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Archive for the ‘Air’ Category

SOUNDTRACKPLANTS & ANIMALS–Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2016).

This is the start of the fourth season of Live at Massey Hall.

I didn’t really know any of the six artists, but they have recently begun adding new bands about whom I am pretty excited.

Of course, as with many of these shows, it’s the bands I don’t know which blow me away.

I didn’t know Plants and Animals, but I loved their set.

Drummer Matthew Woodley says that he and Warren Spicer (guitars and vocals) met in Halifax and had a series of bands until they moved to Montreal and met Nick Basque (guitars, keyboards).  They started as an instrumental band and then Warren started to craft words and now we’re a normal singing, dancing and playing band.

“We Were One” opens with feedback and some cool mechanical sounds that come from one of their guitars.

Warren sings kind of quietly and plays acoustic guitar.  Mid way through, the song shifts gears with some big guitar sounds from Nick with a great little autocratic guitar run and riff before a big chord ends it all.

“All of the Time” is a cool moody piece with loud pianos from Nick, rumbling guitars and backing vocals from bassist Josh Toal.

During the break, one of them says, “we like an element of danger… if I go to a show and everything is under control it’s still fun if you like the music, but as an experience if you forget about the music,  the feeling it’s just going to play out…   they’ll get two encores and we’ll go home….  But we’d rather feel, “Oh, but this is cool whats going to happen?” The first band they toured with was Wolf Parade and they had a “wow, anything can happen, they might just stop.”  That’s the kind of show we want to pursue–something that feels a little bit dangerous.

“Flowers” opens with some cool falsetto vocals and then a moody middle section.

“So Many Nights” opens with synths and a cool bass line.  It sounds a bit like Air (French band) with some lengthy guitar solos from the acoustic guitar which sounds very cool.  The slows down and slows further and then builds and build and builds and builds further to a noisy crescendo with them chanting “your feet are heavy, carry on.”

“A L’oree Des Bois” opens with pretty, intertwining guitars while Nick talks about making records in his Québécois accent.

Before the final song they bring out a tiny boy (Aaron Spicer) who sings a quiet song in French–to rapturous applause.

“No Worries Gonna Find Us”  Is a great humping song that repeats the title and “no worries gonna be the boss of my mind.”

They say “you guys are gonna get your faces ripped off by Half Moon Run.”  But it was Plants and Animals that really impressed me so far.

[READ: July 8, 2018]  “Active Shooter”

I always like when David Sedaris talks about visiting with his sister(s).

Sedaris and his sister Lisa were driving “in her toy-size car” to her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

She is bemoaning a woman at Starbucks with a tiny monkey on a leash (in a pink dress).  She wanted to yell at woman, “What do you plan on doing with that thing once you lose interest in it?”

I love that this piece is about guns, but he is willing to throw in a bit about pet owners.

Like a lot of pet owner, I know, Lisa is certain that no one can take care of an animal as well as she can.

But as she was saying of  the woman “It’s a monkey, of course she’s going to lose interest in it” they drove past a firing range called ProShots. (more…)

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Harpers-1404-302x410SOUNDTRACK: BECK-Sea Change (2002).

Aseachnagefter the wild dance of Midnight Vultures, Beck entered the 2000s with Sea Change, a very mellow album.  It is highly regarded by many, although it’s too mellow for my liking, which is unsurprising give my tastes.  (Of course, if you’re in a mellow/sad mood, it’s perfect).  Even though I feel like it is quite samey, a closer listen shows as much diversity within these songs as any of his thematic albums.  And there are some great sounds that he throws on top of these tracks.  Like the Radiohead vibe in “The Golden Age”

“Paper Tiger” has a kind of sleekness to it, with the strings and the bassline that keeps the track interesting.  “Guess I’m Doing Fine” is a mopey song that has the potential to be too much ,but never goes that far.  It winds up being quite beautiful.  “Lonesome Tears” has strings that make it sound a bit like Air (the band).  “Lost Cause” is the poppy side of this mellow album—it’s got a super catchy chorus (although is clearly not a happy song) and would be a great ballad on any other album—here it comes across as the peppiest number.  “End of the Day” introduces sitar, but it falls a little flat in the middle of the disc.

“It’s All in Your Mind” is a pretty and short song.  “Round the Bend” is easily the most depressing song that Beck has ever done.  It’s also quite beautiful but, man what a downer.  Oh wait, that “most depressing” award would go to “Already Dead” a very sad acoustic song which has Beck singing in an aching falsetto.   The darkness is lightened somewhat with the sitar flavored “Sunday Sun” but it still has that aching vocal.  And yet it ends with a total musical freak out at the end—noise and feedback and chaos which makes sense in the song but seems so out of place on the record—and yet it’s kind of a welcome relief.  “Little One” has a more upbeat vibe (with big drums even).  Although it seems to get lost by the end of the disc.  As does “side of the Road” which doesn’t really have a lot going for it.

 Any one of these songs would be a perfect mellow beck song.  But at 52 minutes, the album is a bit relentless.   I think what weighs down a lot of these songs is their length.  The lengthy strings at the end of “Tears” is very pretty but with several songs pushing 5 minutes, overall it gets to be a bit much.   There’s no “bonus” track on this one.

 [READ: March 17, 2014] “Diagnose This”

This article by Heidi Julavits (whose novels I keep intending to read but have yet to so far), really appeared to me because of the conceit of self diagnosis.  Whenever you go to a doctor, if you have searched your symptoms online (which everyone has) you always feel guilty about bringing it up—like you’re not supposed to investigate these free resources.  Now it’s entirely true that looking up your symptoms online is madness—everything leads to cancer.  Everything.  If you are a hypochondriac, you should never ever do this, but if you are a reasonable person, you can use online medical diagnoses and, more importantly, message boards to see what other people have said about similar symptoms.

In this essay, Julavits talks about her own symptoms for what her doctor diagnoses as possible Ménière’s Disease, a rather rare disease that is more or less worst case scenario.  And the doctor tells her not to look it up when she gets home (she looks it up in the parking lot).   She doubts that this is an accurate diagnosis.  But as she learns when she interviews several doctors and medical school teachers—doctors are not taught to learn gray area thinking.  They have to save lives so they may jump to the most serious situation in order to prevent serious damage—even if that conclusion may involve tons of unnecessary and expensive tests. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FEIST-“Femme Fatale” (2011).

The funny thing about The Velvet Underground is that it seems like it would be very hard to fail at covering them.  Their songs are pretty open to interpretation.  But, it’s even more true if you wanted to do it pretty straight.  I mean, while Lou Reeds voice is unique, Nico’s isn’t really.  It’s slow and languorous, sexy and distant.  I would never have thought to describe Feist that way and yet she fits into the Nico mold very nicely.

This cover comes from the Velvet Underground Revisited show from 2011, with a band comprised of members of Radiohead, Air and Supergrass.  Feist did vocals for this one.  It’s not an earth-shattering cover.  In fact it’s pretty spot on.  Maybe everyone who hears this will start a band too.

You can hear it here.

[PLANNED: Summer 2012] #OccupyGaddis

I had my books all planned out for the summer.  A series of smaller books to get through before trying to tackle any really big books that are on my shelf (and there are plenty).

And then came #OccupyGaddis.

William Gaddis is an author, like Thomas Pynchon, who writes large, unwieldy novels which are something of a bedrock for contemporary American fiction–like The Velvet Underground–not many people have read him, but those who have all went on to write wonderful books.  And he forms a kind of continuum of (among many many others) Joyce>Gaddis>Pynchon>Wallace which means that I ought to be reading him.

I read JR about a decade ago.  I remember a few things about it–basic plot details and the fact that you never know exactly who is speaking.  I wasn’t keeping this blog then, so I didn’t exactly take notes on it or anything.  It’s kind of a blur.

So Lee Konstantinou is running #Occupy Gaddis this summer.  It is meant  to be an Infinite Summer type-deal.  Unlike Infinite Summer which was weekly, he’s planning on posting every two weeks.  I’ll try to do my weekly post (work permitting), by picking a midpoint as a Spoiler Line.  Since my recollection is that JR is like one large block of text with no breaks anywhere, my spoiler line will be pretty arbitrary.   But here’s his:

June 29: pp. 150

July 15: pp. 300

July 31: pp. 460

August 15: pp. 610

August 26: done!

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS: Falling Down a Mountain [CST065] (2010).

Another Tindersticks album comes out from Constellation!  This one features a bit more dissonance than I’m used to hearing from them.  Not crazy noisy dissonance, just sprinkles of it that make the album feel slightly askew: horns that are abrasive, strings that are foreboding and even Stuart Staples usually mellow singing is filled with vibrato (!) at times.

The opening song is an unusual track: a six and a half minute mostly instrumental which ends with some repeated chanting/singing of the title.   Given that this is the Tindertsicks, a band which at this point is possibly known more for its soundtrack work than anything else, it’s not all that surprising to hear an instrumental from them, but there’s something about the structure of the song that sounds different for them–it’s a slow builder with lots of horns. It’s really cool.

“Keep You Beautiful” is a slow, quiet number.  A beautiful showcase of that side of Tindersticks–harmonies and melodies aplenty.  “Harmony Around My Table” is a beautiful shuffling song which sounds like classic Tindersticks.  The twist is that Stuart kind of vamps around the end of the song.  It’s a catchy number with lovely backing vocals and some cool lyrics ( “I found a penny, I picked it up / The other day I had some luck / That was two weeks last Tuesday / Since then there’s been a sliding feeling.” ).

“Peanuts” is a sweet duet with the elusive Mary Margaret O’Hara it has some very sweet lyrics: “You say you love peanuts / I don’t care that much / I know you love peanuts / And I love you / So I love peanuts too.”

“She Rode Me Down” is the best song on the album and one of their best songs in a long time. It features some great mariachi style rhythms (handclaps, castanets, a flute) and wonderful brass section.  There’s also a nifty bass string (viola?) that adds an unexpected melody line.   There’s also the fun to sing bridge: “she rode me, she rode me, she rode me.”

“Hubbards Hill” is an actual instrumental.  It reminds me a bit of an acoustic Air song, all moody and tense.  “Black Smoke” has some creepy violins and Staples’ slightly askew vocals–he seems to be really straining, and it ends up with a wavery vibrato.  “Factory Girls” is a slow, delicate piano song.  It’s similar to some of their older songs, but it seems even more quiet than usual.  The final track, “Piano Music” is a great instrumental.  It’s slow and melancholy with some wonderful piano sprinklings throughout.

Again it’s hard to be surprised by anything Tindersticks do, their output is so varied, but this disc has some real surprises to it.  It’s not unusual for Tindersticks to create instrumentals (they do all those films scores after all, but I kind of associate the band with Staples’ voice.  That there are almost three instrumentals here is unexpected.  It feels like a transitional record, as if perhaps their next one will totally kick ass.   But at the same time, this one is really good too.

[READ: August 1, 2011] “Above and Below”

This story was surprisingly long.  It just seemed to keep going and going.  And that was fine, except that the story was basically about a girl who seemed to fall hard on her luck and then find some kind of circumstance that picked her back up again. And then up and down and then up and down.  Dumb luck seemed to keep her from hitting rock bottom.

So anyway, the main character (unnamed as far as I recall) was until recently a TA in Florida.  When she lost her job, and her funding, she decided to say “the hell with it all.”  She took the last few items she had, piled into her station wagon and took off.  She called her mom and told her not to worry, that she’d call again when she got settled.  Of course, her mom is kind of spacey and unresponsive and the narrator hates her stepdad, so the actually calling part may not really have been that high a priority.

First, she stays in her car until she eventually shoved off by the police.  She finds a new beach and a hotel with a gym where she can shower.  She basically has no intention of doing anything.  She should hit rock bottom but then the first of the unreasonable coincidences occurs: “She was baking on the beach when a leaf slid up over her stomach.  She caught idly at it, and found that it wasn’t a leaf at all but a five-dollar bill.”  Really?  A five dollar bill?  We should all that happen to us.  My suspicions were immediately raised by that detail, although I let it pass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOENIX–Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009).

It will soon be unsurprising to say that a great album has come from a French band (no offense to the French, but you never used to hear cool music coming from there).  Then we had Air and Daft Punk and now Phoenix.

The first single and leadoff track, the preposterously catchy “Lisztomania” features guitars and keyboards (just so we know they’re not another techno band).  It has a simple but infectious riff as it opens , and it never lets up in catchiness.  “1901” has a chorus that ends with some ayayayayayays that I dare you not to sing along with.

“Fences” has a pretty classic disco feel to it.  It’s followed by “Love Like a Sunset.” Part 1 is a five-minute atmospheric instrumental, and Part 2 follows along similarly.

“Lasso” follows with some more simple background keyboards topped with grinding guitars.  Like “Countdown,” it’s simple and hard not to like.  “Girlfriend” opens with great swaths of keyboards and lots of repeated words in the verses and chorus, making for yet another great single.   In fact, all of the songs are super catchy.

Despite the simplicity of the melodies, the songs are always interesting.  And that’s hard to beat.  There’s no surprise that this album was on many lists as one of the best of 2009.

[READ: October 28, 2010] “The Dungeon Master”

Reading this short story reminded me that I really want to read Lipsyte’s new book The Ask, which is supposed to be very good indeed.

The title of the story immediately made me think it would be about Dungeons & Dragons, and I was pleased to see that it was.   The story concerns a group of boys who have their own D&D club after school (as opposed to the school sanctioned D&D club).  Their game meets at the Dungeon Master’s house and there is no, repeat, no touching of the DM’s manual.

We quickly learn that the DM is a sadistic bastard.  He has killed off his younger brother’s character at least 30 times (and the brother keeps making a new character in his place: Valentine the 19th, Valentine the 20th etc).  But unlike in real D&D where you die from ogres and dragons, Valentine has died from, for instance, rectal cancer (how do you roll for that?).

There’s a lot of speculation about just how crazy their DM really is (rumors abound: he flashes some girls at the ice rink, he set his own feces on fire).  And, of course there’s talk that he spent some time in Bergen Pines.  And just where is his mother anyway? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROKEN BELLS-Broken Bells (2010).

When I first played this disc I was really disappointed by it.  I’ve grown to expect crazy magic from Danger Mouse, and I assumed that this collaboration with James Mercer of The Shins would be crazy awesome.  But it seemed very mellow to me.  Mellow in a way that just kind of sat there.  So I put it aside for a while.

Then I listened to it again a little later and I found that I really liked it this time.  In fact, it rapidly grew into one of my favorite releases of 2010.

The disc is a wonderfully paced mixture of acoustic guitars, interesting keyboard sounds and, often, downright bizarre electronic choices (subtle, yet bizarre).  The weird sounds that open the disc, a kind of backwards keyboard, are disorienting but also very catchy.  And the song itself is instantly familiar.  It’s followed by “Vaporize” a simple acoustic number that bursts out with some great organ and (very) distorted drums.  It also features a fascinating horn solo!

“Your Head is on Fire” settles things down a bit with a mellow track which, after some cool introduction, sounds like a  pretty typical sounding Shins track (ie, very nice indeed–and more on this in a moment).

“The Ghost Inside” feels like a ubiquitous single.  I’m not sure if it is or if it’s just so catchy (with dancey bits and hand claps and a great falsetto) that it should be everywhere.  “Sailing to Nowhere” reminds me, I think, of Air.  And the great weird drums/cymbals that punctuate each verse are weird and cool.

One of the best songs is “Mongrel Heart” it opens with a western-inspired sound, but quickly shifts to a quiet verse.  The bridge picks up the electronics to add a sinister air (and all of this is accompanied by nice backing vocals, too).  But it’s the mid section of the song that’s really a surprise: it suddenly breaks into a Western movie soundtrack (ala Morricone) with a lone trumpet playing a melancholy solo.  And this surprise is, paradoxically, somewhat typical of the disc: lots of songs have quirky surprises in them, which is pretty cool.

Having said all this, there are a few tracks where it feels like the two aren’t so much collaborating as just playing with each other.  And that may have been my initial disappointment.  I was expecting a great work from a combined powerhouse, and I think what we get is two artists writing great stuff while seemingly respecting each other too much to step on each others toes.

There is another Broken Bells disc in the works.  And I have to assume that they’ll feel more comfortable with each other and simply knock our socks off next time.  But in the meantime we have this really wonderful disc to enjoy.

[READ: October 21, 2010] The Broom of the System

It dawned on me sometime last summer that I had never read DFW’s first novel.  I bought it not long after reading Infinite Jest and then for some reason, never read it.  And by around this time I had a not very convincing reason for not reading it.  DFW seemed to dismiss his “earlier work” as not very good.  I now assume that he’s referring to his pre-Broom writings, but I was a little nervous that maybe this book was just not very good.

Well I need not have worried.

It’s hard not to talk about this book in the context of his other books, but I’m going to try.  Broom is set in the (then) future of 1990.  But the past of the book is not the same past that we inhabited.  While the world that we know is not radically different, there is one huge difference in the United States: the Great Ohio Desert.  The scene in which the desert comes about (in 1972) is one of the many outstanding set pieces of the book, so I’ll refrain from revealing the details of it.  Suffice it to say that the desert is important for many reasons in the book, and its origin is fascinating and rather funny. (more…)

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