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Archive for the ‘Scholarship’ Category

sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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primatesSOUNDTRACK: OTIS TAYLOR-Tiny Desk Concert #120 (April 13, 2011).

otisOtis Taylor is a big, burly, bearded man who plays the banjo. His band consists of fiddle, drums and electric guitar and bass.

The songs are bluesy without being like the blues, and they are folky without really being like folk music.  And the way he plays the banjo is unlike any typical banjo song I’d heard before.

The blurb explains what makes his songs sound so different:  He plays a style of music he calls trance blues.

Taylor’s music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length.

And it’s true.  The basic melody of he first song, “Ten Million Slaves” (which is only 4 minutes) stays the same throughout the song.  It’s the fiddle (played by Anne Harris) that throws the new notes and riffs into the song that keep it so interesting,

He does throw in a simple but affecting solo at the end of “Ten Million Slaves” but it’s more fun to watch him rock out the end of the song.  That song also appeared in Public Enemies, the Michael Mann movie.

He calls his music trance blues music, came from Mali and Mississippi Hill Country.

The main riff of “Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down” is instantly familiar and a little dark.  I love the middle jam section where it just seems to gets bigger and bigger (I guess that’s the trance).

For the third song, “Talking About It Blues,” Taylor switches to acoustic guitar.  This is a fairly simple blues song, but I love the guitar riff that punctuates the verses.  The verse is simple enough “my daddy cut down a tree, make a guitar for me.”  This song features a lengthy solo by J.P. Johnson.

The drums (by Larry Thompson “Bryant Gumball of the drummers,”) and bass (by new bassist Todd Edmunds) are really simple but they sound great and really punctuate the song.

It’s a short song that segues into the final song, “Think I Won’t” which has a heavy five note riff to open with.  I love that it takes him forver to end this song.  Saying one more time even though they do more than one more time.

I don’t really like blues songs that much.  But this band is really tight and the addition of the fiddle really makes these songs stand out. Plus after those cool droning blues songs I was hooked.

[READ: December 15, 2015] Primates

I had been planning to post magazine stories this week.  Then I learned that it is First Second’s ten-year anniversary and they are trying to promote it with the cool hashtag #10yearsof01.   Since I’ve read a bunch of First Second books in the last couple of months, I’m going to give them a deserved shout out by posting a few in a row and including that hashtag.

This is a non-fiction graphic novel from First Second and it is outstanding.  In a wonderfully kid-friendly style, it talks about the incredible work done by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.  And the man behind their success, Leonard Leakey.

The story opens on Jane Goodall.  After visiting a friend in Kenya, she spoke to Dr Leakey (who tells of his childhood growing up in Kenya).  Through their meeting, Leakey gained funding and sent Goodall to Gombe to study chimpanzees in 1957.  She soon discovered them using tools and eating meat.   Her work caused them to, as the book puts it, “redefine tools, redefine Man or accept chimpanzees as human.”

Then she went further and learned so much more about chimpanzees, using techniques that were not exactly scientifically approved (sifting through dung, setting up places for them to eat) but wound up being amazingly effective.

Jane married Hugo, her photographer and then they were visited by Dian Fossey. (more…)

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dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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krausSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-The Terror (2013).

terror After the distortion heavy and heaviness of At War with the Mystics and Embryonic (to say nothing of their other experimental releases), I wasn’t sure what to expect from an album called The Terror.  Yet with a title like that the album is far more invested in psychological terror than in pummeling you with scary noises and music.  The album is more unsettling and spooky with existential dread.

Wayne Coyne has always been a pretty optimistic guy–weird, sure, dealing with feelings of dread, sure, but never so dark and insular.  But I learned that before recording this album and most likely as an impetus to record it,  Coyne separated from his partner of 25 years, Michelle, and Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd temporarily relapsed into addiction.

In an interview, Drozd says the album is like a crisis of life confidence.  He also says that the uniformity in sonic style was intentional: “Instead of writing songs and then figuring out sounds, we’d write the other way around: create sounds then make songs out of those sounds.”

So the vocals are quite low in the mix, and there is not a lot of “music” in the album.  Rather there are layers of sounds–swishing synths, spiraling noises, percussion effects that seems to almost cover up the vocals, giving it a very claustrophobic effect.  “Look… The Sun Rising” opens the disc.  It is primarily percussion with some noisy sounds and really sharp piercing guitars (that play noisy counterpoint to the soothing chorus of Oh Oh Ohs).  And yet after all of that noise and chaos, the very lovely “Be Free, A Way” surfaces as a quiet introspective song.  There are gentle keyboard notes (not unlike on Yoshimi) that propel this song along.  “Try to Explain” is a pretty song with some unusual sound effects swirling around it (The Lips can’t so straight up pretty, right?).  And yet lyrically, this song, along with the rest, is very dark indeed.

“You Lust” is a 13 minute (!) invocation about various forms of lust.  It opens with the couplet: “You’ve got a lot of nerve/A lot of nerve to fuck with me.”  The middle of the song is a kind of Pink Floydian keyboard workout.  It’s a  lengthy jam that’s kind of samey, but I’ll bet if you can really sit (with headphones) and close your eyes and focus it’s pretty intense.  After about ten minutes of that repetitive claustrophobia, some lightening occurs with sprinkled keyboard notes.

“The Terror” is primarily in Coyne’s falsetto, and it seems gentle until the mechanized noises come bursting forth.  “You Are Alone” is the shortest thing here, under 4 minutes of squeaking noises.  And again, a lovely melody despite the title.  I feel like this song summarizes the album pretty well.  In it, Coyne sings “I’m not alone” while a deeper voice replies, “you are alone.”  Whose voice will ultimately win?

  “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” returns to that abrasive guitar of the earlier tracks, but the main body of this 7 minute song is just bass, keening keyboards and Coyne’s whispered voice.  There’s a recurring synth line that is magical and/or creepy depending on your frame of mind.  It, along with many of the other songs, have a kind of coda that links the songs.  This one is mostly just choral voices, but it twists the ends of the songs in a different direction. “Turning Violent” is a quiet track, in which Coyne sounds nearly defeated until the second half of the song grows louder and more animated with layers of vocals.  The disc ends with “Always There…In Our Hearts” which seems to offer some hope…maybe.  There’s signs of uplift in the melody, and when the drums kick in at the end, it seems to propel the song into a more intense frame of mind.

And lyrically, despite all of the darkness that is always there in our hearts, there is a light peeking out: “always therein our hearts a joy of life that overwhelms.”

Although most reviewers find this album unremittingly bleak, I find the music to be beautiful in an aching sort of way–a beautiful way to deal with pain (better than getting the same tattoo as Miley Cyrus, anyway).

[READ: October 31, 2014] The Kraus Project

The title page of this book read: The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann.

So just what is this thing anyhow?  Well Karl Kraus was a German writer (1874-1936) whose main contributions to letters were some essays and a newsletter Die Fackel (The Torch).  The authors compare the newspaper (favorably) to a blog (while also complaining about what blogs have done to letters).  He started Die Fackel in 1899 and he continued to direct, publish, and write it until his death.  He used the paper to launch attacks on hypocrisy, psychoanalysis, corruption of the Habsburg empire, nationalism of the pan-German movement, laissez-faire economic policies, and numerous other subjects.  For the first ten or so years, Kraus was the editor, accepting contributions from around the German speaking word.  But in 1911, he became the sole contributor to the newsletter.

He also wrote many essays (he did not care much for fiction), including the two main ones that compression this book: “Heine and the Consequences” (1910) and “Nestroy and Posterity” (1912).  The book also includes two follow up essays: “Afterword to Heine and the Consequences” and “Between Two Strains of Life: Final Word to Heine and the Consequences” (1917) and a poem: “Let No One Ask…” (1934).

The essays themselves are quite brief.  Despite the first coming in at 135 pages, note that the left pages are all in German (so reduce 135 by half), nearly all of the English pages are filled with footnotes (reduce by half again) and some of the footnotes run for several pages.  So the essay could be said to be about 25-30 pages.

The same is true for all of the pages in the book.  The left sides are in German (except the footnotes) and most pages are split in half because of the footnotes.  Which means that Franzen and friends write far more than Kraus did.  Ultimately, this book is actually three things: It is a collection of Kraus’ essays with Franzen’s fine translation; it is an explication of Kraus’ attitude and about life in Germany during Kraus’ life and finally it is an insight into Franzen as a young man living in Germany and why Kraus was so appealing to him.

The first part: Kraus’ essays. (more…)

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lostscrapSOUNDTRACK: THE XX-Coexist (2012).

coexGiven my proclivities towards noisy fast rock, there is no reason that I should like The XX, and yet I like Coexist quite a lot. It is such a spare album, but Romy’s voice is fantastic—so sensuous and breathy–that she can totally handle a song that is nearly a capella. So a song like “Angels” whose music consists pretty much entirely of a beautiful echoey guitar (and virtually nothing else except for some occasional soft percussion) is engrossingly intimate and not at all boring. In fact when that simple percussion eventually comes in, it’s like a revelation of sound accompanying her.

What also keeps the album interesting is that she is not the only singer (so there’s something for everyone). “Chained” has Oliver’s breathy, sexy voice as he more or less whisper/sings the lyrics. It has slightly more complex arrangements (meaning the drum is constant and there are quiet waves of synths). “Fiction” slowly builds with an ominous muted guitar motif and echoed chords. But when the chorus kicks in, that muted guitar grows loud and it’s almost overpowering (relatively, of course).   “Try” brings in a spooky kind of keyboards that is slightly unsettling under their mellow hushed duet of vocals.

The diversity of simple sounds that Jamie xx adds to each song are revelatory.  Even though each song is quiet and intimate, the sounds that he uses are so very different within that limited palate.  So “Reunion” sounds like a steel drums, before adding pulsing bass beats. “Sunset” has a slinky guitar and “Missing” introduces as drumbeat that is like a heart beat.  “Tides” has one of the loudest drum beats on the record, alternating with a delicate guitar line.

The simple bass line adds a really funky quality to “Swept Away.”  And when the claps and keyboard hits come in it feels almost like a dance song.

This is a great album for quiet nights and headphones.  Even if the songs seem to be mostly about lost love, it has a calming effect that is really enjoyable.  I’ll have to check out their debut as well.

[READ: September 30, 2014] The Lost Scrapbook

Some fans of David Foster Wallace speak well of Evan Dara (at least that’s how I’ve heard of  him).  I was unfamiliar with him and the fascinating story he has built around himself.  Evan Dara appears to be a pseudonym.  As one writer put it: “Hell, we don’t even now who Evan Dara is. Apparently, he is a male American in his 30s living in Paris.”  This, his debut novel, has attracted attention not only for being really weird, but for being really good.

What was fun about reading this was that I knew there were strange things afoot in the book, but I didn’t know what exactly (I really like to go into a book completely blind if I can).  So when the book started out with a conversation in which no character names were given (or even how many there were), I was prepared.  And while I didn’t really know what the subject they were talking about was, I figured that would be fine as well.  Then when four pages in the all caps word YIELD seemed to signal a change of narrator/perspective/something, I thought, okay this is what I’m in for.

Then I noticed that every paragraph which wasn’t conversation (with an em dash) was preceded by three ellipses (and ended with same).  A few pages later there’s an all caps TOW-AWAY ZONE which introduces another shift.

And somewhere around page 14 a sort of plot begins to form (although it’s unclear whether or not any of the earlier sections have anything to do with this one).  A man is shot…or not?  But then after the KEEP DOOR CLOSED section break, a new story develops.  A man with a Walkman (I was trying to decide if this was deliberately retro or intentionally set in the 80s, but that was unclear to me) is driving along to meet a man named Dave (at last a name!).  Dave is a filmographer who has been collecting fireflies for a video project.  And just as we near a kind of resolution of this section, it morphs, unannounced, mind you, into something else entirely–a discussion of music, specifically Beethoven and his decision to rework limited material into multiple variations.  It is fascinating and engaging and very well-considered, but it too ends before anything can be “resolved.” (more…)

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extremeSOUNDTRACK: QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-…Like Clockwork (2013).

qotsa I have loved the earlier QOTSA albums, but I just couldn’t get into this one when it came out.  Perhaps it was too…subtle?  I put it aside, heard everyone rave about it and kind of forgot about it.  Well, I recently rediscovered it and now I get it.  It is just as good and complex as everyone said–I think I was just missing the subtleties, yes.

It’s still very QOTSA–Josh Homme is Josh Homme after all, but there are added elements–pianos, strings (!) and slower sections that add depth and bring really interesting sonic textures to their sound that make this album far more complex but no less sleazy fun.

The roaring sounds that are the guitars of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” (accompanied by that bottom heavy bass are just fantastic.  “I Sat By the Ocean” has a chorus that goes from good to great when it builds to a second set of chords–it’s really irresistible.  I recall being surprised by the ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Okay not a ballad exactly but a piano intro that turns into a classic rocker (complete with lengthy guitar solo).

“If I Had a Tail” is a wonderfully sleazy track with a great riff and a great sound.  It’s also got some of the more unusual lyrics I’ve heard–“If I had a tail, I’d own the place.  If I had a tail I’d swat the flies.”  It’s followed by “My God is the Sun” another great riff-based song where Homme’s falsetto is just another catchy element of the song.  It also has another great chorus (why didn’t I like this album last year?).

“Kalopsia” slows the disc down quite a lot–it’s a pretty, gentle song.  Until you get used to it being a mellow song and then it turns into a real rocker (and back again).  “Fairweather Friends” has another great riff and a funny ending with Homme cutting off his chorus and saying “I don’t give a shit about them anyway.”  “Smooth Sailing” reintroduces that sleazy falsetto.  It has a (another) great chorus and an amazing guitar riff that is slowly manipulated into sounding really alien.  It’s very cool.

Most of the songs are pretty standard length, but the final two songs really stretch out.  “I Appear Missing” pushes 6 minutes and has some slower elements, and a great guitar section that connects them all.  The five and a half-minute “Like Clockwork” also starts with a lengthy piano intro and then morphs into another classic rock soloing type song.

It’s one of the best albums of 2013 that I didn’t realize until 2014.  I do wish they lyrics sheet was included as I’m not really sure what he’s saying half the time, and I’m not sure if my guesses make any more or less sense than the actual words.

[READ: September 2014] The Extreme Life of the Sea

I saw this book when I took a tour of the Princeton University Press building.  I loved the cover and thought it seemed like a really interesting topic.  I was later pretty delighted to see it on display in my local library, where I grabbed this copy.

The book is small, but I was a little daunted by the tiny print size (old age or laziness?).  Nevertheless, I was quite interested in the subject, so I pressed on.

Interestingly, a lot of the information that I read in the book, my nine-year old son also knew about–he loves this kind of scary undersea information.  The difference here is that the Palumbis (a father and son team–Stephen is a Professor of Biology, Anthony is a science writer and novelist) write for adults and include a lot of the scientific information to support and explain all the stuff that my son knows–although he knew a surprising amount of detail as well.

And the writing was really enjoyable too.  Anthony knows how to tell a story.  The Prologue itself–about the battle between sperm whale and giant squid–is quite compellingly told.  And whenever an actual creature is involved–he engages us with the creature’s life cycle. (more…)

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