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Archive for the ‘Wholphin’ Category

artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Soundtrack to “I’m Here” (2010).

This soundtrack comes with the book mentioned above and below.  It is the soundtrack to the film “I’m Here” which also comes with the book mentioned above and below.

I haven’t watched the film yet, so I don’t know how well the music works.  But the book explains how many of these songs came to be in the film.  And the organic nature of the compositions sounds like they are very suitable.

The first track (and “theme” of the movie is by Aska & The Lost Trees.  The Lost Trees are a factious band made up for the film.  Aska wrote the song (and there’s sheet music for it in the book).  She has a second song called “Y.O.U.” later on the soundtrack.  It’s a synthy dreamy song.

Gui Borrato’s “Beautiful Life” is an 8 minute techno song.  It seems like an instrumental, but there are eventually lyrics.  And it is rather catchy.

Then there’s a number of bands who I have heard of but don’t know these songs: Sleigh Bells: “A/B Machines” (which is on their debut Treats–a loudly mixed, increasingly noisier and noisier dance track, which is strangely addictive); Animal Collective: “Did You See The Worlds” (which is on Feels and gets better with each listen); Girls: “Hellhole Ratrace” (which is on their debut Album and which sounds like a distortion-free Jesus and Mary Chain) and Of Montreal who remixed “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” from Hissing Fauna… so that The Lost Trees could “cover” it in the film.  I don’t know the original but this has punky abandon and distortion and rocks pretty hard.

The final two tracks are by Sam Spiegel: “Lonesome Robot Theme” and “There Are Many of Us (Electric Dream Reprise).”  They are both slow keyboard washes–delicate songs that close the disc nicely.

It’s an enjoyable soundtrack, a little heavy on the electronics–which makes sense for a movie  about robots, right?

[READ: September 2, 2010] There Are Many of Us

[UPDATE: September 6, 2010] Just watched the film….  Reading the book first will definitely lessen the emotional impact of the film.  So, be sure to watch the DVD, then read the  book.

This book came the other day in the mail as part of my McSweeney’s Book Club.  It’s funny to get a book that is a companion piece to a film you’ve never heard of and which you will likely never see.  And that’s why it’s great that the book includes the film on DVD!  (Along with several bonus features).

I really enjoy short films. And that’s why I like the Wholphin Series as well as the DVDs of Academy Award winning shorts.  I only wish there was more access to them.   I mean, frankly, where would I ever be able to see this film but here?

As I write this I haven’t had the chance to watch the film, so maybe it’s awful.  But I have liked everything that Spike Jonze has done, so I don’t expect to be disappointed.

The stills in the book are fantastic, and the robots look incredibly lifelike.  I’m not sure if it’s better to read the book or watch the film first.  The book doesn’t really give much away about the story (except that it says that the film is inspired by The Giving Tree).  And whether or not I should have watched the film first, the book has me really excited to watch the film soon. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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17Many many years ago, I discovered Might magazine.  It was a funny, silly magazine that spoofed everything (but had a serious backbone, too).  (You can order back issues here).  And so, I subscribed around issue 13.  When the magazine folded (with issue 16–and you can read a little bit about that in the intro to Shiny Adidas Track Suits) it somehow morphed into McSweeney‘s, and much of the creative team behind Might went with them.

The early volumes (1-5 are reviewed in these pages, and the rest will come one of these days) are a more literary enterprise than Might was.  There’s still a lot of the same humor (and a lot of silliness), but there are also lengthy non-fiction pieces.  The big difference is that McSweeney’s was bound as a softcover book rather than as a magazine. And, I guess technically it is called Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern as opposed to Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. (more…)

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powwer[WATCHED: June 2009] The Power of Nightmares

This is a film, not a book.  But I found it so fascinating that I had to say something about it.  I have to say it again, this series was truly amazing, and I encourage everyone to watch it.

The Power of Nightmares is a 3 part documentary, totaling about 3 hours.  It was created by the BBC in 2004.  The underlying theme of the film is that politicians have begun to resort to fear in order to achieve their desired aims.  Where in the distant past, politicians offered hope and future fulfillment, nearly all campaigns now try to scare you into voting for them.  (This was before Obama, and may explain the popularity of Obama’s campaign).

The premise of the series is that the rise of the radical Islamist movement (including al Qaeda) and the rise of the American Neo-Conservatives not only parallels each other but actually supports each other.

This documentary is well researched and, obviously, controversial.  It has, to the best of my knowledge, never aired in the U.S. (more…)

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wholphinThis is a periodical I haven’t mentioned before.  Wholphin is a “DVD Magazine of Rare and Unseen Short Films.”  So yes, the reason I hadn’t mentioned it is because it is a DVD and not a book.  However, as I have been watching Vols 1-8 over the last few months, I have noticed that a few writerly names keep cropping up in the credits.  Plus, it’s got that whole McSweeney’s connection.

So lets look at some of the folks who have turned up on these videos:

  • Spike Jonze with an amazing documentary about Al Gore (that will make you weep all over again about the 2000 election).
  • Miranda July with a short film.
  • David O. Russell (with a post-Three Kings documentary).
  • Bob Odenkirk has several entries on several DVDs
  • A short film by Taika Waititi who did the crazy New Zealand film Eagle vs Shark.
  • There’s a Japanese version of Bewitched with bonus subtitles by Daniel Handler (among others).
  • Daniel Handler also “revoices” a short film Darling Darling starring Michael Cera and a horse-headed man. (John Cleese does another “revoicing”).
  • Michael Chabon’s short story “House Hunting” adapted as a film (starring Paul Rudd and Zooey Deschanel).
  • Evany Thomas (and others) rescripted the subtitles to Schastlivy Vmeste the Russian Married…With Children.  And hers is extremely enjoyable.  She gives up on the show about ten minutes in and then just starts riffing on all manner of things.  I laughed harder at this than I had any right to.
  • “New Boy” is adapted from a Roddy Doyle short story.
  • “Love You More” an adaptation of the short story “Peter Shelly” by Patrick Marber.
  • “The Discipline of De” is adapted from a William S. Burroughs short story.

There is also (from Vol #1) my favorite short deliciousfilm possibly ever by Scott Prendergast called “The Delicious” which you can watch, and I encourage you to, here.

Although “Stairway at St. Paul” is also awesome, and that’s available here.)

There’s also “Heavy Metal Jr.” a great documentary of a metal band made up of pre-teens–available here.

Oh wait, and there’s an amazing documentary about Rubik’s Cube that will blow your mind (if you haven’t played with a cube in a decade), called “Piece by Piece.”

Oh yeah, and “Sour Death Balls” is hilarious and available here.

Even though these films are available online, it would be best to purchase the DVDs from here at http://www.wholphindvd.com.  There’s even a Best of, which features most of the films I mentioned above.  In fact, you should just subscribe, because that will guarantee that they keep releasing these gems on video.

In addition to the random assortment above there are international animations, short nature films, 45 minutes movies, and everything in between.  It’s a wonderful way to see short films that you never knew existed.

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18.jpgSOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-High/Low (1996) & The Proximity Effect (1998).

high.jpgHigh/Low. This CD features the “novelty” hit “Popular” from some years back, you remember, the spoken word bit about trying to impress your high school sweetheart by washing your hair “every two weeks, once, every two weeks.” The song is pretty great, even after the novelty factor has worn off. However, you may feel that you got screwned (see What I Learned… (5)) if you thought the rest of the record would sound like that. For the most part High/Low is kind of forgettable, and a surprising lead off point to what are some really fine follow-up albums. Overall the sound is, not quite murky, but very samey. So that even the catchy parts sort of blend together. It was not until their next album that they start to show some great songwriting.

proximity.jpgThe Proximity Effect. As I understand it, when Nada Surf didn’t produce a hit like “Popular” for their second album, the label dropped them. Which is typically short-sighted because The Proximity Effect is a much better album. In fact, it contains a song akin to “Popular” called “Mother’s Day” but it is so much darker–almost the anti-“Popular.” It too has a spoken word type vocal, and yet the song is an anti-rape song. A dark subject to be sure, but the guitar riff is so great it stays in your head, and you wind up thinking even more about the song. The first four songs really break Nada Surf out of the sameyness of High/Low by introducing high notes! It really cracks through the grungy sound by including some contrast. However, it’s the next album, Let Go, that really shows Nada Surf taking off.

What’s so weird and awkward about talking about these records in this way is that looking back on the earlier ones with hindsight, its easy to see their flaws, and yet, if you could go back and revisit High/Low without the benefit of the later albums, I wonder if it would shine even brighter.

[READ: July 10, 2007] McSweeney’s #18.

After the utter weirdness of McSweeney’s #17, came this very calming volume. It is a simple paperback book, with a one color raised maze on the front. That’s it. This issue lets the stories take over, and it’s a nice change. (But a short lived one, once you check out #19). This volume also came with the first issue of Wholphin, the McSweeney’s produced DVD series, which I won’t be reviewing, except to say that the two or three videos I watched were really great, especially the one about Al Gore, and the one about the guy singing “Stairway to Heaven” backwards. (more…)

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