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Archive for the ‘Peter Orner’ Category

ornerSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Hoist (1994).

hoistI always think of Hoist as a kind of goofy album because of the way they are dressed on it (and the crazy cover).  But it is absolutely not.  Indeed, opener “Julius” sounds like a ZZ Top song.  In fact, every time they’ve played it live I assumed it was a cover.  It is less restrained in the live setting, because this version has more acoustic guitar.  There’s even backing vocalists and horns.  “Down with Disease” has that great watery bass, but the song (which sounds good) here is a little stiffer than the live version.  It also has something of an R&B feel (with backing vocals) even if the guitar is certainly not R&B at all.  It bleeds right into “If I Could” a pretty harmony-voiced mellow song.  The big surprise comes from the Alison Krauss vocals–she gets a solitary line or two and then harmonies.  The song is very pretty but the strings are overkill.

“Riker’s Mailbox” is indeed a reference to the Star Trek character, although the 30 second burst of noise is pretty hard to explain. Nevertheless, the trombone is played Mr Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes.  It jumps into the rocking “Axilla, Pt. 2” which is usually a little faster live (I like the sloppier crazier live version better). There’s some vulgar dialogue in the middle of the song.

“Lifeboy” is a mellow acoustic song that builds from just guitar.  Lyrically it’s interesting: “God never listens to what I say…and you don’t get a refund if you overpray.”  It folds into “Sample in a Jar,” which is just as good here as any live set.  “Wolfman’s Brother” ahs horns thrown on top and some interesting sound effects.  Although overall l don’t like this version nearly as much—I don’t care for the horns or the backing vocals plus in the live version they emphasize the bruh of brother more which is cooler.  (Although I do enjoy the weird “Shirley Temple” line at the end).  “Scent of  Mule” opens so strangely with crazy guitars and a thundering drum.  The singing is very silly (with silly voices) and has a very twangy style (complete with banjo and yeehah).

“Dog Faced Boy” is a sweet (but weird) acoustic guitar number.  “Demand” is a ten minute song which I don’t really know at all.  It has a strange, staccato style riff.  At 2 minutes in, a car starts and after a commercial on the radio the driver pops in “Split Open and Melt” (a nod to “Detroit Rock City,” perhaps?).  This goes on until 9:30 at which time there’s a car crash and choir of angels (sick!).

I don’t car for the horns and R&B flavoring of this album, but the song selection is really quite good.

[READ: September 24, 2013] Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge

I read about this book in Tom Bissell’s reviews recently.  He really made it sound like an interesting book.  So when I saw that we had just received a copy, I grabbed it and brought it home for the weekend.

There are 52 short stories in the short book (which is less than 200 pages).  Some of the stories are very short (1 page) with a few coming in at 5 or 6.  The 1 page stories are like flash fiction but they seem to be more of snapshots than actual full stories and they seem like they might be diary entries or something. The fact that a number of them are italicized with dates at the end make them seem like a selection from the same person rather than individual stories.

The stories are set all over the world, although they tend to focus on Chicago and Boston.  They are pretty universally dark with themes of death and loss permeating the collection.  And yet despite their overall negative feeling, the stories aren’t really depressing, exactly.  Bissell described the narrators as like someone telling a story about someone telling a story.  And that is true and that distance seems to take some of the edge off the stories.

But what’s impressive is the consistently strong and powerful writing.  The way that Orner is able to convey so much with such few words.  Some stories are just a scene, others are a whole lifetime.  But either way they are all really gripping.

I wasn’t going to write about each story, but it would have nagged at me if I didn’t, so here’s a few words about 52 stories. (more…)

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aug2013SOUNDTRACK: JIM GUTHRIE-Tiny Desk Concert #294 (August 10, 2013).

jimgI was unfamiliar with Guthrie before this set and I almost didn’t play it because of his mustache–he just looks so country to me.  But then I read that he and his band drove 9 hours from Ontario just to do the show (which is 11 minutes long, so that’s pretty crazy).  But the set is really good.

The three songs come from Guthrie’s new album Takes Time (his first solo album in ten years).  And I was hooked…not right from the start, but 15 seconds into “The Difference a Day makes” when the guitar plays the chorus riff.  There is something so… Canadian about the melody line.  It reminds me of Neil Young, Sloan, Rheostatics, even Kathleen Edwards, all of these great Canadian songwriters who play with slightly different melodies.  The fact that he sings “doubt” and “out” with an Ontario accent solidifies it.  It’s one of my favorite mellow songs of the year.  “Before & After” sounds a bit like  Barenaked Ladies mellow song, like something  written by Kevin Hearn.  I tend to not like the Hearn songs, but I thin kit’s that I don’t like Hearn’s voice, because I like this song quite a lot.

Guthrie has a delicate but strong voice–I can’t imagine him screaming, but he conveys a lot.  Especially in the final song, the more mellow (and minor key) “Like a Lake.”  I’ve heard Tiny Desk shows that go on for five or six songs.  I wish that Bob and Robin had let them play for ten more minutes. Now I’m off to find his records.  Check it out.

[READ: September 10, 2013] 3 book reviews

Tom Bissell reviewed three new books in the August 2013 issue of Harper’s.  I like Bissell in general and since I’ll probably wind up writing about these when they get collected anyway, why not jump the gun here.  Especially when there’s three good-sounding books like these.

sagamoreThe first is Peter Orner’s Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.  I know Orner from McSweeney’s mostly, where I’ve read a few of his things  But one of the stories that Bissell mentions from this short story collection sounds familiar and yet it doesn’t seem to be something I’ve read.  Hmmm.  Well anyhow, he says that Orner’s previous book (with a title that Bissell assumes he had to fight to keep–The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo) was a great piece of fiction about Africa, and that his previous collection Esther Stories was also very solid.

This book is a little stranger—bundled into 4 sections, it includes more than fifty “stories” and is all of 200 pages.  (Sounds like just the kind of thing I can get into).  Bissell suggests that the stories have a layer of remove, like someone telling a story about someone telling a story.  Or, if they were about a bank robbery, the story would actually be about someone describing having once met the guy who sold the robbers their ski masks.  But the real selling point for me was this pithy description of the collection: imagine Brief Interviews with Hideous Men written by Alice Munro.   That sounds hard to pass up. (more…)

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38SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-“Crueler Kind” (2013).
sanfermin-91f624c3b893c51669028614cc4bbf4973704a7c-s1

This was the final song that NPR played in their summer new music collection.  It was a band that Bob didn’t know, but he liked the song and then saw them live and put the song here.

It opens very simply, quietly with beautiful harmonies over a simple synth.  After about 45 seconds, the drums and horns (!) kick in and the backing harmony vocals take on more of a choral sound (AHHHH!) that punctuates rather than accompanies the vocals.

The main riff stems from that horn—a bass saxophone?  And yet during the verses, everything resorts to that pretty, mellow sound.

It’s a very interesting mix of musics, and it reminds me of some of the more experimental bands of the 1990s.  I’ll bet they would be fun to see live.  And I’d like to hear more from this album.

[READ: June 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #38

And with this book, I have now read all of the McSweeney’s issues (except that Mammoth Treasury which I will get to, probably by the end of the year).  This one was a great collection of fiction and non-fiction, it also had an inserted comic.  The book itself was paperback, with a nice, textured cover and a cool design for the numbers. In looking for a picture I learned that it came in two colors (the yellow that I received and a black cover with white lines).

It continues with the later issues’ less frivolous style (in that there’s nothing weird about the book) and throughout, the quality of the work is great.  I really enjoyed this book.  It opens with letters and contains color pictures, too.

Letters (more…)

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12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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grantladn4SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC IMAGE LTD-“Poptones” and “Careering” on American Bandstand (1980).

abThe Dick Clark article below alerted me to this bizarre gem–PiL “playing” on American Bandstand.   The article talks about John Lydon ignoring the lip synch, climbing into the audience and generally disregarding the show’s script. The video suggests something sightly less sinister (although maybe for 1980 it was outrageous–do you really cross Dick Clark?).

Dick Clark himself announces the band nicely, and then the crazy off-kilter bass and simple guitar of “Poptones” kick in.   Lydon runs into the bleachers with the kids (most of whom are dressed in New Wave finery not unlike Lydon).  They shriek with glee when he comes nearby (do any of them know who he is?  I have no idea).  When Lydon’s spoken rambling come in a little later you can’t help but wonder what the hell they are doing on AB.

Then, Lydon starts grabbing people from the audience and pushing them towards the stage–something I believe was unheard of on AB.  The fans dance around to the impossible-to-dance-to “Poptones.”  The song ends and Dick asks John if he wants the kids out there for song two.  Yes, song Two!  He does and John faux lip synchs through “Careering,” avoiding cameras at all costs and dancing with the kids–one of the most egalitarian performances I can think of from Lydon.

And listen for Dick asking Jah Wobble his name (reply THE Jah Wobble) and him saying, nice to meet you Wobble.  What a surreal moment–wonder what Dick thought of it.

Enjoy it here:

 

[READ: December 28, 2012] Grantland 4

Grantland continues to impress me with these books (and no, I have not yet visited the website).  My subscription ran out with this issue and I have resubscribed–although I take major issue with the $20 shipping and handling fee.  I even wrote to them to complain and they wrote back saying that the books are heavy.  Which is true, but not $5/bk heavy.  The good news is that they sent me a $10 off coupon so the shipping is only half as painful now.

This issue’s endpages were “hypothetical baseball wheel-guides created by JASON OBERG–they were pretty cool and a fun idea.  They look very retro, but use contemporary batters, pitchers and catchers.  I’d like to see them for real.

Each issue makes me like sports a little bit more, but not enough to actually watch  them.

(more…)

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grantladn4SOUNDTRACK: BAD RELIGION-“Fuck You” (2012).

badrelIt’s hard to believe that Bad Religion has been around for thirty years and has never written a song called “Fuck You” before.  Typically they write songs with more profound lyrics.  So I guess this is kind of lazy.  But it’s still fun.

Bad Religion write (mostly) blistering punk songs in under three minutes   They have of course written longer songs, but mostly they do these quick tracks.  Despite the blister, Bad Religion also love harmonies and backing vocals–and for a punk band, they are quite melodious.

After all these years, the band still sounds good.  It’s true that it’s kind of hard to tell when certain songs were recorded as a lot of their music sounds similar.  However, on this track I think the middle slower part sounds like it might be a newer, fuller sound.  But still, when you get to the chorus, it’s hard not to recognize that old time Bad Religion.

[READ: December 26, 2012] “Denny Coughlin”

I have come not to expect too much from the fiction in Grantland.  It’s usually a fine story but not much more.  And that’s okay–I don’t think sports stories can be all that original–you either win or lose, right?

This story did things a little differently   It’s about prisoners playing hockey.  I didn’t even catch on that they were prisoners right away–I liked that the story doesn’t spoon feed the details, it just got right to the action.  Anyhow, in a prison in Walpole, MA, the prisoners from Southie would face the guys from Charlestown twice a week in the yard.

There were only two rules.  1) No injuries–if you get hurt, tend to yourself.  The guards are sick of people in the infirmary.  And 2) the ball is in play wherever it goes, even under the bench that the guards sit on.  The guards know to get up if the ball goes there. (more…)

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