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tokyoSOUNDTRACK: THE MOPS-“Goiken Muyo (Ilja Naika)” (1971)

mopsThe Mops were a Japanese psychedelic band who were inspired by American psychedelia.  They appear in one of the films below (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo from 1971) in a really weird scene in which the band is playing on the back of a flatbed truck (in the middle of another scene that has nothing to do with them).  They play their song and then drive away.  Weird.

Anyway, the song is pretty great.  There’s all kinds of interesting percussion (the film clip shows them playing stuff which most likely is not what they are playing).  But the studio version (linked to below) has great audio quality and a lot of depth in the bass and cool screaming guitars.

The band released possibly 9 albums (it’s a little hard to tell from their Wikipedia page).  With their first album being pretty psychedelic and this one (I assume their third) being much heavier and fuller sounding.

I had found a clip of the band from the movie.  Then I lost it and cannot find it anywhere.  But here’s the studio version dubbed over the movie clip

But really, check out the whole album, it’s pretty great.

[READ: October 10, 2015] Tokyo Grindhouse

The life cycle of a book at my work is pretty straightforward.  If I see it at all, I usually catalog it or send it on its way to someone else.  But for some reason this book came back to my desk three times.

I didn’t know a thing about Tokyo Grindhouse, I’d never heard of pinky movies, but if something keeps coming back you gotta check it out.  So it turns out that this book has about ten pages of text and the rest is pictures.

And the book is about “classic” exploitation films made in Tokyo from 1960-1970 (or so).  The text by Jack Hunter explains that women and violence have been in Japanese exploitation films since the 1950s.  Evidently there were some landmark films in the mid-fifties about topless pearl divers that set off a craze for topless women in films.  This morphed into movies where women were the victims of violence with translated titles such as Nude Actress Murder Case: Five Criminals. (more…)

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harpers-sept-2014-LA-coverSOUNDTRACK: YES-Going for the One (1977).

Yes_Going_for_the_OneThere’s many interesting things about this Yes album.  It was the first album since they hit it big to not have a Roger Dean cover (it did use the logo of course).  This cover is a photo done by Hipgnosis.  It also features the return of Rick Wakeman (the first player to come back).  Further, there aren’t really any epic songs.  Sure, there’s a 6 and 7 and even a 15 minute song, but none of them feel epic.  There’s even a song less than four minutes long!

It’s also interesting for having a naked man on the cover about a year before Rush would release Hemispheres with a naked man on the cover.  Must have been a thing.

This album opens with a big rock n roll bluesy guitar and steel guitar solo and sounds nothing like any Yes song ever did.  Then Anderson’s voice comes in and it sounds a lot more Yes.  But again, something feels different about this album.  The song is only 5 minutes, but it has many different parts all anchored by the wild careening steel guitar.  The chorus “going for the one” is pretty catchy and is probably the most memorable moment in the song, although I understand it did pretty well as a single.  The wavery solo at the end just shows how much the guitar permeates this song.

“Turn of the Century” is a 7 minute song. It is mellow and is mostly Howe’s classical guitar and waves of keyboards.  The song slowly builds.  It is quite pretty.  It was originally supposed to be short but it grew during the recordings and includes a very lovely Wakeman piano solo and a beautiful Howe classical solo at the end.

“Parallels” was written by Chris Squire and was supposed to be on his solo album, but it didn’t fit.  So instead Yes recorded it together.  It opens with Rick Wakeman playing a church organ (there’s a fascinating story about how they recorded that).  This of course makes the song feel bigger than it needs to.  But Squire has a great sense of interesting vocal lines, and this song sounds like pure Yes.

“Wonderous Stories” is a sweet song that sounds like it could be the closing credits of a kids’ fantasy movie.  “Awaken” is the fifteen minute song.  It opens with a classic sounding piano section.  The keyboard washes come in with Anderson’s vocals.  And the around 1:30 the song kicks in with a cool Howe guitar riff and some big Squire bass.  This middle section rings as classic Yes–lots of guitar and bass pyrotechnics and Anderson’s voice floating over the lot.   The solo culminates in what feels like a great conclusion to this song–except that the song has only hit the 5 minute mark (and there’s ten more to go), but that doesn’t stop the song from building and building (with some great Wakeman moments). And then it reaches a hard stop for a pause as the song rebuilds with a lot of percussion and keyboards.   This meandering instrumental section is cool and trippy and lasts for about four minutes.  When the song resumes, it picks up more or less where it stopped with Anderson’s voice soaring over what sounds like ea choir of voices.  Around 12 minutes in, Wakeman gets another pipe organ solo–it’s a brief flourish before the song kicks back in to build to the proper conclusion.  Except that once again, the song fades away and there is a quieter coda, of keys and bells and Anderson’s voice.  It feels like it should be bigger and grander somehow.  And it may just be a poor production quality that makes this album seem flat.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   Here we have the first time someone has returned to the band, with Wakeman deciding (for no doubt complicate reasons) to return.

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2 replaced Patrick Moraz #3)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: April 12, 2015] “French Town Rock”

This is another excerpt from a novel (A Brief History of Seven Killings).  This excerpt is done in a Jamaican dialect, which I found challenging to read.

I enjoyed that there was a guy named Shotta Sheriff.

The story comes down to gambling and money.  There’s a character known as the Singer.  His brother fixed a horse race and made a ton of money.  But then he absconded with the profits. (more…)

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Connell Dr.Black jacketSOUNDTRACK: KODAGAIN-“King of Curls” (2014).

supernaturalWhen I looked for a picture of this book cover, I was connected to Connell’s blog which has links to many songs by Kodagain. After some more work, I learned that Kodagain features music by Saša Zorić Čombe and lyrics by Brendan Connell!

It was hard to find any real details about Kodagain (they have a media presence, but it is rather abbreviated), until I saw their soundcloud page which gives these nuggets of information

  • Kodagain formed in 1985 in Knjazevac, SE Serbia, where it’s hard to be alternative but easy to be alone.
  • Kodagain writes and records songs with English lyrics because English is more musical than Serbian.
  • Kodagain has a miniaturist approach to pop music, channelling influences from Henry Purcell, through Dean Martin, to Roxy Music, into short compositions combining a bubblegum-pop concern for melody with lo-fi experimentalism, resulting in songs as soulful as they are playful.
  • Many of the lyrics have been provided by the existing poetry of famous poets such as Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Chu-I Po (Bai Juyi), Lord Byron, Ogden Nash, Sara Teasdale, Louisa Stuart Costello and Robert Creely.
  • Since 2007, Kodagain has also been using … original lyrics from the writer Quentin S. Crisp; since 2012, Kodagain has similarly collaborated with the writer Brendan Connell.  Brendan Connell says: “My ultimate goal is to write a vast number of lyrics about natural wonders, public parks, lost watches, Indian villages, hidden love, birds, trees, mountain passes, fake Taoists, imperceptible colors, rhetorical mysteries, and flowers. Ideally these would be compounded into a ‘Guide for Modern Life’ which could be used to build better relations between workers and their bosses, the various sexes, and those whose religious beliefs differ.”
  • Their songs and videos can be found in generous supply on YouTube and SoundCloud. Albums include: Speed Up, The Nowhere Land’s Echoes, A Drink With Something In It, 000, Vranje, Letters From Quentin, Time to Get Ready for Love, My Fear of His Fear of Death, and Supernatural.

Since encountering Kodagain, I have become totally transfixed by them.  The melodies are simple and lovely and Zorić Čombe’s voice is gentle but wise.  Lyrically the songs are certainly all over the place, and most of the songs are under 2 minutes long.  The instrumentation is simple–usually a gentle guitar, steady drums and multi-tracked voices.

It was really hard to pick a song to talk about because there are so many.  But I decided to pick “King of Curls,” in part because the video is fantastic, and so are the lyrics

If I ruled the world
I’d call myself
The King of Curls

If I were king
I’d change damn near
Everything

If I ruled the world
My army wouldn’t fight wars
But rather eat chocolate bars
And move to the beat
In shorts
While my advisors wise
Would do jazzercise

(and that’s just the first part!)

Zorić Čombe’s voice sounds a bit to me like a smoother Jens Lekman (although that could just be the enunciation style).  I find his songs utterly enchanting.

And if you look on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of videos–most of which are masterpieces of found footage.

[READ: February 20, 2015] The Metanatural Adventures of Dr Black

About 7 years ago, I read a novella called Dr Black and the Guerrillia and I liked it quite a lot.  I liked that Connell created this character, with no apparent context (at least none given in the story) and that it was so amazingly detailed and “real” and yet so seemingly unreal–an unsatisfying word which Connell has corrected for me with the title of this collection–Metanatural.

This book is something of a collection of short stories about Dr. Black, but it is far more than that.  It collects some of the adventures that Dr. Black has been on as well as some of the patents and other ephemera and fashions a kind of narrative (although a very sketchy narrative) about the life he leads.

Before I even get to the “plot” of the book, I need to say just how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was absolutely captivated by Connell’s voice.  Over the years I have known that Connell was an accomplished writer with an unparalleled attention to detail and to choosing the precise word.  But somehow in the Dr. Black stories Connell’s details and specifics push the narrative to real heights.  Perhaps it is because Dr Black seems so real that when anything “metanatural” happens to him, it is entirely believable–drawing you into his exploits even further.  I really wanted to read more and more.

Having said all that, while this book is certainly his most accessible, it is still not light reading.  Connell challenges the reader with his extensive vocabulary, his lack of compunction about throwing in some obscure sections of text (that I won’t pretend I understood, but which didn’t bother me at all) and his willingness to defy reality, which may lose some readers.  But the rewards of the stories are worth it. (more…)

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Welcome Crummy Mystics [CST023] (2003).

sparo3It’s a shame that Welcome Crummy Mystics proved to be Sparo’s last album, because it is by far his best.

This album has more sounds, sounds that accentuate the simplicity that Sparo has constructed.  So there are all kinds of unexpected instruments on th opener “Hospitalville” including horns and bass, And the whole thing has a noir feel that pervades much of the disc.  It was was completely absent on the debut (intentionally obviously).  There are harmony vocals on “Sleds to Moderne” and “Akzidenz Grotesk” has electric guitar and Sparo’s voice mixed a bit louder.  There’s more rocking out on “Back on Speed.”

But it’s not all uptempo.  “Bright Angel Park” is a pretty  instrumental with lots of piano while “My Sistr” is a menacing slow piece that begins with just bass and voice.  Although as more instruments are added the menace is replaced by a kind of jazz feel.

“Camera” is sung in French and has interesting electronics throughout and “City as it Might Have Been” has beautiful strings layered on top of each other as it builds to an epic conclusion.  “This Lie” ends the disc with piano and organ an excellent accompaniment to his lyrics.  And on this album you can really hear what a great lyricist he is.

It’s amazing what a change this is from the debut and that he packs all of this great music in to a mere 37 minutes.

[READ: April 15, 2014] “Loving Las Vegas

I felt like I had read something else from Whitehead about gambling and it turns out he wrote an article for Grantland about the World Series of Poker in Atlantic City.  This essay is an excerpt from the upcoming book that he is writing about said World Series.

This is a story about Whitehead’s appreciation for Vegas from when he was young and dumb (well, not so dumb, really).  His friend Darren got a job writing for Let’s Go, the funky travel guide.  And the assignment was Vegas.  In 1991.  They were Gen X and they were going on a great road trip.  So naturally, the first thing to do was get new speakers for the crappy car.  [I have often felt a strong connection to Whitehead, feeling that we could have been soul mates if I were a little more daring and had lived in NY instead of NJ].

They go on a great road trip (Colson hadn’t gotten a license yet so he was a navigator).  They went to Chicago and saw the Sears Tower, they went to New Orleans to visit an old friend whose frat buddies wanted to know why he was “bringing niggers and Jews” into their chill-space (yikes).  Then they got out of there and went to the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead (which they wrote about).   And then it was on to Vegas. (more…)

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momentSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzNick Buzz is a side project of Rheostatics singer/lead guitarist Martin Tielli.  This album was reissued in 2002, when I bought it  But it came out in 1996, right around the time of the concerts I’ve been posting about.  Martin says that this album is pure pop, and that he is genuinely surprised that people don’t see this.  Of course, when your album has screeching monkeys, cars honking and circus music, pop is not the first thing that comes to mind.  There are certainly pretty songs on here, but it is an album that resists easy entrance.  There are short manic pieces, slow, languorous, almost lounge music pieces, and an improved cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then there’s the instrumentation: piano, violin, guitar, voice (no drums, although there is percussion on some tracks) and other weird sound effects.

“Step Inside” opens the disc.  It seems like a normal, mellow song (with slightly falsettoed vocals).  But 34 seconds in the circus music starts—a deviant and unsettling circus that pushes its way into the song briefly then vacating and allowing the pretty melody to return.  It’s like a mild form of Mr Bungle (with more actual circus).  It’s unsettling at first but then strangely catchy after a few listens.  There is fanfare as the song ends, interrupted by the sound of a tape speeding up (or going backwards) until song two bursts in.

“That’s What You et for having Fun” is less than three minutes and while weird, it is certainly accessible and funny.  The guitar sounds like he is slapping the strings rather than strumming them.  The refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear” gives a sense of the absurdity (especially when the President of Canada (sic) says he has one too).  “Just Because” mellows things out a lot—simple guitar with a kind of lullaby feel (it’s a bout wishing on stars).  It’s so slow after the craziness of the first two songs.  After  3 minutes of a lounge type song, it ends with a distant radio sound of an even more loungey song which melds into the live version of “River.”

The mellow “River” is followed by a raucous bass clarinet solo and wild guitar solo that is interrupted by the long (nearly 6 minutes) “Sane, So Sane.”  This is the most conventional song on the record—a simple piano melody with repeated lyrics (conventional aside from the weird distant music in the background of course).  Although it does gone on a bit long.  “A Hymn to the Situation” is an eerie two-minute wobbly song.

“Fornica Tango” is indeed a tango presumably sung in Italian. This song features a crying baby, an interesting sounding “Italian” chorus and the screeching monkey at the end.  “Love Streams” is a pretty, slow ballad.  “Aliens Break a Heart” is another pretty song.  Although this is the song that ends with traffic sounds.  “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick the Buzz” has a kind of Kurt Weill atmosphere to it with spoken words and falsettos.

It took me several listens before I could really find purchase with these songs.  I find that I really enjoy most of them now–some of those slow ones are a little too meandering for my liking.  But it seems like a fun outlet for Tielli’s songcraft.

[READ: October & November 2013] A Moment in the Sun

I read this book last year…finished it just before Thanksgiving, in fact (I was proud of my pacing).  But it was so huge that I didn’t want to write about it until I had a good amount of time.  And now here it is four months later and I probably have forgotten more details than I should have and the post will be nowhere near as in depth as I was saving time for in the first place.  Bah.

When people see this book, they say, “That’s a big book.”  And it is a big book.  It’s 955 pages (and they are thick pages, so the book itself is nearly three inches thick–see the bottom of this post for an “actual size” photo); it’s got three “books” and dozens of characters whose stories we read about in full.  It is about the United States, racism, The Gold Rush, the assassination of a President, the Spanish American War, a World’s Fair and even the exploration of moving pictures.  This is a fairly comprehensive look at the Unites States from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  And, man was it good.

John Sayles is known more for his movies than his books (18 films directed, nearly as many different ones written and only 4 novels), but the cinematic quality that is clearly in his blood comes through in this book as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RUSH on Archer (2011-2012).

Not really a soundtrack, but I wanted to mention some of the Rush references in Archer.

I was really hoping to use the Rush in Cleveland DVD as my Soundtrack, but I haven’t finished it yet.  And yes, I am padding this out a bit so that the pictures fit nicely.

Cobra Cobra Cobra (that’s a joke to the book below).

The Archer guys like Rush and they put nods to Rush in occasional episodes–usually through mad-scientist (I want to call him The Professor), Krieger.  Here’s three of Krieger’s vans.

I love the detail that went into “Vanispheres.”  Since Krieger always wears a lab coat, it’s a wonderful detail to have him wearing it as the nude man.  And, of course to have him as both the nude man and the clothed man is perfect.

Since it’s my favorite obscure Rush album, the Caress of Krieger van just cracks me up the most.

And just to add to the fun here’s a video of Krieger’s Neil Peart-like drum set

It’s pronounced “Why Why Zed.”

[READ:May 9, 2012] How to Archer

Although the Archie Meets Kiss comic proved to not be the joy I’d hoped, How to Archer easily made up for it.  I love Archer, it is one of my top ten shows ever, I think.  And this book is basically a print version of the show.

It’s designed as a how-to manual written by Sterling Archer himself.  He gives you tips on how to become the world’s best secret agent.  He teaches you how to dress (the details about buying shoes are amazing), how to drink (he provides cocktail recipes and his own opinion of subpar drinks), how to eat (a recipe for Eggs Woodhouse that sounds divine) and even a secret to gambling!

The fact that Archer is an abrasive, cocky, sexist, racist dick only makes the book that much funnier.

If you haven’t seen Archer (on FX), it’s a cartoon about a spy.  His mother, Malory, owns the spy agency and they have a very contentious relationship.  (The fact that his full name is Sterling Malory Archer should be just one clue to that).  Malory gets the introduction to the book, which is pretty darn funny as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIONA APPLE-“Every Single Night” (2012).

Many things have been said about Fiona Apple, and I’ll not repeat them here.  I will say, however, that she has put out some of the most consistently interesting music over the years.  From her introspective pop to her lavishly orchestrated pop, to the two mixes of her last album (one official, the other leaked), I’ve enjoyed all of it.

This is her first song in some seven years.  And it doesn’t skimp on what makes Fiona Fiona.  Specifically, it really showcases her voice.  And that’s because it is practically a capella.  The music is very spare–simple instrumentation (which sounds like a music box) and it more or less simply keeps the pace for Fiona’s voice (which sounds more full and powerful than ever) which creates the wonderful melody.  This may sound like a weird comparison, but I actually hear a bit of Eddie Vedder in her voice, too.

It’s a haunting song and the arrangement is curiously cool.

And I’ll share it here (well, actually I won’t share it, I’ll give you the link because it doesn’t want to embed):

http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F43923280&show_artwork=true

[READ: April 18, 2012] Varamo

Varamo is the most recently translated of César Aira’s hundred or so books.  It was written in 2002 and translated by Chris Andrews.  So far it is my favorite of the Aira books I’ve read.

It’s a fairly simple premise, although like most of Aira’s books, the premise isn’t exactly followed from start to finish.  And like his other books, there are fun avenues of detours.  But unlike his other books, it is a remarkably consistent story.  Except of course, that even though the book is set on the day that Varamo writes his famous poem, we never even get to see him entering his house to do so.

What?

Well, I’m going to quote from the beginning because it really summarizes the “plot” of the story: (more…)

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