Archive for the ‘David Byrne’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAVID BYRNE AND BRIAN ENO-My LIfe in the Bush of Ghosts [Remix website] (1981, 2006).

I’m stealing the bulk of these comments from a Pitchfork review of the album reissue because I have never actually listened to this album which I’ve known about for decades.

When Eno and Byrne released My Life in 1981 it seemed like a quirky side project.  But now, Nonesuch has repackaged it as a near-masterpiece, a milestone of sampled music, and a peace summit in the continual West-meets-rest struggle. So we’re supposed to see Bush of Ghosts as a tick on the timeline of important transgressive records.  Nonesuch made an interesting move that could help Bush of Ghosts make history all over again: they launched a “remix” website, at www.bush-of-ghosts.com, where any of us can download multitracked versions of two songs, load them up in the editor of our choice, and under a Creative Commons license, do whatever we want with them.

The only thing is, at the time this review was written, the site was not up yet.  And as I write this in 2019, there’s nothing on the site except for a post from 2014 about Virgin Media and Sky TV.  Alas.

[READ: May 1, 2019] “The Ecstasy of Influence”

Back in the day I was a vocal proponent of free speech.  It was my Cause and I was very Concerned about it.

It’s now some thirty years later and I don’t really have a Cause anymore.  It’s not that I care less about free speech, but I do care less about the Idea of free speech.

Had I read this article in the 1990s, I would have framed it.  Right now I’m just very glad that people are still keeping the torch alive.

Lethem begins this essay about plagiarism by discussing a novel in which a travelling salesman is blown away by the beauty of a preteen girl named Lolita  That story, Lolita, was written in 1916 by Heinz von Lichberg.  Lichberg later became a journalist for the Nazis and his fiction faded into history.  But Vladimir Nabokov lived in Berlin until 1937.  Was this unconscious borrowing or was it “higher cribbing.”

The original is evidently not very good and none of the admirable parts of Nabokov’s story are present in the original.

Or Bob Dylan.  He appropriated lines in many of his songs.  He borrowed liberally from films, paintings and books.  Perhaps that is why Dylan has never refused a request for a sample. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKGEORGIE JAMES-Builds ‘Monument’ In Two Days (Project Song: December 17, 2007).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The second one they did was with Georgie James

Georgie James is a band on the rise [Note: they broke up on August 4, 2008]. The duo makes smart, infectious pop with tight harmonies and jangling guitars — an upbeat and innocent sound that’s made its debut album (Places, 2007) a sleeper success.  Georgie James got its start when drummer John Davis’ former band, Q and Not U, disbanded in 2005.  Davis turned to his singer-songwriter friend, Burhenn, to forge something new.

At first, the two seemed like an unlikely pair. Davis had spent the past seven years releasing records with his bandmates on the legendary D.C. punk label Dischord and touring the world. Burhenn, on the other hand, had been releasing solo projects on her own label, Laboratory Records, and playing smaller venues on the east and west coast.

They eventually settled on a stark but serene image by New York photographer Phil Toledano, depicting a bare room with a large pile of books stacked in the middle. For the phrase, the band chose “Something Joyful.”

Their process seems tense to me.  But maybe that’s just how they bounce ideas off of each other.

He chose the words “something joyful.”  She chose David Bowie and 45.
She likes the pile of books in empty room–she sees it youthful and he sees it as disuse, disrepair, neglect.  They decide to use that picture and the phrase “something joyful.”

She plays piano melody banging out ideas for the tune on the first day. There’s lots of discussion and back and forth–very different from Merritt’s solitary style.

“It’s really difficult when you have two people who are trying to meet in the middle,” Burhenn says. “We each had a different vision of where this was going to go, and to try to very quickly throw that together is a difficult thing.”

They change styles.  She suggests maybe a Talking Heads’ vibe.  She sings it in a David Byrne-ish drawl but he doesn’t like it.  She says this is turning into a nightmare and fears the song sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp or Rod Stewart.

But in the final hour they pulled it out.

Davis added drums, bass and guitar. The two layered the sound with multiple harmonies and hand-claps.

Two days later, they had a song they called “Monument.” It’s a three-and-a-half-minute pop gem that marries the contrasting loneliness of the photograph with the spirit of “something joyful.”

As they walk out she says, “I think it’s awesome.”  And it’s very catchy.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “All That Glass”

This is a peculiar story that starts out seemingly reasonable and then just goes off the rails.

A man says his wife no longer wants to sleep in the bedroom anymore.  He took it as an attack against him and wondered what he did.  But she ignores that and says she wants to move into the conservatory.  He agrees but says that “All that glass, it gets cold in there at night.”

She moves some basics into the conservatory.  He thought it was odd, but it gave the conservatory a good spring cleaning.

It was cold in there at night  She wore extra clothes though, and that was that. (more…)

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arborSOUNDTRACK: DAVID BYRNE-uh oh (1992).

uhohI received this CD free when it came out (radio station perk), and I listened to it a few times, but not really all that much.  I never really thought that much about it because I didn’t really like the cover–it looked too babyish.  It’s been a while since I listened to it and I am delighted at what a good, solid, Talking Heads-ish album this is (with David Byrne, you never know exactly what you’ll get from a record, but this is poppy).

“Now I’m Your Mom” opens with an early 90s funky electronic bass and some crazy guitar sounds.  But as soon as the bridge kicks in, the song is pure Byrne/Talking Heads.  And that world music style chorus means that this song could have been huge (even if it is about a transvestite or transgendered person–I didn’t listen that carefully).  However, the extended section at the end makes the song feel a little long.  “Girls on My Mind” is a strange (but good) song from start to finish—a weird cheesy synth sound pervades the song, and yet once again, it’s very Byrne—especially the crazy singing of the chorus.

“Something Ain’t Right” opens with an odd chant but then turns very conventional—with choral voices giving big oohs.  “She’s Mad” opens as a kind of sinister song.  And yet, after some verses about her being mad, the chorus is as bright as anything else on the record—a very schizophrenic song.  “Hanging Upside Down” has a very commercial Talking Heads Feel, like “Stay Up Late.”

“Twistin’ in the Wind” has more of those big choruses of voices to “well well well” up the song.  “The Cowboy Mambo” has another weird sound that circulates through the song, but it’s got a good beat and a great chorus and it would be fun to dance to.  “Monkey man” is a horn-heavy track that opens in a sinister vein once again.  “A Million Miles Away” just gets stuck with you and makes you want to sing along.  “Somebody” ends the disc with more Latin horns and rhythms.  It’s a fun song, and a good ending.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good record.  All of the songs are a little long–Byrne songs should really max out around 4 minutes.  For that extra time, he either tends to repeat himself or add superfluous codas that drag out the end.  But aside from that, this is a real treat, especially for Talking Heads fans.

[READ: May 20 2013] Arboretum

The back of the book describes this as a collection of enigmatic, enchanting mental maps.

And that is kind of what the book is.  It is a collection of drawings–tree and branch-style drawings mostly–that endeavor to map relationships.  But the subject matter is crazily diverse–oftentimes nonsensical or at the very least unparseable.  The good news is that many of the drawings have an explanatory text in the back of the book.  I acknowledge that ideally the drawings should make sense without needing an explanation, but the explanations were really useful–they really give you the frame of mind that Byrne was trying to explain through the pictures. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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I’ve always loved the first Kiss record.  Everything about it is over the top, and I can’t imagine what people thought of it when it hit shelves back in 1974.

And yet, for such a preposterous looking record, the tracks are really great.  The music is a mixture of pop, Rolling Stones rock swagger, Beatles harmonies, and a sort of proto-heavy metal.

“Strutter” proves to be a great opening track with a great riff and fun vocals.  And it’s just one of thousands of Kiss songs about hot chicks that, because of its metaphorical/obscure lyrics is less offensive than it might have been.  “Nothin’ to Lose” is another lyrically inscrutable song that I’ve always assumed was very dirty: “Before I had a baby, I tried every way.  I thought about the back door.  Didn’t know what to say.”  And yet it is so outrageously poppy that no one minds singing along.  “Firehouse” is a wonderfully over the top song with great falsetto vocals and an awesome solo from Ace. “Cold Gin”  is another rocking classic with cool basswork and guitar solo notes over a standard rocking verse.  Side one ends with”Let Me Know” a pop song hiding under the guise of a heavy rock song.  The song is such a poppy bit of fluff (check out the soulful harmonies before the ending guitar solo kicks in), but it works wonders.

Side Two starts with a silly cover of “Kissin’ Time” that of course is appropriate for this band (and if they went for a more poppy sound overall, this would have been their anthem, no doubt).  “Deuce” follows, and it blasts forth with some heavy stuttering and slighty off-sounding guitars.  It also has the best opening lyric ever: “Get up and get your grandma out of here.” Which is later followed by one of the top ten Huh? choruses off all time, “You know your man is working hard, he’s worth a deuce.”  (Rampant speculation as to what a “deuce” was in 1974 can be found online).  I’ve always loved the “Love Theme from Kiss” which is possibly the most hated pre-disco Kiss song that I can think of.  It’s a weird pseudo-middle-eastern instrumental that I’ve always thought was trippy and funny.  And then comes “100,000 Years,” another one of my favorite songs.  Again, the lyrics are just bizarre (and I’ve always mis-heard them until I looked them up just now: “How could you have waited so long, it must have been a bitch while I was gone” (I’d always thought the “it” was actually “you” which means the song isn’t as nasty as I ‘d always thought).  So, it’s sort of like The Odyssey, then.  But musically the song is just phenomenal: a great guitar riff over simple bass notes and a staggering guitar solo.

The disc ends with the outstanding “Black Diamond.”  There’s so much to love about this song.  It’s a gritty tale about life on the streets.  It opens with a pretty acoustic guitar ballad sung by Paul.  Then, after the awesome “Hit it!” the song kicks in powerfully.  Peter takes over vocals, and his rough voice works perfectly.  It’s only five minutes long, but it feels like a great epic track.  No the least of which is because the song ends with a cool concept: a single note, punctuated with drums, that is slowed down (from the original taped master), getting slower and slower making the notes sound heavier and heavier, slower and slower.  You can even hear the drum riff played at a by-now snail pace.  It’s very cool.

This is really a great album, and it’s somewhat overshadowed by their mid 70’s more famous music.  And if you like 70s rock but don’t think you like Kiss, this is one disc you can sneak into your collection.

[READ: December 20, 2009] The New Sins

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this.  I bought it from McSweeney’s in their attic sale for a couple of bucks.  David Byrne is Talking Heads David Byrne, so everything he makes is arty, avant garde and hard to fathom on a first listen/view.  But I’m unlikely to read this again, so he gets a cursory attempt here.

The New Sins purports to be a collection of what the “new” sins are.  It’s also written as if it were an ancient text that was recently uncovered and translated into English (although obviously, the word choices are laughably not ancient (web design, for instance).  Basically, what you get is a list of behaviors that until recently were not sins but which are now.  The odd thing about the book is that the sins are not an obvious parody of virtues or anything like that.  He doesn’t just say that kindness is a sin, he adds that ambition is a sin as well.  So it’s not even simple inversion. (more…)

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