Archive for the ‘Paul La Farge’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KHRUANGBIN-Tiny Desk Concert #743 (May 16, 2018).

The sound of the guitar that Khruangbin create is so dead on for an old sixties band that as they started this set I thought perhaps it was a sample they were opening up with.

But it was all live.  And as the camera comes on for “Maria También” we see this trio jamming this really groovy instrumental song (with whispered words from bassist Laura Lee).  The guitar melody is full of circular riffs but when it shifts to the main body, I love the way the bass and guitar play the same thing but it sounds like a fresh addition of low-end (his guitar seems to eschew the low-end entirely).  The middle of the song is a cool guitar solo with lots of hammer-ons and chords thrown in to generate a really wonderful sound–the tightness of the ending is really cool too.

So Khruangbin is a

trio from Houston, Texas heavily inspired by 1960s and ’70s funk and soul from, of all places, Thailand. That musical passion has taken them on a journey that, these days, incorporates music from Spain, Ethiopia and the Middle East. Khruangbin’s largely instrumental music is grounded in Laura Lee’s bass, with Mark Speer playing those melodic, richly reverbed guitar sounds and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums and piano.

“August 10” is a jazzier number with lots of slow but evocative bass. The main part of the song is gentle chords with some cool riffage.  The middle slows things down with some very gentle na na na nas from all three members. Johnson’s drums are pretty simple and standard throughout–keep the beat and add some accents.  It’s that funky bass line that is so great.

Two of the three songs performed at this Tiny Desk Concert are from their 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, which is dedicated in part to Laura Lee’s Mexican-American grandfather. He’d often ask her how much she loved him and the response that pleased him most was when she would say, “con todo el mundo,” (with all the world.)

The third track in this performance is one of the band’s first forays into vocals, from their 2015 debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You. “White Gloves” gently pays homage to a “classy lady” who was “a fighter” and who “died in a fight.” Its open-ended lyrics could imply a battle that was violent or an illness. It isn’t clear.

“White Gloves” is more mellow and less jamming.  I am fascinated that Johnson switched to piano (no drums on this track) for this song. Unlike the other two songs, this one needed to grow on me, but I enjoyed it by the end.

[READ: January 28, 2018] “The History of The History of Death”

This story is written as a speech given at a Symposium held at the University of Melbourne, 2— The Symposium was called “Postmortem of the Printed Word.”

The speaker announces that in 490 BC Hermodorus tried to refute Heraclitus’ claim that “everything changes and nothing remains still.”  He did so by writing a History of Death in which “only those things which had ceased to change” would be recorded.

After writing the first volume, he died of a seizure.  Another scribe had just recorded Hermodorus’ death when he himself fell ill and died.

Future writers chronicling this History of Death also died in complex ways.  One was trampled by a horse, one died of stomach cancer.  When it was translated into German, it became like something of a light for moths as so many scholars wound up dead. (more…)

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929SOUNDTRACK: LES CLAYPOOL AND THE HOLY MACKEREL presents High Ball with the Devil (1996).

holy After making Tales from the Punch Bowl, Primus took a brief hiatus (again).  And in that time, Les made a solo album.  And it is a full solo album.  Les plays all of the instruments on the album.  There are some guests, especially on “Holy Mackerel” (the song that feels the most like a full song.  Mirv from Limbomaniacs plays on a few songs and Jay Lane plays drums on a few songs.  Joe Gore plays guitar on 2 songs and Charlie Hunter plays guitar on “Me and Chuck.”  Les is a decent player on the various instruments although the songs with the guests are more robust.

Les said he had a bunch of songs that he felt weren’t quite right for Primus.  And I can see what he means.  Because, while the voice and bass is unmistakably Primus the album doesn’t sound like Primus.

Having said that, “Running the Gauntlet” does sound like a ditty (1:36) that Primus might play between longer songs.  “Holy Mackerel” feels like it could be a Primus song, but not exactly–there’s something slightly different about it.

But really once you get to “Highball with the Devil” the disc takes on more of a solo feel with Les playing in different but established styles–things that just wouldn’t really work within Primus.  “Highball with the Devil” has a fun bass riff and simple guitars.  I really like it and you can see why he didn’t give it to Primus.  “Hendershot” is a kind of surf rock song (Mirv on guitar).  It’s really fun  “Calling Kyle” has some good music to it, but I don’t really like the vocal delivery.

“Rancor” is a faster song (only 1:22) with Les’ crazy vocals.  “Cohibas Esplenditos” features the electric bowed backsaw (from Mirv) and a cool guitar and bass riff.  “Delicate Tendrils” has a very heavy guitar sound and a simple bass riff.  It is the backing sound for a Henry Rollins story.  Rollins is recorded low in the mix, which makes his story sound more like mumbling and is therefore less effective.  The fact that it is the dark and violent Rollins, not the funny Rollins makes it seem too dark for Les, even if the music works for it.

“The Wakening” features Jay Lane on drums and is a simple slap bass funk song.  “Precipitation” and “George E. Porge” are both solid songs.  “El Sobrante Fortnight” is a fun story song with a good funk bass and Mirv’s cool guitars.  The disc ends with “Carolina Rig” which features Les playing one of his interesting riffs over a sample from a fishing show.

Despite the fact that the album cover makes it look like an entirely homemade (and done cheaply) affair, the quality of the recording and of the songs is quite high.  It’s a good way to see what else Les can do.

[READ: January 12, 2015] “Rosendale”

I had read a few things from La Farge before.  And in looking at my post about “Another Life” from 2012 I see that April P (the main character in this story) was a bartender in the previous story.

April P returns in this story as the main character–a girl who had worked as a bartender but has moved to Rosendale to get away from the busy life of Boston and to settle in as April P, writer. She is living with a woman named Dara.  Dara is a potter and, unhappily for April P, she is a very handsy (April P. is convinced that Dara wants her).

April has been writing a novel called The Bar Girl, but since she has moved to Rosendale, she can’t seem to focus on it.  Dara had invited her to work at the ceramics store, but she said no way.  Rather, she began working at a strip joint (her only friend, Jenny, works there and said it was easy money–and it is–it’s like moving around with no clothes on).  Dara greatly disapproves of course.

I loved the way the story was constructed.  After the first section (in which we learned all of the above) the next section begins: “But this is all background information.  The actual story of Rosendale begins on a rainy Monday evening in March.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EAST OF THE WALL-“False Build” (2011).

Viking picked this song back in September of 2011 as his song of the week (or however often he posted then).  I’d never heard of East of the Wall, despite their New Jersey pedigree.  (I know I don’t know every band from New jersey, but usually by the time a band has three records out I’ve at least heard of them).

This song is just over five minutes long and the vocals don’t come in until about three an a half minutes.  By the time the vocals come in, we’ve had three or four different stylistic changes.  And, by  the time the vocals have been with us for a minute it’s possible that there are four vocalists in the band.

It opens with some clean guitars playing an open (but slightly off) chord progression.  Over that comes a slightly distorted guitar and a bass playing mostly the same notes but just enough to be notably different.  Then add some drums so the song is builds very nicely.  The solo gets more and more complicated and when the drums rumble in for a climactic progression…the songs shifts into a kind of loud heavy rock/almost funk.  A new more angular solo plays over the funk riffs and it all works wonderfully.  Then the song becomes a rapid fire snare drum metal song and that’s where the vocals kick in.  I assume this is all one vocalist but who knows.  For the sake of argument I’ll pretend they are all different.

The first vocalist is a screamer–hard to understand but fitting in perfectly with the now heavy riffs.  He doesn’t say much before the second vocalist comes in.  This section of the music is mellow and kind of prog rocky and the vocalist fist perfectly–actually crooning along with the melody.  Until vocalist three comes in with a kind of cookie monster vocal which is interspersed with a different cookie monster vocalist.  By the quarter to 5 moment the first vocalist comes back, and there’s more screaming until the song ends.  It’s chaotic and cool and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  I wonder what they’re singing about.

Wow.  If I’m this exhausted writing about it, imagine how they must feel playing it.  I’m going to have to check out more from them.

[READ: June 28, 2012] “Another Life”

This story is disconcerting in that the first paragraph is a page and a half long.  And it works very well stylistically.  The whole first paragraph concerns a man (the husband) as he returns from a party for father-in-law.  He’d rather not have gone to at all, but since he is also sick and on medication, he takes the opportunity to leave early.  He arrives back at the hotel and sits down to read Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.  (Holy crap!).  He can’t focus on the book so he decides to go down to the hotel bar (with the book) just to mix things up.

There are a few people in the room, but he sits alone at the bar.  The bartender (whose name is later revealed to be April P) is very nice and chats as she serves him.  She sees his book and asks what he’s reading.  He’s a bit embarrassed, because she’s never heard of Rousseau.  But she says that she reads everything and her favorite is Emily Dickinson.  He is thrown by her choice of authors and by the fact that he can’t think of anything clever to say about Dickinson.  He fumbles a bit.  She remains nice but is clearly unimpressed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS! Live in studio at KEXP, July 31, 2008 (2008).

For this brief in-studio performance Los Campesinos! play four songs from their debut album Hold on Now, Youngster.  The band sounds great in this setting.  I don’t have this album, so I don’t know if they deviate at all from the originals, but the live versions are tight and very effective.

The interviews are informative and rather gushing (I’ve never heard a DJ kiss the ass of a performer in such a nice way before–and the band seems really flattered by it–it’s all very sweet).  There’s also some fun comments about their screaming tendencies.

What I didn’t notice so much on Romance is Boring was how many different lead singers the band has.  With these four songs, there are enough lead vocalists to show a lot of diversity (and a lot of screaming, too–“don’t read Jane Eyre!”).  And, as one might expect from the later disc, their earlier lyrics are smart, funny and wicked, too.

The difference between Romance and Hold On, seems to be that the band were much punkier on the early disc, and that all comes out in these live tracks.  And the songs are all short: 3 minutes and under.  They really pack a lot in here.

[READ: January 6, 2011] The Facts of Winter

This book is, apparently, an elaborate joke.  It is set up as a book written by French author Paul Poissel.  But unlike the other things that Poissel wrote (his most famous and lasting works were written after this book), this is a collection of dreams.  Specifically, it’s a collection of dreams from random unnamed people in France, circa 1841.

The book is laid out with the original French story on the left page and the translation on the facing page.  I don’t know French, but my minimal French comprehension leads me to think that the translations are accurate.

So, each entry (most about a half a page, some stretch to two pages) is a recounted dream. I didn’t count how many dreams there were, but there’s more or less one a day from January to March.  None of them are outlandishly crazy or dirty or anything like that, but they are amusing to read.  There is a preponderance of canoes in the dreams.

After the dreams we get a lengthy Afterword (which all told, may be longer than all of the dreams combined).  The Afterword details La Farge’s work while translating and learning more about Poissel.  It is rather funny and goes into all kinds of personal details about La Farge and his ex-girlfriend as well as the friend he met in the city of Aix who takes him to all kinds of old ruins. (more…)

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