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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

 SOUNDTRACKLONELY LEARY-“Flaneur” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

One of the things that I love about Lars, and this list is a great example, is how effortlessly multicultural he is.  He doesn’t listen to music because it’s from somewhere, he listens to music wherever it;s from because he likes it.  So this band, with the decidedly English-sounding name Lonely Leary is actually from China.  Lars says that the

The excellent label Maybe Mars documents the current Chinese underground music scene, from the psych-rock of Chui Wan and surfy shoegaze of Dear Eloise to P.K. 14, Beijing’s experimental rock pioneers.

Lonely Leary is a post-punk band which sounds like they would fit right in with Protomartyr or even The Fall, Sonic Youth or Joy Division.  The fact that they are from China and sing in Chinese doesn’t affect the tone and overall feel of the music, it somehow makes it more intense (to my ears).

Lars describes their debut album as one “where noise needles into perversely kitschy surf riffs and hoarsely barked punctuation marks.”  Although I hear less kitschy and more Dead Kennedy’s guitar and feedback noise.

The sounds they achieve throughout the album are great.  “Flaneur” opens the disc with a screaming feedback followed by a rumbling bass.  There’s some great guitar lines from Song Ang (which remind me of Savages) and then Qiu Chi barks his dissatisfaction through to a satisfyingly Dead Kennedys-ish chorus.  There’s even some Savages-esque chanting as the song squeals to and end.

This is great stuff.

[READ: January 4, 2019]  “Father”

Here is a new year and a new essay from Sedaris that perfectly mixes emotional sadness and hilarious light-heartedness.

The night before his fathers 95th birthday, his father turned in the kitchen and fell.  David’s sister and brother-in-law discovered him the next day and brought him to the hospital.  They felt the most disturbing thing was his disorientation, including getting mad at the doctor: “you’re sure asking a lot of questions.”  He was lucid the following day, but he was quite weak.

David was in Princeton on the night his father fell [at a show that I could have been at–we opted not to go this year].   He called his father and said that he needed him to be alive long enough to see trump impeached.

A few months later, his father moved into a retirement home.  David and Hugh visited and at first he seemed out of it, but hr recognized both of them instantly.  The thing was that he was no injured.  He had tried to move his grandfather clock (one of the prized possessions he brought to the home) and it fell on him (for real).  Many family members called the clock Father Time, so David said to Hugh “When you’re 95 and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Messa is an Italian band (although they seem to sing in English).

The song opens with some feedback and a heavy guitar (and a single cymbal bell, which I quite like).  After playing the riff a few times, everything pulls back to reveal some delicate Fender Rhodes notes and Sara’s softer, muted voice.  Then things take off.  But it’s not fast or super heavy, it’s just spot on.

They have a great stoner rock sound but with a seriously metal edge to the riffs.  What really sets them apart is vocalist.  Their singer Sara has a great soaring 70’s classic rock voice.  It goes really well with the low end of the songs.

The end of the (eight-minute) song has a great guitar solo and then harmonizing vocals.  It’s an awesome song and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the disc on bandcamp.

[READ: January 3, 3018] “Living Animals”

This begins the 13th year of this blog.  So why not start it with a criticism of online content.  This essay was originally written in 1999 (Gass died in 2017), and I’m sure his concerns multiplied on the decade plus since.  This is also an excerpt from the essay.

Gass talks about the permanence of the printed word whereas

words on a screen have visual qualities…but they have no materiality, they are only shadows and when the light shifts they’ll be gone.  Off the screen they do not exist as words.  I cannot carry them beneath a tree or onto a side porch [well, now you can, but you couldn’t in 1999], I cannot argue in their margins [now you can, sort of].

But then he gets more specific of what you cannot do. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“We Have Come To Outlive Our Brains” (1981/2018).

After reviewing all of the songs that Phish covered from Kasvot Växt, I discovered that a fan uncovered a really good-sounding copy of one of the original songs from the album (which is all but lost) and then posted it online.

Once again I am kind of surprised at how everyone thinks of them as prog, because this song is not all that proggy.

It certainly has an 80’s vibe, as you might expect from something released in 1981 and the Phish cover is remarkably faithful.

The bass sounds great–it’s a really catchy bass line.  I prefer Phish’s vocals, possibly because these are a bit more condensed in an 80s way.  The “I see you in the distance” voice is a bit reedy too.  But the “I’m the glue in your magnet” part is fun and the music is really solid with an almost reggae feel to it.

The end of the song has a pretty wild solo (quite muted) as the rest of the band continues as if ignoring the guitar.

The biggest surprise for me is that this song is in English, when the original album had the Icelandic title of “Við Erum Komin Lever Utover Hjernen.”  Perhaps it was a stab at commercial success?

It was Brandon S. Meyer of Keanu Trees who posted this song.

[READ: January 2, 2019] “A Divine Pat”

The setup of this piece makes it seem like it was presented as a talk (it’s called a Sermon) and it opens with him apparently addressing people, but there’s no indication of to whom he spoke.

But it does cut to the chase in the opening”

It must have seemed some kind of risk to request a sermon from a man once so widely accused of blasphemy.

He talks about the outrage from Monty Python’s Life of Brain but also points out that they never felt the movie was against religion per se, but against the way people practice religion: “an idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it”

After listing the litany of horrible things people have done in the name of religion–all religions–he mentions his own introduction to the church in the 1950s.  He says this turned himself and man of his friends off of religion for twenty years.

But then he starts quoting from people who spoke well of religion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Passing Through” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song sounds the most like a Norwegian band from the 1980s.  It has a simple bass line with just a drum shuffle and synths.  And the vocals are a lot of “Hey! way oh way oh.”

The middle jam is probably the most Phish-like with page on piano and Trey playing a happy jam which turns into a really rocking set ending jam by the end

The crowd is really into it by the end singing the Heys for the band while they supply the way oh way oh.  This could turn into a crowd favorite and it wa sa great fan-participating way to end the set.

[READ: January 6, 2019] “Red Letter Day”

I have not read very much by Kushner, although I have wanted to.  I know that she writes about the art world and this essay solidifies her awareness of and proximity to the art world in a rather unexpected way.

She had moved into an apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  The first night she smelled cigarettes coming in through the outlet of her room.  The next day she discovered that the next door apartment was completely gutted and being renovated and the smoke came from the two guys who were working on it (and living there).  One of the men, who went by Red, was charming and eloquent but clearly homeless.

The next morning she woke up to find a six-foot length of drywall tape under her door.  On the tape was a lengthy poem/letter in which the man signed it Le Rouse, Redhead.  And that began a near daily one-way correspondence from Red to her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This is probably the most memorable of all of the songs on the disc.  The keyboards are funky, the bass is funky and the wa- wah is funky.  The verse is a nice, slow slinky build up to the big chorus which is dumb and easy to remember, and–more to the point–really fun to sing along (hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho).

The post chorus of “This is what space smells like (you will always remember where you were)” is more or less screamed and makes it pretty unforgettable.  What does S.A.N.T.O.S. stand for?

Well, most of the time Tom Marshall writes the songs with Trey, but according to a Live for Live Music report:

Trey and Tom have been best friends and songwriting partners since elementary school, but Tom explains that he had absolutely nothing to do with Phish’s mastermind curveball they threw for Halloween, and remained in the dark, just as Phish’s entire fanbase did. Trey remains extremely tight-lipped following Phish’s debatably greatest prank ever, but according to Tom Marshall, the one thing Trey divulged is what the acronym S.A.N.T.O.S. stands for. Whether we believe it or not, Trey evidently told Tom that S.A.N.T.O.S., from Phish’s new tune “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, stands for “Subterranean. Arctic. Neuro. Technology. Orientation. Station.”

Whatever it stands for, it’s great.

[READ: December 7, 2018] “I Flirted with the Women”

This is an excerpt from a book whose subtitle is A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.  I don’t know what that means and that makes this excerpt which is largely about Mary Karr even more puzzling.  (After re-reading I see now that it is Hayes interviewing Mary Karr about Etheridge.)

It begins with someone saying

One day Mary Karr sort of appeared along my path like a brush fire.  She’s incendiary, combustible, she’s a walking flame.  She’ll light up the whole house or she’ll burn that motherfucker down.  Recently when I told her I described her that way to people, she paused and said, “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or a complaint.”  I meant it the way she heard it.

I myself only really know about Mary Karr because of her association with David Foster Wallace.  I don’t think I’ve ever read her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Stray Dog” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song seems to eschew the whole Scandinavian prog-rock joke entirely.  It’s a pretty conventional bluesy song and it’s the shortest one.  There’s really nothing un-Phishy about this song excpet for possibly some of the synth sounds.

This might be the least interesting song of the set, but it sets up for some good upbeat jamming.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Literary Customs”

I enjoy Zambra’s works, both fiction and non-fiction.  This, like many of his pieces, was translated by Megan McDowell and it is a treat to read.

Zambra talks about how he always takes books with him when he travels. He takes two or three books that he feels safer having around: “I can forget my medicine or the cloth for cleaning my glasses, but i never forget these novels.”  He also brings a book he hasn’t read–a large tome that he thinks will captivate him, but which usually never does.

We shouldn’t travel with books because they take up some much space–better to bring a second pair of shoes–you’re more likely to need a second pair of shoes.  Plus, since books are more expensive in Chile, every trip Chileans take is an opportunity for shopping–an anxious tour of bookstores.  And yet oftentimes no purchases are made, because there is so much to buy it feels not like you are getting something but that you are now more aware of what you don’t have.

And then there is the guilt that you won’t even read them.  But that doesn’t stop him.

On this trip to Mexico he started off well, reading what he bought, but he soon began “collecting” again.

Then there’s always the trip home–the suitcase is a mini library and the only way to make room is to leave pounds worth of clothes at the airport–sometimes you must walk around terribly dressed but draped in the very best literature.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE AVETT BROTHERS-“Live and Die” (Field Recordings, August 22, 2012).

This Field Recording [The Avett Brothers: Hot Tea And Honey] takes place at the  XPoNential Music Festival (now XPN Fest–the only Fest I’ve been to (although not in that year).

At the time (2012), I didn’t know the Avett Brothers, but since then I have come to really like them a lot and have seen them live.  This song in particular is simply terrific.

Seth and Scott Avett spend a good chunk of their lives on one tour bus or another, so asking them to perform in one isn’t all that different from asking them to perform in one of their own living rooms. They may be far away from their native North Carolina but the setting is cozy enough for Seth Avett to brew tea before performing.

I think that Seth Avett’s voice is just wonderful, especially on this song.  In one of those weird eye/ear moments, I never imagined that the guy with the long hair and mustache could produce this voice–which sounds fantastic in this recording on their tour bus.

The Avett Brothers will soon spend a lot more time on that bus: The band’s new album, The Carpenter, comes out Sept. 11. Naturally, when asked to play a song from the record, the Avetts picked its first single, “Live and Die” — a sweetly hooky jam which lends itself perfectly to the pair’s acoustic-guitar-and-banjo interplay.

Scott plays a lovely lead banjo and Seth’s guitar complements it perfectly.  This version is just as pretty as the recorded version with the extra treat of Seth’s tired voice cracking here and there.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “An Honest Film Review”

This should complete all of the already-published Jesse Eisenberg pieces.  He does this type of humorous piece very well.  Taking something fairly simple and turning it into something else entirely.

This week he’s reviewing Paintings of Cole.  His first complaint is that the screening was all the way uptown.  Also, the premise is that a young man brings down the Italian mob by using paintings to send secret codes.  He complains that in grad school he wrote a story with that exact same idea.  He failed the class but Kern, the director, is getting Oscar buzz? (more…)

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