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Archive for the ‘R.E.M.’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILL RIEFLIN (September 29, 1960 – March 24, 2020).

Bill Rieflin is a musician that I’ve known of for as long as I can remember.

He played with the Revolting Cocks and then, how I knew him best, as the drummer for Ministry.  I feel like his name appeared in dozens of places on the industrial scene.  He helped to create Pigface and even played with KMFDM (as a drummer and keyboardist).  He also played on the Lard albums and drummed with Nine Inch Nails and Swans.

With all of that industrial background it came as something of a surprise to hear that he was going to replace Bill Berry (as a hired drummer, not a band member) in R.E.M. (in live shows and on their last couple of albums).

He even played drums on Taylor Swift’s album Red (which is amusing given his later King Crimson connection).

He had been friendly with Robert Fripp since at least 1999.  Fripp played on Rieflin’s solo album Birth of a Giant and had worked with him in various projects through the years.  I didn’t know about that Fripp connection, so when I found out that he was going to be one of the three drummers in the 2014 King Crimson tour, I was really surprised.

I was also really impressed at his drumming and am now really happy to have seen him play.  When Crimson toured again in July of 2017, Rieflin had taken a sabbatical but was now back.  But since they had replaced him while he was away, he was now playing keyboards (which meant that Crimson now had eight members on stage).  When I saw them again in November 2017, Rieflin was once again on sabbatical.

I assumed it was for health reasons (why else do musicians take sabbaticals), but his cancer was kept under wraps. (He’d evidently been fighting it since 2013).

So at least I was fortunate enough to see him play twice before he died.

Here’s the second drummer that I know of to die of cancer in 2020.  Even while Coronavirus is getting the front page, cancer still does its dirty work.

[READ: December 2019] “Who We Are”

The December 2019 issue of the West End Phoenix focused on Indigenous People.  Most of the writers were Indigenous and the news stories shone a light on Indigenous issues.  Much of the presence of Indigenous peoples is seen through their art–whether through beads, paint or sculpture, the images are often quite striking.  The issue even included a “colour me” page with a striking image from Taylor Cameron, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist from Saugeen First Nation (I can’t find an image online).

The issue also featured two full page graphic short stories.

The first features very clean illustrations from Scott B. Henderson.  The lines are very crisp and yet the art is quite minimal, achieving a lot with very little.

The story is a true story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs From 1996-1998 (2014).

Danko Jones has released nine albums an a bunch of EPs.  Back in 2014 he released this collection of songs that he wrote and recorded before his first proper single (1998).

This is a collection of raw songs, but the essential elements of Danko are in place. Mostly fast guitars, simple, catchy riffs and Danko’s gruff voice, filled with braggadocio.  With a cover by Peter Bagge!

He describes it:

Back in the 90’s,the Garage Rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some Rock N’ Roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear. Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.

What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.

The first two songs are the best quality, with the rest slowly deteriorating with more tape hiss.

1. “Who Got It?” a big fat bass sound with lots of mentioning of Danko Jones in the lyrics. [2 minutes]
2. “Make You Mine” is 90 seconds long.  With big loud chords and rumbling bass Danko says “one day I’m going to write a book and let everybody know how to do it.  Seems to me there a lot of people around who want to see if I can prove it.  I been a rock prodigy since the age of 20 and my proof… my proof is right now.”
3. “I’m Your Man” is a bit longer.  The quality isn’t as good but the raw bass sound is great.
4. “She’s Got A Bomb” is good early Danko strutting music.
5. “Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue.”  He would name an album this many years later.  This song is fast and raw and only 90 seconds long.
6. “Dirty Mind Too” This is a fast stomping one-two-three song that rocks for less than a minute.
7. I’m Drinking Alcohol? This is funny because later he says he doesn’t drink.  I don’t know what the words are but the music is great–rumbling bass and feedbacky guitars with lots of screaming.
8. “Love Travel Demo” and 9. “Bounce Demo” are decent demo recordings.  “Bounce” has what might be his first guitar solo.
10. Sexual Interlude” “ladies it’s time to take a chance on a real man.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you women selling yourselves short, going out with a lesser man.
11. “I Stand Accused” Unexpectedly he stands accused of “loving you to much.  If that’s a crime, then I’m guilty.”
12. “Best Good Looking Girl In Town” a fast chugging riff, “oh mama you sure look fine.”
13. “Payback” This one sounds really rough but it totally rocks.
14. “Lowdown” Danko gives the lowdown: “You want a bit of romance?  I got you an bouquet of Flowers and a box of chocolates.  Why you crying for?  That ain’t enough?  Me and the fellas wrote this song just for you.”
15. “One Night Stand” garage swinging sound: Danko is a one woman man and you’re just his type.
16. “Instrumental” is great.
17. “Move On” is a long, slow long bluesy track about love.

It’s not a great introduction to Danko, but if you like him, you won;t be disappointed by this early baby-Danko period.

[READ: August 10, 2019] I’ve Got Something to Say

In the introduction (after the foreword by Duff McKagan), Jones introduces himself not as a writer but as a hack.  He also acknowledges that having something to say doesn’t mean much.  He has too many opinions on music and needed to get them out or his insides would explode.  He acknowledges that obsessing over the minutiae of bands is a waste of time, “but goddammit, it’s a ton of fun.”

So this collection collects some of Danko’s writing over the last dozen or so years. He’s written for many publications, some regularly.  Most of these pieces are a couple of pages.  And pretty much all of them will have you laughing (if you enjoy opinionated music writers).

“Vibing for Thin Lizzy” [Rock Hard magazine, March 2015]
Danko says he was lured into rock music by the theatrics of KISS, Crue and WASP.  But then he really got into the music while his friends seemed to move on.  Thin Lizzy bridged the gap by providing substance without losing its sheen or bite.  And Phil Lynott was a mixed race bassist and singer who didn’t look like the quintessential rock star.  What more could Danko ask for? (more…)

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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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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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elmer SOUNDTRACK: R.E.M.-Collapse into Now (2011).

R.E.M._-_Collapse_into_Now“Discoverer” opens this disc with ringing guitars–not exact R.E.M. replicants, but familiar.  And then Stipe comes in and the refresher course in R.E.M. begins.  Collapse Into Now proved to be R.E.M.’s final album, and while some of their latter albums weren’t great, Collapse seems to revisit everything that was great about R.E.M. and tries to spread it all over this album.

The blueprints for classic R.E.M. songs form the structure of a lot of these songs, with chiming guitars, and Stipe’s recognizable vocals.  “All the Best” sounds like classic R.E.M. (although Stipe’s delivery is more current sounding).  It also fits in well with the faster songs from Accelerate and is only 2:46.  But it’s “Überlin” that really sounds like a classic R.E.M. song.  That notable guitar style with Stipe’s very specific delivery style.  And then come Peter Buck’s harmonies.  It sounds like a good outtake from, say, Automatic for the People.

Stipe tends to do a lot of his sing-speaking on this album (and i think the one thing I don’t like that much about the album is that early R.E.M. seemed to obscure Stipe’s vocals and lyrics a little bit, giving them an air of mystery.  Whereas the newer records are all pretty well laid bare).  So “Oh My Heart” has Stipe almost speaking his poetry.  It’s got mandolin and Buck’s mildly annoying backing vocals (I’ve never thought that about his backing vocals before).

An Eddie Vedder cameo is utterly wasted on “It Happened Today,” you can barely hear him as all he does is backing crooning near the end of the song (and frankly the “hip hip hooray” chorus is lame).  “Every Day is Yours to Win” is a pretty slow song.  It doesn’t amount to much but the melody is really beautiful.  “Mine Smell Like Honey” is a crazy bad title, but it’s a great rocking song, really hearkening back to classic R.E.M.–ringing guitars and Stipe’s vaguely disguised voice.  “Walk it Back” is another slow ballady type song and is really pretty.  While “Alliagtor_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is a rocker with Peaches singing and speaking backing vocals.  “That Someone is You” follows up with another speedy track.

I tend to dislike the really slow R.E.M. songs, so “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” doesn’t do much for me.  The disc ender, “Blue” reminds me of Out of Time‘s “Country Feedback” (I keep waiting for him to say “I need this”).  And the Patti Smith backing vocals recall “E-Bow the Letter.”  “Blue” is meandering and unfocused but Buck’s atmospheric guitars are quite effective, even if the song itself is nothing special.  I don’t quite get the coda of tacking the opening chords of the album on to the end, but whatever.

So basically this album feels like some mostly great outtakes from earlier R.E.M. albums. And there’s really nothing wrong with that (well there would be if R.E.M. was still trying to release a lot of new music).  But since the band was ready to call it quits anyway, it’s a nice recap of their career.  True, I’d rather listen to their earlier records, but you could definitely throw most of these songs into a mix with the earlier ones and they would sound perfect.

[READ: October 25, 2014] Elmer

Elmer has a  chicken on the cover.  It also features this quote at the top of the book: “It’s the Great Filipino Novel, with chickens.”  What to expect from this book?  Well, chickens, obviously, but I never would have guessed what this book contained.  Indeed, this book is pretty mind-blowing (in a good way).

It has a simple premise, which seems comical but is actually taken very seriously: what if chickens became “aware” and learned to speak?  It sounds funny, right, but Alanguilan really explores this issue seriously–if a species of animal that we normally eat suddenly talked to us en masse, how quickly would we deal with this, and what would humanity’s reaction be?  It tackles issues of slavery and racism and pushes them further.  And while the “change” takes place in 1979, it addresses contemporary society with an inquisitive glare.

While there is some humor in it, this is a serious book.

Jake Gallo is a modern chicken (the book is set in 2003–two decades after chickens became “human”).  He has just been rejected for a job, and he pulls the race card (this would be the hilarious reveal that our main character is a chicken).  While he’s feeling sorry for himself, he gets word that his father, Elmer, is dying and he returns home to be with his mother and family.  On the way home he runs into Farmer Ben, the farmer who helped to raise Elmer’s family.  And he is genuinely glad to see Jake.  Jake seems somewhat put off by Farmer Ben and declines his offer of a ride. (more…)

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witmis2SOUNDTRACK: CÓDIGA DE GUERRA-“Wittgenstein Song” (2013).

codigoCódiga de Guerra is from Hidalgo in Mexico.  They have one album out (called Peyote).  I am having a devil of a time finding anything out about them.  You can stream the album on YouTube and you can even buy it from iTunes, but I can’t get any kind of band home page.

It should be apparent that I’d never heard of them before I saw they had a song called “Wittgenstein” and so here they are.

They sing entirely in Spanish, so I don’t really know what this song is about, but i really like it.  Indeed I like the whole album.  They have an indie rock feel–buzzy guitars and good melodies.  Some of the early songs on the album are even kind of mellow which made me think of R.E.M. for some reason.

“Wittgenstein” is the heaviest song on the album.  It opens with some echoed guitars (not unlike Kiss’ “Black Diamond”) but when the other guitars kick in, it is much louder (not heavy heavy, but louder).  The chorus gets kind of heavy again, but the song fades out entirely at around two minutes.  Then a buzzy bass comes back in and the echoed guitar plays the intro and the song starts again.  I heard the word logico in there so it may indeed be all about Wittgenstein.

Check out the song

or the whole album

[READ: October 16, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 1-60

Typically for a group read like this (especially the longer, harder books) I like to be a kind of touchstone–noting significant things that happen and trying to wrap my head around the book by summarizing it, without really speculating wildly about what will happen.  Well, Wittgenstein’s Mistress seems to studiously resist that sort of approach.  I am not typically a “solve it” kind of reader.  I don’t usually try to figure things out ahead of time.  If the book is well written, I just like to let it flow over me so I can think about it afterwards.

But this book more or less demands you to try to figure out what is going on right from the get go.

The cover image above shows the opening sentence:

“In the beginning sometimes I left messages in the streets.  Somebody is living in the Louvre, certain of the messages would say. Or in the National Gallery.”

followed soon by

“Nobody came , of course.  Eventually I stopped leaving the messages.”

Weird, right?  And then comes:

“I have no idea how long ago it was when I was doing that. If I was forced to guess, I believe I would guess ten years.”

Whoa.  And then the kicker:

“And of course, I was quite out of my mind for a certain period too, back then.” (more…)

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