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 SOUNDTRACKLONELY LEARY-“Flaneur” (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.

One of the things that I love about Lars, and this list is a great example, is how effortlessly multicultural he is.  He doesn’t listen to music because it’s from somewhere, he listens to music wherever it;s from because he likes it.  So this band, with the decidedly English-sounding name Lonely Leary is actually from China.  Lars says that the

The excellent label Maybe Mars documents the current Chinese underground music scene, from the psych-rock of Chui Wan and surfy shoegaze of Dear Eloise to P.K. 14, Beijing’s experimental rock pioneers.

Lonely Leary is a post-punk band which sounds like they would fit right in with Protomartyr or even The Fall, Sonic Youth or Joy Division.  The fact that they are from China and sing in Chinese doesn’t affect the tone and overall feel of the music, it somehow makes it more intense (to my ears).

Lars describes their debut album as one “where noise needles into perversely kitschy surf riffs and hoarsely barked punctuation marks.”  Although I hear less kitschy and more Dead Kennedy’s guitar and feedback noise.

The sounds they achieve throughout the album are great.  “Flaneur” opens the disc with a screaming feedback followed by a rumbling bass.  There’s some great guitar lines from Song Ang (which remind me of Savages) and then Qiu Chi barks his dissatisfaction through to a satisfyingly Dead Kennedys-ish chorus.  There’s even some Savages-esque chanting as the song squeals to and end.

This is great stuff.

[READ: January 4, 2019]  “Father”

Here is a new year and a new essay from Sedaris that perfectly mixes emotional sadness and hilarious light-heartedness.

The night before his fathers 95th birthday, his father turned in the kitchen and fell.  David’s sister and brother-in-law discovered him the next day and brought him to the hospital.  They felt the most disturbing thing was his disorientation, including getting mad at the doctor: “you’re sure asking a lot of questions.”  He was lucid the following day, but he was quite weak.

David was in Princeton on the night his father fell [at a show that I could have been at–we opted not to go this year].   He called his father and said that he needed him to be alive long enough to see trump impeached.

A few months later, his father moved into a retirement home.  David and Hugh visited and at first he seemed out of it, but hr recognized both of them instantly.  The thing was that he was no injured.  He had tried to move his grandfather clock (one of the prized possessions he brought to the home) and it fell on him (for real).  Many family members called the clock Father Time, so David said to Hugh “When you’re 95 and Father Time literally knocks you to the ground, don’t you think he’s maybe trying to tell you something?” Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACKMIKE SCHIFLET-“00:00:00:00” (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.

Mike Schiflet released a 24 hour drone composition this year called Tetracosa.  This is the opening movement from it.  It is fifteen and a half minutes of slightly disconcerting drone composed of “effervescent guitar, blasted noise and electro-acoustic detritus.”

The drone is surprisingly “fast-paced” if that can be said of something without a beat.  The sounds and textures change and undulate at a pretty good clip.  At times it feels soothing, but then it throws in a note that pushes things a little off-kilter.  At times it is soothing but then comes zapping electronics which would certainly make for restless sleep.

I cannot imagine listening to this for 24 hours, although it would be a fascinating day if you did.

[READ: January 4, 2019] “Philosophy of the Foot”

This is the first story of the year and Soomro’s first published story.

It is set in Karachi and there is a boatload of subtext in this story.  As well, of course, as a lot of cultural information that I don’t understand.

Amer is an adult male (the younger boy calls him “uncle”) who stops to talk to the shoe repair boy. The boy has a cart and equipment and he takes great care of the shoes he has.   He is very knowledgeable.

Amer goes into his apartment and talks to his mother asking if they have anything for the shoe boy.  The ayah (a native maid or nursemaid employed by Europeans in India) suggests that Amer’s father had a trunk full of shoes which they could have sold.  Instead, Amer takes an old pair of his father’s shoes to be repaired.  Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: DARK THOUGHTS-“Anything II” (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.

This has got to be the first time I knew of a band before Lars Gottrich introduced me to them. (although it sounds like he’s known them for quite a while).  I learned of Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts when I saw them open for Sheer Mag.  They were fantastic.

Gottrich mentions The Ramones as a touchstone, and that’s certainly there.  But I also hear some good old British punk in the vocals (which are not quite as melodic as Joey Ramone’s).

Jim Shomo loves The Ramones, from his bratty punk affectation to the bubblegum punk hooks. But the Philly band also knows that there’s still so much to learn from punk’s tradition, heard in the ridiculously catchy two-minute-or-less songs and a leather-worn physicality of At Work. You feel every power chord and drum kick in your bones.

This two-minute song is one of the longer tracks on the disc.  And its a bit of a departure from the standard two chords punk song because there’s a distorted “ooh oooh ooohs” that sound a bit like a synth (but are just distorted) and which return later in the song).

There’s no solos, no flash, just fast pop-punk.  The songs aren’t happy but nor are they angry, they’re more disaffected.  And the disaffected often make great music.  But as he says in the episode, seeing them live is the real key—they are dynamite.

Check out their bandcamp site.

[READ: December 3, 2018] ”Good Mother”

This is an excerpt from a novel called Now, Now, Louison.  It was translated by Cole Swensen.  In this novel, he writes in the voice of artists Louise Bourgeois who was famous for her enormous sculptures of spiders.

It begins with the idea that sculptures are made out of frustrating–trying to weave connections.

Then there is the warehouse in Brooklyn, gotten for a song where the sculptures grew larger: “Spiders, spiders, you never tired of remaking them bigger and bigger.  More immoderately maternal.”  So why not tell your own story with your sculptures–not the one they’ve told you–you have to be precise or say nothing at all. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (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.

Kate Carr creates Field Recordings.  But she then manipulates them into soundscapes.  This track, “The Ladder Is Always There,” has an incredibly sinister tone–and that title doesn’t help.  The recording was done on or under the water and the sounds I hear include a tuned radio (or something), a vacuum cleaner going back and forth (clearly not), electronic receptors beeping, birds modified (or maybe recorded from underwater), dripping water, breathing, clanging, seagulls and waves crashing.

Gottrich describes whats she does as “not only mapping bodies of water and landscapes in field recordings, but engaging with the environment as an active participant.

It is certainly strange to listen to something that you could (in theory, but not in actuality) go out side and hear for yourself.  Even if you could go outside and hear this, there’s no way it would be curated in this way.  So while this is indeed listening to nature, Carr has sculpted nature into an aural exercise that’s really engaging.

I’ve listened to a few more pieces on this disc and while none are quite as engaging as “the ladder” none are dull either.  I can’t decide when I would most enjoy listening to this.  Sitting a lone in my car at lunch time with my eyes closed or in bed by myself later at night.  Even listening at work is strangely intoxicating.

You can hear the whole disc and more at her bandcamp site.

[READ: December 29, 2018] “Plante’s Ferry”

Apparently, I’ve read a bunch by Jess Walter although I don’t have much recollection of his stories.

This one is set in an unnamed place in the unspecified past.

The narrator explains that Bonin liberated the Scots’ pelts and then the two of them rode the lower trail until they arrived where the Frenchman ran a ferry across the river.

He hopes they were not followed, but they are not going to slow down.  They must get across the river.

The ferry is not cheap and since they are being chased because of Bonin’s action, the narrator wordlessly insists that Bonin pays his fare too. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: KATE CARR-“The Ladder Is Always There” (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.

Messa is an Italian band (although they seem to sing in English).

The song opens with some feedback and a heavy guitar (and a single cymbal bell, which I quite like).  After playing the riff a few times, everything pulls back to reveal some delicate Fender Rhodes notes and Sara’s softer, muted voice.  Then things take off.  But it’s not fast or super heavy, it’s just spot on.

They have a great stoner rock sound but with a seriously metal edge to the riffs.  What really sets them apart is vocalist.  Their singer Sara has a great soaring 70’s classic rock voice.  It goes really well with the low end of the songs.

The end of the (eight-minute) song has a great guitar solo and then harmonizing vocals.  It’s an awesome song and I will definitely be checking out the rest of the disc on bandcamp.

[READ: January 3, 3018] “Living Animals”

This begins the 13th year of this blog.  So why not start it with a criticism of online content.  This essay was originally written in 1999 (Gass died in 2017), and I’m sure his concerns multiplied on the decade plus since.  This is also an excerpt from the essay.

Gass talks about the permanence of the printed word whereas

words on a screen have visual qualities…but they have no materiality, they are only shadows and when the light shifts they’ll be gone.  Off the screen they do not exist as words.  I cannot carry them beneath a tree or onto a side porch [well, now you can, but you couldn’t in 1999], I cannot argue in their margins [now you can, sort of].

But then he gets more specific of what you cannot do. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“We Have Come To Outlive Our Brains” (1981/2018).

After reviewing all of the songs that Phish covered from Kasvot Växt, I discovered that a fan uncovered a really good-sounding copy of one of the original songs from the album (which is all but lost) and then posted it online.

Once again I am kind of surprised at how everyone thinks of them as prog, because this song is not all that proggy.

It certainly has an 80’s vibe, as you might expect from something released in 1981 and the Phish cover is remarkably faithful.

The bass sounds great–it’s a really catchy bass line.  I prefer Phish’s vocals, possibly because these are a bit more condensed in an 80s way.  The “I see you in the distance” voice is a bit reedy too.  But the “I’m the glue in your magnet” part is fun and the music is really solid with an almost reggae feel to it.

The end of the song has a pretty wild solo (quite muted) as the rest of the band continues as if ignoring the guitar.

The biggest surprise for me is that this song is in English, when the original album had the Icelandic title of “Við Erum Komin Lever Utover Hjernen.”  Perhaps it was a stab at commercial success?

It was Brandon S. Meyer of Keanu Trees who posted this song.

[READ: January 2, 2019] “A Divine Pat”

The setup of this piece makes it seem like it was presented as a talk (it’s called a Sermon) and it opens with him apparently addressing people, but there’s no indication of to whom he spoke.

But it does cut to the chase in the opening”

It must have seemed some kind of risk to request a sermon from a man once so widely accused of blasphemy.

He talks about the outrage from Monty Python’s Life of Brain but also points out that they never felt the movie was against religion per se, but against the way people practice religion: “an idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe in it”

After listing the litany of horrible things people have done in the name of religion–all religions–he mentions his own introduction to the church in the 1950s.  He says this turned himself and man of his friends off of religion for twenty years.

But then he starts quoting from people who spoke well of religion. Continue Reading »