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Archive for the ‘Mike Bullard’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW ODDS-Cheerleader (2008).

Craig Northey, singer of the Odds has written some great songs by himself and with a slew of other projects.  But most notably, he did the theme songs (opening and closing) for Corner Gas.  At last, “My Happy Place” the Closing Credits song has now been released on this disc by The New Odds.  (The Opening Credits song “Not a Lot Goin On” is available on the disc that Northey made with Jesse Valenzuela, cleverly titled Northey Valenzuela.  I mention Corner Gas aside from the fact that it’s a great show, because I mention it in the book write up below as well.  But back to the Odds.

The Odds had a minor hit in 1993 with “Heterosexual Man” (which we all thought was hilarious).  I didn’t really think much about them until my friend Amber from Vancouver sent me a tape of Bedbugs.  I was surprised how much I liked it and how, although the band was funny, they weren’t a novelty act at all.

I’ve enjoyed the Odds very much since then, they’ve appeared on a number of soundtracks, and released four solid albums, especially 1996’s Nest.

The New Odds are, as you might guess, the Odds, only new.  3 of the 4 original members are back, and aside from updating their sound to the twenty-first century, the band isn’t radically different. They play what used to be called college music, but which really is more or less alternative or even just rock music.

As with previous Northey output, the lyrics are witty and clever, with some wordplay in evidence.  There’s a pretty diverse collection of sounds on the record, yet they all stay within the range of alternative guitar pop.  One or two songs rock harder than the others, “Leaders of the Undersea World” sounds like a dose of heavy metal in comparison to the rest of the record.  “Write it in Lightning” is also a pretty good song, and “I Can’t Get You Off” has a wonderfully catchy hook to it.

Northey’s voice is easily described as inoffensive, and the music is catchy but not stick-in-your-head catchy.  It’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s also not a put-down.  Like meat and potatoes, it’s a good staple to any alternative fans’ collection.

[READ: August 28, 2008] Why I Hate Canadians

I bought this book several years ago, probably in 2000, when I was visiting Montreal.  I remember being very excited to visit Chapters and to see what kind of books they had that weren’t available down south.  I was especially interested in the humor section as I had just started watching Mike Bullard, and I knew he wasn’t available in the States.  I found Bullard’s book as well as two books about Canada by the Fergusons. Why it took me 8 years to read them, I don’t know.

This book is listed as a humour book; the copyright page has it listed as 1. Canada-Humor 2. Canadian wit and humor (English).  But the thing is that the book isn’t very funny.   Even with an outrageous title like that, it’s not very funny.  It is however, a fantastic introduction to the history of Canada written in a style that is (yes) funnier than your average textbook.

DIGRESSION: I will state that I realize that Will Ferguson has a perspective, and quite often he’s very vocal about his perspective.  Most good history is written with an acknowledged bias–trying to hide your bias makes for dull (or hypocritical) history.  So, Ferguson’s history of Canada may not be Accurate, (especially if you are a Quebecois) and of course, I’d be interested to hear from those who disagree with him; however, to an American who is not well versed in the history of Canada, it was pretty enlightening. (more…)

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spiritSOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Let It Be (1970) & Let It Be…Naked (2003).

let-it-be.jpgletitbenaked.jpgI may have mentioned before that I wasn’t a huge fan of the Beatles. This has changed as I get older, but in high school and college I didn’t really want anything to do with them. My freshman roommate in college announced on our first day that he thought that all bands were devil worshipers, and that the only music he was allowed to listen to at home was the Beatles. Consequently, he only had the Beatles on CD (and, curiously INXS Kick). That’s enough to make you hate the Beatles forever.

But I don’t anymore. Sarah was a big Beatles fan growing up, and through her, I have gained an appreciation that I never had. And now when I listen to their records I can’t get over how GOOD some of those songs are (duh!).

So for Christmas, we got Let It Be (for some reason she didn’t have it) and Let It Be…Naked. I had heard a lot about the Naked CD, so I was really interested in listening to it and seeing how different it was from the original.

I’m not going to talk about Let It Be, because why would I add to what everyone else already knows. But what I wanted to mention was Let It Be…Naked and how I feel it is somewhat falsely advertised. The premise is that these are the original recordings from the Let It Be session stripped bare from all of the production that Phil Specter added to the final copy. (Having read a bit more, I see this summary is simplistic and somewhat inaccurate, but if you want to read the complex details about the recording and release of Let It Be, you’ll have to look elsewhere).

(more…)

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