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Archive for the ‘Roy Kesey’ Category

#20SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-File Under: Easy Listening (1994).

fuelI  always thought File Under: Easy Listening was a very funny title.  But it’s possible that people took it too literally as it didn’t sell all that well. And in Mould’s autobiography he says he didn’t have much time to write songs for this disc and he thinks it suffered.  Of the three Sugar discs, this is definitely the weakest, although there are some great moments on it.

The disc opens with “Gift” which has some ragged distorted guitars. It’s got some noises and grungy sounding solos showing that FU:EL was a joke.  Although, the overall sound is kind of a cleaner version of the angry songs on Beaster.  “Company Book” is kind of a pounder, until the voice comes in and you realize…it’s not Mould!  It’s got a catchy chorus, but after the kind of underwhelming opener, it’s a strange place for a song that’s also not so dynamic.  Especially when it’s followed by “Your Favorite Thing” another great pop song from Mould—not top tier but a really strong second tier (although that bright, simple guitar solo is a real winner).  “What You Want It To Be” is a another decent song (the addition of that extra guitar playing the melody line really makes the song shine.  “Gee Angel” is also a high point.  A catchy song, but which never quite reaches the heights of the previous albums.

“Panama City Hotel” has the same feel as the opening of Beaster: bright acoustic guitars and a similar riff.  But it never really goes anywhere, and the 4 minutes seem.  The “do do do do’s” that open “Can’t Help You Anymore” are certainly the brightest spot on the album, and a big pop song as well.  “Granny Cool” has a nicely abrasive riff although it seems kind of mean spirited.  It’s funny that he tucked “Believe What You’re Saying” at the end of the album.  It’s a minor song but it sounds so bright on this album after the other songs. It’s really quite pretty.

And the closer, “Explode and Make Up” is one of Mould’s great angry songs.  Unlike Beaster, this one has a happy acoustic field—bnright guitars with that raging distorted guitar underneath.  It’s a great slow burner of a song and at five minutes it ends a somewhat lackluster album in a great way.

[READ: March 31, 2013] McSweeney’s #20

McSweeney’s #20 is an issue that I have read before.  At least I think I have.  My recollection is that it was the last one I read before I started writing about them on this blog.  I was hesitant to read it soon again, which is why I waited until now.  And while I remember the issue itself (with all of the art), I didn’t remember the stories.  So who knows if I actually read it six years ago.

Anyhow, this issue comes jam-packed with art.  Every fourth page has full-color artwork on it–many of them are quite famous.  It makes for a very beautiful book.

In between these artworks are a number of stories–ranging in size from 2 pages to 30-some pages.  There are no letters, and the explanatory and copyright information is on the cover of the book–which would be fine, except that it is covered up by a kind of 3-D artwork.  I wonder if the whole text is available anywhere?

The book also comes with a separate pamphlet–an excerpt from Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital.  I intend to read the novel eventually so I didn’t read the excerpt–although maybe if I put off the novel for six years I should just read the excerpt now. (more…)

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#15SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Copper Blue (1992).

copperblueAfter Bob Mould made some solo albums, he created another band.  Another trio, this one called Sugar.  Sugar seems to take Mould’s poppiest elements and wrap them in a big 90s grunge sound–a sound that Mould pretty much invented in Hüsker Dü.  And in many ways Sugar is not all that different from Hüsker Dü–maybe a bit less experimental and a little more commercial.

One thing I noticed about this album that, once I noticed it I couldn’t avoid it, was that when the drummer plays the cymbal (it might even be a hi hat with a tambourine on it), which he plays a lot, the tinny shimmer of that sound is so pervasive, I find it rather distracting.  Or should I say it adds an almost minute level of static over the proceedings.

The disc opens with “The Act We Act,” where big grungy guitars and a simple chugga chugga riff burst out of the speakers. I love the Pixies feeling of “A Good Idea” both that up front bass and the buggy sounding guitars provide an almost false introduction to the catchy verse and chorus that’s to come.  I also enjoy the unexpected break after the chorus.

It’s followed by the ringing guitars that introduce “Changes” a classic poppy rock song that is unmistakably Mould.  The uneasy almost nauseating sounds at the end of the song are again like a feint in the wrong direction as “Helpless” easily the most pop song Mould has ever written comes out.  Of course, as with Mould, this outrageously poppy song is all about feeling helpless.

Keyboards open the next song, “Hoover Dam” (something of a surprise for this album), which proves to be yet another big Mould single.  The song is so open with multiple acoustic guitars (and that cool synth solo) and a really wild reverse guitar solo.  It’s one of my favorite Mould  songs and yet another example of why this album was such a huge hit.

“The Slim” brings back the darker songs that Mould is also known for.  And just when you think that Mould can’t pull out another huge big single, he gives us “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” one of his great big bouncy acoustic guitar songs.  It is almost obscene how catchy this song is, right down to the simple scale solo at the end.  Mould has this little technique that I find irresistible where he plays a song normally and then plays two fast chord changes segueing into another section.  It’s so cool.

“Fortune Teller” is a fast rocker with Mould’s trebly guitar taking the lead.  “Slick” is the only song I’m not crazy about. There’s something about it that kind of slows the momentum down, which is odd for a song about a car.  It’s got a real middle-period-Who feel to it, which I do like (and I really like the bridge) it just feels odd in this place in the disc.  The end of the song has some snippets of chatter that could have been edited out but lend an amusing air to the final track, “Man on the Moon” which ends the disc with that same air that the rest of the album has—big guitars and Mould’s slightly distorted vocals.  The solo is weirdly processed and kind of fun.  The end of the track with its repeated half step has a very Beatles feel to it. And the very end of the disc has the sound of tape rewinding, an amusing nod to the digital era.

Copper Blue was Mould’s first huge success and in his book he talks about not realizing quite how huge it was until he was in the middle of it.

[READ: March 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #15

I was a little disappointed with McSweeney’s #14, but #15 was once again fantastic.  This issue is a smallish hardcover (I like when their books are this size).  The bottom half of the cover features a cool 2 color painting by Leif Parsons.  The issue is known as the Icelandic Issue because of a few things.  The first half of the book features stories by the usual suspects.  Each of these stories is accompanied by an illustration of a Scandinavian rune that dates to the Viking era.  The stories in the second half of the book have illustrations that are taken from Icelandic grimoires–magician’s handbooks.  It is these second half stories that are all from Scandinavian authors.  It’s a fascinating peek into a culture few of us probably get to read.

There’s no letters in this book, which removes some of the levity, but that’s okay.  The front page has a brief story that it was being written on November 2, 2004 in New Mexico, hoping to bring some voting power to “the good guys “in this “completely fucking terrifying election.”  (The bad guy eked out a victory 49.8 to 49.1).  They went canvassing door to door with an Iraqi veteran named Joey (who was 21).  He was very pro-Kerry and may have even convinced a young girl to vote (she thought her vote didn’t count because she was poor (!)).  It really evokes the feeling on that dark night in 2004 when the iota of hope was snuffed out. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS-The Age of Adz (2010).

Sufjan Stevens has released a bunch of albums of beautiful orchestral rock.  It is multi-layered and complex with classical elements and all kinds of cool instruments.

And this album starts out with a beautiful acoustic guitar melody and Sufjan’s delicate vocals.  Although it is a far more stripped down song than usual, “Futile Devices” seems like it is heading in the standard direction.  But anyone who heard Sufjan’s Christmas album number VIII knows that he has been having some fun with electronics.  And they show up with a vengeance on track two, “Too Much.”

All of the multilayered noise that was once orchestral and (some might say) precious has been replaced by a cacophony of gorgeous electronic noises.  The beginning of the song reminds me of the sounds in Skinny Puppy’s “Stairs and Flowers” (how many Sufjan Stevens reviews mention Skinny Puppy?).  The song is nothing like Skinny Puppy once the vocals kick in–it’s catchy and delicate–but those electronics underpin the whole thing, bringing his pastoralia into the twenty-first century.  When I first reviewed this song I didn’t like it but once you get absorbed by Sufjan’s world, it’s an enticing place to be,

“Age of Adz” takes this electronic nonsense even further with an 8 minute brew of strange sounds and choral voices.  But he always manages to throw in some catchy parts, no matter how strange the song gets.

For me one of the highlights of the disc is “I Walked” it features one of my favorite Sufjan things–falsetto vocals in a beautiful but unexpected melody.  And this song has them in spades.  “Now That I’m Older” has a very disconcerting sound–his voice is slowly warbled and mournful.  It’s a beautiful melody that is alienating at the same time.

“Get Real Get Right” returns to his earlier style somewhat (there’s more layers of music, although the electronica is still in place).   “Vesuvius” is a beautiful song and “All for Myself” is another of those great falsetto tracks that I like so much.

“I Want to Be Well” eventually turns into a manic electronic workout in which he repeats the chorus “I’m not fucking around.”

But nothing compares  to “Impossible Soul” a twenty-five minute (!) multi-part suite of electronic chaos.  It’s a fantastic song complete with autotune (used to very cool effect), repeated swelling choruses (it’s like a Polyphonic Spree tribute), electronic freakouts, and acoustic comedowns.  All in a positive, happy message.  I can’t stop listening to it.  “It’s not so impossible!”

Sufjan continues to impress me.

[READ: November 10, 2011] McSweeney’s #9

After the excesses of McSweeney’s #8, I was excited to get to the brevity (and urgency) of McSweeney’s #9.  This one is a paperback and looks like the first couple of issues.  The cover is mostly text with a hodgepodge of phrases and pleas.  You get things like: Thankful, Emboldened, The (Hot-Blooded/Life-Saving) Presumption of (Perpetual/Irrational (or More Likely, Irreducibly Rational) Good Will, Efflorescence, Our motto this time: We Give You Sweaty Hugs,” Alternative motto: ” We Are Out Looking,” GEGENSCHEIN (no more), and the promise: “We will Do Four This Year.”

This is the kind of issue that makes me love McSweeney’s.  There are some wonderful short stories, there are some nice essays and there are some dark moments all centered vaguely and tangentially around a theme.  There are some great authors here, too.

The back cover image is called Garden Variety by Scott Greene and it’s a fantastic painting.  You can see it here (navigate through the 2000-2004 paintings, but I have to say I really like the style of all of his work.

There are no letters and no nonsense in this issue.  So let’s get to it. (more…)

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