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Archive for the ‘Jonathan Safran Foer’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-“asia” (2015).

Back in 2015, Boris released three albums on the same day all under the “new noise literacy” banner: “urban dance” “warpath” and “asia” [according to their label numbers, this is the order they go in, but I’m posting them out of sequence].

All three records are experiments in abrasive noise.  Despite the adorable child on the covers, these records will scare children.

This album has three songs.

“Terracotta Warrior” Runs for 20:38.  It opens with quiet, slow rumbling–almost inaudible for the first 30 seconds or so.  Then the pulsing sounds start bubbling up under a hissing, mechanical sound.  Around seven minutes the rumble stays pretty steady, but the higher noises–hissing, clanging, horror movie sounds, start to grow more intense.  At 8 minutes, some discernible guitar chords ring out (heavily distorted, but clearly guitars).  It turns into a lengthy drone with squeaky feedback noises throughout.  At 17 and a half minutes the feedback gets louder and louder until it abruptly cuts off and after moment of silence distance guitars start ringing out again.  There’s even the first sign of drums (a gentle hi-hat).

“Ant Hill” is half as long, but similar is tone.  It is primarily pulsing electronics and high pitched squealing electronic manipulation.  There’s also some digital glitching sounds. After 8 minutes the song fades to a pause only to resume a few seconds later with some more digital glitching and manipulation.  With 30 seconds to go, a drum beat comes in and the distortion takes on a more melodic sound including what sounds like someone sawing in the distance.

“Talkative Lord vs Silent Master” is also ten minutes long and it is the most unpleasant of the three songs.  It is full on static and noise with what sounds like a monstrous voice growling in the distance.  By the end of the song it sounds like being in the middle of a howling winter storm.  And as it closes up there is some serious digital glitching.  Not for the sensitive of hearing.

The album is credited to: takeshi: guitar & bass / wata: guitar & echo / atsuo: drums & electronics.

[READ: January 19, 2017] “The Very Rigid Search”

Jonathan Safran Foer has become something of a more serious writer over the last few years, so I’m alway happy to read one of his earlier funnier works (himm, that sounds familiar).

This story is written from the point of view of a Ukrainian tour guide named Alexander Perchov.  He is writing this tale in English, although his English is slightly off (as the title hints at).  He speaks very good English, but his word choices often eschew idioms for literal translation (and much hilarity ensues).

Alex’s family own a Ukrainian branch of an international travel agency and it is his job to pick up and translator for an American traveller.

Alex refers to the traveler as the “hero” of the story.  And the hero’s name is Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jonathan Safran Foer is not having shit between his brains  He is an ingenious Jew.

JSF was travelling from New York to Lutsk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Live Acoustic (2013).

There was one more Live Guster release around the time of those three full album recordings.

This one is called Live Acoustic and it comes from a tour in 2012.  There’s no dates or locations assigned to the songs and indeed they are all done acoustically.

The most notable aspect of this disc is that none of the rockers are included.  This is good because it means they aren’t trying to strip those songs down.  But at the same time, it means that the disc never really takes off like a Guster show would.  It’s not all ballads, mind you–most of the songs from Easy Wonderful that are included are uptempo, and of course “Satellite” is a super fun single, but there’s nothing like “Fa Fa” or “Barrel of a Gun” or “Amsterdam.”  It speaks volumes to Guster’s songwriting skills that I didn’t even miss these favorites until I really looked at the track listing.

They include songs from all of their albums (except Parachute which was all acoustic) and a “deep B side” from the Satellite EP.

For the most part these songs sound great in an acoustic setting.  My only quibble is that some of the songs have really great orchestration which I miss (but that’s personal preference I suspect).  A bunch of the songs have strings which are a nice addition, especially on a song like “Either Way” and the amazing wild violin solo in “Satellite.”  This reminds me of when we saw them with Kishi Bashi and he played the violin on “Satellite”

The one really nice factor is that with everything stripped away, the guys’ voices sound really powerful.  And as I say, because the tone is somewhat mellow the song selection works to this and you don’t miss the bigger songs.  Plus any show that ends with “This Could All Be Yours” is a great one.

  • Backyard [KEEPIT]
  • Do You Love Me [EASYWON]
  • Long Way Down [KEEPIT]
  • That’s No Way to Get to Heaven [EASYWON]
  • What You Call Love [EASYWON]
  • Beginning of the End [GANGING]
  • Diane [KEEPIT]
  • Rocketship [GOLDFLY]
  • Empire State [GANGING]
  • Rise and Shine [SATELLITE EP]
  • Two Points for Honesty [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Either Way [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Satellite [GANGING]
  • Rainy Day [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Hang On [GANGING]
  • This Could All Be Yours [EASYWON]

[READ: January 19, 2017] “Maybe It Was the Distance”

I enjoyed this story so much, I could have read twice as much (and it was pretty long).

This is the story of a Jewish family: Irv and his 43-year-old son (Jacob) and 11-year-old grandson (Max).  It begins very amusingly with them heading to the Washington National Airport (they refuse to call it Reagan National).  Irv also hates NPR (which they were listening to) because of the flamboyantly precious out-of-no-closet sissiness and the fact that they had a balanced segment on new settlement construction in the West Bank.

The first half of the car ride devolves into an argument between the three of them about opinions and Jewishness.  Jacob is frustrated by his father and Max is both precocious and still a child–it’s all very funny.  Especially when they argue while the light is green.

They were heading to the airport to pick up their Israeli cousins.  They were picking up Tamir, who was Jacob’s age, and his son Barak.  Jacob and Tamir’s grandfathers were brothers in a Galician shtetl that was overlooked by the Nazis.

Issac (Irv and Jacob’s family) moved to America while Benny (Tamir’s family) moved to Israel.  They would visit every few years.  Isaac would show off his American lifestyle and then spend two weeks complaining about Benny after they’d left.  And then Isaac died (he had outlived cancer and Gentiles). Tamir surprised everyone by coming in for the funeral.

Jacob discussed Isaac with Tamir and said that basically he did exactly same thing every day (and the details are very funny, if not sad). (more…)

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815

SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Noise (2013).

You really never know what you’re going to get with Boris.  Most of the time, there are multiple editions of releases with different covers and different mixes.

In this case, despite the different covers of this record (see below), the track listing is exactly the same (except that the Japanese version came with a bonus disc).  Total length: 57:52

I like that this album cover parodies (sort of) Nirvana’s Bleach album cover.

“Melody” (黒猫メロディ) 6:40 The disc opens with some ringing alt-rock wit a distorted rocking chorus.   Despite the cover, it’s not like Nirvana, it’s more soaring  there’s catchy backing oohs and a cool hi-hat flourish.

“Vanilla” 4:15 is heavy in the same vein as “Melody” and “Ghost of Romance” (あの人たち) 5:49  has slow guitars and soaring leads with a heavy solo.  “Heavy Rain” (雨) 6:12 starts quite slowly with vocals by Wata and then there’s a big crash and the heavy section follows.  It alternates between quiet and loud at intervals.

“Taiyo no Baka” (太陽のバカ) 3:36 is almost a pop metal sound with dancey vocals and woah hos.  There’s even a simple guitar riff that follows along.  At three and a half minutes it’s a pure pop gem.

“Angel” 18:42 Angel, on the other hand pushes 19 minutes and it’s an epic workout.  It begins with a pretty, quiet guitar riff interlaced with a second guitar and interesting percussion.  There’s slow vocals as well.  But after 6 minutes, a loud distorted guitar interrupts the pretty melody, but it’s only playing an intermittent chord.  Even the powerful drums blasts don’t change the overall tempo of the song until a minute later when it takes on a loud droning quality with harmony vocals and a distorted bass moments.  There’s a soaring guitar solo as well.  By around 10 minutes the song turns into an uptempo rocker with falsetto vocals!  The song seems to climax at 13 minutes with a big gong.  But there’s more.  The song turns into a kind of soaring instrumental with echoing guitars and thumping drums.  With two minutes left the song returns to that opening guitar riff with a tidy solo over the top.  It’s like the song is nicely bookended with itself.  It’s quite the centerpiece.

“Quicksilver” 9:51 Who know what another band might follow a 20 minute song with, but Boris chose a nearly 10 minute song.  It seems at first that “Quicksilver” is going to be a short blast with the super fast pummeling hardcore sound.  There’s screamed vocals and wild drumming but it’snot that simple.  At 3 and a half minutes, the song slows down some although it stays heavy.  By around the 5th minute there;s lou dbacking voclals to accompant the lead vocal.  Once again, a false climax comes at 7 minutes but there’s more feedback to come along with a quiet, pretty guitar outro.  Until the final two minutes when there are loud droning chords that play through to the end.

“Siesta” (シエスタ) 2:50 Siesta is the shortest song on the disc, an instrumental that is kind of pretty and kind of woozy at the same time.  It’s definitely a slow down from the erst of the album and a nice conclusion.

This was the first Boris album I bought and it’s still a favorite.

The Japanese edition (cover to the right) came with this bonus disc, which I’ve not heard.

CD 2 (Another Noise) Total length: 23:26
1. “Bit” 9:35
2. “Kimi no Yukue” (君の行方) 4:51
3. “Yuushikai Revue” (有視界 Revue) 3:32
4. “Discharge” (ディスチャージ) 5:32

[READ: July 23, 2015] “Love is Blind and Deaf”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.

In addition to those essays on Time-Travel it also included this short piece from Safran Foer.  I hadn’t seen much from Safran Foer recently, so I was interested to read this (very) short story.  It’s all of one page.

Much as Zadie Smith’s story about celebrities was unexpected, so was this one (on the following page in the magazine no less) about Adam & Eve.

We learn that Adam was blind and so never had to see Eve’s hideous birthmark.  And that Eve was deaf and never had to listen to Adam’s whiny narcissism.  And then they ate the apples and knew everything.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-Those Who Didn’t Run (10″ vinyl) [CST084] (2011).

This 10″ vinyl contains two more of Stetson’s amazing bass saxophone solo monstrosities.  Each is over ten minutes.  And while ten minutes can be a bit much to take for one of these songs, the music is so powerful and so jaw dropping to listen to that, frankly he could play for days (and maybe he actually could) and I’d enjoy it.

The amusing thing about this 10″ is that when I played it on my record player, I didn’t know what speed to play it at.  And, since the whole platter is full of bass saxophone blasts, and all of the percussion is clacking from the saxophone, I honestly couldn’t tell what speed it was supposed  to be played at.  It wasn’t like a song with vocals or anything.  And the first song I played was the B Side “The end of your suffering ” which is played on a low alto sax–meaning it’s higher than his usual stuff, so the 33RPM actually sounded like it might be right!

After knowing the proper sound (you can stream the music here), it’s funny to hear the slow version–which just sounds meaner and angrier (especially around the 6 minuite mark of “Those Who Didn’t Run,” when he’s really hitting some crazy notes.  But I was so intrigued by the slow version that I went back and listened to both sides at the slow speed, just for fun.  In the dark.  By myself.

[READ:May 22, 2012] “About the Typefaces Not Used in This Edition”

This seemed like a perfect piece to put next to Rivka Galchen’s piece about the future of paper.  This is listed as a short story, and in a way it is, although not in any conventional sense.  This was published in 2002, long before Safran Foer’s book of cut up text, Tree of Codes was even conceived, so it’s obvious that he has been interested in type, in the way words play off of each other, in the way words appear on the page for quite some time.

This short piece (two pages) discusses the eight fonts that the editor chose not to use for publishing “this book.”  I don’t know if this references a specific book or not, although he does include character names and broad concepts from “the book”: Henry, Elena, an unsafe wooden bridge, the last word is “free,” and many times the words, “I love you.”

The typefaces are: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait (2010-2011).

If you’re a fan of Phish, you no-doubt know about their live concert releases.  Phish has always encouraged bootlegging of their shows.  And people traded the shows all around the country.  Back about twelve years ago, they started releasing some of these concerts officially–soundboard quality recordings.  There was no indication that they would release every concert they had played, but they selected a very interesting mix of recent and early shows as well as Halloween shows (where they cover an entire album from another band) and shows from unusual places.

Starting in 2009 (after their hiatus), the band started making (almost) all of their concerts available for download (for a fee) on their site.  You can get any show–you can even get them in CD format, for a quite sizable fee–soundboard quality.  One thing that I really like about their site if you go to a concert, you can redeem the bar code on your ticket for free MP3 of the show, usually within 48 hours.  Back when I used to go to concerts, I would have loved to have copies of a lot of the shows I saw.  This is a cool service for their fans.

And speaking of cool services, this post is about Live Bait.  I love the title of the series, which is obviously a pun about places where you can buy live bait (the covers all have pictures of bait stands), but it’s also a wonderful way to bait users into buying more music–crass and clever.  Anyhow, the Live Bait downloads (up to #6 right now) are a collection of live recordings taken from various shows.  (Live Bait #5 has songs from 2009 and songs from all the way aback to 1989).  They’re assembled together into a kind of seamless show and they are all available for free. 

Okay, big deal.  But it is a big deal because, while the first couple were 80 or so minutes of music (not too shabby in and of itself), Live Bait #3 features a 58-minute version of a song (!); Live Bait #4 contains almost 4 hours of free music and Live Bait #5 contains over 6 hours of free music.  So if you’re curious about why people like Phish so much, here’s several opportunities to listen to some of their live songs for free.  

Their most recent download is from their Benefit for Vermont Flood Recovery–if you’re going to buy a show, it’s a good place to start

[READ: September 25, 2011] “Radisson Confidential”

For a time (I wish I could remember exactly when this was) it seemed like all the young hip writers were named Jonathan: Ames, Lethem, Franzen, Safran Foer, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I think I grew weary of the whole episode and decided not to read any of them.  That has since changed, and I have now read (and enjoyed) all of them–but each for very different reasons.  The funny thing to me though is that they were all lumped together and yet they are all so very different, especially now that Safran Foer has been writing nonfiction and Franzen has proven himself to be a writer of occasional big books that get lots of attention. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:THEM CROOKED VULTURES-Live on Austin City Limits, Feb 13, 2010 (2010).

This set from Them Crooked Vultures is outstanding. I really like the album, but in a live setting these three (technically 4) guys are on fire.  They extend the songs a bit but are always tight as a drum.  Josh Homme is a great front man, even if he’s not that animated.  He shares guitar duties with Alain Johannes who is not on the album, but who gets some great sounds out of his guitar.

Dave Grohl is in his drum-pounding glory back there.  Man, he hits the drums hard.  And he seems to be really enjoying himself .

 And the biggest surprise (sort of, but not really) is John Paul Jones.  He fits in perfectly with the two younguns, and he really shows them how it’s done.  His bass work is phenomenal: fast, furious and accurate to a fault.  He also plays keyboards, an LED pulsing 12-(at least) string bass and a fascinating purple electric slide guitar contraption on “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I”.   Matt Rosoff from cnet explains this guitar here:

It looked like some sort of slide guitar with an electronic screen. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I did a little digging and found out from a March interview in Bass Player that it’s a custom-made axe created by Hugh Manson, who has been Jones’ tech for some time and who owns a renowned guitar shop in England. It’s essentially laid out like a lap slide guitar, modified so Jones can sling it over his shoulder and carry it around on stage, and with two extra bass strings at the bottom.

So what about that rectangular screen? According to a forum post on the EMG pickups site, it’s a MIDI controller that Jones can use to trigger stage lights. I imagine it could also be used to trigger various effects, similar to the modified Korg Kaoss controller that Manson built into a guitar for Muse’s Matt Bellamy.

If you’re already a fan of the band, you really need to check out this live show; they are amazing.  And if you’re not a fan, you will be after this show.  This is how I first heard  them and I was blown away.

You can watch the show online on PBS.

[READ: July 27, 2011] Five Dials Number 20

I didn’t expect to get caught up to Five Dials issues so quickly (has it really been 20 weeks already?).  This is the most recently releases issue!  They aren’t getting published as often as I expected.  Which is fine.  But the funny thing with this issue is that there were several printing errors in the initial run of this issue.  I don’t know if this has happened before, but it seemed so noticeable to me, that I had to wonder how it slipped by everyone.  The most obvious was that the front page had many ƒƒƒƒ characters (these were also evident in the Word Cloud later on).  There’s a word missing from the fiction “the thin cold stillness you got [  ] this part of the country” and there’s a crazy typo in the Fiction story later on. The errors have now been fixed.  But, the letter to the editor (and this has not been fixed) promises us a picture which isn’t there. “Here’s a photo of Doni at the reading – he did a brilliant job.”  I’ll assume they were partying too hard at the Port Eliot Festival to make sure  the issue was launch-ready

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Cable Street and General Interests
There were some serious race riots on Cable Street back in 1936.  Indeed,the head of the British Union of Fascists, Mosley, and his aggressive supporters were turned back by a noisy crowd (Irish women throwing fishy potatoes at them).  The rest of the magazine he says is general Interest, an anachronistic term from the 20th century before all magazines had to specialize in something.  I mentioned in my introduction that there was a photo error here.  Doni Gewirtzman performed a reading at the launch of Five Dials 19.  They couldn’t out the picture there, so they added it here.  Perhaps in Issue 21? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Whale Music Concert, 1992 [Sets 1 and 2] (2005).

This is the second Rheostatics live CD that’s available from ZuniorWhale Music is a simply stellar album, and this concert focuses primarily on that disc, although there are a couple older tracks (and the then-new “Michael Jackson”) as well.  The big surprise about this concert is that they consider it a night of 1,000 stars: there are a ton of guests in this show (the majority of whom are even more obscure than the Rheostatics, I believe–the only two that I knew of before hand were Kevin Hearn and Andy Stochansky (who drummed with Ani Difranco for a while).  But guests like Tannis Slimmon, Doug Feaver, Tim Mech, Kevin Gould, Richard Burgman, Mitch Perkins and The Bird Sisters (and if you like Canadian music, the link for The Bird Sisters is to a cool blog called Raised on Canadian Radio: 1 Song per Day by 1 Uniquely Canadian Artist) add to the party atmosphere.

Anyhow, sometimes guests can really heighten a show.  And that’s the case for some of this show.  Of course, anyone who has read my criticisms of rap knows that I feel that too many guests spoil a good thing. None of these guests are “too much” here, but it does seem odd that there are so many!

The first set of this concert is awesome (the whole show was recorded to DAT and although there are a few weird drop outs, the set sounds great).  It’s like a greatest hits of early Rheos songs; the band sounds tight and they really respond to the audience.  “Rock Death America” is blistering, “Green Sprouts” is a fun little treat and “Palomar” and “King of the Past” sound fantastic.  It’s also funny to me how many great songs Tim Vesely is responsible for.  And they all seem to be featured here.

Set 2 is a little different.  It feels looser, a bit sillier, and is filled with much more Dave Clarke.  I’ve always known that Clarke was the goofball of the band.  He’s the chatty one when they’re onstage–he is full of goofy banter and he introduces most of the guests.  While it’s true that the Rheos aren’t entirely serious, I find Clarke’s goofiness to be a little off-putting.  And by the end of Set 2, he sees to have taken over the show.  He’s an excellent drummer, no doubt, but he hams it up on “Full Moon Over Russia” and I think he rather ruins “Queer” (one of my favorite songs) with his , yes, bad, singing.  And on “When Winter Comes,” the bridge is so beautiful, that his rantings in the verses are just too much for it.  Having said that, while I like the sentiment of “Guns” (although it is oversimplistic), the drum solo bit is quite cool.

The other thing that I kind of dislike in Set 2 is that the songs are really extended, but not in a good way.  I mean, “Queer” is 9 minutes, but it’s a lot of Dave Clarke and Kevin Hearn’ keyboard silliness.  And “Record Body Count” seems really slowed down or something.  However, the band closes strong with a great version of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and what sounds like an amazing version of “Horses” (the beginning of “Horses” is cut off, which is a shame).

So overall, despite some flaws, this is a really good live release.  And since, it’s only $8.88, it’s totally a bargain.  Plus, there’s some great artwork by Martin Tielli as well.

[READ: August-September 2011] Tree of Codes

I first heard of this book through the Five Dials news feed (and there’s an excerpt of the book in Five Dials Issue 20 which you can see here).  Anyhow, I read about it and decided I wanted a copy for myself.  It’s not cheap, but you can just look at it to see how complicated it was to make (or you can watch this video) .

So this book follows the exact same logic as Of Lamb.  But unlike Harveys’ execution, in which she wrote out the words and made them into her own pages, Safran Foer creates a story out of an extant book.  The way the book is presented, he literally cuts out what he doesn’t want you to read. It’s also fascinating to me that this book came to my house in the same week as Of Lamb did (even though this came out much earlier–but as Foer says, there was no way for him to advertise the book).  They are absolutely similar ideas and yet their execution is so radically different.

When you open this book, you see holes.  Lots and lots of holes.  The pages have massive squares of text missing.  When you first open it, you can see many layers of text, some penetrating thirty pages down.  So you can read words that comes later in the book (you often read words from the following page if you don’t hold the page up correctly or put a piece of paper under each page).  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a picture:

Safran Foer’s explanation (at the end of the book) is that he loved the book The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (which I’ve never heard of and have no idea what it’s about).  And he often saw a story within the story.  So, he decided “to use an existing piece of text and cut a new story out of it,” using only Schulz’s words.  But rather than presenting it in a conventional way (or even in an unusual way like Of Lamb), he wanted to push the boundaries of what a physical book could do. He was “curious to explore and experiment with the die-cut technique.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARS-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC, October 20, 2007 (2007).

Thanks NPR for this unexpected concert.  Unexpected because Stars is a wonderful band but I think they’re largely unknown (I could be wrong about that, but it’s not like you hear them on the radio or anything). 

This show was during a tour for In Our Bedrooms After the War, which was one of the best albums of the year as far as I’m concerned.  

It’s an intimate album, with all kinds of styles in it: whispered confessions, dancey pop songs, synthy tracks and also some solid alternative rock.  The unifying theme for Stars is beautiful, often super catchy songs that are filled with melancholy and sadness (and occasionally, hope: “at least…the war is over”).  But the key to their beauty is the wonderful harmonies that the singers give us.

Musically the things that surprised me most during this show were the singers’ speaking voices.  Torquil Campbell’s speaking voice is quite a high register and yet his singing voice is low and soothing.  The opposite is true for the other singer, Amy Millan who has a kind of gruff peaking voice but whose singing voice soars to the heavens.  It’s fascinating.  Torquil is also a gushing frontman, thanking the audience so much for coming and even asking “Don’t your friends have bands that are playing whose shows you should be at right now?”  He also thanks Ben and the rest of Death Cab for Cutie for being so very nice to them.  A very nice chap it seems.

The bands sounds quite good live, but my only problem with the show is that as i mentioned, Stars’ music is very intimate, sometime whisper-quiet, and it doesn’t always translate very well in a live setting (even a relatively small club like the 9:30 Club).  Sometimes it feels like they’re singing too loudly to match the music.  Now, it’s entirely possibly that this doesn’t come across when you see them live, that this soundboard recording picks up every flaw. 

Despite that, there’s undeniable energy here and some really great moments where the bands switches direction at the drop of a hat.  And, overall, this is an excellent introduction to the wonder that is Stars’ music (or a big treat for established fans).

[READ: July 25, 2011] Five Dials 18

Five Dials 18 is unique in the history of the journal.  This entire issue is given over to the memory of SYBILLE BEDFORD.  It is written by ALIETTE MARTIN (there’s not even a Letter for the Editor).

Martin writes about Bedford’s love of wine and fine food.  It was pretty funny to read about her detailed love of meat after reading all of the vegetarianism promoted in the Five Dials news pages (Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals was just published by Hamish Hamilton). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI: GovernmentCommissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 (2005).

It’s unlikely that Mogwai will ever release a greatest hits (well, someone probably will, but the band themselves don’t seem likely to do so).  As such, this compilation of BBC Recordings will certainly work well as one.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the BBC recordings are universally superb.  The quality of the recordings is unmatched.  And, typically the band takes the sessions very seriously.  The major different between these sessions and the official studio release is that the band is playing these songs live.  They are mixed well and sound great but they are live, so you can catch occasional subtle differences.

Mogwai, despite their seemingly improvised sound (all those noises and such) can recreate everything they do perfectly, and their live shows are tight and deliberate (except for the occasional moments where they really let loose).

The ten songs here span their career and are not played in chronological order.  This allows all of these wonderful songs to play off the tensions of each other.  And it shows that their later songs, which are less intense than their earlier ones, are still quite awesome and in a live setting don’t really lack for intensity after all.

The highlight of this disc is the scorching eighteen minute version of “Like Herod.”  The original is intense and amazing, and this live version allows them to play with the original in small ways, including allowing the quietness to really stretch out before they blow the speakers off the wall with the noise section of the track.

Even though I’m a fan of Mogwai, I don’t hear a radical difference between these versions and the originals.  Or should I say, it’s obvious which song they are playing.  There are some obvious subtleties and differences as befitting a live album, but unlike some live discs you don’t immediately notice that this version is “live.”

And that works well for both fans of the band (because as you listen and you hear the subtleties) and for newcomers–(because you’re not listening to weird, poorly recorded versions or versions that are for fans only).  And so, you get ten great Mogwai tracks.  Just enough to make you want to get some more.

[READ: June 11, 2011] The Burned Children of America

I found this book when I was looking for other publications by Zadie Smith.  This book kept cropping up in searches, but I could never really narrow down exactly what it was.  As best as I can tell, it is a British version of a collection of American authors that was originally published in Italy (!).  Editors Marco Cassini and Martina Testa work for minimum fax, an Italian independent publisher.  In 2001, they somehow managed to collect stories from these young, fresh American authors into an Italian anthology (I can’t tell if the stories were translated into Italian or not).

Then, Hamish Hamilton (publisher of Five Dials) decided to release a British version of the book.  They got Zadie Smith to write the introduction (and apparently appended a story by Jonathan Safran Foer (which was not in the original, but which is in the Italian re-publication).  This led to the new rather unwieldy title.  It was not published in America, (all of the stories have appeared in some form–magazine or anthology–in America), but it’s cool to have them all in one place.

The title must come from the David Foster Wallace story contained within: “Incarnations of Burned Children,” which is one of his most horrific stories, but it sets a kind of tone for the work that’s included within (something which Zadie addresses in her introduction): why are these young successful American writers so sad?  So be prepared, this is not a feel good anthology (although the stories are very good).
Oh, and if you care about this kind of thing, the male to female ratio is actually quite good (for an anthology like this): 11 men and 8 women.

ZADIE SMITH-Introduction
Zadie Smith was a fan of David Foster Wallace (she wrote a  lengthy review of the ten-year anniversary of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which is republished in her book Changing My Mind), so she is an ideal choice to introduce this book.  Especially when she provides a quote from DFW’s interview in 1995 about how living in America in the late 90s has a kind of “lostness” to it.  With this in mind, she sets out the concerns of this collection of great stories: fear of death and advertising.

Zadie gives some wonderful insight into each of these stories. The introduction was designed to be read after the book, and I’m glad I waited because while she doesn’t exactly spoil anything, she provides a wonderful perspective on each piece and also offers some ideas about the stories that I hadn’t considered.  And it’s funny, too. (more…)

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