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blueblue SOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-A Quiet Evening at Home (2013).

quietIt seemed like Martin Tielli was done making music after his (so far) final solo album in 2009.  He has been focusing on (gorgeous) visual arts since then.  But then in 2013, Tielli along with Jonathan Goldsmith, Hugh Marsh and Rob Piltch recorded another Nick Buzz album (cover painting by Tielli)–possibly their last as well, but who knows.

This album is almost entirely mellow, with beautiful slow pieces and delicate singing and instrumentation–with some exceptions.  The biggest exception is the first song and single (with video) “The Hens Lay Everyday.”  It is unlike anything else on the album.  It is a weird, electronic fast song with pulsing beats and funny lyrics (and a crazy video).  It’s kind of a shame that it’s on this album because I want more music like that.  But the rest of the album is also wonderful in a very different way.  This song just doesn’t fit.

Beginning with the second song, the album is a beautiful album of wonderful ballads.

“This is Not My World” is a delicate guitar song with simple keyboard washes.  Martin’s voice even sounds different on the song–I almost didn’t recognize him until the last few verses.  “Milchig” opens with a buzzy violin (that sounds almost like a fly).  Tielli did this song with The Art of Time Ensemble (it was called “Moglich”).  It has a gentle guitar and Tielli’s keening voice and spoken word–“he had given me ‘the relax.'”  There’s several sections in this song, and I especially like the slowly lurching middle section.

“Sea Monkeys” opens with some delicate chimes and underwatery sounds.  And once again, Tielli’s voice sounds different.  I love this peculiar song about ordering and “growing” sea monkeys.  He says he only wanted plankton or krill but during that evening, the sea monkeys started building their city, and after 4 and a half minutes, the song turns somewhat more sinister with a section about the Crustacean Monkey Queen.  The delicate music grows harsher and more mechanical sounding.  It’s pretty intense.  And it coincidentally relates to the book below.

“If You Go Away” has a vaguely Spanish guitar feel to it.  It’s a very delicate, slow ballad (I should have realized it was an old song written by Jacques Brel) with strummed guitar and gentle percussion.  It has a lounge feel as well (the romantic lyrics aid in that style).  It was recorded live with audience clapping at the end.

The mood picks up a little with the next song, “The Happy Matador.”  It’s played on acoustic guitar with flamenco-esque runs.  It’s a delightful song even if lyrically it’s a little dark.  “Eliza” is a darkly comic song with a kind of circusy feel.  It opens with accordion, adds a violin and basically makes fun of a woman named Eliza, with the great last line: “The only incredible thing about Eliza is the terrible terrible music she inspires.”

“A Quiet Evening at Home” opens with some strange noises like Circo did, but this is an older, more mellow album and they quickly give way to some pretty, delicate guitar chords.  About two and a half minutes of gentle chords are disrupted by a noisy saxophone and some manipulated spoken words.  This process repeats itself for about six minutes of mellow, slightly weird, but really enjoyable music.

“Uncle Bumbo’s Christmas” continues in that delicate vein, but this time with actual words.  It has gentle echoed guitar and some occasional strings.  It’s not exactly a Christmas song although the lyric “I love everything about Christmas, except Christmas” is decidedly ambiguous.  There’s beautiful overlays of vocals and guitar for the middle two minutes of the song before it resumes with a slightly more uptempo and much more catchy end section.  This song gets better with each listen.

“The House with the Laughing Windows” opens with a tinkling piano melody.  It hovers between ominous and dreamy.  I like the way the song gently, almost imperceptibly, builds over the course of its 4 and a half minutes.  And I love the way the guitars start playing louder as if the song is going to build to something bigger but it never quite does.  John Tielli plays theremin on this track.

“Aluminum Flies” is a slightly louder song which is much more meandering and ends with what I believe is the sound of windshield wipers.  The final song is the lovely “Birds of Lanark County.”  It opens with chickadees chirping and a beautiful delicate acoustic guitar melody from Martin.  Michele Williams sings lovely backing vocals.

It’s amazing how different this album is from Circo–same band members but an entirely different style, and a simply gorgeous collection of songs.

[READ: November 25, 2015] Blue on Blue

I had never heard of Quentin S. Crisp before (he’s not to be confused with Quentin Crisp, the British raconteur who died in 1999).  Except that I knew he contributed lyrics to the most recent Kodagain album.  But I received an advance copy of this book with Brendan Connell’s latest book (its publication date is December 15 (from Snuggly Books)).

This story was fantastic (in both senses of the word).

The story is told in 5 parts.  And what I loved about it was that the central part of the story is a fairly conventional story about love and loss, and yet the other four parts frame the story with an other-worldliness that is almost familiar, but not quite.

The story begins with the statement “I am a citizen of the ASAF, the Alternative State of the American Fifties.”  There’s a footnote attached which explains that the ASAF “ia an artificial history zone ‘reclaimed’ from sunken parallel time.”  This is a potentially worrisome beginning to a book to be sure, and yet the book does not go through any rabbit- or worm- hole, this is simply the set up for the story. (more…)

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chomuSOUNDTRACK: THE FAINT-“Help in the Head” (2014)

doom“Help in the Head” opens with an incredible amount of feedback and squalling noise–some of it natural and other parts sounding quite processed.  After ten seconds the song begins properly with a pounding drum and buzzing guitars.  The song is quite simple–a catchy melody that blossoms once the bridge kicks in (with some “oh ohs”).  The chorus is also simple and catchy, “I just meant you needed help in the head” with all kinds of fuzzy screaming swirling around.  A few minutes later, the song ends with more noise, just as it began.

The Faint has been around a long time and are on Saddle Creek records, home to Conor Oberst and his many bands (he was in an original incarnation of The Faint). The song has much in common with Oberst’s style of pop–simple melodies and very catchy structures, but it is so overlaid with noise and distortion that it takes it out of the realm of simple pop music into a pop music that is actually abrasive..

[READ: February 21, 2014] The Galaxy Club

Brendan Connell is back with his most daring book yet.  Daring, because it is so very different from what he usually writes.

I have really enjoyed Connell’s audacity in his previous books–whether it was the extensive research done into both cooking and history in Lives of Notorious Cooks (2012) or the brutality that religion can inspire in The Architect (2012) or his exploration into extremely transgressive behavior in Metrophilias (2010).  He has never been afraid to push the edge of the envelope into unexpected areas.  But what makes this book so daring is that it is, for the most part, pretty “normal.”  Book covers don’t typically indicate anything really, but this book cover, in sober black and white, really conveys the feeling of the book–gritty, small town, hardscrabble Southwest.

And yet despite the somewhat conventional nature of the story, there are also fantastical elements.  Each chapter is narrated by a different (sometimes recurring) character.  Some are narrated by “Those Underground,” and “Demon Taming Stick” and even “Prawn Dragon Colonel.”  But they are also narrated by normal folks.  Connell’s past work in creating manifold characters in his short stories really pays off for the number and divergent characters he has here.

The main characters are a man named Cleopatra–who claims to be the Queen of the Nile herself.  The Montoya family: Ibbie, Theodore and their son Blue Boy.  The Roybal family: Elmer and his aunt Ramona.  And a police officer named Alfonso Torcuato Southerland-Hevia y Miranda who claims to be switched at birth with Elmer–but he claims he bears no grudge. (more…)

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cooksSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-The Story of the Ghost (1998).

storyghostThe Story of the Ghost is one of the first Phish albums that I was aware of when it came out.  I remember buying it and liking it, especially the first few songs.  This is not surprising as the first few songs are much more electric and funky.  By the end of the album there’s a lot of mid tempo songs that feel like they’re somewhat incomplete—good ideas but the songs feel…unfinished?

“Ghost” has a funky guitar and drum section, it’s a song I’ve liked from the day I bought the disc.  But the real hit was “Birds of a Feather,” which has an amazingly catchy chorus.  This version (as opposed to the live one) is weird in that Trey is kind of whispering the vocals, but the guitar is ferocious.

“Meat” is a weird skittery song that sounds cavernous here.  The weird processed vocals are certainly something that keeps this song like more of an oddity.  “Guyute” sounds an awful lot like early Phish—like it has come from Gamehendge, it’s a nice return to old form.  It’s a great song with a really lengthy instrumental section.  This features one of Trey’s great extended pretty solos.

“Fikus” is a strange little song (2 minutes), with lots of percussion and a quiet bass line.  “Shafty” has got  some cool wah wah guitars, and is also only 2 minutes long, but it shows that there is a bunch of funk on the disc.  “Limb by Limb” is a fun if simple song that seems sparse until the chorus kicks in.  “Frankie Says” is a kind of circular song that is interesting but doesn’t really go anywhere.  “Water in the Sky” is a short piece but it is full of ideas—percussion, slide guitar, and nice harmonies.  “Roggae” is a fun little song with some fugue like vocals.

“Wading in the Velvet Sea’ is a very pretty song with very nice harmonies.  “The Moma Dance” is a funky wah wah guitared track which really comes to life live, although I like the way they reprise “Ghost” at the end.  The final track is called “End of Session,” it’s a very mellow little number (also less than 2 minutes) with organ and gentle guitars.  There’s a small verse of harmonies as the albums drifts off.

This album is one of the band’s less popular recordings, but i think it’s quite good.

[READ: October 30, 2013] Lives of Notorious Cooks

Brendan Connell is back with a book which demonstrates that whatever subject he writes about, he delves in deeply and with great relish.

Connell’s new book is, as the title says, a series of brief lives of fictional cooks.  There are 51 biographies in this book.  From Connell’s previous works and from the title, I expected that these cooks might be somewhat less than savory characters.  But Connell makes these chefs genuinely impressive—making delicious meals from both the finest ingredients or the lowest of items.

As with previous stories by Connell, the depth of his knowledge is impressive—he includes not only recipes but complete menus of feasts.  And as usual, his word choices are wonderful—exuberant when necessary, obscure if useful and always spot on.

Although I am normally inclined to make a comment about each “story “ in a  collection, this one really resists that.  There are not enough distinguishing characteristics between cooks for me to write enough about each one (without rewriting the book).  This is not in any way to say that each is not unique, but that they are all cooks, each specializing in a different food or style.  But rather than from saying “Agis cooks fish” it’s better to take this book as a whole rather than in pieces. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK FLAG-Damaged (1981).

I’ve liked Black Flag since I bought Loose Nut on vinyl way back when (1985, the year punk broke for me).  And those four bars were iconic to me even before I had heard a note (although I just learned they are supposed to represent a flag waving).

And this is where their legend really took off.  So a few things I never knew about this album until I looked them up recently.  1) That’s Rollins on the cover punching the mirror.  2) He didn’t really punch the mirror (it was smashed prior and the blood is fake).  3) I knew that Black Flag existed for a while before Rollins’ arrival and that they’d had a series of singers before him.  But I didn’t realize what a their first EP (Nervous Breakdown–Keith Morris on vocals) came out in 1978, their second EP (Jealous Again–Ron Reyes on vocals–credited as Chavo Pederast (he left the band in the middle of a live show, so they changed his name to that rather offensive one)) came out in 1980.  Their third EP (Six Pack –Dez Cadena on vocals) came out in 1981.  Rollins joined a few months after that and Damaged–their first full length–came out in December 1981.

“Rise Above” is a wonderfully angry song.  The gang vocals of pure empowerment work so well with the chords.  It’s still effective thirty years later.  “Spray Paint” goes in the other direction: rather than an uplifting, catchy chorus, it’s a deliberately angular chorus that’s hard to sing along to (even for Rollins).

“Six Pack” represents the more “popular” side of the band.  And it is a wonderfully funny single.  I just can’t decide if it’s serious or ironic (see also “TV Party”).  These two dopey songs are great to sing along to and are simply awesome.  (Fridays!)

The rest of the album turns away from the lighthearted tracks.  “What I See” is a really dark moment on this album.  And the negativity is unusual especially given Rollins’ later penchant for lyrics about fighting back.  True, Rollins didn’t write these lyrics.

“Thirsty and Miserable” is a blast of noise with some of Ginn’s first real guitar solos (which Guitar World says is as one of the worst guitar solos in history…and I say really? that’s the solo they pick?  Ginn has done some pretty outlandishly bad solos over the years…of course the whole list is questionable at best).  “Police Story” is a simple but effective description of the punks vs cops scene at the time.

“Gimme Gimme Gimme” seems childish, but that’s clearly the point.  “Depression” is a super fast track.  (Trouser Press considered Black Flag America’s first hardcore band).  “Room 13” is an odd musical track, with pretty much no bass.  It’s just some roaring guitars and drums and Rollins’s screams.  This track stands out because Chuck Dukowski’s bass propels most of the songs here.

“No More” sounds “typically” hardcore: very fast with the chanted chorus of “No More No More No More No More.”  “Padded Cell” is also fast (and is pretty hard to understand) except for the “Manic” chant, but the following track “Life of Pain” features what would become a signature Greg Ginn sound…angular guitars playing a riff that seems slightly off somehow.  Compelling in a way that’s hard to explain.

It’s funny that a band that plays as fast as they did also released some pretty long songs. “Damaged II” is almost 3 and a half minutes long.  It has several different parts (and a pretty catchy chorus).  And the final song “Damaged I” is a kind of crazed rant from Rollins;  It’s one of his scariest vocal performances; he sounds really deranged.  Especially when it sounds like he just cant think of anything else to say so he just screams maniacally.  But his vocals are mixed behind the music as if he’s trying really hard to get heard.  There’s very little else on record like it.

It’s a wonderful end to an intense disc, and the beginning of a brief but powerful career.

[READ: March 25, 2011] The Life of Polycrates

I’ve been reading Connell for a few years now.  In fact, the first time I posted about his work came with a blistering dismissal of his story “The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon” in McSweeney’s 19.  That story is included here, and upon rereading it, I learned two things:

  • One: context is everything.
  • Two: I was totally and completely wrong in that original review, and I take it back.

But before I explain further, some background about this book.  This is a collection of eleven stories, eight of which have appeared elsewhere.  Unfortunately there’s no dates of publication included so I don’t know how old any of these stories are.

The other thing I’m fascinated about is Connell himself.  I’m not the kind of reader who wants to know a ton of details about the author, but I like a little bit of bio (or a photo) when I read someone.  The only bio that is consistently presented about Connell is that he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I’m fascinated by this because so many of his stories are set in Europe.  So I have concocted a master biography about Connell’s life and how he has lived and toured extensively in Europe, studied theology (and found it wanting) and investigated all of the world’s darker corners.

It’s this latter aspect that really altered my perception of Connell’s writing.  I’ve liked the last few things that he’s written, but I fear that I was not looking at him through the proper lens.  And this relates back to bullet point one above.

Connell writes in a world not unlike H.P. Lovecraft–a world that is unconventional, dark and more than a little twisted.  And yet, unlike Lovecraft, there is very little of the fantastical in his stories.  Rather, his characters reside in our own world (with a little chymical help from time to time), but they are all real.  They’re just not characters most of us choose to associate with.  So, reading that first story in McSweeney’s, where it was so different from all those others, I found it really distasteful.  In retrospect, I’m not going to say that it is meant to be distasteful, although some of his stories are, but it was certainly not a pleasant story by any means.

The other fascinating thing to note about this book is that all of the stories are written in short, Roman Numeraled segments.  So the title story has 35 segments.  But even some of the shorter ones has twelve or thirteen segments (sometimes a segment is just a few lines long).    I actually enjoy this style (especially when the segments introduce something totally new into the story–which many of these do). (more…)

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