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Archive for the ‘McSweeney’s’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEVE GUNN-Tiny Desk Concert #299 (August 31, 2013).

Steve Gunn is a fascinating guitar player:

his work mostly stems from a bushy, overgrown definition of what we often call “Americana,” with a healthy understanding of the La Monte Young drone.

Grateful Dead and J.J. Cale certainly reside in the rubber-band bounce of “Old Strange,” a song that keeps the groove mellow, but will suddenly pop with water-drop elasticity. “The Lurker” comes from a much longer solo guitar version that originally sounded like one of Roy Harper’s acoustic epics, but with Gunn’s trio, it becomes a back-porch barn-burner.

For this concert, Gunn and his band play two 9-minutes songs.  They center around his guitar work which yes, has a drone, but the main focus are the Americana riffs that he plays with precision.

“Old Strange” opens with a lengthy guitar passage that shifts after 2 and a half minutes to a slow folky kind of style.  The song seems like it will be an instrumental but 3 and a half minutes in he begins singing. His voice is deep and he sings a kind of narrative story.  It’s quite mesmerizing.   “The Lurker” is a slower, more mellow jam.

[READ: September 3, 2016]: Beatrice

I have read a couple of books from Dixon through McSweeney’s.  I didn’t know much about him then and I still don’t, but I recalled liking his stuff pretty well.  And this book was short so I thought I’d give it a look.

This book is told in a fascinating style–a kind of stream of consciousness in the mind of the main character, but through really close third person.

The book details the encounter of the main character Professor Philip Seidel (there’s a joke about this name, as Seidel means mug) and a woman named Beatrice.  Beatrice was a student of his some 25 years earlier.  She has stopped at his house to deliver some food in condolence for the recent passing of his wife.  She knows about this because she is now a professor where he taught her, although he had retired a few years back.

She brought some food and also wanted to tell him that he was her favorite teacher back then.  She had studied German and wasn’t allowed to take fiction courses until she completed her requirements.  She loved his teaching method and loved how encouraging he had always been.  She has clearly been keeping tabs on him–she has read some interviews he gave–and she definitely knows a lot about his life.

When she leaves he briefly wonders if maybe she’s interested in him now that the are older.  But he puts that out of his mind. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: COWBOY JUNKIES-Tiny Desk Concert #211 (April 26, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

cowboyAfter all of these years there’s not much to say about Cowboy Junkies that hasn’t been said.  They sound a certain way and only ever sound that way.  Their songs are slow, “mournful and thoughtful,” relatively long (because they are so slow) and Margo Timmins has a beautiful voice which hasn’t changed in 25 yeas.

There are no surprises in this set.  (Well, except for the fact that in the two years from 2010 to 2012, the band released four albums).

This concert features Michael and Peter Timmins on guitar and mandolin accompanying their sister Margo.

They play three songs, two new ones “Angels In The Wilderness” and “Fairytale” and an oldie “Misguided Angel.”  “Angel” is the only song I knew already and it seems so much louder tan the other two because there’s a surprisingly loud harmonica to open the track.

I think that Timmins’ voice is lovely and I like a few of their songs, but I simply can’t listen to more than a song at a time—it’s just too depressing.

[READ: December 7, 2016] “Deep Wells, USA”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I have had a mixed reader relationship with Chris Bachelder.  I either find his stuff pretty funny or just weird and kind of pointless.

This is a weird one.

The premise of this story is about babies in well and the kind of media sensation they can create.

It is set up in XXI sections (and an epilogue) in which we get to hear input from dozens of people involved directly or not with this issue. But the crux here is that no one is even sure if there is a baby in a well–they just all sort of hope there is.

It is set up like a play, sort of, with “characters” speaking dialogue.  It begins with a Celebrity saying there is an unconfirmed report of a baby in a well.  Consumer: “Hot damn. I love well babies.”  And off we go.

Professors, students, experts, pollsters, historians, and even Flannery O’Connor all weigh in.

Eyewitnesses are deemed unreliable: “That’s not a baby in a well.  That’s a wino in a sandbox.

And then of course there is the Mayor, who tries to calm everyone during this excitement.

But the main voices seem to come Celebrity–asking if this story harms the sheriff or proposing that certain people who have come forth are the baby’s parents.  Celebrity lists all of the previous well-babies and what has happened to them since (it’s not promising).

Even the news of a murder (of adults only) is dismissed for this potential well-baby story.

So do we ever find out if there was a baby in the well?  Sort of.

As this story ends we see the sheriff and his wife heading home, remembering back to Baby Finkerton.

I didn’t realize that I had read this before (in McSweeney’s 14, back in 2013).  I didn’t remember it, obviously.  But this story is not really something that would stick with me.

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bream SOUNDTRACK: THE INTERNET-Tiny Desk Concert #474 (September 29, 2015).

internetThe Internet are an offshoot of Odd Future.  This is an R&B group fronted by Syd the Kid, and the music is really delicate–almost easy-listening-sounding keys and a ropey bass line.

Syd’s voice is beautiful and soulful and she raps and sing delicately.  Which is why it’s surprising that the first words of the first song are “now she wanna fuck with me / live a life of luxury.”  But after the surprise of these lyrics the chill music is kind of soothing: “roll up an L and light it.” And I love her falsetto for the chorus”

“She blowin up my phone.  All I hear is wha wha, wha wha (Band: wha wha).”

“Under Control” is a song dedicated to her band:  she promises she’ll be there for all of them “when I’m a legend baby and we’re all rich”

Her confidence and casualness is totally infectious. And I love the the wah-wahs effects on the keys as the song nears the end.

The last song is called “Dontcha” which gets a “yes!” from the crowd when she says she’s going to play it.  (That makes her very happy).  She says she’s never done an acoustic version before.  I gather it’s a single, although I enjoyed the other two songs a bit more.

The veering into R&B territory is not my thing, but it’s cool to hear her branch into different genres in one song.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Bream Gives Me Hiccups and Other Stories.

I’ve really enjoyed the comic pieces that I’ve read by Eisenberg–he writes a lot for the New Yorker.  In fact, I had recently decided that I would read and post about all of Eisenberg’s New Yorker pieces at some point in the future.  Well, it turns out that nearly every one of those New Yorker pieces has turned up in this book (there’s three that didn’t).  So that saved some time.

What that means is that most of these pieces are quite short.  And that very few of them are stories in the conventional sense.  They tend to be a few pages long, or sometimes longer pieces done as diary entries.

What is most interesting about Eisenberg’s writing is that most of these stories are funny–some are very funny–but there is also a lot of pathos and sadness in them.  Many of the characters come from broken homes and many of the situations are rather bleak.  And yet he manages to make them funny. (more…)

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zambraSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Arnold Schoenberg and the Berlin Cabaret (2003).

schoenIn 1901, Arnold Schoenberg wrote eight Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs).  The songs were short and fun with naughty (cabaret influenced) lyrics.  Some 100 years later, inspired by the Art of Time Ensemble who commissioned Nick Buzz to play pieces for their Schoenberg show.

So the guys from Nick Buzz got together and recorded four of the eight pieces.  Then Martin Tielli released this disc as number 2 of his Subscription Series.  Some of us were a little disappointed when this came out since it was only 15 minutes of music, but the art is wonderful and I have recently rediscovered this disc and have enjoyed it immensely.

Basically the Buzz guys have interpreted the songs in their own style, but they have remained faithful to the original melodies and lyrics (which were in German but are now in English).

“Gigerlette” explores electronic manipulations (presumably by Hugh Marsh) and offers lots of fun samples (what I assume is some earlier recordings of the song in German).  It opens with sampled female singing and staccato piano as well as other unusual effects. Then Martin’s vocals come in and the effects clear out and the song becomes simple piano ballad for a brief moment.  Then the noises come back in again, playing around with this amusing song.  It’s a song of romance and love with the sweet punchline being that cupid is driving their coach and four.  At over 5 minutes this is the longest song by far, even if the basic song is just over two minutes.

“Der genugsame Liebhaber” (The Modest Lover) opens with what sounds like a distorted harp (presumably the piano) and scratchy records (from Marsh).  This song is about a man going to see his lover, but his over’s pussy loves his bald head so much that she continually climbs atop it.  It is charmingly naughty. There’s some wonderful violin from Hugh Marsh on this song

“Galathea” is the most conventional of the three songs.  A lovely piano ballad to Galatea.

“Arie aus dem Spiegel von Arcadien” (Aria from the Arcadian Mirror) is super fun. The music is weird and goofy with a very drunken feel.  And the chorus is just wonderful “my heart begins to thump and dance just like a hammer’s blow it goes boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom (getting faster and faster).  I’ve listened to the original and it is very much the same, although Nick Buzz’s version is much better.

You can find some of these songs on line from a recording at Lula’s Lounge (Dec 9, 2010)

It’s cool to see how they recreate the album so faithfully in a live setting. It’s only a shame that the video isn’t a little closer so you could see just what they are doing.

Nick Buzz-December 9 2010 Lula’s Lounge

[READ: September 1, 2015] My Documents

I have enjoyed some of Zambra’s stories in other locations, so I was pretty excited that McSweeney’s released this collection (translated by Megan McDowell).  The book is pretty much all short stories, although the first items feels a bit less fictional and more memoirish.

“My Documents”
This is a brief historical account of Alejandro as a child and as a writer.  He talks about when he started working on computers and what happens when the computer dies with the information inside.  He explains that this file is in his My Documents folder and he’s going to publish it “even though it’s not finished.  Even though it’s impossible to finish it.”

“Camilo”
I read this story in the New Yorker.  It concerns the relation of a man and his godfather, whom he has not seen since his father and godfather had a falling out years ago.  See my link for a more complete synopsis.  I enjoyed it just as much the second time.

“Long Distance”
The narrator worked as a phone operator in 1998.  He liked the job–his boss was cool and would let him do anything he wanted so long as he answered the phones quickly. The job was in a travel insurance office and one day he received a call from a man named Juan Emilio. After speaking for a time about various things, the narrator realized it had been 40 minutes since they first started talking.  They were expected to call clients back 14 days later as a follow-up and this time Juan Emilio talked with him foe a while and, upon learning that the narrator studied literature, asked if they could meet and discuss books.   The narrator was already teaching classes at night, and these two situations overlapped somewhat.  I loved the way all of this information is used as backdrop to a romance he has with a student known as Pamela.  And the final line is great.

“True or False”
The titular phrase is uttered by a boy, Lucas,  who declared, based on an inscrutable internal feeling, that things were True or False.  An armchair might be true, while a lamp might be false.  Hid father Daniel had a cat, Pedra, even though pets were forbidden in his building.  Lucas loved the cat.  Then the cat had kittens.  There is a metaphor at work about the fatherless kittens and Daniel’s own behavior toward his son. I really enjoyed this story and the strangeness of the true or false brought a fascinating childlike quality to the story

“Memories of a Personal Computer”
The conceit of this story is great.  A PC remembers what it was like to observe a relationship as it begins and then ebbs–and how the PC was moved around into different rooms as things changed in the relationship.

“National Institute”
At the school where the narrator went, they were called by number.  He was 45.  The main subject of his story was 34, although he doesn’t know the boy’s real name.  34 had failed the grade and was made to repeat it, but rather than being sullen about it, he was popular and fun.  All of the students were worried about failing–the final test was very hard.  But one day 34 approached 45 and told him he had nothing to worry about.  The other students didn’t know what to make of it, but he slowly assessed everyone and told them whether they had anything to worry about.  By the end of the story, when 45 is brought to the inspector of schools, he is told a lesson he will should never forget.

“I Smoked Very Well”
A look back on smoking and how quitting smoking made him a different (though not necessarily better) person.

“Thank You”
She is Argentine, he is Chilean and they are not together (even though they sleep together).  They were in Mexico City when they were kidnapped together.  The incident has unexpected moments. It’s a weird story (with some really unexpected moments) but a really good one.

“The Most Chilean Man in the World”
A Chilean couple has decided to separate once she was accepted to school in Belgium.  After several months he is convinced that she wants him to visit, so he spends a ton of money and heads out to Belgium.  Without telling her.  And it goes very badly.  But he can’t just leave Belgium, now can he?  So he goes to a pub where he meets some new friends who call him the chilliest man in the world.  The story hinges on a joke, but the story itself is not a punchline.

“Family Life”
I read this story in Harper’s.  I thought it was fantastic–it was one of the stories that made me want to read more of his works.  This is story of a man house sitting and the false life that he constructs around him.  It was surprisingly moving.

“Artist’s Rendition”
I loved the way this story began.  It tells us that Yasna has killed her father.  But we slowly learn that Yasna is character in a detective story that an author is trying to write.  We learn how the author constructs details about this character and the things that she has experienced which make her who she is.  As this story unfolds we see how those first lines proved to be true after all.

This was a great collection fo short works and I really hope to see more from him translated into English.

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concavityStarting this month, Matt Bucher and David Laird, scholars and fans of David Foster Wallace have created the first regular Podcast devoted to Wallace.  And the intro and closing music is from Parquet Courts’ “Instant Disassembly” which is also pretty cool.

This introductory episode serves as an introduction to Bucher and Laird, their love of Wallace’s work, and what they hope to do in future episodes.

Matt Bucher lives in Texas, not far from the Ransom Center where the Wallace archives have been settled (he assures us that he moved there before the site was selected). David Laird is from Kelowna, in British Colombia (4 hours east of Vancouver).  The claim to fame of Kelowna is the mythical lake monster Ogopogo.  But in Infinite Jest, a character is spoken of as being addicted to a thick apple juice that comes from BC.

Bucher also runs Sideshow Media Group which published Elegant Complexity, Nature’s Nightmare, and Consider David Foster Wallace. He says he and his brother founded the press because no one would publish Elegant Complexity, and he felt it needed to get out there. (more…)

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ttydwymSOUNDTRACK: THE HOLMES BROTHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #71 (August 2, 2010).

brosI’ve never heard of The Holmes Brothers.  So I was a little surprised to hear that they have been playing together for 30 years.

The trio consists of Sherman Holmes on bass, Wendell Holmes on guitar and Popsy Dixon on drums (in this case, just a snare and a lot of rim shots).

They play soul music steeped in Baptist hymns, blues and spirituals.  Wendell is a great guitarist, playing effortless solos–playing with the volume and creating interesting effects.  Sherman plays a fun bass with some cool bass lines (although felt he may have been a tad too loud in the mix).  And Dixon keeps the beat–nothing fancy, but he propels the song along and it would never sound as good without him.

They play three songs from their then new album.  Sherman sings lead on “Dark Cloud” while Wendell sings lead on “Pledging My Love” and “Feed My Soul.”  Especially noteworthy on the latter two tracks is Dixon’s falsetto which is really amazing (I thought they had a female backing vocalist hidden somewhere).  In fact, the three of them sound like there might be four or five people in the band.

They put on quite a show.

[READ: August 7, 2015] That Thing You Do with Your Mouth

I often don’t know what McSweeney’s books are about before I read them.  I had a vague inkling that this book was about sex (I’d read that Matthews did voice over for Italian porn), but I didn’t know that this was going to be a kind of biography of Matthews and her history of sexual abuse.

According to the introduction, Matthews told her story to David Shields (author and also Matthews’ cousin) who says that the interview garnered 700 pages worth of material.  Thank goodness he edited it.  I felt this book (which comes in at 113 large print pages) was way too long as it is.

Despite all of the accolades on the cover, Matthews is not a very compelling individual.  It’s strange to read personal incidents from a person that you’ve never heard of or, for that matter, was someone who hadn’t done anything terribly interesting. (more…)

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