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Archive for the ‘W.G. Sebald’ Category

fivedials_no26SOUNDTRACK: BOB DYLAN-Christmas in the Heart (2009).

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Christmas_in_the_HeartI have been a dabbler in Dylan over the years.  I like his hits, I like some of his albums, but I’ve never been a huge huge fan.  So the biggest surprise to me was that Bob Dylan now sounds like Tom Waits.  His voice is so crazily gravelly, it’s almost (almost) unrecognizable as Dylan.

That said, on some of the tracks it works very well–like he’s had too much to drink and is enjoying the revelry of these traditional songs.  I imagine him as a benevolent uncle trying to get the family to sing along.  And sing along they do.  He has a group of backing singers who sound like they are straight out of the forties and fifties (on some songs the women sing incredibly high especially compared to Dylan’s growl).  I’m not always sure it works, but when it does it’s quite something.

The first three songs are a lot of fun. However, when he gets to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it really sounds like he has hurt himself.  He seems to really strain on some of those notes–note the way he pronounces “herald” (heeerald).

The more secular songs fare better with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounding especially Waitsian and being all the better for it.  Although I feel that perhaps he made up some lyrics–“presents on the tree?”  It’s interesting that in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” he sings the first verse in Latin (I don’t know that I’ve heard any other pop singers do that) and it works quite well.

A less successful song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which the music just seems to be too slow for him.  His verses end early and it seems like the backing singers are just out in the middle of nowhere.  Perhaps the best song is “Must Be Santa.”  I love this arrangement (by Brave Combo) and Dylan has a ton of fun with it (and the video is weirdly wonderful too).

“Christmas Blues” is a bit of a downer (as the title might suggest).  I’d never heard this song before and Dylan is well suited to it.  Dylan’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is also very good–he croons gently and his voice sounds really good.  I was surprised to hear him do “Christmas Island,” a song I have come to love this year–his version is quite fun as well, with the backing singer doing Aloha-ays.

Finally, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is pitched a wee bit high for him (and the Waits voice is more scary than avuncular here).

So overall it’s a weird collection (to say nothing of the artwork–both the cover and the inside cover), but I think it’s well suited to the day after the festivities.

[READ: December 15, 2013] Five Dials #26

I was shocked to realize who many Five Dials issued I had put off reading (and that this one came out over a year ago!).  I knew 26 was a large issue, so I put it off.  And then put it off.  And then put it off, until Issue 29 came out.  (I read 29 before this one, which got me to jump back and tackle this large one).

I have to admit I did not enjoy this one as much as previous Five Dials.  The bulk of the issue was taken up with German short stories, and I don’t know if it was the choices of the editors, but (a few) of the stories just didn’t grab me at all.  Having said that, there were one or two that I thought were very good.  But with this being such a large issue, perhaps it deserved to be spaced out a little better–Weltanschauung fatigue, no doubt.

This issue starts with Letters from Our Glorious readers and other sources.
I feel like this is a new feature for Five Dials (although again, it has been a while).  There is applause for the Bears (From Issue #24) and the acknowledgement of Zsuzsi Gartner’s first adoptees of her story ideas (Issue #25 Pt 1).  There’s also the amusing story of a guy who got nailed at work for printing the color issue (something I used to do at my old job as well) and a refraining of answering spam.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Ewen and German
Taylor doesn’t say much in this intro, since the “heavy lifting” is done by Anna Kelly.  He does mention Paul Ewen (and his food writing) and the first Five Dials questionnaire (which I assume it is too late (and too far away) for me to submit for that free HH book).

ANNA KELLY
She explains about wanting to know secrets, and how when she was little, learning Pig Latin was a such a huge boon to her secretive life.  Then her sister started studying German, and Anna herself was hooked.  She says that reading German works in German is like flying.  And she wants to share German language writers with us.  Of course, we won’t be reading them in German, so there will be no flying.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HELIUM-The Dirt of Luck (1995).

Mary Timony fronted Helium for a few years.  In that time she was recognized as something of a guitar wizard–not in her speed and flash, but in the weird sounds she conjured from the instrument.

She also had very peculiar musical sensibilities (these songs are quite odd) and a cool feminist attitude.  This album features the amazing song “Superball” (one of the best songs of the mid 90s–check out the video and watch the guitarist playing the strings with a screwdriver!  Man I miss the 90s) as well as a number of unpolished gems like “Medusa” and “Pat’s Trick” (the dual vocals are very cool and the dispassionate “oh oh oh” is very interesting, plus I love the lyric about “long-ass curly hair”).

Her singing style is often quite slacker-y, like in the opening of “Medusa”–she’s not always audible, and she often seems like a kind of buzzy sound more than a voice.   She sounds like she’s singing from very far away–seemingly powerful and yet quiet at the same time.

But combine that with the cool scratchy/noisy guitar sounds she gets and she’s pulling off a very cool combination (think Dino Jr without the hooks and killer solos).

Like “Baby’s Going Underground” features some crazy shoegazer guitar washes for most of its 6 minutes which really changes the pacing of the record.  There’s also the great “Skeleton,” a riff so cool that Sonic Youth used it for “Sunday.”

She also has a way with haunting melodies as on the piano  instrumental “Comet #9” and on “All the X’s Have Wings” which sounds very medieval. I think of Timony as a guitarist and yet there is there are lots of keyboards on the album too–mystical keyboards that are fascinating and seem out of character with the guitars, but actually work quite well.   But the prettiest song is “Honeycomb.’  It’s a sweet song with a wonderful melody.  It is followed by the ender “Flower of the Apocalypse” a guitar-based instrumental that is mostly feedback but is also surprisingly melodic.

Helium had mild accolades back in the 90s.  They released a couple of albums and then Mary Timony went solo.  It’s nice to have her playing now with Wild Flag.

[READ: November 11, 2011] Five Dials Number 21

This is the first issue of Five Dials that I was ready to read when it was sent to me (I’ve been all caught up for a while now).  So that’s pretty exciting!

I was tempted to say that i enjoyed this issue more than other issues, but I have enjoyed most Five Dials issues equally.  But this one is definitely a favorite.

CRAIG TAYLOR–A Letter from the Editor: On Turning 21 and Thinking About Rock Stars and Greece.
The magazine introduction jokes about them now being legal to drink in the U.S. and also about now being old enough to run for M.P. in England.  He also tells us about their “new” section Our Town, which has vastly expanded in this issue.  He also explains that there are many rock stars on hand to give the magazine tutelage (authors that the rock stars enjoy) and three short stories.  He ends with a notice that they have gone to Greece where they are gathering material for Issue 22. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-Director’s Cut (2011).

Kate Bush has re-recorded eleven songs from her two least-loved discs, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes.  According to the story at NPR, this seems to have been inspired by the Joyce estate’s granting Kate the right to use part of Ulysses as the lyrics for the song “The Sensual World” (in the original version she paraphrased the book).  So, she decided to re-record a bunch of other songs from those two albums as well.

I admit that neither one of those discs is high on my repeat play list, with The Red Shoes being a particular disappointment.  (Although there are some great songs on each).  When I read that these songs from those two albums I wasn’t terribly excited to hear them.  But I must say that these new versions have really reinvigorated these tracks.

I’m surprised by some of the choices (redoing “This Woman’s Work” is something of a shock, as is redoing her only real hit from The Red Shoes, “Rubberband Girl”), but whether it’s that she chose the best songs, or the new version have more life to them, this is a wonderful collection of songs.

Actually, rechecking the track listing, it does appear to be the best tracks from both discs, but I’m pleasantly surprised to seen how many good songs were actually on The Red Shoes to begin with,

from The Sensual World

  • Sensual World (retitled “Flower of the MOuntain”)
  • Deeper Understanding
  •  This Woman’s Work
  • Never Be Mine

from The Red Shoes

  • The Song of Solomon
  • Lily
  • The Red Shoes
  • Moments of Pleasure
  • Top of the City
  • And So is Love
  • Rubberband Girl

For the most part, the music seems to be the same (although there are some glaring exceptions).  I admit to not remembering the originals for all of them all that well).  But she has mostly rerecorded her voice (and possibly other lyrics, if NPR is accurate).  Her voice is unmistakably Kate, but in some places she sounds noticeably older (which she is, so duh).  She doesn’t seem to be able to hit quite the highs of before, but her voice has a throaty excellence to it now that brings something new to the songs.  It’s not noticeable on every song, although it is most notable on “This Woman’s Work,” which began with high sopranos, and now begins with lower alto notes.  But she can still hit some of the cool screechy notes on “Top of the City”

There are some tracks that are very different, “A Deeper Understanding” (a song about love via modems) replaces the earlier style of singing with a heavily autotuned computer voice.  It’s unsettling but very cool sounding.

The biggest changes come in “This Woman’s Work” and “Rubberband Girl.”

“This Woman’s Work” is a far more sedate track now. It doesn’t have any of the soaring moments of the original.  It seems to have more depth in this version, but I miss the “Oh darling make it go away” moment.  Nevertheless, it sounds really pretty in this more mature version.  It’s simply a very different song now.

As for “Rubberband Girl,” I’ve always had a real fondness for the original, so I don’t know how I feel about the rerecorded version (which is so very different).  The original is very elastic with cool music and weird vocals and is kind of trippy (and may not even be all that good), but I have grown quiet attached to it.  The new version is a simple guitar sound (it reminds me of a sort of unplugged Rolling Stones song now).

Overall, this is an exciting revitalization of Kate’s back catalog, and I hope it inspires her to make another new album in the next few years or so.

[READ: May 14, 2011] Austerlitz

I read about Sebald in Five Dials. And the glowing talk about him made me want to read one of his books (specifically, this one).

Austerlitz is a strange novel which I enjoyed but which I never really got into.  I feel like rather than absorbing me into its words, the book kind of held me aloft on the surface.  As such, I have a general sense of what happened, but I’d be very hard pressed to discuss it at length.

The basic plot summary is that an unnamed narrator runs into a man named Jacques Austerlitz.  Austerlitz talks to him at length about his life. They run into each other at various points over the years, and Austerlitz’ story is continued.  And literally, that is the book.  Now, of course, Austerlitz’ story is multifaceted and complex.  But we will never forget that this is a story within a story (it’s impossible to forget because the phrase “said Austerlitz” appears about 500 times in the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Live at the Warfield Theater, San Francisco, April 14, 2011 (2011).

NPR was given permission to share this PJ Harvey concert.  However, they were only allowed to share about half of it.  The show is fairly short to begin with (about 75 minutes) but the downloadable portion is barely 40 minutes.  It turns out that NPR was given the rights to all of the songs from the new album, Let England Shake.

Now, I have no idea how things like this work, why they are only given access to these songs as opposed to the other ones, or why an artist (or management) would not let her fans hear the ten or so other songs she played that night.  Legal restrictions are weird and usually stupid. But as I’ve mentioned before, you shouldn’t complain about free stuff.

So, what we get here is a spliced together concert (it sounds seamless, although they have removed all of the banter (if there was any)).  The album is played in its entirety (although we were not given “Written on the Forehead” which happens to be the song they are playing the most on the radio here), but it’s not played in order.  It was also interspersed with older songs “The Devil” and “Silence” from White Chalk, “The Sky Lit Up” and Angeline” from Is This Desire, “Pocket Knife” from Uh Huh Her, “Down by the Water” and “C’mon Billy” from To Bring Her My Love, (I’d like to hear how she handles the older songs, now that’s she’s singing primarily in the higher register).  And, “Big Exit” from Stories from the City.

It’s pretty clear that Harvey is no longer the young woman who made those first couple albums.  And she sounds strong and confident here.  It’s a great set; the autoharp never sounded better.

[READ: April 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 5

I have been enjoying all of the Five Dials, but this issue is easily my favorite so far.  The “theme” of this issue is translation.  Translators are the unheralded workers in literature, and while I have been trying to give them credit in my posts, I don’t always pay them enough attention (except when a translation is awkward or clunky).

But in addition to the theme (and the really cool interviews with some translators, I thought the fiction was outstanding and I loved Alain de Botton’s Advice column.  The whole issue was great. (more…)

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