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Archive for the ‘Chris Ware’ Category

jun9SOUNDTRACK: EX-COPS-“Black Soap” (2014).

blackAfter listening to Myrkur yesterday I wanted to check out Amalie Bruun’s other band, Ex-Cops.

It’s interesting how many musicians can enjoy playing in so many different styles.  Because Ex-Cops sounds absolutely nothing like Myrkur.  Indeed, an Ex-Cops fan may be shocked by the sounds of Bruun’s black metal alter ego.

Ex-Cops remind me a lot of Garbage and The Cardigans sort of mixed together.  Bruun shares lead on this track with Brian Harding and her voice is pleasant and at times sounds like Aimee Mann’s.  The song is simple enough, with an easy melody for the verses and a big powerful chorus (stadia await).

The thing that I do like about this song is that Bruun and Harding exchange lead vocal duties.  But they duet with each other with the other in backing vocals.  It keeps the song from being very obvious.  I have no idea what they’re singing or where the title comes in, but that’s okay.

Depending on what other songs on this record sound like, this band could either be a cool indie band with pop leanings or a blatantly pop band. And I’m curious to hear more.

[READ: June 17, 2014] “Possession”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  And thus, we have a series of personal essays which fall under the heading of “My Old Flame.”  There are several short pieces.  And this year there are two illustrated stories by two wonderful artists.

The second is by Chris Ware.   I love Ware’s style, despite how depressing his stories usually are.

This story is about the narrator’s fixation on a girl named Daisy.  When he was a kid, she lived right across the street from them.  He says that he knows her, he has all of these memories of her, but he cannot picture her.  He can picture the street and a few concrete memories, but little else.

The first odd thing comes when the narrator was a little older.  His family had moved across town.  But when his mom asked who he wanted to invite to the circus with them, he said Daisy.  (I’m trying to imagine what he parents thought of that).  However, when they stopped at her house, the girl who emerged looked nothing like Daisy (what?).  And they said nothing to each other the whole time they were at the circus. (more…)

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McSweeney’s #13 (2006)

13SOUNDTRACKPARTS & LABOR-Stay Afraid (2006).

partslaborParts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers.  This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated.  Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge.  The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals.  By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects).  It’s an aggressive opening for sure.  Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.

“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes).  It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals.  The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song  very cool.

“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up.  “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars.  “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what  they wanted anyhow?).  The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise).  The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.

The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos.   Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks.  If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy.  It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.

[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13

I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time.  Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it.  It only took eight years.  For this is the fabled comics issue.  Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover.  Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.”  And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything.  On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares.  It’s quite cool.

So, yes, this issue is all about comics.  There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists.  But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods.  It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me!  Angst fills these pages.  Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor.  A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.

There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby.  But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes.  There’s also two introductions.  One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do).  And the other by Ware.  Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH on World Cafe, August 21, 2006 (2006).

Travelling back even further on the NPR timeline, Sonic Youth appeared on World Cafe in 2006 to promote Rather Ripped.

This is a brief session (only three songs) but as with the interview with Thurston Moore, David Dye does another great interviewing the band here.  Although it must be said that saying the band is once again a four piece (when clearly there are five people in the picture and in the studio and when he later says two guitars, two basses and drums–which I also think is incorrect, as I’m pretty sure Kim switched to guitars at this point, although I don’t know if she did during this set) is not a great way to start the interview.

Facts aside, the interview is informative and interesting and provides a glimpse into the band’s psyche all these years into their career.

The set is also good (although Thurston’s voice sounds a little off on the opener “Incinerate”).  The surprising thing about the set is that even with the five of them, the feeling is one of restraint. True, the songs on Rather Ripped are not as noisy as previous records, but this feels like they are trying not to wake anybody up the NPR folks.  It’s a weird feeling for a Sonic Youth set, but the plus side to it is that you can really hear everything clearly.

The other two songs are sung by Kim: “Jams Run Free” and “What a Waste” (why do they never promote any of Lee’s songs??).  And there’s the very amusing comment that the first time they played “What a Waste” Thurston and Kim’s daughter said it sounded like the theme from Friends.  Ha!

[READ: April 15, 2011] The Best American Comics 2006

I just recently learned about this series from The Best American line of books.  I had known about the Best American Short Stories and Essays and even Non-Required Reading (which I have not yet read).  But once I found out about the best comics, I knew I had to check it out.

The first issue came out in 2006.  The series editor is Anne Elizabeth Moore and the Guest Editor for this volume was Harvey Pekar.  Each of them has an introductory essay in the book.  To me the amazing thing about Pekar”s essay is how aggressively defensive he sounds (a sort of, “you may not like this one, but try this one” attitude) about these comics and comics in general.  I don’t know much about Pekar’s work.  I know he’s a kind of underground icon, but I seem to have missed him.  My impression of him is that this sort of antagonistic/defensive attitude seems to go along quite well with his comics, so I guess that makes sense, but I didn’t find it very welcoming.

But that’s okay, because I really enjoyed the comics.  And quite a few were by artists that I had never read before, which is even better! (more…)

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While I was looking around for Jonathan Franzen pieces in the New Yorker, I stumbled upon the first 20 Under 40 collection from 1999.  Since I had received so much enjoyment from the 2010 version, I decided to read all of the 1999 stories as well.  It was interesting to see how many of the authors I knew (and knew well), how many I had heard of but hadn’t read, and how many were completely off my radar.

I initially thought that they had published all 20 authors in this one issue, but there are five stories (including Franzen’s) that were just excerpted rather than published in full.  And I will track down and read those five in their entirety.  But otherwise, that’s a lot of fiction in one magazine (a few of the stories were quite short).  And it features a cover by Chris Ware!

So here’s the list from 1999.

**George Saunders-“I Can Speak™”
**David Foster Wallace-“Asset”
*Sherman Alexie-“The Toughest Indian in the World”
*Rick Moody-
“Hawaiian Night”
*A.M. Homes-
“Raft in Water, Floating”
Allegra Goodman-
“The Local Production of Cinderella”
*William T. Vollmann-
“The Saviors”
Antonya Nelson
-“Party of One”
Chang-rae Lee-
“The Volunteers”
*Michael Chabon-
“The Hofzinser Club” [excerpt]
Ethan Canin-
“Vins Fins” [excerpt]
*Donald Antrim-
“An Actor Prepares”
Tony Earley-
“The Wide Sea”
*Jeffrey Eugenides-
“The Oracular Vulva”
*Junot Diaz-
“Otra Vida, Otra Vez”
*Jonathan Franzen-
“The Failure” [excerpt]
***Edwidge Danticat-
“The Book of the Dead”
*Jhumpa Lahiri-
“The Third and Final Continent”
*Nathan Englander-
“Peep Show” [excerpt]
Matthew Klam-
“Issues I Dealt with in Therapy” [excerpt] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-Sabotage (1975).

Sabotage seems to be somewhat forgotten (maybe because of the creepy cover art 0f Ozzy in a kimono and fascinating platform shoes, Bill Ward in red tights with a codpiece (and visible underwear on the back cover), and Geezer and Tony’s mustaches).
But this album rocks pretty hard and heavy.
“Hole in the Sky” is a sort of spastic rocker with Ozzy screaming vocals over the top of the rocking track.
“Don’t Start (Too Late)” is the by now obligatory acoustic guitar piece.  But this one is different, for it has some really wild and unpredictable aspects to it.

“Symptom of the Universe” is another classic Sabbath track, a blistering heavy fast riff with the wonderful Ozzy-screamed: “Yeaaaaaahs!”  It then surprises you by going into an extended acoustic guitar workout for a minute and a half at the end.

“Megalomania” is a slow ponderous piece. Unlike the psychedelic tracks from the previous records, this one moves along with a solid back beat. It also has a great bridge (“Why doesn’t everybody leave me alone?”). They definitely had fun with the effects (echoing vocals, etc.) on this one.  And, like their prog rock forebears, this song segues into another rhythm altogether when we get the wonderfully fast rock segment.  And the humorous point where the music pauses and Ozzy shouts “Suck me!”

“Thrill of it All” is a pretty good rocker, which after a  pretty simple opening morphs into a slow, surprisingly keyboard-fueled insanely catchy coda.  “Supertzar” is a wonderfully creepy instrumental.  It runs 3 minutes and is all minor-keys and creepy Exorcist-like choirs.  When the song breaks and the bizzaro Iommi riff is joined by the choir, you can’t help but wonder why no horror film has used this as its intro music.

“Am I Going Insane (Radio)” is a very catchy keyboardy track.  It clearly has crossover potential (although the lyrics are wonderfully bizarre).  But it ends with totally creepy laughing and then wailing.    “The Writ” ends the album. It’s another solid rocker and it ends with an acoustic coda with Ozzy’s plaintive vocals riding over the top.

Sabotage has some truly excellent moments.  It’s just hard to fathom the amount of prog-rock tendencies they’ve been throwing onto their last few discs (we’ll say Rick Wakeman had something to do with it).

Black Sabbath made two more albums before Ozzy left.  I haven’t listened to either one of them in probably fifteen years.  And my recollection of them is that they’re both pretty lousy.  Maybe one of these days I’ll see if they prove me wrong.

[READ: December 16, 2009] McSweeney’s #7

This was the first McSweeney’s edition that I didn’t buy new.  My subscription ran out after Issue #6 and I never saw #7  in the stores.  So, I recently had to resort to a used copy.

This issue came packaged with a cardboard cover, wrapped with a large elastic band.

Inside you get several small volumes each with its own story (this style hearkens back to McSweeney’s #4, but the presentation is quite different).  7 of the 9 booklets feature an artistic cover that relates to the story but is done by another artist (not sure if they were done FOR the story or not).  I have scanned all of the covers.  You can click on each one to see a larger picture.

The booklets range from 16 to 100 pages, but most are around 30 pages.  They are almost all fiction, except for the excerpt from William T. Vollman’s 3,500 page Rising Up and Rising Down and the essays that accompany the Allan Seager short story. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: TINDERTSICKS-“curtains” (1997).

curtains“Rented Rooms” from Curtains is another one of my favorite songs. It is dark yet sensual at the same time: “We had to go find somewhere else more… you know.”  The disc itself works similarly to their first two discs.  It’s not as long, and is a little less dynamic.  But it is still unmistakably Tindertsicks.

The album has a lot more strings on it (not that it didn’t have strings before, but they feature more prominently here).  And they add a new dimension of tension and intensity to the proceedings. “Don’t Look Don’t ” has sections that sound like a scary action movie. “Desperate Man” returns to that gorgeous flamenco-tinged music that they played with on the first disc.

And “Fast One” has crazy demented strings as the song chugs along quite fast.  “Bearsuit” is a whimsical (!) look at sex.

“Buried Bones” is a gorgeous duet.  (Female singers complement Staples’ voice so well).  While “(Tonight) Are You Trying to Fall in Love Again” is another great uptempo string-filled song.  The disc ends with a trio of great tracks.  The beautiful “I Was Your Man” the sinister (I’ve never heard a band make a piano sound so sinister) “Bathtime” and the closer, “Walking”

The reissue comes with a bonus disc of alternate versions of songs from the disc (and some that didn’t make it). Yet another version of “For Those…”  It also has two versions of “Rented Rooms” (the orchestral version is quite fascinating). “Paco’s Theme” is a great instrumental. “Shadow” has that flamenco thing in spades as well.  Probably the best addition is “A Marriage Made in Heaven” a beautiful duet with Isabella Rossellini.

Curtains is something of a transitional record for Tinderstciks, and it’s not quite as awesome as the first two, but it is full of top notch songs.

[READ: October 29, 2009] “Unmasked”

I’ve enjoyed Chris Ware’s work  for years.  His cartoons are meticulous, fascinatingly detailed, often with crazily-sized boxes and sometimes hard-to-follow linear styles.  They are almost universally sad.  And I can’t get enough of them.

This one is the first I can remember in a long time that focuses on adult-adult relationships.  That’s not precisely true, as many of his stories deal with familial themes and the problems of growing up.  But, and perhaps that’s because this was a shorter piece (I’m more familiar with his longer multi-character-filled stories, the main characters are a woman and her mother.  (Her daughter is with them, and her husband is working). (more…)

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ny1It took me going to Seattle to learn about The New Yorker magazine.  I was visiting my friend Rob and he was really surprised that I didn’t read the magazine all the time (my reading always seems to surprise people, see The Believer.)

Upon my first read of the magazine, I was surprised to see that the first twenty pages or so are taken up with upcoming shows: films, concerts, sports, everything.  I actually wondered how much content would be left after all that small print.

Since then I have learned that Sasha Frere-Jones writes columns in here quite ofuiten.  For reasons known only to my head, I was convinced that Sasha was a black woman.  Little did I realize that he is not.  And that he was in a band that I have a CD of called Ui.  He is an excellent resource for all things music, whether I like the artist he’s talking about or not.  Some entries are here.  This audio entry about Auto-Tune is simply fantastic.

But of course, there’s a lot of content.  And the first thing you get are letters.  I don’t think I have EVER looked at the letters section. (more…)

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bookpeopleSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vs. (1993).

vsTen was a solid record, and although it had diversity within it, overall the sound was pretty consistent.  On Vs., Pearl Jam mixed it up sonically and otherwise.

It opens with “Go,” a track that rocks harder than anything on Ten but which retains a great Pearl Jam chorus.  “Animal” is also loud, with Eddie’s voice sounding incredibly rough and raw.

It’s on the 3rd track that PJ begin to really mix it up with their first ballad: “Daughter,” their first acoustic track.  It’s catchy, and really works with Eddie’s voice.  I can never listen to the next track “Glorified G” without thinking of my college roommate who spoiled it for me.  And I’ll spoil it for you because every time you hear the chorus you will now think “glorified version of a pelican.”  It’s not my favorite song anyway, as the chorus is kind of weird, but the verses are really strong and do redeem this track.

“Dissident” and “Blood” continue the great rocking vein.  Although they are quite different from each other, (“Blood” being much harder) they both showcase Pearl Jam’s excellent rock aesthetic.

The track between them, “W.M.A.” is the other track on the disc that shows Pearl Jam’s experimental side.  It’s percussion heavy and seems like a rambling track…it works much better live, actually.

“Rearviewmirror” on the other hand is PJ at their best, a fantastic rocking (but not too heavy) song with a great chorus, and excellent vocals by Eddie.   Its complement is “Elderly Woman…” which highlights the other end of PJ’s spectrum: a sort of ballad that rocks more than you might think.

“Rats” and “Leash” are two rough, almost punk songs that continue to mix up the tempo and tenor of the disc.  “Rats” seems to get ignored a lot even though its chorus is a good one, and “Leash” is another angry song that’s, again, enjoyable live.

“Indifference” ends the disc and it’s a song that I wasn’t all that excited about initially.  However, again, after hearing the live versions, I gained a much better appreciation for the song and now I really enjoy it.   All in all Vs, is a great step forward for Pearl Jam, strangely enough pulling them away from arena anthems and into more intimate areas.

[READ: April 16, 2009] The Book of Other People

I discovered this book by searching for A.M. Homes in our catalog.  I was surprised I had never heard of it.  The premise of this collection, put out by McSweeneys and benefiting 826 is that each author was asked to make up a character.  The requirement was that the story would be named after the character.  There were no other rules.  And as such, you get a wide variety of stories about all different characters: people and otherwise.  In fact, it’s surprising what a diverse collection of stories have arisen from this rather simple concept.

bookpeople2Zadie Smith is the editor and she wrote the introduction.  I like to cover all of the written pieces in the book, but there’s not much to say about the introduction except that it fills you in on the details of the collection.  She thanks Sarah Vowell for the idea but I gather that the rest of the work was done by her.

I’m not grousing about the different covers this time, I’m just showing the UK one.  It has the same basic set up, including pictures by Daniel Clowes, but as you can see, it’s slightly different.

And check out this roster of talent that has written (or drawn) a story: it’s like a who’s who of contemporary young writers. (more…)

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