Archive for the ‘Henry Miller’ Category

alansSOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Do Make Say Think [CST005] (1999).

cst005web This album was self-released in 1997, but then the guys at Constellation took it and released it in a beautiful package in 1999.  And Constellation did it right: CD gatefold jacket made from 100lb. textured uncoated cardstock with foil-embossed text and window cut.  Three different two-sided duotone insert cards can be interchanged to show through the front cover window cut. Snazzy!

So this album was recorded in two different locations and it feels a bit more like  compilation of their songs than an album proper.  This doesn’t detract from the music at all, it’s just not as cohesive as their later releases.

“1978” has a raw sound.  It builds slowly, with waves of sorta static getting slowly louder for the first minute. And then the drums kick in. They sound very “live” and crisp. There’s a jazzy pattern accompanied by an unusual bass line.  At 3 minutes a big guitar riff breaks up the droning feeling as it rocks out and then disappears just as quickly.  There’s some saxophone and trippy headphone panning going on, too. This sets in motion a more funky bass line that runs like a lead instrument through the proceedings. There’s some noise bashing around at 8 minutes and a even wah wahed guitar solo at 9.  These occasional disruptions give an interesting melodic sense to this otherwise droney (in a good way) 10-minute song.

“Le’espalace”  feels a little warmer.  It opens with some analog synth trippy sounds and a pretty guitar riff. This is a lovely song that meanders around. The song gets more dense with a synth taking over the guitar line and another synth playing a contrasting melody, too.

“If I Only…”  is 7 minutes long.  It also has a rawer feel.  It’s more staccato with keyboard notes propelling the song forward. There’s a trippy middle section with a nice drum breakdown. It stops at about 5 & a half minutes and resumes with a fuller sound as it rides to the end.  “Highway 420” continues with that more raw sound.  It opens with washes of synths like Tangerine Dream or something.  There’s also a slick guitar line that begins about 3 minutes in.  It’s all rather atmospheric.

Do Make Say Think have always had a bit of jazz at their roots.  That’s evident in “Dr. Hooch” which has jazzy cymbals and slow atmospheric guitars.  About half way through, a wild synth riff comes in and takes over the song for a minute or so before returning to the atmospheric sound.

“Disco & Haze” is a warmer song that slowly builds with a spacey keyboard section.  Around 3 minutes in (of 9) a wah-wah’d guitar takes over—seemingly unrelated.   At 5 and a half minutes the song crashes into a big noisy “chorus,” probably the loudest thing on the record. There’s a noisy skronking sax solo to accompany this as well and it ends with washes of keyboards.   It really sounds like nothing else on the record.

“Onions” is only 90 seconds long.   It’s a simple keyboard riff with echo and little variation.  It’s an odd inclusion but maybe serves as a palette cleanser before the nearly 20 minute final song.  “The Fare to Get There” is warm with spacey keyboard washes and occasional woodwinds–there’s even flute at the end.  It’s 20 minutes long so just sit back and let it unfold over you.  Around 5 minutes in, eerie and spooky drums begin.  Then there’s some reverbed guitar chords and echoed notes which keep the song going.  About three-quarters of the way through, they add a simple guitar riff that continues for several minutes. With a couple of minutes left the song introduces some flutes as it mellows it way to close.

This is a pretty impressive debut.  The band knows the sound they are going for and they definitely achieve it.  Later records are more consistent (and consistently better), but this (especially the opening track) is a great place to start with this band.

[READ: February 7, 2016] Alan’s War

One of the things that First Second hoped for in their ten-year anniversary was that people might read books that they wouldn’t normally.  And boy was this ever one.  The title didn’t sound very appealing to me–I don’t really like war stories all that much.  And frankly I didn’t even know what to expect from the story, really.  Certainly not what I got!

This is the story of a man named Alan Cope.  And the origin of the story is as fascinating as the story itself (almost).  Turns out that Emmanuel Guibert met Alan Cope in the street in France.  Guibert asked the older for directions in June of 1994. Cope was 69, Gilbert was 30. They struck up a conversation.  And soon after, Cope began telling of his experiences in World War II.  What happened to him during and after the war and why this American solider now living in France.

Guibert asked if he could draw the stories that Cope was telling him and Cope said yes.  So this is a story of World War II but it is unlike any story I have ever read.  There is very little in the way of “familiar” WWII stuff in it.  Cope wasn’t in any of the major battles, he never came under heavy fire.  Rather, Cope had a fairly easy war, but he had a ton of stories that were interesting, funny, sometime unbelievable. And the number of famous people he encountered is pretty surprising.

I enjoyed this story so much.  On a side note, My father was in WWII and he also had a fairly easy war, although he was in the Pacific, he was on a small island that saw no action..  I wouldn’t say he enjoyed the war, but he came out with good experience and good friends, which is what Cope did, too.  My fathers stories were far less amazing than Cope’s, but it goes to show that everyone has interesting stories and that no amount of film or history channel commemoration will ever cover everyone’s story. (more…)

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST017] (2001).

sparo2I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs.  I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,

In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.

“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now).  “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves.  And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever.  I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.

I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.

[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews

noveltyThis month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.

The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North.  In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.”  This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else.  Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance).  The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”

North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.

I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.

Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so).  Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative.  Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons).  Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian.  The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them.  And then, bvssarguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.

Some easy examples:

  • The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
  • A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.”  (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
  • After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
  • And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.”  [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].

And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you’re writing, Stones when you’re jogging; Beatles when you’re alone, Stones when you’re with people).  But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles’ arrival.

There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.

Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell’s third book: The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground by Glenn O’Brien.

coolschoolO’Brien’s thesis is the seemingly obvious one that “cool” is not a new thing–that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner.  But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting “a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.”  The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian.  I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.

Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard.  Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”

I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”

It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.


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