Archive for the ‘Discworld’ Category

Terry Pratchett [1948-2015]

tpI have been reading Terry Pratchett since I lived in Boston (circa 1993).  I “discovered” him from the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman (who I had also recently discovered).  I recently learned that even though I purchased Good Omens, I had never actually read it.  Duh.  Perhaps I was planning to read it in order after reading his Discworld books.

My fondest memory of reading Discworld is that when I first bought the Discworld books (not easy to get in the States back in 1993), the only versions I could find were these tiny editions (which now I can’t even find evidence of online–perhaps I am the only one who owns them).  I have no idea why they were printed in this preposterous format (the couldn’t have been more than 5 inches square with stupid tiny print).  And I remember diligently reading them at lunch at work.  Which must have looked absurd.  I have these books at home and will have to look up the ISBNs to see their virtual existence.

At any rate, those first four books in the Discworld series all came in that format and I read them all.  And then I proceeded to read through the rest of the series (which would have been up to about book number 17  or so).  At the time of his death there were some 41 books in the Discworld series, including YA books and, geez well so many other things.

And what were they about?  Everything.  Literally. He talked about religion and science.  He talked about metaphysics and witches, he talked about working and police.  He eventually started using popular culture as the basis for a lot of his books–riffing on something or other but never simply parodying them.  His later books advanced the civilizations on Discworld from a more medieval setting to a more contemporary one with newspapers, telephones, money and steam engines.  And of course, there was always Death.  Amazingly he managed to make all of this funny–usually a good laugh every page or two. (more…)

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snuffSOUNDTRACK: SINÉAD O’CONNOR-How About I Be Me (and you be you)? (2012) .

sineadI was a huge fan of Sinéad’s first album.  And I liked her second one too (the one that made her a star).  I even followed her through a few of her later albums (while she was getting a bit more publicly odd).  But then it just got to be too much work (she released a bunch of albums which I couldn’t keep up with).

But this album promised to be a nice return to form.   And so it is–her voice sounds great and there’s many of the elements of good ol’ Sinéad here–the jangly guitars, great backing vocals and awesome mixture of gentleness and rage that really marks Sinéad’s best work.

“4th and Vine” is a boppy reggaeish song about love and marriage.  It’s nice to hear that kind of cheer from Sinéad (even if it didn’t all work out).  It’s followed by “Reason with Me” a sympathetic song from the POV of a junkie who plans to call that number one of these days.  “Old Lady” is a simply beautiful song–in which you can really hear how well Sinéad’s voice has stood up through all the troubles she’s been through.  But more than that, when the guitars kick in, you can hear that she still has the chops to write a great song.

“Take Off Your Shoes” is one of those great Sinead songs that gives you chills.  I’m not sure what she’s on about with the blood of Jesus and all, but when the song kicks in and “you’re running out of battery” wow, what a great song.  “Back Where You Belong” is one of Sinéad’s more delicate songs–a plea for peace from men on behalf of boys–the chorus is soaring and gorgeous.

“The Wolf is Getting Married” is being released as a second single this month (good for an album to have that long of a shelf life).  It starts a little slow but once the verse really starts it’s pure Sinéad–that guitar backing is just like Sinéad’s earlier hits).  And the lyrics, which are simple enough, are fun to sing with.  “Queen of Denmark” is a stunning, vulgar track that is really amazing.  It’s great to hear her when she is passionate and angry and indeed here she is–soaring voice and loud guitars and all.

“Very Far from Home” and “I Had a Baby” are sweet songs, they are enjoyable, but feel like decent end-of-disc songs, especially after the power of “Denmark.”  The final track, “V.I.P.”  ends the disc quietly, with a gently sung, almost a capella track about the true nature of very important people.  The song  ends with a whispered prayer and a chuckle.    It’s a really solid album and I’ve enjoyed listening to it many times (but I really don’t like the cover).

Perhaps, as my friend Louise has been telling me all along, I should check out those discs that I missed.

[READ: February 1, 2013] Snuff

I can’t believe I have two books in a row that deal so largely with poo!

Terry Pratchett is back with Snuff (actually, he has a book of short stories and a new novel named Dodger since Snuff came out).  Sarah gave me this for Christmas two years ago and I have just gotten around to reading it.  Which is a surprise as I love Pratchett and have read all of his books (for the most part).

This book seemed a little big.  It is 400 pages, as long as Unseen Academicals, and I was a little daunted by it.  But as soon as I read the first few pages (again, no chapters here, just section breaks), I was back in the world of Commander Vimes (or arch Duke or something) and back in Discworld.

Commadner Vimes is a wonderful character–a policeman who is street smart and very wise, even if he’s not proper smart.  He’s an excellent everyman character and the kind of person you wish was running things in your town.  Or someone else’s town.  For Vimes is off on vacation to the Shire, the childhood home of his wife Lady Sybil.  And Vimes is out of his element (which is always funny).  And he also senses that something is amiss here in the idyllic countryside.  So, despite Sybil’s gentle warnings to be on vacation and come in and be social, Vimes is on the case.

The case, as it were, is about goblins.  Goblins are a new race in Discworld.  Everyone always treated goblins like vermin–they smell bad, they steal chickens, they live underground  they are worthless.  And the goblins seem to agree (well, that’s what generations of maltreatment will do to your self-respect).  But Vimes gets mixed up in a murder–and when a goblin pleads for mercy but is killed anyway, that is murder vermin or not.  And when Vimes discovers that goblins can talk, emote and, indeed, play the harp–well that makes them a little less verminous, no?

Wait, what’s this got to do with poo?  Well, Miss Felicity Beedle, Discworld’s premier children’s author, has written a book called The World of Poo (which is actually for sale on its own too, ha) which Young Sam Vimes loves.  It is his favorite book after Beedle’s earlier book Wee.  And so Young Sam is off collecting samples of poo to dissect, and the Shire is a great place for it.  Well, when Vimes meets Beedle, he learns that in addition to being a children’s book author, Beedle has been teaching goblins how to be more…well, not human exactly, but more approachable to humans so that they may be recognized as valuable creatures. (more…)

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When I was younger I liked this Sabbath album a lot more than I do now.  There are some absolutely stellar tracks on here, but most of the songs are a rather peculiar for Black Sabbath.  It showcases ballad-y nature that Ozzy would have for some of his biggest hits twenty years later.

“Wheels of Confusion” opens the disc with a fascinating bluesy sounding guitar solo that turns into a straightforward rocker.  But, as it’s 8 minutes long, there’s a lot of twists and turns.  And it ends with a two and a half minutes of upbeat guitar soloing (with a tambourine keeping the beat!).

“Tomorrow’s Dream” opens with a rocking bendy guitar riff  but in the middle the chorus turns the song into a delicate ballad.  This is followed by “Changes” a full-on piano ballad (!).  It’s catchy, no doubt, and I loved it when I was younger, but I’m not entirely sure it passes the test of time.  This is followed by “FX” which is literally almost two minutes of echoing blips and bleeps, some of which go back and forth on the headphones.  It’s a very strange addition to any disc and is really the perfect example of “filler” unless by some chance this was majorly cutting edge at the time.

This is redeemed by “Supernaut” one of the all-time great Sabbath tunes.  It’s heavy, fast and features a great guitar riff.

“Snowblind” is a another fantastic song.  A great riff, and of course, it’s totally pro-cocaine!  How can you tell?  Well, because at the end of the first verse, you can hear a very unsubtle whisper of “cocaine.”  My, how the band has changed in just a couple of years.  This song also features a ballady mid-section.  It also features an awesome middle bit that rocks very hard (and can be summed as: don’t tell me what to do).  The drugs hadn’t deteriorated Sabbath’s songwriting yet, but give it a couple more records!

“Cornucopia” is one of the weird songs that you find on the second side of a Sabbath album.  It’s a got an awesome slow, doomy opening riff which then turns into a speedy rocker.

When I was kid I really liked “Laguna Sunrise” and I still do.  It’s a pretty acoustic guitar number (with keyboards or strings or something).  After “Changes” you’re not surprised by anything that Sabbath will throw at you, but this song is really shockingly delicate.

“St. Vitus Dance” is probably the most schizophrenic Sabbath song.  The opening guitar riff is so incredibly upbeat, happy and boppy; who knows what will come from it.  And then the verses turn dark and edgy with lyrics about a breakup.  And then the happy guitar bits come back!

The disc ends with “Under the Sun/Everyday Comes and Goes.”  It is once again another wonderfully sludgy guitar riff that turns into a fast rocker (“I don’t want no Jesus freak to tell me what it’s all about!”).  After the verses, you get this wonderfully weird guitar solo that’s like an ascending scale on acid.  Fun!  About three minutes in, it turns into “Everyday…” an uptempo rocker that’s not out of place with the other half of the song, but which does seem like an odd placement.

This disc was strangely experimental for Sabbath.  And, while it’s nice to see them not getting stuck, some of their choices were certainly weird.  And yet all Sabbath fans seem to regard this disc pretty highly (I think it’s the iconic cover that we all remember so fondly).

[READ: December 10, 2009] Unseen Academicals

Terry Pratchett knows football (soccer)??!!  In all the years of Discworld books, I don’ think there has been any mention of football (or even any sport).  Who knew he had a 400 page book about football in him?

Oh, and what is wrong with US book publishers?  Look at the utterly lame US cover at the top here.  First of all, the book is about soccer…why are they reaching for the ball with their hands??  Second, look here at this awesome UK cover by Paul Kidby (the official illustrator of Discworld).  Does he not have publishing rights in the US?

American readers, check out this cover.  It is awesome!  It gives you the whole cast, it gives a wonderful graphic of just what you’d be up against when you play this team.  Look, there’s the Librarian!  And, of course, the drawing is great.  Well, at least we have the internet.

But back to the football.  As with any Pratchett book it’s not just about football.  There is a whole bunch of stereotype-busting, inner-strength growing, pop-culture raspberrying, and general hilarity as well.  Oh, and Rincewind is back!  Hooray! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ-Calibration (is Pushing Luck and Key Too Far) (2008).

Typically a solo album means indulgence. But how can you be more indulgent than Mars Volta? They have fifteen minute songs with twenty-seven sections and operatic vocals and lyrics that are bizarre at best (they’re fantastic, don’t get me wrong, they’re just…out there!). So, if you’re the guitarist in a freak flag waving band, how do you let your freak flag fly on your own?

This solo album actually does prove to be more out there than Mars Volta. Primarily because whereas Volta stays more or less within the realm of their prog metal, this record sets no limits. There’s ambient noodling, there’s chaotic noise, and there’s beautiful extended pieces.

Omar (I’m not on a first name basis, his name is just long) plays a bunch of instruments on the record (he gets help from a bunch of folks throughout as well), but primarily he plays guitar. And I can’t help but think that Omar doesn’t understand how to play the guitar–he knows how to play, and frankly, he’s pretty amazing at it, but I’m not sure he understands it. His melodies are bizarre, he sense of what should come next is totally askew, it’s as if he learned how to play guitar by listening to vinyl records that were a little warped. It’s pretty fantastic.

In one song he sounds like Jimi Hendrix–not so much like a Jimi Hendrix song, but that he achieves the same sonic freakout sound that Jimi achieved in his live recordings–squalling feedback and amazing density. There’s another track where he channels Carlos Santana. (This track features John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on vocals. It is singularly bizarre because it cuts out right in the middle of a line–freaks me out every time!) The next song “Sidewalk Fins” ends with some of the noisiest, loudest, most crushing sounds. It sounds like an amplifier getting smashed by a giant microphone–feedback and thuds–repeated about 4 times before it’s over.

And yet the first few songs are amazingly restrained for Omar. They are short, ambient and, if not a little weird, then certainly quite pretty. But as the album moves along and the songs get longer, his freak flag comes out (see “Lick the Tilting Poppies”). And yet, the disc ends with a beautiful 11 minute instrumental song. it’s beautifully arranged, with intertwining guitar melodies. If there was any doubt about Omar’s skills, this track will knock down all questions. It’s also pretty clear that Omar respects Zappa, if not for his guitar skills, then certainly for his compositions.

This definitely isn’t for everyone–there’s a lot of weirdness afoot–but if you’re looking for something interesting or different, and you’re not afraid of something out there, this is a good disc to check out. Oh, and you don’t need to like or have even heard of Mars Volta to appreciate this record.

[READ: June 27: 2008] The Turtle Moves!

When I saw this book on Amazon, it never occurred to me that it was an “unauthorized” account. It seems that whenever someone or something gets popular someone else tries to make a buck off of it with an “unauthorized” publication. I never know how accurate they are, if they have dirt that the subject doesn’t want out or if “unauthorized” is just written there to sell copy. (more…)

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I first heard Jose Gonzalez, as pretty much everyone did, in the Sony commercial. The one where thousands of superballs are dropped down a San Francisco street to the accompaniment of Gonzalez’ “Heartbeats”. It was a beautiful piece of video. And the song was really perfectly suited. A mellow ballad, which happened to be a cover of a song by a band called The Knife.

The rest of the album was similar: soft, beautifully played acoustic songs, hushed vocals, just very pretty.

Gonzales’ follow up doesn’t mess with the formula too much. He adds another player or two, to include some harmonies, and he does another cover (Cocteau Twins’ “Teardrops”) but overall the feeling is much the same. The Cocteau Twins cover is interesting for me because I have mentioned another Cocteau Twins cover in a review (by the Deftones) and this is yet another take on what I always assumed was an uncoverable band. This version strips the song down to its bare essentials but keeps the gorgeous melody intact. It’s quite striking.

There’s nothing especially fancy about Gonzalez’ guitar playing…he’s not trying to wow anyone with his virtuosity, which is nice. However, he is a very accomplished classical guitarist. He uses the classical techniques in his pop songs, and he tends to play certain notes harder than others bringing a natural percussion to his otherwise mellow fingerpicking. So, while I say there’s nothing fancy about his playing, it is still quite beautiful. His voice hasn’t changed either, it still retains that peaceful, serene feeling.

It’s funny then to read the words to his songs many of which come across as protest songs. Not about anything in particular but about human nature, and the animals that we can often be. The record is a really string collection of songs. It’s also quite short, about 35 minutes, which also seems fitting somehow: get in, say what you want, and get out.

Of the two records, I prefer the first one, possibly because I know it better, but I think it’s because in the follow up, the extra players detract somewhat from Gonzalez’ singular nature. Not that they do great harm, and surely he needs to evolve his sound, but I feel like with the addition of others, something is lost. Despite that, this one easily gets a 4.5 out of 5 where as Veneer got a 5 out of 5.

[READ: March 2008]: McSweeney’s #26

This was a great “issue.” I enjoyed all three parts of it. (more…)

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terry.jpgSOUNDTRACK: COHEED & CAMBRIA-Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (2005).

coheed.jpgFor reasons I’m unclear about, I had the completely wrong perception of what this band would be like. I had read a few things and heard from a few people some differing stories. I decided to check them out based on this input, and I decided, against my anal retentivity, to get Part IV of their five part collection. (This is because it was really cheap on Amazon).

So, given this, I don’t know what C&C sounds like on the first records, and maybe they sounded more like what I assumed they would sound like. And, frankly, given the images that the album comes with, coheed2.jpg one would tend to think that deep dark heavy metal is contained within. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was in for a heavier sort of Dream Theater. The imagery of this collection is very dark/scary/spooky, and I was told many times that the band was quite prog-rockish, often sounding like Rush. Oh, and the singer sounds like a woman.

Imagine my surprise then to play the CD and (ignoring the opening string intro which doesn’t signify anything anymore) hear a whole bunch of relatively short, really pretty, uncomplicated songs. There are a number of tracks on this that could be huge hits. As I listened some more, I realized what I thought the band sounded like…they sounded like Queensryche. In fact, they sound like any number of 80s metal bands. It was really weird and unsettling to have my expectations totally blown.

The first 11 songs are, for the most part, short, uncomplicated songs. They have beautiful melodies, and yet often have very disturbingly violent lyrics. (In what practically sounds like a lullaby–“I’ll do anything for you; kill anyone for you.”) There’s an awful lot of killing and threatening and the like going on here. And, yes, the singer can sound like a woman. Evidently this killing and violence is rampant through the sequence of discs, and there is some kind of “story” that explains it. But I didn’t really read closely enough to decipher it.

It’s not until track 12 the indicatively titled: “Willing Well I: Fuel for the Feeding End” that the prog stuff kicks in. Now we have some seven minute songs, we have some complex riffing going on and an occasional time change. There’s also call backs to earlier sections of the album. This was certainly more of what I was expecting, although, indeed, it’s still not THAT heavy. Some of the tracks so resemble Rush’s proggy heyday. Most unusual for me was that the long meandering guitar solo on the very last song “The Willing Well IV: The Final Cut” sounded like it could have fit perfectly as the long, meandering guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Go ahead, listen for it, I’ll give you fifteen minutes.

The first time I listened to this disc, I really didn’t like it because it wasn’t anything like what I expected. On my second and third listens I started to enjoy it a lot more. I started to really groove to the songs. I also subsequently read a description of the album on allmusic to see if I was crazy, and indeed, I was not. They say that the band is very emo in an 80’s metal sort of way. And, I totally agree. They mentioned Queensryche as well (although they say Operation Mindcrime and I say Rage for Order) and as soon as I saw the “emo” tag, I thought about My Chemical Romance as a recent soundalike band.

As for the content of the epic, I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t been able to read the lyric sheet yet (as I listen in the car) and I know I am coming way in the middle of this whole thing, so I know that I’m missing boatloads of information. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to seek out some other parts just to see what the whole thing is about.

It’s nice when an unexpected surprise turns pleasant.

[DIGRESSION: BACKSTORY:] When I was 12 my sainted Aunt Lil and I used to travel from our little ‘burb of Hawthorne, all the way to the Willowbrook mall in Wayne by bus. A transfer in Paterson was required, and retrospectively, I am amazed that this little old lady traveled all that way, and made an exchange in a fairly “bad” neighborhood all the time. Once in a while I would go with her and we’d make a day of it. My “reward” for going was that I’d get a record or two. (more…)

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making.jpgSOUNDTRACK: NIRVANA-Sliver: The Best of the Box (2005).

sliver.jpgSo, my $1.50 copy of this came in today and I listened to the three unavailable tracks. The first was a track called “Spank Thru,” which was totally new to me. The other two were demos of: “Sappy” (also known as “Verse Chorus Verse” on the NoAlternative compilation) and “Come as You Are” from Nevermind.

“Sappy” is one of my favorite Nirvana songs. I tend to forget about it because it’s on the compilation and not one of their records. This version is a little slower, and was one of the original studio recordings of it.

“Come As You Are” is a great song from Nevermind. This is a boom box demo. Not the most insightful recording, but interesting for completists.

“Spank Thru” is a very early recording from when Nirvana was called Fecal Matter. It’s one of the few recordings (aside from Cobain’s solo recordings) that doesn’t have Krist Novoselic on bass (Dale Crover plays bass). I’m not sure why they didn’t release any other tracks from the demo, as it is by far the most “interesting” thing of note on the collection. It’s interesting to see a young Kurt writing a song like this which starts out mellow, but in a very different style than the Nirvana mellow ™. Hearing it many years after the fact, it almost sounds like a joke with Kurt “crooning” the opening verses. I gather there’s a live version on From the Muddy Banks… I guess I don’t listen to that record very much.

It was certainly worth paying $1.50 to hear this song. As for the rest, I guess if you’d like to hear Nirvana demos, but not a box set worth, then this is the way to go. There are some highlights from all the phases of Nirvana’s career, with none of those excessive jams that make the box set a little tedious.

One final Nirvana thought: this collection made me realize just how long most Nirvana songs are. Even though Nevermind sold billions of copies, it wasn’t really radio friendly. Even the hits approach the five minute mark. Hmm, maybe the world was once ready for non-commercial radio. American Idol has certainly nailed the coffin lid shut once again though.

[READ: October 20, 2007] Making Money.

I finished the last chapter of this book about ten hours after my daughter was born. I was still pretty wired from the whole experience, and only had about 30 pages to go, so I stayed up while everyone else was asleep and finished just as I was starting to crash. (more…)

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