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Archive for the ‘César Aira’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIGRAN HAMASYAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #110 (November 11, 2020).

I have never heard of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan.  I really enjoyed his solo pieces here and am somewhat surprised to read that he often plays with others.

The first piece,

“Road Song,” features a melody Hamasyan wrote in 2008, but recorded with a quintet on his imaginative 2013 album, Shadow Theater. He frequently plays a solo version of it live, but had never played it alone in a studio until now.

It starts quietly.  Then he begins whistling (!) which makes it even more haunting.  At around 4 minutes his  left hand rhythm remains slow and steady while his right hand flies all around the keyboard.  It’s wonderful.

That’s followed by “Our Film,” from Hamasyan’s latest and most enterprising release, The Call Within. This performance mirrors the intensity and sentimentality of the album version, but here it’s more intimate and fanciful.

It also has pretty, haunting melody (with more whistling).   It picks up the pace in the middle and gets almost frenetic (around 11 and a half minutes into the video) before settling down again.  It’s amazing how it all holds together with the more staid left hand.

The last tune, “A Fable,” is the title track of his 2011 solo album, which was inspired by 13th century Armenian writer Vardan Aygektsi.

This piece is flowing and a bit more upbeat.  He really gets into it and starts grunting at one point.

Hamasyan is a jazz pianist, but his foundation comes from Armenian folk music.  Perhaps that’s why i like this so much–it is very jazzy, but is grounded in traditional melodies.

[READ: November 30, 2020] “Ema, The Captive”

This is one of Aira’s earlier (and longer) stories.

I’m fascinated that his earlier stories seem to be grounded much more in reality–blood and gore–rather than fantastical ideas.  Although calling this story grounded in reality is a bit far fetched as well.

This is the story of Ema (at one point in the book it is mistyped as Emma) a woman who goes from being a concubine to running a successful business.  The story (translated by Chris Andrews) is broken into several smaller anecdotes as Ema’s life progresses.

But it starts out with no mention of Ema at all.

Indeed, the opening chapter is revolting. A wagon train carrying prisoners is heading across the Argentinian desert (set in the nineteenth century). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDISEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #83 (September 22, 2020).

I feel like I just watched (and enjoyed) Oddissee’s Tiny Desk Concert recently, but apparently it was back in 2015.

In 2015, Oddisee visited the Tiny Desk with a drummer and a keyboardist. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he assembled his full band, Good Company, for the first time since the global pandemic cancelled their tour last spring. They rehearsed the day before this capture at Assorted Studios in York, Penn., the midway point between the members’ hometowns of Philadelphia, New York City and Washington D.C. They picked this facility because it felt more like a living room than a studio. And to make it feel as cozy as possible, they brought memorabilia from their own homes. Bass player Dennis Turner brought family photos, Ralph Real (on the Fender Rhodes) brought his son’s toy drum set, and Oddisee brought tribal statues from Sudan.

Oddisee has eleven albums out (!), but all of the songs here come from his new EP Odd Cure which was

“a record I didn’t want to write but needed to,” Oddisee said in July. He wrote it in eight weeks, between March and May, while in self-isolation. He had just returned from a performance in Thailand and wanted to protect his family. Oddisee says these songs were inspired by the deluge of news, social media, misinformation and conspiracy theories generated during the first weeks of the pandemic. Relevant and inspiring, his music and its message addresses the uncertainty and anxiety we all live with today.

“The Cure” has some great funky bass from Dennis Turner and some excellent twinkling on the Rhodes keyboard from Ralph Real.  Before the verses start, drummer Jon Laine gets the drums to make a really neat sound and then plays a wonderfully complex rhythm–complete with rim shots.  Oddisee raps speedily and clearly.  Half way through the song a little window opens up and Olivier St. Louis (all the way from Berlin) plays some cool guitar soloing.  But the star of this song is definitely Turner, with some amazing bass work throughout the song.  The song also has a really funky chorus.

“Shoot Your Shot” is full of slow thumping before the funkiness starts.  An integral part of the band is DJ Unown playing the MPC.  I really don’t know exactly what sounds he’s making, but I can see him playing all throughout the songs and I’m sure the music would lose something without him.  The middle takes off with another wicked solo from St. Louis.

“I Thought You Were Fate” is a slower song that opens with guitar from Sainte Ezekiel.  This song has a slower r&b crooning chorus.  But I love the way it speeds up after the  chorus and shifts the song into higher gear.  Ezekiel get a jazzy solo mid song.

“Still Strange” shifts the tempo much slower and features a lead vocal (via Oddisee’s phone) of Priya Ragu.  Sainte Ezekiel plays some beautiful understated guitar throughout.

“Go To Mars” returns the funk and Oddisee raps in a very cool style of short, abrupt lines.   It’s got a really fun chorus of longing: “I wanna go to Mars; live among the stars ; be the one who got away from it all.”

There very little social distancing here–Oddisee even has the guys scooch over (although I think Turner is wearing a mask).

[READ: September 24, 2020] Introduction

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

I don’t know anything about Rebecca Romney, but I love her introduction to this collection and I want to look into her work a little more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“History Never Repeats” (1995).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

I was not aware of this recording at all.  It is, indeed, the Split Enz song.  It was recording during a Pearl Jam show on March 24, 1995 in Auckland, New Zealand.   It must be during a quiet middle section, because it’s just Eddie with Neil Finn & Tim Finn live at the Mount Smart Stadium.

It is a bare-bones version with just voices and one electric guitar.  Neil Finn plays guitar and sings the first verse.  Eddie takes the second verse.  Tim Finn sings the third verse.  All three share  backing vocals and the chorus.

It’s a rare treat to hear an old recording like this, especially one of a song they’ve not played since.

[READ: December 13, 2019] “The Infinite”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I really like César Aira’s stories.  He’s a fascinating guy and insanely prolific.

He has written nearly a hundred books.  Most of his novels are quite short, so I’ve never really thought of him as writing actual short stories.  This one comes from his collection The Musical Brain: And Other Stories which was translated by Chris Andrews.

The unnamed narrator says that as a kid he played some extremely strange games.  I love this line, “They sound made up when I explain them, and I did, in fact, make them up myself.” (more…)

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secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_08_11_14Mattotti.indd SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991).

cheeseHere they come, here comes the bastards again.  Sailing the Seas of Cheese was the band’s major label debut, and they were given a lot of freedom to do whatever they wanted.  Which they did.

The first two songs sort of ease you into the chaos that is “Sgt Baker” a noisy stomp that mocks the military. It’s followed by “American life” a relatively quiet song that is rather sad.  Although I like Ler’s solo at the end (which is rather conventional for him).

But the album really takes of with “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver”, Primus’ first real hit.  Which is amazing in and of itself given how weird a song it is and how noisy (and moshy) the middle section is.  Fun drumming opens “Eleven,” a rocking song done in 11/4 time–count it, its crazy!  I just love the lunacy of “Is It Luck?”–the bass is fast and so bizarre while Ler’s guitars are playing one simple dissonant note for much of the song.  “You wanna get lucky little boy?”

“Grandad’s Little Ditty” is basically Les singing in the shower (and one of the few songs I know of which use the word “flatus”).  It leads into the new recording of “Tommy the Cat.”  This time the role of Tommy is played by Tom Waits, which make a slot of sense.  The Primus book has a funny story about Waits singing this (he sent them a version without having heard the song and he sang it through a megaphone).  The bass in the middle of the song is just incredible.

“Sathington Waltz” continues the adventure of Sathington Willoughby, although this is a scattered instrumental with banjos and loud drums (and lots of guests).  “Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers” is a stomping song with a great riff.  I never knew exactly what it was about (not that its hard to figure out), but the book explains exactly who Les was talking about.

“Fish On” is a 7 minute song (most of the songs on this record are shorter than on Frizzle Fry) with a lengthy intro and outro.  The disc ends with “Los Bastardos” a reprise of the opening bastard music with some samples from The Young Ones and all kinds of friends playing along.  It’s a really fun record with some absolutely classic songs on it.

Shut up you bastards!

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Picasso”

The ever prolific César Aira had a new short story in The New Yorker (he usually writes novella length pieces, but this appears to be an actual short story (3 pages)) which is a little different.

In the story, the narrator says he was in the Picasso museum enjoying the artwork when a genie came out of his bottle of Miracle Milk and offered him a choice: Would he rather have a Picasso or be Picasso.  I enjoyed this twist on the typical three-wishes genie (he even mention how most people are prepared to ask for more wishes), and that this was totally unexpected.

To me, the answer was obvious from the start, Picasso was a pretty unhappy guy, why would I want to be him?  Of court, as the narrator goes through the options, he says that if you were Picasso you would automatically have all the Picassos.  Plus, he says that he himself has a pretty unhappy life, so Picasso would be a step up.

The narrator reviews Picasso’s life and output, but ultimately he decides that owning a Picasso would give him the financial security to allow himself to write his novels.

As soon as he thinks that, a painting appears on the table in front of him.  It is clearly a Picasso.  He spends the next few paragraphs describing the painting and then comes upon a “meaning” for it.  It’s an interesting look at a Spanish fable or joke.  The fable involves a queen who is lame and her servants who want to tell her without actually telling her.  The punchline of the joke comes down to “Su Majestad, escoja” which translates as “Your Majesty, choose” or if the last word is broken up (into es coja) “Your Majesty is lame.”  It’s a pretty elaborate painting or what amounts to a joke (and I have no idea if this is a real painting or not).

As the story comes to an end, the final paragraph introduces a whole new aspect of the story which was hilarious and unepxetced.  It was a great twist.  I do have to wonder if this is part of a bigger story because although it feels complete, I could easily see him following this character further.

This was translated by Chris Andrews.

For ease of searching I include: Cesar Aira

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shantySOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Mrs. Robinson’s, Kitchener, Ontario (December 20, 1997).

kitchener

What’s most fascinating about these Rheostatics live shows is coming across venues that have no internet presence.  I can’t find a photo or anything of Mrs Robinson’s in Kitchener.  Did it even exist?  Who knows?

The quality of this show is very good although the overall volume is too low. There are also complaints from Dave about his monitor not working.  It doesn’t impact the sound for us, but I guess he couldn’t hear very well.  The intro of “Michael Jackson” is all messed up, but they play on through it.  Then they actually take a pause for an unspecified length of time to fix it (but still do a show that’s over 2 hours long).

Martin and Dave are very chatty for this show.  The intro is quite long, with some good banter including a discussion of the weird table in front of the stage which people can use for stage diving or go go dancing.  Martin explains the origins of “Junction Foil Ball” (about a guy who makes a ball out of the tin foil in cigarette packs.  They make a joke about Don the drummer being from Kirkwood Lake which is where Alan Thicke is from.  And a joke about Polkaroo.

They also introduce Tim Mech (their guitar tech) whose band PEEP-SHOW was one of the winners of Musician magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band Competition” in 1997.  He takes a long solo in “Claire.”

This was their last show of 1997, so this wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

[READ: March 3, 2014] Shantytown

This has been my favorite Aira book so far (and I’m now caught up to his English language releases).  The plot was simple and interesting, and the fantastical elements really worked with the story instead of overshadowing it (which his stories sometimes allow, but which isn’t really a criticism per se, just a point of fact).

This story begins with Maxi, a kind-hearted, but not terribly smart or sensible young man.  He is unemployed, did not finish any real schooling and doesn’t have a lot to do.  He has been going to the gym daily, so he is very strong. And he has recently begun helping the garbage scavengers.

These scavengers are people who live in the Shantytown nearby.  It is a collection of houses, most very tiny and quickly constructed, where the poorest people live.  And many of these people collect and either sell or use rich people’s garbage.  They come up every night before a garbage pick up and root through the streets for anything they can use.  And Maxi has begun helping them shift their carts  Since he is so strong, he finds that none of the their carts are very heavy.  And although he has never spoken to any of them and they have not spoken to him, he decided to start helping them and now he gets great satisfaction in carrying their stuff.

The shantytown is an unsavory place where drugs are sold and not too long ago a young girl was murdered.  Recently a policeman, Agent Cabezas has been trying to get to the bottom of this whole drug thing.  The drug of choice is proxidine which makes things clearer. Even Cabezas himself takes it (even though it is illegal).  But there has been a lot of suspicious activity with a man dressed as a pastor who might be a dealer.  And then there’s Maxi who is suddenly hanging around the shantytown.  And, quite frankly, Cabezas has decided that he’s tired of being a good cop.  He is ready to take what is his. (more…)

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hare1SOUNDTRACK: THE AVETT BROTHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #18 (June 22, 2009).

avettI have recently become a fan of The Avett Brothers.  Indeed, my first review of one of their songs was very mixed.  But I have come around.  And this Tiny Desk show is a great example of the power they have in a live setting–especially one as personal as this.

For this set the two brothers (Seth on guitar and Scott on banjo) play a song from their then new album (the beautiful “Laundry Room” complete with amazing harmonies and beautiful cello) I & Love & You.  It builds slowly but after about two minutes, it turns into a big (upright bass is included, too) catchy song.  And in the last minute it becomes a huge stompin’ track (predating those other banjo bands by a few years).

Scott’s voice is really powerful (Bob Boilen asks if he swallowed an amplifier).

The second song is a the time not released yet, “Down With the Shine” (they joke that they’re then going to play a song they haven’t written yet).  It’s full of phenomenal harmonies.  And the commentary afterward about traveling with the brothers is very funny.

The final track goes back to their previous EP and is called “Bella Donna,” a pretty ballad sung by Seth–he seems to do the more mellow tracks.  It’s a pretty ending to this all too short Tiny Desk Concert.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 10, 2014] The Hare

The Hare was the first of Aira’s books to be translated into English (back in 1998 with this simply gawdawful cover).  It has recently been republished by New Directions Press with a far more tasteful cover.  The translator, Nick Caistor, is the same although I noticed in an online excerpt that while the English language is the same, the New Directions version has translated a Spanish newspaper (El Grito) into English (The Crap) when it wasn’t translated in the earlier version.  But aside from that, it all appears to be the same.

I had been putting off reading this book because it is his largest book (most of Aira’s books are barely over 100 pages, while this one is almost 250) and I’d also read some lukewarm reviews of the book, so I saved it for last.  Of course, now he has a newly translated book out, so I decided it was time to read The Hare.

Not the best attitude for a book an it definitely impacted my early reading of the story.  And I’ll sum up that impact as saying I thought that the book itself was strangely flat but that the ending was fantastic.  Had I been more open t0 the absurdity I think I would have enjoyed the whole thing a lot more. (more…)

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fivedials_no29SOUNDTRACK: BOB & DOUG McKENZIE-“The 12 Days of Christmas” (1981).

bob & dougThis is my preferred old school version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  It was one of the first parodies of the song that I had heard (and I was big in parodies back in 1981).

I loved how stupid they were (on the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a beer).  I loved trying to figure out what a two-four was, and it cracked me up that they skipped a whole bunch of days.

I also enjoyed how they continued to snipe at each other throughout the song.  Not comedy gold perhaps (that would be “Take Off” recorded with Geddy Lee, but a nice way to start, or end, the season on these “mystery days.”

Evidently, decades after SCTV went off the air, Bob & Doug got an animated TV show (without Rick Moranis).  And they made a video of the song. Hosers.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oPio60mK4]

[READ: December 3, 2013] Five Dials #29

Five Dials Number 29 was the first issue I had read in a while.  (I read this before going back to 26-28).  And it really reminded me of how great Five Dials is.  I don’t know why this isn’t Part 2 after Number 28’s Part 1 (there was no 28b either), but that’s irrelevant.  This is an independent collection of great writing.  I was instantly surprised and delighted to see that César Aria was included in this issue (I didn’t even know he had made inroads in England).

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: In Swedes and Open Letters
Taylor’s usually chipper introduction is saddened by the contents of this one.  The discussion centers on Sweden and the city of Malmo, where integration is proving to be tougher than they’d hoped.  Black skinned people are profiled pretty explicitly.  Taylor talks about meeting the writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri (who they subsequently published in issue 21) who deals with issues of race.  In March of 2013, Khemiri wrote an open letter to Swedish Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask after she brushed off concerns about racial profiling. The letter went viral including getting translated into 15 languages.  So I guess there is some positivity after all. (more…)

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curesSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Billy Breathes (1996).

billyBilly Breathes is a much more mellow, acoustic feeling album from Phish.

Although the opener “Free” is a great song, with wonderful riffs.  It’s another of my favorites live, although the production sounds a little flat here, but the harmonies are great.  “Character Zero” again has a real ZZ Top feel (something many don’t really associate with Phish I’m sure).  But once the song proper kicks in, it rocks in a very Phish way.  “Waste” is a delicate song about insecurities that turns into a nice love song.  “Taste” is a rollicking piano-heavy song that gets played live pretty often and it sounds good here.

“Cars Trucks Buses” is a 2 minute instrumental that has a lot of organ in it, it’s very groovy.  “Talk” is an acoustic guitar/folky song.  You don’t hear it much live.  “Theme from the Bottom” gets us back into often-played territory, with its weird opening riff.  I really enjoy the way the bridge goes into a brief minor key, despite the overall happy vibe.  I like the harmonies towards the end, although the actual end of the song is a bit dull (the live endings are a bit more fun).

From here the album mellows out a lot.  “Train Song” is a pretty acoustic number with nice harmonies.  “Bliss” is an acoustic guitar solo.  “Billy Breathes” has more delicate harmonies and an acoustic feel.  “Sept Away” is another delicate short (90 second) song, with some more great harmonies. “Steep” is a slow, simple song (also 90 seconds) that has a pretty melody but serves more as an introduction to “Prince Caspian.”   “Prince Caspian” is a great epic-seeming song (even though it’s only 5 minutes long).  The build up is long , with the pretty chords repeating and growing fuller.  It’s a great live song and a great ending to this disc.

Although this disc has some great songs on it, it’s definitely not my favorite overall.

[READ: October 4, 2013] The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira

This was another weird and fun book by César Aira (one of about six books he wrote that year). This one was translated by Kathleen Silver.  Ever since reading that Aira doesn’t edit his books—that he simply begins writing and lets the story keep coming out–I’ve grown suspicious of the beginnings of his stories. And so I am with this one. In the beginning there’s a whole thing about Dr Aira sleepwalking through a town.  He wakes up in various places, unsure where he is, but he’s never lost because he knows the streets so well.  This goes on for a few pages and then the plot kicks in.

Dr Aira is picked up by an ambulance—a man is dying right there in the ambulance and only Dr. Aira can save him.  Won’t Dr Aira help him? The Dr. refuses point blank.  He is convinced that this whole thing is a set up—why else would the ambulance (which he had heard for many blocks going up and down the street) be driving around with a sick man looking just for him instead of going to the hospital?  He will not help this man.  Disgusted, the ambulance driver pulls over and the Dr gets out.

So what is all this about? (more…)

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