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Archive for the ‘Surreal’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHAPEL OF DISEASESong of the Gods” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

Even though Lars is all over the place with the style of music he loves, he tends to return again and again to metal, especially lately doom metal.  It is fitting that Chapel of Disease ends the set.  Lars has introduced me to a lot of really heavy music often with growly vocalists.  But Chapel of Disease, despite their name does not sound like that exactly.  The vocals are deep and kind of growly but they are audible (for the most part) (and sound like they come from miles away).

This song is seven minutes long and opens with an almost middle-eastern sounding quiet guitar intro.  After 20 or so seconds, the main riff enters and sounds even more Middle Eastern, but when the bombastic bass and drums come in and the song turns from pretty guitar to heavy metal, that riff becomes a total classic rock song.  After 2 and a half minutes, the vocals come in, and honestly they are a little too low and growly for the music.  They almost feel like an afterthought for the music they are making.  At least the chorus (where that riff comes back) is easy enough to understand.

The guitar solo is actually quite pretty and understated–the whole song kind of pulls back a bit until we hit about 5 minutes when then real metal shows up and the raging solo and double bass drum take the song to a heavier point than they’ve hit thus far.   By 6 minutes, in true classic rock fashion it returns to the riff and the chorus and they play us to the end.

Lars calls this “Death-metal Dire Straits” and then immediately says “No, wait, come back!”  I don’t really hear the Knopfler guitar but I’ll allow it.  I totally agree with him that on their

third album Chapel of Dissease embraces ’70s hard-rock swagger, proggy sorcery and, most surprisingly… fluid melodicism… all atop death-metal growls and chugged riffs. There’s no reason why this should work, and it’s a testament to Chapel of Disease’s heavily worn record collection, as the group now raises fists and beer to the storm.

There’s only 6 songs on the album and none are shorter that 6 minutes.  It’s a cool change form typical death metal.

[READ: January 6, 2019] “Train Dreams”

This is an excerpt from a novel, which means that the ending is not as open-ended as it seems.

Xiao Yuan was a teacher but now she mostly took business trips as an administrator.  While she is setting up her train’s bunk for the night, a man settles in across from her.  He is Dr. Liu and he sells herbal and non-herbal medicines.  As they lay down in bunks that faced each other, Xiao Yuan put out a pocket watch, a small digital clock and a radio next to her pillow.

Dr Liu was made restless by her timepieces–he sensed an evil aura from the woman across from him.  He got up to switch bunks but Xiao Yuan immediately asked him what he was doing.  She said it was 2 in the morning “Do you want to die?  You’ll be taken for a criminal and arrested.  What a hick…”

She laughed as Dr Liu looked at her and he saw her tuning her radio.  It regularly reported the time but each instance stated it was eleven PM.  Dr Liu knew he could not sleep so he lay wake until Xiao Liu asked him about his job.  She hated Chinese medicine, believing it was mystical and always associated with sex.  But she found herself agreeing with a lot of what Dr Liu said.

She then conceded that she was controlling the radio with her thoughts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BÉGAYER-“L’image du manque” (2018).

At the end of every year publications and sites post year end lists.  I like to look at them to see if I missed any albums of significance.  But my favorite year end list comes from Lars Gottrich at NPR.  For the past ten years, Viking’s Choice has posted a list of obscure and often overlooked bands.  Gottrich also has one of the broadest tastes of anyone I know (myself included–he likes a lot of genres I don’t).  

Since I’m behind on my posts at the beginning of this year, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight the bands that he mentions on this year’s list.  I’m only listening to the one song unless I’m inspired to listen to more.

I certainly didn’t know Bégayer before hearing them here.  Bégayer is a trio from the south of France that howls in French and Arabic, bangs on homemade instruments and leaves a path of delirious distortion in its wake.

Lars describes them as a combination of Animal Collective, Malian desert rock and Eugene Chadbourne thrown off a cliff.

This song starts with a kind of unsure-sounding opening foray into a guitar riff (very Malian in style), after twenty seconds, the high-pitched guitar notes resolve into a furious frenzy–an almost amelodious riff that flies around at breakneck speed.   The super fast drums help to propel the chaos along.

After a minute or so the vocals kick in–they are sparse and peculiar–more keening than singing at times and I have no idea what he is singing.  On a few occasions, the guitar seems to almost have a breakdown while he is singing although by the end he starts to sound like Jeff Buckley having a bit of breakdown himself. It’s bizarre and eerily compelling.

The whole album plays around with these sounds for a different experience with each song.

[READ: December 29, 2018] “Feast of the Epiphany”

This surreal story was published in 2016 in Gronzi’s collection Claustrophobias.

It begins with this bizarre, hilarious opening

It must’ve been either my thirty-third or my thirty-ninth birthday, if one is to believe the numerological charts, and there must’ve been some kind of adult arrangement involving children or else I would’ve never agreed to show myself in public in the company of three or four diversely aged creatures whose cumulative understanding of metaphysics was equivalent to the curiosity of a wart on the nose of a Rajasthani kaan-saaf wallah cleaning people’s ears in the streets of Paharganj.

This dinner becomes farcical with the introduction of the waiter:

Unable to appreciate the animated performance of the waiter who insisted on joining his forefingers over his head and doing a little dance every time he mentioned the rabbit in orange and thyme sauce, I finished the rather cheerless ten-year-old Hermitage before I even read the menu.

Before the appetizer is even over, the narrator makes his excuses and heads for the restroom. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLOUD CULT-“That Man Jumped Out the Window” (Field Recordings, September 12, 2012).

I feel like I know the name Cloud Cult, but this song sounded entirely alien to me.  This was an other Field Recording [Cloud Cult: A Moment Of Serenity] set backstage at Sasquatch! Music Festival.

I love the drama that they set up with this blurb

We were about to call it. The band was running late, our phone service wasn’t working well backstage in the remoteness of the Sasquatch Music Festival in rural Washington state, and the next band was about to begin on the main stage nearby — thus making the prospect of a Field Recording impossible. Then, suddenly, a white van rolled up, straight from the main gate, and out popped six musicians with stringed and brass instruments. Within minutes, they’d set up, sound-checked and performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “That Man Jumped Out the Window” (from 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus) with no practice whatsoever.

I enjoy the orchestral nature of this song–reminding me of many other bigger bands that I like quite a lot.

It took me a couple of listens to “get” this song–there’s a lot of different vocal parts, almost as responses to the main part.

It opens with an acoustic guitar and is accompanied by strings and a French horn.  But the main verse is all acoustic guitar and cello (with stark backing vocals–the vocals are not really pretty exactly (they’re not un-pretty either), just powerful).

I’m not sure that this song is all that memorable for me, but I love reading this about the band:

More a family than a band, the Minneapolis collective does everything with purpose, talent and conviction, from its environmentally conscious lifestyle — in which it self-produces and releases albums from its geothermal-powered organic farm — to its charitable efforts to its emotive, even cathartic songwriting.

The song is quite pretty–although I wonder if it would be more so in a fuller setting.  But as It ended, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to hear it again.  Someone asks if they should do another take.

Then, just as the song ended and the band members finally had a chance to view the majestic natural scenery around them — and as we prepared to record another take, just in case — the festival roared back to life. But for those few minutes, we were able to stop, breathe and take in the emotional significance of a moment of serenity. At which point Cloud Cult piled back into the van and rode off to its next gig.

[READ: April 7, 2016] “Indianapolis (Highway 74)”

This story was published in the New Yorker just eight weeks after the previous Sam Shepard story.  I had to look him up and it is the same Shepard who has been writing since forever.  But he is not especially known for his noir books.  His style has changed over the years although he does often write about rootless characters and absurdist ideas.

So this story is about a rootless character, “I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason.”  This character drives all over the place for long stretches of time.  On this particular night with a blizzard heading into town, he pulls into a Holiday Inn (more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else).

But when he asks for a room, they are booked.  There is some kind of hot rod convention in town–which he thinks is odd for the winter, but whatever.

The concierge tells him that there is one room that might be available–the people haven’t shown up and are going to call to confirm whether the weather will prevent them from showing up.

So he waits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-“Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5” (Field Recordings, February 16, 2012).

One thing I love about the Field Recordings series is the wonderfully unexpected places they have the performers play.  Like this Field Recording [Alisa Weilerstein: Playing Bach With The Fishes] which is set at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Strategically positioned above a tank full of stingrays, Weilerstein unpacked her cello to serenade the sea creatures — and dozens of pleasantly surprised aquarium visitors — with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. She chose the Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello. The music’s tranquil power and meandering melodies became an extraordinary soundtrack to the majestic rays as they roamed through the water, rising occasionally to catch a note or two.

The music is sublime–sad and powerful but ever so fluid.  And the setting is just perfect–you can almost see the fish appreciate it.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Four Fictions”

Breytenbach confounds me with his stories.  This is a collection of four really short pieces and while I enjoyed parts of some of them, overall they were a big huh?

Race
This appears to be a race through the sea?  On foot?  A tractor charges into the waves and a Jeep follows. The route will take them through the sea to Germany and back to Stockholm.  Their friend Sven is running in the race (he’s from Lapland).  When the race is over he still has to run through the house to the balcony.  When they gather for the results , how many drowned, etc, the story ends with another man removing his top hat and his hair looking sunken and dry.

What? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILD NOTHING-“This Chain Won’t Break” (Field Recordings, May 31, 2013).

I cannot get over how disconcerting the opening of this Field Recording [Wild Nothing: Nuanced Pop At 8,500 Feet] is.

The band Wild Nothing, whom I do not know, is shown climbing a mountain, with the caption that they are climbing to more than 8,500 feet above sea level (on a tram).

The band is out in the middle (well actually on top) of nowhere.  They are in a beautiful location on top of a mountain.  And the first thing you hear is a cheesy electronic drumbeat.  How disappointing!  Especially since you see they have a makeshift shaker on hand.

But lets enjoy the view.

When most people think of Palm Springs, visions of softly baked desert landscapes come to mind. However, upon arriving at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, we were warned that the temperature differential between the desert and the top cliff of the Chino Canyon was about 30 degrees — cold enough that it would require warm clothing and an adventurous spirit. But Wild Nothing singer-songwriter Jack Tatum and his tour players were game to load onto the rotating tram car and ascend to more than 8,500 feet above sea level.

Abandoning extraneous gear at the Tramway landing, both the band and our crew hiked down into the San Bernardino National Forest and then up onto a side of the Mount San Jacinto peak. With rapidly freezing hands, the band performed its song “This Chain Won’t Break” for this Field Recording with a stripped-down assortment of instruments (two guitars, an amplified iPad, a bunch of dried tree pods turned into a makeshift shaker), giving this ode to a challenged relationship a much more nuanced, somber feel.

Despite the electronic percussion, the song itself is quite lovely.  The chord changes are nice and the their vocals meld nicely.

Once our feet were solidly back on the desert floor, the members of Wild Nothing were surprised to come across a group of fans who’d recognized the band from its recent Coachella performance. We toasted the chance meeting with some local wine and a random piece of sheet cake — and took the requisite Instagram pictures — before setting out for warmer climes.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Who Will Greet You at Home”

I have no idea what the cultural significance of this story is.  I don’t know if some people could relate tho this, but I certainly couldn’t.

Ogechi is a woman who works a lousy job in a hair salon.  She had a fight with her mother and has not seen her in about a year.

And she has just made a baby out of yarn.

The yarn baby made cooing gurgles and other sounds until Ogechi caught it on a nail and it unraveled.

She knew that a yarn baby was risky, but she made one out of yarn anyway,

When she got to work, Mama, the owner of the hair salon demanded payment.  For it was Mama who blessed the yarn baby into existence.  But they both knew that Ogechi couldn’t pay her with money, so instead, Mama took some of Ogechi’s joy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MUDHONEY-“Halloween” (1988).

Mudhoney recorded a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Halloween” just two years after the original was released.

Mudhoney, a deliberately noisy and abrasive band recorded a deliberately noisy and abrasive version of this song.  And yet at the same time, it doesn’t hold a candle to Sonic Youth;s version for deliberate noise and chaos.

On the other hand, in many respects the Mudhoney version is better.  It feels more like a “real song” with the guitar, bass and drums all playing along fairly conventionally.  It follows the same musical patterns as the original, with that same cool riff, but it just feels…more.

Mark Arm sing/speaks the lyrics more aggressively and less sensuously than Kim Gordon did.  In some way it helps to understand the original song a little more, as if they translated it from Sonic Youth-land into a somewhat more mainstream version.  Although it is hardly mainstream what with the noise and fuzz, the cursing and the fact that it lasts 6 minutes.

It feels like Mark emphasizes these lyrics more than the others although it may just be that the songs builds more naturally to them:

And you’re fucking me
Yeah, you’re fucking with me
You’re fucking with me
As you slither up, slither up to me
Your lips are slipping, twisting up my insides
Sing along and just a swinging man
Singing your song
Now I don’t know what you want
But you’re looking at me
And you’re falling on the ground
And you’re twisting around
Fucking with my, my mind
And I don’t know what’s going on

Happy Halloween

[READ: October 24, 2018] “From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-“High As Hello” (Field Recordings, August 7, 2014).

This Field Recording [Tweedy And Son Take To The Tunnels, Friends In Tow] is another one from the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.  Much like with the Jazz Festival, it was raining during the folk festival.  This means the musicians had to play in a that by now familiar tunnel–away from the elements.

These musicians were NPR favorite Jeff Tweedy and his then new project, Tweedy.  The project features Jeff’s then 18 year-old son Spencer on drums.  Jeff and Spencer are accompanied by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius (who don’t get to really show off their pipes, but do provide great backing vocals).

With the rain, it was not possible to shuffle drums, so

Spencer Tweedy’s drums are made from found trash and objects lying around the fort, including a cardboard box and some boxes of gum. Still, magic happened.

I can’t help but remark (again) on the wonderful sound equipment.  The band sounds terrific and you can hear all of the guitars (a full band list isn’t given).  Somehow Spencer’s drums don’t sound like cardboard boxes.

This recording is from 4 years ago either before Jeff started wearing the ubiquitous cowboy hat or he didn’t want to wear it in a tunnel.

“High as Hello” is a slow song with great backing vocals and solos from at least one of the three guitars.

[READ: September 18, 2018] “Poor Girl”

This story was translated by Anna Friedrich and is about a woman trapped in a situation she hates.

What’s interesting is that it’s unclear if the title refers to the young mother or her daughter (as they are both poor in different ways).

The opening line is quite surprising:

The wretched mother could easily have lost her sanity watching her husband love their daughter….

What an odd thing to be upset about.  Until…

the way he stroked the child when she was falling asleep or waking up, his blissful expression when they touched, the fact that he bathed her himself, believing it to be his right and his responsibility.

So, the woman, Irina, raises some red flags, although it’s not always clear if she is being reasonable about them. (more…)

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