Archive for the ‘Amy Fusselman’ Category


cst038webOn the second (and so far final) Black Ox Orkestar album, the songs are longer and the whole disc has a more polished feel.

It feels less like friends gathered on a night for music (which is what the first one seemed like) and more like a band playing the music in the studio.  There’s more precision in the instrumentation and more instrumentation overall.  The voices,  like on “Bukharian” are layered, bringing in bass voices that didn’t appear before.  The album also feels a bit more like a GYBE type of project–more building, more epicness.  “Tsvey Taybelakh” [Two Doves] is over 7 minutes long.  And even though a song like “Az Vey dem Tatn” [Sad Is the Father] is clearly Yiddish (the vocals are the big giveaway) they sound like more than folk songs, they sound bigger, more “important.”

“Violin Duet” has a slow mournful piece and then a sprightly fun dance piece.  “Ratsekr Grec” is a big instrumental dance piece that  sounds familiar but is not the song I’m thinking of (which is from a movie, I believe).  The 7 minute song actually has elements that feel a bit like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (with clarinet).  And the final song “Golem” begins like an epic with slow guitars and strings in a very traditional melody.  It has a number of false endings at around 3:30 and again at 5 minutes.  And since album has some translation of the lyrics, (which are still sung in Yiddish) we can see the lyrics move beyond traditional Yiddish yet are firmly grounded in them:

“We made a new golem/ We created our guard/ Without soul and without mercy/ He watches the gate/ Like the cameras on the fence/ Like the barbs on the wire/ Like the concrete barricades/ He becomes landscape/ But no. It can’t go on/ No. It can’t go on/ Not like this…,”

Again, if you don’t like traditional Yiddish music (or vocals sung in Yiddish) you won’t like this, although the adventurous may want to give it a chance.

[READ: May 6, 2014] 8

The cover above is actually not the cover of the version I read.  The McSweeney’s Two Books in One does not seem to have this cover for 8 anywhere (which is a shame because I like the way the covers of each book parallel each other (and make the infinity loop as well)).   Interestingly, the original version of the book featured the subtitle: “All True, Unbelievable.”  And that might be useful to include here too.

Amy Fusselman’s 8 is a sequel of sorts to The Pharmacist’s Mate.  In that book, she wanted to get pregnant.  In 8, she not only successfully gave birth to the boy from that first book, she has also had a second child.   And like many new parents, she understands that no matter how much you wanted children, sometimes for your own sanity you need to hide from them to have a few minutes to yourself.  It’s refreshing to read a normal person write about her children.  Especially when she and her husband try (and fail) to do sleep training.

But fortunately, that is not all Fusselman talks about.  She also talks about when she was raped as a shockingly young girl.  This tragic story is dealt with in a variety of ways and, surprisingly, never in a particularly dark or somber manner.  She calls her assailant “My pedophile” and spends a lot of the book working with alternative healers to come to grips with what happened to her.  And while this story is obviously hugely important in her life, it doesn’t seem to cloud everything she does.  (more…)

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pharm SOUNDTRACK: BLACK OX ORKESTAR-Ver Tanzt? [CST029] (2004).

cst029webBlack Ox Orkestar play traditional Yiddish music in a somewhat untraditional manner.

There are half instrumentals and half songs with vocals sung in Yiddish (which means I don’t know what they mean).  According to the Constellation website they are a: blend of originals and new arrangements for pieces pulled from various Eastern European songbooks.  And since the members come from “punk-rock, free-jazz, and other liberation musics,” it’s an approach to this music that may interest people who don’t normally like traditional music (and may turn off those who do).

.  I can’t really speak to the music, as I’m quite unfamiliar with it.  I prefer the instrumentals because I like the way the music tends to interweave.  Like “Cretan Song” which is a rollicking fun song like the Yiddish equivalent of an Irish seisún.  And yet. some of the vocals songs are really enjoyable too, like “Toyte Goyes in Shineln” which has a great melody and feels very familiar to me.  While “Ver Tantz?” begins as a slow melancholy song and turns rambunctious–almost chaotic.

Enjoyment depends on an appreciation for tradition Yiddish music, of course.

[READ: May 5, 2014] The Pharmacist’s Mate

I read this book a few years ago.  I read it again because McSweeney’s reissued it with Fusselman’s other book 8 on the flip side.  I wanted to read 8 and decided that since Pharmacist was so short I would read it as well.

And I’m glad I did because while they are not related exactly, they both work as a form of non-fiction and 8 is a nice postscript to what she talks about in Pharmacist.

As with most genre defying books, this is more or less a memoir, although it is written in a somewhat strange format–each small section is numbered (and eventually all the numbers turn into 1s because she realizes that she is starting anew with each section.

The Pharmacist’s mate of the title is her father, now deceased.  She includes notes from his time in the war as a sort of parallel to what’s going on with her own life. She very much wants a baby.  And through the book we see her engage in multiple ways of conceiving from natural to in vitro.  And then we read her angst about becoming a parent  And losing a parent. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Asylum (1985).

This series of mid-80s Kiss CDs is regarded pretty poorly.  In fact, I believe that Gene and Paul have distanced themselves from Asylum.  And yet, despite its pop metal vine and really dayglo appearance, there’s some good stuff on it.  The solos are really notable on this disc.  Bruce Kulick has taken over lead guitar duties and he is wailing maniac.  He has speed and flash and he, frankly, really stand out (not always in a good way) in these songs.  His solos seem to signal a shift to a more pop heavy metal sound.

The disc opens with a pounding drum salvo and aggressive guitars!  “King of the Mountain” is a classic Kiss song—loud, with a great sing a long chorus from Paul.  “Anyway You Slice It” also rocks pretty hard, one of Gene’s fast, sex songs.  But man I hate songs that break down to just vocals and drums. “Who Wants to Be Lonely” seems like a ballad—lyrically and all—but it’s actually a pretty heavy song, again, perfectly suited for Paul’s voice.  “Trial By Fire” is the first song that really falters.  A generic anthem with the really lame chugga chugga guitars that Kiss would really push in this era.  “I’m Alive” opens with more crazy drumming and wild soloing and for all the world sounds like mid 80s Van Halen.  Until Paul belts out a fast vocal line.  This is a fast, aggressive song with a great chorus.

“Love’s a Dirty Weapon” almost turns into a great song—the chorus is just a little lacking.  And there’s that other part with just drums and a guitar solo—again, very Van Halen, which is good for Van Halen, but sounds really weird for Kiss.  I should hate “Tears Are Falling,” it’s got the chug chug chug guitars, and very little else, but I love a good Paul ballad—when he starts wailing at the end, it’s pretty great.  I am aware that the lyrics suck, yes.  But the solo is more like old school Kiss.  “Secretly Cruel” is cheesy, but delightfully so, and actually sounds like Kiss of old as well.  “Radar for Love” is an awkward song that never quite flows the way it wants.  It’s a good song that shows them branching out, though.  “UH! All Night” is a, well, look at the title.  It’s the kind of throwaway song that is so over-the-top ridiculous that it comes back around to be kind of fun.  And I imagine that some fans are still singing that chorus to themselves.  “When you work all day you gotta Uh all night.”  No one ever said Kiss was classy.  Note:  I listened to this song a week ago and that frikkin chorus is STILL in my head.

[READ: August 11, 2012] McSweeney’s #40

This issue came in a double pack–with a paperback issue of the magazine and a hardback edition of In My Home There Is No More Sorrow by Rick Bass.  I have not yet read Bass’ book [UPDATE: read it at the end of July 2013], because it sounds really depressing [UPDATE: It was].  But I do hope to get to it before the end of the year.  This issue has a few short stories and  a non-fiction at the beginning.  The entire back half of the journal is devoted to the January 25 uprising in Egypt.  It is full of testament and testimony about the event from all kinds of people–bloggers, poets, musicians.  It’s pretty profound–and almost seems like having a silly story in the journal is inappropriate.

As has been the trend lately, the journal also opens up with a series of letters. (more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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scan0014SOUNDTRACK: COLIN MELOY-Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008).

colinColin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists.  This is a recording of Meloy’s solo acoustic tour from 2006.  The recording is from several venues on the tour, although it is mixed as if it were one concert.

Meloy is a great frontman, and this translates perfectly into the solo atmosphere.  He is completely at ease, telling stories, bantering with the crowd, and generally having a very good time.

The set list includes some popular Decemberists songs as well as a track from Meloy’s first band Tarkio (whom I have never heard, but figure I’ll get their CD someday).  Meloy also adds a couple of covers, as well as snippets of songs added to his own (Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” gets a couple of bars, as well as a verse from The Smiths’ “Ask.”)

This disc is not going to win anyone over to the Decemberists, as Meloy’s distinctive voice is a love it or hate it deal.  However, if you’re on the fence about them, hearing these songs solo can only convince you of what great songs they are.  The Decemberists add a lot of arrangements to their songs.  You get a lot of interesting and unusual instruments.  Which I like a great deal.  But to hear that these songs sound great with just an acoustic guitar is testament to Meloy’s songwriting.

The intimacy of the venues also really lets these songs shine.

[READ: May 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #4

This is the first time that McSweeney’s showed that it might be something a little different. #4 came, not as paperback book, but as a box full of 14 small, stapled booklets. Each book (save two, and more on those later) contains a complete story or non-fiction piece.

There is something strangely liberating about reading the stories in this format. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to finish a book and put it down, so having 14 makes it seem like I’ve accomplished a lot.
This was also the first issue that I’m certain I didn’t read when it originally came out, for whatever reason. So, it’s all new to me.

DIGRESSION: When I was looking up publications for my Wikipedia page about McSweeney’s publications, I kept encountering records for these individual booklets.  This was rather confusing as I couldn’t find any other records or ISBNs for these booklets.  Rest assured they are all collected here. (more…)

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fusselmanSOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-The Hawk is Howling (2008).

mogwaiI’ve been a fan of Mogwai since I first heard of them back in 1997 with their Young Team debut.  They have progressed their sonic explorations of instrumentals into unimagined complexity and sonic booms.

I don’t think anyone walks around humming the melodies of Mogwai songs, but as soon as the songs start they are immediately recognizable, catchy and wonderful.  And this album is no exception.

The big difference on this disc is the amount of piano.  I always think of Mogwai as a squealing feedback production (although that’s not really true exactly), and I’m sure this isn’t their first use of piano on one of their discs, but it comes as a surprise to me that the disc opens with a piano melody (especially since the first single “Batcat” comes next and is one of the noisiest, most aggressive songs in their entire catalog.

“The Sun Smells Too Loud” has an amazingly catchy guitar riff going on which sustains it for the duration of the song.  And “Scotland’s Shame” also has a really great, albeit slower theme as well.

It’s a really strong showing from Mogwai.  It doesn’t feel as immediate or as intense as previous ones, especially their lats one, Mr. Beast, but it’s a great release nonetheless.

[READ: March 20, 2009] The Pharmacist’s Mate

I’ve had this title for a while, and I’ve been meaning to read it , yet for some reason I never did. I think I figured it was so short that I could read it at any time. And, following that logic, I finally decided to.  I was also very pleasantly surprised to see a blurb from Zadie Smith on the back, too. (more…)

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