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Archive for the ‘Depeche Mode’ 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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CV1_TNY_06_23_14Booth.inddSOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-If I Had a Hi-Fi (2010).

nadaI have enjoyed Nada Surf more with each album.  But for some reason, I never bothered checking out this covers album.  Which is my loss.  Covers albums fall into all different categories–bands that try to ape the original exactly, bands that mess around with the original, and band who take the songs and make them their own.  In this case Nada Surf takes all of these songs and makes them sound just like Nada Surf songs.  Sometimes, they make them sound unlike the original and give them specific Nada Surfisms.

I didn’t know all of the songs on this record.  In fact, I knew very few of them (which is a pretty unusual way to run a  covers record, no?  This falls into the “introduce your fans to songs you love category).

I knew “Enjoy the Silence” (Depeche Mode) which is incredibly different.  Obviously, the original is synthy, but while Nada Surf keep it dark, they add a bit of jangly chords and change the way some of the verses end (the way they do “and forgettable” is so intriguing).  Even the ba bas at the end transform the whole nature of the song.  “Love Goes On!” (The Go-Betweens) is a song I knew a little and Nada Surf sounds an awful lot like the original (but I like the way they make the chorus even bigger).   “Love and Anger” (Kate Bush) is similar to the original but with that Nada Surf twist.  It’s not big and epic and Matthew Caws doesn’t try to hit her notes (he does have a high voice though), but it’s a gorgeous rendition.  “Question” (Moody Blues) is probably the most famous song on the disc.  Nada Surf rocks the song pretty hard.  The pick up the tempo, but slow it down just right for the slow part.  It’s quite faithful, without being in any way proggy.

The rest of the songs I didn’t know.  And some of the bands I’ve never heard of (!).  “Electrocution” (Bill Fox) opens the records and while I don’t know if it’s any different, it could be a great original jangly pop song from Nada Surf.   “Janine” (Arthur Russell) is only a minute long. It’s a pretty, delicate acoustic guitar song.  “You Were So Warm” (Dwight Twilley).  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Dwight Twilley song, so I have no idea how this compares, but I like the way the last long of “Janine” is the chorus to this song.  I rather assume the original is not as poppy as this (but I don’t know Twilley, so why do I think that?–Turns out I was entirely wrong, the original sounds an awful lot like this version).

“The Agony of Laffitte” (Spoon).  I know Spoon, but not this song.  I can imagine how Spoon performed it, and I imagine that Nada Surf have smoothed the song out and made it prettier and slightly less dramatic.  “Bye Bye Beauté” (Coralie Clément) is sung in French. I’ve never heard of the original performer.  I don’t know how the original sounds, but this could easily be a Nada Surf song (they have done songs in French before) and the harmonies are beautiful.  Speaking of French, the also do “Evolución” (Mercromina) in French (“ev-oh-loo-see-own” is much more fun to sing than “ev-oh-loo-shun”).  This song starts out slow with a cello stating the melody.  It then turns into a dark acoustic guitar song, minor key and tension-filled.  Vocals don’t come in until a minute and a half in (the song is 5 minutes).  I’m not sure what the song is about, but even the catchy chorus is kinda dark.

“Bright Side” (Soft Pack).  Soft Pack is another band I’ve never heard of.  This song is a fun almost punk track–fast and catchy with simple lyrics a fun chorus (and ahhh backing vocals).  The disc ends with “I Remembered What I Was Going to Say” (The Silly Pillows) another band I’ve never heard of.  It is played on prepared piano in a waltz style.  Perhaps unexpectedly, it has no words.  It’s a nice capper to the album

Incidentally, the cover is a wonder line drawing that is fun to stare at and the liner notes (which would be much much easier to read on vinyl) are just jam packed with information about the original artists.

[READ: September 18, 2012] “Madame Lazarus”

Another story with a dog.  This one begins in a rather amusing manner.  An older gay man has just received a small terrier as a present from his younger lover, James.  The narrator is worried about his boyfriend staying around (he is so young and beautiful, while the narrator, who has just retired, is getting older and older).  The narrator doesn’t like the dog, but decides it will be one more thing to tie him to the James, so he decides to keep her.  He names her Cordelia.

The story is set in Paris, and the older man walks the dog around the city.  But mostly he thinks about his age and his past.  He says that anyone his age is amazed that he survived the Nazis much less lived to be an old man. He also thinks of his ex-wife, Simone, whom he meets for lunch from time to time.

The story seems like a sweet story of age and love, lost love, but love nonetheless.  But then the flashback introduces some darker moments. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_10_13Schossow.inddSOUNDTRACK: GAUNTLET HAIR-“Bad Apples” (2013).

stillsThis was the third song that NPR played in their summer preview show and I was a little concerned about the state of summer music because I didn’t love any of the first three songs.

Gauntlet Hair (what a crazy name) plays a kind of early-sounding Depeche Mode music with rather sedate and uninspired vocals.  I liked the second half more than the first half, probably because there was more instrumental music.

Indeed, as the song ends and the Depeche Mode-vibe comes to the fore, I rather got into it.  Especially the pianos at the end.

Shame about the vocals.

[READ: June 18, 2013] “Happy Trails”

I haven’t read a lot by Sherman Alexie, but I have enjoyed what I’ve read.

This story was quite short and was all about the disappearance and presumed death of his Uncle Hector.

One day Hector said he was going to hitchhike to Spokane.   He walked out the door and was never head from again.  The narrator says that Hector was his favorite relative (although he later says that he really wasn’t that great of a guy).

As the story picks up, it is four decades later and the narrator has decided to have a funeral for him.  His mother says that she doesn’t think he’s actually dead but the narrator says that it has been forty years, he could have come back or written a letter.  Or called. (more…)

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htthinkSOUNDTRACK: DEPECHE MODE-“Fly on the Windscreen” (1986).

flyonEvery time I use the phrase ‘death is everywhere” (which I don’t do often, but which I do do below) I think of this song.

I forgot how synthy this song sounds when it opens–two different very synthy sounds.  After the vocals (which feature Dave Gahan’s voice at its strongest) the guitars come in and the song sounds a bit more complex.

It’s funny how the song which starts with the dark verses and  “death is everywhere” can have the cool and rather sweet bridge of “Come here, touch me, kiss me, touch me, now.”  (Gahan’s o’s are so wide when he sings, it’s great).

This song really marks the transition of Depeche Mode from synth pop to darker more angsty music.  Indeed, all of Black Celebration, with its noisy percussions and unusual instrumentation and of course, Martin Gore’s dark lyrics, shows a band transitioning to new levels of greatness.

[READ: May 30, 2013] How to Think the Unthinkable

This play was created and produced for the Fringe Festival.  I tend to think of the Fringe Festival as, you know, stuff on the Fringe, so I imagined that this play that was “After Sophocle’s Antigone” would be a modern and possibly weird update of the story.  And it starts off that way with a guard coming back with three clothespins.  He explains that he always draws the short straw and he was the one sent off to get clothespins to block the noses of the other guards.  You see, they have been sitting watch over this body for a few days and he is starting to smell pretty bad.

But when the guard, Tom, arrives, he discovers that the other two guards (Roy and Bo) have fallen asleep and the body is gone.  Tom freaks out, he tells them (and us) that the body (of Polynices) cannot possibly be given a proper burial.  Polynices was a traitor to King Creon and his punishment is to be left to rot outside of the city walls.  How could they have let someone take and bury his body?  They were tired.  See, it’s funny.

Indeed, the other guards have no answer and are more or less comic relief.  Until Haemon shows up.  Haemon is Creon’s son.  He is super annoyed because he was the one who vouched for Tom and the others.  Now he looks bad and Creon will be pissed.

Cut to Creon ensuring the City Elder that he plays no favorites and if even his son is found guilty of a crime—like burying Polynices–well, the full force of punishment will come onto him as well.  Like any Greek tragedy, you can see the set up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Tarot Classics (2012).

I really enjoyed Surfer Blood’s debut album.  This EP is a little stopgap until the next one. Although the sound is unmistakably Surfer Blood–poppy hooks and a very recognizable singing voice, the band sounds a little bit different here.  They haven’t lost any of their catchiness–there may be even more on the opener, “I’m Not Ready” (who doesn’t love when the guitar and vocals match each other?)  “Miranda” has that fun thumping chorus that is always fun to sing along to.

“Voyager Reprise” moves away from the surf-styled songs of their debut into an alt-rock of the 90s sound–when guitars were noisy (until they were quiet for a bit) and guitar solos happened between verses instead of as the third verse.  And “Drinking Problem” has a kind of early Depeche Mode (in vocals, not synths) feel–quite a departure from their debut.

In the way of EPs, the final two songs are remixes.  I’ve never been a fan or remixes and these don’t do much for me, but i do wonder if they will have any impact on their future sound.

[READ: June 14, 2012] “Olds Rocket 88, 1950”

All this time I thought there were only five of these short essays in this sci-fi issue of the New Yorker.  And yet tucked away near the back was the sixth one by William Gibson, a pioneer in science fiction.

Gibson’s recollection is of being a child and having everything seem like science fiction–something that is notably absent these days.  Like the chrome trim on his father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88, the prevalence of spacemen and space-themed ideas everywhere.  Even the word Tomorrow was capitalized.

Then he recounts a personal incident.  He got in trouble with his parents for arguing with an Air Force man.  The man said space travel would never happen. But Gibson knew it would.  How could it not?  And science fiction shaped this worldview.  Not that he believed the stories would come true, but that his entire mindset was that in the future “things might be different…and different in literally any way you could imagine, however radical.”

What a wonderfully freeing notion.  To me, this sort of future-looking lifestyle accounted for the unprecedented achievements of post 1950 America.  Now that we no longer think of tomorrow with a capital T, we don’t seem as enchanted by the future.  Perhaps it was a naive outlook, but you need a certain degree of naiveté if you hope to do anything radically new.

Gibson ties in the sci-fi books he bought for a dollar to other fantasists: J.G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and how these thinkers weren’t all that far off from the likes of Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.  And he believes that without science fiction, he might not have been interested in what these other radical writers had to say.

It’s a short piece, but it really made me wish for more chrome and space-age technology in our lives–when people weren’t afraid to dram big.

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998).

Suffice it to say, if it were not for this album I wouldn’t have read this piece by Blake.  I have been aware of it through the “doors of perception” quote that created the band name The Doors, but I never had any compelling reason to read it before.

Of course when I first listened to this, I had no idea that it was literally the entire work of Blake’s piece set to music.  And I had no idea that there would be so many diverse styles of music on the album.  I’m going to focus more on the music, as I’ll address the “lyrics” later. 

The first song starts out in a kind of synthy way–maybe early Depeche Mode.  But it quickly become more sinister, with a heavy guitar section and then a spoken word over industrial keyboards like early Nine Inch Nails.   Track two, simply called “Plate 3” is a mournful guitar solo which plays behind a woman reciting plate three.  Strangely enough, this plate is split in two parts where Blake references the bible and so Ulver end the spoken part in the middle but keep the ominous music going for the final two minutes of the track.  The next track picks up with “Plate 3, Following,” a slower piece with creepy echoey male vocals that echo the female lead.

“The Voice of the Devil, Plate Four” is a very delicate guitar part.  The female voice introduces the piece and the male voice recites the statements .  It;s the most easily understood of all the tracks (the vocals are crystal clear).  When the parts are done, the song turns in to a heavy metal guitar solo over some heavy chords. It’s a really great mix.  “Plates 5-6” is also a very clearly spoken/sung track.  Over a classical guitar with occasional heavy beats, the voice narrates (with amusing mispronunciations (there are many thoroughout the piece, but hey English isn’t their first language)).

“A Memorable Fancy (Plates 6-7)” is the first of five fancies.  This one has a very electronic feel (later period Nine Inch Nails).  This one even creates its own chorus by repeating “fires of hell” where the words do not belong.  “The Proverbs of Hell” is probably the most complex and multifarious musically.  It goes through many different musical and vocals styles.  The opening is barely audible while later parts are spoken clearly.  Other lines are hidden under a fog of noise.  Musically it’s very engaging, but it’s a shame to miss out on the poetry without a lyric sheet.

“Plate 11” also opens virtually inaudibly, with a crazy echo placed on the female vocals.  Half way through the voice become clearer and the music, which was quiet and mellow, picks up, but retains the simple melody it had.  “Intro” is an instrumental, an odd thing to include if they are following the book so specifically, as there is no intro.  It is simple, repeated waves of chords which grow louder for 3:30.   It ends with some maniacal drumming .  However, it is a nice breather as we head into “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13,” which opens with a very slow piano.  It turns into a largely drum-based song with a clear spoken word.  Until about half way through when the voice is heavily distorted until the end.

“Plate 14” is a percussion heavy electronic track with heavily distorted vocals (this is where “the doors of perception” bit comes from).  It leads to “A Memorable Fancy (Plate 15)” which opens with more low rumblings (like “Intro” above).  When the vocals come in, after 3 minutes, they are distant and tinny, but very clear.

Disc 1 (did I mention there were two discs) ends with “Plates 16-17.”   It opens with quiet music that slowly grows louder and more electronic.  The vocals are echoed and distorted and hard to understand.  The end of the track picks up the electronic beat for about a minute.

Disc two opens with the eleven minute “A Memorable Fancy (Plates 17-20)”.  It opens with a cool beat and a dark tone with vocals that are mostly understandable.   After a couple of minutes, the song settles into a late period Depeche Mode style–distorted guitars and vocals that sounds not unlike Dave Gahan’s.  By the end, it’s a pretty standard heavy metal chugging guitar (with a simple but interesting solo).

This is followed by another “Intro,” this time a rather pleasant guitar solo over picked guitars.   “Plates 21-22” is quite enjoyable as the vocals are clear and emphatic over a standard heavy metal song.  It feels like comfort food after all of the different styles of the disc.

“A Memorable Fancy Plates 22-24” has a great weird keyboard style (kind of Marilyn Manson).  The penultimate track is another “Intro.”  This one has some swirly minor-key guitars that sound  a bit like the guitar outro to Rush’s “Cygnus X-1.”   It goes through several iterations before ending in distorted waves that lead to “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27”.   There are three guest vocalists on this track: Ihsahn and Samoth from Emperor and Fenriz from Darkthrone.  The interesting thing about this is that Garm (the male vocalist on all the tracks) has so many different styles of singing/speaking throughout the album that it’s hard to even notice that there are guests.

It start as mainly electronic piece with heavily distorted vocals (Ihsahn sounds like he is being strangled).  In the second part, the vocals are clearer.  The drums gets louder (sounding like the Revolting Cocks, maybe).  By the third part (Fenriz) the song turns into a guitar solo and the style of recitation reminds me of Allen Ginsbregr’s Howl.  His section ends with a distorted voice chanting the final lines and then twenty minutes of silence (the track is listed as 25 minutes, but there’s only 5 minutes of song and then 30 seconds at the end).  The final “Chorus” of the book is pretty well inaudible.

Despite the complexity of the album and the hard to follow lyrics and all of that, the entre work is really something. It is powerful and complex and runs through so many wonderful pieces and movements.  I have no idea how to classify it as it has pieces of metal and electronica as well as classical.  Perhaps it’s safe to just call it a soundtrack.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this CD, but I barely scratch the surface of what could be said about it.  Check out this amazing review from Encyclopaedia Metallum who go into wonderful depth and a thorough comparison of the music to the text.

[READ: November 27, 2011] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 

The Blake piece is available online in several places, although I got my copy from the library.  Mine contained several critical essays which I looked at briefly but decides they simply weren’t all that compelling, especially since Blake’s work (aside from details that simple footnotes might hep to clear up) is pretty understandable. 

In total, Blake’s work is 27 plates long. Each plate is hand written (in a fancy script) and many have illustrations (also hand drawn and colored).  There are allusions to many different things and it helps to be familiar with the Bible and with Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell which is directly referenced several times.  Indeed, this work is clearly a response to that one; the opening states “and it is now thirty-three years since its advent” when Swedenborg’s book was published 33 years before Blake’s.

The gist of Blake’s piece is that God did not intend for man to separate the sensual and physical from the spiritual and mental.  It is basically a plea to hedonism, although not even seemingly to excess.  More like an “if it feels good, do it” attitude.  And he lays out these ideals pretty clearly in many of the passages.  True, there are many passages that are inscrutable (like the crazy opening–don’t be put off bu Rintrah), but when he gets to his main points, he is quite clear.  Blake attacks established religion but does not condemn God or endorse atheism.  So we get quotes like this:

“Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”  And shortly after: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”  Blake cites Paradise Lost as a history of the separation of these two ideas and concludes “that the Messiah [Reason] fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Plays Covers on World Cafe (May 13, 2010).

I didn’t even know that Nada Surf had released a covers album (sometimes things slip through the cracks), but when NPR previewed their new song, I learned that they played some covers for World Cafe (not downloadable, sadly) to promote the album. 

So I’m going to be investigating that covers album shortly.  In the meantime, we get this very enjoyable four-song set (three covers and one of their own tracks). 

The band chats with David Dye briefly (about 5 minutes) before busting into the songs (a wonderful explanation of Bill Fox and a mention of reading about him in The Believer).  Their own track is “Whose Authority” one of their many wonderful songs.

The three covers are “Love Goes On” (by the Go-Betweens), “Enjoy the Silence” (by Depeche Mode) and “Electrocution” (by Bill Fox).  I didn’t recognize the first song until the Ba-ba-ba chorus kicked in, although I admit I’m not terribly familiar with it.  Similarly, the final song by Bill Fox is very obscure (as is Fox himself).  Both of these two songs are played with jangly guitars and are poppy and quite enjoyable.

The Depeche Mode song is the one that I already really knew well.  And boy do they make it their own.  They turn it from a somber dirge (catchy but somber) into a more upbeat almost poppy folk song.  It will probably be a polarizing cover (if anyone cares enough about Nada Surf to listen) and while I don’t think it’s as good as the original, it works so well in the context of a Nada Surf show, that it’ hard to argue with it.

Nada Surf is one of the great unsung bands and it’s hard to believe they aren’t more successful.

[READ: October 21, 2011] Mission Street Food

With Lucky Peach, McSweeney’s entered into the world of food publishing.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lucky Peach.  But when I received Mission Street Food, I was no longer in the frame of mind to get excited to read this book, which, as the subtitle says, promises recipes and ideas.  And when I first flipped through it, I got to the recipes pages and said, well, when will I ever read this?

Then one night recently I couldn’t sleep and Mission Street Food was there, so I read the Preface.  And Anthony Myint has a great writing style, a great flair for telling a story and a wonderful story to tell.  Needless  to say, I read almost the whole first section before falling asleep.  And I was excited to tackle the rest of the book.

I hate to sound like I think that McSweeney’s has changed the way food book publishing is done, because that would be unfair.  I don’t read food publishing as a rule.  I can’t even enjoy looking in my wife’s cooking magazines.  Seeing names of foods and recipes for preparing them just doesn’t do anything for me.  But maybe the narrative of those books is more interesting than I give them credit.  Maybe I should sit down with another foodie book and see what it’s all about. (more…)

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