Archive for the ‘Colm Tóibín’ Category

nymarc22SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tormato (1978).

TormatoTormato might be Yes’ most hated album (I think people grudgingly respect Topographic, but they hate Tormato).  I mean the cover is weird and, well, weird.  The songs are not bad but they sound so far from Yes of old, that it could possibly not be the same band.  And then there’s those lyrics.  I find myself blaming Jon Anderson for this middling period style of Yes music.  It seems like he was the impetus behind topographic and he has a number of songs that he wrote on the last two albums.  If Anderson is the flighty stratosphere, Squire and White are the ground.  And the ground is sorely lacking on the last two albums.

There’s no Roger Dean on this album either (more Hipgnosis with a giant tomato spill (get it, Tormato?  No I don’t really either.)  Wikipedia sheds some light, kind of:

Howe pitched the album’s original title of Yes Tor, referring to the highest point on Dartmoor, an area of moorland in Devon, England. Wakeman claimed to have thrown a tomato at the pictures taken for the album as he was disappointed with its design. The album’s title and cover was changed accordingly. Howe said it was someone at Hipgnosis who threw the tomato on purpose, something that he felt insulted about.  According to White, the band “couldn’t decide on the cover. I think Po … put a picture of a guy with divining sticks on the front.  He took it home one night and decided it wasn’t working. So he threw a tomato at it”. 

I always thought it was drumsticks not divining sticks.  Oh well.  So there that in no way clears up the tomato business.

So what about the music?Even though Squire shows up a bit more here, the overall sound of the album is really tinny—a problem that to me plagued Yes throughout this period—there’s just no low end to speak of, even when Squire does some rumbling lines.

“Future Times/Rejoice” opens with an interesting riff and some cool bass lines from Squire.  The song itself is bouncy and jaunty, moving along briskly with some wild riffs from Howe.  It’s kind of refreshing.  At 3 minutes the song slows down with some counting and replies from Anderson. The next section has a pretty classic Yes build up and then a return to the beginning of the song. There’s a very 70s sounding keyboard solo from Wakeman as the song reaches the end—which is a coda called Rejoice (starting at 5:44), which is mostly harmony voices until the repeat of musical themes from earlier.

Next comes the divisive “Don’t Kill the Whale” This is one of those major heart-on-your-sleeve songs.  Musically it’s pretty interesting with some wild soloing from Howe, but those lyrics: “don’t kill the whale, dig it.” It’s hard not to agree with the sentiment but it’s hard to sing along to at the same time. The synth solo is also astonishingly dated and kind of nauseating at the end.

“Madrigal” is a ballad played on a harpsichord with vocals from Anderson. By the end some classical guitar is played with it. It’s a pretty piece.

“Release/Release” is probably the most interesting track on the disc. It’s got a great riff from Howe and although (some of) the synths feel dated it rocks along like a good mid 70s rocker should. I like the audacity of having a “live” drum solo tacked into the middle of the song. It reminds me in style of a King Crimson track with the staccato voices, although it is not produced anywhere as well.

“Arriving UFO” is, indeed, about seeing UFOs.  The narrator is incredulous about them at the beginning of the song (which comes with very “eerier” keyboard notes) but I believe is a believer by the end. I do like the way the music builds for the bridge, although the chorus is bit much (as is the dreadful synth middle section). The solo section has some really bizarre sounds that I take to be “alien” conversation. Whether its made by guitar synth or voice I cannot say.

“Circus of Heaven” might just be the worst Yes song ever. It is all high notes (even the bass is high notes). Around 2 and a half minutes in the song shifts from its whimsical circus feel to a slightly more serious tone that hearkens back to better Yes moments, but it does not remain there.  Rather, the narrator asks his son what he thought of the circus of heaven and then Anderson’s actual son tells him that he’s not impressed. It’s hard to listen to I have to say.

There’s more high notes in “Onward” which is more orchestral washes and Anderson’s vocals over the top. It’s not really much of a song, frankly, even with the string arrangement.

“On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is nearly 8 minutes long.  It tries to hearken back to longer classic Yes songs but it never quite makes it.  It opens with some loud basslines, some fiddly Howe guitar bits and a lot of synths. But none of it sounds as interesting as previous long song intros. Even the wah wah bass sound isn’t as interesting as the early 70s bass sound. Anderson comes in almost 3 minutes in and around 3:30 the song picks up speed and the elements gel in a really good way. Around 4:45 the song slows down to an interesting instrumental section with bass and percussion.   After a return to vocals the fast part picks up again, although with a synth solo that is less than stellar.  There’s a lot of “la la las” in the song and a mention of “celestial seasons” which I hope came out before the tea brand.  The song isn’t bad, and if Yes didn’t have such a great catalog behind them I might actually say it ‘s quite good, but like the rest of the album it pales with their peak.

And that’s probably why Wakeman left again and, shocking, Jon Anderson split from the band too (which i find surprising since I feel like the past two albums were all about him).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   With the middling success of Going for the One, this line up stayed in place for a second album!

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keybaords
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: March 22, 2015] “Sleep”

This story was written in direct address, from an “I” narrator to a “you” subject.  It really personalized the story and was interesting to watch as the story that started as one thing was able to travel to another thing entirely.

It begins with the narrator, an older man, talking in his mind to his young lover.  The younger man’s parents are concerned that the narrator is older, but they do like him.  I loved the way it was constructed with him reminiscing about how they met and about how the world allowed them to be together: “Germany, Ireland, the Internet, gay rights, Judaism, Catholicism, they have all brought us here.”  The beginning of the story really stresses their differences, which he finds charming:

“Like a good American you wear a T-shirt and boxers in bed.  I am wearing pajamas like a good Irishman.”

They have been sharing living space for a while, but the younger man is concerned that the older man’s dreams are plagued by nightmares.  The nightmares are so strong that the older man often screams out loud –but does not wake up. (more…)

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jun9SOUNDTRACK: DESTROY TOMORROW 666-“Distortasaur” (2005?).

6666Destroy Tomorrow 666 is a DJ project from Sloan’s Patrick Pentland.  I had never heard of it until reading about him recently (Sloan has a new album out).  It is Pentland’s Alternative / Electro / Punk outlet that he’s been doing since 2005.

Pentland is known for writing gorgeous pop songs with wonderful harmonies.  But he grew up listening to hardcore punk, so his musical tastes are all over the place.  This track (I love the name) is, like the others here, a distorted fuzzy “dance” song that is all instrumental and not poppy at all.

While I’ll stick with Sloan, I imagine this was a lot of fun to whip together.  And yes, I think it’s very good dark dance music.  Although surely if he was going to use 666 he could have turned Pentland into Pentagram.

You can check it out at ReverbNation.

[READ: June 17, 2014] “Stories”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  In addition to the two graphic stories, we have a series of five personal essays which fall under the heading of “My Old Flame.”  I liked that all five writers have slight variations in how they deal with this topic.

Colm Tóibín is a prolific writer whom I know very little about.

In this essay, Tóibín flashes back to 1978 when he was 23 and living in Barcelona.  He had been there for a few months when he heard about a cheap charter flight back to Ireland.  So he packed up and got out of Barcelona and returned to his home.

He often wonders what would have happened had he stayed in Spain.  He most likely would have stayed with the guy he was seeing, spending days on the beach and nights in the boy’s apartment in the city.  He even thinks he might never have gone home.

After he left, they kept in touch for a time, then inevitably, they lost touch.  (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_04_13Chast.inddSOUNDTRACK: DEFTONES-B-Sides & Rarities (2005).


Deftones released this B-sides collection after Deftones.  It contains mostly covers.  They also later released an album called Covers which has all of these covers and some new ones.  Covers was released on Record Store Day and is really hard to get now.  The covers that are extra to that CD are: “Drive” (originally by The Cars), “Caress” (originally by Drive Like Jehu), “Do You Believe” (originally by The Cardigans), “Ghosts” (originally by Japan) and “Sleep Walk” (originally by Santo & Johnny).   Despite those interesting songs, B-Sides and Rarities is no slouch.

“Savory” is a cover of a song by Jawbox.  Chino’s voice sounds so utterly different here, I completely don’t recognize him.  It’s not the most impressive start to the collection as even after a lot of listens the song still hasn’t really stuck for me, but it’s also one of the few songs I didn’t know beforehand.  (It turns out the cover was actually by the band Far (with the members of Deftones playing as well)).  But it was the Cocteau Twins cover that really blew me away.  The Cocteau Twins, an ethereal lighter than air band get a very respectful treatment here.  “Wax and Wane” has a pretty heavy bass line which Chi produces (with cool effects on it), and while Chino doesn’t try to ape Elizabeth’s Fraser’s voice, he does a great job in her register (how he figured out the words, I can’t imagine). Lynyrd Skynyrd’s  “Simple Kind of Man” gets the Deftones treatment with whispered/creepy vocals in the first verse and a big loud chorus.  The cover of Helmet’s “Sinatra” is very heavy (I don’t know the original but I know other Helmet songs) but it doesn’t sound quite like Helmet–a perfect Deftones take on the band, with very low tuned bass strings.  The second biggest surprise comes from their cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love.”  I don’t know the original, but I do know about Sade and this song keeps all of the funky bass and the slinky sexiness of a typical Sade song.  But it adds an interesting slightly sinister vibe that really makes the song stand out.

The band performs a great spooky gothy cover of The Cure’s “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” (at what I gather is a live tribute show) complete with that weird Middle Eastern sounding guitar and the cool splash cymbal.  It’s followed by a great cover of The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and he does a surprisingly good Morrissey.   Their cover of Duran Durans “The Chauffeur” was the first cover that I had heard by the band and it was the first time I thought about how cool a Duran Duran song could sound: win-win.

There are some reinterpretations of Deftones originals as well.  “Change (In the House of Flies)” works very well in the acoustic format–sounding somehow more dramatic.  “Teenager” has a trippy Twin Peaks vibe when it opens.  This is the “Idiot Version” with guys from Idiot Pilot joining the Deftones.  It doesn’t sound all that different from the version on White Pony and yet I really didn’t recognize it out of context.  “Crenshaw Punch/I’ll Throw Rocks at You” is the heaviest thing on the album, with loud abrasive guitars.  It was a B-Side from Around the Fur.  My least favorite track is “Black Moon” which is a sung by B-Real from Cypress Hill.  I liked Cypress Hill a lot back in the day, but there’s something unsatisfying about this pairing–or maybe it’s just that this songs really sticks out on the disc.  The acoustic “Digital Bath” is trippy and very cool–it’s amazing when they strip down their songs, which are usually so abrasive and heavy and they still manage to sound great.  “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” is another acoustic piece with a remix by DJ Crook.

More than just a stop gap or a collection of misfit tracks, this is a really cohesive Deftones album and actually a great place to start for people trying to ease their way into the band.

[READ: March 3, 2013] “Summer of ’38”

This story is about Montse.  Montse is an old woman with three children.  Her husband died some time ago and she is by herself.  Her daughters come to visit her but she doesn’t like to be a bother to them.  On this occasion, her daughter Ana says that she met a man who is writing a book about the war and he would like to talk to Montse to see if she has any recollections of the time (she was a teenager in 1938).

Montse doesn’t want to talk to the man, she says she won’t remember anything and why doesn’t he write the book without her.  But the man arrives anyway.  When he asks her questions, she says she knows nothing about the war.  But he says that a retired general (for Franco) is coming to their town to show the writer war locations.  The general says he remembers Montse’s name and would like to meet with her.  His name is Rudolfo Ramirez.  She says she barely remembers him and that maybe she’s even thinking of someone else.

The writer says it’s not a big deal but is she would like to meet with him he will be at the cafe on Saturday for a casual lunch. She gives a reluctant maybe and the writer leaves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: All Songs Considered Year End Music Roundup (2010).

Every year, I like to check various sources to see if there were any albums that I missed.  My definition of good resources: allmusic, amazon, pitchfork.  (There’s another fascinating list available here at Best Albums Ever, a site I’ve never seen before, and I have a large portion of the Top 50 albums.  I didn’t buy a lot of music this year, but evidently I chose wisely!).  I don’t necessarily agree with these lists, but if I see the same album on a few lists, I know it’s worth at least listening to.

This year, since I spent so much time on All Songs Considered, I thought I’d see their Best of Lists.  What’s awesome about the site is that you can hear not only selected songs in their entirety, you can also download the audio of the original show…where the DJs talk about their selections and play excerpts from them.   There are many different lists to investigate.

The most obvious one to star with is 50 Favorite Albums of 2010.  This shows the staff’s 50 favorite albums in all genres.  I admit that there’s going to be a lot on this list that I won’t bother exploring (I’m not really that interested in new classical or jazz and I’m not too excited by most pop music, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Kanye West songs here).

But some albums did stand out that I hadn’t heard, and I will investigate them further in 2011:

Buke And Gass, ‘Riposte’
Deerhunter, ‘Halcyon Digest’ (I know, this is on many best of lists)
The National, ‘High Violet’ (This is also on everyone’s list)

Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered’s most awesome host, picks his Top 9 of the year.  I’m on board with about 1/2 of his list (haven’t heard the other half).  Sufjan Stevens is his #1.

Robin Hilton, Boilen’s partner in crime, has a Top Ten which is remarkably similar to Boilen’s.  It has most of the same albums just appearing in a slightly different order.  Lower Dens is #1. (I’ve never heard of them).

Carrie Brownstein (of beloved Sleater-Kinney and now evidently a permanent member of the NPR team) has a Top Ten (Plus One)–funny that she liked more than ten when Boilen liked less than ten.  I’m really surprised by her selection of albums because her own music is so punk and abrasive, but her top ten features R&B and some folky bands.  Her top album is by Royal Baths, a band I’ve never heard of.

Stephen Thompson also picked his Top Ten.  He has an interesting mix of alt rock and jazz.  His number one is by Jonsi from Sigur Rós. (A great album).

Perhaps the best list comes from 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010.  I didn’t know any of the 5.  Sarah bought me two CDs for Christmas (and she was pleased to have gotten me good music that I hadn’t heard of!).  The Head and the Heart hasn’t arrived yet, but The Capstan Shafts is great.  I’m also really excited by Tame Impala.

Another great list is Viking’s Choice: Best Metal and Outer Sound (stay tuned for much more from this list).  It is dominated by black metal, but there are a few surprises in there as well.

Even the All Songs Considered Top 25 Listener’s List was great.  I had most of the list (except for The Black Keys who I simply cannot get into).

Although I enjoyed a lot of new music this year, it’s always nice to see that there is some new (to me) stuff to investigate.  Who knows maybe some day I’ll even have listened to enough new music in a year to make my own Top Ten.

[READ: December 31, 2010] McSweeney’s #36

With McSweeney’s #36, it’s like they made my conceptual ideal.  Its weird packaging is fantastic and the contents are simply wonderful.  But let’s start with the obvious: this issue comes in a box.  And the box is drawn to look like a head.  You open up the man’s head to get to the contents.  Brilliant.  The head is drawn by Matt Furie (with interior from Jules de Balincourt’s Power Flower.

Inside the box are eleven items.  The largest are smallish books (postcard sized) running between 32 and 144 pages.  The smaller items are a 12 page comic strip, a nineteenth century mediation (8 pages) and 4 postcards that create a whole picture.  The final item is a scroll of fortune cookie papers.   The scroll is forty inches long with cut lines for inserting them into your own fortunes (I wonder if they will sell this item separately?)

Aside from the bizarre head/box gimmick (and the fact that there is ample room in the box for more items), the contents are really top-notch.  For while many of the books included are individual titles, there is also an actual “issue” of McSweeney’s (with letter column and shorter stories) as well.  So let’s begin there

ISSUE #36: New Stories and Letters.  The resurrected letters page continues with more nonsense.  I’ve often wondered if these are really written like letters or if they are just short pieces that have no other place to reside.  (Oh, and the back of this booklet contains the bios for everyone in here as well as assorted other folks who don’t have room for a bio on their items).

LETTERS (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TYLER THE CREATOR-“Bastard” & “AssMilk” (2010).

This is the third and final rapper from Odd Future that I’m going to listen to. In his New Yorker article, Sasha Frere-Jones mentions Tyler’s song “Bastard” as being noteworthy for its content (an anti-father screed).  It’s a somber song played over a rather nice but dark piano motif.  The song is about his father and the rest of the darkness in his life:  “I cut my wrists and play piano because I’m so depressed”  Woah.  It gets typically dark and violent (the whole group seems to relish in tales of violence and abuse of women and gays, which isn’t cool).  It’s a moving song but at 6 minutes, frankly this song is too long.

I picked a second song because I thought that “Bastard” was only 32 seconds long (the first video on YouTube that came up is an edited version which actually packs more of a wollop than the 6 minute version) so I found this other song whose title I thought was funny.

The song is certainly sillier and opens with “I’m not an asshole I just don’t give a fuck a lot.”  Inexplicably, at the one minute mark the song interrupts itself mid sentence.  There’s some kind of altercation and Tyler starts hitting some guy and demanding an apology.  The guy keeps saying sorry and eventually says uncle, and the song resumes.   The rest of the song degrades into more violence with yet another break in the music in which Tyler doth protest too much that “Woah, I’m not gay.”  I think maybe that’s too much life in the underground for me, and even though I think that Sash Frere-Jones is one of the best music journalists out there (his article about Pavement was exactly how I feel about them), I have to say I was a little less than impressed with this batch of suggestions.

After five songs in total from these guys, I need some good clean happy music.  Perhaps Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You.”  At least it’s not THAT mean-spirited.  Thus endeth my tour of underground rap.  Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

[READ: November 19, 2010] “Christmas Pudding”

Although I said Allegra Goodman’s story was the funniest, I’m going to change that and give the honor to Colm.  For a one page article, he really crams a lot of story in (and the ending is great).

As it opens, we learn that his family had the best Christmas Pudding in Enniscorthy.  His mother knew the chef at the Roche’s castle in town and she was given the recipe for the very pudding that the Roche’s ate.  (The Roches restored the Castle that was built by the Earl of Portsmouth and had a dungeon!  They were synonymous with wealth and fanciness).

This recipe (which came from America (hushed approval)) used butter instead of (I can’t even look as I type this) suet.  (As a person who leaves suet out for woodpeckers, I am revolted at the thought of this).  So yes, their pudding was awesome.

So what’s funny about this?  Well, that comes in the second half. (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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ny413SOUNDTRACK: DEPECHE MODE-Black Celebration (1986).

blackcelebrationSince the previous entry was all about The Smiths, I include Depeche Mode in this entry as the other big album that influenced my appreciation for college rock (or just British music, apparently).

My friend Garry, in addition to playing me The Smiths, also played me Black Celebration.  At the time I either didn’t like or didn’t know about Depeche Mode.  But I was really struck by this album.

DIGRESSION: It would only be years later that I would call them Daypatch Commode thanks to the Dead Milkmen!  Incidentally, “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)” become something of a namechecking song to know go British bands back in college.  “You’ll dance to anything by…Book of Love… The Smiths…Public Image Limited…”

The thing that most impressed me about Black Celebration was the way the tracks…not necessarily melded together…but that they had all kinds of effects and things that sort of linked them.  It’s most noticeable on the first three tracks, or with the ticking clock that links “Stripped” to “Here in The House.”  It’s a little thing that adds a nice continuity to the disc, and was something I hadn’t really heard before.

But even beyond that, the sounds were totally new to me.  There’s all kinds of sound effects thrown in and experimentations that simply didn’t happen in the metal I enjoyed.  And the keyboards weren’t Top 40ish, they weren’t sounds that I didn’t like, they were just new.  There’s even moments that sound straight out of Phillip Glass.  The tracks were certainly downers, and yet there was something angelic about them.

Or maybe angelic’s not the right word…pretentious comes to mind.  There’s something so archly British about Dave Gahan’s singing voice on this disc…quite different from the heroin addict voice on Violater and later.

  “Black Celebration” has, at one point a cool whirling sound effects that plays with stereo in a way you wouldn’t expect from this kind of band.  And, as is Gore’s speciality, it is upbeat musically, yet clearly a downer lyrically.  “Fly on the Windscreen-Final” has the obviously unhappy lyric of “Death is everywhere” and yet again, musically it remains somewhat upbeat.  

Martin Gore also sings a lot on this disc, which helps to balance out the tone (even though at this stage he doesn’t sound radically different than Gahan). “A Question of Lust” is a delicate ballad, while “A Question of Time” shows the way of their more rocking songs later on.  The disc also features the fantastic “Stripped,” which has been covered like half a dozen times.  (Although DM’s is still the best version).

The disc also has a couple of short tracks (from under 2 minutes to just under 3 minutes).  These tracks seem somewhat less fleshed out than the rest of the disc, which may be why the disc isn’t as popular as their other ones (I just learned).  They act more like interstitials between songs rather than songs themselves.

Evidently the American release included “But Not Tonight” the one majorly upbeat track on the disc.  I’m not sure why it was excluded elsewhere (although it really doesn’t fit thematically), but it does add a happy note to a dark disc.

I’ve enjoyed Depeche Mode ever since, and has been quite pleasantly surprised by the rocking tone they have taken in the last few years.

[READ: April 9, 2009] “The Color of Shadows”

There was some interesting synchronicity in reading this story when I did as we had just watched The Savages a few nights before. The Savages stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings whose father is placed in a nursing home, and how they deal with the emotional strain this causes.

“The Color of Shadows” concerns a man named Paul who is in the unfortunate position of having to put his Aunt in a nursing home.  And what made this story so good was that this main plot point was in no way the most moving part of the story. (more…)

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