Archive for the ‘From the Basement’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SPARKS-“Good Morning” (From the Basement) (2008).

I’ve enjoyed Sparks for a long time.  But I never got around to getting the album that this song comes from (Exotic Creatures from the Deep–which has two wonderful song titles: “Lighten Up, Morrissey” and “I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall for All The Crap In This Song.” 

“Good Morning” was the first single from the album.  It features a very bouncy keyboard opening which reminds me of Strangeways-era Smiths.  And then Russel Mael’s crazy falsetto comes pounding in on top of the whole thing. 

Visually, Sparks are fascinating because Ron Mael looks exactly the same as he has since day one: slicked back hair, thick glasses and a crazy little moustache.  This band is doubly fascinating because the two guitarists and bassist all have shoulder length hair and are wearing T-shirts with the new album cover on them.  In fact, the bassist and one guitarist look like they could be twins (the other guitarist is wearing a hat, so he messes with the identical-ness).  It’s an amusing scene to see.

This is a strange song, it’s catchy in its repetitiveness, but it’s got a cool bridge that breaks up the song into different parts (and the backing guys hit the high falsetto notes perfectly–I think I would have assumed they were women!).  This seems like a strange choice for a single and I can see wh it wasn’t a big hit.  (Most Sparks songs are kind of strange, so who knows which of their songs will catch on).  Of course, I don’t know the rest of the album so I don’t know if there was a more likely choice.  Nevertheless, I may have to investiagate this disc a bit more.

[READ: August 31, 2011] “My Chivalric Fiasco”

This is the second Saunders piece in a couple of weeks in two different publications (this seems to happen to him a lot–do I smell a new book coming out?).  This is one another of Saunders’ more corporate-mocking pieces.  He plays around with name brands and has a lot of trademarked and capitalized words.

But it starts off very unlike that whole realm. It seems to be set at a Ren Faire or some such thing.  On TorchLightNight the narrator sees Martha running through the woods saying, that guy is my boss.  Don Murray comes out of the woods after her, and it clear that something has gone on between them.  When Ted, the narrator, asks them what’s going on, they admit to a “voluntary” fling.  Then Don tells Ted that he has been promoted out of Janitorial; he is now a Pacing Guard.

The next day, Ted is given some KnightLyfe, a pill that helps him with medieval improv.  Until the pill kicks in, Ted is horrible in his role, but once it does, he (and the story) switch into a  kind of crazy Ren Faire “Olde” English: “Quoth Don Murray with a glassome wink, Ted you know what you and me should do sometime?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  MY MORNING JACKET-“Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream (Part 2)” (From the Basement) (2009).

As I mentioned, My Morning Jacket is one of the few bands that has two videos up on the From the Basement site.  So here is Part 2 of the song from yesterday.  While Part 1 is a beautiful, smooth, folkie kind of song, Part 2 delves into a more electronic sound.  It starts with some keyboard noodlings, morphs into a loud rocker and then ends with more keyboards noodlings. 

I enjoyed watching this because Jim James is playing the keyboardy parts on a very small contraption the size of an iPad.  It’s one of those new fangled instruments that make me show my age.  I gather it’s a sampler, but even looking at the buttons I have no idea what he’s doing with it.  About midway through the song, James puts down the keyboard object and pulls on the Flying V guitar for some good loud guitars. 

Again, the harmonies are fantastic and it’s cool to see the whole band sing along.  I also enjoyed watching the other guitarist play the slide on his guitar.  

By the end of the video, it’s amusing to see them all sink lower and lower to the ground as the music fades and regresses into tiny quiet twinklings.  Until, that is, the surprising (and unannounced) addition of the 6 second “Good Intentions.”

Jim James does not wear a cape during this song, by the way.

[READ: September 1, 2011] “Trading Stories”

I have still yet to read much Lahiri, a woman whom I know I should be reading.  And now that I just learned she won a Pulitzer, it seems even more egregious that I haven’t. 

This personal history is about growing up without books.  Her father was a librarian so they borrowed a lot of books; however, but she never really owned any.  [My wife and I are not that kind of librarian–books litter our house]. 

The story reveals Jhumpa as a child writing stories with a friend in school (even during recess).  They were immensely creative and inventive and they loved it.  But she slowly began losing interest in writing.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-“Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream (Part 1)” (From the Basement) (2009).

My Morning Jacket is one of the few bands that has two videos up on the From the Basement site.  The two videos are parts one and two to the song “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream” (which is kind of funny as the two parts are really quite unrelated and they seem to have been recorded not consecutively in the show.

As I mentioned in the Fleet Foxes review, I love seeing bands singing harmonies.  And the voices in My Morning Jacket songs are often soaring and, sometimes unbelievable (how does Jim James hit those notes?).  So this “concert” is visually satisfying in this regard.  Not to mention, Jim James wears a cape throughout the song!

It’s also very satisfying musically.  The band sounds great (as have all of the bands during these sessions).  “Touch Me” is a great catchy, sing along song from Evil Urges.  And this version is quite perfect.

[READ: August 30, 2011] “The Aquarium”

This is the first of the longer articles in the New Yorker’s 2011 Summer Fiction issue.  But despite the issue’s title, this is not a work of fiction (at least I hope it isn’t because it’s a shitty thing to make up).  So, assuming it is true:

Hemon found out that his nine-month old daughter had a brain tumor.  This essay details his life while dealing with this unthinkable issue and also trying to maintain a normal life for his three-year old daughter.  He tells this story in a surprisingly roundabout way.  Meaning, we don’t learn the fate of his daughter till nearly the end of the essay.  And in this way it mimics his own experience of finding out the fate of his daughter: one hundred and eight days after the initial diagnosis.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSUPER FURRY ANIMALS-“Let the Wolves Howl at the Moon” (From the Basement) (2007).

[DISCLAIMER: This post was published on September 6th see that post for details].

Continuing this exploration of the From the Basement series, I found this unlikely video from Super Furry Animals.  SFA have never been big here (well, that had a fluke hit but that doesn’t count).  I have no real idea how big they’ve been back home.  So maybe it’s not a surprise that they are playing here.

SFA were a bunch of crazy psychedelic indie rockers.  Their early albums are totally nuts (like the EP Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysiliogogogochynygofod (in space)).  But over the years, they have mellowed considerably. This song is the final track from Hey Venus!, an album that returned the Furries to their more rocking roots.  Despite the album’s overall rockingness, this song is the mellow ender to the album. 

This live version is very good, with Gruff Rhys sounding in fine form.  Visually, it’s more interesting than say Neil Hannon’s in that there are five of them, but they’re not exactly putting on a crazy show. What’s nice is the chance  to see just what the recording space looks like (there’s lots of wide shots) and to see just which hairy Welshmen are making which sounds. 

This is a wonderful song that could easily have been on anyone’s mellow folkie playlist.  The album version has a little bit more going on, but it’s not missed in this someowhat stripped down form. 

[READ: August 29, 2011] 3 Book Reviews

After last month’s tour de force about one title, this month returns to Zadie’s typical 3 books/month schedule.

The first book is Ian Thomson’s The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica.  Zadie makes the amusing observation that this book, a very good and very well researched cultural study of Jamaica was written by a white Scotsman; she notes that a sense of remove from the culture was probably essential in order to create this book. 

Thomson offers historical context for the dangerous world that Jamaica occupies now (it’s not all “Jah, ganja mon” in the country.  In fact, five people are murdered every day (on this island of 3 million).  Fascinatingly, there is much racism in Jamaica—people seen as too black are often looked down upon in favor of lighter-skinned people.  Because of this, respect is very important.  Indeed, any kind of disrespect can cost you your life—just about everyone packs a gun (hence the stat above.  Of course this racism also may be why the Jewish, Indian and Chinese Jamaicans are thriving while the majority black are not.

Zadie says the only place where Thomson falls flat is in his utter dismissal of dancehall music (he likes reggae but can’t stand dancehall).  He dismisses Sean Paul and although Zadie’s not a huge fan of Sean Paul, she finds this dismissal a poor oversight possibly due more to his age (culture being a young person’s game) than anything else.  I especially enjoyed her dissection of one of Sean Paul’s videos. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL HANNON-“A Lady of a Certain Age” (From the Basement) (2008).

[DISCLAIMER: This post was published on September 6th, see that post for details].

This video comes from the From the Basement series.  As I mentioned, the Radiohead live show comes from this series, but initially, rather than recording a whole album, more often that not they recorded a few songs.  The bad news is that many of the videos are no longer available on the site (there’s a DVD, but I’m unclear exactly what it includes).  But for each artist, there seems to be one streaming video.

This is a mellow song from The Divine Comedy’s Victory for the Comic Muse album.  It’s probably my favorite track on the album.  It’s a literate and clever song about an older woman.  This version is simply Neil and his acoustic guitar.  I tend to think of The Divine Comedy as being a heavily orchestrated band (their music is wonderfully symphonic) so it’s surprising for me to hear a DC song in this simple acoustic format. 

And yet, Neil’s voice is stellar and it easily holds up i this intimate setting.  Visually it’s not that exciting (it’s just Neil sitting, playing and singing), but musically it is wonderful. 

[READ: August 31, 2011] One Book Review

Unlike previous columns, Zadie only reviews one book in this one.  And she sets up her reading by talking about summer books.  I recently posted about Summer Books, and this would have been a nice addendum.  Zadie talks a bit about the fun and joy of Summer books.  Her assessment is that a summer book should really engross you: 

If every few minutes you find yourself laying it flat upon your chest and wondering about lunch then it is probably not a summer novel. 

Zadie’s summer book is a continuation of a series.  The author is Edward St. Aubyn and this third book is called At Last (the culmination of the confusing “Patrick Melrose Trilogy” Some Hope, Mother’s Milk and At Last–confusing because the first book of the trilogy (Some Hope) was actually released in England as three separate books–Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope, making this the fifth book in the series)He has also written other books, but I’m not sure of any of them deal with the same family or not.

At last (and the series in general) is a semi-autobiographical story of a good family in name only.  There is an alcoholic mother, a pedophiliac father, and a main character, Patrick, who has shot heroin and chugged whisky and yet still manages to recite poetry.

Despite the darkness (and the fact that At Last focuses on Patrick’s mother’s funeral), the story sounds like a wonderful mix of dark humor and scathing wit.  Indeed, the previous book, Mother’s Milk was short listed for the Booker Prize in 2006 (he has written two novels in between). 

Zadie quotes extensively from the book and the quotes are really good: long  sentences that are well constructed and contain a bit of humor in almost every piece.  But it’s a subtle humor, and it seems like it takes a careful reading to make sure you get it all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLEET FOXES-“English House” (From the Basement) (2009). 

[DISCLAIMER: This post was published on September 6th see that post for details].

I love watching bands do things that I can’t exactly picture when listening to the song.  Sometimes it’s a scorching guitar solo.  Sometimes it’s an inexplicable keyboard sound. And sometimes, like with the Fleet Foxes, it’s gorgeous harmonies. 

I’m not saying I don’t believe that the Fleet Foxes can create such beautiful harmonies, it’s just that sometimes it has to be seen to be believed.  And in that respect, this video for the gorgeous “English House” is perfect.  It’s really neat to see all four of them hitting these sometimes complex harmonies while playing live. 

It’s also great to hear this wonderful song played in the great setting that From the Basement offers.  The only gripe is that it really looks like The Fleet Foxes could use a bath (which is somewhat less welcomed in HD).

[READ: August 30, 2011] “Gilgul”

I had no idea what “gilgul” meant; thankfully, it is explained in the story.  For some reason, I had a really hard time getting this story started.  I read the opening about three times before I could really settle down with it.  Once I did, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

It opens with a man, Ravitch, who was “encouraged” by a friend to sit with a Jewish “witch” who reads his fortune. She tells him things about himself (which he believes his friend had told her in advance) and offers to tell him when he will die.  He says no, blows it off and goes back to his life. Things the witch foretold start to come true, and while most of it is success for him, he is nonplussed and can’t really enjoy his new “happiness.”  He can’t stop thinking about the witch.    (more…)

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