Archive for the ‘Stephen Elliott’ Category

[WATCHED: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11


THE DVD that came with Issue #11 was listed as a “Deleted Scenes” bonus feature for this issue.  The colophon of the book explains in great detail what they wanted to do and how they went about doing it all.  And that’s all quite amusing in itself.

Now, of course, there are no “deleted scenes” up front.  The DVD is, at first glance, authors reading from the works in the book.  But as you scroll down the menu, there are some deleted scenes, as well as behind the scenes features and audio commentary.  All in all there’s about two hours worth of stuff crammed in here and some of it is quite interesting.


This is where the authors read from their works.  They each read between 3 and 6 minutes, with some of them reading different sections (Samantha Hunt), but most of them reading a chunk.   (more…)

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11SOUNDTRACK: THE ANTLERS-Live at the Black Cat, Washington DC, May 11, 2009 (2009).

antlersI mentioned that I was uncertain about my appreciation of this band.  And I wondered how they would hold up to a longer show.  The answer is surprisingly well.  The sound quality of this set isn’t great–the levels seem way too loud (not sure if that’s the band or the recording) and I really can’t understand the words, but the music is very moody and evocative and I like it quite a lot.

This set comes from the album Hospice, which is a concept album about a person dying of bone cancer (with lyrics like “they told me that there was no saving you” and song titles like “Kettering”).  Earlier descriptions made me think the album was a major drag to listen to– I mean the subject alone is exhausting–but musically it’s a different story.  There’s lush strings and interesting guitars.  And, at least live, the band can make a holy racket.

I’m a little surprised by the number of keyboard errors in “Atrophy.”  I mean an occasional bum note is fine, but there’s a bunch in that track.  It’s very weird.  But that is made up for by the vocals which are angsty and impassioned, especially on the final song “Cold War.”  The NPR site has three tracks available for viewing and I must say that watching the band is more exciting than just listening to them.  But I have really gained an appreciation for The Antlers.

Check out the show here.

[READ: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

This crazy title for this Issue/Post comes because the cover and spine of the book are all text.  Indeed, the book is gorgeously bound in black leather(ish) with shiny gold print.  Each author gets a summary of his or her work and a note that he or she is free (see each story below).

I did not read Issue #10 yet because it came out as a thrilling paperback, and I’ve been putting it off for a reason even I can’t quite fathom.  I anticipate reading that one last.  Again, no idea why.  In some ways, Issue #11 picks up where Issue #9 left off.  There’s lots of text on the cover, there’s letters and everything else that makes it look like McSweeney’s.  But as I said this one seems more somehow.  It’s the hardcover.  And, it’s also the DVD that accompanies the book.  I have a hard time believing I’ve owned this book for almost ten years and never watched the DVD but I finally got around to it.  More on that soon.

This issue contains letters, fiction, non-fiction and a play that picks up from Issue #9 (more…)

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I had seen St Vincent on Austin City Limits, and her juxtaposition of waif-singer with noise mongering guitar player blew me away.  So I was a little disappointed when this album opened up with this gentle, practically 1950s sounding vocal and string line in “The Strangers.”  It takes two and a half minutes, but the noise eventually comes and it totally changes the texture of the song.  Of course now, “make the black hole blacker” is a fun thing to sing along with (and the lyrics in general are pretty great).  “Save Me from What I Want” is another quiet song with a catchy chorus.  “The Neighbors” has a great melody with interesting strings over the top of it.  “Actor Out of Work” brings in some stranger sounds to the album.

There’s something interesting about the songs on this album, like the way “Black Rainbow” has these sweet string sections but for the end half builds a crescendo of tension. I also love that a seemingly delicate song can be called “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood.”  Perhaps the strangest song on the disc is “Marrow” which has a strange horn section and the chorus: “H.  E.  L.  P.  Help Me Help Me.”  “The Bed,” “The Party” and “Just the Same But Brand New” continue in this vein–like a Disney princess song with a horrible threat underneath: “Don’t Mooooove, Don’t Screeeam.”  But that sense of princess who are slightly askew really resonates on this record.  It’s not as willfully dissonant as her first record, but lyrically it’s a knife covered in cotton candy, it’s still a gem.

[READ: March 20, 2012] McSweeney’s #39

One of the bad things about having a job with actual work is not being able to write complex posts about compilation books.  It’s hard to have your book open while bosses walk by.  So, its been a while since I read this and I’ll do my best to remember it all.  Incidentally, if you’re keeping track I skipped 38, but I’ll get to it.

Issue #39 is a hardcover and a pretty one at that. It has a front cover photo (as well as many interior photos) taken by Tabitha Soren.  Yes, forty-somethings, THAT Tabitha Soren, from MTV who has a new career as a photographer.

This issue continues with the recent return of the Letters column (as the magazine and front matter become more serious the return of the Letters adds an air of silliness). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Ten Rapid (1997).

The release of this disc hot on the heels of Young Team rather confused me, especially when trying to keep track of which discs were “real” and which ones were compilations.  This one is a compilation.  It’s subtitled: (Collected Recordings 1996–1997).  And the fact that it has ten songs on it tells you just how much they released in those two years.  (It appears that they released 4 or 5 singles, although all the songs don’t seem to appear on Ten Rapid, and there seems to be a song or two unaccounted for.  Wikipedia also suggests that some of the songs were re-recorded for Ten Rapid.  Gosh, what’s a completist to do?).  And given all that they released back then, it’s also a surprise at how short this collection is  (just over 30 minutes).

The amazing thing is how much the disc sounds like a complete recording and not a collection of singles.  It is mostly Mogwai’s slower, quieter pieces, and the overall tone is one of “mood” rather than “songs.”  And, for those of us who thin of Mogwai as a really loud band, the prominent use of glockenspiel comes as something of a surprise (as does the quiet singing on two of the tracks).

The opener “Summer” is not the same as “Summer [Priority Version]” on Young Team.  This one is a beautiful track with glockenspiel while the YT version is much heavier and darker. “Helicon 2” (also known as “New Paths to Helicon, Pt. 2”), is a wonderful track with an interesting riff and texture.  On a recent live disc, it was expanded greatly. “Angels vs Aliens” and “Tuner” are the two tracks with vocals.  They’re both rather quiet and kind of soothing.

“I am Not Batman” is mostly washes rather than a riff based song.  “Ithica 27ϕ9” is one of their best early songs. It’s also the one track here that really experiments with sound dynamics.   It opens with a beautiful melody that swirls around for a bit.  Then the loud guitars come screaming out until it returns to that melody (and all in under 3 minutes).

The final track “End” is an entirely backwards recordings.  Wikipedia says that it is “Helicon 2” backwards, and I’ll take their word for it.

Ten Rapid is a really solid collection of songs showing just how good Mogwai was from the start.

[READ: March 8, 2011] Donald

This book is a speculative piece of fiction that answers the question: what would happen if Donald Rumsfeld was sent to Guantanamo Prison.  Note also that the cover is a parody of the cover of Rumsfeld’s own memoir (released around the same time).

The main character is clearly Rumsfeld, although he is never mentioned by his full name, always “Donald.”  But his description and his biography make it obvious that it is him.  There is a Note at the end of the book which states that the information about Donald is as accurate as possible.

First we see Donald in a library, presumably working on his memoirs.  He is accosted by a young kid who asks him questions.  Donald is annoyed by the kid and more or less blows him off.  Donald then has a fancy dinner with his wife and “Ed and Peggy” (two people who I can’t place historically).

That evening, masked people break into Donald’s home and haul him off to a prison (he is bound and his head is covered so he doesn’t know where).  The rest of the book sees him taken from one prison to the next, tortured in various ways (nothing too graphic, most of the torture consists of thinks like disrupting sleep, keeping the temperature really hot or really cold, and asking him lots and lots of questions, sometimes for 20 hours at a time.  There is no physical torture (again, it’s not graphic). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra-Kollpas Tradixionales (2010).

Silver Mt. Zion are back!  And they are noisy!

This disc continues their fine output of haunting, rambling epics.  The opener is a 15 minute slow builder called “There is a Light” and the finale is a 14 minute story called “‘Piphany Rambler.”  In between we have  a couple of multi-part tracks: “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” and “I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” which are some of the fastest tracks they’ve recorded.  The other “suite” is 3 versions (and spellings) of the title track.

The one consistent thing about Silver Mt . Zion (in whatever version of their name they employ) is that they write incredibly passionate music.  It’s often raw and it swells and ebbs with feeling.  I especially enjoy the (multiple) climaxes that fill all of the longer songs.  And when the band brings in the horns and the strings and the whole group sings along, it’s very affecting.

The one thing that I’m still not totally on board with is Efrim’s voice.  On previous releases, I bought it because he sounded very angsty, but I’m starting to think that the tenor of his voice just doesn’t work with the bombast of the music.  When the backing singers chime in, the sound is glorious, but I find his voice to be simply the wrong sound.  There’s a few parts on the disc where he sings in a lower, softer register, and I found them really moving.  I think if he sang all of the parts like that, they would impact the songs more strongly (and maybe even be more understandable).

I realize that the vocals are an essential part to the disc, and I definitely get used to them after a few listens, I just feel like the whole disc (and not just the music) would be amazing if Efrim used that deeper register more.

Nevertheless, the music is really fantastic, and if you buy the LP, you get some great artwork, too.

[READ: May 13, 2010] McSweeney’s 34

After the enormous work of Panorama, (McSweeney’s newspaper (Issue 33)), they’ve returned with a somewhat more modest affair.  Two slim books totaling about 400 pages  Each is a paperback. The first is a collection of short stories artwork, etc.  The second is  nonfiction work about Iraq.  Both books are bound together in a clear plastic slipcover (with a fun design on it).  [UPDATE: I cannot for the life of me out the books back in the cover.  They simply will not sit without ripping the plastic.  Boo!]

The first collection opens with a Letters column, something that we haven’t seen in years!  And, as with the old letters column, the letters are absurd/funny/thoughtful and sometimes just weird. (more…)

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