’m not as excited by this song as I initially was.  But it’s still fun.

[READ: July 31, 2012] The Rector and the Rogue

The Collins Library is back!  And since this seems to be the summer of non fiction, I decided to read it now.  I have loved every Paul Collins book so far in the Collins Library (old, out of print and forgotten titles that Collins resurrects) and this one–which I admit seemed questionable–was just as wonderful as the others.  The Rector and the Rogue details a much-forgotten episode of a grand-scale prank–the systematic public abuse of Dr Morgan Dix, Rector of Trinity Church by a trickster known as “Gentleman Joe” in 1880.  Yes, 1880.

Swanberg told the story, eighty years later, as a rather gripping tale.  The afterward explains that he just happened upon some information about the story and needed to know more.  So, he did the research and compiled first an essay and then this (reasonably short) book.

And so he begins his tale without letting the audience know what they are in store for (just like Dix had no idea what he was in store for).  One morning in February 1880, Rev Dix opened the door to see a safe salesman from Acme Safe in downtown Manhattan.  The salesman says that Dix inquired about safes.  Dix had done no such thing and sent the man on his way.  Then a man from a local girls’ school rang the bell and said that Dix’ charge was more than welcome to attend.  Dix had no daughter or interest in the school. The schoolmaster showed him a postcard from Dix which asked for information.  The postcard was not his own (obviously) and was not in his handwriting (obviously).  Then came a man selling two horses, replying to his postcard….  This went on all afternoon.

The afternoon mail was full also of responses to similar inquiries–about wigs, dance lessons, kitchenware, etc.

And so began the botheration of Dr Dix. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Young Team (1997).

When Mogwai released Young Team there was quite a bit of buzz around them.  I remember when I bought the album, that I had no idea where they were from.

With the Asian-looking characters on the cover and a picture of Fuji Bank (and no band members names listed) I assumed they were Japanese.  Of course, a closer listen reveals a lot of Scottish voices quietly chatting away during some of the songs (which doesn’t necessarily mean they are Scottish…but indeed, they are).

Young Team is a great debut and Mogwai shows a lot of versatility.  It opens with a spoken word bit about Mogwai (If the stars had a sound it would sound like this).  It’s a slow instrumental, actually quite pretty, with picked guitar and continual bass and even harmonics.   It gets loud by the end, yet even that is restrained.  But just when you think that Mogwai is going to be another post rock instrumental chill out band, they hit you with “Like Herod.”

“Like Herod” is one of the more amazing songs in instrumental rock.  It plays with loud and soft dynamics like nobody’s business.  Opening with a slow rumbling bass, the guitars pick out intricate melodies.  Then at 3 minutes, all hell breaks loose in the form of big guitar chords and screaming guitar notes.  Things slow to a crawl about 6 minutes into the song. But we’re only half way done.  And those quiet notes are once again blown away by those same chords and screaming notes.

You could pretty much end the disc right there and call it a success.  But “Katrien” shows off another side of the band: a spoken word side.  Behind some gorgeous melodies there’s something of a rant.  It’s followed by “Radar Maker,” a 90 second piano-based instrumental.  It’s quite delicate and it leads right into “Tracy” a beautiful 7 minute song with a pretty melody and lovely washes of sound.

The middle of the album has two shot songs: “Summer [Priority Version]” is a condensed version of that quiet/loud dynamic that Mogwai does so well.  And “With Portfolio” plays havoc with a pretty piano song by throwing in washes of noise and sound effects which completely take over by the end.

The unfortunately titled “R U Still In 2 It” belies its bad name with some beautiful quiet guitar work played behind a vocal turn by Aidan Moffat.  There’s even a sung chorus!

“A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters” is a two-minute sort of intro to the final track on the disc, the amazing “Mogwai Fear Satan.”  A 16 minute instrumental that is quite beautiful as it opens: distorted chords that don’t overpower the melody.  They bolster it as it builds and builds until it reaches a moment of silence which is filled by…a flute (!).  The song continues to build with a gorgeous repeating motif.  Then it slows down again to let the flute really sync with the song until it reaches its beautiful end.

It’s a great debut, deserving all of the praise that was heaped on it.

[READ: March 3, 2011] To Ruhleben and Back

This is a true account of one man’s escape from Ruhleben prison in Germany during WWI.  I admit that I had never heard of Ruhleben before (and frankly I’m really surprised I never have, as roughly 4,000 British citizens were interned there from 1914-1918).

This story was published in 1916 as one man’s account of his escape from the prison.  And then it quietly went out of print. McSweeneys’ Collins Library has now (well, in 2002), seen fit to get it reissued once again.

The introduction explains the historical veracity of the book, and also promises a rather ripping yarn.  And indeed, Pyke does not disappoint.

Well, maybe a little in the beginning.  The early parts of the book are a little slow.  It explains who he was and how he wound up in Germany during the war.  The short version is that he was a journalist who was frustrated that he wasn’t hearing proper news from the war, so he volunteered to go to Germany (even though at this point all English men and women were being incarcerated).  He moved there and since he spoke fluent German, he was able to blend in.  Until he was caught. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: All Songs Considered Year End Music Roundup (2010).

Every year, I like to check various sources to see if there were any albums that I missed.  My definition of good resources: allmusic, amazon, pitchfork.  (There’s another fascinating list available here at Best Albums Ever, a site I’ve never seen before, and I have a large portion of the Top 50 albums.  I didn’t buy a lot of music this year, but evidently I chose wisely!).  I don’t necessarily agree with these lists, but if I see the same album on a few lists, I know it’s worth at least listening to.

This year, since I spent so much time on All Songs Considered, I thought I’d see their Best of Lists.  What’s awesome about the site is that you can hear not only selected songs in their entirety, you can also download the audio of the original show…where the DJs talk about their selections and play excerpts from them.   There are many different lists to investigate.

The most obvious one to star with is 50 Favorite Albums of 2010.  This shows the staff’s 50 favorite albums in all genres.  I admit that there’s going to be a lot on this list that I won’t bother exploring (I’m not really that interested in new classical or jazz and I’m not too excited by most pop music, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Kanye West songs here).

But some albums did stand out that I hadn’t heard, and I will investigate them further in 2011:

Buke And Gass, ‘Riposte’
Deerhunter, ‘Halcyon Digest’ (I know, this is on many best of lists)
The National, ‘High Violet’ (This is also on everyone’s list)

Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered’s most awesome host, picks his Top 9 of the year.  I’m on board with about 1/2 of his list (haven’t heard the other half).  Sufjan Stevens is his #1.

Robin Hilton, Boilen’s partner in crime, has a Top Ten which is remarkably similar to Boilen’s.  It has most of the same albums just appearing in a slightly different order.  Lower Dens is #1. (I’ve never heard of them).

Carrie Brownstein (of beloved Sleater-Kinney and now evidently a permanent member of the NPR team) has a Top Ten (Plus One)–funny that she liked more than ten when Boilen liked less than ten.  I’m really surprised by her selection of albums because her own music is so punk and abrasive, but her top ten features R&B and some folky bands.  Her top album is by Royal Baths, a band I’ve never heard of.

Stephen Thompson also picked his Top Ten.  He has an interesting mix of alt rock and jazz.  His number one is by Jonsi from Sigur Rós. (A great album).

Perhaps the best list comes from 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010.  I didn’t know any of the 5.  Sarah bought me two CDs for Christmas (and she was pleased to have gotten me good music that I hadn’t heard of!).  The Head and the Heart hasn’t arrived yet, but The Capstan Shafts is great.  I’m also really excited by Tame Impala.

Another great list is Viking’s Choice: Best Metal and Outer Sound (stay tuned for much more from this list).  It is dominated by black metal, but there are a few surprises in there as well.

Even the All Songs Considered Top 25 Listener’s List was great.  I had most of the list (except for The Black Keys who I simply cannot get into).

Although I enjoyed a lot of new music this year, it’s always nice to see that there is some new (to me) stuff to investigate.  Who knows maybe some day I’ll even have listened to enough new music in a year to make my own Top Ten.

[READ: December 31, 2010] McSweeney’s #36

With McSweeney’s #36, it’s like they made my conceptual ideal.  Its weird packaging is fantastic and the contents are simply wonderful.  But let’s start with the obvious: this issue comes in a box.  And the box is drawn to look like a head.  You open up the man’s head to get to the contents.  Brilliant.  The head is drawn by Matt Furie (with interior from Jules de Balincourt’s Power Flower.

Inside the box are eleven items.  The largest are smallish books (postcard sized) running between 32 and 144 pages.  The smaller items are a 12 page comic strip, a nineteenth century mediation (8 pages) and 4 postcards that create a whole picture.  The final item is a scroll of fortune cookie papers.   The scroll is forty inches long with cut lines for inserting them into your own fortunes (I wonder if they will sell this item separately?)

Aside from the bizarre head/box gimmick (and the fact that there is ample room in the box for more items), the contents are really top-notch.  For while many of the books included are individual titles, there is also an actual “issue” of McSweeney’s (with letter column and shorter stories) as well.  So let’s begin there

ISSUE #36: New Stories and Letters.  The resurrected letters page continues with more nonsense.  I’ve often wondered if these are really written like letters or if they are just short pieces that have no other place to reside.  (Oh, and the back of this booklet contains the bios for everyone in here as well as assorted other folks who don’t have room for a bio on their items).

LETTERS (more…)

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believerA few years ago I was visiting my friend Roman.  He asked me if I read The Believer.  I told him I hadn’t heard of it.  He silently reproved me, knowing that it would be right up my alley and being quite displeased that I wasn’t keeping up with the hip.  I was very impressed with what I saw.

The Believer is put out through McSweeney’s.  It seems to have filled in for the non-fiction niche that McSweeney’s slowly removed from its pages.

And since then, I have become a devoted follower.  At some point (probably around issue ten or eleven) I decided that I was going to read every word in every issue.  And so, (this was pre-kids) when I went to an ALA conference with Sarah, I spent a lot of the down time reading all of the back issues’ articles that I hadn’t read.

Since then, I have read every issue cover to cover.  The thing that I love about the magazine (in addition to all of the stuff that I would normally like about it) is that every article is so well written that even if I don’t care about the subject, I know I’ll be interested for the duration of the piece.  Whether or not I will go on to read anything else about the person or topic is neither here nor there, but when I’m in the moment I’m really hooked. (more…)

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back coverSOUNDTRACK: HÜSKER DÜ-Metal Circus EP (1983).

HuskerDuMetalCircusAfter the insane hardcore mess of Land Speed Record, this EP is a bit of a change.  It’s still pretty hardcore, but now you can tell that the noisiness of the guitar is deliberate.  Bob Mould is playing around with multiple layers of feedback and distortion to create a wall of noise that sometimes hides, sometime accentuates the overall sound.

What strikes me as odd in retrospect is that I think of Bob Mould as one of alternative rock’s poppier songwriters.  And yet when you listen to this disc the two poppiest (which is a relative term to be sure) tracks are by Grant Hart.

The first two tracks are fast and furious.  But what separates them from 4 x 4 hardcore is, mostly Greg Norton’s bass.  He’s all over the place.  There’s also some diversity within the songs themselves (a little guitar squeal in “Deadly Skies”).

“It’s Not Funny Anymore” (Hart’s song) is surprisingly upbeat (with guitar harmonics) and is not quite as noisy (although it’s still pretty noisy, and is not going on the radio anytime soon).

The next two track are more of Mould’s screamy hardcore.

The longest song (4 and a half minutes) is also by Hart. “Diane” is a creepy song about abduction and murder (yet with something of a  singalong chorus).  I actually know the Therapy? version better because I had listened to that disc a lot when it came out.  But the Hüsker’s version is even creepier.  Wikipedia says it is about a real incident (which makes it less creepy than if Hart has made it up, I suppose).

It ends with Mould’s least hardcore song, although the guitar solo is pretty insane.

And then it’s over.  7 songs in twenty minutes.  That’s nearly half as many as on Land Speed Record.  You can see the songs changing already.  Just wait till the next disc!

[READ: June 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #5

McSweeney’s #5 plays with cover ideas again.  On this one, frontthe cover idea is actual different covers and slipcovers.  The book is hardcover, with three different cover designs.  It also has 4 different slipcover designs. The colophon explains that if one wanted one could have requested for free) each of the cover designs because they did not intend to make people buy multiple issues.  Click on the covers to see them enlarged on flickr (all images are copyright McSweeney’s).

This is the Koppel front cover.

I will quote from the McSweeney’s site their description of the covers:

As many of you know, the new issue of our print version is out, and by now is in most stores. This issue is a hardcover book, and features four different dust jackets. One dust jacket has on it a man who seems to be suffering from terrible skin lesions. The second cover looks very much like the cover of Issue No. 1, with the addition of a medical drawing of a severed arm. The third cover is blank, with all of its images hiding on the back. Hiding from the bad people. The last cover is just red. Or, if you will, simply red.

In addition, under each dust jacket is a different cover. One features pictures of Ted Koppel. One features new work by Susan Minot. And a third features a variation on the second cover, described above, though this version is legible only with aid of mirror. This inner cover also is featured under the red dust jacket.

I was quite surprised when I took the slipcover off mine, (more…)

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scan0014SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008).

colinColin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists.  This is a recording of Meloy’s solo acoustic tour from 2006.  The recording is from several venues on the tour, although it is mixed as if it were one concert.

Meloy is a great frontman, and this translates perfectly into the solo atmosphere.  He is completely at ease, telling stories, bantering with the crowd, and generally having a very good time.

The set list includes some popular Decemberists songs as well as a track from Meloy’s first band Tarkio (whom I have never heard, but figure I’ll get their CD someday).  Meloy also adds a couple of covers, as well as snippets of songs added to his own (Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” gets a couple of bars, as well as a verse from The Smiths’ “Ask.”)

This disc is not going to win anyone over to the Decemberists, as Meloy’s distinctive voice is a love it or hate it deal.  However, if you’re on the fence about them, hearing these songs solo can only convince you of what great songs they are.  The Decemberists add a lot of arrangements to their songs.  You get a lot of interesting and unusual instruments.  Which I like a great deal.  But to hear that these songs sound great with just an acoustic guitar is testament to Meloy’s songwriting.

The intimacy of the venues also really lets these songs shine.

[READ: May 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #4

This is the first time that McSweeney’s showed that it might be something a little different. #4 came, not as paperback book, but as a box full of 14 small, stapled booklets. Each book (save two, and more on those later) contains a complete story or non-fiction piece.

There is something strangely liberating about reading the stories in this format. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to finish a book and put it down, so having 14 makes it seem like I’ve accomplished a lot.
This was also the first issue that I’m certain I didn’t read when it originally came out, for whatever reason. So, it’s all new to me.

DIGRESSION: When I was looking up publications for my Wikipedia page about McSweeney’s publications, I kept encountering records for these individual booklets.  This was rather confusing as I couldn’t find any other records or ISBNs for these booklets.  Rest assured they are all collected here. (more…)

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mcsweeneys3SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Riot Act (2002).

riotactThis album seems to get overshadowed by the anti-George Bush track “Bu$hleaguer.” Evidently many people were turned off by this track, and that may have had an impact on sales. Of course, I’m sure many other people were introduced to the band by this song, too. Regardless, the rest of the album shouldn’t be judged by this track, as it is rather unusual.

This disc is the first one to feature a dedicated keyboardist, “Boom” Gaspar.  He’s present on all of the live discs from this concert tour, and it is quite disconcerting the first time you hear the audience yell “Boooooooooooom” when he comes out.  But he plays a mean organ solo.

“Can’t Keep” opens the disc sounding unlike other PJ tracks.  It has a vibe like Led Zeppelin III–almost a world-acoustic feel.  “Save You” rocks out with the classic chorus, “And fuck me if I say something you don’t wanna hear.  And fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear.  Fuck me if I care.”  A great fast song with a cool bassline.  “Love Boat Captain” feature Boom Gaspar’s first contribution to a song: lots of organ.  It’s a rather touching song, a gentle piece, except for a center part which rocks out. “Cropduster” features a delicate chorus after a skittery verse.  If you are familiar with Matt Cameron’s contributions to the band, you’ll not be surprised by the unusual sound of this song.

“I Am Mine” starts a section of three great songs. This one is acousticy and uplifting.  “Thumbing My Way” is a pretty PJ ballad.  Then “You Are” has a really funky wah wahed sound on almost the whole song.  Three great tracks in a row.

Not that “Get Right” is bad.  It just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the previous three.  Rather, this is a punk blast that feels more than a little off-kilter (another Cameron track, of course).   “Help Help” begins the really weird section of the disc with this peculiar song (catchy chorus though).  It’s followed by “Bu$hleaguer” a spoken word rant, with an abstract chorus.  The chanting aspect is interesting, th0ugh.  “Arc” is a short chant, no doubt reflecting Eddie’s duet with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

“1/2 Full” returns to the “proper” songs with this sloppy jam.  The verses are quiet but the choruses rock.  “All or None” is another mellow disc ender, this one has some good subtle drumming that really propels this jazzy song.

At this point in Pearl Jam’s career, we get yet another solid effort.  You more or less know what to expect on their releases although there’s always a surprise.

[READ: May 7, 2009] McSweeney’s #3

This is the third volume of McSweeney’s print journal.  This one, like the first two, is a white, softcover edition.  If you click on the cover above it will take you to the flickr page with a larger picture.

[UPDATE: September 25, 2009]

It has just come to my attention that David Foster Wallace DOES have a  piece in this magazine.  (See my comment on the Notes from the authors).  His piece runs on the spine of the book and is called:
“Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected but not Improbable Transcript of Author’s Parents’ Marriage End, 1971” (which is also available in his book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men under the title “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)”).

The piece itself is almost shorter than the whole title and is basically a funny argument about which parent would get the double-wide trailer and which parent would get him.  Pretty funny stuff, and even funnier for being on the spine.

Okay, back to the issue.

[end UPDATE]

The opening colophon on this one explains the price increase (from $8 to $10).  It’s because this is a longer issue, it has color plates (foldouts!) and because of a sad but amusing anecdote of a lost bag with $2,000 cash.
There’s also notes about some stories (the Hoff & Steinhardt pieces are true) and an apology of sorts for running a story about the Unabomber.

And an actual (presumably) envelope sent from the titular Timothy McSweeney, as a way of verifying the authenticity of the title of the journal.

The final page of the colophon shows a sample of how long it will take for them to respond to submissions (which should not be funny fake news).  And it ends with a half a dozen or so random questions, which they do answer: ARE THE RIVERS THAT FLOW FROM HOT SPRINGS HOT? They are often very warm.  DO THEY GIVE OFF STEAM? Yes, and they smell vaguely of sulfur. MARTIN VAN BUREN: He had a certain charm.  etc.

LETTERS PAGE:

JONATHAN LETHEM
Ride with Jonatahn Lethem and the Mad Brooklynite as he narrates Manhattan’s superiority complex when it comes to the other boros.  Funny stuff. (more…)

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