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Archive for the ‘Super Furry Animals’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 10, 2018] Gruff Rhys

Super Furry Animals was one of my favorite bands of the 1990s.  Their music was great and I loved that they were Welsh.  It’s unfathomable that some of their singles weren’t huge here.  Even their all-Welsh album Mwng is catchy as anything.

Since the mid 2000s they’ve been in a different musical space (and on hiatus).  Lead singer Gruff (pronounced Griff) Rhys has released several solo albums and just recently released the album Babelsberg.

I hadn’t heard any of Babelsberg, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to see Gruff live for the first time.  (I saw SFA back in the 90s, but this would be very different).

Gruff was supposed to come to Johnny Brenda’s a few years ago (he explained), but Visa issues caused him to miss the Philly date.  That show was supposed to be solo, but for this show he had a four piece band: bassist Stephen “Sweet Baboo” Black and Osian Gwynedd on piano (who I could never see because he was behind Gruff, but whom I talked to after the show).  And he had Kliph Scurlock from the Flaming Lips on drums (!).  Kliph was selling the merch (while the other guys were talking Welsh backstage) and I chatted with him for a bit.  He has moved to Wales! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 10, 2018] Lorkin O’Reilly

Lorkin O’Reilly is a Scottish musician who has been living in upstate New York for the past while.  He opened for Gruff Rhys.

Other than the fact that he worked construction a bit (and wrote a song about his boss), I don’t know much more about him.

However, because Philadelphia loves to start construction projects before adequately preparing the drivers for said projects, I wound up being a little late to the show.  I don’t think I missed much from Lorkin (maybe a song and a half?) and what I heard was excellent.

Lorkin is a wonderful guitar player.  He has an excellent fingerpicking style and really creative use of capos and tuning. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Massey Hall, Toronto, ON (March 30 2007).

This was the very last Rheostatics show ever.   Well, for eight years.  But it was supposed to be the very last one.  They had been a band for nigh on 20 years and they needed to call it quits.  So they managed to get a final gig at Massey Hall which sold out pretty quickly.

And we’re lucky enough to have a recording (or several) of it.

The show opened with a tribute song by Dave Bookman/Steve Stanley.  Throughout the song there is consistently off rhyming–the word Rheostatic does not actually rhyme with things like attack it.  I also absolutely don’t get the line about thinking The Bends is better than OK Computer (which it isn’t, but what does that have to do with anything).

So after their folk song, the band comes out.  Martin’s voice hasn’t been fixed yet (that is such a bummer–what a disappointment for him and the show that his voice couldn’t soar–although his guitar sure can).

26 Songs were played (27 including Alomar)
From the poll that was taken here are the top 26 songs as voted.   Those in bold were played (17 of the 26 played were in the top 26 voted):
1. Saskatchewan (51) 
2. California Dreamline (50) 
3. Northern Wish (48) 
4. Dope Fiends and Boozehounds (48) 
5. Self-Serve Gas Station (47) 
6. A Mid Winter Night’s Dream (46)
7. Record Body Count (45) 
8. Horses (39) 
9. P.I.N. (37) 
10. King of the Past (36) 
11. Aliens (31) 
12. Shaved Head (29) 
13. Claire (27)
14. Satan Is the Whistler (27)
15. Legal Age Life at Variety Store (25) 
16. Four Little Songs (23)
17. In This Town (21)
18. Christopher (21) 
19. Jesus Was Once a Teenager Too (20)
20. Take Me In Your Hand (19)
21. Junction Foil Ball (18)
22. Feed Yourself (18) 
23. Bad Time To Be Poor (17)
24. Queer (17) [surprised they didn’t play this]
25. Making Progress (17)
26. Introducing Happiness (16) [surprised they didn’t play this]

I want to interject that I am shocked that Stolen Car, Michael Jackson, RDA and Bad Time to Be Poor weren’t in the Top 25. Songs that weren’t voted on but were played were:

Me & Stupid; Mumbletypeg; It; Easy To Be With You; My First Rock Show; We Went West; When Winter Comes; Stolen Car; RDA

They open with “Saskatchewan.” Martin sound rough but is pretty game to sing what he can.  “Me and Stupid” absolutely rocks.

They don’t talk much (yet) although Tim says that “Bad Time to Be Poor” is from the dark days of Ontario about ten years ago.  He also says that they were going to put an intermission in between two sets but we wanted to play as much as possible so we nixed it.

Martin confesses, “I’ve got a little bit of a bug so I don’t have the high stuff in my voice.  Doctors can’t fix it.  So sing along with it, especially the falsetto.”  They start “P.I.N.” and there’s a terrible guitar moment where someone is way off but it’s quickly fixed.”

Dave introduces “Mumbletypeg,” I’d like to send this out to my parents.”  Martin: “Me too.”  Tim: “Me three.”  Once again, the opening guitar or bass if way off but again fixed quickly.

“It” is kind of a surprise.  It sounds good as does “Christopher,” which Martin says was written for his friend Chris Hamilton.

When they play “King of the Past” Dave tells Martin to “do an extra long one” for the solo.

They call up Don Kerr and Dave Clark (our old friends) to the stage for “Northern Wish.”  Dave Clark on drums (and maybe percussion) and Don Kerr on a prominent and excellent cello.  Martin sounds pretty good on this song and the whole thing si really lovely. So lovely that Dave has them do the end section one extra time.  Thanks to “Clarkie and Kerr.”

Clark mentions Dave’s dad who signed the form when they were 15 to allow us to play in bars–I think there was a two-four in it for him (which we couldn’t buy).  We should thank Dave Clark’s mom Maude because they played at her house every day.  We were really loud and uh…bad.  During mellow time.  “My mom certainly knew it was mellow time for some of us.”

Ford Pier gets introduced for “Easy to Be with You,” which sounds great.  “You aren’t leaving are you, Ford?  Last time we were on stage together, some D.O.A. broke out.”

Dave sings “My First Rock Show” and The Imponderables act out the story of Dave getting rescued by Joe Jackson (I can’t believe there is no video for that!).  Tim Vesley was on drums.  Dave jokes, it was like a dream and you were there and you were there.   When Dave gets to the “Massey Hall” line, he repeats it over and over, letting the fact that they are there really sink in.

Timmy’s gonna tell a story about us touring back and forth across this country.  Tim sings a wonderful “We Went West” with some great guitar accompaniment.  Tim says there’s lot of great places we’ve played.  This place isn’t bad.

Dave: “Hats off to everyone who came from out of town.  Thanks very much.”

Ford gets to be profound  Massey Hall– hallowed cathedral.  The birthplace of music. Where the first note was sounded out.  The dawn of creation….  I grew up in Edmonton.  This place is okay. Now, if  we were playing at the Jubilee Auditorium….

Then Dave talks about some of the history of Massey Hall

Dave: Massey Hall, a long time ago, soldiers sat in these seats and waited to be shipped out to WWI.  Hitler’s cousin came her and warned people about the Nazis.  Charlie Parker played here and Bon Scott.

Tim: We played the Walker Theater in Winnipeg opening for Barenaked Ladies and our van broke in Brandon.  The taxi cost $220 and we made it just in time to get to the side of the stage.  We’d never placed a place that big (not as nice as this though).

Dave: So general recap: it’s going okay?

Martin makes a joke about Dave “writing books about how I smell.”  Dave: People love that shit.

Martin says that Ford is gonna help me with this tune.  It wasn’t intentional that the intro should sound anything like Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Great White North call (it does and doesn’t).  Martin tries it but can’t hit the notes.  The audience does it for him.  Martin: I’ve never done rock stage shit before.  Dave: last change, Martin, go for it.  Martin: I might as well enjoy it.  Ford is going to sing it because this is what it sounds like when i do it (bad).  Martin has some guitar fun in the middle of the song

“Feed Yourself” is suitably intense–Dave really gets into that middle section: “look inside his head!”

Then some humor:

Dave:  I plan to take Rheostatics Revisited on the road–with a bunch of younger guys.
Tim: I got Rheostatics We Hardly Knew Ye on the casino circuit.
Mike: I’ll be work shopping some young boy bands.
Martin: I’m taking up pet massage (Mike: receiving or giving) Martin laughs: giving, I train pets to massage people.
Dave: We’ve been playing with Ford for 2 years now.  I think Ford’s been studying us very deeply learning all of four secrets.
Ford: Yes, in 20 years I’m going break up.

There’s a really pretty “Making Progress” with some lovely accompaniment.  It’s followed by a terrific moody “Shaved Head,” but it sucks when he can’t hit the “it’s such a happy thing to cry.”

Dave: “we’re entering the shank part of the evening as Levon Helm used to say–never knew what it meant, but it seems appropriate.”
Martin: “I’ve carefully maintained not getting to know hoe to play our own songs for about 20 years it’s a delicate process: you want to know it enough but not too much.”

They talk about Martin’s hat. Martin does not wear a hat to cover male pattern baldness.   Martin: my hat is my good luck charm.  I keep fiddling with it so I try not to think about things.   Dave: “If you’re thinking about your hat you’re not thinking about bad stuff.”

martin says that they planned to name their third album Rheostatics Cut Their heads Off and Go Swimming.  They made a pact that when we play for the last time, I would cut off Tim’s hand and he would cut off mine.  But how does the last guy do the last hand?

Someone shouts “50 bucks for your hand.”  Dave: “How much if he autographs it? … oh wait.”

So Dave, you wrote this frankenmonster [When Winter Comes] so talk about it.  I’m looking forward to playing it personally and Dave’s going to explain it to you.  Dave doesn;t explain it but he says the first part was written in  the interior of British Columbia.  The middle was written at King and Parliament intersection.  The final part was written at the Isaac Hostel in Dublin Ireland coz I missed my girlfriend.  Tim: That’s where we broke up the first time.

As they start the song, Martin says, “this is the fake ending of the show, lets rock.”

Evidently there was snow falling during the song as one person wrote: “Also, the fake snow falling in ‘When Winter Comes‘ was gorgeous and will be imprinted in my brain forever.”

They come back for the encore.  Tim says, “This song is in the key of D, it’s one of our favorites.  (Dave: can we get those police back?).  Martin: “I’ll dedicate this song [“Self Serve Gas Station”] to my parents.  This song isn’t all that true.  And to my sister who is seeing us for the first time tonight.  (Save: so it’s her fault).

Martin sings his heart out on “California Dreamline” but just can’t get the notes.

They invite Wolf Island’s Chris Brown to the stage.  We’re going to dedicate this song to Claire who is siting in the balcony.  She’s 7 years old.  “Claire” runs to almost 9 minutes with some great solos from all parties, including a great keyboard solo from I assume Chris Brown.

They play a ripping, intense version of “Horses.”  Despite acknowledging the kids in the audience, Dave doesn’t hold back.  Send this out to Stephen Harper and his minority government behaving like a majority government:

 theft and lies and deceit and pain and crime and hate and intolerance and cheating.  And he hasn’t even done anything yet.  But were gonna be ready and strong.  We’re gonna be mighty, small, and fierce.  Teeth bared, eyes open fists clenched, feet rooted to the ground.  This is our ground.  These are our roots

“Stolen Car” ends with Martin repeating the first line and Dave asking and then what happened?  So Martin speed reads the plot of the song to a blur as it segues into “RDA” with a chanted chorus of Super Furry Animals, “They don’t give a fuck about anybody else.”  As they near the end, Dave asks, “Are you ready Timmy?  Are you ready Marty?  Are you ready Fordy?  Are your ready Michael?” before they conclude… in America!

The final song of the encore is “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  We’d like to invite the ensemble up for this next number.  Don and Dave and Chris…  let’s all do it together.  The drummers get a special drum solo with some fun keys from Ford.  The percussion solo segues seamlessly into “Alomar” before returning to “Dope Fiends.”  This song featured Chris Brown on keys and Dave Clark and Don Kerr on hand drums.

They leave but it’s not over yet.  They come out for a final encore, where they apparently sit down on the edge of the stage and joke with each other “how come you’re not famous?”  “How much money do you have?”  They plays some acoustic guitars (can you hear us alright?).

Dave: Ford, what can we do to get the top balcony singing?
Ford: This is Dave Clark’s thing, he’ll have good advice.
Clark directs the audience.  Top balcony, this half goes “oom” the other half goes “oom oom.  Middle balcony, hum through the nose–that’s not loud enough so hum out loud.  The bottom group, half goes ahhh and the other half goes whoooo.  They do a pretty decent participation throughout the whole of “Legal Age Life.”

And then there’s one last song.  Dave gets a little choked up.

I don’t get emotional about this until I start talking to people who are into the band.  People coming with old friends who grew up singing Rheos’ songs; people forming bands, lost in the wilderness and singing Uncle Henry to themselves….

And then they play a sweet acoustic version of “Record Body Count,” a sweet send off to Martin, for sure.  And as one person commenting on the show wrote:

Martin’s expression at the end of ‘Record Body Count‘ when he realized that there was a human pyramid behind him was priceless.

There is a clip of the human pyramid online, and it’s really pretty impressive.

The final word goes to Darrin Cappe, who runs the Rheostatics Live site

This show was the biggest they have played on their own to date, and the fans have flown from all over North America, from Florida to San Diego and from Halifax to Victoria to see them. What a pleasure and a treasure it was to have been there. I truly feel that those lucky enough to have been there were witness to a significant piece of Canadian Music History. One of those events where years from now when people talk about it you can say in the words of Dave Bidini “Oh Yeah, I Was There!” ” Darrin Cappe, Toronto ON

Shortly after the concert CBC Radio aired an edited one-hour version of the show.  The sound is excellent.  They play havoc with the set list, having it rather our of order, and having it end with the main body of the show.  But it’s a nice, clean-sounding, digestible one hour highlight reel.

01. Introduction   1:27
02. Interview with Andy Craig   1:44
03. Saskatchewan   8:04
04. Me and Stupid   4:02
05. DJ   0:11
06. Bad Time To Be Poor   4:17
07. King Of The Past   6:27
08. Northern Wish   6:34
09. We Went West   5:24
10. banter   1:09
11. Making Progress   5:18
12. Claire   7:09
13. DJ   0:22
14. When Winter Comes   10:05
15. Outro   0:49

There’s a slideshow of pictures at the bottom of this post.  And Pete Nema has some photos from the show online.   There’s also a couple of non soundboard recordings.  The one from Desmond Howl is especially interesting because you can hear a lot more of the crowd reactions–they were really into the show (which doesn’t quite come across in the soundboard version).

It was great run from a great band.  I was pretty psyched to be able to see them when they reunited seven years later.  My bucket list now includes seeing them play a proper show–two hours plus, with Martin’s voice in great form.  We’ll see what the summer allows!

[READ: January 13, 2018] “Munich, 1938”

I saw this longish story and the title and thought I would not like it at all.  I was pleasant surprised at how engrossed I became in this story.

It started out as I feared with the British Prime Minister and his delegation heading to a conference with Hitler and Mussolini.  We are focused on Hugh Legat, Chamberlain’s private secretary (but apparently not a very high ranking one).  He was asked to stay at the hotel to get an office running for the Prime Minister when he returned. We learn that Legat has an ulterior motive for being in Munich, although I’m not entirely certain that this excerpt reveals what that is.  It might, but I’m not sure.

The story is a bit bogged in details, but that’s as befits a novel, which this is and excerpt from.  So the early part is a little tough going with so many characters–most of whom we will not meet in this excerpt.

Then we meet Paul Hartmann. Hartmann is also at the conference.  We know even less about him except that he has a gun in one pocket and a letter in the other.  He has a message for the British delegation, but there is no way he can get it to them without being spotted.

The conference ends for lunch.  The delegates do not look pleased.  This made Hartmann happy that maybe the conference would fail. (more…)

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moors SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS FORSYTH & THE SOLAR MOTEL BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #549 (July 15, 2016).

solarIn the blurb about The Solar Motel band, Lars Gotrich says that Chris Forsyth’s group usually plays high energy and maximum volume.  But here, they have picked some of their more mellow pieces.  And I frankly think they are all fantastic (I actually don’t even want to hear their louder stuff).

“Harmonious Dance” opens with four single repeated notes before the slow echoed chords fill the room.  The drummer is playing with brushes and dangling some bells (which he eventually holds in his mouth while playing with both hands).  There’s a feeling of Explosions in the Sky on this song–but without as much drama.  Rather, the mid section turns away from the vibrato to a more structured picked section which allows room for a guitar solo.  The blurb says the song “meditates on a gently unfolding melody shared between Forsyth and guitarist Nick Millevoi.”

Speaking of the drummer, the blurb tells us that “due to touring conflicts, The Solar Motel Band’s rhythm section is different here than on record, but bassist Matt Stein provides a grounding force, as drummer Ryan Jewell … loosens the very ground beneath it all.”

Forsyth introduces the second song with the strange comment: “It gives me great pleasure to say the title of this next song: ‘The First Ten Minutes Of Cocksucker Blues.'” Why great pleasure?  Anyhow, the title refers to the unreleased Rolling Stones documentary directed by Robert Frank.  There’s a kind of funky, rougher edge to this song that has Forsyth playing some simple chords while Millevoi plays some wailing classic-rock-style solos.  In fact, the whole thing has a classic rock feel, except with a more contemporary jamming feel.

A buzzing drone segues into “Boston Street Lullaby.”  Unlike the other two songs this one is very mellow and kind of trippy. At times (especially the way that Millevoi bends some of his guitar licks it feels distinctly like Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.”  The end has some cool jangly spacey guitar and Jewell is doing all sorts of interesting things to the kit, including changing the sound of his snare by pressing on it at different spots.

I am curious to hear what other kinds of stuff they play.

I am bummed to read that they opened for Super Furry Animals this summer.  I really wanted to get to that show, but I was out of town.  That would have been a great double bill.

[READ: November 14, 2016] The Moors

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Marcus’ book go to the Friend Memorial Public Library in Maine.

This is a story that is set in the time it takes for a woman to fill up her mug of coffee.

It begins with the amusing concept that our protagonist Thomas saying that he felt bad about speaking in baby talk to a colleague.  And then it pulls back so we can see just what is happening.

Thomas has incredibly low self esteem.  He immediately takes a dislike to this colleague who is so composed and together.  He wonders if there’s a word for the contempt that he imagines she feels for everyone around her (based on the way she walks and is dressed).

And then over what seemed like three dozen too many pages, we learn the extent of his insecurities.  He is too fat, he might have erectile disfucntion, he believes that they are throwing pigeons at the windows every hour to mark time.

He is so insecure and his lashing out is just so unpleasant that I really didn’t want to read about why he acts this way (which we do sort of learn at he end).

Essentially this is man at a loss.  The way his home life has been going has certainly compounded his loss.  But the road to get there felt too long and either too misogynistic or self-pitying most of the time.

If this had been half as long I would have liked it much better.  Although I really don’t think I could ever actually enjoy reading about this character–baby talk or not.

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 nothing canSOUNDTRACK: DJANGO DJANGO-Django Django (2011).

220px-Django_Django_Album_CoverI heard about this band when “Default” became a kind of alt rock standard.  It got a little overplayed, but there was something so catchy and yet so slightly odd about it that I really wanted to hear more.  So when I heard how catchy and fun “Hail Bop” proved to be, I knew it was time to check out the whole album.

And the album is full of quirky, delightful songs.  In fact, despite how weird the album cover art is, it actually represents the sounds of the album pretty well.  It’s a kind of arid looking desert but with a futuristic weird alien thing scampering amidst it.  Thus, there are acoustic twangy guitars underpinning the songs that are liberally sprinkled with oddball sci-fi sounds and tweaks of gloriously fun synths.

The album has a completely cohesive feel (which I believe comes from the sunny vibe and the beautiful harmonies), and yet there is a great amount of diversity in the music.  Many of the songs are synth heavy and catchy, but not dance rock at all.  “Waveforms” is a strange song with synths being manipulated over a heavy drum beat.  But it’s those vocals (especially in the chorus) that elevate the song above the mechanical nature of the music.  “Zumm Zumm” is even weirder with the kind of sci-fi effects that get thrown around, and yet that chorus once again is really pretty.  And “Default” sounds like it is skittering and repeating as it pounds away–a strange and infectious single.

But for all the weirdness, “Hail Bop” is a supremely catchy sweet song.  And “Firewater” is propelled by a low bass with acoustic guitars on top.   Reference points for me include Super Furry Animals and The Soundtrack of Our Lives, neither one glaringly obvious sign posts but they have that same harmony filled vibe.  See especially “Love’s Dart” another catchy song with a fun twangy Western feels.  There’s mellow guitar on “Hand of Man” and there’s a surf guitar stomper in “Wor” and more stomping drums in “Storm.”

My album contains some extra remixes.  I’m not a big fan of remixes so these are needless additions (and add about 20 minutes  to the total running time).  But that’s got little to do with the album itself, which is really a treat for fans of poppy quirky rock.

[READ: August 2014] Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Sarah gave me this book for my birthday because we both like Faith Erin Hicks (and we both like First Second books).  And I was not disappointed.

Obviously, a title like this leads you to conclude that everything will go wrong, and it pretty much does.  The cover image doesn’t quite convey what’s at stake in the story, although closer inspection reveals a kind of geeks (the ones with glasses) and cheerleader (the ones in uniforms) vibe.  Which this story certainly has.

Nate and Charlie are old friends.  Charlie is the captain of the basketball team and Nate is the president of the robotics club.  But unlike a typical pairing of these two types, Charlie is laid back and totally mellow while Nate is neurotic and angry with a huge chip on his shoulder.

As the story opens, Charlie has just been dumped by his girlfriend, the head cheerleader. Charlie doesn’t seem so upset by it but Nate is furious (as usual).  Of course, he is mostly furious because he thinks that Charlie is still with Holly and because the cheerleaders have declared war on the robotics team.  Specifically, they are trying to take the science funding to use for new uniforms (can this actually happen in school?  It happens in fictional schools all the time).  Obviously there’s nothing that Charlie can do about it, so he just goes home, allowing Nate to stew.

But mellow Charlie also has a dark storyline.  There’s a note from his dad telling him to call his mom to which he says “Yeah, that’s not happening.”  We learn a smattering of information about why Charlie is mad at his mom, and it is clear that their feud is going to build to a head before the story ends.  So tension is definitely present in the story. (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oPio60mK4]

[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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