Archive for the ‘Ulver’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Shadows of the Sun (2007).

I really wanted to like this album because of the cover–which is striking.  I know, I know, never judge…  My initial reaction to the disc was kind of poor.  I’ve followed Ulver’s progress through their many incarnations, and it’s not entirely surprising that they should make an entirely ambient record.  It just strikes me as an odd release–mellow and almost lullaby-ish but also a little creepy (the voice mostly).

But at the same time, musically it’s quite pretty.  And while it wasn’t a very good listen for a car trip to work, it was actually really perfect for listening to at work–where headphones allowed for hearing so many nuances.

There’s not much point in a song by song listing, as the songs are similar–washes of music with slightly distorted, deep vocals.   But there are some interesting musical choices that make each song unique, and consequently better than a lot of ambient in which all of the songs use the same musical palette.  “All the Love” employs piano and come cool electronic sounds near the end.

“Let the Children Go” is a much darker song (with drums!).  “Solitude” is the most melodic song of the bunch.  It reminds me of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (which should tell you something about the overall tone of the album).  It has a noticeable vocal line (and really audible lyrics, which are quite melancholy and more emotional that I would have expected: “You just left when I begged you to stay.  I’ve not stopped crying since you went away.”

Another observation.  At times when he actually sings, the vocals sound a bit like XTC–“Shadows of the Sun” in particular.  And since that song has pianos it’s not inconceivable that this could sound like XTC (although not really).

With the right atmosphere, this record proves to be a very impressive listen.  Kristoffer Rygg’s vocals really suit the mood and, all in all, it does reflect the album cover rather more than I initially thought.

[READ: March 18, 2012] The Marriage Plot

I had put this book on hold a few months ago.  And I was ninety-something on the list, so I didn’t think too much about it.  I looked the other day and I was 10.  Yipes.  How was I going to read this 400 page book  in three weeks while also reading Gravity’s Rainbow??

Well, amazingly, The Marriage Plot worked as a nice foil to GR. It is a supremely easy read.  It is completely uncomplicated.  And, it actually has some unexpected parallels to GR–specifically, two of the characters travel to Europe, one on a pilgrimage the other on a honeymoon, and they travel to Paris, Geneva, Spain, Zürich, and even Nice.  There is literally no connection between these two books (although Mitchell does bring Pynchon’s V along with him), but it was fun to see new people go to the cities that Slothrop has been traveling to for very different reasons.

I powered through the book, reading large chunks and staying up way too late both because I liked the book and because I wanted to get it back on time (beware the library police!).  And there really is something about finishing a book quickly, it really keeps the story and characters fresh and makes the experience more enjoyable.

But on to the book.

This book centers around three people in a kind of lover’s triangle.  The woman at the center is Madeleine (and yes there are wonderful tie-ins to Madeline the children’s book series). The two men are Leonard and Mitchell.  All three of them are graduating from Brown in the mid 80s.

I identified with the book immediately because Madeleine is an English major (as was I).  She studies the Victorian era [and I had just read the piece by Franzen about Edith Wharton] and is on track to write her thesis on this era.  The title of the book comes from this section–novels written at that time were especially focused on marriage–if a woman did not marry, she was more or less doomed, and so the plots centered around her quest to find a suitable mate.  As Franzen noted in the above article, Wharton and some of her predecessors sounded the death knell for the “marriage plot” and Madeleine was going to do her thesis on that.

As the pieces of the triangle fall into place we learn (skeletal at first with much detail added later) that Madeleine and Mitchell were very good friends initially.  So good, in fact, that she invited him back to her parents house for a vacation.  He was head over heels in love with; however, out of fear (mostly) he never acted on the opportunities she gave him, and she thought that he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship.  Basically, he blew it (although he doesn’t learn this until much later–I can relate to this all too well). As the story opens, she has just woken up, hungover, smelling of a party, with a mysterious stain on her dress.  She knows she did something with someone last night but she’s not sure what.  Not atypical college behavior.  But the kicker is that it is graduation morning and her parents are ringing the doorbell of her dorm right now. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-A Quick Fix of Melancholy (2005).

This EP came two years after Teachings in Silence (with a movie soundtrack and “greatest hits” collection in between).  This first track, “Little Blue Bird” is a simple soundscape with echoey keyboards.  When Garm starts singing, his most emotional side comes through (even if I really can’t understand him most of the time).

“Doom Sticks” belies its name and the EP title by being somewhat upbeat.  There are kind of squeaky keyboards that pulsate through the track.  After about a minute and a half, distorted drums keep a martial beat.  But it quickly morphs into a twinkly section that makes me think of the Nutcracker or some other kind of Christmas special.

“Vowels” is similarly upbeat (the music on both of these two tracks has a vaguely Christmastime feel somewhere in there–not that anyone would think these were in any way Christmas songs, or maybe it’s because I’m listening in mid-December).  For this, we get a return of Garm’s choral voice: deep, resonant and hard to understand (although I undertsand the lyrics are from a poem by Christian Bok).   But the poem quickly makes way for some dramatic staccato strings. 

“Eitttlane” begins with some menacing keybaords and staccato notes, creating a feel of a noir movie.  But when the vocal choir comes in, it gets even more sinister.

These Ulver EPs are really true EPs–stopgap recordings for fans.  Their larger works tend to be more substantial, but these EPs allow them to play around with different styles.

[READ: December 1, 2011] “Laureate of Terror”

Two authors I admire in one article, how about that!  In this book review, Martin Amis reviews Don DeLillo’s first collection of short stories and gives a summary of DeLillo’s work.

Amis opens the article by undermining my plans for this blog.  He states point blank than when we say we love an author’s works, we “really mean…that we love about half of it.”  He gives an example of how people who love Joyce pretty much only love Ulysses, that George Eliot gave us one readable book and that “every page of Dickens contains a paragraph to warm to and a paragraph to veer back from.”  Also, Janeites will “never admit that three of the six novels are comparative weaklings (Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Persusaion).  [I still hope to read all of the books by the authors I like].

Amis says he loves DeLillo (by which he means, End Zone, Running Dog, White Noise, Libra, Mao II and the first and last section of Underworld).  And he also seems to really like The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories,(well, much of it anyway), DeLillo’s first (!) short story collection

His main assement is that these pieces are a vital addition to DeLillo’s corpus.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Teachings In Silence (2002).

This EP is a collection of Ulver’s two previous limited edition EPs: Silence Teaches You How to Sing and Silencing the Singing.  It was originally released as a limited edition of 1000 copies, but has since been given wide release.  The two EPs that it replaced were officially retired (after print runs of 2000 and 3000 respectively).

“Silence Teaches You How to Sing” seems like perhaps Ulver has pulled a fast one.  The song starts with static…waves of static.  And you think, what, 24 minutes of THIS?  But after about four minutes, some quiet guitars layer through the static.  By 5 minutes a melody emerges, rather Twin Peaks theme-like.  Static resumes and then another wave of music bursts through and then, around 11 minutes, distant voices can be heard.  As the track nears the end you can hear a distant choir.  And by the end you’re listening so intently that you hear all kinds of things.

That was the only track on the first EP.  The second EP had three shorter tracks.  They are in a similar style to Silence, although there is more music.  “Darling Didn’t We Kill You” has a somber guitar melody and distant choral voices or a buzzing drone.

“Speak Dead Speaker” is more static (it’s easy to see why these two EPs were bundled together).  There’s more Twin Peaks style washes over the static.  I keep picturing the Pacific Northwest.  The last two minutes are a surprise cello version of the themes from the first 7 minutes.  It’s lovely and sorrowful.

The final track is a beautiful melody that repeats itself more and more quietly (with a wonderful loud funeral bell keeping time).  It repeats its cycle three times before ending.

Ulver continues to confound listeners.  Neither one of these EPs is really essential, but they are both interesting and really create a mood.

[READ: November 3, 2011] “Nilda”

This is the final uncollected story (according to Wikipedia anyhow) by Junot Díaz that I was able to access online.  There are two more stories “Invierno” (Glimmer Train 1998) and “Flaca” (Story, Autumn 1999) that I can’t seem to access online.  The rest of the listed short stories appear in Drown

This story is about longing and making the wrong choices.  Having read a bunch of Junot Díaz stories lately, this feels very much like a story he would write (I probably should have read Drown before I read these stories, but when I get to it, I’ll be able to confirm my suspicions).

In this story, Yunior, who is evidently the constant narrator in his earlier works (and in Oscar Wao) knows Nilda from school.  She was a friend of his–a kind of teasable friend–until puberty hit and her chest was to die for.  Unfortunately for Yunior, they were already friends, and she was off with other boys.

Indeed, Nilda was trouble more or less from the start–“brown trash,” he calls her.  Her mother was an alcoholic and Nilda was defiant.  She even spent time in a group home.  But she was nice and easy to talk to.  Dammit, why did she have to start dating Yunior’s brother Rafa? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Perdition City: An Interior Soundtrack (2000).

Uver’s previous EP hinted at what would come next–electronic ambient tunes.  But it didn’t quite prepare anyone for this–a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist.  And yet with a title like Perdition City, you can pretty well anticipate the music that’s coming: think noir.

It is more electronica, and yet it is not just electronica.  The opening song “Lost in Moments” has a saxophone (!) solo.  And the song sounds like a perfect David Lynch/noir soundtrack to a dark and stormy night. 

What’s novel about the approach are the electronic noises and eccentric drum beats that punctuate the track.  The second track, “Porn Piece or The Scars of Cold Kisses” is broken into two parts: the first is a low, rumbling section with skittery noises and the second part has soulful singing (Garm, the only consistent member of Ulver (who goes by a different name on just about every record) has a surprising range of voices at his disposal).

“Hallways of Always,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “The Future Sound of Music” are sort of ambient tracks.  “Hallways” is quiet while “Future” grows in volume and chaos as the song proceeds.  “Tomorrow” is the most menacing of the three, projecting a state of noise and tension.  The interesting thing about these tracks is that although they seem like pretty conventional electronic instrumentals, they are actually fairly complicated in detail.  Some of the electronic pieces go on a bit too long, but as they are meant to be atmospheric rather than narrative, I guess that’s okay.

“We Are the Dead” bring in vocals again.  This time, it’s a spoken word narration over distorted radio voices.  And “Dead City Centers” also brings back some vocals.  Although only after about 4 minutes of noises and tension.  This time the vocals are more ominous (as the music grows more intense).

“Catalept” is the most interesting track on the disc–a remix of music from Psycho.  While the final song “Nowhere/Catastrophe” is an actual song–verses and vocals!  It’s a fairly soft song but it has moments of darkness that are quite cool. 

As a soundtrack this works wonders.  And if Ulver wanted to get into the soundtrack business, apparently their model of “making up your own soundtrack” worked.  Since this release they have recorded the soundtracks for two external films. 

As an overall release it’s a bit all over the place–jazzy sax, electronica, spoken word.  The mood is pretty consistent though, and although I don’t think I would do what the liner notes recommend: “This is music for the stations before and after sleep.  Headphones and darkness recommended,” I still enjoyed it.

[READ:  November 5, 2011] “Alma”

This is a very short story that falls pretty squarely into standard Junot Díaz territory (he says, having read like four pieces by him). 

I’m fascinated by these stories because Díaz is all about women being super hot and yet they are never objectified.  Well, in some ways they are of course–he lingers over their bodies as he describes them, but they are never just a body.  They are often smart or interesting, they are strong and powerful, and even when they are victimized (some by cheating boyfriends, others by far worse), they either fight back or get themselves to safety.  It’s nice to read about powerful women,even if the point of view is from her boyfriend.

This is the story of a young man falling hard for a hot woman (with a beautiful ass).  What fascinates me about Junot Díaz’s stories is that the women that his narrators fall for are Dominican, but they are also alternative to their culture.  So in this case, Alma is a “Sonic Youth, comic-book-reading alternatina” which makes me like her already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Metamorphosis EP (1999).

After Ulver’s first CD, they jumped around in genres (their second was a kind of folk CD and their third CD was more black metal–I have not heard either one).  Their 4th CD was the William Blake CD of crazed experimental music.  And then they released this EP.  And I can’t think of too many bands who keep their fans guessing as much as these guys do.  This EP is full on electronica.  Dark electronica, yes, but still, it’s all electronic.

There are four songs.  The first one, “Of Wolves and Vibrancy” is like  rocking dance song from the 90s (like The Prodigy).  The drums are quite intense.  While the second song, “Gnosis” is a slower, more ambient track. There are still loud drums, but the pace is slower and less manic. At around the 6 minutes mark vocals come in.  They sound like some of Metallica’s chanting voices on later albums.

Track three, “Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City)” is less than 4 minutes long.  It’ s another dark electronic soundtrack with more great drums. 

The final song, “Of Wolves and Withdrawal” is almost 9 minutes of very quiet noises that grow louder in pulses. It seems to be three sections of different pulsing sounds.  The first time I listened to it, the opening was so quiet that I thought it was just all silence so I fast forwarded through the whole thing.  But because the pulses are so mechanically timed it didn’t even register as noises while as fast forwarded.  I finally had to turn it up pretty loud before I heard all of it. 

I was tempted to say that going from that first Ulver album to this one is a massive change.  But it seems that every Ulver record is a whiplash of stylistic changes.  Nevertheless, this is about as far from black metal as you can get and still be dark and scary.

[READ: November 4, 2011] “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”

This is one of Díaz’s short stories that does not appear in Drown (it came out about two years after Drown).  It has been frequently anthologized, however, which makes it a pretty important story.

There’s a reason why I like to read author’s works in chronological order, and reading this story now confirms that for me.  The story, written in 1998, is the fictionalization of the essay, “Homecoming with Turtle” that I reviewed a few weeks ago (the one that I said pertained to Oscar Wao because of the turtle).  Well, there’s no turtle in this story, and there’s no dentists, but the rest of the story is pretty much the same as his nonfiction account.

After saying all of that though, what’s fun about reading this out of order is that since I know what the “truth” is about this situation, it’s fun to see what he has massaged into fiction.

So in this story, Yunior has been dating Magdalena for some time.  Magda is a good girl: wouldn’t sleep with him until they had been dating awhile, took him to church, introduced him to her parents, the whole bit.  And he really loves her.  The problem is that they only see each other once a week.

So, when a hot girl starts working at his office and she tells him that her man doesn’t treat her well and Yunior confides that the sex with Magda isn’t very good, well, things happen.  But they didn’t happen very often or for very long and Yunior tried to forget it.  Until the girl sent Magda a letter.  A very detailed letter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Bergtatt (1994).

Ulver has some music in the soundtrack to Until the Light Takes Us and my friend Lar pointed me to a location where you could download a bunch of their music (this was before Spotify of course). 

So I grabbed a few of their albums expecting to hear some brutal death metal.  And I kind of did, but I also heard classical guitar, flute solos and chanting.   So this album’s full title is Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (“Taken into the Mountain – An Adventure in 5 Chapters”) and it comes in at a whopping 35 minutes–not bad for an epic.

The opening track (“I Troldskog faren vild” (“Lost in the Forest of Trolls”)) is fascinating–a kind of chanting vocals over a quietly-mixed-in-the-background black metal.  The music is so quiet (and yet clearly black metal) that it almost comes across as ambient noise, especially over the multilayered chanting (I have no idea what language they are singing in).  It ends with a pretty acoustic guitar passage that segues into a very traditional sounding heavy metal section–with a catchy solo that takes us to the end.

“Soelen gaaer bag Aase need” (“The Sun Sets Behind Hills”) opens with, of course, a flute solo.  It’s a minute long and quite melancholy before blasting into the fastest of heavy black metal complete with growling vocals and nonstop pummeling.  But after a minute of that it’s back to the layered chanting like in the first song.  The song ends with a conflation of the two–the chanting metal with the growling black metal underneath.  It’s quite a sound.

Track three “Graablick blev hun vaer” (“Graablick Watches Her Closely”)opens with a lengthy acoustic guitar intro–not complicated, but quite pretty and unlike the poor recording quality of the metal, it seems to be recorded with high quality equipment.  After about 45 seconds that gives way to more black metal.  In a strange twist, the black metal section just fades out, replaced by more acoustic guitar and what seems like the end of the song.  But instead, there is a strange quiet section–not music, but sounds–like someone walking around in the cold forest with crunchy noises and little else.  For almost two minutes.  Until the black metal comes back with a vengeance.

Slow guitar with slow chanting opens track 4 “Een Stemme locker” (“A Voice Beckons”) (the shortest at only 4 minutes).  And the amazing thing is that it doesn’t change into something else.  It is a nice folk song.

The final song “Bergtatt – Ind i Fjeldkamrene” (“Bergtatt – Into the Mountain Chambers”) has a blistering opening followed by some of the most intricate acoustic guitars on the record.  It morphs into a very urgent-sounding black metal section which lasts about 5 minutes.   But just to keep us on our toes, the song (and the disc) end with more classic acoustic guitar.

There is a story here (allmusic says it is a Norse legend about maidens being abducted by denizens of the underworld) and that might help explain the music madness.  But as a musical composition it works quite well.  The chanting over the black metal is really effective and the acoustic instruments bring a nice sonic change from the pounding metal. 

This is not for everyone obviously, but the diversity makes this an interesting introduction into the black metal scene.  Baby steps. 

[READ: November 4, 2011] “Apocalypse”

This is the final non-fiction essay of Junot Díaz that I could find online.  The other one comes from GQ and is called “Summer Love”, but there’s no access to it online. 

In this essay, Díaz looks at the impact of the earthquake that devastated Haiti now that it has been over a year.  Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic which has a long and very brutal history with the people of Haiti–they share a land mass after all.  But rather than looking only at Haiti and how it was devastated, Díaz takes this as an opportunity to see what the earthquake reveals about our country and the state of the world.

The essay is broken down into eight parts.  The first revisits what happened.  The second discusses the meanings of apocalypse, which sets up the “theme” of this essay.  The First: the actual end of the world (which for the thousands of people who died, the earthquake was); Second: the catastrophes that resemble the end of the world (given the destruction of Haiti and the devastation that still lingers, this is certainly applicable); Third: a disruptive event that provokes revelation.

Díaz is going to explore this third option to see what this earthquake reveals. 

What Díaz uncovers is that the earthquake was not so much a natural disaster as a social disaster–a disaster of our creating.  The tsunami that hit Asia in 2004 was a social disaster because the coral reefs that might have protected the coasts were decimated to encourage shipping.  Hurricane Katrina was also a social disaster–years of neglect, the Bush administration’s selling of the wetlands to developers and the decimation of the New Orleans Corp of Engineers budget by 80 percent all contributed to a situation where Katrina could be so devastating.

Then he talks looks at the history of Haiti.  I had known some of this story, but not as much as he provides here–the constant abuse of the citizens, the constant abuse of their finances (both from simple theft and from French and American planning that changed their economy).  There’s also the story of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.  Basically Haiti was a disaster waiting to happen. 

Díaz goes into great detail about the global economy and how it impacted the poor in Haiti and he shows that it doesn’t take a lot of extrapolation to see it reflected in the rest of the world as well.  With the constant rise in standards for the wealthy and the constant abuse that the poor take, it’s not hard to see that Haiti could easily happen here.  If not in our lifetime, then certainly in our childrens’.

But Díaz has hope.  (more…)

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[WATCHED: March 19, 2011] Until the Light Takes Us

Soon after finishing Lords of Chaos, I heard a radio interview on the Sound of Young America with the directors of this movie (which is about the same black metal scene in Norway).  I finally got around to watching the film, and I’m really glad I did.

It covers much of the same terrain as Lords of Chaos (although the book covers much more stuff), but what’s cooler about the movie is actually seeing these guys talk to you.  And seeing how “normal these guys are.”  The two “stars” of the movie are Fenriz from Darkthrone and the main man in the scene, Varg Vikerens.

In the radio interview, the directors talked about the way they structured the film. And, I’ll reveal a bit of that.  So if you don’t know this particular fact, I’ll give the next line as a spoiler alert:

SPOILER ALERT: (Highlight the blank space to read it) Varg is in jail for murder and for the burning of several churches and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

They don’t reveal this information until very late in the film.  So when we first meet Varg, he is a clean cut, handsome man in his late 30s.  He is in jail (although not explicitly stated, it is clear he is in jail).  And he is talking about the Norwegian black metal scene.  Vikerens formed the band Burzum in 1991.  He later joined the band Mayhem.

Mayhem is at the center of the black metal controversy.  The singer of Mayhem, Dead, killed himself with a shotgun.  The guitarist Euronymous found him and took pictures of him (one of which was used as a bootleg album cover–ewww) before calling the police (and it is believed he took some “souvenirs” from the scene).

Vikerens talks about growing up in idyllic Norway, which is peaceful and beautiful–but he undermines all of that by talking about the fairly typical suburban ennui that kids face.  Of course, in Norway it surfaced in violence and death.   Later, he talks about Christianity and how when it came into Norway there was no respect for the Norwegian culture.  Christians built churches on top of ceremonial grounds.  And it seems that he and his mates became very interested in Norwegian folklore and avenging the wrongs done to it. (more…)

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