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Archive for the ‘The Onion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DINOSAUR JR.-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington D.C. October 8, 2009 (2009).

This was one of the first shows I downloaded from NPR.  I’ve been a fan of Dinosaur Jr. since my friend Al turned me on to Green Mind back in college.

This is an amazing show created by the original Dino Jr. members.  This tour is in support of their second album since reuniting, Farm. This set-list is an outstanding mix of old songs, new songs, Barlow-sung songs and even some songs from when Barlow and Murph weren’t in the band.  (Green Mind is still my favorite album by them).

When the band reunited there was much joy, and I’ve said in reviews of the newer albums, I’m not entirely sure why.  I mean, Dino Jr has always been about Mascis, and it’s not like Barlow is such an unusual bassist (although Murph’s drumming is always solid).  I’ve nothing against Barlow (I love Sebadoh and Folk Implosion) or Murph, it just seems odd to get excited about having them back in the band aside from nostalgic reasons.

Having said that, the band sounds amazing (and yes, Barlow does get to sing on “Imagination Blind”).  What never really came across to me until hearing all of these great songs live was that Mascis has always been a great pop song writer.  These songs are catchy as hell. But Mascis buries them under loud squalling guitars and a voice that is almost whiny, almost off-key, a total slacker voice.  (But you’ll notice it is never actually off-key.  He must work very hard at that.)

By the nd of the show Mascis chastises the audience for not moving (we obviously can’t see what they’re doing), saying he forgets that people don’t move in Washington, D.C.  But during the encore break, NPR host, Bob Boilen, points out that Mascis himself doesn’t move either–he just stands in front of that wall of Marshall stacks (Boilen wonders how he can hear anything anymore).  And looking at the pictures it’s comical the way he looks, surrounded by amps.  The picture above doesn’t fully do it justice, but check out the extra photos at the NPR page.  And while you’re there, listen to this show. It is amazing.  For a total slacker, Mascis can rock a guitar solo like nobody’s business.

[READ: July 20, 2011] The Best American Non Required Reading

I’d been meaning to read this series for years (yup, Eggers fan), But I have a hard time starting “collections” because I feel like I’d rather be reading a novel.  Nevertheless, I have most of these Nonrequired books, so it seemed like I should dive into one and see what it was like (I don’t think the year really matters all that much–some of the articles are topical but most are not exactly).  Then Sarah said this would be a great book to read on vacation because it’s all short essays, and she was right.  It was perfect for late nights when I wanted something to read but didn’t feel like getting involved in the novel I was reading.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers’ introduction is actually a partial short story about kids who go swimming in pools around town. It reminded me of the opening of Life After God by Douglas Coupland, but of course, lots of kids did that so I’m not saying it was “lifted” from DC.  The story “ends” (it doesn’t really end so much as stop) with an interesting scene between two unlikely kids who get caught.

After this story Eggers includes these three notes about the collection: It’s not scientific, It’s alphabetical, and We had a lot of help with this.  Of the three, it’s the middle one that’s most useful because Eggers says that you shouldn’t necessarily read them in order just because they are printed this way: “In the first half of this collection, you get a good deal of hard journalism, primarily about war and refugees, from Afghanistan to the Sudan, followed immediately by a number of less serious pieces, about malls and Marilyn Manson.  We didn’t group anything by theme , and won’t be offended if you skip around.”  This was good to know (not that we needed the permission of course), but yes, the beginning of the book is pretty heavy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSH CATERER-“Ask” (2011).

Josh Caterer is the main guy behind The Smoking Popes, whose first album, Born to Quit, Morrissey has said was his favorite –and which is also not only no longer in print, it’s not available on Spotify! (the first album that I have looked for which was not available).

Anyhow, this cover comes from The Onion’s A.V. Club’s Undercover series.  (The current series offers a list of 25 songs from which the bands can choose to cover–but each time a song is chosen, it is removed from the list.  Soon, bands will cover songs they may not even like!)

Anyhow again, this cover is delightful.  I was going  to say that “Ask” is one of my favorite Smiths songs, but I think they’re all my favorite songs.  Nevertheless, this one is pretty high on my list.  And this version is, indeed delightful.  Caterer is accompanied by a guitar, a violin and a viola.  The strings cover most of those catchy melodies, while the guitars keep the song propulsive (you don’t even miss a rhythm section).  Caterer’s voice, while not as distinctive as Morrissey’s is perfect for the song.

Overall, an excellent cover.  Watch it here.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “Archeology”

This was the first of five “Starting Out” pieces in the New Yorker’s fiction issue.  The Starting Out pieces are one page (or less) and are a look into the author’s childhood/adolescence.

Egan, who wrote  A Visit from The Goon Squad, talks about what she wanted to be as a child.  First, she wanted to be a surgeon.  She saw blood and that was the end of that.  Then she thought that maybe she could be an archaeologist.  She desperately wanted to become one, even sending her resume (which was: high school and a desire to dig) to every place she could think of (only one even bothered to write back). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAFTER: “No Fucking Around” (2010).

This song made one of The Onion’s AV Club voter’s Top Ten lists this year. The  description was interesting enough that I had to go check it out.

Rafter is on Asthmatic Kitty, home of Sufjan Stevens, so I assumed the disc would be intriguing, if nothing else.  The song starts out with an overly autotuned (practically mechanical) voice repeating the title.  From there the song slows down with some interesting lyrics.   As the reviewer said, it strips dance music to its barest essentials.  This trend seems to be kind of popular lately, and I’ve noticed that when it works, the rests are very catchy, (when it doesn’t it’s boring as all get out).

Now, I first listened to the song with the video (see below) which I love.  So I’m not entirely sure how much of my enjoyment of the song is predicated on the video.

However, I’ve now listened to it several times and my enjoyment grows with each listen.

Although I am always more interested in indie rock than dance and pop, occasional a pop song or a dance song will grab me and make me listen. LCD Soundsystem has had that effect, as has Daft Punk.  I’m not sure if this whole album is as interesting, but I certainly enjoy this song.

Shame that I’ll probably never hear it without going to YouTube.

[READ: January 11, 2011] “The Years of My Birth”

This story impressed me both for its unexpected emotional pull and its twist (in a sense) ending.

When the story opens, we learn of the narrator’s birth: she was an undetected twin who was, for lack of a better term, squished by her brother.  When she came out, the doctor said she would likely have birth defects; her mother, when asked if they should try to save the baby, shouted “No!”

But the nurse had already ensured the baby’s survival.  The baby was disfigured, with a misshapen head and twisted legs, but she appeared mentally normal.  And yet, since her mother had already rejected her, (and times were different then), the nurse, a Native American woman, took the baby home and raised her as part  of their family.  She even nursed the baby since she was already nursing a young girl at home.

The Native American family tended to her, working on re-shaping her head (with massages) and mending her legs (with stretching), and she found herself thriving (reasonably).  Her adoptive family was very supportive and although her closest-in-age sister once said she’s never get in trouble because she was white, she formed a very tight bond with all of her adoptive siblings. Her brother even nicknamed her Tuffy because he knew she’d get a nickname eventually and he wanted to give it to her.

Tuffy lives a quiet, modest life, never making to many attachments, for fear of getting hurt.  Nevertheless, she always felt a kind of ghostly presence in her life.  She knew it was her twin, although she didn’t know where her brother was physically, what he looked like, or even what his name was.   But their bond, or whatever it was, was always there.

And then one day out of the blue, she get as a call from her “mother.”  She wants to connect.  So Tuffy meets her for dinner and the truth comes out (just like a recent plot of 30 Rock): her twin needs a kidney.  And your heart goes out to her.  For so many reasons.

The last section of the story, though, reveals the depth of the character that Erdrich has created in Tuffy.  Because even though she knows that this family has done nothing for her, she has this connection to her twin.  Her family discourages her from contact with her “mother,” but Tuffy feels drawn to help.  Even though she knows she owes them literally nothing, she starts to think that maybe she got the better deal in life.

And then we find out why he needs the kidney, and our feelings gets even more complicated.  And when she finally meets her twin, things go in another direction altogether.

I was really surprised at how complex this short (4 page) story was.  I was riveted, and as I mentioned, emotionally torn.  It’s a great piece.

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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skymailSOUNDTRACK: THE CURE-The Cure (2004).

cureI’ve been a huge fan of The Cure since my friend Garry introduced me to them circa 1985.  I saw them twice in concert, I overplayed Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, and even got the giant Boys Don’t Cry poster.

And then I grew up.  I basically stopped getting Cure albums around Wild Mood Swings (which was only two albums before this one even though it was nearly a decade ago).  I eventually got Bloodflowers when a friend said it was very good, and I agreed.  But it took me a long time to get this one (I think I was tired of the persistent “last album ever” deal).  Nevertheless, I still like the Cure, and I do like this one.

This self-titled disc is very familiar sounding. In fact, it’s as if someone told Robert Smith: make a greatest hits album but with all new songs.  And that’s more or less what you get with this disc.  It doesn’t have a theme like Disintegration or The Top.  There are manic highs and lows all over the album.  In fact, on several songs Robert is happy and in love, and on others he will never be in love.  Rather than depression, it’s almost all schizophrenia.

It starts in a very downbeat fashion (“Lost”) with scowling, reeling vocals despite him singing about being “so happy and so young.”  The mood continues on “Labyrinth” with its sinister, somewhat Egyptian sounding guitar line.

And then you get two of Robert Smith’s upbeat songs, “Before Three” (“The happiest day I ever knew…”)  and “Until the End of the World” (“I couldn’t love you more!”).  You know they’re happy songs when he drifts into that impossible falsetto.  “Anniversary” is one of their dark songs like ” A Forest” with that great Cure drumming tribal drumming. And there’s the single “alt.end,” which is, simply, another great single from The Cure.

The sonic landscape continues with another falsetto song “(I Don’t Know What’s Going ) On.” And then we’re back to the aggrieved and angry “Us or Them” where Robert almost repeats a line from “The Kiss”  “get your fucking head out of my world” (the original being “get your fucking voice out of my head”).

The only questionable song is the final one, “The Promise”.  And the only reason it’s questionable is that it’s 12 minutes long. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for The Cure, since the aforementioned “The Kiss” is 6 minutes of delightfulness.  But I think 12 might be a bit too long.  Nevertheless, it lets the album end on an angry, bitter note, just as it began.  Symmetry, after all.

I guess I’m still a Cure fan after all these years.

[READ: March 8, 2009] SkyMaul

I heard about this catalog through a plug from The Sound of Young America.  They said it was selling cheap on Amazon, so I snatched up one of the last remaining copies.

This catalog is hilarious.  Obviously, it is a parody of the Sky Mall catalog that you look at on airplanes when you have run out of everything else to look at, and have no intention of purchasing anything from (unless you are Barney Stinson [I tried to find a link to his Sky Mall compulsiveness, but there are no official ones, so if you just Google “barney skymall” tons of things comes up].

Many parody titles don’t live  up to the hilarity they promise.  This boils down to a couple of reasons: They are so true to the original it’s hard to tell them apart; they require a deep awareness of the original in order to really appreciate the joke; most people who know they original that well actually LIKE the original, and don’t want the parody.

SkyMaul however, is that rare beast: a parody that is very funny but is also full of crazily inventive and absurd humor.  Unlike many of the very specific parodies that exist, SkyMaul allows for across-the-board humor, so it never gets bogged down in finding that “perfect parody moment.”

SkyMaul works similarly to The Onion, in that some of the items in this catalog are direct parodies of existing items (Atheist motivational posters; the first ever Milk vacuum–for when people put unwanted milk on your cereal), and others are simply utter nonsense (like the Llamacycle (a llama with a wheel for front legs, or the Air Straightener “Stop Breathing Disorganized Air!”)).

There were a number of things that had me laughing out loud and thinking of people who would love to read this (Happy Birthday, Matt).

The genius of the book is dividing the catalog into smaller subsections (just like the real thing) which allows them to diversify their products.  Some subsections include: The Image Sharpener; The Statuetory (Meeting and Exceeding Your Home Statue Needs); J. Crewcifix (Extreme Religion Since A.D. 33); Tomorrow’s Garage Sale (Filling up you home, office, and storage areas); NASCAR Stepdad; WhadjaGITme? (Toys for demanding kids…); Shemail (Doodads for ladies) [Although that’s not as good as Arrested Development’s designer Shemále]; Heavy Petter (pushing animal product on people]; The Nicest Gift (is to let people deal with stuff on their own); Coming Soon (the store 4 sex toys ‘n’ stuff).

You get the idea of where this catalog is going. And to top it off there’s even a crossword puzzle in the back.  This may have been the funniest part of the book, so don’t skip it!  Sample entry: Q: Superman’s weakness. A: Chocolate.

To see some examples from the book, click here.

Oh, and in case you’re like me, you didn’t know that Kasper Hauser is not a person but a comedy troupe.

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