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Archive for the ‘Dip-in Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WONDERFUL ESCAPE: Birds (2018).

I was looking for a bird song collection to pair with the book.  I found this 20 minute collection on Spotify.  It turns out that Wonderful Escape has many releases of nature sounds.

I haven’t listened to any of the others, but it strikes me that this recording was made by a person with a microphone who didn’t really know what birdsong CDs sound like.

Normally a bird sound recording is meant to be soothing, a “wonderful escape” if you will.  This recording feels like a hastily compiled collection of nature songs.  I would say it’s cash grab, but I doubt there’s much money to be made in posting bird songs to Spotify.

This collection starts out with “Crowes at the Cemetery” (no idea why Crowes has an e in it–there’s no jam band in sight).  These crows are raspy and rather unpleasant.  They are certainly telling us to eff off.  There’s also a long stretch in the middle with no crows at all.  This seems rather odd for a three minute track.  The end of the track has some church bells which I assumed was from the cemetery but which seems to be the natural segue to “Birds at Saint Birgitta Church.”  This track is much calmer.  The twittering and pretty call of birds sounds rather distant though.  Its really not until 2 and half minutes that you hear some really pretty birdsong up close.  Did the bird just happen to land near the microphone?  It also seems very likely that the recording equipment has just moved to the other side of the cemetery because you can hear those same crows from track one in the background.

Track three is called “Birds at the Graveyard” which I suspect is the same graveyard as the above cemetery since you can still hear the crows in the background.  There is some melodious bird song throughout.

This track differs quite a lot from the similarly named “Birds at the Cemetery” (seriously, did they just walk around the building for 20 minutes?).  The sonic quality is very different.  The cemetery sounds less crowded and the birds are less frequent and further away.  This one actually has a more somber feel, which seems weird to say about a field recording.  For the final thirty seconds or so there’s hardly any birds at all.

The next track is “Birds in Village Park,” so at least there’s some kind of place mentioned.  There is a vast array of birdsong in this track, although it is all very far away and seems once again to be dominated by crows.  Halfway through there’s a raspy sound that sounds more mechanical than avian, but I suspect it is a bird chitting.

The penultimate track is called “Birds Swedish Countryside.”  This makes me wonder if all the recordings are in Sweden, but who knows.  It starts out promising with some interesting noisy birds but once again, it is very quiet in the middle.  Then the noisy birds appear to fly over the recording equipment, getting noisy and then quieter again.  This is a pretty cool treat because it changes things up.  But the majority of the track it sounds like the birds are trying to avoid being recorded.

The final track title seems like a joke.  It is called “Birds Way Out in the Countryside.”  And like all the other tracks, it sounds like the birds are way out in the countryside and we are behind a fence unable to get into the countryside.

This is a weird field recording to be sure.  And there are far better nature sound tracks out there.

[READ: December 31, 2019] Effin’ Birds

I saw an ad for this books and asked for it for Christmas.  I loved the idea of a beautifully illustrated book of birds which tells you exactly what they are really thinking of you.

Every page has illustrations from John James Audubon’s Birds of America or Thomas Berwick’s History of British Birds.  These are lovely mostly black and white reproductions, with a few plates in color.

The book begins

Have you ever listened to the melodic chirping of birds and wondered what they were trying to communicate?

Advances in machine learning over the past ten years have allowed for detailed scenario analysis of birds and their songs, and multiple computer-driven studies* that compiled years’ worth of audio and video recordings came to an astonishing conclusion: most of the time, birds are just saying “Fuck off.”

*I made these up because this book is fake — but keep that as a secret between you and me and the handful of other nerds who read footnotes,

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Oddments (2014).

After the psychedelia of the previous album, KGATLW released this varied collection of songs.  Indeed, none of the 12 songs sound anything like the others.  It’s hard to say if this is a collection of leftover songs or an attempt to make a varied record.  After all, they had released four and a half albums in three years.

Nothing is really more than 3 minutes except “Work This Time.”  Everything goes by so quickly it’s hard to know what to think.

“Alluda Majaka” opens this record with an instrumental that has every style of music thrown into it–funky bass, organ, Indian music, there’s also sound effects and clips from a movie or two and really loud drums.  It’s a crazy opening for a crazy album.

“Stressin'” slows things down with a falsetto vocal and a gentle groove including a warbly wild guitar solo.  It’s followed by “Vegemite,” a nonsensical ode to vegemite with a great beat and an easy to sing along chorus (sung by Ambrose, I believe): Veg-e-mite…I like.

“It’s Got Old” is slower simple rocker (complete with flute and handclaps) and somehow is followed by the trippy, synthy swirls of “Work This Time.”  It opens with a rumbling wild drum intro and then becomes really gentle with more soft falsetto vocals.

“ABCABcd” is 17 seconds of garage rock nonsense before the sweet rocking acoustic guitars of “Sleepwalker.”

“Hot Wax” sounds like an old(er) KG garage rock song.  There’s creepy vocals from Stu and a simple riff and a chorus that literally repeats chorus from “Surfin Safari” but with their own muffled, fuzzy garage rock chords.  “Crying” has an old soul sound with its simple three note melody.  It even has spoken word parts (the way you act, girl) and everything.

The end of the disc throws in even more craziness in the last five or so minutes.  “Pipe Dream” is a one minute instrumental that doesn’t really do anything except evoke a psychedelic moment.  It fades out just as a riff begins.  But it’s not the riff to “Homeless Man in Addidas” which is a quiet acoustic folk song that sounds an awful lot like “April She Will Come” by Simon & Garfunkel.  The disc ends with “Oddments,” a 25 second piece of silliness that’s like a commercial for the disc which even chants out the disc name.

Unlike their more cohesive albums, this is not a necessity exactly, but it is a fun opportunity to see just how much KGATLW can do in 30 minutes.

[READ: November 2018] Cluetopia

This is a brief history of the crossword puzzle as broken down by year.

David Astle (whose name must be a crossword answer) is a crossword maniac.  What makes this book especially interesting to me is that he is from Australia, which means he has a very different perspective on the crossword puzzle than someone like Will Shortz.  For there is a great American/British (and Australian) divide when it comes to crosswords.

Astle is a huge fan of British-style cryptic puzzles and he really delves into some of the best ones over the last century.

A neat summary of the different types of puzzles comes from Always Puzzling: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS-Legend (1984).

I’m white, so that means I own a copy of this CD (according to the book below).  And I do, because it’s mandatory in college that you play “Jammin'” at every party.

Now, I like ska (yup, still).  I know that ska came from reggae, but to me reggae is just boring ska.  I couldn’t agree more with Barney on How I Met Your Mother:

Ted: Oh, get this, she plays bass in a reggae band. They’re having a show this Friday. How cool is that?

Barney: Oh, does she know that one song? Mm-hm chaka, mm-hm chaka. What’s that song called? Oh, right, it’s called every reggae song.

Although in fairness, listening to this again, it is a rather nice album (I guess I know every song).  I have a personal aversion to some of the really overplayed songs, like “One Love” (because if you go to any Caribbean location they all act like it’s the official slogan of hot weather.  We even have a Christmas ornament from St. John that says “One Love”  WTF?  And I don’t think anyone needs a 7 minute version of “No Woman No Cry.”

But some of the lesser played its (“Could You Be Loved” and just about anything with The Wailers backing him are pretty great).  Although I’ve got to admit I can’t take more than a few songs.  I had to skip through some of the last songs (thank goodness I don’t have the 2 disc version).

[READ: July 26, 2012] Whiter Shades of Pale

Christian Lander created the blog Stuff White People Like.  It was very funny (it hasn’t been updated since Feb 2011, so let’s assume it has run its course).

Lander had released a first book of SWPL back in 2008.  I didn’t read it (blog to book deals were overwhelming in 2008), but I had seen enough of the site to assume it was funny.  One of the funnier jokes when the blog first came out was wondering if the creator was white or not.  (Well, the author photo gives that away, but I won’t).

We grabbed this book at a Borders going out of business sale (sorry Borders, you are missed).  This book continues where the first book left off (I gather).  I don’t know if every entry from the blog made it into the book (the thanks at the end of the book lead me to think not), but I have to assume most of them made it (and maybe there is new stuff in the book too?) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-compilations and live releases (1978-2010).

For a band that had basically two hits (“Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You”) and maybe a half a dozen other songs that people might have heard of, BOC has an astonishing number of “greatest hits” collections.

Starting in 1987 we got Career of Evil: The Metal Years (1987), Don’t Fear the Reaper (1989), On Flame with Rock n’ Roll (1990), Cult Classic (which is actually the band re-recording their old tracks (!)) (1994), and the two cd collection Workshop of the Telescopes (1995).  There’s even Singles Collection, (2005) which is a collection of their European singles & Bsides.

This doesn’t include any of the “budget price” collections: E.T.I. Revisited, Tattoo Vampire, Super Hits, Then and Now, The Essential, Are You Ready To Rock?, Shooting Shark, Best of, and the 2010 release: Playlist: The Very Best of).

The lesson is that you evidently won’t lose money making a BOC collection.

I don’t know that any of these collections are any better than the others.

The 2 CD one is for completists, but for the most part you’re going to get the same basic tracks on all of them.

And, although none of them have “Monsters” for the average person looking for some BOC, any disc is a good one.

Regardless of the number of hits they had, BOC was tremendous live.  And, as a result, there have also been a ton of live records released.  Initially the band (like Rush) released a live album after every three studio albums. On Your Feet or On Your Knees (1975) Some Enchanted Evening (1978) and Extraterrestrial Live (1982) were the “real releases.”

Then, in 1994 we got Live 1976 as both CD and DVD (which spares us nothing, including Eric Bloom’s lengthy harangue about the unfairness of…the speed limit).  It’s the most raw and unpolished on live sets.  2002 saw the release of A Long Day’s Night, a recording of a 2002 concert (also on DVD) which had Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma an Allan Lanier reunited.

They also have a number of might-be real live releases (fans debate the legitimacy of many of these).  Picking a concert disc is tough if only because it depends on the era you like.  ETLive is regarded as the best “real” live disc, although the reissued double disc set of Some Enchanted Evening is hard to pass up.  Likewise, the 2002 recording is a good overview of their career, and includes some of their more recent work.

If you consider live albums best of’s (which many people do) I think it’s far to say that BOC has more best of’s than original discs.  Fascinating.  Many BOC fans believe that if they buy all the best of discs, it will convince Columbia to finally reissue the rest of the original discs (and there are a number of worthy contenders!) in deluxe packages.  I don’t know if it will work, but I applaud the effort.

[READ: October 2009-February 2010] State By State

This is a big book. And, since it’s a collection essays, it’s not really the kind of big book that you read straight through.  It’s a perfect dip in book.  And that’s why it took me so long to get through.

I would love to spend a huge amount of time devoting a post to each essay in the book.  But, well, there’s 51 (including D.C.) and quite a few of them I read so long ago I couldn’t say anything meaningful about.  But I will summarize or at least give a sentence about each essay, because they’re all so different.

I’ll also say that I read the Introduction and Preface last (which may have been a mistake, but whatever).  The Preface reveals that what I took to be a flaw in the book was actually intentional.  But let me back up and set up the book better.

The catalyst for the book is the WPA American Guide Series and sort of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  The WPA Guides were written in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration.  48 guide books were written, one for each state.  Some famous writers wrote the books, but they were ultimately edited (and many say watered down) by a committee.  I haven’t read any of them, but am quite interested in them (and am looking to get the New Jersey one).  Each guide was multiple hundreds of pages (the New Jersey one is over 800).

State By State is written in the spirit of that series, except the whole book is 500 pages (which is about 10 pages per state, give or take).  And, once again, famous writers were asked to contribute (no committee edited this book, though).  I’ve included the entire list of authors at the end of the post, for quick access.

So I started the book with New Jersey, of course.  I didn’t realize who Anthony Bourdain was until I looked him up in the contributor’s list (I’m sure he is thrilled to hear that).  And his contribution was simultaneously exciting and disappointing,.  Exciting because he and I had quite similar upbringings: he grew up in North Jersey (although in the wealitheir county next to mine) and had similar (although, again, more wealthy) experiences. The disappointing thing for me was that Bourdain fled the state  for New York City (and, as I now know, untold wealth and fame (except by me))  I felt that his fleeing the state, while something many people aspire to, is not really representative of the residents of the state as a whole.

And that dissatisfaction is what I thought of as the flaw of the book (until I read the Preface).  In the Preface, Matt Weiland explains that they asked all different authors to write about states.  They asked some natives, they asked some moved-ins, they asked some temporary residents and they asked a couple of people to go to a state for the first time.  In reality, this decision makes for a very diverse and highly entertaining reading.  In my idealized world, I feel like it’s disingenuous to have people who just stop in to give their impression of an area.  But hey, that’s not the kind of book they wanted to compile, and I did enjoy what they gave us, so idealism be damned.

For most of the book, whenever I read an essay by someone who wasn’t a native or a resident of a state, I assumed that there weren’t any famous writers from that state.  I’ve no idea if that played into anything or not.  From what I gather, they had a list of authors, and a list of states (I was delighted to read that three people wanted to write about New Jersey-if the other two writers ever decided to put 1,000 words  to paper, I’d love to read them (hey editors, how about State by State Bonus Features online, including any extra essays that people may have wanted to write).

From New Jersey, I proceeded alphabetically.  And, I have to say that I’m a little glad I did.  I say this because the first few states in the book come across as rather negative and kind of unpleasant.  Alabama (written by George Packer) comes across as downtrodden, like a place you’d really have to love to live there.  Even Alaska, which ended up being a very cool story, felt like a veil of oppression resided over the state (or at  least the part of the state that Paul Greenberg wrote bout.)  But what I liked about this essay and the book in general was that the authors often focused on unexpected or little known aspects of each state.  So the Alaska essay focused on Native fisherman and the salmon industry.  Obviously it doesn’t do justice to the rest of that enormous state,  but that’s not what the book is about.

The book is meant to be a personal account of the author’s experiences in the state. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DROMEDARY RECORDS

My friend Al started Dromedary Records many many years ago (for the whole, in depth, history read here).  He released a number of cool indie rock CDs and then decided to put a halt to the proceedings.

Recently, he decided to resurrect the label, with mostly downloads as opposed to physical product (for the post about that, read this).  He’s currently offering a free EP download from the great Jersey band Footstone.  But more importantly, he’s gathered a number of cool indie bands who contributed a track for his new compilation called Make the Load Lighter: Indie Rock for Haiti.  Proceeds from the compilation go to Haitian relief.

Al has always loved music.  Dromedary was his way of getting great music out to people without all the bullshit that major labels were foisting on artists (this was all before internet music, of course).  And, Al has always been a really good and decent human being (even after owning a record label for a dozen years).  I’m delighted that he’s able to do a nice thing for people and still get music out to those who want it.

So, buy the download, support a good cause, and enjoy some great tunes.

[READ: February 2009] 52 Weeks Heads and Quotes

This is a day planner (sort of) and as such it doesn’t really qualify as a book I’ve read.  However, The Believer published this planner which included excerpts from the magazine, so it kind of counts.  Each week there’s a quote from an artist (usually a writer, but also actors and musicians) as well as a Charles Burns drawing of him or her (or even it in a couple of cases).

And since it is not tied to any year (you write in the month as you go) it has the delightful quote on the back: “You can start this planner anytime–it does not expire.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Sings Sam Cooke (2008).

I ordered this CD from the Decemberists website.  (Sadly Colin singing Morrissey is no longer available).   This is, as the title states, Colin Meloy singing Sam Cooke songs.

I don’t know much about Sam Cooke (although I knew a few tunes from this disc).  And, in my head, Sam Cooke doesn’t have a “catalog” of songs, like, say, Morrissey does. So, this came across as a disc of standards.  And as such it’s very good.

If you like Meloy, you’ll like this.  If you don’t, this isn’t going to covert you.  It’s basically just him and his acoustic guitar (and an occasional backing vocal) singing these songs.

I have always liked “Cupid” so it’s nice to have a rendition of it.  As for “Summertime,” I’m not sure why that’s considered a Sam Cooke song since it comes from Porgy and Bess.  I didn’t know the other three songs, but they’re all quite good, uptempo jazzy numbers.

This EP makes me want to investigate a Sam Cooke Greatest Hits, to see what I’ve been missing.  And maybe that was Meloy’s point all along.

[READ: January-February 2010] Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany

I had ordered a couple of Schott’s Almanacs from the UK, because I thought it would be fun to see what was different about them from the U.S. versions (quite a lot actually).  And while browsing for them, I found this parody of the series.  So, for a few dollars used, I ordered it too.

Now any book that bills itself as “extensively researched, eccentrically compiled and irresponsibly written” pretty much lets you know what you’re getting.   And it does conclude its summary by saying, “more than 250 pieces of useless, misleading and possibly dangerous information.”  So, what might you expect?

This is a very strange parody of the series because it does three things at the same time:  1) It provides actual lists of actual things (which are, indeed, useless and silly).  2) It provides nonsensical/hypothetical questions (more on that shortly).  And 3) It has stuff that is clearly made up and intended to be funny (but often isn’t) (more…)

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