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Archive for the ‘Sugar’ Category

[ATTENDED: January 25, 2020] Bob Mould

2020-01-25 21.13.34_previewI saw Bob Mould perform in 1996 at Avalon in Boston.  I don’t remember that much about the show.  He had a three piece band I believe (and Rasputina opened).  It was mix of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and solo songs (according to setlist.fm–see below).  Interestingly, there is a scathing review of his 1998 show in Chicago here.

So here it was 24 years later and Mould was touring again (he has toured a lot in the meantime, make no mistake) and I thought it would be fun to see him again.

This time it was just him and an electric guitar.  Once again he played Hüsker Dü, Sugar and solo songs.  Although now he had a lot more solo stuff to choose from.

What was fascinating about this show was that since it was just him, he was able to really rock through a whole bunch of songs at a pretty good speed–with minimal accompaniment or soloing.

And it was really quite loud–especially in this normally fairly quiet venue.  It was particularly amusing since I was in front of him so that that every time he moved to the left or the right, the amp (which was behind him) was so much louder–he was literally blocking a ton of the sound with his body.

Mould was in good form, telling some jokes and genuinely seeming to have a very good time. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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#20SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-File Under: Easy Listening (1994).

fuelI  always thought File Under: Easy Listening was a very funny title.  But it’s possible that people took it too literally as it didn’t sell all that well. And in Mould’s autobiography he says he didn’t have much time to write songs for this disc and he thinks it suffered.  Of the three Sugar discs, this is definitely the weakest, although there are some great moments on it.

The disc opens with “Gift” which has some ragged distorted guitars. It’s got some noises and grungy sounding solos showing that FU:EL was a joke.  Although, the overall sound is kind of a cleaner version of the angry songs on Beaster.  “Company Book” is kind of a pounder, until the voice comes in and you realize…it’s not Mould!  It’s got a catchy chorus, but after the kind of underwhelming opener, it’s a strange place for a song that’s also not so dynamic.  Especially when it’s followed by “Your Favorite Thing” another great pop song from Mould—not top tier but a really strong second tier (although that bright, simple guitar solo is a real winner).  “What You Want It To Be” is a another decent song (the addition of that extra guitar playing the melody line really makes the song shine.  “Gee Angel” is also a high point.  A catchy song, but which never quite reaches the heights of the previous albums.

“Panama City Hotel” has the same feel as the opening of Beaster: bright acoustic guitars and a similar riff.  But it never really goes anywhere, and the 4 minutes seem.  The “do do do do’s” that open “Can’t Help You Anymore” are certainly the brightest spot on the album, and a big pop song as well.  “Granny Cool” has a nicely abrasive riff although it seems kind of mean spirited.  It’s funny that he tucked “Believe What You’re Saying” at the end of the album.  It’s a minor song but it sounds so bright on this album after the other songs. It’s really quite pretty.

And the closer, “Explode and Make Up” is one of Mould’s great angry songs.  Unlike Beaster, this one has a happy acoustic field—bnright guitars with that raging distorted guitar underneath.  It’s a great slow burner of a song and at five minutes it ends a somewhat lackluster album in a great way.

[READ: March 31, 2013] McSweeney’s #20

McSweeney’s #20 is an issue that I have read before.  At least I think I have.  My recollection is that it was the last one I read before I started writing about them on this blog.  I was hesitant to read it soon again, which is why I waited until now.  And while I remember the issue itself (with all of the art), I didn’t remember the stories.  So who knows if I actually read it six years ago.

Anyhow, this issue comes jam-packed with art.  Every fourth page has full-color artwork on it–many of them are quite famous.  It makes for a very beautiful book.

In between these artworks are a number of stories–ranging in size from 2 pages to 30-some pages.  There are no letters, and the explanatory and copyright information is on the cover of the book–which would be fine, except that it is covered up by a kind of 3-D artwork.  I wonder if the whole text is available anywhere?

The book also comes with a separate pamphlet–an excerpt from Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital.  I intend to read the novel eventually so I didn’t read the excerpt–although maybe if I put off the novel for six years I should just read the excerpt now. (more…)

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#16SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Beaster EP (1993).

beasterI didn’t know that Beaster, the Sugar EP was recorded at the same time as Copper Blue.  Mould’s biography was very helpful in explaining all the details of the timing and styling behind these two recording.  As well as how the super pop of Copper Blue could be followed right on the heels with the very very dark EP of Beaster.

I have often thought of this disc as being really dark and insular and Mould confirmed as much—he was really airing out some demons with this disc.  But they thought it would be better to put them all in one place rather having them bounce around the poppier full length.  What must fans (like myself) have thought to hear this dark album after the pop of Copper Blue.  I mean just look at the cover!

I hadn’t listened to this in a long time, so I was surprised by how cool “Come Around” sounds—Mould’s acoustic guitar high in the mix with some appropriately grungey guitars in the background.  There are lyrics but for the most part I think of it as just Mould making sounds with his mouth.

It’s followed by the blistering “Tilting.”  It’s got superfast drumming with aggressive guitars, it’s like we’re back to the early Hüsker Dü punk sound (with a little more clarity).  The drumming is great in this track.  The song ends with a preacher being interrupted by dissonance and what sounds like electronic interference. And this song morphs into “Judas Cradle” one of Mould’s darkest songs.  It’s very claustrophobic-feeling with echoed vocals, lots of feedback and lots of compression on the overall sound—quite different from the big open sound of Copper Blue.  And yet for all of that, the chorus, “Have you seen the Judas Cradle, ah”is really quite catchy.

“JC Auto” has some buzzsaw guitars which make it seem like it’s going to be quite an angry song and yet the bridge is quite welcoming (all this talk of holidays) and then the chorus is amazingly fun to sing along to (Mould always finds pop in anger): “Passing judgment on my life you never really got it right/I can’t believe in anything / I don’t believe in / Do you believe in anything / Do you believe me now…  Look like Jesus Christ / act like Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know Here’s Your Jesus Christ I’m Your Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know.”  And, as always, I love when Mould repeats his lyrics in the background (the “I Know I Know” surfaces throughout the end of the song).

“Feeling Better” has weird synth blasts that kind of works in the song but sounds out of place on this record.  This song flips between really aggressive guitars and a very bright poppy chorus.   At 6 minutes this song is a little long (because it’s primarily repeating itself by the end), whereas Judas Cradle and JC Autos’ 6 minutes are well justified.

The final song “Walking Away” is a strange one. It is comprised entirely of organs (church organ it sounds like) with Mould delicately singing “I’m walking away back to you”  The end starts to wobble giving a bit of a nauseous feeling but then it’s over.  So even in his most downtrodden and questioning, Mould still has the chops to write some great music.  Down be put off by the cover, Beaster is a great album.

[READ: March 28, 2013] McSweeney’s #16

After the fairly straightforward Issue 15, McSweeney’s was back to fun with Issue #16.  The issue opens up into a kind of quad gatefold which has , in order–a comb, a book, another book and a deck of cards.

The main book contains nine stories, by the typical McSweeney’s roster at the time.  The other booklet contains a lengthy story by Ann Beattie.  The deck of cards is for Robert Coover’s “Heart Suite” and the comb is a comb.  It’s a nice one, although it has never touched my hair.

The MAIN BOOKLET (more…)

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#15SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Copper Blue (1992).

copperblueAfter Bob Mould made some solo albums, he created another band.  Another trio, this one called Sugar.  Sugar seems to take Mould’s poppiest elements and wrap them in a big 90s grunge sound–a sound that Mould pretty much invented in Hüsker Dü.  And in many ways Sugar is not all that different from Hüsker Dü–maybe a bit less experimental and a little more commercial.

One thing I noticed about this album that, once I noticed it I couldn’t avoid it, was that when the drummer plays the cymbal (it might even be a hi hat with a tambourine on it), which he plays a lot, the tinny shimmer of that sound is so pervasive, I find it rather distracting.  Or should I say it adds an almost minute level of static over the proceedings.

The disc opens with “The Act We Act,” where big grungy guitars and a simple chugga chugga riff burst out of the speakers. I love the Pixies feeling of “A Good Idea” both that up front bass and the buggy sounding guitars provide an almost false introduction to the catchy verse and chorus that’s to come.  I also enjoy the unexpected break after the chorus.

It’s followed by the ringing guitars that introduce “Changes” a classic poppy rock song that is unmistakably Mould.  The uneasy almost nauseating sounds at the end of the song are again like a feint in the wrong direction as “Helpless” easily the most pop song Mould has ever written comes out.  Of course, as with Mould, this outrageously poppy song is all about feeling helpless.

Keyboards open the next song, “Hoover Dam” (something of a surprise for this album), which proves to be yet another big Mould single.  The song is so open with multiple acoustic guitars (and that cool synth solo) and a really wild reverse guitar solo.  It’s one of my favorite Mould  songs and yet another example of why this album was such a huge hit.

“The Slim” brings back the darker songs that Mould is also known for.  And just when you think that Mould can’t pull out another huge big single, he gives us “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” one of his great big bouncy acoustic guitar songs.  It is almost obscene how catchy this song is, right down to the simple scale solo at the end.  Mould has this little technique that I find irresistible where he plays a song normally and then plays two fast chord changes segueing into another section.  It’s so cool.

“Fortune Teller” is a fast rocker with Mould’s trebly guitar taking the lead.  “Slick” is the only song I’m not crazy about. There’s something about it that kind of slows the momentum down, which is odd for a song about a car.  It’s got a real middle-period-Who feel to it, which I do like (and I really like the bridge) it just feels odd in this place in the disc.  The end of the song has some snippets of chatter that could have been edited out but lend an amusing air to the final track, “Man on the Moon” which ends the disc with that same air that the rest of the album has—big guitars and Mould’s slightly distorted vocals.  The solo is weirdly processed and kind of fun.  The end of the track with its repeated half step has a very Beatles feel to it. And the very end of the disc has the sound of tape rewinding, an amusing nod to the digital era.

Copper Blue was Mould’s first huge success and in his book he talks about not realizing quite how huge it was until he was in the middle of it.

[READ: March 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #15

I was a little disappointed with McSweeney’s #14, but #15 was once again fantastic.  This issue is a smallish hardcover (I like when their books are this size).  The bottom half of the cover features a cool 2 color painting by Leif Parsons.  The issue is known as the Icelandic Issue because of a few things.  The first half of the book features stories by the usual suspects.  Each of these stories is accompanied by an illustration of a Scandinavian rune that dates to the Viking era.  The stories in the second half of the book have illustrations that are taken from Icelandic grimoires–magician’s handbooks.  It is these second half stories that are all from Scandinavian authors.  It’s a fascinating peek into a culture few of us probably get to read.

There’s no letters in this book, which removes some of the levity, but that’s okay.  The front page has a brief story that it was being written on November 2, 2004 in New Mexico, hoping to bring some voting power to “the good guys “in this “completely fucking terrifying election.”  (The bad guy eked out a victory 49.8 to 49.1).  They went canvassing door to door with an Iraqi veteran named Joey (who was 21).  He was very pro-Kerry and may have even convinced a young girl to vote (she thought her vote didn’t count because she was poor (!)).  It really evokes the feeling on that dark night in 2004 when the iota of hope was snuffed out. (more…)

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mouldbookSOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-Silver Age (2012).

silverage

I was a huge fan of everything Bob Mould put out.  And then he more or less gave up on music.  So I just enjoyed his past and ignored what else he did.  But then I heard great reviews of his new album Silver Age.  So great in fact, that I couldn’t help but listen to it.  And it is amazing.  It’s a major return to his punkier roots.  The guitars are loud and fast but the melodies are still present.  And what’s more important, his voice sounds great and the album is mixed really well–previous Mould records have suffered in production quality.  But this is a great great record.

“Star Machine” opens the disc with loud guitars, a simple melody and lots of attitude.  I love the repeated “Said It” that appears throughout the song.  “Silver Age” is something of a manifesto for Mould.  The guitars are harsh and jagged with lots of distortion and the lyrics tell you everything: “Never too old to contain my rage  This is how I’m gonna spend my days gonna fight gonna fuck gonna feed gonna walk away.”

“The Descent” is classic Mould–big guitars, great catchy vocals and really nice harmonies/backing vocals.  “Briefest Moment” starts with a thudding drum and a sparse fast guitar (which somehow reminds me of Cheap Trick).  The bass comes in with a galloping line rather than playing the same notes and it adds a lot of depth to the album.  “Steam of Hercules” slows things down a bit but “Fugue State” comes crashing back in with more fast thumping drums and sparse but effective guitars.

“Round the City Square” picks up the noise level and includes a wild guitar solo.  “Angels Rearrange” again sounds like classic Mould.  While “Keep Believing” has a great bridge that reminds me a lot of Hüsker Dü (yes I mentioned the band that should not be named).  “First Time Joy” ends the disc on a gentle note.  It’s a ballad (where you can really hear Mould’s voice and how clean and strong it sounds).  There’s keyboards on this song that add some nice dimension.  By the end the song gets bigger and more powerful, ending on a really strong chord.  It’s an awesome return to the rock fold for Mould and I look forward to more from him.

[READ: March 5, 2013] See a Little Light

After getting The Silver Age, I remembered that Mould had written an autobiography and that I’d heard it was quite good.  I don’t really read a lot of autobiographies, but my history with Mould is pretty deep and I was curious to see what had happened in his life to make him abandon his rock roots.  So I tracked it down.  And I really enjoyed it.

The fascinating thing is what a reasonable man Mould presents himself as.  I’m not disputing this–I don’t know really anything else about the guy–but every time someone dumps on him, he accepts partial responsibility for the problem and moves on.  If he’s really like that, that’s very cool.  But he almost seems too nice sometimes.

As I’ve said, I didn’t know much about Mould.  My friend Al got me into Hüsker Dü and I’ve been a fan ever since.  I’ve bought some of his solo records and all of his band records, but I kind of lost interest in him the last decade or so (during his experimental phase).  But I didn’t even really know why Hüsker Dü broke up.

Some interesting things about Bob: he was born numerically gifted–I really enjoyed the section about his childhood and the genius-y stuff he did.  Although he had a pretty rough childhood–his older brother died when Bob was young and so Bob was seen as a golden child (especially after something that happened to him which he didn’t learn about until much later).  And he started drinking at a very young age.

When he got to college he formed Hüsker Dü with Grant Hart (Greg Norton came a little later).  I enjoyed hearing about the early days of Hüsker Dü because I only learned of them much later.  And man were they productive!  They’d release an album and have new material ready to record before they even toured for the album that came out already.  It’s cool reading about the punk scene back in the days before the internet when bands had to rely on each other for support.  There’s also a lot of people who Bob name checks and it’s fun to hear all of the punk names again, especially the names of people who are still active.  (There’s also some bad vibes against SST, but since this is Mould, the bad vibes are pretty mild). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-Sasquatch Festival, May 28, 2011 (2011).

I loved Hüsker Dü.  I loved Sugar (a tad less).  I loved Mould’s Workbook.  And then I kind of loss interest in the guy.  He recently wrote an autobiography, which I would consider reading, but musically, I assumed he was done.

So I wasn’t even that interested in listening to his set (shame on me).  This turns out to be a really cool set in which it’s just Bob and his electric guitar.  He plays a varied set of songs from throughout his career.  He plays some of his hits (“See a Little Light,” “Hoover Dam”) but mostly he plays interesting non-hits (“Chartered Trips” (!!), “I Apologize”).  (Is it possible that Grant Hart wrote all of Hüsker’s big hits?)

The most amazing thing about the set is Bob himself.  He sounds so cool and chilled out (even though I think he was like the very first opening act of the concert–which is a pretty shitty time slot).  He seems to be really happy playing (hearing him respond to a request with “I forgot how to play that one” is pretty darn funny.)  Of course, a little later when he says “What’s that?  I’m trying?” he almost sounds like Al Bundy.

But then, look at him, he’s an old man now.  And sure, he’s been playing music forever, so gosh, he’s got to be super old, right?  What?  He was born in 1960?  He’s nine years older than me?  Oh good grief.  So, wait the first Hüsker Dü album came out when he was 22?  He really crammed a lot of music into just a few years.  Not bad, Bob.

And yes, I’m fully invested in relistening to all the great music you’ve made now.  Thanks, Sasquatch.

[READ: July 13, 2011] “Incident in the Orient”

This very short story features a dead dog. I’m getting that out of the way since I know some people won’t read any further once they know that.

I rather liked the brevity of this story, how Theroux is able to cram a lot of information and a lot tension into just a couple of pages.  The story is also a strange little onion of a tale, with the narrator working for a man (Moses) who is a sort of mercenary construction boss.  The narrator gives a lot of insight into Moses, although he also admits that he doesn’t really know the man very well (how could anyone know him).

He has done work in various war-torn countries and has effectively built a crew out of a small group of devoted men, mingled with local help.  The most fascinating thing is that Moses is a short man with a lisp and yet he commands the respect of everyone who works for him.  He takes no shit, but he pays well and uses local materials (including tearing down materials from destroyed buildings if necessary).   (more…)

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