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Archive for the ‘Death Cab For Cutie’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS WALLA AND J. ROBBINS-Create ‘Mercury’ (Project Song: October 12, 2009).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fourth one they did was over a year and a half after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a performer he’d admired, J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines).

What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR’s performance studio.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers [The picture are really, really cool]. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word “cerebral” and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Unlike the pairing from Georgie James, this pair is instantly excited at the possibilities–changes and ideas.

Robbins says he will not write any lyrics, it takes him a month and a half to hone them,

But it didn’t take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

They were inspired by JG Ballard and his drowned world series. In these books there are people who know the world is dying but they embrace it as a forward movement into the unknown

J. get a great bass line right away (its sounds very Death Cab, interestingly).  Bob asks about the music and J. says the music sounds like a dog on a boat heading towards a half-submerged house.  And Walla is singing the word “mercury.”

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins’ friend, drummer Darren Zentek.

He adds a wonderful beat and the song sounds great.  They get excited filling out the possibilities–end on the bridge!

Walla goes off by himself to write lyrics.  And Robbins works on a piano part.  And then things really come together when Walla picks up the 12 string.

The song they created, “Mercury,” takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

The result has a definite Death Cab feel, but with Robbins and Walla alternating lead vocals it is a different, wonderful thing.

[READ: July 23, 2018] “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

This story centers around Valentine’s Day.  But it’s a T.C. Boyle story so there’s always something else to look forward to.

I love the way this story opens with Brandon the narrator telling us.

This past Valentine’s Day, I was in Kingman, Arizona, with my wife, Nola, staying in the Motel 6 there, just off the I-40. You might not think of Kingman as a prime location for a romantic getaway (who would?), but Nola and I have been married for fifteen years now, and romance is just part of the continuum….  Were we slumming?  Yes, sure.  We could have stayed anywhere we liked…and if it’s not ideal, at least it’s different.

They were there because Nola’s father lives nearby and they decided to pay a visit and to let Nola search for antiques.  They went to Denny’s (the only place her father will eat), and after eating, Nola went antiquing and Brandon went to a bar to wait for her.

It’s not unfriendly (despite some graffiti like “fuck you, liberal pussies” (which he chooses to take as ironic), but he doesn’t order a Pinot Noir or anything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS TREE? (2003).

 I really didn’t like the second volume of this series.  But this third volume is back to form.  Nearly everything on this record is great.  There’s a few songs where they have chosen to take all of the joy out of the Christmas song.  This is a valid choice, sure, but it doesn’t work when a collection mixes it up with happy Christmas songs.

But by far, this album is far more positive than mopey.

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE-“Happy Christmas (War is Over)”
I don’t really like this song, but this version is fun.  I think the full choir overwhelms what i don’t like about the song.

THE RAVONETTES-“The Christmas Song”
I don’t really know The Ravonettes, but I love this version of this song  The whispered vocals, the plinky guitar, the general rocking shuffle–it’s all good to me.

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE-“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
It would take a lot for Death Cab for Cutie to mess this up.  This is a terrific version of this song.

PEDRO THE LION-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
This is a slow piano ballad.  I actually thought it might be Coldplay.  It’s too slow, especially given the other songs so far.

BELSANA-“Bittersweet Eve”
This is a catchy folk song although it leans towards the mopey in the vocal delivery.  And technically it’s about New Year’s Eve.

IVY-“Christmas Time is Here”
I love Ivy.  Her voice is so great in general.  This version of the song sounds really compressed, almost like a music box, which makes its sound even prettier.

ROYAL CROWN REVUE AND VICKY TAFOYA-“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
I don’t know if Royal Crown Revue is typically a retro sounding band, but man, this song is perfectly retro.  It sounds like it could have been recorded a long time ago, right down to the vocal styling.

TOM McRAE-“Wonderful Christmastime”
I don’t understand why you would take this song and make it a downbeat ballad.

PILATE-“Fairytale of New York”
I love the original of this song so much.  Musically, this version is pretty good, but there’s something vocally about it that falls flat for me.  It may just be that it’s close but not exactly right so it feels off to me.

LISA LOEB-“Jingle Bells”
It sounds like she’s smiling entirely through this song, which is exactly as it should be–even with a somewhat breathy version like this.

JARS OF CLAY-“Christmas for Cowboys”
This is a John Denver song that I didn’t know before.  It’s kind of a country song, but it doesn’t really feel like it in this version.  I like the cowboy whistle.

COPELAND-“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Because of the autotune, this version grates.  And yet, I find it strangely compelling add well.   The guitar chorus and synth voices are great, but when it gets into the auto tune it goes too far until it goes way too fast and actuate sounds interesting again..

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Kings”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

I really enjoyed this story, which was designed as a Crowdfunding request to do exactly what the title asks.

We see that the person’s goal is $5,229 and that she has received $1,395 with 28 days to go.

That all seems reasonable except for the whole Land of the Dead business. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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manner SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk Concert #251 (November 19, 2012).

benBen Gibbard is the voice of Death Cab for Cutie.  His voice is instantly recognizable and his melodies are surprisingly catchy.

This Tiny Desk Concert (they say it’s number 250, but I count 251) is just him and his acoustic guitar.  I didn’t know he did solo work, but apparently he does (in addition to being in The Postal Service and All-Time Quarterback).

Gibbard just released a solo album, Former Lives, which he’s said is a repository for material that didn’t work as Death Cab for Cutie songs; from that record, only “Teardrop Windows” pops up in his Tiny Desk Concert. For the rest, he draws from Death Cab’s most recent album (“St. Peter’s Cathedral,” from Codes and Keys) and, of all places, last year’s Arthur soundtrack (“When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street”).

As mentioned he plays three songs and his voice is so warm and familiar I felt like I knew these songs even if I didn’t.

I knew “St. Peter’s Cathedral.” It is a lovely song with very little in the way of chord changes.  But the melody is gentle and pretty.  And the song appears to be entirely about this church.  Which is interesting because the second song is also about a building in Seattle.  “Teardrop Windows” is a surprisingly sad song about an inanimate object.  It’s written from the building’s point of view as he mourns that no one uses him anymore.  And such beautiful lyrics too:

Once built in boast as the tallest on the coast he was once the city’s only toast / In old postcards was positioned as the star, he was looked up to with fond regard / But in 1962 the Needle made its big debut and everybody forgot what it outgrew

The final song “When the Sun Goes Down on Your Street” was indeed for the Russel Brand movie Arthur.  Somehow I can’t picture those two together.  It’s a lovely song, too.

I prefer Gibbard’s more upbeat and fleshed out music, but it’s great to hear him stripped down as well.

[READ: January 2017] “My Writing Education: A Time Line,” “The Bravery of E.L. Doctorow,” “Remembering Updike,” and “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz” 

I had been planning to have my entire month of February dedicated to children’s books.  I have a whole bunch that I read last year and never had an opportunity to post them.  So I thought why not make February all about children’s books.  But there is just too much bullshit going on in our country right now–so much hatred and ugliness–that I felt like I had to get this post full of good vibes out there before I fall completely into bad feelings myself. It;s important to show that adults can be kind and loving, despite what our leaders demonstrate.  Fortunately most children’s books are all about that too, so the them holds for February.

George Saunders is a wonderful writer, but he is also a very kind human being.  Despite his oftentimes funny, sarcastic humor, he is a great humanitarian and is always very generous with praise where it is warranted.

The other day I mentioned an interview with Saunders at the New York Times.  Amid a lot of talk with and about Saunders, there is this gem:

Junot Díaz described the Saunders’s effect to me this way: “There’s no one who has a better eye for the absurd and dehumanizing parameters of our current culture of capital. But then the other side is how the cool rigor of his fiction is counterbalanced by this enormous compassion. Just how capacious his moral vision is sometimes gets lost, because few people cut as hard or deep as Saunders does.”

These first three pieces are all examples of his love and respect for other writers–both for their skill and for their generosity.

“My Writing Education: A Time Line”

“My Writing Education” comes from a book called A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors.  Saunders’ mentor was Tobias Wolff.  And for this essay, his admiration takes the form of a diary.  (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 26, 20162016-10-26-19-47-23] The Monkees

Like most people of my age I used to watch The Monkees on TV.  I was never a huge fan, but I liked the show a bunch and used to sing the theme (and pretend to be The Monkees when at the beach).  But I never really gave them much thought as a musical act (especially when I got older and learned that *gasp* they didn’t even play on the songs!).

Then I learned that there are some people who really really like The Monkees.  My college roommate was a huge fan, and a fellow I’ve met through another friend is an even bigger one–Craig, good luck on that book, man!  I also found out that Sarah and her fried Joanna used to watch the show all the time and were mega Monkees fans (without the album buying).

So when the band announced their 50th (FIFTIETH!) Anniversary tour, I thought it would be fun to go and thought Sarah would really enjoy it.  Sarah saw them on a previous anniversary tour (25, maybe?), where Peter, Micky and Davy were presence (Mike doesn’t typically do this sort of thing).  Of course, with Davy passed on, we wondered just how much of a Monkees show this would be.

Well, I never realized that Mickey sang most of the songs.  It makes sense now that I think of it, he is the voice of the Monkees after all, but I’d assumed it was a bit more democratic.  So as long as Mickey’s there it is still a Monkees gig.  Having Peter there lends it some credibility (Mike did perform a couple of shows when the tour went through California). (more…)

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silentSOUNDTRACK: HOSPITAL SHIPS-Tiny Desk Concert #177 (November 23, 2011).

hospital shipsHospital Ships is a band created by Jordan Geiger, who was in the band Shearwater, among others. In 2011 he released his second album as Hospital Ships.  The blurb describes the album as “packed with poppy folk songs and brash rockers enhanced with instrumental flourishes and bursts of guitar feedback,” but for this recording, they strip everything down to the basics: a guitar, banjo, ukulele and a drum with a towel over it to muffle the sound.

Geiger has a rather high-pitched, delicate, almost talking-singing voice and his songs are rather pretty.  The band plays 3 songs in just over ten minutes.  The first one, “Phantom Limb,” (once my lover, now my friend, you are my phantom limb) has a recurring motif of them saying/singing “ha ha” which is rather catchy.

“Carry On,” features a four-letter word (technically a seven letter word), which might be one of the first times on a Tiny Desk Concert that such a word is uttered.  It’s especially funny given how sweet the band sounds.  The sentiment of the song is nice though: “To all the women I’ve loved, When I was with you I would say I was better off….  And when I’m gone, carry on, carry on.”  There were harmonies in the first song, but they are more prominent in this one (three part) and are quite nice.  The banjo player also does a whistling solo.

“Let Me In” made me laugh because he uses the word baby a lot (which Ben Folds said in his Tiny Desk that he has never said in real life, so why would he put in it a song?).  But this song is very gentle and sweet–just Geiger on his guitar singing “baby, let me in.”

Geiger’s voice reminds me of a few different people–Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie especially on the final track; perhaps the Mountain Goats or the Weakerthans.  And his songwriting is very good.

[READ: December 26, 2015] Silent But Deadly

I really enjoyed the first Liō collection, and was pretty excited that I could find the second collection so quickly (my library doesn’t have any more collections for some reason, so I’ll have to track the rest down elsewhere).  This book collects the strips from February 25, 2007 – December 2, 2007.

Not much has changed from that book to this one, but I think Tatulli’s comic chops have gotten even better.

The strip won me over immediately with the first one in the book. Lio draws a monster and it comes to life.  He looks at the marker and it says “magic marker” and he gets a big grin and goes back to work.  So simple yet so funny.

It is that big grin–wide open-mouthed just unfettered mischievous delight that occurs in nearly every strip. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 10, 2015] Real Estate

2015-06-10 20.21.42We ordered tickets for Belle and Sebastian months and months ago (probably back in April before Sarah’s birthday).  We had no idea a) they would be playing in Philly as well and b) who the opening act would be.

In Philly the opener was Lucius, a band I like a bit, and who are quite dancey.  But at Radio City, the opener was Real Estate, a jangly pop band who I like better.

Real Estate’s previous album was selected on many 2011 best of lists.  Their new album I think may not be quite as catchy, but it has the same summery vibe.  (And the cover of the new album, Atlas, features Stefan Knapp’s mural that was on Alexander’s department store in Paramus–Real Estate are from Ridgewood, New Jersey, you see). (more…)

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