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Archive for the ‘Dmitri Nabokov’ Category

lauraSOUNDTRACK: FUN.-Some Nights (2012).

funI didn’t realize that this wasn’t Fun.’s debut album. I hadn’t heard of them until, well, until they got pretty big.  Sarah got this for me for Christmas in 2012 on the recommendation of an NPR list.  Of course, my biggest surprise was playing it Christmas morning and hearing the word fuck twice in the first song.  Merry Christmas, kids!

I read recently that the band really liked Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy so much that they hired the same producer to get that sound.  And that makes a ton of sense on the style and final product here–big grandiose sounds that are layered and layered and dense. The difference of course is that Fun. writes more catchy/poppy songs with a pop rock sheen.  And the Queen comparisons are unavoidable.  But with auto-tune.

“Some Nights (intro)” opens the disc with a quiet piano intro that builds to what you’re really going to get here–dramatic, theatrical, anthemic over the top pop rock.  Because after a minute when the backing vocals come in, it sounds pretty much like an updated modern day Queen.  While lead singer does bellow like Freddy Mercury the Queenisms come more from the backing vocals and the orchestrations.

The first song proper, “Some Nights” has a more polished, more poppy sheen to it.  And like the rest of the album, it has a huge sing along chorus with whoa hos and everything.  It’s nearly inevitable that they would become huge because of this album.

And yet, despite all the pop, I like this record a lot.  The artsy, theatricality is so over the top.  And really each song is like a mini showstopper.  “We Are Young” has the title of an anthem and thus the song is an anthem.  It starts with just drums but after some clever lyrics, it shifts to a slow building chorus that the world can sing along to.  The same is true for “Carry On,” a slow piano ballad that builds in a big anthemic chorus.  “It Gets Better” is a bit more electronic and fast paced from the start.  “Why Am I the One” slows things down again, this time with guitars.  But again each one has a big sing-along chorus.

“All Alone” is a bit more electronic (with harpsichords!) and a little more drum heavy, while “All Alright” stays anthemic throughout.

What’s surprising really is the lyrical content–he sings a lot about loving his parents (there’s a few shout outs to his mom).  I admit I don’t entirely know what’s happening on the album–I haven’t looked at the lyrics too carefully, but it seems far more introspective and personal than big anthemic pop hooks would suggest.

“One Foot” is the first song that diverges a bit from the formula–it’s still a big stomping song, but the way the main riff is played on orchestral hits rather than more conventional instruments points to the more Top 40 elements of the band.  And the final song, “Stars” really tips the balance. This is the one song that I don’t really care for.  It’s 7 minutes long and the melody is more pop than artsy.  The song builds in a less dramatic and more poppy way.  This song has the most mom intensive lyrics: “Most nights I stay straight and think about my mom–oh god I miss her so much.”  By 2 minutes it devolves into an auto-tuned ballad where the Kanye influence really rears its head.  For the last 3 minutes or so it is a string filled ballad with crazy auto-tuned vocals (especially when they harmonize!).  It’s a bit much even for me, although I think it works pretty great as an album ender.

The strange thing about that is that there is one song after it. It turns out that it’s a bonus track, which i didn’t realize until recently.  I couldn’t imagine why you’d put a song after that autotuned nonsense.  So it makes sense as a bonus track, although after “Stars,” I’m done with the album.  The song, “Out on the Town” brings back the guitars but the “oh oh oh oh” in the beginning is really boy band like.  And I fear the whole set up is more commercial than theater. So, no real bonus for me.

Basically, the album sounds quite the same throughout (in that it is big and theatrical, although there are some differences that distinguish the songs enough).  And if you don’t like one of the songs there’s not going to be much here for you.  But if you like your theatricality over the top, you could do worse than Fun.  Just get ready to sing along.

[READ: October 1, 2014] The Original of Laura

naboI have had Nabokov on my list of authors to read for a long time.  I have read and enjoyed a few of his books and planned to read his oeuvre at some point, just not quite yet.  And then, as serendipity would have it, I stumbled on a book of his novellas (the Penguin classic edition) and decided to read them.  Because they aren’t really meant to be taken as one item, I’m going to mention them individually.

The Original of Laura is a controversial release because of its history.  And it seems that more words have been written about the history of the book than the actual content of it.  So I will summarize the history by saying that Vladimir said that if he didn’t finish the book that it should be destroyed.  Vladimir’s wife did not destroy the book and some thirty years later his son Dmitri decided to publish it [cue cat fights and gnashing of teeth].

The interesting way the book was published was as a series of index cards.  Nabokov wrote all of his stories on index cards.  The book version is on heavy card stock in which all of the index cards were reproduced and the words were typed below (errors and cross outs and all).  And all the pages are perforated for, in theory, the reader’s ability to mix and match the pages as apparently Nabokov did.

This seems like a cool idea except that most of the index cards are numbered, so it’s not like there is any doubt as to what order they should go in.  The final cards are not numbered, but again, they are pretty much sequential–there’s not a lot of play at play here. (more…)

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enchanteSOUNDTRACK: OS MUTANTES-Fool Metal Jack (2013).

jackI first heard this album streaming on NPR.  I really enjoyed it and was surprised by how diverse and yet still kinda 1970s hippie-feeling it was.

I didn’t know anything about the music of Os Mutantes before hearing this disc.  In a nutshell (and the details seem pretty complicated), they released 6 albums from 1968-1974 and then broke up.  They reunited in 2009 and this is their second album after reuniting.

I don’t know what any of them did during the intervening years, but it is clear that the psychedelic vibe they explored the first time around never fully left them.  Because even though there are rocking numbers, there are plenty of groovy organs and songs about love on the disc.  And yet the first songs I heard from the album were really quite rocking, so I was surprised by the mellow vibe as the album progresses.

There’s precious little information about the record on the record jacket, but I do know that Sérgio Dias wrote all the music and is the lead singer.  The disc opens with a kind of introductory song, “The Dream is Gone.”  It has a slow opening with cool bass lines and Dias’ voice which is soft and kind of worn sounding.  There are some cool electronic effects sprinkled around and big harmonies.  This leads to the second song, the stomping anti-war track, “Fool Metal Jack” (which I talked about here).  It’s got a big fat bass and menacing riff (as befits a war song). The song is graphic and ugly (with a loud cough in the midst of a verse).  It’s followed by the big old sloppy sounding rocker “Picadilly Willie” with big 70s sounding vocals (I’ve mentioned before that it sounds like Frank Zappa song to me, and it still does). These two songs are so loud and noisy they really belie the psychedelic vibe that the rest of the disc presents.

“Gangjaman” has a reggae feel (with a big round bass) and fun backing vocals.  While “Lookout” has a kind of Santana live at Woodstock vibe–a slinky rocking guitar and big chords.  There’s also some traditional (I assume) Brazilian native singers.  “Eu Descobri” is sung by a female vocalist (in Portuguese I assume) it is a pretty, slinky song with flutes and a cello and echoed vocals.  It hearkens back to the late 60s but still sounds contemporary.

“Time and Space” has more big bass (the bass really sounds great on this disc), but this one is a slow acoustic umber with excellent harmonies.  I love the layered vocals that reminds me of good prog.  “To Make It Beautiful” is an absolute hippie track with lyrics like: “I need to create love with you my love.” It has his great falsetto and buzzy guitars.  It is so far away from the early rockers and yet to me the album doesn’t feel disjointed.  “Once Upon a Flight” is a synthy/guitar rocker, but in a very 70s style. It’s also got a big cello solo at the end.  “Into Limbo” is a jangly slow guitar song with Dias’ voice sounding great.

“Bangladesh” has a long acoustic guitar intro with a very middle eastern feel.  By the middle it turns into a kind of prayer with a repeated chorus of: “Hare Jesus Hare Buddha Hare Judas Hare Rama Hare Krishna Hare Lucifer.”  The final song “Valse LSD” is a complex acoustic song with male and female vocals.  It’s quite pretty.  It doesn’t really feel like the end of the disc (I would have ended with “Bangladesh”), but it’s a good summary of the album as a whole.

 Since I am unfamiliar with Os Mutantes’ earlier work, I can’t really say how this fits into their discography, but I think this is just a great album and I’m looking forward to hearing more of their earlier works.

[READ: October 2, 2014] The Enchanter

naboI have had Nabokov on my list of authors to read for a long time.  I have read and enjoyed a few of his books and planned to read his oeuvre at some point, just not quite yet.  And then, as serendipity would have it, I stumbled on a book of his novellas (the Penguin classic edition) and decided to read them.  Because they aren’t really meant to be taken as one item, I’m going to mention them individually.

The Enchanter was Nabokov’s final work written in Russian.  It was never published during his lifetime.  The Notes to the story in the book suggests that Nabokov had a vague recollection of the story (with many details incorrect), but that he believed he discarded the original version when he moved to America.  He evidently found it after publishing Lolita, but did not feel compelled to publish it.  It was his son who translated and published it after his death.

The Enchanter is something of a precursor to Lolita in that it involves a man who is obsessed with adolescent girls.  What separates this from Lolita (although there are many similar plot contrivances) is the mental state of the protagonist.  He is disgusted by himself.  He knows what he does is wrong, he even imagines himself in animalistic ways.  And yet he cannot help himself.  (This is not to say that that is not present in Lolita, just that it is more or less the focus here). (more…)

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nobokov eyeSOUNDTRACK: DINOSAUR JR.- I Bet on Sky (2012).

ibetI have been so pleased with the reunited Dinosaur Jr.  I’ve enjoyed each of their albums, and feel like they really have hit a great stride of songwriting.  The only difference to me is that these songs are all pretty long, something I don’t really think of as a Dino Jr thing.  They do often have a few longer songs, but on this disc, 5 songs are over 5 minutes and two are nearly 5 minutes long.

As with the last album, I’m not sure why Lou Barlow agreed to reuniting.  Barlow is a great songwriter and has successful other projects.  He gets two (short) songs that he write and sings and that’s kind of it.  I mean, they sound great and really flesh out the album, but it seems like a weird thing for him to do unless he just likes playing the old Dino stuff again.

And then of course there’s Mascis.  It’s amazing how much of a slacker J Mascis sings like and yet what a careful and meticulous guitar player and songwriter he is.  And yes, it’s great to have Murph on drums, too.

“Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”  opens just like a great Dino Jr song—that guitar is unmistakable. It’s a fast rocker. With a big old Dino chorus. There’s a lengthy outro solo that really stretches out the song into a jam.  “Watch the Corners” is the other kind of Dino song, a chugger with big slow open chords and a nice riff. (and again a wonderful chorus).  “Almost Fare” is the other, other kind of Dino song, poppy with a kind of cute riff and a slow drawl in the vocals.  And “Stick a Toe In” is a slower ballad–the fourth kind of song that Masics writes so well. It has a nice chorus (with piano (!)) and some dramatic steps in the chorus.  Suffice it to say that although they all sounds like Dino Jr., it’s impressive how many styles of song Mascis writes so well.

Barlow’s first song is “Rude,” a short fast punk rocker.  At just under 3 minutes (with no solo) the song pounds along with a very funny chorus: “I wish I didn’t care cause caring is rude.”  Even though it changes the flow of the album, it just adds to the diversity that is Dino Jr.  In “I Know It Oh So Well” Mascis’ ringing guitar comes back  It’s a simple song with just a few chords and a simple interstitial riff, but he makes it sound very full.

“Pierce the Morning Rain” is the only short Mascis song on the disc (and perversely it gives the album its title).  It has a very heavy metal guitar riff and a super fast paced (and sung) tempo.  “What Was That” is a slow burner with many elements of classic Dino—a great solo in the background of the song and a cool riff along with Mascis’s patented delivery.  “Recognition” is Barlow’s other song. It almost makes 4 minutes.  It sounds more like part of the record (and, strangely, also like the popular Sebadoh tracks). You can really hear Barlow’s vocal style shine through and it’s a great counterpoint to all the Mascis on the disc.  It’s also great song—kind of slow and angular but with a cool fast riff in the bridge.  It also features a pretty wild (and un-Masics-like) guitar solo

“See It on Your Side”  is the last song and at nearly 7 minutes, it feels a little long.  Although that may be because the song seems to end and then starts again.  And yet, that end solo is pretty great.  It’s a very notable Mascis type riff that starts the song.  Even with all of the long songs, the disc still clocks in at around 45 minutes, which is really a perfect amount of Dinosaur Jr. consumption.  Looking forward to the next release.

[READ: October 1, 2014] The Eye

naboI have had Nabokov on my list of authors to read for a long time.  I have read and enjoyed a few of his books and planned to read his oeuvre at some point, just not quite yet.  And then, as serendipity would have it, I stumbled on a book of his novellas (the Penguin classic edition) and decided to read them.  Because they aren’t really meant to be taken as one item, I’m going to mention them individually.

The book includes a Foreword by Vladimir (his son Dmitri translated this with help from Vladimir) that talks a bit about when he wrote it and how he didn’t bother to include details about the location because it wasn’t important to the story (it’s a surprisingly casual foreword).

“The Eye” is a strange story (technically a novella or a very short novel) in which a man, despondent at the beating he receives, tries to kill himself and then believes that he does.

The narrator has been having an affair with a married woman named Matilda.  He’s been a little bored with her lately, and is pretty much over her.  But one night when the narrator is working as the house tutor for two boys (the boys are completely disrespectful to him and every scene with them is very funny), the cuckolded husband comes over and really beats him up.  Just really lays into him (the narrator’s protestations about this not even being his house are rather amusing).  I especially liked that the husband calls first and doesn’t tell him who he is “So much the better–it’ll be a surprise.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Destroyer (1976).

Although this is not the first Kiss album I heard (that would be Love Gun) it was probably the one I listened to most (it had “Beth” on it after all).  It is also full of some of the most over the top theatrical music of any heavy metal band at the time (is it any wonder that I also enjoy Meat Loaf and other over the top bands if I was raised on this?)  Kiss has always been about theater, and how much more theatrical do you need? (How about a cartoon of the band standing on a pile of ruins?).  But this album is such a classic, it’s hard to even think critically of it

“Detroit Rock City” is, well, it’s “Detroit Rock City.”  An amazing, iconic (albeit simple) guitar solo, great effects in the beginning (with Paul (I always assumed) singing along to other Kiss hits on the radio) and an awesome crash at the end.  Fill it out with an amazing riff and great work from the whole band.  What more need be said?  How about the way it leads perfectly into “King of the Night Time World.”  This song is overlooked despite its greatness.  It opens so loud and full then the verses get awesomely tinny until the galloping chorus kicks back in (Petter Criss plays drum rolls mid-song like no one else).  It also has great riffs and a memorable solo.  Oh and then a little song called “God of Thunder.”  Awesome bombast, creepy kids’ voices (I remember some kind of rumors about who the kids were and how they were held captive by the band or something).  It’s a wonderfully memorable song.

“Great Expectations” slows things down but adds the bombast.  I’ve always enjoyed this egocentric song, even as a kid singing along in a mirror.  Although the extra musical notes (keyboards and such) are kind of wimpy.  But it’s followed by the electrifying “Flaming Youth,” a hard-edged guitar song that is pretty simple, but pretty potent.  Again, the keyboard bits undermine the heaviness, but the repeated “higher and higher and higher” is pretty bad ass.

“Sweet Pain” is a great dark Gene-sung song (evidently about S&M, although I never knew that quite so specifically–I never understood the first two lines until I looked them up just now: “My leathers fit tight around me/My whip is always beside me”).  “Shout It Out Loud” is one of the great Kiss anthems.  I actually prefer it to “Rock and Roll All Nite” although that could be just because of the over exposure of “RaRAN.”  Of course, “Beth” is next and it is impossible for any Kiss fan to say anything about “Beth”.  This was the first song I ever memorized the lyrics to, and I sang it to my no doubt confused grandmother when I was 9 years old–my first and only live performance until college.

I always liked “Do You Love Me” (I think these Kiss fantasy songs were pretty big for me).  I was always confused by the tinny voice in the final verse of the song.  It was very strange to my young mind, but it really stands out in the song–as does Paul’s ending rant.  The overall sentiment of the song  is kind of funny coming from the guys who would soon be singing “Love Em Leave Em” but it is nice that they feel insecure once in a while too.

My LP of this album (or maybe it was an 8 track?) did not have the “bonus” track, which is just 90 seconds of a crazily processed version of “Great Expectations” with some lifted vocals of Paul in concert.  Apparently even though it is untitled, it is called “Rock and Roll Party” by most fans.  It appears to be a joke about all of the backwards masking that was supposedly on Kiss records.  Huh.

This is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

[READ: September 30, 2011] “The Russian professor

Nabokov did not secure the teaching position at Wellesley where he had been creative writing professor the year before (Lolita would not come out for a nother 13 years, so he was working via his Russian book reputation).  So instead, he went on a several-month speaking tour of Unites States colleges, many of them in the South.  These (excerpts from) letters to his wife detail some of the indignities that he suffered and reiterate his love for her and his son.

On his way to Coker University in South Carolina, his train car was double booked, his taxi didn’t show up and he wound up going to the wrong hotel.  When he finally was picked up: “Feeling that I wouldn’t have time to shave before the lecture…I went in search of a barber” [what kind of time management is that??].  Nabokov writes of the shave:

He shaved me horribly, leaving my Adam’s apple all bristly, and since in the next chair a wildly screaming five-year-old child was grappling with the barber who was trying to touch up the back of his head with the clippers, the old man shaving me was nervous, hushed the child, and finally cut me slightly under the nose.

(more…)

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