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Archive for the ‘Scholarship’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Casbah, Hamilton, Ontario (November 6, 2004).

This was a Hamilton show between the 2004 Western Fall Nationals and the 10 night Fall Nationals at The Horseshoe Tavern the following week. The band attempted to play all of 2067 succeeding apart from “The Latest Attempt On Your Life” and “Try To Praise This Mutilated World.”

The recording opens with some wild jazz playing–rather incongruous opening music.  But it quickly fades and you hear the guys plucking away as their noodling solidifies into “Easy To Be With You.”  They seem to be having a lot of fun with the hoo ah hoo ah middle part–making it a bit more rocking, perhaps?

Martin: “This is for Yod’s sister.”  Mike: “And Daryl from Niagara Falls, Happy Birthday.”  Tim: “We couldn’t download the lyrics to ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ so we’re gonna do this one instead.  Mike: “All the teleprompter rentals were eaten up by the U.S. election.” Martin: “And Velvet Revolver are on tour.”  They play a  stompin “Record Body Count.”

So we have a new record out.  It’s called “twenty one twel–“.  It’s called 2067.  Tim: “It’s our 2,067th release.”  Martin: “We’re a very prolific band.  And we’re gonna attempt to do it top to bottom.”  Mike: “And you know what they say, there’s a fine line between flagship and guinea pig and you’re it.”

The first song is “Shack in the Cornfields.”  Martin introduces it: “This song had a large head. But Mike and I got down to it and made sure it was born.  In the corn.” It sounds good and has a really long percussion ending and then opens up into Dave’s quiet “Little Bird,” a song they have played a lot over the  last year.

Next up is “Marginalized,” which is a bit softer and less angry than some other versions.

Dave says, “We’re gonna do a song we just shot a video for.  We do a video every couple of years.  We got Frank Bonner to co-star in this video with Martin. It’s called The Tarleks and it’s about Herb Tarlke from WKRP in Cincinnati from the late 1970s and 1980s, the heyday of modern American sitcoms.  And one day it will be done and you will see it. But until then you just have to fantasize what it might look like.”  It’s a little slow an angular.  Like much of the show it feels either tentative or like they want the audience to be able to experience the songs fully.

“Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” has the opening stanza which they hadn’t been playing live.  This is slower than usual, I think–although it feels like a real ballad the way it builds.  There’s a buzzy wire as well, which I’m sure bugs the band.  “I Dig Music” is a little goofier and less rocking than other versions.  On the way after the middle section MPW plays the drum fill for Rush’s “Lakeside Park” but not quite right.  For “Here Comes the Image” Mike plays a playful almost bell-sounding keyboard solo–although it does cut out a few times during the lengthy solo at the end.

Dave notes: “The worst part of switching instruments is not knowing which beer is yours.”

Mike says, “This song [“Who Is This Man and Why Is He Laughing?”] has no words.  It’s drifting and mellow.  Next up is supposed to be “The Latest Attempt on Your Life” which they have played live before.  But you hear Martin say he doesn’t want to do it: “Let’s skip that one and do ‘Polar Bears.'”  Mike agrees, “If we were doing Dark Side of the Moon or something we’d stick to it but we’re going to deviate.”  It’s a spare but romping version of “Polar Bears” with some loud “hey hey ho hos.”

Dave: This next song is about yesterday’s football game that Tim wrote, uh, four weeks ago. Two days ago?  Friday night?  What day is it?  That was yesterday I was talking Tiger Cats.
Mike: “Making Pierogies.”  It’s a slow mellow song.  Very pretty, especially the guitar parts at the end

Next week is our 4th annual Fall Nationals at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto (corner of Queen and Spadina).  Ten nights in a row this year starting next… the coming Thursday.

Tim: Thanks to Wayne Omaha for playing tonight.  They’re selling their new album back there and if you wanna get their other one Can the Maps. Go For the Beauty, bug them, and they’ll sell it to ya.
Dave: I think those guys should tour prisons. I think it would be really good for the country.  As long as they’re on the right side of the bars.

They skip “Try to Praise This Mutilated World” and go into “P.I.N.”  They play the coda at the beginning and then the songs starts.  Martin sings his verse in a kind of flat deadpan and Dave says Martin Stop rapping and Martin seems to get annoyed or something–he starts singing crazy–more deadpan and then he screams a punky style and then redlines the volume with a scream on the mic–it’s a little disturbing.  They jump into a poppy “Mumbletypeg” and after the first line Dave says “That’s a lot of beer.”  It gets pretty wild by the end.  It segues into a dark “Stolen Car,” with Martin singing “Goodbye suburban motherfuck.”  The middle has a lengthy instrumental section with Tim getting to mess around on bass a bit.

After a relatively long encore break, the come back with “Pornography.”  “We wish that song wasn’t relevant; however, it is.”

Then there’s a slow “California Dreamline.” And they end with a long “Feed Yourself” with a really creepy section of Dave whispering all kinds of things like “me and you in his head.”  The song ends with some wild effects from someone–almost a minute of pinging sounds after which Dave says, Sorry.

[READ: February 21, 2017] Furry Logic

This book came across my desk at work (I’m still bummed that they changed the way we get books at work so I don’t see as many interesting ones as I used to).  It looked interesting, so I brought it home and read it over the weekend.

This is a pop-science book that looks at how animals use physics to their advantage:  “If you’re scared of physics, don;t worry, we’ve kept things simple.”  I enjoyed that the book states right up front that the authors are anthropomorphizing the animals because that makes for a much better story. Even though, in the end, they dismiss this idea.

Chapter 1 is called Heat: The Warm Up Chapter.  In which we learn about gender-swapping snakes, floppy skinned dogs, mosquitoes that wee blood, killer bees, hot-tailed squirrels, vipers that see heat and beetles that hear infrared.

The chapter looks at (using the research of others) how snakes in Manitoba keep warm by piling together in a big clumps.  But more interestingly, there are certain snakes which swap genders (temporarily).  Male snakes secrete female pheromones to attract males for body heat.  We learn that dogs shake the water off of them because the energy they expel from the vigorous shaking is actually far less than the energy they would have to use to keep warm if they were so wet.  The authors talk a lot about just how interesting it is to see their skin flip back and forth (this goes for all mammals since they all seem to shake in vaguely the same way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSFall Nationals The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON. Night 3 of 13 (November 12, 2003).

This was the 3rd night of the Rheostatics 13 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  Rheostatics Live has recordings of nights 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7.

As the show starts, Tim says, “Thanks for coming out.”

So Dave replies, “Why, you’re welcome, Tim.  I was doing nothing else so I figured why not play a little drums, a little bass, a little guitar.”

“Here Comes The Image” opens the show (Dave is on drums for this).  It’s slow with lots of cool keys from M.P.W.  The sound quality fades dramatically about 3 minutes in.

Dave explains, “That was an epic song by Tim Vesely.  We’re gonna do another epic song now.  Epic means just long basically, and grand.”  It’s “Oneilly’s Strange Dream.”  Which Dave describes as a song that “was supposed to the be the equivalent of an Edgar Rice Burroughs book.  He’s the guy who wrote Tarzan.  Not to be confused with William S. Burroughs–an urban jungle thing still a lot of guys with no shirts on.”  Martin: “I hate those guys.”

Martin repeats the first verse.   There’s some great powerful drumming in the middle of the song.  The sound levels go back up during this song.

The final notes are a little cockeyed and you hear someone re-sing “pile of bones laying at my side” with that bad chord.

They play Woodstuck “with a drum fill.”  Dave says it’s an old song and someone asks him what it’s about.  Dave tells a story about touring in 1987 and he tells a strange story about a merch guy.  It’s pretty strange and ends with: that’s a song about Brett.  We left him in Calgary naked, quivering under the bed.  Tim says “we didn’t leave him, we gave him to another band: Pigfarm.

Mike notes that “that story was on the set list.  That was a tune.”

Next they play a new song (from 2067), “The Latest Attempt On Your Life.”  It seems they haven’t quite figured out the backing vocals live yet.  “CCYPA” rocks and then they settle things down with “Introducing Happiness” and “Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” (with no ending howl from Martin).

Dave says this is our 3rd annual Fall Nationals.  Mike asks if there is a theme for this night.  No, but one might emerge.

Mike says, “A bolt of lightning struck exactly one block from my house this evening.”  (Dave makes an allusion to Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush (who “inherited the soul of Jimi Hendrix”).

They play a sweet version of “It’s Easy To Be With You,” about which Dave says, “Boy is this song ever about cocaine.”

Next Thursday is an all covers night, so they’re going to do some tonight to make sure they know what they’re doing.

They play Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which I don’t know at all. Martin sings and plays gentle guitar.

Then they start joking about “Old Garfunkel, eh?”

He walked across America with just a credit card…it’s true.  Talk about time on your hands.  I thought it was a knife and a rope.   I heard it was credit card shoes.  Shoes made out of old credit cards.  That was his last album Credit Card Shoes.

In Edinburgh we listened to Scissors Cut about 20 times.  Weirdest album ever made.  Scissors cut and yet the hair remains.

They finally get to a quiet “Palomar” with limited backing vocals.

Somebody in the audience says “I heard you guys have a synchronized soft shoe routine.”  Tim says,”we’re waiting for that to become an Olympic event before we unveil it.”  Dave says, “I couldn’t remember if it was black square white square or white square black square.”

Martin introduces “Self Serve Gas Station”: Take it away Dave.”  But Dave plays “Roll Another Number” bu Neil Young which segues in to “Self Serve.”  The quiet guitar section at the end segues beautifully into “California Dreamline.”

They play a cover of The Clash’s “London Calling,” which sounds great although Dave is a little not angry enough.

People shout out “Michael Jackson”  Martin: “pleased to announce that Michael Jackson is in the audience tonight.”

Then after lots of ums there’s discussion of what to play. Martin in HAL’s calm voice “Why not both, David.  Let’s do both.”  They play “One More Colour,” but then go to an encore break.

Thanks all.  “Frozen rock pose.”  Dave: “We are Frozen Rock Pose.”

We have a few more for you—Dave sings “My First Rock Show” and gets the wrong verse!  He also sings “I ‘sore’ [sic] everything.”  Tim calls him on that.  At “swan dived,” Mike plays a thunderous drum and Dave recites a spiel:

The drums of war were in the air yet they were peaceable times.
And you saw a band like Yello and found out that they sucked and it didn’t cost you $85 to find out.  No $21.50.  Trixter, Heart, The J Geils Band.    Meat Loaf, Blue Peter, The Spoons.  A Flock of Seagulls.  No A-ha did not play.  OMD  OMD, baby.  Oingo Boingo at the first Police picnic.  To Martin: Are those guitar sounds a flock of seagulls?  Dave: they were the best, not the best but they were good.

Where to?  A Flock of Seagulls.  No Tim will do a Warren Zevon song.  called “Reconsider Me.”  I don’t know it.  He sings very high and off a bit.  He groans but then by the middle he says its coming to me and he finished okay with a “Sorry, Warren, I tried.”

We’re here til next Saturday and tomorrow night is guest vocals night.  We have 26 guest vocalists.  We better get in the habit of thanking our guests.

Andrew Houghton played tonight.  And Serena Ryder the next two nights held over by popular acclaim.  They end the with a poppy “In This Town.”

[READ: January 25, 2017] The Ugly

I read a review of this book that made it sound really compelling and strange.  And the back of the book has some of that compelling strangeness in the blurb:

Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth is a 300-pound boulder-throwing mountain man from Siberia whose tribal homeland is stolen by an American lawyer out to build a butterfly conservatory for wealthy tourists.  In order to restore his people’s land and honor, Muzhduk must travel to Harvard Law School to learn how to throw words instead of boulders.

And that is exactly what happens.  Along with a bunch of other strange things.

I enjoyed the way the story was told.  There are basically parallel narratives.  One is told in first person and is Muzhduk’s life after Harvard (perhaps the present), the other is told in third person and is all about his life at Harvard law school.

But the story begins with the Dull-Boulder Throw.  In his village a chief is determined by who can catch (and throw) a boulder hurled at your chest.  Muzhduk the Ugli the Fourth is the next in line for the throne–his ancestors have all been leaders–but he is the smallest of his lineage being only 300 pounds.

Nevertheless, he knows he must defeat Hulagu who was inbred huge and dumb.  If Hulagu won, the tribe would suffer.  And so for the good of the tribe, he win the Throw. But the second part of becoming chief was climbing the tallest mountain.  Each of his ancestors had climbed a taller mountain, and now his task was trying to find one taller than the tallest one around here. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11 1996).

This is the final show on Rheostatics Live in which the band is opening for The Tragically Hip.

For this show, the intro music is also from The Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Judy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  It’s just one verse before fading out and then guitars fading in for Martin to play “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”

Turns out that this setlist is similar to the one from Buffalo with a lot of new songs.  Although there are a few older/more popular songs in places.

The new songs include “Fat” which sounds great of course.  I gather they are maybe sharing a microphone because at the end Dave says “See you in the next song, Martin.”  “Okay, Dave.”  This leads into a perfect version of “All the Same Eyes.”

Martin says “We are the Rheostatics.”  Dave says “We are the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howell Brothers (?).  They couldn’t make it but we got their jackets.  It’s nice of you to come out early.  We’re playing selections from our new record. Get it before it’s reduced to clear.”  (You can hear someone laugh on tape).

This is a segue into the single “Bad Time to Be Poor.”  It’s followed by another Tim song, “Claire” with the acoustic guitar opening in place.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo, although it’s not quiet as exciting as some of the other ones.  But Martin was saving up for a spirited version of “California Dreamline.”

They end their set with a rough rocking “Feed Yourself.”  During the spoken part, they slow things down to just a bass and washes of guitar.  It’s a pretty intense ending and a good preparation for The Tragically Hip.

[READ: June 25, 2017] The Story of Canada in 150 Objects

In celebration of Canada’s 150th year, Canadian Geographic and The Walrus created this special issue–a fun way to describe many elements of Canadian culture through “objects.”

The objects are grouped in vague categories.  Some have just a few words written about them while others get a few pages.  Some are humorous, some are more serious.  Most are happy or amusing, some not so much.  And all of it together paints a diverse and complex portrait of the country–as well as teaching this person from South of the border a number of things I did not know.

It’s with comic pride and humility that the first object is politeness (which is not an object at all, of course).  The amusing thing about this article about “politeness” is that while the author of it is very pleased to be so polite, he also can’t wait for his fellow Canucks to forget to be polite so he can rub it in with a extra smarmy “You’re Welcome.” (more…)

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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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