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Archive for the ‘Steven Millhauser’ Category

octSOUNDTRACK: ENORMODOME-“The Way We Burn” (Tiny Desk Contest Fan Favorite 2016).

enormo Last week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  Last year, Enormodome made it to the top ten runner ups, but sadly, they did not this year.

However they did make a fan favorite vote and I like the song, so there.  Last year their concept was awesome—they played in the office of the mayor of Flagstaff (where they are based).  This year, they took their desk outside and set it on fire.

Enormodome is just two guys, a guitarist and drummer and they get a big rocking sound out of their tiny set up.  They’ve got a fuzzy guitar and lots of high hats to keep the song from ever sounding spare.  And both guys sing–often in harmony–so the songs stay interesting.

The song is a kind of heavy classic rock—a big catchy riff, and a wonderful chorus.

Beyond the flaming desk, the video is fun to watch–there’s circus performers everywhere and lots and lot so fire!   Which makes sense given the title of the song.

Check it out:

[READ: February 21, 2016] “Late”

I really enjoyed this story.  I thought I’d read a lot more by Millhauser, but I see that I’ve only ever read a few short pieces by him.  Well, after this I’ll have to read more.

Because Valeria is always later, the narrator tells her to arrive at a restaurant an hour earlier than he wants to eat.  He figures, if she’s 35 minutes late for a 6 o’clock dinner, she will actually be 25 minutes early for a 7PM dinner, which is when he wants to eat anyhow.

However, he doesn’t want her to arrive on time and wonder where he is, so he arrives at the restaurant a little before 6 to secure a window table with a view of the front door.

He orders a coffee and tells the waiter that he is awaiting somebody. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_12_16_13Nelson.inddSOUNDTRACK: MOON HOOCH-Tiny Desk Concert #371 (July 7, 2014).

moonhoochI like to do things in an orderly fashion when I write about them, but when it comes to Moon Hooch, order simply must go out the window.

I’ve been enjoying Moon Hooch a lot lately, cranking their CD, watching them play improv live pieces on the side of the road (on YouTube) and now in this Tiny Desk Concert.

So Moon Hooch is three guys–two sax and a drummer.  And they play loud and fast and furious with crazy tempo changes, incredible stop on a dime pauses and some amazingly noisy solos.  In this Concert, the guys (saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen and drummer James Muschler) play three songs that all sort of meld together: “Tubes,” “Number 9” and “Bari 3.”

“Tubes” opens up as the picture shows with the baritone sax stuffed with some kind of tube.  I have no idea what it does to the sound (their sounds are so unusual anyhow), but it’s a very funny visual to see him waving this massive thing around while it’s attached with a yellow caution tape.  Especially since the song actually starts with the other sax making crazy skronking noises (this ain’t easy listening music, that’s for sure).  Indeed, when the lead sax is not playing a catchy melody he is wailing and skronking around.

“Number 9” was their first single and the song that introduced me to the band.  The extenda-tubes are gone, and the song sounds super tight and in control, with enough jam elements to keep it interesting.  Drummer Muschler also take a brief solo–it’ nothing too flashy (he’s got a very spare kit), but it really shows off his speed and dexterity which can get lost behind the flash of the saxes, especially when the saxes come back in and the solo wails away.

The final song is their new single.  I love their choreographed playing and the amazing stops and stars that the music has.   This song also features some of the quieter sections before launching into that heavy low sax riffage.

It’s definitely more fun to watch these guys, so check it out here.

[READ: June 13, 2014] “Coming Soon”

Stephen Millhauser seems to get a lot of stories published in the New Yorker.  His last one was in May of 2013 (this one was in December).  I’m starting to think there’s some unfairness in their selections sometimes.

But that’s not meant to reflect on this story at all because it was a fun, meta-story and the crazy related picture (echoes of a small house) was surprisingly apt.

In the story, Levinson has moved from the city to an up and coming town.  His friends in the city made fun of him–talking about the burbs and commodification and what not, yet they all went out to visit him to the weekends.  This particular town (not a sprawling suburb) was being developed quickly, and he relished the newness.   In fact he was almost defensive of how much he loved his new town.

Levinson is 42, dating casually until the right girl comes around.  But he is not settling down at all–he still works hard and he enjoys working in his yard and wandering the town.  He knows his neighbors and everyone is friendly.  It’s perfect. (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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CV1_TNY_05_27_13Juan.inddSOUNDTRACK: CHANCE THE RAPPER-“Juice” & “NaNa”(2013).

chancetherapper-acidrapNPR has raved about Chance the Rapper, both at SXSW and now with Acidrap as one of their favorite albums of 2013.

Chance the Rapper has a couple of different vocals styles (kind of Jamaican, kind of falsetto, also a deeper voice) and his lyrics are crazily all over the place.

I have no idea what “Juice” is about (I’m not hip to the slang, man), and of the two I like that one less.  “NaNa” is just crazy fun–it’s got a great bass riff–weird and all over the place, like slow funk.  He sounds more Jamaican here, and the lyrics are just nutty

In terms of rap, his style is quite different–fun and weird (there’s a lot of laughing during “Juice”).  The chorus of “NaNa” is a kind of whine and taunt.  And various things keep interrupting the song (is that part of the video or the song?  I don’t know).  And by the end, the song keeps telling him (or us) to shut up.

It has a feel like Childish Gambino, which i like. And I like that he’s doing something different.  I suspect with a few listens this could be a great mixtape.  You can get the whole thing for free at his website.

[READ: June 9, 2013] “Thirteen Wives”

I’ve read a number of Millhauser stories before, although I don’t recall if I generally like him or not.  (hmm, it seems that I do).

This story seemed more like an exercise or a challenge—can I write about 13 different women and given them all different characteristics.  For indeed, that is what the story is.  The narrator explains that he has 13 wives and they are all equal in his eyes.  After some perfunctory explanation about how this works, he sets out to describe them all.

And then we get the 13 one-dimensional women that he has married and the one defining characteristic about her (the one who is always in sync with him, the one who is submissive, the one who is bitchy, etc).

And really that’s all there is to it. (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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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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CV1_TNY_12_10_12Steinberg.inddSOUNDTRACKDAN DEACON-“Electronica Hanukkah” (2010).

elechanDan Deacon is rapidly becoming one of my favorite oddball musicians.  I really don’t know very much about him, but he seems willing to give away music to various projects and put them for free on soundcloud (he has a proper album out as well this year which has been well received).

“Electronica Hannukah” is a paean to consumerism–set to a noisy processed electronic beat.  The superprocessed chorus voice is, well, super processed.  Deacon’s song is snarky and funny and yet the harmonies are actually quite pretty.

I’m not sure that this is what the holiday is about.  But you can determine that for yourself.

[READ: December 19, 2012] “A Voice in the Night”

This is a multipart story told in multiple sections.  We have three story lines labeled I, II, III and each story line is broken so that the next can continue.  That may sound more confusing than it needed to be.  So let’s step back.  In story line I, we see the biblical story of Samuel, whom God called in the middle of the night.  In story line II, we see a young boy staying awake in case God calls him in the middle of the night.  In story line III we see that boy as an old man whom God has not called.

There are four breaks in the story, one for each time Samuel was called.  The first three times, Samuel assumes it is his holy master Eli who has called him.  But Eli is asleep and tells Samuel to go back to bed himself.  On the third visit Eli says that it must be the Lord calling him.  And he should answer correctly.

Unlike Samuel, the boy in the second story line is not a believer   His father does not believe and the boy does not want to stay for the religious part of Sunday school.  And yet the story of Samuel stays with him all the time and he tries desperately to stay awake in case the Lord calls.  Which he may not really want anyhow, as it means a lot of work. (more…)

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