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Archive for the ‘Arcade Fire’ Category

SOUNDTRACK:  DAN MANGAN + BLACKSMITH-Live at Massey Hall (February 28, 2015).

I know Dan Mangan from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I also had an opportunity to see him opening for Stars a month or so ago, but I couldn’t make the show.  I was bummed about that and am even more so after seeing how great Mangan is live with a full band.

He says his family flew in from Vancouver because Massey is like Canada’s Carnegie Hall.  Or should I say, Carnegie Hall is like America’s Massey Hall.

Then his bandmate says: Charlie Parker played here.  That’s ridiculous!
Neil Young played here.  That’s ridiculous!
We’re gonna play here.  That’s ridiculous!

Wilco played here; Arcade Fire; Joni Mitchell; Peabo Bryson (you know what I’m getting at–Peebs!); James Taylor; Dizzy Gillespie.

Massey Hall is from the days before there were mega rock concerts–when things sounded better.  The soul of that has been lost.  Music was made about the art and the music and not about being in the same room as someone famous.  There’s something about that soul of rock n roll has been lost.

“Mouthpiece” is a dark acoustic but fast, shuffling song.  It builds rather quickly to a noisy rock–which Mangan specialized at with some great drumming from Kenton Loewen.

“Vessel” opens with some screeching feedback and cool staccato piano riff.  Mangan’s deep voice works perfectly with this spare musical landscape.  The backing singer singing “it takes a village to raise a fool” works perfectly as the keys and trumpet build behind them.  I love how every few lines some other new piece of music is added, like the wailing guitar solo that runs through to the end.

“Rows of Houses” has a great building backing vocal section.  I love the quiet intensity of this song before it ratchets up to a loud stomper.  There’s s long noisy jam with trumpet (JP Carter) and keys (Tyson Naylor) blaring and a wild raucous bass (John Walsh) and a crazed guitar solo which ends with Gordon Grdina hammering the back of the guitar neck creating a wall of feedback and distribution

“New Skies” opens slow, but after a verse the band kicks in and it, too, rocks.

He says he needs everyone to sing the “oooohs” and he’s pleased with everyone’s response.  He sings some verses and then band starts singing the ooohs and he says “I forgot to tell you that’s where you come in.”

As the song moves along, there’s mostly a keyboard solo but then Grdina comes in with a pretty wild, sloppy but emotive solo.  Then Dan takes the mic and gets the crowd to sing along.  He exhorts: “When people stand they tend to breathe and sing little louder.

It works and it’s a great set ender.

He (and they) puts on a great show.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “The Burglary at Stormfield”

This excerpt is from a previously unpublished section of his autobiography.  When he died in 1910, he requested that his autobiography not be published for 100 years.

This excerpt is about his house outside of New York City.  He says he named it Innocence at Home but his daughter, Clara, called it Stormfield–“it is high and lonely and exposed to all the winds that blow.”  He concedes hers is a better name.

He got the money to build the house “out of a small manuscript which had lain in my pigeonholes forty-ones years, and which I sold to Harper’s Magazine.  The article was entitled Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.”

The focus of this essay though is burglaries.  He says that Stormfield has been broken into many times and he is surprised that the New York architect should have overlooked adding a burglar alarm to the building.  New York City is only an hour and a half away…”it contains millions of people, and most of them are burglars.” (more…)

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McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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sempleSOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Nervous [CST109] (2015).

cst109covera_258x242This album begins with “Deserter,” in which a choir of children singing over a kind of spooky tone.  And then a loud rumbling bass and scratching on a guitar.  It’s quite different from the previous Siskiyou releases and outpaces the others by several steps.

Once Colin Huebert’s voice kicks in, that familiar Siskiyou sound returns—acoustic guitar and Huebert’s voice which is a mix between a whisper and Win Butler from Arcade Fire.  But “Deserter” features backing vocals and, perhaps most surprisingly, a wild baritone sax solo by Colin Stetson.  But it stays grounded with that cool rumbling bass line.

The second song “Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills (Give Peace a Chance)” opens with an echoed guitar likes some classic 1990s shoegaze music.  The vocals are a cool, intense whisper.  The verses are great and then the chorus adds a piano and his vocals rise into an impassioned wail.  The third song “Wasted Genius” adds a kind of steel drum sound that includes a great melody to the simple and slightly ominous verses.   The middle of the song switches to pummeling drums and a buzzy guitar solo before returning to the mellow verse.

“Violent Motion Pictures” has another cool whispered vocals and quiet guitars that get accented with a low bass and percussion.  There’s a neat section of falsetto vocals that remind me of Pink Floyd over a bouncy melody–before it returns to the verses.  It’s a wonderfully catchy, if brief, segment.  “Jesus in the 70s” has slow guitar lines and atmospheric keys.  “Oval Window” is a bouncy folk song (with a slightly creepy vocal over the top), but its even got a folksy kind of guitar line on it.

“Nervous” is a slow ballad.  “Imbecile Thoughts” is a fun song with stomping drums.  It has a cool ending that leads to the slow building, strings-included nearly 7 minute “Babylonian Proclivities.”  The disc ends with the 1 minute “Falling Down the Stairs.”

This album is really fantastic–an overlooked gem from 2015.

[READ: November 8, 2016] Today Will Be Different

I’ve really enjoyed Maria Semple’s books.  And this one was no exception.

She really conveys the hectic, overstimulated, over scheduled life of middle age parenting.  It helps that her stories are typically set around Seattle and that there’s a lot of excitement, tech and pop culture to throw around, too.

This is the story of a day in the life of Eleanor Flood.  Sarah pointed out, as I didn’t quite realize it, that the story takes place in one day (hence the title) although there are flashbacks that flesh out the story too.

Eleanor is, or perhaps “was” is the better verb, an artist.  She was lead animator (or something–it’s a little confusing) on the successful show Looper Wash.  When the show ended she received an advance to write a book/memoir.  That was eight years ago.

Things have been sprialling out of control for Eleanor for a while, but she vows that today will be different.  She will make a difference. (more…)

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rollerSOUNDTRACK: SARAH NEUFELD-Hero Brother [CST095] (2013).

heroroSarah Neufeld is best known as the violinist for Arcade Fire. I wanted to like this disc more than I did.  There’s a lot of really good music and ideas, but the whole album felt a little lacking in excitement.

This solo album was recorded in Berlin by pianist and producer Nils Frahm, with Neufeld’s performances captured in a number of locations with site-specific acoustics, including an abandoned geodesic dome, an underground parking garage, and the legendary Studio P4 orchestral recording hall at the broadcast complex of the former GDR.

On track with a * you can hear the echo of the surroundings (although I’m not sure which is which).

*”Tower” is a repeat of three notes quickly bowed with an echoed ghostly voice floating over the top of the melody. Its lasts but 2 minutes and then disappears.  “Hero Brother” has repeated low notes flanked by high notes until the main fast riff spirals out.  About a minute in, a stomping drum comes in and her playing sounds a bit more folksy. It’s an interesting twist on the more formal earlier style.  I love that it ends almost starkly in the middle, allowing those last notes to resonate.

*”Dirt” begins with high pitches notes that seem to echo and resonate forever.  And then she switches to a spritely somewhat upbeat melody of quick notes. The third part of the song luxuriates in slow bowing—long notes that linger.  “You are the Field”  begins slowly with some bending notes that descend and then ascend.  It’s interesting to hear her slide up and down the neck while some of the main notes remain the same.

*”Breathing Black Ground” has slow echoed note, but about mid way through a low note anchors the pieces as the high notes play a melancholy melody while Nils Frahm plays the harmonium.  “They Live On” is primarily plucked strings until her echoed voice sails over the top. This piece is more pretty than the others but is still rather stark.

“Wrong Thought” has a kind of sci-fi sound as it opens.  A kind of piercing high note is resolved into some lowers notes and then a cool melody.  The ending few notes are a pretty series that rise from the darkness of the main piece.  “Right Through” is a series of three notes played in different location on the fret. It is lonely sounding until some higher notes begin to appear as well.  And then Sarah’s ghostly voice emerges from the background with a kind of haunted phrasing.  It’s quite lovely and then things become quite raucous with some very fast fiddling.

“Forcelessness” opens with a series of three high pitches notes that are quite breathtaking. The notes descend slowly through the melody as a piano plays long held notes to accent the descent. It’s by far my favorite on the disc.  The disc ends with *”Below” which is slow and melancholy with her voice echoing in.

I guess I was expecting there to be more virtuoso pieces rather than a kind of moody ambient record.  Most of the melodies are pretty, but  there’s not a lot of diversity.

[READ: February 12, 2016] Rollergirl

Oh boy, did I love this story.  And not just because it’ about roller derby (although that is quite a lot of it).  I loved it because it had a protagonist who felt she didn’t have a personality or a “thing” and managed to not only get one, but to get an unsuaul one–and to make friends doing it

This story is a bout Astrid Vazquez (an unlikely name if ever there was).  Astrid’s mom always wants her and her best friend, Nicole, to do cultural things.  So they go to museums, to the opera, poetry readings, that sort of thing.  It’s not always fun.  But on this night she takes them to a warehouse where the see a roller derby match!

Astrid (who loves to wear black and is the tomboy of the two) is hooked immediately.  Nicole, who is more prissy and does ballet, is interested but a little freaked out.  And when they discover that there is a roller derby camp for the summer. Astrid assumes they will both sign up and become derby superstars like their new heroine Rainbow Bite (is there anything better than roller derby names?).

But Nicole quietly informs her that she is not doing that.  Not only doesn’t she want to but she actually wants to go to ballet camp this summer.  So there.

And that’s when the opening scene where Nicole is with the horrible, awful, super mean Rachel.  Rachel is the one who came up with the nickname Ass-turd (which maybe makes this not so much a children’s book, but it’s the only bad part). (more…)

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5dials34SOUNDTRACK: MATT HAIMOVITZ & CHRISTOPHER O’RILEY-Tiny Desk Concert #426 (March 14, 2015).

matthThere’s no introduction or fanfare for cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley’s Tiny Desk set.  They just start right in with a romping Beethoven piece.   I don’t know these two, but the notes say the duo has a new album out called Shuffle.Play.Listen., in which music by Stravinsky and Astor Piazzolla mingles with Cocteau Twins and Arcade Fire.  There’s no contemporary music in this set, but it’s very cool nonetheless.

The Beethoven piece sounds alive and wild and very modern.  The Glass piece is slow and beautiful  The final piece is lively and playful (with hints of darkness).  It introduced as reminding O’Riley of a scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being when Daniel Day-Lewis gets a quickie.

It’s especially fun to watch how animated Haimovitz is.  The set list:

  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 4 in C – IV. Allegro vivace
  • Philip Glass/Foday Musa Suso: The Orchard
  • Leoš Janáček: Pohádka – II. Con moto

[READ: April 6, 2015] Five Dials 33 Part II

After several themed issues of Five Dials we get back to the ones that I really like–random things thrown together under a tenuous idea.  It’s got some great authors and a surprising amount of large scale doodles–full page scribbles and some drawings that go from one page to the next (which works better online than in print).  Some of the giant illustrations also are fun–they are of jokey images like a memory stick that states I have only memories.  The art was done by JODY BARTON.

As with a previous issue there is a page of contributors and “The Unable to Contribute Page.”  These are journalists unfairly imprisoned (see more at cpr.org).  The Table of Contents is back, along with the FAQ: (more…)

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walrusjulySOUNDTRACK: SARA NEUFELD-“Forcelessness” (2013).

neufeldSara Neufeld has a new album coming out on Constellation Records.  Neufeld is the violinist for Arcade Fire–not someone you think of as a “special” violinist or someone who necessarily stands out in the band.  But her violin here is haunting and beautiful.

The album is pretty much her and her violin with occasional accompaniment.  On this track she is accompanied by pianist Nils Frahm (whom I don’t know).  The song was recorded in a parking garage giving it an incredibly expansive sound.

It opens is a somber tone with repeated triplets.  But once the pianos come in, the triplets become slightly more positive.  For a time.

There is something very simple and yet very pleasing about this track–it doesn’t alter itself very much over its three minutes and yet the subtle variations in notes can really affect the mood of the song as it is playing.

[READ: July 15, 2013] “The Eviction Process”

I don’t know why I’m always surprised by stories that go dark.  But this story is very dark indeed.

It begins with two men and an autistic boy (who proves to be the son of one of the men) visiting The Champ in the hospital.  The Champ is one of their roommates and they have come to tell him that he is being evicted.  They are nervous as anything because The Champ is not afraid to use his considerable strength in a fight (and the narrator has a stashed bottle of vodka in his pants that he would hate to see smashed).

But The Champ takes it very well, considering he is now homeless.

Their next stop is back home where the eviction process continues.  The next person is Morgan, but Morgan is passed out from huffing keyboard duster.  So, they’ll get him later. (more…)

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2013SOUNDTRACK: ARCADE FIRE-The Suburbs (2010).

suburbsWhen The Suburbs came out, it was hailed as a masterpiece and also panned as a hack job (more the former than the latter).  It was impossible to listen to it without hearing raves and rants.  And then Arcade Fire became a kind of punchline or punching bag, the band people loved to hate (although not as much as Nickelback).  I didn’t write about this record then because I wanted to let the air clear.  And then I kind of forgot about it.  I pulled it out again recently and found that I really enjoyed it.  It’s a long album with a lot of different tempos.  It reminds me of the kind of albums I used to listen to as a kid, yes in the suburbs, in which I could absorb an entire hour in one sitting (preferably while driving).

It’s not as indie as their first album nor is it as dark as Neon Bible.  Indeed, with the instrumentation and easy melodies, the album is almost pop (or more like radio friendly AOR music from the 70s and 80s).  There’s orchestration (but Arcade Fire has always had orchestration, that’s why there are eight of them in the band).  There’s heavy piano (which is possibly the most notable difference on this album–the keys have gone acoustic, which definitely makes the album sound more 70s than 2000s.  And there’s big choruses.

“The Suburbs” starts the album, but it’s really hard to deny “Ready to Start”–a bouncy number with a very winning chorus (yes, nominated as song of the year, but deservedly so).  “Empty Room” opens with a violin section that I assume is sampled (its sounds very classical and more as a quote than an introduction to the pumping, rocking song that follows.

“Private Prison” has great backing vocals in the chorus–Wim Butler and Régine Chassagne play off each other so well.  “Suburban War” has a great guitar riff–melodic and pretty in its repetition.  “Wasted Hours” is one of the few folky songs I can think of Arcade Fire playing–but it’s a traditional kind of folk–with la la la las–with a twist.

There are two tracks with a Part I and a Part II.  In both cases the second part complements and surpasses the first part in terms of overall energy and catchiness. “Half Light II” is a beautiful soaring track and “Sprawl II” (the one with Régine singing lead), is one of the best tracks on the album (the way the “mountains beyond mountains” section soars is wonderful).  That honor of best tracks also goes to “We Used to Wait” with its simple piano and cool guitar riff at the end of the verses.

The album feels like a lot of music I grew up with–radio friendly hits that perhaps Butler listened to as a kid, and as he reflects back on them he updates and deconstructs them.  “Modern Man” and “Empty Room” feel this way.  “Month of May” sounds like “Beat on the Brat” while “Deep Blue” opens with a  vibe of “Happy Together” but moves beyond it to a massive (and massively good) chorus.

It’s safe to believe the hype–there’s nothing here that will blow your mind, but  taken together it is a very satisfying collection of songs.  I also just learned that there were 8 different covers created for the album (although they all look vaguely the same).  The one above is the version I happened to get.

[READ: January 4, 2013] “Knowledge”

I didn’t know anything about Gordon Lish when I read this story.  The name sounded vaguely familiar.  Then I looked him up.  Evidently Lish has been writing for a long time, although he hasn’t written much recently.  He is more known for his editing than his writing.

This story is a self-obsessing tale in which the words that the narrator is saying are more important than what the words mean.  So the beginning of the story has the narrator stumbling, repeating, reiterating and then alliterating (which he criticizes himself for doing) without really getting anywhere.  He frets that everyone is watching him–the neighbors, the doorman–and that his sneaky actions were seen by all, especially when the masking tape stuck to him.

Strangely, as the story reaches its midway point we see that the narrator is Gordon Lish himself and he asks rhetorically if the reason he has removed the flyer from the telephone pole (hence the masking tape) is because he himself had something to do with the message on the flyer itself. (more…)

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