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Archive for the ‘The Velvet Underground’ Category

assclassSOUNDTRACK: OUGHT-More Than Any Other Day [CST103] (2014).

oughtmoreOught might just be the most straightforward band every released by Constellation Records. They are a rock/punk band with some spoken word singing that sound at times like Mark E. Smith.  However, the music is a bit catchier than The Fall’s with fast moments and really slow almost ambient stretches.

“Pleasant Heart” opens with a raw echoing guitar riff and chords that sound like nothing else on the album.   The song lurches through some great sounds and Beeler’s unusual chanting style of singing.  There’s also a cool bass line rumbling throughout the song built with lots of drum fills and chaos.

About half way through this six-minute song the bass and drums drop out leaving just a squeaky violin and harmonic guitar (this squeaky violin is possibly the only thing that makes this record sound like a Constellation release).  The bass comes back in slowly.  But it’s not until almost two minutes of this instrumental that the song resumes with a crunch and the lurching melody and verses continue until the end.

“Today More Than Any Other Day” was the first Ought song that really grabbed me.  It starts out slowly with some spare drums and meandering bass.  It doesn’t really feel like its going to resolve into anything.  By a minute and a half it’s finally starting to sound like something–a slow meandering song perhaps.  Around 2 minutes Beeler starts whispering “we’re sinking deeper, and sinking deeper.”  And then the song starts building and turning into something else .  We’re now half way through this 5 minutes song when the guitar starts chiming and he states “The name of this song is ‘Today more than any other day Parts 4-43.  So open up your textbooks … or any kind of reading material.”  And as the guitar plays the verses he recites various things that have happened today more than any other day (making a “decision between 2% and whole milk.”  A cool bass line starts playing as else drops away and he starts chanting a rather laconic “dah dah dah dah dah” following the bass.  It reminds me, strangely enough of the Dead Milkmen as its kind of not exactly out of tune but almost as if  not really caring.  But when the song resumes, it’s all right on again.  It’s a weird and wonderful, strangely catchy song.

“Habit” opens with a nice slow bass riff and chiming guitars.  It brings the intensity of the previous song down some.  And the vocals sound a little different, especially in the chorus, where the whole song take on a kind of Talking Heads vibe (the falsetto singing in particular).  It slows down toward the end with some scraping violins. The song is quite pretty in an alt-sorta way.

I love “The Weather Song” from the opening harmonics and intriguing bass line to the way the song suddenly ramps up for the chorus.  In addition to the catchy spoken opening there’s a great chorus of “I …. just wanna revel in your lies.”

“Forgiveness” is a relatively short 4 and a half minutes and opens with almost an organ sound.  A scraping violin sound joins the drones. After 2 minutes he sings in a very slow drawl “forgiveness is a drug that you take with a shrug.”  It has echoes of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” although it never changes tempo or intensity.

“Around Again” has a very 1980s guitar riff and whispered vocals until the whole band kicks in and it grows in intensity.  And then the whispered “go slow” returns the song to the beginning.  After 3 minutes, the song builds and then drops out with a spoken: “It’s coming. Why is it you can’t stand under the sun but you can stick your head into a bucket of water and breathe in deep” and then a whole new sound of dissonant guitar and thudded bass and drums “we have reached the intermission.”  But it’s not an intermission it goes through to the end of the song like this.

“Clarity!” opens with what sound to me like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” but with guitar chunks played over the top.  Slow harmonics and whispered vocals move the song forward.  After 2 minutes it rocks out, with a returning ringing high note and interesting sound effects.  And by the end the song comes to a plunging conclusion

“Gemini” opens with some low rumbling notes and then a sprinkling of keyboards.  There’s some scratchy guitars and a rumbling bass.  After 2 and a half minutes, the song’s punky parts take over with jagged guitars and screamed vocals.  The end of the song is mostly just two-note thumping while he screams “you wanted … wanted … wanted … wanted.”

I really like this album a lot.

I noticed that the lead singer changes his name on each release.  So, to help keep it straight:

PERSONNEL
Matt May: Keys
Ben Stidworthy: Bass
Tim Keen: Drums, Violin
Tim Beeler: Vocals, Guitar

[READ: September 20, 2016] Assassination Classroom 1

Assassination Classroom has a very strange and unsettling premise–the students of this classroom are being taught to assassinate their teacher.  Given the current climate of guns in the US, that’s probably not a comfortable position to take.  However, Matsui alters the premise to make it more palatable, and frankly more fun. The students’ teacher is actually an alien (or maybe not, but it is certainly not human).  He (I guess) is a multi-tentacled creature who can move at Mach 20, is exceptionally perceptive and can’t be harmed by most conventional weapons.  But wait, there’s more.  The students are sent to assassinate this particular creature because he blew a huge chunk out of the moon (it’s now a permanent crescent) and is planning to do the same to the earth in a year’s time.  But wait, there’s more.  One of his conditions for not blowing up the Earth sooner is that he be allowed to teach this particular classroom.  Although no one is sure why yet.

The class is 3-E, the lowest of the low, the worst students in the very prestigious Kunugigaoka Junior High.  The 3-E class are misfits–they were smart enough to get into the school, but they have done something wrong and they are treated very poorly because of it.  In fact, 3-E is used as a kind of cautionary tale for the other students–act up and you could wind up like them.  (Why they don’t just leave the school is not addressed).

The kids call the creature Koro Sensi (which is a pun on the Japanese “Koro senai” which means “can’t kill”), and it turns out he is actually a pretty great teacher.  He really seems to care about the kids.  So why would they want to kill him?  Well, aside from the destruction of the planet, there is also a ten billion yen reward (the amount seems to change some in the book, but it’s roughly 100 million dollars).  Of course, as the name implies, this guy is really hard to kill.  And when they try to kill him in a way he finds beneath them (they are training to be great assassins after all), his own revenge will be swift.  At the same time, he heartily encourages them to try their best to kill him–and he applauds their most creative efforts. (more…)

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guibertSOUNDTRACK: JACKSON BROWNE-Tiny Desk Concert #394 (October 6, 2014).

jbI don’t really think much of Jackson Browne.  He’s always been a staple of classic rock radio, but I never especially sought him out. His voice is unique and recognizable although if pressed I can’t think of the names of any of his songs (but I’d know them immediately if I heard them).

Bob Boilen talked with Browne in his book and that’s where I learned that Browne dated Nico from The Velvet Underground fame and even wrote songs for her.  I also learned that he is quite the activist.  And that he plays a lot in California with various performers (the blurb says “he’s largely free of obligations”–that’s a nice phrasing).

He plays three songs here.  I assume they’re all new as I don’t recognize them.  And they all sound very much like Jackson Browne.  He voice is largely the same although it does crack and break a few times (could that be the setting or the time of day or does he just accept that he’s getting older?).

It’s also interesting that Browne plays the rhythm guitar for most of the songs–allowing Val McCallum to play the lead guitar and Greg Leisz to play “all manner of stringed things” (including the slide guitar solos).

The three songs are “Call It A Loan,” “The Barricades Of Heaven” and “Long Way Around.”  I’m surprised at just how long these three songs are (the whole set comes in around 20 minutes).

Before “Long Way Around” (which is quite political), he says that they’re “Lucky to play for such an informed group.”  Bob says they stopped the news–there’s no news being made–so that Browne could play.

Some of the lines in “Long Way Around” are: “It’s hard to say which did more ill, Citizen United or the gulf oil spill” and “It’s never been that hard to buy a gun, now they’ll sell a Glock 19 to just about anyone.”

The songs are nicely accentuated by the backing vocals of Jeff Young who also plays keyboards for them but which they couldn’t bring.

This is a delightful, mellow (and thoughtful) set of music (with a huge crowd watching).  And there’s a funny moment at the end where someone triggers a James Brown doll and Browne does a pretty good “hit me!”

[READ: March 2, 2016] How the World Was

I was intrigued to read this book by Emmanuel Guibert because I’ve really enjoyed his work lately.  But how was I to know that How the World Was is a prequel of sorts to Alan’s War?  It was also translated by Kathryn Pulver.

This book is a”loving, immersive portrait of Alan Cope.”  Cope was born in 1925 when California was still the frontier and life was simpler and harsher.  And Guibert felt that it was a gift for Cope “in the last moments of his life” (unlike in Alan’s War there’s no word on whether Cope saw this book).

So this book is indeed all about Cope’s childhood.  And while he did have some pretty interesting things happen to him, his childhood was in no way extraordinary.   This is just a simple portrait of growing up in Californians in the 1920 s and 1930s as seen from one man’s eyes. (more…)

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

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

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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 dancingSOUNDTRACK: deLILLOS-“Forelsket” (1987).

delilloKarl Ove mentions many bands in this book, but the deLillos are the only Norwegian band that he plays.  They sing in Norwegian and play sprightly, jangly guitar pop–they would fit in very well with some of the lighter alt bands from the late 80s and early 90s.

I have no idea what they’re singing about (well, the title translates to “love” so I guess I know what they are singing about.

The singer has a high, delicate voice and there’s some interesting harmonies.  I really like the way the song transitions from verse to chorus with the picked guitar notes–very catchy.

It comes from their second album, Før var det morsomt med sne  (Before it was fun in the snow), which along with their first was quite popular and was reissued with a bonus disc in the 90s.  Having said that I see that Amazon has one copy of the disc and no album cover listed.  Worse yet, I can’t find many other songs online (Spotify lists the album, but I can’t get it to play).

Sorry, deLillos (even searching for you gives us more Don DeLillo than you guys).

[READ: June 24, 2014] My Struggle Book Four

struggle4I started including the British edition page numbers because at my work we received both editions of the book, and I received the British one first so I grabbed it and started reading.  I noticed the page numbers were quite different (the British book is taller and the print is quite bigger, although this doesn’t explain why the previous books have fewer pages).

I had been interested in the differences between editions from the get go.  I had enjoyed the American editions, but I enjoyed reading this British edition more (bigger print?).  But when I noticed on one of the pages that the word “realise” was spelled as I typed it, it made me wonder if the American edition changed that to the American spelling.  [Actually, I see that Don Bartlett lives in Virginia, so perhaps he translates it into American first].  While I wasn’t about to go into a deep inspection of the topic, when I saw the American edition on a shelf at work, I had to do a little comparison.

And what I found out was that even though Don Bartlett is the (amazing) translator for both editions, someone (perhaps Bartlett himself?) is translating the American into British (or vice versa).  I looked at a couple of pages and noticed these changes from British to American:

  • BRITISH EDITION = AMERICAN EDITION
  • Pack it in, now = Give it up, now
  • roll-up = rollie [about hand rolled cigarettes]
  • looked daggers at = gave her a dirty look
  • a complete prat = completely useless
  • is that possible? = really?
  • to cook and wash up = cooking and doing the dishes
  • I had got = I’d gotten
  • had penned = had written
  • and yes, realised = realized.

Other than select phrases, every word is exactly the same.  So somebody goes through the books and changes them to British english idioms and spellings.  That’s fascinating.

I also see that this is the first book I had not read an excerpt from first.  Not that it would have made any difference as to whether I read the fourth one.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

So book four is set in Håfjord, a town in Northern Norway near Finnsnes (a five hour flight away–okay I had no idea Norway was so big!).  Karl Ove is 18 and has decided to become a grade school teacher there for one year.  The tax breaks are great if you teach, and he plans to teach and write his masterpieces and then get out.  He has no interest in teaching, but the town is small (most grades are 3-7 students), so he figures it can’t be too hard.

As in most of Karl Ove’s books, the stories jump around and flash back and do not stay all in this one time, but it is largely set in this locale.

My first thought was that I have never read a story with as much semen (both nocturnal emission and premature ejaculation) in my life.  It is a strange take away from the book, but there it is.  Karl Ove is 18 and really wants to have sex for the first time.  About 3/4 of the way through the book he reveals that he never masturbated (it just never occurred to him, apparently, and at 18 he’s too old to start–what!?).  As such, he seems to have wet dreams every night.  And every time he gets near a woman, he has an orgasm too soon.  He is horny all the time–it’s a bit disconcerting.

And since I mentioned that, I don’t know if Karl Ove’s life is typical of Norway, but I am shocked by the number of women who take their clothes off around him (he may have never had sex, but he was about to on at least a half-dozen occasions).  And he says that all through school (from around age 13 and up) it was common place for the boys to lift up the girls’ shirts and kiss and or fondle their breasts.  It is mind-boggling to me.  And the 16 year olds all seem to be having sex all the time–this may be skewed from Karl Ove’s perspective, but that’s what I now believe happens in Norway.

But while sex is the main theme of the book–sex, sex sex, there is more to it.

Karl Ove’s parents have split up and his father has started drinking in earnest.  The dad has remarried and has just had a baby.  Incidentally, I was also shocked to read that Karl Ove’s father, who is an abusive stodgy old man who is cranky and mean and abusive and all the stuff that we read about in the other volumes was only 43 at the time that Karl Ove was 18.  So the old man who I pictured as a gray-haired curmudgeon in this book is actually younger than me.  Great.

In Håfjord, Karl Ove is teaching kids who range from age 13 to 16.  It’s disconcerting to read about him thinking lustful thoughts about his students, until he reminds us that for most of the students, he is only 2 years older than them.  I am pleased to say that he behaves himself (except in his mind) with all of the students.  There’s even a really interesting flash forward to eleven years later when he runs into two of them again.

He proves to be a pretty decent teacher it seems.  The kids mostly like him (the girls all think he is hot) and he is young and tries to make it fun (he himself hated school and everything about it).  He even seems to help out an awkward boy (although that is never resolved).  We see him teaching, trying to interact with the kids and generally being a pretty good guy.

Until the booze comes out.

For in addition to semen, this book is chock full of alcohol.  Before graduating from gymnas (high school), Karl Ove basically stopped caring about anything.  He spent most of his time drunk.  It is astonishing the amount of drinking he does–it’s practically like an Amish Rumspringa how crazy he goes.  But even in this retrospective look, he talks about how much he likes it, how it loosens him up and makes him less nervous.

But really he just spends most of his time drunk, hungover or sick. He even got into the hash scene for a while.  He was living with his mom at the time and she was appalled at the way he acted–especially when he threw a party which trashed their house.   She even kicked him out for a time.

He seemed to be over the drink in Håfjord, but it turns out that there’s precious little else to do except drink up there, especially when it grows dark for most of the day.  So there is much drinking–he only misses class once or twice because of it but he comes very close a lot.

The irony that he is appalled at his father’s drinking, while drinking so much himself, is apparently lost on him.

The other main preoccupation with Karl Ove is music.   He talks a lot about his great taste in music (he reminds me of me–a little insufferable).  Back when he was in gymnas, he spent a lot of time discussing his favorite bands and favorite songs.  He got a job (at 16) writing reviews for a local paper (holy crap, jealous!) and then later gets a job writing a column for another paper.  For the previous book I listed a lot of the bands he mentioned, and I wish I had written them down for this one.  U2 features prominently (this is 1987, so I’m guessing Joshua Tree), but also Talking Heads, a Scottish post-punk/new wave band The Associates and their album Sulk which he describes as “an utterly insane LP.”  he and his brother really like The Church and Simple Minds (before they got so commercial).  He also has a whole thread in which he makes connections with albums:

Briano Eno, for example, started in Roxy Music, released solo records, produced U2 and worked with Jon Hassell, David Byrne, David Bowie, and Robert Fripp; Robert Fripp played on Bowie’s Scary Monsters; Bowie produced Lou Reed, who came from Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop, who came from the Stooges, while David Byrne was in Talking Heads, who on their best record, Remain in Light, used the guitarist Adrian Belew, who in turn played on several of Bowie’s records and was his favorite live guitarist for years. (64).

He also specifically raves about “The Great Curve” from the Talking Heads album, and of course, he raves about the first Led Zeppelin album as well.

Music is a huge part of his life (and he dresses accordingly too).  It’s unclear whether the kids think this is awesome or not, but he may be a bit too much for some of the locals.  The locals are mostly fishermen (which makes sense), and Karl Ove is a bit intimidated that he is so wimpy compared to them–one of the women even teases him about his tiny arms.

But his main focus is writing.  He writes a few shorts stories (to my knowledge he has never published any of them).  We see some excerpts and they seem fine–he fancies himself Hemingway.  But he also mentions a bunch of Norwegian authors (I love when he does that).  Sadly again, not too many of them have been translated into English.  [I really hope that some mega fan creates a database of all of the bands and authors he mentions].  He also talks briefly about his first novel which alludes to his time teaching here.  I happened to read a small summary of said novel (Out of the World) and feared that it spoiled what was going to happen.  But, in fact there does appear to be a difference between his fiction and non-fiction.

The book moves very quickly–from party to party, from failed sexual attempt to the next, even from his staying up all night long trying to write.  And most of the time he comes off as kind of a dick–he is also very self-critical, which somehow tempers that dickishness.

As with the other books I cannot figure out exactly why I am so addicted to his writing.  I brought the book home on Thursday night and finished it (all 548 pages of it) Monday night.  This really completes the picture of himself as he moved from childhood to adulthood and really lays the foundation for whatever is to come next.   Early in the book he talks about the books that he loved at that age, books that talk about the move from childhood to adulthood.  And thus, this book becomes something of a bildungsroman as well.  Although whether or not Karl Ove actually grew up at the end of this book will have to wait until volume 5 (which I have to assume is still another year away as there is no information about it online at all!).

For ease of searching, I include: Hafjord, For var det morsomt med sne.

 

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jun9SOUNDTRACK: FOXYGEN-We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (2013).

foxyI had no idea this was Foxygen’s third album (they have a new album out this week as well).  I had only heard of this because of NPR.  And I was delighted with the band’s utterly retro feel and sound–so much retro that it is almost too much.  But they do it with such flair that it works.  Indeed, the whole feeling of this album is one of sampling all of recent music history–with elements thrown in haphazardly (but effectively) and really celebrating a whole 60s/70s vibe with a sprinkling of modern technology.

“In the Darkness” is a 2 minute piano heavy track with horns, big swelling vocals chorals and all kinds of joy.  “No Destruction” though is where the retro sound really shines.  Sounding like a Velvet Underground track with a sweeter singer (who is no less blase).  Except that the chorus rises into a glorious hippie happiness.  It also features funny lines like the deadpan, “There’s no need to be an assshole you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

“On Blue Mountain” opens with a kind of Flaming Lips vibe (deep morphing voices counting down), but Sam France has a much higher pitched voice as he sings the slow intro.  Once the song kicks in faster, the real hippy vibe (combined with some Rolling Stones and some girlie backing vocals) kick in.  There’s even a big friendly chorus (that reminds me of “Suspicious Minds”).  After almost 4 minutes, the song shifts gears entirely into a raucous sing along  (with what sounds like a children’s choir).

After the manic intensity of “Mountain,” “San Francisco” emerges as a sweet delicate flute filled hippie song.  This was the first song I heard by them and I loved it immediately–the simple melody, the delicate (funny) female responses, the swelling strings. it was delightful.  “Bowling Trophies” is a weird little less than two-minute instrumental that leads to the glorious “Shuggie.”  “Shuggie” is the least hippie song on the album and screams more of a kind of French disco pop, with some wonderful lyrics.  The chorus is just a rollicking good time and the wah wah synth solo is terrific.  At three and a half minutes the song is just way too short, although it seems that anything that last longer than 4 minutes will shift gears into something else eventually anyway.

“Oh Yeah” brings in a staggered kind of sound, with some interesting breaks and stops.  It also inserts some doo-wop into it.  I love how the end once again shifts gears into a “freak out” with a wild guitar solo and fast drums.  The title song is fuzzy and distorted (the vocals are nearly inaudible).  It’s fast paced but still very retro sounding (Jefferson Airplane?) except for the modern electronic and guitar breaks.  And of course, the last minute is entirely different from the rest of the song, as well.

The album ends with “Oh No 2,” a five-minute track that begins as a slow swelling almost soundtrack song.  Indeed, when the spoken word part (“I was standing on the bed, birds were landing on my head”) emerges later on, it comes close to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which is not a bad thing), including the piano outro (with slightly out of tune voice).

This whole album could just be an obnoxious rip off of old timey sounds, but instead it’s more like a fun reference point for those who know the music and just a fun good time for those who don’t.  And at something like 35 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: September 17, 2014] “The Bad Graft”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  In addition to all of the shorter pieces that were included in this issue, there were also four fiction contributions.

This was the final story in this issue and, sadly for me, it was the one I liked least.  It has three sections: I. Germination; II. Emergence; III. Establishment.  And while I enjoyed (mostly) section I., I really didn’t enjoy the turn the story took once it entered section II and the “plot” emerged.

The story opens with two young (actually not that young) lovers traveling towards Joshua Tree.  This couple is madly in love and are basically eloping.  Except, of course, that they don’t want to ever get married, so it is a symbolic elopement.  On their first date they had decided to run away together.  They left their homes in Pennsylvania more or less unannounced, took all their money and drove to the desert.

Andy and Angie, for that is what their names are, prepared well with Andy having, among other things a large knife (note to Chekovians).  After a few days they are startled to discover how expensive this road trip is.  But they are undaunted because they are in love.  Of course, they are also exhausted and perhaps a little on edge.

When they arrive at Joshua Tree, it is 106 degrees.  The park ranger informs them that they have arrived in time to see the yucca moths do their magic with the trees.  he calls it, the ‘pulse event.”  The entire range of Joshuas is in bloom and the moths are smitten.  This sounds exciting but it is also sad, as the Joshua Teees may be on the brink of extinction and this massive blossoming is like a distress call.

With all of this set up, it is a total surprise when half way through the section, the story informs is that “This is where the bad graft occurs.” (more…)

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Harpers-1404-302x410SOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-VELVET UNDERGROUND: Velvet Underground & Nico (2010).

velvetAccording to the Beck/Record Club website:

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. As you will hear, some of the songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens. And those who aren’t familiar with the albums in question will hopefully look for the songs in their definitive versions.

Introducing this first recording, Beck explains:

For this first edition, after lengthy deliberation and coming close to covering Digital Underground’s Sex Packets, all present voted in favor of the ‘other’ Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico. Participants included this time around are Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Brian Lebarton, Bram Inscore, Yo, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Holmes, and from Iceland, special guest Thorunn Magnusdottir, and myself. Thanks to everyone who helped put this together, and to all of you for indulging in this experiment. More soon.

That’s a lot of introduction for this record, which, as you have surmised is a full cover of the Velvet Underground’s debut album.  And, as the blurb promises, it is chaotic, but often charming.  I am not a huge Velvet Underground fan, although I have this and some of their other albums.  I appreciate them more for what they spawned than what they played.  But having said that I know this record pretty well.  I did make a point of not listening to the original before listening to this.

The track listing:

Sunday Morning (3:15).  This version is pretty faithful.  Beck sings and sounds a bit like Lou Reed.
I’m Waiting For The Man (4:04).  This song is very silly indeed–instruments detuned and loopy sounding.  It’s a little funny but a little annoying too.
Femme Fatale (2:42).  This is a straight version with Beck taking the Nico part and doing a nice job of it.
Venus In Furs (5:22).  This song is a little noisy & feedbacky but it’s a great version. Probably my favorite song of the bunch.
Run Run Run (4:25).  They’ve turned this into a little synth pop song.
All Tomorrow’s Parties (5:16).  This has vocals by Thorunn Magnusdottir.  She doesn’t quite have whatever Nico had and consequently although the songs tarts out pretty, the length and tempo turns it a little dull by the end.
Heroin (6:40).  This version is insane, with Brian Lebarton getting more and more frantic.  If the instruments didn’t sounds so cheap, the intensity would be pretty awesome.  But it’s a little wonky sounding (and a too long).
There She Goes Again (3:02).  This song is like “Waiting for the Man” detuned and silly.
I’ll Be Your Mirror (2:33).  This is a pretty version which would, once again sound a little better if the instruments didn’t sound cheap.
Black Angel’s Death Song (3:43). Beck sounds more like Dylan on this song, which i don’t know that well at all.
European Son (3:26).  This song is a little dull, I don’t recognize it.
Heroin (Bonus Alternate Version) (5:05).  This version of Heroin is a bit more reasonable than the other version, although I wish it had a little of the first version’s chaos.  Maybe a meeting of the two would be ideal.

So this is a fun project where talented friends get to make some music together.  It gets an even higher “grade” overall because he’s not releasing it officially, not asking money for it.  Not every song is a winner, but those that win are quite good.

[READ: March 17, 2014] “Family and Others”

Nadezhda Teffi was alive from 1872-1952 and wrote this in 1912.  It was translated from the Russian by Anna Summers.

This is a very simple story that doesn’t feel like a story so much as a friendly lecture about family.  The story begins with the statement that we tend to divide people in to family and others.  Which is true.  he continues that Family knows everything about us while Others know very little about us.  Sometimes when people get closer, they move from other to family.  However, it is the family that tends to give us the most grief.

When you are sick, others send you flowers but family interrogate you about when you caught the cold and what you were doing when you got it.  They don’t try to make you feel better, they want to know more about the problem.  He offers several similar situations in which family is less than cuddly with us.

(more…)

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