Archive for the ‘The Mountain Goats’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-“Drug Life” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 I could tell this was a Mountain Goats song right from the start–it’s lo fi and yet it sounds clear (especially the vocals). Normally with The Mountain Goats you talk about the lyrics, but since he didn’t write the song, there’s not much to say about them (in this paragraph anyhow).

The original, by East River Pipe is also very lo-fi.  It’s a very catchy song and it’s all about drugs: (“If it comes down to the drugs or you…baby we’re through.”).  The original is guitar and keyboards and Cornog’s straightforward singing.  The cover is simply acoustic guitar.  It’s a little faster (and a little shorter) and because I like The Mountain Goats, I prefer the cover.

Although really, they’re not very different.

[READ: April 16, 2012] “Transatlantic”

This story was out of my comfort zone–it’s about army men and airplanes, that’s not my scene, man.  And after reading the first few paragraphs, I wondered if I should keep reading it.  But McCann wrote a compelling story and I’m really glad I finished it.

The story is basically an account of two men, Teddy Brown and Jack Alcock, as they attempt the first transatlantic flight in their modified bomber called The Vickers Vimy.  Anyone with a working knowledge of the flight, or post WWI history knows that these are two real historical people.  I do not have such a working knowledge, so I had no idea that this was based on a true story.  If you know anything about them (and I swear, Google either of them and you will find all the details that you need) then you know how the story turns out.

I didn’t know how the story turned out and I found it thrilling. In part that’s because it’s an exceptionally exciting moment in history–two former army men modify a bomber and try to fly from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland.  And really, there’s no way it should work–bombers don’t have enough fuel, they have no radar.  It could take days.   Hell the planes don’t even have a windshield that covers them.  But the excitement is also because of the way that McCann tells the story. (more…)

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According to their website, “Art of Time Ensemble is one of Canada’s most innovative and artistically accomplished music ensembles. Their mandate is to give classical music the contemporary relevance and context it needs to maintain a broader audience to survive.”

So what you get is a modern orchestra playing contemporary music.  It’s not a unique idea, but in this case, it works very effectively.  And what you also get is Steven Page, former singer of the Barenaked Ladies as the vocalist.  Page has an awesome voice.  I’ve often said I could listen to him sing anything.  And here’s a good example of him singing anything.

The great thing is that the song choices are unusual and wonderful–not immediate pop hits or classic standards–it’s a cool menagerie of songs with great lyrics and equally great compositions.  This is no heavy metal with strings, this is majestic songs with orchestral scoring.  The orchestra includes: piano, sax/clarinet, cello, violin, guitar and bass.

And the song choices are fascinating.  And with Page’s amazing theatrical voice, the songs sound quite different, mostly because the original singers don’t have powerful voices.  They all have interesting and distinctive voices, but not operatic ones.  So this brings a new aspect to these songs (I knew about half of them before hand).

This is a very dramatic reading of this dramatic song.  It pushes the boundaries of the original song.

I had never heard this Costello song.  With Costello you never know what the original will sound like–punk pop, orchestral, honky tonk?  It’s a fascinating song, though and Page hits some really striking and I would say uncomfortable notes.

I don’t know Rufus’ work very well, although I immediately recognized this as one of his songs.  Page plays with Wainwright’s wonderful theatrics and makes this song his own.

Covering one of his own songs, this is fascinating change.  The original is a fast, almost punky song, and it seems very upbeat.  This string version brings out the angst that the lyrics really talk about (Page is definitely a drama queen).

This is one of the great self-pitying songs and the lyrics are tremendous.  Page takes Cohen’s usual gruff delivery and fills it with theater. It’s a great version.

Coming from her early album The Speckless Sky, this is a wonderfully angsty song with the premise that is summarized: “it’s a long, long, lonely ride to find the perfect lover for your lover.”  Page hits one of the highest notes I’ve heard from him here.  Very dramatic.

This is one of my favorite Divine Comedy songs.  Of course it is already string filled, so this version isn’t very different.  But its wonderful to hear it in another context.

THE WEAKERTHANS-Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
I love this song.  This is a guitar filled pop punk song, so the strings add a new edge to it.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS-For We Are the King of the Boudoir
I know the Magnetic Fields but not this song.  It’s quite clever and funny (as the Fields tend to be) and Page makes some very dramatic moments.

RADIOHEAD-Paranoid Android
I recently reviewed a covers album of OK Computer, wondering how someone could cover the record.  The same applies to this song.  A string orchestra is a good choice for it, as there is so much swirling and crescendo.  And while nothing could compare to the original (and they don’t try to duplicate it), this is an interetsing choice.  As is Page’s voice.  He has a much better voice than Thom Yorke, but that actually hinders the song somewhat when he gets a little too operatic in parts.  Nevertheless, it is an interetsing and enjoyable cover.

The whole record is full of over the top drama.   It’s perfectly suited for Page and it’s a side of him that has peeked out on various releases but which he really gets to show off here.  As an album, the compositions all work very well–they are, after all, trying to make classical pieces out of them–not just covering them.  And the choices of songs are really inspired.  Dramatic and interesting and when the music slows down, the lyrics lend to a wonderfully over the top performance.

If you like Page or orchestral rock, this is worth tracking down.

[READ: November 28, 2011] “Leaving Maverly”

For some reason I was under the impression that Alice Munro was no longer writing.  I’m glad that’s not true, and really, what else would she do with herself–she has so many more stories to tell.

I think of Munro’s stories as being straightforward, but this one was slightly convoluted and actually had two things going on at once.  It opens by discussing the old town of Maverly.  Like many towns it once had a movie theatre.  The protectionist and owner was a grumpy man who didn’t deal well with the public, and that’s why he hired a young girl to take the tickets and be the face of the theatre.  When she got in the family way, he was annoyed, but immediately set out to hire someone else.  Which he did.  The new girl, Leah, came from a very religious family.  She was permitted to work there under the stipulation that she never see or hear a movie or even know anything about them.  And that she get a ride home.  The owner balked at this second idea–he surely wasn’t going to drive her home.  So instead, he asked the local policeman Ray, to walk her home.  Which he agreed to do.

The next section of the story looks at Ray.  And although the story is ostensibly about Leah, we get a lot more history of Ray.   He was a night policeman only because his wife, Isabel, needed help at home during the day.  We learn about the scandalous way he met his wife and how they managed through the years until she became ill.

Ray talks with Leah on their walks home, something he found terribly awkward because of how cloistered she was.  Then he would get home and talk with Isabel about Leah. This young girl who meant nothing to him was suddenly a significant part of his life.

And then one day the theater owner came to report that Leah was missing.  They went to see her father at the mill, but she wasn’t there.  And there was really no other place where Leah went, so they were at a loss.  It was winter and they feared the worst. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EXTRA LENS-“Only Existing Footage” (2010).

I listened to this song on NPR’s All Songs Considered without knowing who the band was. And while I listened to this song I kept thinking it sounded like someone, but who?  Who?

And it took me reading about them on allmusic to realize that this is a side project between The Mountain Goats and Nothing Painted Blue (who I don’t know).   My friend Andrew gave me a bunch of Mountain Goats albums which I have enjoyed but which I haven’t written about yet.  However, I can’t say how much this sounds like a Goat’s album (as I’m not an expert yet).

Nevertheless, like a Goats’ songs, it is simple (with one simple guitar accompanied by another simple guitar) and incredibly catchy.  At 3 minutes it makes for a perfect delicate pop song.  The chorus builds wonderfully (even if, really it’s not that much fuller than the verses).

Charming seems like a condescending word, and yet this song feels charming  (even if lyrically it’s rather dark:  “oblivion’s been calling since it found out where I live.”)

[READ: October 20, 2010] “Vins Fins”

Ethan Canin is the penultimate writer in the 1999 New Yorker 20 Under 40 collection, but his was the last story I read.  I was really intrigued by the excerpt that was in the main issue, but I feel like the full length story disappointed somewhat.

At eleven pages, this was one of the longest stories in the collection and it felt to me like it was simply too long.  There were a lot of things, not details, or even dead end plots, just aspects of the story that seemed extraneous.

I am fond of fiction set in the 1970s.  In some ways it seems an easy decade for mockery, and yet really any decade, if limited to a bunch of stereotypes, is ripe for easy mockery.  But there’s something about the 70s that lends itself to fun story concepts.  And this promised something similar.

Under the shadow of Watergate, on the Western edge of Cape Cod, a young man grows up.  The narrator’s father feels that Nixon will get through Watergate unharmed.  His father is a chef and restaurateur who, despite his skills, seems to make most of his money by flipping restaurants (to use a recent term…it’s not used in the story).  His specialty is French food, which is convenient since his wife is French, as in actually from France.  We learn a bit about how they met and a lot about her (and I think perhaps this is where there is too much story as she turns out to be a fairly minor character in what I think of as the main plot).

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I recently reviewed this album.  And in light of this book I investigated some of the things that Darnielle’s character mentions.

First: according to Wikipedia, the US release of the LP/cassette DID have “extra” tracks on it.  When you listen on CD, and see the time settings of the songs, it’s kind of understandable what they are.

I have no idea what “The Elegy” is supposed to be (as part of “After Forever”) (unless it’s the intro part…no time is given in Wikipedia).  But “The Haunting” after “Children of the Grave” times perfectly to the “Ch Ch Children” part at the end of the song.

“Step Up” which, as he mentions, is a ridiculous name for a Sabbath song can be seen as the 30 second intro riff to “Lord of This World” as it is very different from that song.

The most unlikely “extra song”  is “Death Mask” as part of “Into the Void.”  The timing claims that it is the first half of the song.  The song changes at the 3 minute mark but it also reverts back to the original, so this “song” is specious at best.

But I do appreciate the book for giving some insight into the songs that I hadn’t considered before.

[READ: August 31, 2010] Master of Reality

When my friend Andrew told me about this book (and the series), I assumed it was writers (or musicians) writing about their favorite albums.  I had no idea it would be like this (and, I don’t know if they are all like this).

Darnielle has created a fiction (I assume) about a young man in a psych ward in 1985.  As part of his time there he is told to write in his diary every day.  After the first or second day (in which he just writes Fuck You!) he learns that Gary, the man in charge of him, is reading the diary.  And soon, he begins to use his diary as a way to get his Walkman and cassettes back (they were taken from him when he entered the ward).

Specifically, he wants Master of Reality back.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2005 Music Issue CD (2005).

The second annual Believer CD ups the ante from the first by featuring all previously unreleased songs. And, just to put more of a twist on things, the artists were asked to do covers of songs that they have been listening to lately. There was only one song that I knew the original of (The Constantines’ track), so I can’t say a thing about how well the covers were covered.

This becomes something of a fun rarities mix CD. As with the previous one, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in the musicians, but given the target audience of The Believer, it all seems to make sense.

We get The Decemberists (actually Colin Meloy solo) covering Joanna Newsom (who I don’t know but whose song I liked quite a bit). The most interesting track to me was by a band called CocoRosie who I’m totally unfamiliar with. The song is recorded as if it they were using a 19th century recording machine. It sounds so far away and yet it feels modern at the same time. I have no idea what they normally sound like, but I’m certainly intrigued.

There’s a few parings that are practically predestined: The Mountain Goats cover The Silver Jews, The Shins cover The Postal Service and Devandra Banhart covers Antony & the Johnsons. There’s also a track from Wolf Parade, a band I have recently gotten into. Only two bands perform and are covered on the disc: Ida and The Constantines.

It’s an interesting assortment of songs. As with any cover, it’s hard to know if you would like the original artist or if you just enjoy the new artist’s’ interpretation. But a song like “Surprise, AZ” by Richard Buckner is so well written that I don’t think it matters what Cynthia G. Mason’s cover sounds like (which is quite good).

The disc is largely folky/alt-rock, but once again, it’s a good distillation of the genre, and a very enjoyable collection.  The track listing is available here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Kawabata”

This story had the (in my estimation) fascinating attribute of reading as if it were written a long time ago. The writing was very formal. It also centered around a man and a woman who meet at a bed and breakfast and do little more than walk around town. Since no real clues as to the time it is set are ever given, I could imagine them dressed in nearly turn of the (20th) century garb.

A few things do dispel this fantasy: the use of the word “tits” for one, and the fact that no married woman would have been seen out with a widower while her husband was away. But despite that, I enjoyed the formality of the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2004 Music Issue CD (2004).

Every year since 2004, The Believer magazine has published a Music Issue which comes with a CD.

I recently received the 2009 CD, but I thought it might be fun to go back through the previous ones and see what kind of music they put on them since the beginning.  I was delighted to see how many bands I like now that I was either introduced to or SHOULD have been introduced to by these discs.

The inaugural issue was a fantastic collection of then-underground alt-rock (the issue also featured interviews with a few of the artists–you can see the Colin Meloy interview here).

The collection contains all previously released songs (I think).  But for me it was a great introduction to a number of bands that I didn’t know: The Walkmen, The Mountain Goats, Ted Leo + Pharmacists.  It also contained a new release by a band I did know, The Constantines.   And, this was my introduction to a band that turned out to be one of my new favorites: Death Cab for Cutie.

There’s a lot of great songs on here, and it would make a great hanging-out-at-a-party-with-friends soundtrack.  There’s not a lot of diversity on the disc which is a bit of  a bummer (although it’s good for a mellow party).  However, the 19 second blast of “You Got the Right” by the Tiny Hawks does break things up a bit.

But with a great collection of songs it would be wrong to complain.  For a complete listing (and another review) check out this page.

[READ: December 9, 2009] “The Use of Poetry”

Ian McEwan writes fantastically engaging stories about relatively simple things, oftentimes relationships.  And he has these relationships so well sussed out that a simple six-page story like this can pack in a ton of humanity.

In a post some time ago I wrote about how World War II affected Britain much more than it affected the U.S.  And, how artists of a certain age have found great drama from the war.  This story is no exception.  Except that the war veteran is not the main character.  But I loved this summary of the main character’s dad, the typical “stoic British man.”

Like many men of his generation, he did not speak of his experiences and he relished the ordinariness of postwar life, its tranquil routines, its tidiness and rising material well-being, and above all, its lack of danger–everything that would later appear stifling to those born in the first years of the peace.

That’s an amazing encapsulation of a generation of men.  And it rings very true to me.  But what’s more amazing is that that description is not even about the main character Michael, it’s about his dad, Henry. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-Master of Reality (1971).

This album seems to have directly inspired more bands than any other Sabbath record.  There’s the band Masters of Reality (who I’ve never heard) and there’s the 1,000 Homo DJ’s EP and blistering cover for “Supernaut.”

This is one of my favorite Sabbath discs, even though, or maybe because there aren’t as many hits on it.  The story goes that since Tony Iommi had his fingertips cut off (!) he had to downtune his guitar so the strings would be looser and therefore less painful to play.  As such, this disc introduces a sort of “classic” Sabbath sludgy sound.  But even though this album doesn’t get a the airplay of Paranoid any metal fan knows a few of these songs.  “Sweet Leaf,” for instance, is quite well known.  It also makes me laugh because it is so clearly pro-drug (after all those anti-drug songs on the first two discs).  And of course, it opens with that great echoing cough (which I now assume is from someone toking up).

“After Forever” is one of those great Sabbath songs where Geezer Butler’s bass fills stand out throughout the bridges.  It also features one of Tony Iommi’s strangely “happy” sounding opening chords  The song itself is pretty dark but the chords are so upbeat!  The song has a lyric that I found shocking as a kid: “would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”  And of course, the guitar solo flies wildly around your head from one speaker to the other.

“Embryo” is a strange middle eastern sounding 30 second instrumental that segues into the awesome “Children of the Grave.”  It’s one of those Sabbath songs that sounds menacing all the way through.  There’s a weird clicking sound in the verses that I assume is Geezer Butler’s de-tuned, incredibly loose bass strings slapping the fretboard.  And, of course, it ends with a wonderfully warped ghostly guitar feedback sounds and the whispered “Ch ch ch ch children.”

The second half of the disc is quite different from the first.  “Orchid” is a delightful 90 second acoustic guitar workout.  And it segues into “Lord of This World” a real rock and roll sounding song (featuring some great Ozzy screaming).  “Solitude” is like “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid, in that it’s a slow, trippy psychedelic sense (is it possible that Sabbath didn’t know that they were a metal band?).

Finally comes “Into the Void.”  This was one of the first songs I’d ever learned on guitar.  My guitar teacher liked the down-tuned low E string aspect of it, and I still enjoy playing it today.

As my friend Andrew pointed out the other day, John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats has written a 33 1/3 book about Master of Reality.  While I haven’t read it yet, Darnielle is pretty cool, so I assume it’s a great read if you like this disc.

[READ: November 30, 2009] “Loggerheads”

Not every David Sedaris piece is funny.  We know he’s not a comedian, per se, although he is certainly a humorous writer.  We also know that some Sedaris pieces are kind of disgusting.  He tends to delight in the grotesque.  However, in this piece he combines the disgusting with the non-humorous to create a very unsatisfying piece. (more…)

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