Archive for the ‘Berkeley Breathed’ Category

academiaSOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-“We didn’t even suspect that he was the poppy salesman.” (2001).

popptI wrote about this album once before, and while I made notes about it after listening to it again, I found out that they were pretty much exactly what I thought of the record four years ago.  So I’m going to simply repost the review here, but I’m going to add some new notes seamlessly intermingled.

Martin Tielli’s first solo disc is a proper solo release: it’s almost all him on acoustic guitar and his gorgeous alto voice.  I hadn’t listened to this disc in a while and I was delighted by how much of the disc I knew so well.

The opening track, “I’ll Never Tear Your Apart” is deceptively simple: beautiful harmonic’d guitars and his gentle voice.  There’s a great video to go with it here.  That is followed by the wonderful “My Sweet Relief” which sounds like a great Neil Young folk song: great verses an a strong chorus.  Lyrically, though, it is all Tielli.  “Double X” highlights Tielli’s beautiful acoustic guitar work.  It’s another great story song, this one about a destitute person hanging under a superstore with a K and an M.

“Voices in the Wilderness” is a simply beautiful song, a lovely guitar melody and Tielli’s high voice singing along.. I also love that the lyric  (mis)quotes Rush very nicely: “‘If you choose not to be free you still have made a choice,’ said a high and squeaky voice.”

“Farmer in the City” is the only track that Tielli didn’t write.  It’s a nearly 8-minute song by Scott Walker.  I had never listened to the original, but having now done so, I find the Walker version to be far superior.  Walker’s voice is so eccentric and wonderful.  So even though I love Martin’s voice, he just can’t compare to the original.   Also find Martin’s version to be just a little spare (the Walker version has lovely strings. Kevin Hearn plays celeste and Selina Martin plays wine glasses on the track.

It’s followed by the delightful “World in a Wall” which uses mice in the wall as a metaphor for a broken relationship (with wonderful detailed lines like: She’s like a mouse, I know she’s around It’s a gnawing sound. Leaves little brown poohs from a little pink bum.”

This is followed by “That’s How They Do It in Warsaw” which is the first really rocking song (it has bass and drums) and a voiceover in Polish by Kasia Zaton.

It’s coupled with a slightly less rocky but still loud track “How Can You Sleep?” (which makes another fun musical allusion, this time about Guided by Voices). It has a co-songwriting credit from Dave Bidini and has a kind of vocal allusion to Bob Dylan, although I doubt it is about him.

“She Said ‘We’re On Our Way Down’” is a song that I really want to enjoy more.  But It is so spare and Martin’s vocal line is so abstract, that I can never really get int it. But the guitar riff is really powerful and cool.  And yet, the song seems to eschew melody but then a gorgeous guitar or vocal line shines through and really sounds brilliant.  “From the Reel” is a beautiful, aching acoustic ballad.

The disc ends with the odd, seven minute “Wetbrain/Your War.”  The first part (wet brain) is kind of slow but it builds into a beautiful dark song about addiction.

This is a really beautiful album, although there are moments when I fell like Martin gets too delicate, it’s amazing to hear just what he can do when he’s on his own.

[READ: October 19, 2015] Academia Waltz

Way back a long time ago I was pretty excited to read all of the Bloom County reissue books.  Somehow I only got through Books 1 and 2, although I see now that five volumes were released in total.

Presumably at the end of that run, (which technically ended in 2011) comes this volume.  Academia Waltz is the strip that Breathed wrote back in college.  This book collects some (but apparently not all) of the strips.  It’s odd to not collect them all since there is also an art gallery with all kinds of original pieces (complete with edits and scribbled notes) that duplicate many of the earlier strips.

The first part collects pieces from Academia Waltz the 1979 collection.  The second part comes from Bowing Out, the 1980 Collection. (more…)

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This is an EP that came out just after I Am the Greatest.  Released only in the UK, I found it used at Amoeba Records (I must have been on an A House binge at the time).

The EP has 6 tracks.  The opener sounds like a slightly remixed version of “You’re Too Young.”  And “Take It Easy on Me” also sounds remixed (the wah wah seems downplayed somewhat, although the song is still strong).

The other tracks are good songs from this experimental period of A House.

But for me the highlight is “When I Last Saw You,” the 5 minute version of “When I First Saw You” from Greatest.  I’d always liked the album versions’ fascinating concision and almost a capella feel.  This version tacks on a proper song, and it changes the song in wonderful ways.  I will always enjoy that short version, but this EP version is really great.

What’s interesting is that there’s virtually no record of this disc on the web.  Even though the A House homepage is known as ZOP.  The site, sadly, has not been updated for two years.  Although it does answer the question of what Dave Couse has been up to since the late 1990s.

[READ: August 22, 2010] Bloom County: Vol. 2: 1982-1984

This volume of the collection covers a lot of the comics that I know very well.  There are a number of strips that I drew (not traced) and hung in my locker in high school (I wasn’t about to cut up Loose Tales, was ?).  It also covers what I think of as my first era of social and political awareness.

I know I wasn’t totally aware of what was going on, but, via punk music mostly, I became aware of criticisms of Reagan.  And to a lesser degree, so does Bloom County.  I’m actually surprised at how apolitical it seems in retrospect.  My recollection was that it was a massively political strip.   And yes, there are a lot of political references, but for the most part it’s sort of political pop culture jokes.  Reagan gets teased a bit (although again less than you might expect), but it’s not the raging left-wingedness that I fondly recall. (That said, the strip is imbued with leftie political ideas, but they’re sort of mellow compared to now).

Rather, the political jokes are aimed at politicians as a class.  And there are commentaries about political events (couched in terms of local politicians, or, more often, in terms of Bloom County’s nonsensical “scandals” that are based on what really happened (although often the real scandals seem as absurd as the Bloom County ones). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE present: Dark Night of the Soul (2010).

Seems like most things that Danger Mouse touches involve lawsuits.  I’m not entirely sure why this disc had such a hard time seeing the light of day.  But it is due for a proper release in July.  Although by now, surely everyone has obtained a copy of the music, so why would anyone give EMI any money for the disc (since they hid it away in the first place).

The name that is not listed above is David Lynch, who is an important contributor to the project.  He creates all the visuals (and the visuals in the book that was the original release format).  He also contributed vocals to two tracks on the CD.  (His vocals are weird and spacey, just like him…and if you remember his voice from Twin Peaks, just imagine Gordon singing (but with lots of effects).

The rest of the disc is jam packed with interesting singers: Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips), Gruff Rhys (from Super Furry Animals), Jason Lytle (from Grandaddy) on my two favorite tracks, Julian Casablancas (from The Strokes), Black Francis, Iggy Pop, James Mercer (from The Shins), Nina Persson (from The Cardigans), Suzanne Vega, and Vic Chesnutt.

I’m not sure if Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous wrote the music already knowing who the singers were going to be, but musically the tracks work very well.  And yet, despite the different sounds by the different singers, the overall tone and mood of the disc is very consistent: processed and scratchy, melodies hidden deep under noises and effects.   Even the more “upbeat” songs (James Mercer, Nina Persson) are dark meanderings.

It took me a few listens before I really saw how good this album was.  On the surface, it’s a samey sounding disc.  But once you dig beneath, there’s some really great melodies, and it’s fascinating how well the songs stay unified yet reflect the individual singers.

EMI is going to have to pull out all the stops to make it a worthy purchase for those of us who have already found the disc.  Since The Lynch book was way overpriced for my purchase, (and they surely won’t include it with this CD), they need to include at least a few dozen Lynch photos (and more).  And with a list price of  $19 (NINETEEN!) and an Amazon price of $15, the disc should clean your house and improve your wireless connection too.

[READ: June 1, 2010] Bloom County Vol. 1

Boy, did I ever love Bloom County.  Back in high school I had more drawings of Opus and crew in my locker than anything else.  (I used to reproduce the cartoons by hand, I was never one of those “cut out of the paper” people.)  And so, there are tons of punch lines that I still remember twenty-five years later.

And yet, despite my fondness for the cartoon (and the fact that I owned (and read many times)) all of the collected books, I was amazed at how much of the early strips I had no memory of, at all.  True, some of the really early ones are here for the first time in collected form (according to an interview there are hundreds of comics in collected form for the first time in these volumes).   But those early 1980 comics…wha? (more…)

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opusSOUNDTRACK: FRANK ZAPPA-Baby Snakes [the movie & soundtrack] (1979).

babyThis is sort of a review of the soundtrack album to Baby Snakes, but really it’s a review of the film, which I just watched over the last 4 days.  Baby Snakes (A Movie About People Who Do Stuff That is Not Normal) was not as depraved as the subtitle (and the history of Zappa) would lead you to believe.  In fact, primarily it is a concert film.  There are a bunch of other things in the film as well, but easily 3/4 is a live Halloween concert in New York City.

More on that in a moment.

In today’s market, the other parts of the film would simply be packaged as bonus features on a DVD.  The claymation and subsequent interview with the artist Bruce Bickford would be a (somewhat) interesting short film, and a lot of the behind the scenes footage would also go well as a bonus attachment to the concert.

But I won’t get ahead of myself.  The claymation sequences are, frankly, amazing to watch.  There’s a clip on YouTube of Frank on the Mike Douglas Show (which is a trippy/weird thing to watch in and of itself) in which he shows an example of the claymation from the film and from elsewhere. Unlike the amazing work of Aardman on Wallace and Gromit, Bickford’s work is not polished.  However, each new image slowly morphs into the next in a series of mindblowing sequences…there are scenes of sex and violence and driving and mountains and flowers, and naughty bits and vomiting and you name it.  It is the most stream-of-consciousness looking visuals I may have ever seen.

During the sequences, Frank interviews Bickford.  The interview is pretty long, and it sounds like Bickford may be completely stoned. I tuned out a lot of what he was saying.

The backstage footage is the kind of sillydebauchery that you imagine happens back stage: there’s a blow up sex doll, there’s most of the band members telling little stories about what’s going on and there’s Adrian Belew dressing in drag.  But again, the editing is not great, and the footage is just sort of randomly inserted…the worst part is when Adrian Belew is actually talking OVER the Frank and the Devil negotiation during “Titties and Beer.”  Boo!

So, both of these segments could have worked very nicely as their own short films, rather than being inserted into this longer piece.  In fact, the haphazardness of the proceedings seems even worse when you realize that they are no longer inserted into the film after about the two hour mark: the last stretch of the concert is interruption free.  The problem is that the whole film is nearly three hours long, and since he intersperses these interviews/animations in between live footage, watching five or ten minutes of animation feels disjointed (overall, the editing leaves something to be desired)

The live footage, however, is pretty amazing.  Watching Terry Bozzio beat the crap out of the drums while singing/narrating is pretty fantastic.  And Andrian Belew is amazing to watch at any time. It’s also fun to see the percussionist going nuts on what must be a hundred different instruments (including the ever-present Zappa Xylophone.)

But clearly the highlight is watching Zappa.  Zappa conducts a whirlwind percussion jam, giving the musicians the key (A is a triangle of two hands, C is his hand shaped like a C) before getting them to strike their chords.  It is a fun improv moment, and shows that even back in the 70s, he was interested in composing music, not just writing rock songs.

Incidentally, the soundtrack, of Baby Snakes contains many of the live songs from the film,(but not the improv)  including the excellent “Punky’s Whips” and “Black Page #2.”  The soundtrack is short (especially compared to the movie) but is really great.

Watching Zappa solo on the guitar is also pretty amazing.  I’ve listened to all of his guitar solo releases.  And he simply knows the guitar backwards and forwards.  So, this concert is a good way to just sit back and watch him play.  But it’s also a good way to watch him interact with the fans.  Frank is right there with the fans, shaking hands, slapping high fives (and doing this while he is playing an extended solo as well).  His charisma is undeniable.

And his charisma is in great evidence during the audience participation section where some of the thronging masses are invited onstage to enact a scene out of Frank’s imagination (a young volunteer is “whipped” by a young woman whose face is painted white with flowers on it, and her friend Donna U Wanna).  The woman in the white makeup is all over Frank when she’s down in the crowd, too.  While Frank is singing, she starts kissing him and even taking his hair out of a ponytail holder–and he never flubs a word!  What a professional.

By the end of the film you kind of forget about the editing, but in the first 2/3, mostly you come away thinking that the editing is just not very good.  Much of the claymation is repeated (some is repeated three times).  While I understand that Frank reedited the film down to 90 minutes in a failed attempt to find a distributor, and I know everyone is happy to get this unedited version of the film, nevertheless I think the whole film should be broken up into smaller films for maximum enjoyment.

[READ: January 2008 ] Opus

I was a huge huge huge fan of Bloom County back in the day. It was one of my favorite comics, and I can recall doodling Opuses and Bill the Cats during downtime in class.  I sort of liked Outland, but then, I didn’t get a paper, so I never really saw those.  And, lo and behold, I didn’t even KNOW about the Opus strip.  I also just read that he just finished the Opus strip in November.  The final panel is supremely touching and is available here (what appeared in the Sunday paper) and then here (the link that’s in the cartoon).

I found this book remaindered, and figured I’d have to give it a try.  And it filled me with nostalgia! (more…)

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