Archive for the ‘Eschaton’ Category

two-worse  SOUNDTRACK: CHEICK HAMALA DIABATEN-Tiny Desk Concert #285 (July 6, 2013).

hamalaNPR Music has been the sole source of my exposure to music from Mali.  I have really grown to like its slightly unusual patterns which are all based on a fairly standard rock structure.  But unlike some of the other Mali musicians I’ve been exposed to, Diabaten does not play guitar.  He plays banjo and the ngoni (but there is plenty of guitar in the song too).

The blurb tells us

Malian tradition lies at the heart and foot-stomping soul of Cheick Hamala Diabate and his band, but their melodies and undeniable rhythms cut across age and ethnicity. Diabate primarily plays the ngoni and the banjo; think of the ngoni as a great-grandfather to the banjo and it all makes sense, because both instruments share the ability to convey melody and plucked percussive rhythm.

Diabate is from Kita in Mali and born into a family of griots, or storytellers; his first cousin is the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate. Cheick Hamala Diabate makes his home these days in a Maryland suburb a few miles over the D.C. line, and his musicians are American-born and inspired by this lively lyrical music, which often tells a tale about Mali and its people as part of the sway and shake.

“Mali De Nou” sounds fairly traditional–with all of the percussion.  And then about a minute and half in a noisy scratchy guitar solo plays over all of the music–a very Mali sound.  But it’s interesting that, for the beginning anyhow, Diabate isn’t doing all that much.  In fact, the song feels almost overwhelmed by percussion (but in a good way). There’s a shaker or two, big floor drums (congas?) and a drum held between the knees and there’s even that big round gourd drum.

There’s also a sax and a bass, the lead guitar and of course, Cheick’s banjo.  By the middle of the song,  Chieck does some lead banjo playing.  And then it sounds like he’s put some effects on the banjo making it sound almost like a kettle drum—he even plays the strings below the bridge.  He really gets a lot of cool sounds out of the instrument

After this song he chats briefly and wants to “Invite you guys to visit Mali, it’s a beautiful country, you’ll be more happy.”

For “Talcamba” he switches to the ngoni.  He explains that the original ngoni had 4 strings, but his has 7 so he can play…more.  This instrument can play reggae, salsa, everything.  This is when he says the American banjo is like the grandson of ngoni.

Tacamba is a dance from north Mali—you can move your body (he waves his arms).  There are vocals but they are mostly a chanted refrain   The solo on the ngoni isn’t a conventional solo, it’s him flicking the strings making a very interesting sound.  I could have used more close-ups of this instrument as you could barely see the strings, and I’d love to see how he fit 7 on that small neck.  Half way through the song it shifts gears and the tempo really picks up—there’s a fast guitar solo with all that percussion keeping up.  And then the percussionist puts down her shaker and starts dancing in the center of the room.  It feels inspired and impromptu and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  While she’s doing that, Cheick picks up a hand drum and starts creating a new rhythm.  It is joyful and celebratory.

For the final song, “Djire Madje,” he switches to acoustic guitar which he plays lefty upside down (so the high notes are at the top).  He plays the lead riff.  At one point the electric guitar is also playing a lead but in a very different styles and they work very well together.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed The Terrible Two, and this sequel is just as enjoyable.  The pranks are bigger, but the victim has changed.  Why?

Because Niles Sparks’ and Miles Murphy’s pranks got their principal fired!

Principal Barkin was the perfect guy to play a prank on–he had no sense of humor, he was pretty jerky and his face got really purple when he was upset.  But Principal Barkin is nothing compared to his father.  We met his father in the previous book–he yelled a lot, especially at Principal Barkin.  You see, the principal’s father was the previous principal, and he was a tough guy–he took no guff from anyone.

So after a delicious opening prank, Niles and Miles set about to making a great prank on Photo Day.  One of the great things about these books is the illustrations (by Kevin Cornell).  Sometimes the text incorporates the illustrations into the story. Like with Picture Day–the hilariously bad “pictures” absolutely make the sequence.  But it’s what they do to Principal Barkin’s son (who has paid the extra $10 for a gray background) is frankly genius.

But even better is what they have done to the whole school photo– a prank many months in the making.


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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.


[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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[WATCHED: August 22, 2011] “The Calamity Song”

I woke yesterday to the news that one of my favorite bands had made a music video which was a tribute to one of my favorite books, Infinite Jest. Colin Meloy was a reader during the Infinite Summer project (one of the more high profile readers, although he didn’t really contribute beyond the first week).  When I saw him at BEA, I asked him if he finished the book and he said that indeed he had. Weill according to this story from The New York Times, Colin liked the book so much that he wanted to use one of the great scenes from the book as the basis of a music video.  And since The Calamity Song has the line “In the Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab” which is an allusion to Infinite Jest‘s Subsidized Time, well why not use that as the song.

The video was directed by Michael Schur (a huge Infinite Jest fan) who is a major figure behind Parks and Recreation. The video is a bare-bones retelling of the Eschaton sequence from the novel. For those who have not gotten to that scene yet, Eschaton is a game of global annihilation played on a tennis court. There are strategic places you are supposed to hit from across the court (so it’s a physical game, not just an academic one) with your 5 megaton tennis balls.   The scene is challenging to read because there’s so much going on, but the video does a very good job of giving you the essence.

Sure, diehards will have lots to quibble about (it’s raining, not snowing; Ann Kittenplan (the girl who gets hit with the ball) is totally hot–not so much in the book; and the scene doesn’t end with someone’s head crashing through a computer monitor).  Most of the quibbles are addressed in the Times article but some are easily answered anyhow–it was filmed in two days, it’s a flat screen monitor (you can’t put your head through that), and why not have a hot Ann Kittenplan, it’s a music video, right?   (more…)

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This is a wonderfully twisted covered of Van Halen’s “Jump.”  VH’s version of “Jump” is bouncy, lively, fun, it makes you want to yes, Jump!  It was many years after the release of VH’s “Jump” that I heard the Aztec Camera version (even though it was released the same year).  The first time I heard it I assumed it was a joke.

I didn’t know much about Aztec Camera (and actually still don’t–looking at their Wikipedia page I don’t recognize the names of any of their singles).   But I have grown to love this cover of “Jump.”  In fact I prefer it to the original.

The opening chord structure makes me think it’s going to be the Rolling Stone’s “Waiting on a Friend” but instead of Jagger’s ooh oohs we get Roddy Frame’s deep voice practically whispering the lyrics that David Lee Roth made famous.  And it stays with this delightfully mellow acoustic style and pacing throughout.  The guitar work in the bridge is actually much more interesting than the bridge in the Van Halen version (ouch).

The chorus seems kind of odd with his very mellowly saying “jump” (although David Lee Roth doesn’t scream “jump” either, it’s the backing vocals that do the exciting part).  I feel like the original VH version hasn’t held up that well, but the Aztec Camera version shows that it’s quite a good song.

Check it out here.

[READ: Week of November 8] Consider David Foster Wallace [first three essays]

I lied.

I said that I wouldn’t feel up to writing posts about all of the articles in this book on a regular basis.  As it turns out, I don’t have a lot to say about these essays, but I had a few thoughts about each one.  Since there’s a group reading going on, I thought it might be fun to post these thoughts now while people were still speaking about the articles instead of waiting until the end.

Before I say anything about this articles, I want to preface that I’m not going to repeat things that were said in the group read (for a couple of reasons).  Everything here is going to be things that I felt about the article and maybe, if something another reader says really sticks with me, I’ll mention it as an influence on me.

Having said that, in one of the comments, author Clare Hayes-Brady says that her article is a part of a longer thesis.  I found this to be a very useful thing to know, and I assume that she is not the only one who had to compress her article because of size and time constraints.  With that in mind, I’m going to accept that if it seems like the author could/should say more about a certain thing within the article that there is probably a larger version of the piece.

And finally, because I don’t have a lot to say about the pieces, I’m only going to mention things that I found puzzling/confusing.  But be assured that if I don’t mention the vast majority of the article it’s because I found it interesting/compelling/believable.  I don’t feel comfortable paraphrasing the articles’ argument.  Besides, what would be the point of that?


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SOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-Live from the Vault-Volume 4 (2009).

Faithful reader will recall that this disc got trapped in my car’s CD changer.  When I had it the player replaced, they sent the old one back to mysterious Toyota offices far away.  And, about a month or so after sending it out, I received a package from Toyota with my three lost discs (this one, a Black Sabbath disc and, a promo disc I took from the library to try and wedge into the player to get it to eject the other discs (that doesn’t work, by the way) which was, embarrassingly, Ozzy & Kelly Osbourne doing a duet of something or other).

Thank you random Toyota person for keeping this disc, which is not easily replaced, in good condition.

So this concert is from 1994 and was recorded in Brussels on the Day for Night Tour.  I think many fans feel that this is a high point in The Hip’s recording career, and this concert attests to it.  The band sounds fantastic, energetic and really tight.  And the music from this era is just great: dynamic and dramatic.

This disc also adds to speculation that lead singer Gord Downie is a weird guy.  His between song banter is quite peculiar, to say the least (apropos of nothing: “Do you think of your pet as a pet or a member of the family?”).  Which also leads me to wonder if fans in non-English speaking countries (and yes, I know that many people in Brussels do speak English) think or care or even mind when lead singers babble in English to them.  Just curious.

I don’t have any other Vault discs from The Hip, but this one is certainly great.

[READ: During an ∞ of minutes during December 2009 & January 2010] Everything and More

As part of my pledge to read all of DFW’s works, I skipped the fiction and moved straight to this.  I hadn’t heard all that much about this book, except that it was pretty dense.  And, yup it is.

I’m going to give a comparison for any other DFW fans who are thinking about reading this.  If you have read Infinite Jest (and if you’re interested in DFW you should certainly read that before this book), and if you recall Endnote 123: Pemulis’ high tech math formula for calculating Mean Value w/r/t Eschaton, then you will have a fair idea of what you’re in for with Everything and More.  So, if your eyes glazed when you started to read that endnote, you’ll likely want to skip this book altogether.  However, if you plugged through with that endnote and you didn’t care that you didn’t get it, but you kind of enjoyed it because despite the math, it is very funny, well, then you might enjoy this book too.

If you’re a hard core math dude and you understand what things like: ∃ and ∈ and ∉ and ∏ and ℜ and even ∀ then you’ll have no problem with this book.

But math aside, there’s a lot of funny things in this book.  And DFW is in full conversational tone, with several places where he says things like “not sure if this has been mentioned in the book yet” implying that he never proofread the thing, which we know he did.  There’s even a funny observation as to the placement of a picture (“it’s not entirely clear to me why they put [this pencil sketch] here”).  There’s also tons of footnotes.  And most of them are labeled IYI (meaning If You’re Interested), and he totally lets you off the hook if you don’t feel compelled to read these.  Although as with most things DFW does, the footnotes are always tons of fun.

He also shows his great undying affection for his math professor, Dr. Goris (Dr. G).  He quotes liberally from Dr G’s classes, citing examples, funny quotes and the amusing joke that Irrational Numbers are called ‘surds.  There’s also great joke about schnitt (which I’ll explain later).  It even opens with a hilarious (or maybe not) section about the inability to get out of bed in the morning when you think about infinity.

As in for example in the early morning, especially if you wake up slightly before your alarm goes off, when it can suddenly and for no reason occur to you that you’ve been getting out of bed every morning without the slightest doubt that the floor would support you. Lying there now considering the matter, it appears at least theoretically possible that some flaw in the floor’s construction or its molecular integrity could make it buckle, or that even some aberrant bit of quantum flux or something could cause you to melt right through. Meaning it doesn’t seem logically impossible or anything. It’s not like you’re actually scared that the floor might give way in a moment when you really do get out of bed. It’s just that certain moods and lines of thinking are more abstract, not just focused on whatever needs or obligations you’re going to get out of bed to attend to.

And but so, what is this thing about?

Okay, so it’s about ∞ and the history of ∞.  It begins with a great section about the ancient Greeks (Zeno’s Paradox and all that) and slowly moves up through to Aristotle.  I myself have always been a Platonist (yes, in fact, I have made that distinction in my life, which may say more about me than many people know), and have always been kind of anti-Aristotle.  And, for the purposes of this book, that’s a great position to take.  Aristotle turns out to be like the arch-nemesis of ∞. (more…)

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I’ve recently discovered the awesomeness of Austin City Limits.  And in the two or so years that I’ve been watching, I’ve seen some great live shows (even is most bands are reduced to 30 minutes).  This re-broadcast of The Decemberists, however, just blew me away.

The concert comes from The Crane Wife tour, and it is just a wonderful exploration of this fantastic CD.  I’ve liked the Decemberists for years, and have listened to all of their discs multiple times, but there was something about this recording, in particular the wailing guitar work of Colin Meloy (seeing him lying on the floor making crazed feedback was pretty impressive), and the amazing solo work of Chris Funk that gave me even more respect for this wonderful album and the band.

It is highly recommended. For more info see here.

[READ: January 14, 2010] 100 Page Tribute to David Foster Wallace

I was able to order a copy of this journal directly from The University of Arizona and received it not too long ago.  It is a two part issue (55/56) that is chock full of all kinds of things, including this 100 page tribute to DFW.  I intend to read the whole thing, or at least more than just the DFW stuff, but as I don’t see that happening too soon, I wanted to address this tribute section directly.

DFW received his MFA from UA and he was also an editor at Sonora Review.  He also published “/Solomon Silverfish/” there shortly after getting his MFA.  So the tributes make sense from this publication.  All of the tributes here come from varied people and are all either interesting or moving to the Wallace fan. (more…)

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ijestSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Sonic Nurse (2004).


After the glorious Murray Street, SY return with an even better disc: Sonic Nurse.  This is probably their most overtly catchy (and therefore in my opinion wonderful) record since the Goo/Dirty period of 1991.  (Can it really be 13 years between these discs?).

This disc features Jim O’Rourke as well.  I’m led to believe that he has been playing bass with the band in order to free Kim up to do other things.  Although what she is doing I can’t really imagine.

“Pattern Recognition” opens with the most catchy guitar line in Sonic Youth memory.  Such a great and easy guitar riff.  Kim’s voice is sultry and wondrous.  And Steve Shelly really gets a chance to shine with some fun drum parts.  And, as is typical lately, the catchy songs get some lengthy end treatments, so this song ends with a 2-minute noise fest.  But it’s a good one.  “Unmade Bed” is one of Thurston’s special mellow-singing songs but the guitar solo is weird and wonderful.

“Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” was originally called “Mariah Carey and the…” (and I have no idea if the original was different).  Is one of those noisy Kim-sung jams that SY are known for. But it also features a “Hey hey baby” sing along chorus too.

“Stones” continues this midtempo catchiness with another amazing guitar riff that runs throughout the song.  While “Dude Ranch Nurse” is another mellow Kim piece that has a great riff and wonderfully noisy bridges.  And of course, Lee is awesome on “Paper Cup Exit,” yet another fatastic song.  The cool breakdown in the song is a nice unexpected twist.

“I Love You Golden Blue” may be the most beautiful song the band has ever done.  Kim’s voice is delicate and delightful as she whisper/sings over a gorgeous guitar line.  The final song is another of Thurston’s beauties: “Peace Attack” a slow builder, complete with verse ending guitar solos.

Sonic Nurse is a beuaty.

[READ: Week of September 14, 2009] Infinite Jest (to page 949)

Flying in the face of potential spoilers, I was looking for any evidence of there ever being a “unedited Director’s Cut” version of Infinite Jest.  There is, supposedly, one copy of the full text floating around, and I’m actually quite surprised no one has tried to capitalize on DFW’s death by releasing it (I’d rather see that than another “This is Water” type publication).

But while looking around, I got this pleasant surprise from the Howling Fantods–these are comments on a first draft of IJ (without too much unpublished work shown).  But there’s also this disturbing (to me) item:

(N.B.: Wallace made numerous corrections for the paperback edition of 1997, so that edition is the one scholars should use. Put a Mylar cover on the pretty hardback and leave it on the shelf.)

Great. So I read the wrong copy?  Twice??

I haven’t said very much in any of these posts regarding DFW himself.  I don’t feel it is my place to comment on the man or his situation.   However, through a nice shout out to me, I found this really cool site: The Joy of Sox.  It’s primarily about the Red Sox but it has a delightful side venue in DFW information.  There’s not a ton, and he quotes extensively from others who have done more research than he–he’s a fan of DFW, but this is a sports blog after all.  But it is a delightful collection of miscellanea.  And he pointed me to this article, “Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open“, which I had never read (so thank you!).   So, do check out the site, he’s not doing Infinite Summer, but he’s likely going to read IJ again in the fall.

As this almost-final week opens, the book is flying downhill like an AFR wheelchair, paralleling Gately’s literal inability to talk with Hal’s metaphorical? literal? we’ll see? one.  But it really is the Gately show.  We learn more and more about him, and his back story makes him more and more likable.  Who ever would have guessed? (more…)

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