Archive for the ‘Christmas on Mars’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Christmas on Mars (2008).

Title aside, and despite the Lips’ love of Christmas, there is nothing Christmassey about this recording.

It’s a soundtrack to their film and it is composed of 12 instrumental pieces.  The disc (which is short) sounds like interstitial Flaming Lips pieces–songs that might appear at the end of or in between songs.

The tracks run the gamut from spooky outerspacey dirges to pretty choral numbers.  But the overall tone of the soundtrack is dark and foreboding (the movie isn’t very happy after all).

Some of the tracks (3 and 4 in particular) are prettier than other–with pretty harps and tubular bells.  But do not put this in your Christmas music rotation unless you really dislike Christmas music.

[READ: June 21, 2017] Adios, Cowboy

Hot on the heels of the depressing Sorry to Disrupt the Peace come this depressing story by Olja Savičević Ivančević (her full name according to Goodreads) translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth.  In Peace, the narrator’s brother killed himself and the narrator wants to find out why.  In Adios, Cowboy, the narrator’s brother kills himself and she want to find out why.

The difference is that this book is set in Croatia, has multiple characters, multiple stories and a huge amount of confusion.

Dada (the narrator) lives in Zagreb, but she is called home to Old Settlement by her sister to help with their aging mother.  She is intrigued at the thought of going home  again after so many years.  But when she gets there, her mother has been taking all kinds of pills, her sister has pretty much given up as evidenced by her chain-smoking, their long-dead father’s shoes still lined up on the steps, and their dead younger brother’s cowboy posters of are still on the walls.  (The dead brother’s name is Daniel.  The fact that one of the characters in the previous book also about the suicide was also named Daniel really didn’t help this much). (more…)

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wandThe first single from the Lips last album contains three tracks: the title track, “You Got to Hold On” and “Time Travel…Yes!”

W.A.N.D is quite a departure from the previous few records, as it begins with a brash guitar line, one of the harshest sounding songs they’ve recoded in several years.  Yet despite that, the lyrics are as positive an uplifting as ever.  It sounds like some kind of masterful protest song from the 1970s.  “You Got to Hold On” exhibits some of the sounds of the last two records, although it’s not nearly as lush.  It seems like it might have been a transitional song between Yoshimi and Mystics.  And the final track is a meditation on time travel, narrated by Steve from Blues Clues (he sure does get around…he appeared in Christmas on Mars too).

It was an excellent appetite whetter for the new album.

[READ: February 27, 2009] Echo #10

In Issue #10 we finally learn (although Julie herself doesn’t) just what exactly is all over Julie Martin.  We also get wonderfully complex behavior from Ivy–is she sympathetic to Julie, or is she just moving in for the kill.

An intriguing series just got really exciting.

(Wow, there’s not much to say about one issue of a comic book).

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drawersSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Zaireeka (1997).

zaireekaOkay, get ready.  Zaireeka comes as a 4 CD set.  With a twist.  Each CD is meant to be played simultaneously.  So, you get yourself 4 boomboxes hit play at the same time and enjoy!

Each CD has some aspects of each song.  So, on one disc you may get some vocals, maybe another has some guitars and sound effects.  It all varies per disc.  In fact, on one disc, track 6 is given a warning, perhaps my favorite warning ever on a CD: “This recording also contains frequencies not normally heard on commercial recordings and on rare occasion has caused the listener to become disoriented.”

And if you do a search for Zaireeka you will read the gamut of opinions about the disc and its ridiculousness or its social coolness.  So I won’t go into that.  I will say that one fine day many years ago I tried the experiment.  I got 4 radios and synched up all the songs and it worked and it was a lot of fun.  I also listened to the set in many different ways:  Discs 1-4 individually.  Discs 1& 2, discs 1&3, discs 1& 4, discs 2& 3, discs 2&4, discs 3&4 and then discs 1,2 & 3, discs 1, 2 & 4, discs 1, 3 & 4,  and discs 2, 3 & 4.  Phew.  (I had a lot more free time on my hands back then).  And since then, I haven’t really listened to the discs at all.  Because, well, how often do you get a chance to listen to 4 discs at once?

So, online I found a stereo mixdown version of the disc.  I know purists argue that that is simply not the way to listen to the disc, and they have a point….  Many of the effects are certainly lost, and since part of the point of the experiment is that the tracks are going to wobble and go out of synch, the mixdown does ruin the effect.  However, if you actually want to hear the songs as songs, not as experiments, the stereo mixdown mix is the way to go (at least until they release the disc in a 5.0 DVD version (which evidently they might…maybe?  in 2000, or maybe 2007, or who knows.))

But what about the songs?  It’s hard to say that the songs are typical Flaming Lips songs, because that’s not really very meaningful.  (Lips songs being off the wall at the best of times).  However, the songs are designed to allow the different discs to go out of synch somewhat, creating echoes or even stranger sounds.  As such, they are rather meandering pieces, somewhat lengthy, without a lot of heavy beats (that said, there are sections with very loud chaotic drums, they just don’t have other parts to synch up to).  But this experiment allows the songwriting to shine through in th emost minute details.  And it pays off on their next album in big time.

A track by track rundown goes:

“Okay I’ll Admit That I Really Don’t Understand” opens with a big drum splash and a fantastic bassline. Intermittent piano chords let you know that this song  isn’t going to be typical.  Fun effects and a swelling chorus add to the ambience.  It’s a short song, but it sets the tone for the rest of the disc.

“Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (Your Invisible Now)” starts off in a chaotic jumble, but once it settles down it has yet has another fantastic bassline  to start.  The middle choral part is really beautiful, although that scream section is pretty jarring/creepy.

As the title, “Thirty-Five Thousand Feet of Despair” suggests, it’s a sad song about a depressed pilot.  The effects include a plane taking off.  The song is propelled by a heartbeat-like drum, and the echoing voices suit the experiment very well.  There’s a “sane” vocal track and an “insane” vocal track.

“A Machine in India” is 10 minutes long.  It’s got a long meandering middle section, but the slow keyboard melody remains constant.  It’s also the first real occurrence of Wayne’s apparent obsession with vaginas (see Christmas on Mars).  It begins sweetly as a nice acoustic song but it explores many sonic areas (according to theliner notes, Wayne and his wife were discussing her menstrual cycle, and that was the jumping off point of this song).

“The Train Runs over the Camel but Is Derailed by the Gnat” begins with a fascinating cacophony of drums and ends in a very sweet “na na na” chorus.  In between you get yet another splendid trippy pop song.

“How Will We Know? (Futuristic Crashendos)” contains a shockingly high pitched sound (as warned) and yet the main body of the song is another of Wayne’s folky and very catchy melodies.

“March of the Rotten Vegetables” is probably my favorite track on the disc, despite the fact that it’s an instrumental.  It starts with some really interesting squeaky sounds and a cool guitar riff.  It morphs into yet another bombastic drum “solo” over a nice piano melody.  The liner notes indicates there are bats involved, but I’m not quite sure I hear it.

“The Big Ol’ Bug Is the New Baby Now” is a spoken word piece in which Wayne relates a story about how his dogs treat a stuffed toy like a baby, until they get a “Big Ol’ Bug” which becomes, as you may guess, the new baby.  Each disc has different ambient effects.  As the song ends, a swelling chorus sings the title until the loudly barking dogs bring an end to the song and the experiment as a whole.

As I mentioned, the stereo mixdown version is one way to enjoy the music.  But I must say that even listening one disc at at time can be fun (although really, that comes down to much more of an experimental music experience than anything else).  The social aspect of the performance certainly appeals, but I’m pretty antisocial and can’t imagine that I’d ever do it.

If you like the Lips at all but have been afraid of this CD because of how ridiculous it is, it’s probably worth the outlay of funds to buy the set or download a track or two.  It’s a fun disc that rewards patience, and, really, the songs are all very good.  You could also look for the stereo mixdown, but really, you’d only be getting half the story.

[READ: February 3, 3009] Drawers & Booths

Full disclosure: Ara 13 asked if I’d like to read his book and write about it. I looked up the book on Amazon, and it sounded cool, so I agreed.

Drawers & Booths is a work of metafiction.  A simple definition of metafiction, in case you don’t know, is: “a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction;  metafiction does not let the reader forget that he or she is reading a fictional work” (for the full Wikipedia explanation click here.)

SPOILER ALERT:  Generally I try not to give anything away when I review a book.  Some things are unavoidable of course, but any major plot twists or surprises I try to leave for the reader to discover by him or herself.  However, because this book is metafictional, and there are twists, surprises, and massive plot alterations throughout the book, the only way I can review it at all is to give some of these things away.  I don’t think I ruin anything for anyone, but tread lightly if you want nothing revealed. (more…)

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mcsweeneys1SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Hear It Is (1986).

hear-it-isI’ve claimed that I love the Lips, but then I was very harsh about their cover of “White Christmas,” and I noted that I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack of  Christmas on Mars very much.  So, I felt I owed them some love.  But my recollection of their early stuff was that it was pretty weird and hard to listen to.

And yet, I proved myself wrong.  Hear It Is is not the Flaming lips of the early 2000’s.  It’s almost like the bratty younger brother of that band.  Only Wayne and Michael Ivins are present, and the band is pretty much just guitar, bass and drums.  The guitar is distorted and noisy (except when it’s acousticy and mellow).  The album doesn’t sound too far out of place for a college radio record in the late 80s.

Except of course that Wayne and the boys are pretty out there. The music is psychedelic, acid inspired and quite punk.  So you get songs like “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” a seven minute epic of heavy riffs and screaming, but also of background “Ahhhh’s”.  You also get “With You” a song that starts out like a pretty, acoustic ballad. “Godzilla Flick” is a ballad like no other.  And yet despite all of the freakouts and noise, really at this stage what you get is a Led Zeppelin inspired heavy garage band having a lot of fun.  To say that this is going to blow your mind would be unfair, but to anyone who says the early stuff is unlistenable, they are totally wrong.   Hear It Is is sloppy, punky and a little ridiculous, the ideal incubator for what will become the Lips of 2000.

This CD comes with a cover of “Summertime Blues.”  This disc was reissued along with their initial EP and some bonus tracks on the disc Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid.

[READ: 1998 and January 10, 2009] McSweeney’s #1

I have been reading McSweeney’s since its inception.  (My copy of this issue even has the two page typed letter that explains the failure of Might magazine and the origins of this one. However, it’s been over ten years since I read the first issues.  Given my new perspective on McSweeney’s, and how I read just about everything they release, I thought it was about time to go back to the beginning and proceed through the issues until I meet up where I first started reviewing them.

Issue #1 has many features that are absent in later issues:

First is the cover.  This cover is simply filled with words; practically littered with them.  There are subtitles, there are jokes, there’s all sorts of things (I mean, just look at the full title of this issue).

Second is the letters column.  The difference with this letters column compared to most publications is that they are all (or mostly) nonsense.  One comes from an author whose piece is accepted into the issue (Morgan Phillips).  Another is a funny/silly letter from Sarah Vowell.  And there’s a letter to his cousin from John Hodgman (whose comic potential may not have been tapped at this point?). (more…)

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onenightSOUNDTRACKFLAMING LIPS-Christmas on Mars (film & soundtrack) (2008).

marsI’ve been a fan of the Flaming Lips for a pretty long time.  I first heard them with “She Don’t Use Jelly” (a novelty hit from 1993…who would have thought they’d have become so amazing) but I really got into them from the time of The Soft Bulletin (and Zaireeka).  Since around this time, Wayne Coyne and the Lips have been working on Christmas on Mars.  It is a “home movie” of sorts that the Lips and some special friends made in their home town (and their backyard).  They recently released the film on CD/DVD.

The film, based on the snippets I saw and everything I’d heard about it was nothing like what I expected.  wayneChristmas on Mars sounds like a cheesy/funny movie about, well, what Martians do for Christmas.  And seeing Wayne as a Martian seemed to confirm my suspicion.  But rather, what you get is a much less joyful celebration.

The movie is structured around a space station on Mars. There are only a half a dozen or so humans on board, and they are all going slowly crazy from a lack of oxygen.  Also on board is a “virgin” mother who is incubating a baby that was born on Mars.  One of the crew believes that the fate of the baby will determine the fate of the entire mission.

It is Christmastime on Mars, and there’s going to be a Christmas party.  But the Santa freaks out and runs outside just as a Martian walks up to the station.  The Martian is “captured” but he serenely walks around the ship, observing, mending and just being there.

There is very little dialogue.  There are really far out-trippy images.  There are lots of really creepy images (the people who let their baby be in the film were VERY trusting).  And there’s lots of vaginal imagery (in whacked out dream sequences) which makes me wonder what kind of MPAA rating this would get.

The film is a little dull at times (especially in the beginning)–although it could have just been that since I didn’t know what I was getting into, I wasn’t in the right mind frame for it…kind of like Eraserhead.  But it definitely picks up, and gets rather suspenseful.  It’s also nice that some “real” actors are in it, like SNL’s Fred Armisen,  AdamGoldberg (!) and Blue’s Clue’s Steve Burns (!!).

What’s most impressive though is the look of the film.  From interviews I read, I learned that Wayne was constructing most of the set himself (and that he got to use an abandoned processing plant for many of the scenes).  He very wisely films in low light and black and white, (with occasional splashes of supervibrant color) but the sets look really amazing.

The Flaming Lips are usually pretty upbeat and positive.  This film is overall pretty dark and negative, although there is always a ray of light shining through it.  I’m not going to give away the ending, though.

The CD is the soundtrack to the film.  It is not for the casual listener, or even necessarily for the Flaming Lips fan.  There’s no lyrics at all.  And the score is very befitting of a “lost in space at Christmastime” movie.  Unlike the typical Lips’ mood, the soundtrack is quite dark (and short at about half an hour).  The overall feel is ambient, but restless ambient.  And there’s very little in the way of tunes.  That’s not a criticism, as it is a soundtrack to the film, it’s just a warning for those expecting another “Waitin’ for a Superman.”  Although I admit it won’t be getting a lot of play in my house.

[READ: December 16, 2008] One Night @ the Call Center

A patron asked me to order Chetan Bhagat’s newest novel for her.  In the process, she told me that this novel, One Night @ the Call Center was very funny, and had finally gotten released over here.  I don’t always listen to patron suggestions, but for some reason this one stuck with me, so I inter-library loaned it.

As the title suggests, this story is set in a call center, and all the action takes place in one night (with some flashbacks).  The characters are six twenty-something Indians living in Delhi.  They work for Connections, a call center for an American appliance manufacturer. And their shift is from 10PM-2AM. (more…)

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