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Archive for the ‘Denis Johnson’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE EBENE QUARTET-“Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor Allegro assai” (Field Recordings, January 25, 2013).

I don’t quite understand why this Field Recording [The Ebene Quartet Powers Through Mendelssohn] sounds so great–it is rich and full with resonant bass notes.  Is it the recording or the quartet itself?

The title suggests it is the players.

The Paris-based Quatuor Ebene — the “Ebony Quartet” — has risen fast in the musical world with two separate artistic identities. In recent years, audiences have gotten to know the “other” Ebenes — the sophisticated cover band that plays everything from “Miserlou” (the Pulp Fiction theme) to jazz to “Someday My Prince Will Come” (yes, the one from Disney’s Snow White).

But when violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Mathieu Herzog and cellist Raphaël Merlin play classical music — whether Beethoven’s transcendent Op. 131 quartet or, as on their latest recording, works by brother-and-sister composers Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn — you realize the depth and beauty of vibrantly intense performances.

Felix Mendelssohn completed his String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor just two months before his own death, and very shortly after the death of his beloved sister Fanny. Even though this second movement, marked Allegro assai, is architecturally the “light” section in this piece, it’s full of dark colors, tense and moody and shaded with grey and black. The music provides rich counterpoint to the setting, the bright and spacious powerHouse Arena, a bookstore, gallery and performance space in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.

We thought that the setting would appeal to the quartet’s double identities, given powerHouse’s signature mix of art titles and whimsical children’s selections, including a board book with a cute little piglet that clearly fascinated Raphaël to no end. And our idea worked: The shoot was bookended, so to speak, by the quartet browsing and buying. Maybe our idea worked a little too well? No matter — once the quartet got down to playing, the results were magical.

I have enjoyed Felix Mendelssohn’s music before, but this recording is outstanding.

[READ: October 20, 2017] “Strangler Bob”

I don’t enjoy prison stories.

This one is a little different, I suppose.  It concerns a guy remembering his days in prison.  He was eighteen and hadn’t been in too much trouble when his malicious mischief landed him a sentence of forty-one days.

His cellmate was an older guy, late forties, who was in the cell for doing “something juicy.”  The narrator would eventually learn that his roommate is Strangler Bob, and that his own nickname is Dink.

He befriended a guy his own age named Donald Dundun, who liked to stroll the catwalks and climb the bars spreadeagling himself against the jambs .suspended in the air. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_03_14Blitt.inddSOUNDTRACK: XERXES-“Collision Blonde” (3 tracks) (2104).

xerxesXerxes has a very cool early 80s gothy sound–a sort of Joy Division/early Cure vibe.  Their twist is that their singer is a kind of screamy punk (like early 80s hardcore bands). I admit I’m old and I don’t love the screamy vocals  as much as I used to (but as a throwback, it’s pretty cool). And yet, I find the juxtaposition of that sort of mopey goth music coupled with an aggressive punk singing style.

You can hear the title track to their forthcoming release, “Collision Blonde’ on NPR at Viking’s Choice.  This song is a bit longer than the other two.  It has more ringing guitars and really brings out those Cure influences.  The longer song allows them a little more freedom to explore, too.

There are two songs on their Soundcloud page.  Chestnut Street” has a much faster tempo, but it keeps that great ringing guitar sound.  It also offers some interesting tempo changes and a great bass section.  I also love the bass sound in “Exit 123.”  It’s got a great buzzy guitar attached to it as well.

This band also fills in that oft-lacking “X” category on your iPod.

[READ: June 13, 2014] “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”

This is a story in several parts (with titles for each section) but which all work together to tell a complete story.

It opens very strangely with a dinner party in which an amputee tries to get a woman to kiss his stump.  She can’t bring herself to do it, although several days after the party they begin dating.  But the story is not about them, it’s about the host of the party and his wife, Elaine.   For in the next scene, we see them at a party at a wealthy man’s house.  When the narrator tells the wealthy man who his beautiful expensive painting shouldn’t be over the fireplace, (it might get warped from the heat), he threatens to burn it–rumor has it he has threatened this before.  And yet what if no one stops him this time?

The narrator works as an ad man.  It’s likely we’ve seen his ad–it was quite famous and won an award.  Well he is getting the award now, even though the ad ran many years ago.  He is traveling to New York for the award. But he is stressed about the whole thing, so he goes to the doctor where the entire staff is dressed for Halloween. (more…)

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#16SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Beaster EP (1993).

beasterI didn’t know that Beaster, the Sugar EP was recorded at the same time as Copper Blue.  Mould’s biography was very helpful in explaining all the details of the timing and styling behind these two recording.  As well as how the super pop of Copper Blue could be followed right on the heels with the very very dark EP of Beaster.

I have often thought of this disc as being really dark and insular and Mould confirmed as much—he was really airing out some demons with this disc.  But they thought it would be better to put them all in one place rather having them bounce around the poppier full length.  What must fans (like myself) have thought to hear this dark album after the pop of Copper Blue.  I mean just look at the cover!

I hadn’t listened to this in a long time, so I was surprised by how cool “Come Around” sounds—Mould’s acoustic guitar high in the mix with some appropriately grungey guitars in the background.  There are lyrics but for the most part I think of it as just Mould making sounds with his mouth.

It’s followed by the blistering “Tilting.”  It’s got superfast drumming with aggressive guitars, it’s like we’re back to the early Hüsker Dü punk sound (with a little more clarity).  The drumming is great in this track.  The song ends with a preacher being interrupted by dissonance and what sounds like electronic interference. And this song morphs into “Judas Cradle” one of Mould’s darkest songs.  It’s very claustrophobic-feeling with echoed vocals, lots of feedback and lots of compression on the overall sound—quite different from the big open sound of Copper Blue.  And yet for all of that, the chorus, “Have you seen the Judas Cradle, ah”is really quite catchy.

“JC Auto” has some buzzsaw guitars which make it seem like it’s going to be quite an angry song and yet the bridge is quite welcoming (all this talk of holidays) and then the chorus is amazingly fun to sing along to (Mould always finds pop in anger): “Passing judgment on my life you never really got it right/I can’t believe in anything / I don’t believe in / Do you believe in anything / Do you believe me now…  Look like Jesus Christ / act like Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know Here’s Your Jesus Christ I’m Your Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know.”  And, as always, I love when Mould repeats his lyrics in the background (the “I Know I Know” surfaces throughout the end of the song).

“Feeling Better” has weird synth blasts that kind of works in the song but sounds out of place on this record.  This song flips between really aggressive guitars and a very bright poppy chorus.   At 6 minutes this song is a little long (because it’s primarily repeating itself by the end), whereas Judas Cradle and JC Autos’ 6 minutes are well justified.

The final song “Walking Away” is a strange one. It is comprised entirely of organs (church organ it sounds like) with Mould delicately singing “I’m walking away back to you”  The end starts to wobble giving a bit of a nauseous feeling but then it’s over.  So even in his most downtrodden and questioning, Mould still has the chops to write some great music.  Down be put off by the cover, Beaster is a great album.

[READ: March 28, 2013] McSweeney’s #16

After the fairly straightforward Issue 15, McSweeney’s was back to fun with Issue #16.  The issue opens up into a kind of quad gatefold which has , in order–a comb, a book, another book and a deck of cards.

The main book contains nine stories, by the typical McSweeney’s roster at the time.  The other booklet contains a lengthy story by Ann Beattie.  The deck of cards is for Robert Coover’s “Heart Suite” and the comb is a comb.  It’s a nice one, although it has never touched my hair.

The MAIN BOOKLET (more…)

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14

SOUNDTRACK: DEFTONES-Diamond Eyes (2010).

diamondBefore releasing Diamond Eyes, Deftones had two band crises. The first was that they didn’t really seem to like each other anymore.  The previous album was fraught with tension and they barely toured.  After deciding that they wanted to remain as a band, they were invigorated and made an album called Eros.  But during the recording, bassist Chi Cheng was in a car accident and was in a coma.  As of yet he has not fully recovered.  So they shelved Eros, hired a temporary bass player Sergio Vega and set about recording Diamond Eyes.  And for whatever reason, it proved to be one of their best releases so far.

“Diamond Eyes” opens with a heavy down-tuned guitar–very abrasive–until the chorus come in and it’s their most beautiful ones yet–with soaring keyboards and  harmonies.  And then the heavy guitars come back–it’s what Deftones do so well–beauty and ugly together.  Stephen Carpenter really shines, as always.  “Royal” is a fast song with a great harmonizing chorus.  “Cmnd/Ctrl” has a shocking low riff that explodes into a  bright chorus.  “You’ve Seen the Butcher” has guitars that seem almost untuned as the song starts.  But it morphs into a kind of sexy butt-shaking chorus.  And Abe Cunningham’s drums are, of course, fantastic.

“Beauty School” is the first that doesn’t really start out heavy, it’s a got a gentle guitar intro and the first song where Vega’s bass is really prominent as a separate instrument and it creates a beautiful alternative song–great vocals throughout.  “Prince” brings in a lot of new textures to the album, including a clanging guitar sound and a great screamed chorus. “Rocket Skates” is one of my favorite songs on the record, it has a classic metal riff and the great screamed-beyond-comprehension chorus of Guns, Razors Knives and a weird little whoooo that ends the chorus.

“Sextape” is a surprisingly gentle song, opening with an echoed guitar riff and one of Chino’s most gentle choruses.  “976-Evil” has an echoey guitar and voices not unlike the Cocteau Twins.  “This Place is Death” has another great alt rock feel–a big song with bright guitars and dark lyrics.  I haven’t really mentioned Frank Delgado on keyboards and samples.  He’s been with the band since White Pony, and I feel like his presence was made notable on a few songs here and there.  But it seems like on this disc he really comes to the fore, adding new textures and sounds to the album which really fill it out.

[READ: March 12, 2013] McSweeney’s #14

After the colorful extravaganza of the Comics Issue of McSweeney’s #13, this book settles down into something more somber  The book is softcover and all white.  The cover depicts a cartoon of George Bush with both legs blown off and the caption, “I Am So, So Sorry.”  On the spine in small print: “We’re praying as fast as we can.”  It is the most context-full cover they’ve done yet and, nearly a decade away it seems like a rather mean cover, but if I remember correctly at the time it seemed apt and delicious, especially in light of the upcoming election.

Yet despite the overtly political cover, the content inside is not political or even thematic (although it is pretty dark stuff).  Nevertheless, the table of contents gives us a small joke when it says “To help you know which stories to read first, we have indicated with either a * or a † those that deserve special consideration from you, the reader.  If you see either a * or a †, do not miss that story.”  Of course every story has either a * or a † but they cleverly did not put any kind of pattern to the symbols.

The colophon explains that when they were in Ireland, they met an actual Timothy McSweeney.  He had been given a copy of Issue #3 and then promptly forgot about the magazine.  But when McSweeney’s was in Galway to do a reading at the Galway Arts Festival, Timothy (Ted) McSweeney traveled from Dublin to check it out (not a short trip).  This also resulted in a letter from Mr McSweeney which is actually quite funny.

There are also illustrations in the book, although they are small illustrations and are placed on the title of each piece in the book.  All of the illustrations are old, mostly coming from the 1800s, although one dates back to 1670.  They illustrations are all technical scientific ones and don’t have anything to do with the stories. (more…)

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[WATCHED: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

11

THE DVD that came with Issue #11 was listed as a “Deleted Scenes” bonus feature for this issue.  The colophon of the book explains in great detail what they wanted to do and how they went about doing it all.  And that’s all quite amusing in itself.

Now, of course, there are no “deleted scenes” up front.  The DVD is, at first glance, authors reading from the works in the book.  But as you scroll down the menu, there are some deleted scenes, as well as behind the scenes features and audio commentary.  All in all there’s about two hours worth of stuff crammed in here and some of it is quite interesting.

DELETED SCENES

This is where the authors read from their works.  They each read between 3 and 6 minutes, with some of them reading different sections (Samantha Hunt), but most of them reading a chunk.   (more…)

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11SOUNDTRACK: THE ANTLERS-Live at the Black Cat, Washington DC, May 11, 2009 (2009).

antlersI mentioned that I was uncertain about my appreciation of this band.  And I wondered how they would hold up to a longer show.  The answer is surprisingly well.  The sound quality of this set isn’t great–the levels seem way too loud (not sure if that’s the band or the recording) and I really can’t understand the words, but the music is very moody and evocative and I like it quite a lot.

This set comes from the album Hospice, which is a concept album about a person dying of bone cancer (with lyrics like “they told me that there was no saving you” and song titles like “Kettering”).  Earlier descriptions made me think the album was a major drag to listen to– I mean the subject alone is exhausting–but musically it’s a different story.  There’s lush strings and interesting guitars.  And, at least live, the band can make a holy racket.

I’m a little surprised by the number of keyboard errors in “Atrophy.”  I mean an occasional bum note is fine, but there’s a bunch in that track.  It’s very weird.  But that is made up for by the vocals which are angsty and impassioned, especially on the final song “Cold War.”  The NPR site has three tracks available for viewing and I must say that watching the band is more exciting than just listening to them.  But I have really gained an appreciation for The Antlers.

Check out the show here.

[READ: December 16, 2012] McSweeney’s #11

This crazy title for this Issue/Post comes because the cover and spine of the book are all text.  Indeed, the book is gorgeously bound in black leather(ish) with shiny gold print.  Each author gets a summary of his or her work and a note that he or she is free (see each story below).

I did not read Issue #10 yet because it came out as a thrilling paperback, and I’ve been putting it off for a reason even I can’t quite fathom.  I anticipate reading that one last.  Again, no idea why.  In some ways, Issue #11 picks up where Issue #9 left off.  There’s lots of text on the cover, there’s letters and everything else that makes it look like McSweeney’s.  But as I said this one seems more somehow.  It’s the hardcover.  And, it’s also the DVD that accompanies the book.  I have a hard time believing I’ve owned this book for almost ten years and never watched the DVD but I finally got around to it.  More on that soon.

This issue contains letters, fiction, non-fiction and a play that picks up from Issue #9 (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS-The Age of Adz (2010).

Sufjan Stevens has released a bunch of albums of beautiful orchestral rock.  It is multi-layered and complex with classical elements and all kinds of cool instruments.

And this album starts out with a beautiful acoustic guitar melody and Sufjan’s delicate vocals.  Although it is a far more stripped down song than usual, “Futile Devices” seems like it is heading in the standard direction.  But anyone who heard Sufjan’s Christmas album number VIII knows that he has been having some fun with electronics.  And they show up with a vengeance on track two, “Too Much.”

All of the multilayered noise that was once orchestral and (some might say) precious has been replaced by a cacophony of gorgeous electronic noises.  The beginning of the song reminds me of the sounds in Skinny Puppy’s “Stairs and Flowers” (how many Sufjan Stevens reviews mention Skinny Puppy?).  The song is nothing like Skinny Puppy once the vocals kick in–it’s catchy and delicate–but those electronics underpin the whole thing, bringing his pastoralia into the twenty-first century.  When I first reviewed this song I didn’t like it but once you get absorbed by Sufjan’s world, it’s an enticing place to be,

“Age of Adz” takes this electronic nonsense even further with an 8 minute brew of strange sounds and choral voices.  But he always manages to throw in some catchy parts, no matter how strange the song gets.

For me one of the highlights of the disc is “I Walked” it features one of my favorite Sufjan things–falsetto vocals in a beautiful but unexpected melody.  And this song has them in spades.  “Now That I’m Older” has a very disconcerting sound–his voice is slowly warbled and mournful.  It’s a beautiful melody that is alienating at the same time.

“Get Real Get Right” returns to his earlier style somewhat (there’s more layers of music, although the electronica is still in place).   “Vesuvius” is a beautiful song and “All for Myself” is another of those great falsetto tracks that I like so much.

“I Want to Be Well” eventually turns into a manic electronic workout in which he repeats the chorus “I’m not fucking around.”

But nothing compares  to “Impossible Soul” a twenty-five minute (!) multi-part suite of electronic chaos.  It’s a fantastic song complete with autotune (used to very cool effect), repeated swelling choruses (it’s like a Polyphonic Spree tribute), electronic freakouts, and acoustic comedowns.  All in a positive, happy message.  I can’t stop listening to it.  “It’s not so impossible!”

Sufjan continues to impress me.

[READ: November 10, 2011] McSweeney’s #9

After the excesses of McSweeney’s #8, I was excited to get to the brevity (and urgency) of McSweeney’s #9.  This one is a paperback and looks like the first couple of issues.  The cover is mostly text with a hodgepodge of phrases and pleas.  You get things like: Thankful, Emboldened, The (Hot-Blooded/Life-Saving) Presumption of (Perpetual/Irrational (or More Likely, Irreducibly Rational) Good Will, Efflorescence, Our motto this time: We Give You Sweaty Hugs,” Alternative motto: ” We Are Out Looking,” GEGENSCHEIN (no more), and the promise: “We will Do Four This Year.”

This is the kind of issue that makes me love McSweeney’s.  There are some wonderful short stories, there are some nice essays and there are some dark moments all centered vaguely and tangentially around a theme.  There are some great authors here, too.

The back cover image is called Garden Variety by Scott Greene and it’s a fantastic painting.  You can see it here (navigate through the 2000-2004 paintings, but I have to say I really like the style of all of his work.

There are no letters and no nonsense in this issue.  So let’s get to it. (more…)

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[READ: September 24, 2001 & May 9, 2011] Talk of the Town

After 9/11, I read everything about the incident (like the multiple comics that came out).  About a week after 9/11 my friend Al and I went down to Hoboken and absorbed the decay (and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I’ve developed adult asthma).  My 9/11 story is no more compelling than anyone else’s and may even be far less compelling (you can read a snippet at Al’s blog, should you care to).  Anyhow, when this issue of The New Yorker came out (with the amazing cover that you can’t really see here–the towers are in a shiny black that reflects the light), I read all of these accounts and recollections.

I came upon them again recently when I was doing a New Yorker search for Jonathan Franzen.  I recently read all of his New Yorker entries, but when I saw that he had one that was part of this 9/11 issue, I decided to put it off.  It was reasonably close to the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, and I told myself I’d wait until then to reread and see what I thought.

And then President Obama gave the order to capture and kill Osama bin Laden (hooray!) and that seemed like a far more propitious reason to go back and re-read these articles.  Now I can feel a bit lighter about the whole thing (just a bit, but a bit can be a lot).  And so, here’s a somewhat facile reaction to these reactions.

I’ll preface by saying I can’t imagine what it must have been like to write something, anything at that time.  Some people respond well to pressure and tragedy and perhaps that’s what happened here.  I can’t help but wonder how paralyzing it must have been for other writers (as it was for most people).  So that these writers had the wherewithal to write anything coherent is pretty amazing.  And the fact that the could express the range of emotions that they do is extraordinary. (more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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back coverSOUNDTRACK: HÜSKER DÜ-Metal Circus EP (1983).

HuskerDuMetalCircusAfter the insane hardcore mess of Land Speed Record, this EP is a bit of a change.  It’s still pretty hardcore, but now you can tell that the noisiness of the guitar is deliberate.  Bob Mould is playing around with multiple layers of feedback and distortion to create a wall of noise that sometimes hides, sometime accentuates the overall sound.

What strikes me as odd in retrospect is that I think of Bob Mould as one of alternative rock’s poppier songwriters.  And yet when you listen to this disc the two poppiest (which is a relative term to be sure) tracks are by Grant Hart.

The first two tracks are fast and furious.  But what separates them from 4 x 4 hardcore is, mostly Greg Norton’s bass.  He’s all over the place.  There’s also some diversity within the songs themselves (a little guitar squeal in “Deadly Skies”).

“It’s Not Funny Anymore” (Hart’s song) is surprisingly upbeat (with guitar harmonics) and is not quite as noisy (although it’s still pretty noisy, and is not going on the radio anytime soon).

The next two track are more of Mould’s screamy hardcore.

The longest song (4 and a half minutes) is also by Hart. “Diane” is a creepy song about abduction and murder (yet with something of a  singalong chorus).  I actually know the Therapy? version better because I had listened to that disc a lot when it came out.  But the Hüsker’s version is even creepier.  Wikipedia says it is about a real incident (which makes it less creepy than if Hart has made it up, I suppose).

It ends with Mould’s least hardcore song, although the guitar solo is pretty insane.

And then it’s over.  7 songs in twenty minutes.  That’s nearly half as many as on Land Speed Record.  You can see the songs changing already.  Just wait till the next disc!

[READ: June 29, 2009] McSweeney’s #5

McSweeney’s #5 plays with cover ideas again.  On this one, frontthe cover idea is actual different covers and slipcovers.  The book is hardcover, with three different cover designs.  It also has 4 different slipcover designs. The colophon explains that if one wanted one could have requested for free) each of the cover designs because they did not intend to make people buy multiple issues.  Click on the covers to see them enlarged on flickr (all images are copyright McSweeney’s).

This is the Koppel front cover.

I will quote from the McSweeney’s site their description of the covers:

As many of you know, the new issue of our print version is out, and by now is in most stores. This issue is a hardcover book, and features four different dust jackets. One dust jacket has on it a man who seems to be suffering from terrible skin lesions. The second cover looks very much like the cover of Issue No. 1, with the addition of a medical drawing of a severed arm. The third cover is blank, with all of its images hiding on the back. Hiding from the bad people. The last cover is just red. Or, if you will, simply red.

In addition, under each dust jacket is a different cover. One features pictures of Ted Koppel. One features new work by Susan Minot. And a third features a variation on the second cover, described above, though this version is legible only with aid of mirror. This inner cover also is featured under the red dust jacket.

I was quite surprised when I took the slipcover off mine, (more…)

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