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Archive for the ‘Greil Marcus’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AIMEE MANN-Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo (2000).

Aimee Mann writes really pretty (often sad) songs.  From seeing her play live (in person and on video), she is very upright when she plays.  And I feel like this uprightness comes forth in her music.  She is very serious–not that she isn’t funny, because she can be–but that she is serious about songcraft.  Her songs, even when they are catchy, are very proper songs.  I don’t know if that makes sense exactly.

It also means to me that most of her music sounds similar.  She has a style of songwriting and she is very good at it.  For me, it means that a full album can start to sound the same, but a few songs are fantastic.

“How Am I Different” opens up with a super catchy melody and a guitar hook that repeats throughout.  “Nothing is Good Enough” is a bit slower and less bouncy.  But “Red Vines” brings that bounce back with a super catchy chorus (and backing vocalists to punch it up).  The piano coda is a nice touch.

“The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist” starts slow but adds a cool guitar riff as the bridge leads to a catchy, full chorus.  “Satellite” slows things down as if to cleanse the palette for “Deathly.”

Now that I’ve met you
Would you object to
Never seeing each other again

The chorus is low key but the verses have a great melody.  It stretches out to nearly six minutes, growing bigger as it goes with a soaring guitar solo and better and better rhymes.

“Ghost World” has some wonderful soaring choruses while “Calling It Quits” changes the tone of the album a bit with a slightly more jazzy feel.  It also adds a bunch of sounds that are unexpected from Mann–horns, snapping drums and in the middle of the song, the sound of a record slowing down before the song resumes again.  It’s probably the most fun song on the record–unexpected for a song with this title.

“Driving Sideways” seems like it will be a slower downer of a song but once again, she pulls out a super catchy intro to the chorus (with harmonies) as the rest of the chorus trails on in Mann’s solo voice as we hang on every word.  It ends with a tidy, pretty guitar solo.

“Just Like Anyone” is a quiet guitar song, just over a minute long.  It’s a surprisingly complete song and shows that not only can she pack a lot into less than 90 seconds, she should do it more often.

“Susan” is a surprisingly boppy little number that bounces along nicely on the two-syllable rhythm of the title character.  “It Takes All Kinds” slows things down with piano and gentle guitars and “You Do” ends the album with Mann showing off a bit of her falsetto.

This is in no way a party album, it’s more of a quiet autumn day album.  And it’s quite lovely.  Thanks, Nick, for reminding me of it.

[READ: May 20, 2019] “It’s a Mann’s World”

Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity and became something of a musical expert because of it.  As such, he wrote a half a dozen or so musical review sections for the New Yorker.

This was his first and, as one might guess from the title, it is about Aimee Mann.

He begins by talking about the British magazine Mojo and how every month they ask a musician what he or she is listening to.  He says that many musicians of a Certain Age seem to have abandoned rock and roll and are listening more to jazz or classical.  They are doing this “for reasons I can only guess as: Prokofiev! Ellington! Take that Hanson and Wu-Tang Clans fans! ”

These performers seem to suggest that pop music is dead.  Much in the way that people say fiction is dead.  Meanwhile good, talented musicians continue to make albums that people continue to listen to and good talented authors continue to write novels that people continue to read. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra-Kollpas Tradixionales (2010).

Silver Mt. Zion are back!  And they are noisy!

This disc continues their fine output of haunting, rambling epics.  The opener is a 15 minute slow builder called “There is a Light” and the finale is a 14 minute story called “‘Piphany Rambler.”  In between we have  a couple of multi-part tracks: “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” and “I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” which are some of the fastest tracks they’ve recorded.  The other “suite” is 3 versions (and spellings) of the title track.

The one consistent thing about Silver Mt . Zion (in whatever version of their name they employ) is that they write incredibly passionate music.  It’s often raw and it swells and ebbs with feeling.  I especially enjoy the (multiple) climaxes that fill all of the longer songs.  And when the band brings in the horns and the strings and the whole group sings along, it’s very affecting.

The one thing that I’m still not totally on board with is Efrim’s voice.  On previous releases, I bought it because he sounded very angsty, but I’m starting to think that the tenor of his voice just doesn’t work with the bombast of the music.  When the backing singers chime in, the sound is glorious, but I find his voice to be simply the wrong sound.  There’s a few parts on the disc where he sings in a lower, softer register, and I found them really moving.  I think if he sang all of the parts like that, they would impact the songs more strongly (and maybe even be more understandable).

I realize that the vocals are an essential part to the disc, and I definitely get used to them after a few listens, I just feel like the whole disc (and not just the music) would be amazing if Efrim used that deeper register more.

Nevertheless, the music is really fantastic, and if you buy the LP, you get some great artwork, too.

[READ: May 13, 2010] McSweeney’s 34

After the enormous work of Panorama, (McSweeney’s newspaper (Issue 33)), they’ve returned with a somewhat more modest affair.  Two slim books totaling about 400 pages  Each is a paperback. The first is a collection of short stories artwork, etc.  The second is  nonfiction work about Iraq.  Both books are bound together in a clear plastic slipcover (with a fun design on it).  [UPDATE: I cannot for the life of me out the books back in the cover.  They simply will not sit without ripping the plastic.  Boo!]

The first collection opens with a Letters column, something that we haven’t seen in years!  And, as with the old letters column, the letters are absurd/funny/thoughtful and sometimes just weird. (more…)

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believerA few years ago I was visiting my friend Roman.  He asked me if I read The Believer.  I told him I hadn’t heard of it.  He silently reproved me, knowing that it would be right up my alley and being quite displeased that I wasn’t keeping up with the hip.  I was very impressed with what I saw.

The Believer is put out through McSweeney’s.  It seems to have filled in for the non-fiction niche that McSweeney’s slowly removed from its pages.

And since then, I have become a devoted follower.  At some point (probably around issue ten or eleven) I decided that I was going to read every word in every issue.  And so, (this was pre-kids) when I went to an ALA conference with Sarah, I spent a lot of the down time reading all of the back issues’ articles that I hadn’t read.

Since then, I have read every issue cover to cover.  The thing that I love about the magazine (in addition to all of the stuff that I would normally like about it) is that every article is so well written that even if I don’t care about the subject, I know I’ll be interested for the duration of the piece.  Whether or not I will go on to read anything else about the person or topic is neither here nor there, but when I’m in the moment I’m really hooked. (more…)

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