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Archive for the ‘Swans’ Category

raslSOUNDTRACK: METHOD OF THE W.O.R.M.-Cicatrix (2015).

motwormMETHOD OF THE W.O.R.M. is the project of one guy–known as Grimm.  Cicatrix is a collection of songs that spans decades (“begun long before the present digital day”) and recently remastered and released.

The blurb on CdBaby (where you can download the disc–it’s also on iTunes) notes that Method of the W.O.R.M. is “an industrial hard rock with a trip hop edge, intelligent grown up lyrics delving into the microcosm and macrocosm of our world. Influences run the gamut of NIN, Massive Attack, Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, Coil, Tricky, Skinny Puppy, Tom Waits and many others.”

There’s quite a diversity in that list even if the bands are similar, and you can hear the melding of influences.  And you can hear most of them in the songs. But what sets MotWORM apart from these bands is a keen sense of melody in the vocals.  Most industrial music tends to bury the vocals with distortion or just under the music.  But Grimm’s got a good (even pleasant) singing voice which elevates the songs above the din of lesser industrial bands.

While it’s not like pre-digital technology was all tape manipulation, it also wasn’t as easy as it is now.  And the complexity in these songs shows a lot of skill and attention to detail.

“No Flesh” opens the collection.  After some interesting noisy samples (steel drums?), a slow bassline enters (which also sounds sampled—it’s got a very 70’s sound).  The song slowly builds with more and more layers of sound until the vocals come in–a gentle singing that also builds.  There’s a Skinny Puppy feel in the music, but the vocals are very different from Puppy’s style.  “Purge” is the first of many songs with sampled dialogue, but it’s the sounds around the dialogue that are so interesting–squeaks and buzzes, radio tuners? who knows where they come from.  Once the verses start, the main music in this track is more synthy–a compelling riff that wends through the mix.  When the distorted guitars kick in, it takes the song to an entirely new level.

“Burned” showcases the vocals up front in the mix over a simple layered melody.  But there are actually a lot of vocals in this song, including a fascinating sample that opens and closes the track.  Grimm adds layers of vocals–harmonies (or not exactly)–distorted vocals and clean vocals.  I particularly like when the higher voice sings a new (very cool) melody in the middle of the song (the sampled voice melds nicely if creepily with this too).  This song is a real highlight.

“Tragic Rabbit” has some more interesting samples and a pulsing synth line with cool swirling sounds over the top of the vocals.  “As If a Dream” is a slow trippy number with an excellent processed sample.

“A Viral Method” introduces live drums (which sound great and were provided by Swans’ Phil Puleo).  It also has a great live guitar sound playing a fast riff and harmonics.  There’s more great harmony vocals. And a wild riff for the bridge (do I dare say a bit prog rock?).  Although I love the cool samples and layers in the earlier songs, this live instrumentation adds an excellent urgency to the music.  The only problem with this song is that it’s so short.

“Absolution” starts off quietly but after the distorted guitars, the chorus is super catchy–the way it seems like it’s going to end but rebuilds itself.  It’s really well crafted.  “A Moment of Silence” opens with a retro-sounding synth bass.  It’s a fairly minimal song with the vocals really taking over as that synth line drifts to the background and new sounds bubble up.  “Wasted” opens with distorted guitars kind of like a Ministry song, but the vocals are much cleaner, which brings an unexpected quality to what could have been a typical heavy song.  Especially the chorus which is musically bright (even if it’s lyrically dark).

“Freak-O” (what a great title) opens with some loud jackhammer type drums.  The song creeps along menacingly (with a great sample of someone shouting “You are one ugly son of a bitch!”).  I like the simple melody that simmers up from the noise by the end of the song.  “Miscreant” opens with quieter acoustic guitars before the drums kicks in and a menacing synth line takes over.  The vocals are quietly sung with an interesting effect placed on them.  The middle of the song has some wild sounds–I’m not entirely sure what’s happening with them, but it makes for an unsettling ambiance.

“I Love You Goodbye” is my favorite song on the disc.  It starts out simply with big guitars but quickly retreats into a much quieter verse.   There’s a great riff that throws in a slightly dissonant harmonic note that is just great.  But as the song builds into a unexpected bridge with horns, the song adds an dark carnivalesque atmosphere (and that harmonic note returns in a more prominent role).  It’s such an unusual riff and really bodes well for the interesting direction MotWORM might be heading (if they ever release anything else).

This is a real fun disc full of interesting sounds and samples.  If you like industrial music this is a disc totally worth checking out.

[READ: July 31, 2015] RASL

Jeff Smith is creator of Bone, one of my favorite comics ever.  As far as I can tell he hasn’t done a lot since Bone, but he sure did his research for this book.

The title is unfortunate (and is explained satisfactorily in the last few pages, but it’s still awkward and hard to manage).  But the work inside is extraordinary.  The story concerns dimension jumping, art theft and a whole lot of information about Nikolai Tesla.  It’s also more mature than Bone, in that there are a couple of (non-explicit) sex scenes.

In a nutshell, RASL (real name Dr. Robert Johnson) and his partner Miles are scientists.  They grew up together and studied the works of Tesla.  Miles married Maya, a beautiful scientist who has assisted them with their work over the years.  They delved deeply into the research that Tesla undertook (Resonant frequency, remote control, the earthquake machine, wireless communication) and used his ideas to create a machine that is something like a transporter/dimension hopper. They are working for the military but hope to be able to use the device to end wars (idealist scientists as they are).  Their small tests has been successful, but RASL believes that they need more testing to see if there are any effects when you use it on bigger subjects.

So he takes the machine and hops.  It turns out that each hop between dimensions takes its toll on his body and also tends to confuse matters.  (In one dimension, he checks his iPod and sees that Blonde on Blonde was recorded by Robert Zimmerman (I love that detail)).

We learn that RASL (who as the story opens has shaggy hair and cuts and bruises, unlike the composed scientist we see in flashbacks) has been jumping from dimension to dimension to steal precious works of art as a way to make some money.  There is also a really creepy-looking man whose face looks almost amphibian (Smith has some really disturbing characters in this book) chasing after him.  This man kills everyone that RASL knows in different dimensions because he is after something 9and he believes that the people in other dimensions are not real).  It is slowly revealed why RASL has been reduced to this state. (more…)

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  hyperSOUNDTRACK: SHEARWATER-Tiny Desk Concert #9 (November 14, 2008).

shearwaterI didn’t really know Shearwater before this Tiny Desk Concert.  I’d heard of them but wasn’t familiar with their music (I assumed it was more countryish).  I was also really surprised to find that Thor Harris was in the band (he is currently playing with Swans–it doesn’t get too much more different between Swans and Shearwater (even if they are both birds).

Jonathan Meiberg is the singer–he was formerly in Okkervil River for a number of years before Shearwater became too big to be a side project.  The setting is perfect for the band as they get to showcase some really quiet insturments.  Like the Waterphone (designed by Richard Waters, although Thor Harris made the one they are using).  It is based on the calimba and they describe it as the sound you hear when something weird happens on Lost.  Thor also plays the clarinet (!).

Meiberg has a great voice, and it perfectly complements these delicate songs.  “Rooks” has melodies on xylophone and Hammered dulcimer (which also looks homemade).  “Leviathan, Bound” is based on the documentary “Blue Water White Death” about great white sharks and whalers.  They explain that this is a new version of the song with banjo.  And before they start the song they nearly knock something over (it is a Tiny desk after all).

“North Col” is the less commonly use approach to Mt Everest.  And this song is just as spare and pretty.  Before playing the final song, they show the album cover (of Rook) and talk about Kahn & Selesnick, the artists who made it (it’s quite striking).  Then he explains the origins of “I Was a Cloud” which he wrote when he was in the Falkland Islands.  They were birding and found a tiny bird living under the wreckage of a fighter jet.  It’s a beautiful image and a beautiful song.

And I definitely need to hear more Shearwater after this.

[READ: December 29, 2013] Hyperbole and a Half

The whole blogs-into-books thing is weird.  You can read everything in these blogs for free on the internet, so why do they come out in books?  Is the internet insecure when it comes to publishing?  Are these things more legitimate as books?  Is it just a way to make money?  Are they in print just in case the internet explodes?  It certainly undermines the concept that books are dead.  Well, whatever, some blogs translate very well to print.  Like this one.

I have enjoyed Hyperbole and a Half a number of times, but I never thought to check it regularly.  So I had no idea that Allie had taken a year off.  And I had no idea that she suffered from Depression so people were concerned about her.  I always just thought her strips were very very funny and didn’t read anything in them.  Of course, knowing she was Depressed (she admits as much in the book) makes the darker stories seem darker, but the funny ones are still really funny.

I mean, just look at drawings! No really, look at the drawings–they are so weird and creepy and so freaking funny.  It seems like she can’t really draw, because the pictures are crazy.  And yet she is so consistent with her lines and styles that I have to assume she is a masterful artist and has chosen this crazy style to accentuate her crazy stories.  And it is genius. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_15_13Sorel.inddSOUNDTRACK: AKRON/FAMILY-“Sand Talk” (2013).

akronfamThe folks on NPR played this song as part of a “new songs” segment and I couldn’t get over how noisy and chaotic it was.  I had always thought of Akron/Family as being kind of an indie folk outfit (I know they were on Swans’ label, but I still thought of them as more folkie than noisy).  So I was surprised by just how chaotic and wild this song was.

It opens with a distorted, echoey guitar that settles into a ringing sound which reminds me of Fucked Up.  Then the drums come in (tribal and various) until it all settles down into a thumping song with a kind of spastic guitar riff.  Then the vocals come in–full bodied and sounding like more than one person.  And after the first verse, it seems like everything that happened before happens again–this time all at once.  But now, the music occasionally pauses to let the vocals come to the fore.  And at one point everything stops and a chorus of voices sings a nice melody as the band slowly resumes playing.   And this echoing fugue-like music continues apace until it all kind of slows down and then ends.

It’s quite a challenging song and one that I found rewarding after just a few listens.  I have to reevaluate what I think this band sounds like, and I definitely have to listen to the rest of this album.

[READ: May 1, 2013] “The Night of the Satellite”

What I really liked about this story was the way that Boyle plays with two ideas of randomness.  The first is the possibility of a piece of a satellite falling out of the sky and landing on you.  The second is of running into a couple in several different and unrelated locations.

As the story starts, a couple (graduate-school aged) are excited that the summer is upon them.  They plan to take a trip to visit some friends (with their dog) to get away from it all.  En route they see a car pulled over at the side of the road facing the wrong way.  The young man is sitting on the hood, the young woman is crying near the road.  Mallory tells him to stop the car.  He is reluctant but does so (childlocking the doors).  The girl says that her boyfriend is a jerk.  She is crying but says she is not hurt.  The boyfriend is yelling across the road that she should just get in the car and leave with them.  But after a few minutes, she decides not too.  So he drives on despite Mallory’s protests. (more…)

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mystrugglSOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-“Christiansands” (1996).

christiansandsThis book is set in Kristiansands, and so naturally this song was ringing through my head the whole while I was reading it.  I’ve known this song for ages, but had no idea that Chirstiansands was an actual place in Norway.

This song is dark and tense.  Over a slinky beat, a spare guitar riff introduces Tricky’s voice as he rasps (his voice is slightly modified to give him a weird echo).  And while he’s reciting his verses, the gorgeous voice of Martina Topley-Bird, repeats what he’s saying in a whispered voice until she sings out the chorus “I met a Christian in Christiansands.”

The verses repeat with Tricky emphasizing, “master your language and in the meantime I create my own.  It means we’ll manage.”

I honestly don’t know what the song is about, and it feels like it never properly ends–that riff, at once menacing and gripping never seems to conclude.  It’s a masterful track and hard to forget once you’ve heard it.

[READ: May 11, 2013] My Struggle Book One

I read an excerpt of Book Two from this series in Harper’s.  And despite the fact that nothing really happened in it, I was drawn in by the writing style.  This first novel is very similar in that not a lot happens but the voice is very captivating.  The translation is by Don Bartlett and it is fantastic–I can only assume the original Norwegian is just as compelling.  So, despite the fact that this autobiographical series contain six books (six!) and totals over 4,000 pages (how could this be if Book one is a mere 400?  Books 4-6 are over 1,000 pages each), I decided to give it a try.  (Incidentally, Book Two has just been translated into English this month).

This series has caused some controversy because it is given the same title as Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Min Kamp in Norwegian), and also because he says some pretty means stuff about people who are still alive (like his ex-wife).  Although there isn’t much of that in Book One.

death in the familyIndeed, Book One basically talks about two things–a New Year’s Eve party when Karl Ove was youngish and, as the bracketed title indicates, the death of his father.  (The title A Death in the Family is the same book as My Struggle Book One–from a different publisher.  It has a totally different cover but is the same translation.  I don’t quite get that).  But indeed, these two events take 430 pages to write about.

How is this possible?  Because Karl Ove writes about every single detail.  (I assume this why the books are considered novels, because there is no way he could remember so much detail about every event).  I’m going to quote a lengthy section from a New Yorker review (by James Wood) because he really captures the feeling of reading the book:

There is a flatness and a prolixity to the prose; the long sentences have about them an almost careless avant-gardism, with their conversational additions and splayed run-ons. The writer seems not to be selecting or shaping anything, or even pausing to draw breath….  There is something ceaselessly compelling about Knausgaard’s book: even when I was bored, I was interested. This striking readability has something to do with the unconventionality of “My Struggle.” It looks, at first sight, familiar enough: one of those highly personal modern or postmodern works, narrated by a writer, usually having the form if not the veracity of memoir and thus plotted somewhat accidentally, concerned with the writing of a book that turns out to be the text we are reading.  But there is also a simplicity, an openness, and an innocence in his relation to life, and thus in his relation to the reader. Where many contemporary writers would reflexively turn to irony, Knausgaard is intense and utterly honest, unafraid to voice universal anxieties, unafraid to appear naïve or awkward. Although his sentences are long and loose, they are not cutely or aimlessly digressive: truth is repeatedly being struck at, not chatted up.

That idea of being bored but interested is really right on–and it may sound like a bad thing, but it’s not.  You can read along thinking that there’s no way he is going to give so much unimportant detail.  But you get this description of drinking a cup of tea: (more…)

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41

SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, October 2, 2011 (2011).

swansatpBefore Swans released this year’s amazing The Seer, they toured supporting their previous album (with a number of songs from The Seer included). This set has two songs from The Seer, “The Apostate” and “The Seer, Pt 1” together they comprise 50 minutes of the nearly two hour show.  The set also includes “No Words No Thoughts” (24 minutes) and “Jim” (a teeny 6 minutes) from 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.  The final track is an eleven minute version of “I Crawled” which goes all the way back to 1984’s Young God EP.

I would never have thought of Swans as a jam band, and yet here they are, with 5 songs in 2 hours.  Although unlike jam bands, they aren’t showing off their musical chops or noodling solos, they are created expressive and moody soundscapes–not as scary as in days of old, but very intense nonetheless.

The set sounds great, although I imagine this would be more enjoyable to watch than to listen to (there a great swaths of music where there’ s not a lot happening).  I wonder what Gira is doing during these stretches.  My friend Phil (or Phillipe Puleo as Gira calls him here) plays drums on the album and on this tour, and I have to say he must be exhausted–man he hits the drums hard.

I listened to this show before I heard The Seer, but it didn’t prepare me for what the album would contain.  Now having heard that album, I appreciate this live show even more–they really master these long songs.  I am going to have to try to see them the next time they swing by.  I admit I used to be afraid at the thought of seeing them because their early music was so intense, but this seems to be a different Swans now, one that an old man like myself could even handle.

The set is no longer available on NPR.

[READ: December 10, 2012] McSweeney’s #41

The cover of this issue has a series of overlapping photographs of lightning.  I didn’t really look at it that closely at first and thought it was an interesting collage.  Indeed, Sarah said it looked like a science textbook of some kind.  But when I read the colophon, I learned that Cassandra C. Jones finds photographs of lightning and (without manipulating them digitally) places them together so that the lightning bolts create shapes.  And indeed, that is what is going on.  And it’s amazing!

The cover’s pictures create a greyhound running (front and back covers show different stages of the run).  There’s also circles and a rabbit running.  It’s incredibly creative and very cool.  You can see some of her work at her site.

The feature of this issue is that there are four stories from Australian Aboriginal Writers, a group that I can honestly say I have never read anything from before.  There’s also beautiful art work accompanying most of the longer stories, three gritty non-fiction pieces and some letters, most of which aren’t very silly at all.

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WORM OUROBOROS-Live at Le Pousson Rouge, March 22, 2011 (2011).

I had never heard of Worm Ouroboros before this concert. They opened up for black metal guys Agalloch.  I was very intrigued by their name, because I love the word ouroboros, and then I learned that their name comes specifically from a novel by Eric Rücker Eddison called The Worm Ouroboros.

Now Agalloch is a heavy, fast, scary kind of band, so I expected that WO would be too, but they are almost exactly the opposite.  A trio (bass, guitar/flute (!)/keyboards, and drums), the band plays very ethereal music.  It has a kind of sinister edge to it, but for the most part it never really has a beat or anything.  The sounds drift and flow over each other.  This is all held together by the gorgeous vocals of bassist Lorraine Rath and the even more gorgeous harmonies of guitarist Jessica Wray.  Their voices are reminiscent of Jarboe from Swans.

The most amazing part of the show comes on the occasional ends of songs when the band seems to come down to earth  and they play a loud and aggressive doom metal stomp. It only last for a minute or two and it doesn’t happen on every song, but it’s amazing and really surprising when it does.

I don’t know what the band sounds like on record, but they make an exquisite noise live.  And you can tell how intense they must be because the rowdy crowd is quiet and respectful for their entire set.  You can get a free download (or listen online) at NPR.

Worm Ouroboros – Winter from (((unartig))) on Vimeo.

This is a video of “Winter” (a song that gets really heavy at the end) from the show.

[READ: March 26, 2011] “Catechism”

Although I have been posting past stories from The Walrus on Saturdays, the July/August 2005 issue was a Summer Reading Issue complete with 5 pieces of fiction.  So, it seemed like a good time (the week after the release of The Pale King, when I will be otherwise occupied) to go through thee five pieces.

This story uses a scene that I think is used an awful lot in fiction–that of the car sitting on a frozen lake with people taking bets as to when it will sink.  It’s not central to the story by any means, but this is I think the third time I’ve read it.  Of course I gather that if you have a  community that is frozen most of the time, it’s a reasonable thing to see there.

Anyhow, this is the tale of an East Coaster moving out to Regina to be writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library. He finds that there isn’t all that much to do (in the year he’s there, two people ask him for help with their novels in progress.  [Frankly, I would love to hear THAT story instead.  A story where the writer in residence helps these misfits with their novels.  It sounds great.  So, I enjoyed that aspect of the story very much].  In fact I enjoyed it more than what would eventually develop as the plot. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-“Can’t Find My Way Home” (1989).

In the Swans review yesterday, I mentioned this as a song that was as far afield from early Swans as was imaginable.  This is a cover of the Blind Faith song and it is surprisingly faithful.  In fact, the original song features a voice that is so falsetto’d it’s almost higher than Jarboe’s.

The big difference here is that Jarboe is an unusual lady and her voice has a weird almost strangled quality to it which adds an air of longing to the song that the original doesn’t.   There’s also an ethereal quality to the music which contrasts with the original’s folk styling.  Not to mention that the production on this version is better.

I also happen to think that the Swan’s guitar intro (while less technically accomplished) is more intriguing.  Not bad for an industrial band.

[READ: February 20, 2011] Consider David Foster Wallace [essays 7-9]

The group read of this book seems to have come to a halt.  Coincidentally, so had my reading of it.  So, I decided to finish up the last few essays of the book to have it done in time for the April 15th release of The Pale King (yay!).

It’s been three months since I last posted about this book so I’ll give my disclaimer:  because I don’t have a lot to say about the pieces (I’m not an academic anymore), I’m only going to mention things that I found puzzling/confusing.  But be assured that if I don’t mention the vast majority of the article it’s because I found it interesting/compelling/believable.  I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing the articles’ argument, so I won’t really summarize. (more…)

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