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Archive for the ‘Digression’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: A HOUSE: On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round (1988).

I first heard of A House when “Call Me Blue” came on a Sire records sampler (Just Say Yo).  This was a good sampler of college rock music circa 1987, and “Call Me Blue” stood out for me.

I had kind of forgotten about them until I Am the Greatest came out, which I enjoyed very much.  I have since gone back and bought their back catalog.  This first album sounds so very much like college music circa 1987.   It’s not anywhere near as weird as I Am the Greatest.  In fact, it’s almost quaint in its college (or Modern as they called it back then) rock sound.

I think that if I had gotten it back then, it would have been a favorite of mine.  Listening to it today, it brought back memories of that era, even though this album wasn’t part of that era for me–it just evokes that time so perfectly.

“Call Me Blue” is still a great track.

[READ: August 20, 2010] The Mezzanine

I learned about this book from my friend Rich.  He raved about the minimalism of it. (1)

(1. My copy is dated from 1994.  Clearly back then I thought it was a great idea to sign and date all of the books I bought.  Since then, while working at a library, I find the practice kind of foolish.  However, I do appreciate the fact that I know when I bought it.  In some ways I wish that I had put a post it note with the date of purchase on all of my books).

I read it back in 1994 and enjoyed it. And since I am in the middle of Ulysses, I thought it would be a nice chaser. (2)

(2. In the comments for Ulysses here, the other readers mention that they are reading other books, too.  And I like the idea of the word “chaser” in describing it).

The reason I thought it would make a good chaser is that it is only 135 pages long.  And as I remembered, the action of the book takes place entirely on an escalator ride from the ground floor to the mezzanine of the narrator’s office. (3).

(3. Although that is literally true, the narrator reflects back upon many many events in his life, and almost all of them have taken place some time in the past–going back as far as to when he was a kid). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A HOUSE-I am the Greatest (1991).

A House were a Dublin band that released a number of great songs and a few good albums from the mid 1980’s until the late 1990s.  I loved A House (but never knew whether to file them under A or H).  They were a smart, often sarcastic, occasionally poppy college rock band who played dissonant songs more often than not and wrote lyrics which could be off-putting more often than not, but which, in the right mind frame, were simply, as the album says, the greatest.

It opens with a nice jangly guitar which is quickly interrupted by a strange feedback sound and Dave Couse’s somewhat unsettling voice.  And he gives a litany of things about which he does not care, but mostly because nobody else does.  It’s followed by the sweet tender ballad “Too Young.”  The next track was the single, of all things.  “Endless Art” a simple riff which name checks dozens of dead artists that bridges with Beethoven’s Fifth.  It gets tedious after about 200 listens, but since I haven’t heard it in a while, I found myself really grooving to it again.

In keeping with the “let ’em guess” attitude of the disc, the next song is a plaintive moan of longing called “When I First Saw You.”  I’m fairly certain he’s singing out of tune for the whole track.

“Take It Easy on Me” opens with a great wah-wah’d guitar sound that should have been a left-field hit like The Flaming Lips had.  But it’s their simple acoustic songs that pack the most punch like “I am Afraid.”  It’s followed by what sounds like a Tindersticks song, until Couse’s voice kicks in, and we get a great questioning song about religion called “Blind Faith”.

He seems back to his old tricks on “I Lied” (“When I said that I loved you, I lied.”) Then the full band kicks in (with great harmonies) “When I said, when I vowed, I don’t love you anymore, I lied.  I adore you!”

The rest of the songs play with this formula: off kilter yet poppy, harmonies on top of dissonant leads.  The pace never slackens, and the albums stays strong through the brilliant final track, “I am the Greatest” (a spoken word folk track that is all smackdown which devolves into a bunch of blokes shouting “I am!”).

Check out the fantastic stop motion video for “Endless Art” on YouTube, and let me know if you can find a version that’s better than this one.

[READ: Week of August 23, 2010] Ulysses: Episodes 16-17

Nearing the end of the book, still recuperating from the insanity of the Circe episode, we get two episodes that are considerably mellower.  I enjoyed the beginning of Episode 16, but felt a little at sea when it was hijacked by the sailor.  Episode 17 on the other hand is definitely my favorite.  Even though I love the surrealism of Circe, there’s something about the catechism of Episode 17, with its question and answer format–its own sort of surrealism–that I find fascinating, funny and surprisingly informative.  It fills in a ton of details that were left out of the beginning (or that were hidden) and yet still retains a bizarre stream of consciousness. It also offers incredible insight into the man who is Leopold Bloom. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-Everything is Wrong (1995).

I suppose that everyone knows that Moby (the musician) is Herman Melville’s great- great- great- grandnephew.  And that’s why he has the middle name Melville and had the nickname Moby.

Moby started out as a techno guy. He even made the Guinness Book for the fastest bpm ever recorded (since then, many have surpassed that) with the song “Thousand.”  It’s an interesting song, although more for its novelty than anything else.  He also had a cool hit called “Go” that sampled music from Twin Peaks.  And in 1999 he took over the world with his album Play, which featured some 18 songs that were all licensed for commercial use (many of which were ubiquitous that summer).

But this disc, Everything is Wrong, came out before Play, and it was considered a high water mark for dance music (before the next high water marks of Fatboy Slim and LCD Soundsystem came out, of course).

So this disc was hailed as the big breakthrough for Moby.  And it has something for everyone.  It opens with a pretty piano piece ala Philip Glass which is, as its name implies, a “Hymn.”  From there we get a heavy techno beat and “Feeling So Real” kicks off.  Gospel-like vocals soar above the dancing (this foreshadows Play quite a bit).  It sounds very 1994 to me, although I don’t think it sounds dated, necessarily.  And then comes his stab at punk.  “All That I Need is to be Loved” is a fast blast of aggro music.   The problem is that Moby doesn’t do punk very well.  His guitars are too trebly, his vocals aren’t very strong and despite the beautiful melodies he creates, he doesn’t write very catchy hooks.

“Every Time You Touch Me” returns to the style of “Feeling So Real” and is another stellar dance track.  While “Bring Back My Happiness” runs even faster.

“What Love” is another screaming punk track.  This one is closer to Ministry.  It’s quite a slap in the face after the rest of the disc.

“First Cool Hive” slows things down with a groovy almost ambient track.  And “Into the Blue” is a moody song that sounds like it could also have been taken from Twin Peaks.

“Anthem” returns to the fast beats with ecstatic moans sprinkled over the faster and faster beat.

The album ends with two tracks, “God Moving Over the Face of the World” which is a beautiful instrumental (again ala Philip Glass or more likely Michael Nyman) that weaves in and around itself for 7 minutes.   (It, too, hints of Twin Peaks).  And, “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die,” while not exactly uplifting is coldly beautiful (kind of like a long lost Eurhythmics track)..

The disc is such a mishmash of styles, that it’s hard to really know what to classify it as.  Some of it works wonders.  Other tracks (notably the punk experiments) are less successful (even though I did enjoy them then, I think they just didn’t age well…or maybe I didn’t age well).  Of course, over the course of his career, Moby has attempted all of these genres in more detail, so this was almost like a sampler of what he would be doing later.

Sixteen years later it holds up quite well (although I still think Play is better).

[READ: Week of June 7, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 42-61]

The reading this week opens with a chapter about whiteness.  And how somehow Moby-Dick is even more fearsome for being white.  As the chapter opens whiteness (even in skin color) is lauded.  But by the end, he cites it as being particularly creepy: white whales, polar bears, albinos.  (I think that this was my very least favorite chapter so far–I was uncomfortable reading it and I didn’t get a lot of humor from it either).

Some more down time passes, with Ishmael describing how Ahab is able to plot a course to find Moby-Dick.  It’s not just looking for a needle in an ocean–there are pathways that whales follow, for instance.  This is followed by a chapter that allows Ishmael to swear, absolutely swear! that whalers can recognize the same whale even years later if you tried to kill it but failed (and that he himself remembers one whale that got away from a mole under its eye). (more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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hideousSOUNDTRACK: TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES soundtrack (2006).

topI learned about this soundtrack from a very cool article in The Believer (the beginning of which is online here).  In the piece, the author claims to have never seen the film (he was given the soundtrack by a friend) and he doesn’t want  to change his associations with the music by watching the film.  And now, I too can say I have never seen the film, and likely never will.  And I really enjoy the soundtrack too.

The soundtrack is sort of an excuse to showcase a bunch of bands from New Zealand’s Flying Nun record label.  Featured artists are The 3DS, The Bats, The Clean, Superette, Snapper, The Chills, Straightjacket Fits, and Chris Knox.

It’s nigh impossible to give an overarching style to these songs.  Even when the bands have multiple songs on the soundtrack, they are not repetitive at all.  Even trying to represent a genre would be difficult.  The opener “Hey Suess” is almost a surf-punk song, while Chris Knox’s gorgeous “Not Given Lightly” is a stunning ballad.  There’s a cool shoe-gazer song “Saskatchewan,” and some great simple indie rock (a bunch of other tracks).

The only thing these bands have in common is that they’re all from New Zealand.  And as with any large body of land, no two bands are going to sound alike.  Nevertheless, all of the bands fall under the indie rock umbrella.  It’s a great collection of songs that many people probably haven’t heard.  It’s worth tracking down for the great collection of tunes and, if all you know about New Zealand is The Flight of the Conchords.

[READ: September 24, 2009] Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

After finishing Infinite Jest I wasn’t sure just how much more DFW I would want to read right away (of course, seeing as how I have now read almost all of his uncollected work, that is a rather moot point).  But when I saw that John Krasinski (of TV’s The Office) was making a film of this book, I had to jump in and read it again.

Obviously, there are many questions to be asked about this film ().  Is it going to be based on all the stories in the book?  (Surely not, some are completely unrelated).  Is it going to be just the interviews? (Probably, and yet there’s no overall narrative structure there).  And, having seen the trailer, I know structure is present.  I’m quite interested in the film.  In part because I didn’t LOVE the stories.  Well, that’s not quite right.  I enjoyed them very much, but since they weren’t stories per se, just dialogue, I’m not afraid of the stories getting turned into something else.  The text isn’t sacred to me, which may indeed make for the perfect set-up for a film.

Anyhow, onto the stories.

The obvious joke is that the author of Infinite Jest has created a book with “Brief” in the title!  But indeed, many of these stories are quite brief.  Some are only a couple of paragraphs (which true, from DFW that could still be ten pages).  But, indeed, most of the interviews in the book are brief too (except the final one in the book, which is nearly 30 pages).   (more…)

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ij4SOUNDTRACK: The Best Albums of the Year

morningAndrew Womack, fellow Infinite Summer player and founder of The Morning News has begun retroactively listing The Best Albums of the Year for each year since 1978.  This is a project that I have often thought about doing myself, yet never had the time to sift through all the music I have.

I was delighted to see how much I not only knew, but also agreed with his decisions.  Although if I’m honest, my list would have more metal and less new wave in it.  But the overall tenor is pretty on par with my feelings.

But, imagine my surprise to see that on the 2004 list I barely knew any of the discs at all!  I wonder what happened to make us diverge so much in that one year.

Anyhow, it’s a noble, well, not noble so much as worthwhile pursuit.  One that we can all enjoy.

[READ: Week of July 27] Infinite Jest (to page 434)

In the August 2009 issue of Wired, they have a little scroll across the bottom of one of the pages that lists  “Word Counts”.  King James Bible: 784,806; Where the Wild Things Are: 338; Infinite Jest: 483,994.  So, at almost halfway done we’ve read over 240,000 words!

Also, I haven’t sufficiently acknowledged some of my fellow Infinite Summer bloggers.  So I want to send a shout out to Infinite Tasks.  I especially enjoyed this post which takes a decidedly more philosophical approach than I did about a section that I found really enjoyable.  And Chris Forster, who gives a lovely discussion about Eschaton.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention Infinite Zombies, just because he may have written a letter here but his posts always get sucked up into spam, so I’ll never know.  (And because the posts are really thoughtful and worth reading too).

But enough back patting, onto the book.

solIt was a fun place to pick up reading.  At the small paragraph where I left off, we learn that the Statue of Liberty’s book now advertises that year’s Subsidizer.

On a couple of occasions there is the suggestion that the year 2000 is the first year of Subsidization, as they talk about things being different in the new millennium.  Although Matthew Baldwin’s argument here is very convincing which would make Subsidization begin in 2002.

And then we return to A.A.

(more…)

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in hereSOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-We Are the Same (2009).

Itragically hip first heard of The Hip when I saw their video for “Nautical Disaster.” This is back in the day when I first got Canada’s MuchMusic on my Brighton, MA cable system, and when I actually watched Music channels. Anyhow, the song was intense and very cool and it built to a great climax, and I was totally hooked.

I got their back catalog and continued to get their new releases.  Since then they’ve released some really good songs, and some pretty good discs.  It almost feels like since their live disc they decided to switch from intense songwriting to more simple, straightforward rock. This is a little disappointing to fans of their intense stuff, and yet if you accept the change in style, the music is quite solid.

So this disc seems to be shooting for an even broader, more commercial appeal.  And, in the first half, at least, they emphasize a more folksy/country feel.  All of this should make me flee from the disc, and I think longtime fans are pretty disappointed by it.  And yet, I can’t get over how much I like it. There’s something slightly off about the Tragically Hip that keeps them from being overtly commercial.  So that even when they release a disc like this, which is quite mellow in places, it still sounds alternative.  Maybe it’s Gord Downie’s voice, maybe it’s something in the melodies; whatever it is, it keeps this disc from being blah.

The final track, Country Day” seems to sum up the overall feel of the disc: meandering country roads.  And “Queen of the Furrows” is about farming.  The opening few songs have a Neil Young folkish feel, since “Morning Moon” and “Honey Please” have big catchy choruses with folky verses

“Coffee Girl” actually reminds me of a serious Barenaked Ladies type song, which is disconcerting coming from the Hip, but could possibly become a hit (it’s probably their most overtly commercial song I can think of since “My Music at Work”).  Actually, I take that back, one of the final tracks on the disc, “Love is  a Curse” sounds like it’s their last ditch attempt to have a big hit in the States.  And if they were a more well known (or on a bigger label) it would be a huge hit.  It rocks pretty hard and screams radio friendly.

The Hip of old do surface on two songs though: “Now the Struggle Has a Name” is one of those great sounding Hip songs:  as you’re singing along to the swelling chorus you wonder why they aren’t huge down here, and then you realize the song is 6 minutes long and will never get on the radio.   There’s also a 9 minute song, and the good news is that it doesn’t get boring (no mean feat).

The second half of the disc has more loud guitars.  The cool riff of “The Exact Feeling” is pretty great.  While “Frozen in My Tracks” is probably the weirdest track on the disc, with a very cool, off-sounding chorus.

So yeah, the disc has horns and strings and is maybe a little too polished and produced.  But the songwriting is still stellar.  I’m sure that if I had heard these songs now without knowing the Hip, I wouldn’t be all that impressed.  Maybe as I get older I’m less critical, or maybe I’m just happy to mellow out a bit more.

[READ: Week of July 20] Infinite Jest (to page 367)

Even though last week I said I would keep to the Spoiler Line Page, I am breaking the promise already.  I just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving a passage unfinished, so I just continued to the section break of Gately’s A.A. meeting.

When I first read IJ way back in 1996 I, like most Americans, didn’t really think too much about Canada.  I liked a lot of Canadian music and The Kids in the Hall were awesome, but beyond that I was pretty oblivious to our neighbors to the north.  Since then, I have become something of a Canuckophile.  I did Curling for two years and have visited up North a number of times.  We even had a Canadian satellite dish where we watched most of our TV (like Corner Gas and The Rick Mercer Report) until that moderately legal company was sued out of business.  Now I subscribe to The Walrus which keeps me well informed. Anyhow, this is all to say that I have a greater understanding of Quebec separatists and the state of US border relations.  This makes this whole Marathe-Steeply section more interesting to me this time around.  I sort of went from Hal (apolitical) to a quarter of the way to Avril in my understanding.

But before we get to that, lets get into the book and learn about Orin. (more…)

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