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[LISTENED TO: April 2016] The Scarecrow and His Servant 

I was looking for a story that Clark and I could listen to in the mornings when I drove him to school.  I didn’t want it to be too long (our commute was only 15 minutes), but I wanted it to be really enjoyable.

I know Pullman from the His Dark Materials series which I loved.  But I didn’t know much else by him.  This story seemed unusual, to say the least, but it was a perfect length–about 3 hours–for morning drives.

The audio book was read by Graeme Malcolm, and he did an amazing job–he had a great variety of voices at his disposal and he really made the story come to life.

The story is really quite unusual.  It begins with the history of the titular scarecrow.  How a man made him–and gave him a lovely turnip for a head–dressed him smartly and tucked a piece of paper, to show ownership, into his jacket pocket.  Pretty much straightaway, he is stolen, and then stolen again and then one more time until he is very far from home standing in a field.

And then he is struck by lightning and comes to life! (more…)

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clarkSOUNDTRACK: JOHN CONGLETON AND THE NIGHTY NITE-Tiny Desk Concert #550 (July 22, 2016).

congleton John Congleton is a music producer (and a really good one at that–he’s had his hands on great albums both obscure and really poplar). But he is also a musician.  And a pretty weird one at that.  Here, as the blurb says, “he creates haunting tension with just acoustic guitar, brilliant electronics from Jordan Geiger, and words passionately sung.”

These songs are interesting because Congleton plays a very traditional sounding acoustic guitar.  His songs are typical folk chords.  But the lyrics are pretty dark and confrontational and those keyboards are often really creepy or disturbing (appropriate for the lyrics)

The first song, “Just Lay Still” is a rollicking  track with the guitar playing quickly and the keyboards playing off-kilter and deliberately creepy chords.   Lyrically, the song is about the subject that Congleton seems to be exploring on all of these songs–what it is like to be human.  “I love you like a lion loves its kill / I will touch you like a doctor, just lay still.  Let the implements molest you in your sleep / You belong to me…  We’ve got you surrounded (creepy chord).  We’ve got you surrounded.”

Congleton says “Your Temporary Custodian” is a devotional song about indifference.” It opens with crazy siren-like sounds over Congleton’s acoustic guitar. The blurb notes that the song addresses “what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood ‘temporary custodians’ in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.”  It’s got lyrics like:  “You phenomenal nominal nominal nominal nothing” and “we will not be saved / we went looking for the sublime / we found only the inane”  and “what an extraordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing.”

Before the final song he thanks everyone (he’s very polite given his lyrics) and then jokes, as taxpayers we expect a full tour [of the NPR building].  “Animal Rites” is also a fast song with more great lyrics: “I’d love to hold you but I need to hold my own.”   Or “Biology kicks virtues’ ass every time” or my favorite: “When you’re crazy at 20 you’re sex to be had / when you’re crazy at 50 you’re not sexy, you’re sad.”  And then the crux of the matter: “You’re with an animal / you’re with a warm body, carbon contents, atoms and proteins.”  This song is much longer than the other two.  It has two parts separated by a solo is a bunch of noise and mayhem from the keyboards.  The second half slows down but eventually comes back to the main thrust of the song.

These songs were definitely unusual, and strangely catchy.  I’m curious to hear what this album sounds like (assuming he produced it himself–I expect impeccable work.

[READ: November 30, 2016] Clark

One of the things that I admire about Brendan Connell as an author is the astonishing depth and detail work he puts into his books.  Connell is an amazing polymath, with books that fully bring to life such diverse topics as food, religion, philosophy, violence, sex and now, Italian cinema.

Clark is the story of Eric Clark a devoted actor who rarely refused a role.  We watch his introduction to the world of film, his embrace of said world (and its embrace of him) and his subsequent decline.  This book also shows an amazing amount of detail about the Italian film industry–a topic I know nothing about.  Now I realize that Clark and his films are made up, but I have to assume that everything else that Connell says about the industry, its ability to make movies quickly and for 10% of the price of American films is all correct.  And if it isn’t, then he’s done an even more remarkable job of making it all up. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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CoverStory-KadirNelson-ADayattheBeach3-879x1200-1467305948SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA LOVELESS-Tiny Desk Concert #369 (July 1, 2014).

lovelssI want Lydia Loveless to be a punk singer–Her name is like a combination of Lydia Lunch and a last name that conjures up an asskicking punk.

But not the country singer that Loveless is (even if she is ass-kicking herself). Loveless is a new breed of alt-country which is pretty explicit with noticeably rocking guitar solos.  But her voice is so twangy it’s hard to not call it country (and in fact it’s a bit too much for me to take sometimes).

“Head” features this rather memorable chorus “Don’t stop getting undressed /Don’t stop giving me head.”  It seems especially surprising since Loveless looks like she’s about 12 (she was 23 at the time of this recording).  The buzzy solo is lengthy and more or less runs throughout the song.  Although at some point when Loveless takes her own solo the whole sound seems to fade out and get a little anemic.

Her band is fun with her bassist being very tall and having very long hair playing a very tall upright bass.  And then there’s another guy playing guitar and lap steel.

“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” has a title that begs for an awesome song.  It’s not an epic masterpiece or anything.  In fact its closer to a pop song, The slide guitar and Loveless’ heavy accent on the chorus place it firmly in the country camp.

“Mile High” has a fun folk riff.  It sounds a lot like The Byrds and the chorus is super catchy.  If I could get her to sing less twangy I would love this song much like I love the punk country of X, or at least the Knitters.

[READ: December 29, 2010] “Who are All These Trump Supporters”

[This essay in the New Yorker also came under the heading “Trump Days.”]

So the title of the essay is a question I myself have been asking as I watch the hatred and vitriol bubble over during the convention.

If there was anyone I wanted to write this piece it would be George Saunders and he is actually the only reason I read it in the first place (I plan to read all of his contributions to the New Yorker eventually, but I’m glad to have read this one when it was timely–I hope it will be utterly irrelevant by the time I get to the rest of his works).  He self identifies as a liberal (although he was a conservative who loved Ayn Rand way back in the Reagan era).  He is a thoughtful and not prone to anger–a perfect foil for the crowd.  And he’s got a great way with words.

So great in fact that I’m just going to be quoting him a lot.  I could have pulled more excellent quotes from the essay, but really you should read the whole thing. (more…)

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bpSOUNDTRACK: GRIMES-“Kill v. Maim” (2015).

grimesI don’t know Grimes very well at all.  When I first heard this song I didn’t really know what to think, but after repeated listens, I think it’s great.

It opens with a synth riff (and air horns) and one of Grimes’s many voices (this one is kind of childlike).  But by the end of the second line, she screams “they don’t know me” and that seems to set up the various personas in this song.

It’s the pre-chorus that I find so catchy–sung like the cheerleader chant “B-E-H-A-V-E aggressive.  B-E-H-A-V-E nevermore.”  And then the super fast chorus (with her voice lifted to an incredibly high pitch).

There’s a slower section with what I assume is her natural voice (which is quite lovely).  But it’s soon back to the fun chorus.  I need to hear more from her, but if this is her only good song, that’s okay.  It’s angry and you can dance to it.  Welcome to 2016!

[READ: December 20, 2015] Bitch Planet

This series is a great manifesto for the new year–don’t take shit from anybody.

Kelly Sue DeConnick is a force to be reckoned with.  In addition to presenting Captain Marvel as a woman (in the amazing series of that name) and making some other cool looking series that I intend to read, she has created this feminist masterpiece.  Bitch Planet addresses violence and injustice against women and the whole “prison culture” that is always titillating for men.  It pushes Orange is the New Black to even further extreme that a comic book can.

Designed in a retro style by Valentine De Landro, the book comes complete with ads for “crap” in the back of each issue.   Which you may actually be able to buy. (more…)

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eggersSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzMartin Tielli has been prolific both as a solo artist and with his “side project” Nick Buzz (named after his love of smokes).

Nick Buzz’ first album came out in 1996 (during a time when the Rheos had just wrapped up their album The Blue Hysteria) and was ignored.  It was reissued in 2002 to a bit more fanfare.  I reviewed it once before and while I thought I was more dismissive of it then, it turns out that I wasn’t.  That I enjoyed it and felt mostly the same as I do now.

“Spilling The Wonderful” starting out with a mellow piano intro, the song jars into a noisy/drunken waltz melody and a violin solo before returning to the cabaret/waltz style that opened the song. It is deliriously catchy. The song ends with some tape manipulation before seguing into “That’s What You Get For Having Fun.” This song opens with some slapped and scratchy guitar sounds with a refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear.”  There’s a super catchy guitar riff that is sung along to—this song really shines live.

“Just Because” mellows things down a lot, with a jazzy sounding guitar and Martin’s delicate vocals.  The music for his one was written by pianist Jon Goldsmith which might explain the mellowness. It’s a sweet ballad.  Although the segue after this song is some clips from the radio (possibly sung by Tielli?) which are distant and crackling.   There’s a saxophone playing as well.   This merges into an announcer introducing the band for their (live) cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” It’s a beautiful, delicate version with Hugh Marsh’s electric violin solo swirling around.

Some dissonant sax segues into Sane So Sane which is actually a pretty gentle piano song. They play with the recording sound as the drums get muffled and dense and there’s more backing vocals thrown over the top.  But it remains largely conventional.  “Hymn to the Situation” is a creaky somewhat creepy song that Martin described as being about a self-centered jerk. who says things like “I’d suicide for you.” There’s a canned crowd cheering at a particularly funny line and even a cow mooing as the song ends

“Fornica Tango” is a wild weird song.  It is tango (Tielli speaks Italian), but the rhythm is kept by a squeaky sound (which is likely Marsh’s violin).  The song is interrupted throughout by a crying baby or, even stranger, a screeching chimpanzee (fornica translates as ant). The song ends with some crazy sounds from Marsh’s electronic violin.  The highlight of the record is “Love Streams’ a beautiful ballad based largely around a piano melody and Marsh’ keening violin. It’s followed by “Aliens break a heat” which is more tape manipulation and all kinds of weird effects (backward vocals I believe) for 2 minutes. Until it’s replaced by sounds of traffic (European) and horns honking.

The final song is the amusing “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick The Buzz” It starts slowly with some plucked strings and Tielli’s voice. There’s some spoken sections and lots of staccato music until the gentle ending which resumes the melody from “Just Because.”

It’s a peculiar album but one that gets better with each listen (and hearing him play some of these songs live has really introduced new aspects of them to me.

[READ: October 10, 2015] The Circle

I put this book off for a while but with no real reason for doing so.  And I’m sorry I waited so long because the book is really good–it’s thought-provoking and questions a lot of established ideas but is also really kind of fun and utopian.

What’s most impressive to me about the way the book is written is that the story itself is really quite simple.  It is a gradual building up of intensity.  At the end of which the main character has to make a decision which proves to be very important both for her and everyone else.

The story is about Mae.  Mae had been working at a dull and dispiriting job in civil service at her home town.  The job was dull, the people were dull, there was zero energy in the place and even her boss was depressing.  It sucked.  She had been there for 18 months and when her boss joked about her getting a promotion, she’d about had it.

She contacted her friend Annie.  Annie was her college roommate and boon companion for a few years.  And Annie worked at The Circle, the coolest most awesome place in the country to work at–think google, but better).  Was there any way that Annie could help out Mae?  Indeed there was.  Annie got Mae a job at The Circle, just like that.  Annie was one of the Top 40, the influential crowd at The Circle and Mae was in (her first day is hilarious, because Annie plays a wonderful prank on her). (more…)

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sunSOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-Fall Nationals The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (November 17, 2003).

horsehoeA few weeks ago I wrote about the Violet Archers playing on this same night.  This was night 8 of 13 in the Rheostatics Fall Nationals 2003 Tour.  This was called SoloStatics Night.  Martin played and then Tim and the Violet Archers played.  And then Luke Doucet’s band Veal played (not sure if they were first or last).  Evidently Dave was sick, so he didn’t play.

The band for Martin’s set is Monica Gunter (Violin), Greg Smith (Bass), Ford Pier (Guitar), Michael Wojewoda (Drums), Luke Doucet (Pedal Steel).

It’s a short set (only 45 minutes) and he doesn’t play any Rheos songs (which makes sense).  It opens with “Double X” which is just him on guitar and Monica the violin. He plays very aggressively. It’s great.  Being in a fun mod he mentions that tonight is the solo show for the Rheostatics and whatnot, then he says that that’s not true, the Whatnots are playing tomorrow.

This is the first live instance of “The Temperance Society Choir.”  But he forgets a verse and they all seem to put their heads together trying to remember it until he says “somebody help me with this fucking song.”  There’s some wild bass and guitar noises on this song, too.

For “Sergeant Kraulis,” there’ a big chorus with everyone singing along.  And Martin gets out his Steinberger to really wail  And I love watching him (see video below) make the crazy noises at the end of this song.  Luke Doucet joins them on “Winnipeg.”  It’s a really good, robust version of the song, with Ford Pier taking some of the vocal lines (like “get the fuck off the stage.”)  And also jumping around like a lunatic during the more rocking moments.

They rock out “That’s What You Get for Having Fun” and the cover of “Cold Blood Old Times” (which Martin says they have to play faster).

Before the final song they start asking each other if any of them has any T-Bone, they all say they got mashed potatoes but no T-Bone (which references a Neil Young song, but is still pretty weird).

The set ends with a solo acoustic guitar version of “From the Reel,” which is beautiful.

It’s a really great performance and amazingly, it was captured on video, too.

 

[READ: October 22, 2015] The Sun Has Forgotten Where I Live

In all of the Christian McPherson blurbage, it mentions his two books, Six Ways to Sunday & The Cube People.  And these are the two books of his which I have not read.  Huh.

This was McPherson’s second collection poetry.  It is very much like his first collection: musings on being a dad (which are quite tender and sweet and very true to life) and then darker thoughts about society and such.

And he gets to the crux of what I find hard to know about whether I like his poems.  The entirely of the poem “trying to” consists of this valid exchange: (more…)

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