Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

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

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):


[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.


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

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SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-June 2010 Rehearsal (2010).

Just when I was convinced that Primus were a done deal, I learned that they were not only touring but had just released a free downloadable EP of their recent rehearsals.  It’s got 4 songs: two super oldies, 1 pretty oldie and one not terribly old one (these designations are in terms of albums releases, not length of time ago, as they would all be old ones by that reckoning).

The two oldies are my favorites: “Pudding Time” sounds wonderful–a few updates, and slight improv things, but basically that’s the song that introduced me to Primus.  “Harold of the Rocks” is the other one.  I love Harold, because it is such a weird, crazy song (even by Primus standards).  Lyrically, it’s about some guys who meet the fabled Harold of the Rocks.  Sometime later the narrator meets Harold again.  Harold is currently lit up like an old Christmas Tree and he tells the narrator that he doesn’t remember much about what happened that night.  And that’s pretty much it.  It even mentions Schooly D!  Great stuff.

The other two songs are “American Life” which comes from Sailing the Seas of Cheese.  It’s a deep cut as opposed to the more obvious single, “Jerry was a Race Car Driver.”  It’s nice to hear that song again, as it wasn’t very high-profile, although it is surprising to me that it’s 3 minutes longer than the original.  “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread” is from The Brown Album, an album I don’t know all that well.  It’s got some good stuff in it, including a pretty good solo from Ler.

This EP features the drumming of Jay Lane, who was in Primus even before “Herb” (who I miss very much) and was in Sausage.  “Herb” by the way, was in A Perfect Circle and THE BLUE MAN GROUP!  Holy cowboys!

Primus sucks!

[READ: July 25, 2011] “Last Night

This is an excerpt from Zone One, a book Colson Whitehead signed for me at BEA (I really must read it one of these days).

The story opens with something happening on Last Night.  It’s a little confusing, and since no context is provided, it doesn’t make all that much sense until the very end of the excerpt which (the end) blew my mind.

The story concerns Mark Spitz–not Mark Spitz the swimmer (or maybe it is Mark Spitz the swimmer–again, no context), –a teenager who goes to Atlantic City with his friend Kyle.  And for the most part, the story is pretty tame, almost dull (but Whitehead is a great writer and he invigorates what could have been a pretty typical Atlantic City gambling weekend).  The boys gamble, get comped and basically don’t leave the casino for the duration of their stay.

What I love about the story is that little things, meaningless sentences like, “They did not watch the news nor receive news from the outside” [when you are on a casino weekend with buddies you do not check the news] seem innocuous–like little details that would fill out any story.  It’s only later that… (more…)

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Dear Mr Fry,

I’ve been a fan of your comedy for years. When I saw on The Late Late Show that you had a (relatively) new book called Stephen Fry in America, I was thrilled that you were presumably getting some attention Stateside. I immediately rushed out to get your book.

I have now read all of the first section (New England and the East Coast) and some of the second section (South East and Florida).  And while I intend to write a full post about your book (which is very amusing), I think you owe my great state of New Jersey a big whopping apology.

I admit that in the introduction, you say that we may not enjoy everything you say about a state, or that you probably didn’t visit our town or some other way of saying that we shouldn’t be cross about what you write.  And I was prepared for that.  But, of all the states I’ve read so far, New Jersey is the only one that you had NOTHING good to say about it.  You called it a hell and couldn’t wait to leave.  But worse than that, the only place you talk about in New Jersey is Atlantic City as if that gambling meccas was somehow indicative of the entire state.

Everyone knows that Atlantic City is disgusting and horrifying.  But the reason for it has nothing to with New Jersey itself.  The reason is twofold: gambling and Donald Trump.  And the rest of our fine state has no gambling (aside from the lottery, but who doesn’t) and we aren’t owned by Donald Trump. (more…)

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