Archive for the ‘Neurotics’ Category

may5SOUNDTRACK: THE FAMILY CREST-Tiny Desk Concert #379 (August 4, 2014).

familycerstI first heard The Family Crest on this Tiny Desk Concert back in 2014 and I immediately fell in love with them.  I received their album for Christmas, and it’s quite fantastic.

The band plays a wonderful mix of over the top chamber prog rock mixed with healthy doses of jazz.

There are seven people in the band, which is centered around guitarist and (amazing) vocalist Liam McCormick.  Their instruments include violin, cello, upright bass, flute, trombone, drums, and guitar but this band rocks hard (and McCormick can wail like the best of them).

The set begins with the jaw dropping “Beneath The Brine” which opens with a great cello riff and is quickly accompanied by violin and flute.  When the full band kicks in, grace notes are added to the riffs to really fill out he song (from the flute and the drums) and it builds until Liam starts singing.  His voice is powerful and strong with a great sense of melody.  The drums, by the way are playing wonderful jazzy patterns and accents.  But it’s around 2:30 that Liam shows just what he can do with his voice as he hits some amazingly powerful high notes.  As the song romps to an end, you can hear all of the instruments adding to the music before the final quite coda.  It’s fantastic.

“Howl” is inspired by jazz.  Liam was trained in opera (which explains a lot) and the band is full of classical fans, so he was excited to add Charlie the jazz drummer “hey man wanna listen to Miles David and drink whiskey?”  The song opens with a big trombone riff before settling into a snappy jazz song.  This song has a number of loud and quiet moments that work well together.  It’s even got a great “ba ba ba ba ba ba” section that is fun to sing along with.

 They ask “one more?”  And Bob says “or stay all day.”  So they play the final song, “Make Me a Boat.”  If you can forgive the little GoPro ad, it’s neat that this relatively unknown band has been embraced by the camera company.  “Make Me a Boat” doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice for a video since the beginning is kind of slow, bit the middle section is really pretty and has a great flowing feel that would work well with a video.  And in this live version Liam does some great improv singing of powerful high notes that really flesh out the melody which the rest of the is playing (no wonder he’s so sweaty by the end).

The album fleshes out the orchestral sense of the band with a 30 piece orchestra which makes these songs even more grand.  The Family Crest was a great find.

[READ: February 22, 2016] “Letting Go”

Sedaris is one of the funniest writers when the topic is smoking.  He is (or was, I suppose) and inveterate smoker.

And I love that he starts the essay with this paragraph:

When I was in fourth grade, my class took a field trip to the American Tobacco plant in nearby Durham, NC.  There we witnessed the making of cigarettes and were given free packs to take home to our parents. I tell people this and they ask me how old I am, thinking, I guess, that I went to the world’s first elementary school.

He starts this essay talking about how much he hated smoking when he was a kid.  His mother smoked all her life and he just hated it.  Not the smoke so much but the smell–he found it depressing “the scent of neglect.”

Of course then he started smoking himself.  He talks about trying to decide which brand to use–the brand you chose was a statement back then.  He chose Viceroy.  And he started smoking them when he was in Vancouver. (more…)

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2015-05SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Ted’s Wrecking Yard Toronto, ON (May 30, 2001).

twyFor this final show with Don Kerr, the band played for what seems like ever.  Darrin says he edited out any quiet bits so the show could fit on two discs, which it does.  And even at that it’s still about 2 and a half hours long.

Only five songs are repeated from the previous night (and they are all from the new album, except “Stolen Car,” which Martin sings on this night) and “Take Me in Your Hand” which is pretty awesome.  There’s also no Kevin on this night, so the set is full of a few of the more rocking songs (as opposed to the Harmelodia stuff).

 After a rocking “Fat” they play two rarely played songs “Remain Calm” and “The Idiot.”  But the set list is just a perfect collection of the songs that I love most: “Aliens,” “King of the Past,” “Saskatchewan,” “California Dreamline,” “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” and “Horses.”  Wow.

Some notes: “There’s an awkward introduction to “The Idiot” which they hadn’t played in a long time.  The “Aliens”/”King of the Past ” pair is great.  I also loved the way they run right into “Mumbletypeg” while Martin is still feed backing the previous song.  “Horses” has an angry chant from Dave (the “facts” chant) and you can really hear DB wailing on the acoustic guitar at the end of “Stolen Car.”

Don gives a nice thanks (he says he’s about to cry) and they open “Take Me in Your Hand” with a jaunty “Ob La Di” riff and lyrics about Don.

There’s a lot of banter, including an Ed the Sock joke (“Don Kerr fired by Ed the Sock.”)  It’s a wonderful ending to a wonderfully time with Don Kerr.  Incidentally, Ted’s closed in 2001 as well, and the band, who played many multinight sets there moved their Green Sprouts Week to The Horsehoe.

This is a great show, and the sound is outstanding.  And since Don is leaving to play with Ron Sexsmith, here’s a story by Jill Sexsmith (presumably unrelated).

[READ: April 25, 2015] “Airplanes Couldn’t Be Happier in Turbulence”

I enjoyed the way this story began with some very down to earth information and then ends in a preposterous and yet still strangely believable situation.  It’s about exasperation and the need to do something, anything, when everything feels out of control.

Madison (it’s hard to believe that there are grown women with that name) has wanted to scale the Empire State Building ever since she watched King Kong as a kid.  Her husband, Frank, is a grounded individual, an actuary who is full of facts and statistics.  When she says she want to go there, he says “There’s a 0.28 percent chance of getting pistol whipped” in New York City.  He also quips, I suppose you want a  pony, too.  She jokes that she does, although she is afraid of horses–especially ponies, the “kneecap biting form of the horse” (I can attest to this, having been bitten on the kneecap by my neighbors supposedly nice pony).

Madison has never taken a vacation from her job.  She is anxious at the thought of empty days in front of her.  Her boss and coworkers keep trying to get her to go.  This year for her birthday she and Frank are going to New York City.  Her boss throws a going away party even though two of the four days are on the weekend. (more…)

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922SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Tales from the Punchbowl (1995).

punchbowlTales from the Punchbowl is the final album to feature Tim Alexander on drums (until he came back a decade or so later).  It was never a favorite although it has some really good songs on it.  I feel like their songs were getting a bit too long and kind of dull at this point–all of the songs weren’t fun.

“Professor Nuttbutter’s House of Treats” the opening song, is over 7 minutes long.  It starts off with cheering and what I think of as circus music.  Then the bass comes rumbling in.  After about a minute the proper bass riff begins and the heavy heavy guitar crunching follows.  It’s a surprisingly heavy opening song.  By around 3 minutes, Ler plays a crazy solo and then the song slows down into a jam band sounding song–a bass solo and a normal guitar solo. Around 5 minutes the song turns into something else–a fast bass line with Ler’s repeated solo and Les (I guess) talking over something although it’s kind of inaudible.  It’s a weird way to start the album.  “Mrs Blaileen” is a quietly sung song with a groovy bass and drums.

The two biggest hits on the album were “Wynona’s Big Brown beaver” and “Southbound Pachyderm,.”  I forgot just what a great song “Wynona” is. Anytime Primus does a fun bouncy song you know it’s going to be good.  And between the bass and the guitar this song is just instantly catchy (but because MTV thought it was vulgar they only played it after midnight, so it never became quite the hit it could have).  “Southbound” is a slower song with a smooth bass punctuated by a dissonant riff that is strangely compelling.  At 6 minutes it an unexpected hit, but Primus has been doing the unexpected for ages now.

“Space Farm” is a 2 minute piece of weirdness with a South Park type bass riff and the sounds of, yes, farm animals in space.  I find that I can’t get into “Year of the Parrot” that much.  Not sure why.  I think I don’t like the songs that feature Les’s slow vocals and rhythms, I like the faster more upbeat tracks.  “Hellbound 17 1/2” is called a “theme” and it could feel like a theme song, although the South Park theme is better.

I don’t mention Tim’s drums enough in these songs, but they are great starting point to “Glass Sandwich” which follows up the opening cool drum sequence with a bowed bass.  It’s a little slow as well.  But a song like “Del Davis Tree Farm” brings the excitement back with the weird and unexpectedly poppy chorus.  The next song is “De Anza Jig.”  I love Primus’ goofy song like this one, big wet bass and Ler’s banjo tells a funny story in Les’s cartoon voice.  “On the Tweek Again” is a dark song with a big bass sound and Ler’s effects filled guitars.  The disc ends with “Over the Electric Grapevine” is a great 6 minute song (sometimes when they are long they are really good).  It opens with Les’ bass sounding middle eastern again. The solo in the middle is full of interesting noises (I’m not sure who is making what sound).

There are some great songs on this disc, but I find I don’t listen to it all the way through like I do with their earlier discs.

[READ: January 7, 2015] “Jack, July”

I have enjoyed most of the stories that I’ve read in my recent run through of New Yorker stories.  But I really did not like this one.  I’d say the first reason is because Jack is a meth head and I could not get sympathy for him, especially with the chaotic way the story opened.

I will say that there were a lot of funny moments, in which Jack, while coming down from the meth seems genuinely confused by what’s going on around him.  The crazy mistakes he makes are quite amusing, but considering the whole first part of the story was just Jack trying to get to a house presumably to score more meth was very disappointing.

So Jack walks through the baking Arizona sun.  First he arrives at his “girlfriend” Rhonda’s house.  She tells him he can’t be there [“Jack, who was clearly there, only smiled”].  He walks on to his mother’s house.  But there’ a woman living there (whom he calls Yoga Tights because that is what she is wearing).  She immediately gives him a hard time and calls the cops on him (could be because he climbed in through her window and his pants got caught and were pulled off as he climbed through).  So he runs off with some supplies from her house (“she liked all stores that ended with Mart”). (more…)

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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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goonSOUNDTRACK:BOWERBIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #35 (November 16, 2009).

bowerThis show was recorded July 7, 2009.  It’s fascinating that it didn’t get posted until four months later.

As the Bowerbirds first started I didn’t think I would like them primarily because of the opening lyrics of “Hooves” “Back to when I was born on a full moon, I nearly split my mama in two.” It just seemed an offputting way to start especially when sung over very simple acoustic guitar.  But after the first verse, the band joins in with some Ahhs, which flesh out the song very nicely.  The accordion and violin fill in where necessary and make this a much more compelling-sounding song.

The second song, “Teeth” opens with a very full sound–I really like it–bowed double bass, violin, accordion and guitar and when the backing vocals complement the lead vocal, it’s really quite beautiful.  “House of Diamonds”  is a folkie song, but the final track “In Our talons” (which comes from their first album) is really dramatic, with a some great vocals, a cool section that slows down the tempo and rousing accordion-driven conclusion.  (There’s something a bout an accordion that when played right can add incredible tension to a song).

You can watch it here.

[READ: February 13, 2014] A Visit from the Good Squad

This book made many best of list at the end of 2010.  I’ve wanted to read it for some time now, so when I saw it remaindered at Barnes & Noble, I grabbed it (yes, the library is cheaper, but I find that sometimes I will read things more quickly if I buy them).

I was expecting to be blown away by the book.  But I wasn’t.  At least not at first.  And the real reason for that was because I read it over too long of a span of time.  There are a lot of intricacies in this book that demand attention.  It’s not a difficult book, but the structure of the book is not linear, and there are connections that are made and lost and resumed.  And if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss them.  I enjoyed it quite a lot and I really liked the way the story filled in parts as it went along (you’ll see why that is significant shortly).  And I loved the way the end tied everything together so nicely.  But I found that I got even more out of it while writing this recap because it helped me to make connections I initially missed.  So definitely read this, but either read it quickly or read it twice in a row.

So this book is set up that every chapter is narrated by or focuses on a different person at a different time in the story’s history.  It’s a fascinating way to tell a story for the obvious reasons, but also because most of the characters are interrelated in some way (which was the clever part).  And other characters arrive and disappear while still keeping continuity in the story.

There are thirteen chapters, which means 13 stories.  Naturally there are more than 13 characters, so this makes for an interesting look at this world.

The first chapter and more or less the thread throughout the stories is Sasha.  In the first chapter, (which is third person but in which Sasha is the protagonist), we see her planning to steal the wallet from a woman in the bathroom stall next to hers.  She is on a date with a man named Alex, who is new to New York and is still kind of wide-eyed about it.  He is amazed when later on he sees that Sasha has a bathtub in her kitchen (which she never uses).  Sasha’s chapter is interspersed with her at the therapist’s office as she talks about her kleptomania and about her life as the assistant for Bennie Salazar–THE Bennie Salazar, record producer extraordinaire who discovered The Conduits. (more…)

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walrusjulySOUNDTRACK: POKEY LAFARGE-Live on Mountain Stage (2012).

pokey2I really only know Pokey LaFarge from NPR (they’ve embraced them, but I haven’t heard them anywhere else).  Pokey and his band plays a mix of early string-band music, ragtime, country blues and Western swing, in a completely un-ironic way (they dress the part as well).  Like Squirrel Nut Zippers, but even more so.

Interestingly, I know the first song “La La Blues” from a previous performance (on a Tiny Desk Concert) and I actually liked that version better than this one.  This entire performance feels a little too loose.  Which is weird because the music is designed to be loose, but in the previous performances there was a little more structure which made the songs jump out a little more (or maybe the recording just isn’t loud enough).

There’s 5 songs in total: 4 originals include “Central Time,” “Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight,” and “Won’tcha Please Don’t Do It.”  And a Jimmie Rogers song called “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.”  This final song feels more authentically of the time than LaFarge’s originals but only barely, just barely (perhaps its the “gal pickin’ time” line).  And yet “Won’tch Please Don’t Do It” sounds just right too.

The best joke in the set is when Pokey says they have 78 RPM records for sale (they really do).  But that they don’t have any that night because they are sold out!

LaFarge is an engaging live performer (even if the crowd seems subdued here).  And while I don’t see myself buying any of his records, I would like to see him live–it seems like a fun show.  Check it out here.

[READ: July 15, 2013] “Somewhere, a Long Happy Life Probably Awaits You”

The prefatory paragraph that precedes up this story seems so light-hearted: “Manfred met Elizabeth when she interviewed for a position at his fortune cookie company.  She was a greeting card writer looking to branch out.”  That is an actual quote from the story, but in the story, it is a flashback after the main action of the story has begun.

When the story begins, Elizabeth is trying to protect a tree in her front yard.  It has gotten Dutch Elm disease and is to be cut down this summer.  She would like to know when, but she is only told between may and September.  While she is not going to go crazy protecting this tree, she would like some actual notification, so she can be there to say goodbye.

Going crazy, it turns out is an important thing to note, though.  Because Elizabeth from time to time goes on “safaris.”  These safaris can last an indeterminate amount of time, and in some cases may even require Manfred to track her down.  Like when she was protesting the war in front of a building (where no one else was) or, as in one case, when she was frolicking in a sprinkler in her underwear. (more…)

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jetpackSOUNDTRACK: WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS-“Quiet Little Voices” (2009).

jetpacksWhen you have a book with “Jetpack” in the title, the appropriate band is We Were Promised Jetpacks, no?  I’ve heard a lot of good things these guys.  But all I knew for certain was that they were Scottish.

I listened to their debut EP, The Last Place You’ll Look, which I liked a little.  But I didn’t care for the sound of the EP itself, it was rather flat.  A few listens got me enjoying the melodies and such but it never grabbed me.  Especially when I compared it to “Quiet Little Voices,” the lead single from their debut full length, These Four Walls.

The vocals are a bit stronger, the guitars and bass are both more clear.  The overall feeling is just brighter.  Now this may be a sign of selling out (is that something bands still do?), but really I think it’s just a better production for this song.  Which has a big chorus (and good backing vocals).

I listened to a few more tracks from These Four Walls and they are all good too.  I guess start with the albums and save the EP until after you’ve absorbed the band.

[READ: July 5, 2013] You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack

Gauld makes comics like no one else I know.  Most of his people are silhouetted or are the most rudimentary designs–simple triangle-shaped clothes, circle heads with dots for eyes and little else–maybe a nose if it’s profile. (Okay, there’s a bit of Chris Ware, but more like a much more relaxed Chris Ware).  And the wonderful thing is just how much he can convey with these painstakingly simple drawings.

The content of his comics is usually quite clever and often literary.  While I admit there were some I didn’t get (Like the Eric Gill cartoon–shame on me?–Aha: “[Gill’s] personal diaries describe his sexual activity in great detail including the fact that he sexually abused his own children, had an incestuous relationship with his sister and performed sexual acts on his dog.”  Geez, now the comic is very funny.).  There were some in which I liked the set up but would have preferred something funnier (like the Tom Waits comic–shame on him?)

But overall this collection was really enjoyable.  And I laughed a lot. (more…)

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