Archive for the ‘Missoula, Montana’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Earth Divison EP (2012).

Oh wait, this isn’t the Mogwai EP.  What CD did I put in?

Holy crap, it IS the Mogwai CD.  And it opens with a beautiful piano and violin ballad called “Get to France.”  While it’s true that Mogwai has always been about melody (under the noise), I never expected this.  It sounds like a gorgeous soundtrack to a sad film.  It’s followed by “Hound of Winter” a gentle ballad of acoustic guitars and strings.  I know that Mogwai has a softer side, it’s just surprising to hear it all at once like this!

“Drunk and Crazy” is more like it.  It opens with a wall of guitar noise which…vanishes after about two minutes into a gentle, dark string section (strings are by Luke Sutherland of Bows and Long Fin Kille).  And while the distortion never entirely goes away (it’s evident in the piano), it is certainly pushed to the background until about 90 seconds later when it begins to overtake the track again.  It’s nowhere near as dynamic as their best stuff, but it really showcases what Mogwai can do in just over 5 minutes.

The EP ends with “Does This Always Happen?”  While it reintroduces electric guitars, it’s still a mellow song–a pretty electric guitar riff repeated while piano stabs and chords flesh out the tune and strings make it a fuller song.

None of  these songs will become “classics” (although Does This Always happen?” sounds the most like  a Mogwai song).  But it’s always great to hear them expand what they can do.   And these EPs give them a chance to show off some new styles.

To learn more about these tracks, read Stuart’s explanation of them at The Guardian.

[READ: May 25, 2012] “The Proxy Marriage”

I love Maile Meloy and I was crazy excited when I saw that she had a story in this issue.

Meloy writes stories that seem simple—they avoid a lot of the trappings of contemporary stories, indeed, they often feel like they are set in the past, even if, like in this one, they are very current.  Part of that is setting.  She tends to write about people and family interactions, which don’t require a time frame.  She also tends to set her stories in unlikely places—Montana, for instance, where not too many stories are set.  Of course, this one is set in Montana for a good reason.  It is the only state that allows double proxy marriage.  Which is what?  In a proxy marriage, if your beloved can’t make it, you can have a stand-in for him or her do the speaking and signing.  In a double proxy marriage, neither person is present but they agree to let proxies serve for them.  Why on earth would you do this?  Well, this is common in military cases, where one member is serving overseas and the other doesn’t live in Montana—this allows the non-military person to get all of the military benefits that a spouse is entitled to.  Since Montana allows this, and since this story is set soon after the 9/11/01 attacks, it all jibes.

But this story is really about unrequited love.  And I have to say, now that I’m an adult, that unrequited love sucks.  I mean, true it sucks when you’re in it too, but I hate stories that romanticize the idea that you should hold fast to the belief that this person who doesn’t  think about you that way will somehow come around. It happens a lot in stories (and always swells the heart) but when have you ever heard of it happening in real life?  Most of the time the person isn’t worth it , but realistically, once you have left school (it always happens in school) that person has found someone new and that’s the end of it.

This story’s unrequited lover is William, a shy awkward boy who plays the piano.  The girl he pines for is Bridey Taylor, with golden curls and dreams of being an actress.  William never asked her out.  Bridey was popular and other boys asked her out—and William suffered through every one.   But they were friendly—she sang while he played piano, and he helped her with school work.   Then the 9/11 attacks happened.  And this is where the story gets interesting.  Because although neither of  the main characters are not directly involved in the attacks, when the requests start coming in for proxy marriage, Bridey’s father, who was willing to perform them, asked William and Bridey to be the proxies. (more…)

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harper novSOUNDTRACK: JILL SOBULE-California Years (2009).

caliSo Jill Sobule had the first hit single called “I Kissed a Girl” (that was sung by a woman).  And it was sort of a novelty hit, which is the kiss of death for any songwriter.  After most people forgot about her, I followed her career for a while.  And I found her follow up to “I Kissed a Girl,” Happy Town, to be a superb album and the follow up to that one, Pink Pearl ,was also really good.  And then she fell off my radar.

California Years is the first album that she self-released (and self-financed).  And it finds Sobule in find voice.  Her voice still sounds fantastic: strong and dusky, with a sly wink. When I first listened to the disc, I enjoyed it immensely.  Further listenings have revealed some flaws to me, which have lessened my enjoyment somewhat.  But before I nitpick, I’ll mention the highlights.

The first three songs are just top of the line.  “Palm Springs” opens the disc with a wonderful air of freedom.  “San Francisco” is another cool folky song, typical Jill.  These two are followed by one of Sobule’s excellent rocking/sarcastic/snotty songs, “Nothin’ to Prove” (catchy and snarky!).

After a few tracks, “Wendell Lee” resumes the fun with a list of all the people she’s dated and what they’re up to now.  “Mexican Pharmacy” & “Spiderman” are two fun/funny songs that close the disc nicely.  The final track is a list of all the people who gave her money to make the record.  It’s a catchy little tune even if you’ll never even try to remember the lyrics.

But there are a few clunkers on the disc. “Where is Bobbie Gentry,” when I first heard it, it was fun to guess that Bobbie had written “Ode to Billie Joe” (I didn’t know she had written it).  And this sort of update to that song (which I actually don’t like that much anyhow) sounded like a good idea, but on repeated listens it seems forced and rather silly (especially the “I was the baby…”) line.

There’s another weird song in the middle section: “Empty Glass.”  What’s weird about it is that Sobule doesn’t normally hold notes for very long, she’s more of a quick singer.  And I think her voice doesn’t really hold up to the chorus of “empty glass.”  My final gripe is with “Bloody Valentine” which begins with the exact same chord structure and vocal melody line as the first song on the disc.  Whenever it comes on I start singing “Palm Springs.”  It also ends with a weird little “rocking” section which simply doesn’t suit the disc.

So, overall it’s something of a mixed bag.  But the highs outnumber the lows by a long shot, and the highs are quite high.

[READ: October 13, 2009] “Among the Beanwoods,” “Heather,” “Pandemonium”

I’ve had these stories lying around for quite some time.  When I first saved them it was because I had just read McSweeney’s #24 which had a Donald Barthelme section in it.  I had read these short pieces then, but they didn’t leave that much of an impact on me, so I decided to re-read them now.

“Among the Beanwoods” & “Heather” are from the 1970s.  And “Pandemonium” was written just before his death in 1989.

And it’s here that I admit that I really don’t know all that much about Barthelme (even having read the McSweeney’s issue).   And I can also admit that I don’t really “get ” him. (more…)

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adidasSOUNDTRACK: TV ON THE RADIO-Dear Science, (2008).

sciencThe problem with TV on the Radio for me is that their first EP is so damned good that anything else they do pales in comparison.  Having said that, Dear Science, comes really close to topping that EP.  I liked Cookie Mountain (their previous disc) but I felt like they put so many elements into the mix that it detracted from the best part of the band: Tunde Adepimbe & Kyp Malone’s vocals.

And so, on Dear Science, the vocals are back up front where they belong.  This disc is a lot less busy, which may seem a little like selling out, but instead, it just heightens the complexity and originality of the band’s work.  The disc rocks hard but it also heightens some really cool jazz and dance elements.    But it all comes back to the melodies and vocals for me.  And on Dear Science, they pretty much outdo themselves.

And you can dance to it!

[READ: September 30, 2009] Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays

After reading David Foster Wallace’s essay in this book, I looked at the other articles here and decided to read the whole thing.  And I’m really glad I did.  It’s an interesting book full of, funny and often thought-provoking pop culture articles circa 1996.  As with some of the other pop culture/political books that I’ve read several years after they were relevant, it’s often weird to look back and see what things fully occupied the popular landscape at the time.  And, when a piece is completed dated, it’s pretty obvious, and sometimes unintentionally funny.  But there are many pieces here that are timeless (or at least hold up for a decade), and those are still really good reads.

This book also does a good job of summarizing the tenor of the defunct Might magazine.  A dose of irony, a splash of humor and a lot of criticism of what’s trendy.

The strange thing to me about this book, though is the targets that they chose to go after sometimes.  Rather than critiquing right-wing attitudes or corporate shenanigans (which they do touch on), they really seem to be after pop and rock celebrity.  For instance, there are two separate articles which take a potshot at Eddie Vedder (this was around the time of the Ticketmaster fiasco which didn’t put him in the best light but which could hardly be seen as only self-serving).  This seems rather unfair, unless his sincerity could really be called into question by a bunch of ironic jokesters.  Magazines like Radar and Spy used to do snarky articles like this. I’d always thought that Might was a little better than that.  But indeed, there’s one or two pieces here that have a holier- (or perhaps indier)-than-thou attitude.   Which may have been fine in the 90s but which seem petulant now.

But aside from those, the irony-free pieces are very enjoyable.  (more…)

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maileSOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS-Stems and Seeds (2009).

benI enjoyed Way to Normal, although not as much as previous Ben Folds CDs.  I was listening to Pandora Radio at work and I heard a version of one of the songs from Way to Normal, but it listed it as coming from Stems and Seeds, which I hadn’t heard of.

Stems and Seeds is a sort of fan club release of Way to Normal.  That whole album is remixed, remastered and in a different track order.  It also features B-sides and the “original leaked versions” (ie. not real versions at all) of several of these tracks.

The second disc (actually the first disc) is a collection of audio files that you can upload to the GarageBand program where you can manipulate the files yourself.  I have not even popped the disc in the computer to look at this yet, and I don’t foresee myself doing it any time soon.

But onto the music.

The differences are not vast in the remixes and yet I like them better.  Some excessive bits are lopped off (the “Japanese doctor” voice before “The Bitch Went Nuts” is thankfully gone) as well as a few bits that dragged out “Free Coffee”).   I don’t think of myself as a massive audiophile, but in a side by side comparison the new songs (which are apparently uncompressed like radio-ready songs are) sound cleaner, brighter and just better.  (Which again, is weird since Way to Normal was released just months before this.  Why bother releasing that version at all, I have to wonder.)

There’s also something about the new track order that I like better.  It just flows more smoothly somehow.

And the bonus tracks are also fun.  There’s a live version of “You Don’t Know Me” from a pre-show at Conan.  They practice it without the curse in the lyrics, but they all get a hearty curse-laden shout out at the end.  The “leaked” tracks are also fascinating. Even though they are lyrically not quite up to snuff, they’re not that far removed from Ben’s sillier songs.  But it’s the idea that he wrote these entire songs just to jam the leakers is fascinating to me.  He wrote new melodies and recorded entirely new songs that aren’t real.  And yet now he’s officially released them and they are real. Trippy.

So, if you haven’t yet, skip Way to Normal and get Stems and Seeds. If you already have Way to Normal and didn’t like it, try a track or two from this one, it may turn you around.

[READ: September 13, 2009] Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It

In his Infinite Summer post Colin Meloy plugged the new book that his sister had just written. I wasn’t aware of the book coming out so I was pretty excited to hear about it.  I picked up a copy and finished it in like 2 days.

This is Meloy’s 2nd collection of short stories.

The characters in almost all of the stories are failures. Not losers, mind you, but failures. They have failed at jobs or love or with their family, and the storylines show them coping with the aftermath of their failures.  And note that the failures are never because of inaction, they are because the characters are stuck between two impossible choices or literally insurmountable problems. (more…)

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