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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE GUNN-Tiny Desk Concert #299 (August 31, 2013).

Steve Gunn is a fascinating guitar player:

his work mostly stems from a bushy, overgrown definition of what we often call “Americana,” with a healthy understanding of the La Monte Young drone.

Grateful Dead and J.J. Cale certainly reside in the rubber-band bounce of “Old Strange,” a song that keeps the groove mellow, but will suddenly pop with water-drop elasticity. “The Lurker” comes from a much longer solo guitar version that originally sounded like one of Roy Harper’s acoustic epics, but with Gunn’s trio, it becomes a back-porch barn-burner.

For this concert, Gunn and his band play two 9-minutes songs.  They center around his guitar work which yes, has a drone, but the main focus are the Americana riffs that he plays with precision.

“Old Strange” opens with a lengthy guitar passage that shifts after 2 and a half minutes to a slow folky kind of style.  The song seems like it will be an instrumental but 3 and a half minutes in he begins singing. His voice is deep and he sings a kind of narrative story.  It’s quite mesmerizing.   “The Lurker” is a slower, more mellow jam.

[READ: September 3, 2016]: Beatrice

I have read a couple of books from Dixon through McSweeney’s.  I didn’t know much about him then and I still don’t, but I recalled liking his stuff pretty well.  And this book was short so I thought I’d give it a look.

This book is told in a fascinating style–a kind of stream of consciousness in the mind of the main character, but through really close third person.

The book details the encounter of the main character Professor Philip Seidel (there’s a joke about this name, as Seidel means mug) and a woman named Beatrice.  Beatrice was a student of his some 25 years earlier.  She has stopped at his house to deliver some food in condolence for the recent passing of his wife.  She knows about this because she is now a professor where he taught her, although he had retired a few years back.

She brought some food and also wanted to tell him that he was her favorite teacher back then.  She had studied German and wasn’t allowed to take fiction courses until she completed her requirements.  She loved his teaching method and loved how encouraging he had always been.  She has clearly been keeping tabs on him–she has read some interviews he gave–and she definitely knows a lot about his life.

When she leaves he briefly wonders if maybe she’s interested in him now that the are older.  But he puts that out of his mind. (more…)

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aboveSOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-& Yet & Yet [CST020] (2002).

DmstandyetandyetAfter the previous album, keyboardist Jason McKenzie departed the band.  I’m not entirely sure how this impacted the band, but this album is warmer and a little more delicate feeling.  It’s also their first album that was recorded all in the same place (in band member Justin Small’s house).

The disc opens with static and effects before a jazzy drumbeat comes in.   “Clasic Noodlanding” is mellow with a complex (for them) riff on the guitar and nice washes of keyboards.  It is primarily atmospheric until about two minutes in when it suddenly changes with the introduction of a great bass line.  And then this atmospheric song turns really catchy. The five and a half-minutes feel too short in this song.

“End of Music” opens with jazzy drums and keyboards.  It’s a slow piece that stretches to nearly 7 minutes.  About half way through the song, the drums come crashing in and a brighter, noisier melody takes over.  This end section is really catchy with some great chords and excellent drumming.

“White Light Of” opens with a cool slow bass line and drum pattern.  As the song grows in complexity I like the new bass rumble that is added and the way the guitar lines seem to intertwine. About half way through horns get added to the mix, quietly at first and then they slowly take over the song. About five minutes in the song comes to abrupt halt with some interesting echoed effects on the drums. It resumes again with a stranger version of the song—it feels unsettled and really interesting, with a nice riff interspersed with one that feels off somewhat.

“Chinatown” opens unlike any DMST song.  The bass sounds electronic and skittery with some interesting keyboard sounds over the top (it actually sounds a bit like later period Radiohead).  The song is slow and moody for all of its 5 and half minutes with keyboard washes and skittery guitars.  There are quotes thrown in throughout the song but I can’t tell what they are saying.  This song was features in the film Syriana.

“Reitschule” is one of two songs that are 9 minutes long. It opens with a slow meandering guitar line interspersed with another guitar playing an interesting counterpoint.  A cool bassline comes in around 2:30 which takes the song in a new direction.  Horns propel the song along until about 4 minutes when a jangly guitar takes over the song. It builds with some abrasive guitar chords until everything washes away except the bass.  And then it rebuilds as something else.  Distant horns play in the back as the guitars play overlapping lines.  It’s an epic song that demonstrates how much this band can do.

“Soul and Onward” has a pretty conventional melody line. It’s warm and friendly It also features wordless vocals by Tamara Williamson. I love the little tiny guitar lick that works as a bridge between the two sections.  This is my favorite song on this record.

“Anything for Now” is the other 9 minute song. It is slow and pastoral to start with a beautiful multi-guitar piece with gentle drums. At around 4:30 all the instrument vanish except for a single organ note. It plays for a bout a minute and it seems like the disc will end that way but then the chords build up again from the drone.  An acoustic guitar lick begins around 7 minutes in and runs through the end of the song.

Overall this album is more mellow than their previous discs, and there are some amazingly beautiful sections of music on this album.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Above the Dreamless Dead

I’m continuing with books that I wouldn’t normally read, to celebrate First Second’s #10yearsof01 challenge and to read something out of my comfort range.

This is a collection of poetry about World War I, written before during and just after the war.  Each of the poems is illustrated by a different contemporary artist.

As you can imagine, the book is pretty gloomy.  But the poetry is pretty spectacular and the illustrations were really interesting.  Obviously this book is not going to be a happy one.  But some of the artists do add a more positive spin on the poems (while some are just brutally violent as well). (more…)

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borgesSOUNDTRACK: SEU JORGE-Tiny Desk Concert #79 (September 13, 2010).

seuSeu Jorge was the melancholy singer in Wes Anderson’s movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He sang the David Bowie songs and was amazingly soulful and brought a completely unexpected quality to the Bowie songs.

He plays these five songs with his band Almaz.  For reasons unclear to me only one of the songs is on the video, but the other four are available in audio format.

He sings three songs in Portuguese, and his voice is husky and passionate, so even if you don’t know what he’s singing about, you can feel the emotion.

The first song in English “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” has a cool trippy 70s vibe, with some cool keyboards.  Although I don’t love his version of “Rock with You” which I imagine was super fun to sing, but it’s so different from the Michael Jackson version that it’s hard to reconcile the tow.

  • Cirandar” (Audio Only)
  • “Saudosa Bahia” (Audio Only)
  • “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” (Audio Only)
  • “Pai Joao”
  • “Rock With You” (Audio Only)

[READ: October 19, 2015] The Last Interview and Other Conversations

I have never really read any Borges (a piece here and there sure, but I have his Collected Fictions waiting for me and just haven’t gotten to it. However, when I saw this book at work I decided to give it a read. I have very much enjoyed the other books in The Last Interview series (there are ten and I have read four) so I thought I’d like this too, and I did.

Borges is a fascinating individual. He was legally blind from a youngish age and was completely blind by the time of the last interview. He was humble (but not exactly humble—he genuinely didn’t think he was that great of an author). He was a pacifist (remaining neutral even in WWII) and basically spent his whole life immersed in books.

This book contains three interviews

“Original Mythology” by Richard Burgin (from Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, 1968)

“Borges and I” by Daniel Bourne, Stephen Cape, Charles Silver (Artful Dodger 1980)

“The Last Interview” by Gloria Lopez Lecube (La Isla FM Radio, Argentina, 1985) [translated by Kit Maude] (more…)

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mislaidSOUNDTRACK: AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS-Euphoria (2014).

euphoriaI found out about Around the World in 80 Days when they started following me on Instagram.  I’m not sure which photo it was that interested them, or if they just follow lots of people, but I was intrigued that they are a post-rock band from Yekaterinburg, Russia.  They formed in 2009 and have a few releases out (EPs, mostly).  You can hear all of them on their soundcloud page (and other places).  This was their first full length album.

Their bio says

Around the World in 80 Days is a three-piece band formed in 2009. It’s impossible to compare their music with anything. The guys just play whatever they want and don’t care about genres, styles and cliches.

I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s not impossible to compare them.  They have elements of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky in their swirling post-rock instrumentals.  But they definitely add elements that those bands don’t.  There’s some heavy metal riffs in “Racing the Light” and some more poppy elements in “Inside Me.”

 I typically try to listen to an album a few more times before I post about it, but I was so interested in this band that i wanted to get the word out right away.  I’ll certainly be listening more intently to their output over the next few days.

[READ: May 24, 2015] “Mislaid”

I read an excerpt from this book in Harper’s a few months ago.  And then I found the full book at work.  Huzzah!

I had said that I didn’t know how long this novel could be because the excerpt seemed so complete.  And in a sense I was right.  Except that the book went so much further than the excerpt led me to imagine.

The excerpt was about Peggy Vaillancourt.  She was born in 1948 in Virginia.  A transformative event leads her to believe she must be a lesbian (something unspoken of at the time).

She winds up going to Stillwater College, a female-only school in the middle of nowhere Virginia.  She loves poetry and wants to be a writer.  She meets the poet-in-residence Lee Fleming.  Fleming was a local boy with wealthy parents.  His father believed himself to be as “queer as a three dollar bill.”  It was his father who put him in a cottage on the family’s property across the lake from Stillwater College.  Everyone in town also assumed he was gay, and there was much talk and consternation about it, although everyone assumed he was fine while he was by himself in that cottage.

The college asked Fleming to be a teacher (he canoed to work every day).  Instead of a salary he asked them to create a literary magazine called Stillwater Review, which became a success.  Many other famous New York poets came to Stillwater to be charmed by the idyllic Stillwater (and all the young girls). (more…)

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harp marchSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Ted’s Wrecking Yard Toronto, ON, (March 25, 2000).

tedsThis was the sixth and final night of Green Sprouts Music Week–the band’s annual residency at Ted’s Wrecking Yard.  Sadly this is the only night that is up on the site, but man, is it a good one.  The band played for over two and a half hours and they cover nearly every album.  There are guests galore, there’s on stage hijinks and a great sense of fun for band and fans alike.

 I don’t know what they played on other nights but there is a still a focus on Harmelodia. Things are a little different this night from previous shows on the tour.  “Song of the Garden” and “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” are really rocking. When they call in a female vocalist up, a fans shouts out “we could use a little estrogen” and they get it with her lead vocals.

Kevin Hearn joins them on keyboards.  He ges a verse in “Four Little Songs.”  He also adds piano to “Queer” which sounds extra jaunty  And he puts accordion in “I Fab Thee.”  There’s even the unexpected Kevin song “Yellow Days Under a Lemon Sun” which originally appears on the Group of 7 disc.

The most fun is had during “My First Rock Show, in which several “guests” appear during the song.  Meatloaf (Kevin) plays a bit of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” Geddy, Alex and Neil (Martin) show up to play a verse of “Closer to the Heart” with Martin screeching “salesmen!” There’s a brief jam of Walk This Way (although no one can remember the words).  And there’s some fun with Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Goin Out with Him.”  Look over there.  Where?  That’s called a hook.  There’s also a funny joke about playing “Harvest X-1, Rush Never Sleeps.”

There’s some real guests too, Karmen from Sheks? sings “One More Colour” and sounds awful, like she can’t hear what the band is doing.  Julia Pietrus guests on “Home Again.”  She sings her verse in Polish (and is part of a Polish Rheos tribute band!).

There’s a drum solo (!) on “Dope Fiends and Booze Hounds.”  The set and the night ends with “A Midwinter Nights Dream.”  Martin sounds in great voice even if he cant hit all th ehigh notes which is undetsnable after nearly 2 and a half hours of playing

They also mention that their next show is Canada Day and that is our next show as well

[READ: March 4, 2015] “Make Me Live”

I am always intrigued by the fiction that appears in the front section of each Harper’s issue.  It is typically not an author I have heard of and is often a translation.  It’s also usually really short (often excerpted) so that if it’s not so good, you’re not stuck with a long read and if it is good it whets your appetite for a longer piece.

This excerpt is a definite appetite whetter.

I genuinely can’t imagine how long Mislaid (the full novel) is, because this story just seems to fly through time in a real hurry 9and feels rather complete).

It opens with Peggy Vaillancourt’s birth in 1948 in Virginia.  Her family was educated and rather reserved.  Her mother had hoped to send her to Bryn Mawr, but Peggy wanted to go to Stillwater, a former plantation and current finishing school.  It was considered a mecca for lesbians.

I’m confused about the transformative event in Peggy’s life in which a gym teacher, Miss Miller,  readjusts her gym shorts and Peggy assumes she was meant to be a boy.  The story seems to bulldoze forward whether you can keep up or not.  So I have no idea if an average female reader would “get” what happened here (it doesn’t seem to be sexual to me). It also seems odd that one incident should affect her so profoundly, but there ya go. (more…)

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friend hand SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan (2007).

I have seen Barenaked Ladies live a number of times.  At this point I think I have seen them without Steven Page more than when he was with them.  After listening to his solo album I remembered how much I loved Page with the band.  And even though they still do a great show, this CD/DVD combo reminded me how much…more fun…they were when Page was in the band (and how sad it is that a reunion seems impossible).

I had heard that the other guys in the band (notably Jim and Kevin) wanted more songwriting opportunities.  And whether or not that is true, it seems like they might since this is completely the Steven and Ed show.  They split lead vocals duties exactly in half (with two songs in which they share lead vocals).  Indeed, Kevin wrote “Sound of Your Voice” but Steven sings lead.  Although I have to say that Kevin Hearn absolutely shines with all of the instruments he plays here (he’s quite remarkable).

So this concert came on the Barenaked Ladies Are Me/Men tour in one of their biggest American fan locations–Clarkston, Michigan.

The CD is a collection of lots of older hits and a few newer songs.  I recall not loving this period of BNL as much, but the songs that are picked for this show from these albums are great: “Bank Job” one of my favorite new(ish) songs sounds great here.  And “Easy” is another great song from these two albums.  “Adrift” a pretty, slow song (which is here played on the banjo) and “Wind It Up” is fun because we get to see Jim Creeggan come down away from the upright bass and wander around with an electric bass.

They have the most fun with “Angry People” since they do a lengthy “skit/dance” at the end of the song in which they beat each other up (to a disconcerting prerecorded version of the song).  This is included in the audio CD with no explanation–the DVD clarifies the weird sound effects in the song).  Perhaps the most unexpected addition is the song “Powder Blue” which is a B-side to the “Pinch me” single.  It’s a bit of a slow down in the set, but it get s a pretty big reaction.

There’s some very funny fan interaction, like teasing the lady in the front row who is talking on her phone and point out (and singing about ) the guy who uses beer bottles as maracas.  (I also enjoyed seeing a guy with a Rush shirt near the front row).

They also do “For You” from Everything to Everyone.  This version is an interesting acoustic version with Kevin Hearn on mandolin and everyone gathered around the center mic.  They do “Be My Yoko Ono” in this format as well, which is quite fun (Hearn on accordion and Tyler on bongos).

No matter how often I hear “Brian Wilson,” I never get tired of it.  And while I’ve heard them live with not Steven Page singing it, it’s great to have his original voice doing it (and as always Creeggan’s bass is amazing).

The one thing that’s a bummer is that the DVD and the CD contain the same songs–in other words the DVD is pretty short for a concert.  According to Wikipedia, songs played at the show, but not included in Talk to the Hand include: “Maybe Katie”, “In The Car”, “Running out of Ink”, “Get In Line”, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel” [acoustic], “Alcohol”, “It’s All Been Done”, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “Call and Answer.”  The DVD also falls a little short because there’s no crazy wacky end song where Tyler sings some crazy nonsense.

The bonus features include the five guys sitting in a room with an interview.  They talk about how Steve and Ed first started playing together.  And there’s a funny story about a guy with an ass on his head.  I also appreciated them talking about the greening of their tour.

But really, the saddest thing is that in the bonus features the five of them talk about how much fun they are having in the and and how long they’ve been together and other things that make Page’s split seem so much sadder.

[READ: October 10, 2014] Saint Friend

Saint Friend is the latest book in the McSweeney’s poetry series. This collection of poems features largely longer poems.  And I admit to not really enjoying longer poems–they often seem to lose either the plot or my attention.  Which I know is more likely my fault than the writer’s but so be it.

“Pacific” is evidently about Amelia Earhart.  It has a epigram from Earhart, but I didn’t realize it was about her (which is certainly my fault as I know really no details about her).  Each page is a part of a longer poem (there’s a black diamond at the bottom of each page making it seem like the end of a section or so).  The fourth section (about fog and being  at 8000 feet) sure makes sense as an Earhart poem.

“Near Real-Time” is a series of small poems–each one dated a day in February (except the last one).  I wish I knew context for these poems (was he doing a write a poem a day challenge or something?).  Also, not every day of the month is represented. (more…)

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2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Spade Side–Andrew Scott] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

The final side of Commonwealth is by drummer Andrew Scott.  Scott has written three singles for Sloan over the years: “500 Up”, “People of the Sky”, and “I’ve Gotta Try.”  But for this album, he has created a 17 minute and 49 second epic called “Forty-Eight Portraits.” This makes it seem like it could be 48 small songs which it isn’t.  But it also isn’t one long song exactly.  There are, by my count 15 sections–although there could be more or fewer depending on how you break it up.

So my demarcations:

  1. The song opens with a dog barking.  There’s complex percussion and a smattering of piano seemingly searching for a melody.
  2. At 3 minutes the first real song proper starts.  We’ll call it “You say you’re going with me.” There’s acoustic guitars and a bouncy melody.  It’s a great song with a neat guitar riff that overlays around 4 minutes in.  But
  3. At 4:23 the song changes dramatically.  It grinds to a slow pensive section, call it the “Don’t ask for a second chance.”  But it doesn’t last long,
  4. At 5:16, the next part jumps in, it’s a bit faster and feels like it could be an extension of the previous section.  Call it the “Do the things I do” section.  It speeds up
  5. At 5:41, to a similar style as the “first song.”  It has a sing along starting “How Does It Feel?”  It’s got one verse before a time signature change and instrumental break.
  6. At 6:40 the next section comes in.  Aggressive guitars and spoken word lyrics “There’s something happening here.”  It also has one of the few uses of the word “fucking” in a Sloan song.
  7. At 7:25 it shifts to a falsetto style and higher pitched guitars.  It’s vaguely Beach Boys-like for a verse “Do you think she loves you?” until
  8. At 7:48 it’s back to a reprise of the “How does it feel” section.
  9. At 8:15 it shifts to a new slow piano section.  This feels like the most fully realized song section of the epic.  “I can’t believe you never told me the truth.”   It leads into a big chorus sounding section (two lines) around 8:40 (“What it is us unsustainable”).  There’s even a repeat of this “verse” and  “chorus” as well.
  10. At 10:26 a new guitar section is introduced.  It works as a transition “You said you’re coming with me.” It morphs
  11. At 10:52 into a very cool slowed down section “I asked for a proper glass.”  And then
  12. At 11:22 the song again returns to the “How did it feel” section.
  13. At 12 minutes the song transitions with a “ba ba ba” and horns which move into the “Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping away” section.  The song feels like it might end at 13 minutes as the last notes seem to ring out.  But
  14. At 13:21, the song rebuilds again with the “inside a cloud” section.  This feels like the final section of the song is built around a similar construct. It’s a guitar riff that introduces a children’s chorus at around the 14 minute mark.  There’s a slow guitar solo and pizzicato strings that keep this section from being to easy, but that guitar riff and children’s section reunite the end which concludes with the spoken “W.W.L.R.D.?” (which I assume the L.R. refers to Lou Reed).
  15. At 16 minutes, the chaos of the beginning returns with a dog bark, but the concluding riff is strong and seems to really draw out the end.

I really haven’t listened to the lyrics that carefully to know exactly what’s going on, but I really enjoy the “choruses.”  While a 17 minute song is not everyone’s cup of tea, there are so many parts and so many interesting and catchy sections, that it feels like a whole collection of short songs rather than one long song.  It’s a cool experiment and one that I find myself singling out as I try to parse it a bit more.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Part of the Main” and “Watching the Cop Show in Bed”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  These were two poems.

I’ve don’t normally review the poetry in The Walrus, but since I had four sides and only three stories it seemed worthwhile to throw the two poems in as well 9especially since the finally song was so unusual).

The first one “Part of the Main” is written with wonderfully evocative language as it talks about something so base.

The first stanza talks about the inevitability of the tide, of life.  With beautiful language like: “the contours of the and effaced by the saintly patience of the tide.”  But the second stanza shifts gears.  In it, the narrator says that you can show him dire things on the television: “bloated bellies…bomb blasts” and he will weep and clench his fists “but otherwise do nothing.”  It is sadly an uncomfortably relatable attitude. (more…)

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