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Archive for the ‘Minnesota’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Let It Be (1984).

letitbeI had posted about this record back in 2009.  This is what I write nearly ten years ago, and I’m pretty okay with it.

This is the final album the Replacements made before they moved to the majors.  This disc represents the culmination of their pre-major label sound and is one of my favorite “college albums” of the era.

The disc retains a lot of their sloppy/punk sound of the time, but the songwriting moves forward a little further.  Westerberg wrote some timeless anthems for this disc (“I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied”).   But, they also sprinkle the disc with silly tracks…not filler exactly…more like balance.  This keeps the disc from being too ponderous.

“I Will Dare” opens the disc. It is bouncy and poppy with an irresistible chorus.   But the bulk of the album is faster and more rocking.  Unlike on their their first two discs, however, the songs run a little bit longer, and they don’t attempt the hardcore feel quite as much.

In fact, there are a few songs that are quite clearly ballads.  “Androgynous” is a piano ballad (!) that could have easily been written by Tom Waits.  “Unsatisfied” is another ballad, although this one has more instrumentation.  Nevertheless, the feeling of yearning is palpable in Westerberg’s voice.  Finally, “Answering Machine” is another flanged-guitar filled song about romance in the age of modern technology (circa 1984).

These relatively light (musically, not emotionally) songs are balanced out quite nicely by the pair of punk/nonsense songs: “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.”  They add some (more) levity to the disc.  As well as some rocking guitars.

But perhaps the most surprising song is the cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It is surprisingly faithful to the original, (at a time when Kiss was not even ironically cool) and it rocks just as hard.

This album showcases the diverse aspects of The Replacements perfectly.  While some people say their next album Tim is their masterpiece, I am more inclined to go with Let It Be.  And, for some reason, I really like the cover.

[READ: July 1, 2016] Let It Be

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was an interesting book to start with because it really set the tone for the series, by which I mean, as far as I can tell, anything goes.

Colin Meloy (this was written when The Decemberists were just starting to get a buzz around them.  In fact he references his girlfriend who is now his wife) makes this a very personal account about his childhood and his exposure to this album (and others) from his uncle.  So this book is a lot more about (young) Colin and his friend than the ‘Mats, but it’s obvious that the ‘Mats made Meloy who he is.   There’s very little in the way of production information or “research” (until the end).  Rather, it’s just a good story–from a future storyteller. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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karlove SOUNDTRACK: ESPERANZA SPALDING-Tiny Desk Concert #110 (February 12, 2011).

esperanzaI didn’t know who Esperanza Spalding was before this show.  But she defied my expectations by being a fairly tiny woman who sings while playing an upright bass (not a very common combination for anyone).

For the first song, “Little Fly,” she plays a kind of jazzy bass, but has a string accompaniment–violins, guitars etc.  But it’s clear that the bass is the star.   And while her playing is very good (she has some great vibrato), it’s her voice that is mesmerizing–she’s hunched over playing the bass and still manages to sound strong and powerful.  “Little Fly”‘s lyrics come from a poem by William Blake.

“Midnight Sun” is a solo performance–just her voice and bass.  I loved the beginning where she sang notes along with what she played.  Then when the lyrics come in she sings in a very jazz voice (with eyes closed the whole time).  Turns out this is a Lionel Hampton song that only appears on the Japanese release of her album which make explain her singing style.

Because on the final song she sounds very different.  “Apple Blossom” is her own composition.  It’s her singing with the string section playing along (there’s no bass).  The song is lovely, but I prefer it when she plays bass in the song, too.

I enjoyed this performance and how delightful Spalding was.

[READ: January 9, 2016] “My Saga: Part Two”

Speaking of not finishing multi part essays, I ended my post about Part One of this essay by saying I couldn’t wait for part two.  And then apparently I forgot all about it because here it is almost a year later before I read part two (which was published two weeks later).

In this second half of Karl Ove’s journey he spends most of his time realizing that he hasn’t really learned very much for his assignment.  I can’t imagine anyone else being able to write endlessly about how he has nothing to write about (and still make it strangely compelling–his stress produces good sentences).

He does make some interesting connections though. (more…)

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graveyardSOUNDTRACK: MARAJ-“Gettaway” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

maraj Last week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, but I assume that these folks are all members of Maraj.  They are from Kalamazoo MI and they do hip hop with a twist. I loved that there was a live upright bass player. And that the music had a steel drum sound (although it was all electronic).

The verses were done by two different rappers Motor Cit Kam–whose flow is incredibly fast and clear (even if I didn’t actually know what he was saying, the style was great) and Dari G who has a very different flow (and also sings a beautiful backing vocal later).  I enjoyed that there were two rappers, but I liked even more that the third verse (or perhaps bridge) was sung by two of the women in the band.  They totally change the tone of the song—an excellent mix of rap and singing.

What I thought set this song apart was that the chorus–while the music was the same, the slower singing gave a very different sound to the song.  It really changed the flow from the fast first verse.  And the singers–all six of them–all sing well together.

[READ: December 23, 2014] The Graveyard Book

Back in 2009, I read the prose version of this book.  Now in 2014, it has been re-imagined as a graphic novel.  And it’s funny, now that Gaiman has well established himself as a novelist, that I forgot he was originally a graphic novelist.  So this format works for him quite nicely.

As I said, I read the book five years ago, but I didn’t remember all the details.  Naturally the most exciting parts came back to me as I was reading it, but the little details has been lost to time.

I gave a rather detailed review of this book here and there’s really no reason for me to rewrite what I thought about it because it is pretty much unchanged.

But in sum: the story is about Bod Owens.  His family was murdered when he was 18 months old. He escaped to a graveyard (while the killer tried to track him down) and he was raised by ghosts.  They keep him safe from Jack, the killer, whose superiors want him to finish the job.  (more…)

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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_31_14Sempe.inddSOUNDTRACK: MARIAN McLAUGHLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #363 (June 7, 2014).

marianMarian McLaughlin is a singer-songwriter from Washington D.C. who has self released one album.  In this Tiny Desk setting McLaughlin plays an acoustic guitar (and some very unexpected chords) and sings while a string trio plays very eccentric melodies (and often not the ones you might expect) behind her.

Indeed, McLaughlin sounds like she might be right at home at a Renaissance Faire (her long hair and floral dress speak to that as well).  Her voice isn’t especially quirky but her delivery certainly is. And when the strings really get going (as they do in many places) the music is really powerful and more than a little off-beat.

“Heavier-than-air” seems to have many parts in its 4 minutes. While “Ocean” brings in some amazing low end with the bowed double bass and cello.  It also has an extended violin solo which is quite pretty.

“Horse” is the most intense song of the three, opening with an interesting guitar motif and that great bowed bass.  True, it’s unusual to hear the line “we are in debt to our equine friends” and later, “rhythm like a paradiddle,” but when the strings (but not the guitar) start playing a super-heavy almost heavy metal riff for a few bars, it is really intense.  There’s no question that McLaughlin is a unique voice, and I imagine that mainstream success will elude her.  But I really admire this kind of eccentric songwriting, and I am curious to check out her album at bandcamp.

[READ: June 9, 204] “The Big Cat”

I enjoyed this story quite a lot although I didn’t really care for the title (in relation to the story, the title itself is fine). There were so many images and turns of phrase that I think would have been much more interesting as a title. But if that’s all one has to complain about, that’s no too bad.

This story is from the point of view of a man who was happily married to a woman who snored.  In fact all of the women on her side of the family snored.  One holiday visit with her family he had many sleepless nights listening to the crazy loud racket of “the rip saw” (Elida’s mother) “the welders” (her sisters) and the polisher (Elida herself).  He says “sometimes they snored in unison—which was terrifying” (this made me laugh out loud).

They have a daughter together, Valery, who does not snore–as of yet.

He and Elida were from Minnesota but they lived in Hollywood for a time.  He was a relatively successful minor actor—lots of commercials, TV shows, etc and she was a film editor.  They were becoming successful in their jobs.  But then when Valery was 12 and unhappy in school, Elida decided it was the nature of Hollywood, so they moved back to Minnesota.  This ended his acting career so he found new work doing something else. (more…)

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mouldbookSOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-Silver Age (2012).

silverage

I was a huge fan of everything Bob Mould put out.  And then he more or less gave up on music.  So I just enjoyed his past and ignored what else he did.  But then I heard great reviews of his new album Silver Age.  So great in fact, that I couldn’t help but listen to it.  And it is amazing.  It’s a major return to his punkier roots.  The guitars are loud and fast but the melodies are still present.  And what’s more important, his voice sounds great and the album is mixed really well–previous Mould records have suffered in production quality.  But this is a great great record.

“Star Machine” opens the disc with loud guitars, a simple melody and lots of attitude.  I love the repeated “Said It” that appears throughout the song.  “Silver Age” is something of a manifesto for Mould.  The guitars are harsh and jagged with lots of distortion and the lyrics tell you everything: “Never too old to contain my rage  This is how I’m gonna spend my days gonna fight gonna fuck gonna feed gonna walk away.”

“The Descent” is classic Mould–big guitars, great catchy vocals and really nice harmonies/backing vocals.  “Briefest Moment” starts with a thudding drum and a sparse fast guitar (which somehow reminds me of Cheap Trick).  The bass comes in with a galloping line rather than playing the same notes and it adds a lot of depth to the album.  “Steam of Hercules” slows things down a bit but “Fugue State” comes crashing back in with more fast thumping drums and sparse but effective guitars.

“Round the City Square” picks up the noise level and includes a wild guitar solo.  “Angels Rearrange” again sounds like classic Mould.  While “Keep Believing” has a great bridge that reminds me a lot of Hüsker Dü (yes I mentioned the band that should not be named).  “First Time Joy” ends the disc on a gentle note.  It’s a ballad (where you can really hear Mould’s voice and how clean and strong it sounds).  There’s keyboards on this song that add some nice dimension.  By the end the song gets bigger and more powerful, ending on a really strong chord.  It’s an awesome return to the rock fold for Mould and I look forward to more from him.

[READ: March 5, 2013] See a Little Light

After getting The Silver Age, I remembered that Mould had written an autobiography and that I’d heard it was quite good.  I don’t really read a lot of autobiographies, but my history with Mould is pretty deep and I was curious to see what had happened in his life to make him abandon his rock roots.  So I tracked it down.  And I really enjoyed it.

The fascinating thing is what a reasonable man Mould presents himself as.  I’m not disputing this–I don’t know really anything else about the guy–but every time someone dumps on him, he accepts partial responsibility for the problem and moves on.  If he’s really like that, that’s very cool.  But he almost seems too nice sometimes.

As I’ve said, I didn’t know much about Mould.  My friend Al got me into Hüsker Dü and I’ve been a fan ever since.  I’ve bought some of his solo records and all of his band records, but I kind of lost interest in him the last decade or so (during his experimental phase).  But I didn’t even really know why Hüsker Dü broke up.

Some interesting things about Bob: he was born numerically gifted–I really enjoyed the section about his childhood and the genius-y stuff he did.  Although he had a pretty rough childhood–his older brother died when Bob was young and so Bob was seen as a golden child (especially after something that happened to him which he didn’t learn about until much later).  And he started drinking at a very young age.

When he got to college he formed Hüsker Dü with Grant Hart (Greg Norton came a little later).  I enjoyed hearing about the early days of Hüsker Dü because I only learned of them much later.  And man were they productive!  They’d release an album and have new material ready to record before they even toured for the album that came out already.  It’s cool reading about the punk scene back in the days before the internet when bands had to rely on each other for support.  There’s also a lot of people who Bob name checks and it’s fun to hear all of the punk names again, especially the names of people who are still active.  (There’s also some bad vibes against SST, but since this is Mould, the bad vibes are pretty mild). (more…)

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