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Archive for the ‘Benjamin Rosenbaum’ Category

#15SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Copper Blue (1992).

copperblueAfter Bob Mould made some solo albums, he created another band.  Another trio, this one called Sugar.  Sugar seems to take Mould’s poppiest elements and wrap them in a big 90s grunge sound–a sound that Mould pretty much invented in Hüsker Dü.  And in many ways Sugar is not all that different from Hüsker Dü–maybe a bit less experimental and a little more commercial.

One thing I noticed about this album that, once I noticed it I couldn’t avoid it, was that when the drummer plays the cymbal (it might even be a hi hat with a tambourine on it), which he plays a lot, the tinny shimmer of that sound is so pervasive, I find it rather distracting.  Or should I say it adds an almost minute level of static over the proceedings.

The disc opens with “The Act We Act,” where big grungy guitars and a simple chugga chugga riff burst out of the speakers. I love the Pixies feeling of “A Good Idea” both that up front bass and the buggy sounding guitars provide an almost false introduction to the catchy verse and chorus that’s to come.  I also enjoy the unexpected break after the chorus.

It’s followed by the ringing guitars that introduce “Changes” a classic poppy rock song that is unmistakably Mould.  The uneasy almost nauseating sounds at the end of the song are again like a feint in the wrong direction as “Helpless” easily the most pop song Mould has ever written comes out.  Of course, as with Mould, this outrageously poppy song is all about feeling helpless.

Keyboards open the next song, “Hoover Dam” (something of a surprise for this album), which proves to be yet another big Mould single.  The song is so open with multiple acoustic guitars (and that cool synth solo) and a really wild reverse guitar solo.  It’s one of my favorite Mould  songs and yet another example of why this album was such a huge hit.

“The Slim” brings back the darker songs that Mould is also known for.  And just when you think that Mould can’t pull out another huge big single, he gives us “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” one of his great big bouncy acoustic guitar songs.  It is almost obscene how catchy this song is, right down to the simple scale solo at the end.  Mould has this little technique that I find irresistible where he plays a song normally and then plays two fast chord changes segueing into another section.  It’s so cool.

“Fortune Teller” is a fast rocker with Mould’s trebly guitar taking the lead.  “Slick” is the only song I’m not crazy about. There’s something about it that kind of slows the momentum down, which is odd for a song about a car.  It’s got a real middle-period-Who feel to it, which I do like (and I really like the bridge) it just feels odd in this place in the disc.  The end of the song has some snippets of chatter that could have been edited out but lend an amusing air to the final track, “Man on the Moon” which ends the disc with that same air that the rest of the album has—big guitars and Mould’s slightly distorted vocals.  The solo is weirdly processed and kind of fun.  The end of the track with its repeated half step has a very Beatles feel to it. And the very end of the disc has the sound of tape rewinding, an amusing nod to the digital era.

Copper Blue was Mould’s first huge success and in his book he talks about not realizing quite how huge it was until he was in the middle of it.

[READ: March 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #15

I was a little disappointed with McSweeney’s #14, but #15 was once again fantastic.  This issue is a smallish hardcover (I like when their books are this size).  The bottom half of the cover features a cool 2 color painting by Leif Parsons.  The issue is known as the Icelandic Issue because of a few things.  The first half of the book features stories by the usual suspects.  Each of these stories is accompanied by an illustration of a Scandinavian rune that dates to the Viking era.  The stories in the second half of the book have illustrations that are taken from Icelandic grimoires–magician’s handbooks.  It is these second half stories that are all from Scandinavian authors.  It’s a fascinating peek into a culture few of us probably get to read.

There’s no letters in this book, which removes some of the levity, but that’s okay.  The front page has a brief story that it was being written on November 2, 2004 in New Mexico, hoping to bring some voting power to “the good guys “in this “completely fucking terrifying election.”  (The bad guy eked out a victory 49.8 to 49.1).  They went canvassing door to door with an Iraqi veteran named Joey (who was 21).  He was very pro-Kerry and may have even convinced a young girl to vote (she thought her vote didn’t count because she was poor (!)).  It really evokes the feeling on that dark night in 2004 when the iota of hope was snuffed out. (more…)

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11SOUNDTRACK: THE ANTLERS-Live at the Black Cat, Washington DC, May 11, 2009 (2009).

antlersI mentioned that I was uncertain about my appreciation of this band.  And I wondered how they would hold up to a longer show.  The answer is surprisingly well.  The sound quality of this set isn’t great–the levels seem way too loud (not sure if that’s the band or the recording) and I really can’t understand the words, but the music is very moody and evocative and I like it quite a lot.

This set comes from the album Hospice, which is a concept album about a person dying of bone cancer (with lyrics like “they told me that there was no saving you” and song titles like “Kettering”).  Earlier descriptions made me think the album was a major drag to listen to– I mean the subject alone is exhausting–but musically it’s a different story.  There’s lush strings and interesting guitars.  And, at least live, the band can make a holy racket.

I’m a little surprised by the number of keyboard errors in “Atrophy.”  I mean an occasional bum note is fine, but there’s a bunch in that track.  It’s very weird.  But that is made up for by the vocals which are angsty and impassioned, especially on the final song “Cold War.”  The NPR site has three tracks available for viewing and I must say that watching the band is more exciting than just listening to them.  But I have really gained an appreciation for The Antlers.

Check out the show here.

[READ: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

This crazy title for this Issue/Post comes because the cover and spine of the book are all text.  Indeed, the book is gorgeously bound in black leather(ish) with shiny gold print.  Each author gets a summary of his or her work and a note that he or she is free (see each story below).

I did not read Issue #10 yet because it came out as a thrilling paperback, and I’ve been putting it off for a reason even I can’t quite fathom.  I anticipate reading that one last.  Again, no idea why.  In some ways, Issue #11 picks up where Issue #9 left off.  There’s lots of text on the cover, there’s letters and everything else that makes it look like McSweeney’s.  But as I said this one seems more somehow.  It’s the hardcover.  And, it’s also the DVD that accompanies the book.  I have a hard time believing I’ve owned this book for almost ten years and never watched the DVD but I finally got around to it.  More on that soon.

This issue contains letters, fiction, non-fiction and a play that picks up from Issue #9 (more…)

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