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Archive for the ‘Julian Barnes’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LOS BITCHOS-“Bugs Bunny” (2018).

bugsThis is another single from Los Bitchos.

Of all of their releases, this one is the least interesting to me.  But I like their songs a lot so it’s not like I dislike this one.

I rather like the way the song shifts speed midway through though–it certainly adds some fun to the song.  And the whole ending is a wild ride of excitement.

I’m not really sure what the music has to do with Bugs Bunny, though.

[READ: July 14, 2020] “Single-Handed”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

These later pieces are all about one page long.

I feel like Barnes gives the most honest answer to the question of who your Influences are.

He says that when British writers go to Spain they are asked if they are always asked if they influenced by Tom Sharpe–a writer of jocose farce: “student embarrassed by  acquiring large quantities of condoms, inflates them with gas, stuffs them up his chimney, someone lights the fire, the chimney explodes.” Sounds hilarious, can’t believe I’ve never heard of him.  The trick when asked this question is to keep a polite face while pretending to ponder this question. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS AND HEADY FWENDS-“Girl, You’re So Weird” (2012).

2012 saw the release of this very strange collaborative album.  Whether The Flaming Lips had entered the mainstream or if people who’d always liked them were now big stars or maybe they all just liked doing acid.  Whatever the case, The Lips worked with a vast array of famous (and less famous) people for this bizarre album.  Here it is 8 years later. Time to check in.

This song is around 3 and a half minutes.  It starts out crashingly loud with a catchy synth melody that will later be used for the vocal line.  Then it quiets down to a sneaky/spooky synth melody.  The vocals fit into the spooky sound in as it seems like Wayne is singing in a kind of strangled way.  It’s possible that the lyrics weren’t made up on the spot.  But who knows:

Girl, you’re so weird, your pain and your fear
Has paralyzed your mind, I wish you’d get high
You’re so tight, you’re always thinking right
Tonight, when it’s late, you should smile, masturbate
So, girl, you and me can watch each other pee
With holographic shirts we’ll shine under blacklights
Lights, lights, lights, lights, lights, lights

The guest on this is New Fumes.  I don’t know anything about him except that he has played with the Lips in the past.  This song feels like filler except that the sounds between verses are really cool.

It also feels pretty much like the end of a record.  But there’s one more song to come

[READ: August 20, 2019] “The Story of Mats Israelson”

This story was enjoyable but sad.  I had read the first six or so pages and then had to put it down for the night.  I was looking forward to finishing it because the first few pages were so good.  But the last couple pages really emphasized a sadness I did not expect.

The story is written as if it is from a long time ago.  In this small Swedish village, people earned their spots–in church pews, or where to keep their horses.  If you took that spot you were shunned.

This village is full of gossip. The gossip is my favorite part of the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Peaceful Ghosts (2016).

Six years after the release of the Brussels live album (and 13 years after recording it!), Nada Surf released another live album.  This one featuring an orchestra.  Apparently Austrian radio station FM4 offered the band the yearly slot they give to a rock outfit to be backed by an orchestra for a whole concert. A similar session with Radio Eins in Berlin enabled the band to extend the collaboration with the Babelsberg Film Orchestra over two shows.  It is the show with Babelsberg on June 21 that was recorded.

I have often wondered what makes a band play with an orchestra.  So it’s interesting to learn that they were invited. What made the orchestra choose them is something else entirely.  Caws says that they were recording their new album when they got the call for this, so they sent over their friend (and occasional touring member) Martin Wenk (of Calexico) to supervise the project with composer Max Knuth.

So perhaps because the band didn’t participate entirely, or maybe just because that’s what they wanted to do, this recording is not a rework of the songs. Rather, it’s Nada Surf with an orchestral backing.  But Caws’ songs and voice are quite suited to this treatment.  They avoid their heavier songs and stay with primarily their mid-tempo stuff (wisely avoiding an orchestral version of “Popular”).  This gives the performance a bit of a samey quality, but each song sounds lovely.  Sometimes the strings are just there to accentuate the songs, but other times they really add power to the emotions.  They had recently added former Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard to the lineup (“we hope to never be a trio again”) but despite his occasional solos, the flourishes comes from horns and strings more than guitars.

The album almost feels like a Storytellers session with Matthew Caws telling origins stories before each song.  Some of the stories are really quite fascinating.  Some just give some nice insights into the songs.  My favorite was the one before “Blizzard of ’77.”

It’s expensive to rehearse in New York.  No one has a garage and there are no basements, so they rehearsed in a space that cost $20/hr.  When they were in high school they could only afford two times a week.  So they played loud and fast to get everything out.  Later, they were touring in Amsterdam sharing a hotel room with Daniel.  He didn’t want to wake up Daniel so he went into the bathroom to write and that’s how their first quiet song came out. (it’s fascinating how short it is too).

The somewhat more unlikely story is for “Rushing” in which he says that a relationship can sometimes make you forget your own body dysmorphia:  “You come rushing at me and I forget my body.”

The best use of the orchestra is on the awesome minor key song “The Fox.”  He opens, “After all this joy, we’ll go somewhere dark.  American television.  Cable news.  FOX TV.  A fox is a clever animal–good at manipulating other animals.”  This is one of my favorite Nada Surf song anyhow (even before I knew what it was about), the bass line is just sublime.  And the dramatic buildup towards the end with the horns and flutes is really great.

There’s some nice orchestral hits and swells on “Believe You’re Mine” and “Beautiful Beat” has a pretty guitar melody that is nicely appointed to strings.  “Out of the Dark opens with the orchestra which is a nice change and the xylophone sounds quite pretty as well.

Before “80 Windows” he explains about visiting a friend in Sweden and how in the summer it is warm and dreamy, but in winter, he slept until 2 because of jetlag, and the day was over.  So he counted windows in the apartment across the street.  Knowing that really makes the lyrics more effective, I can really picture it.  There’s some great use of orchestra at the end of this song as well.

Between this album and the previous live album they repeat three songs (marked with a * below).  This is not an essential release, and I hope they rock a bit more when I see them in March.  But it’s a nice overall experience of the band.

Comes A Time                  The Fox                              Out Of The Dark
Believe You’re Mine        Blonde On Blonde*     When I Was Young
Beautiful Beat                  80 Windows                                       Animal
Blizzard of ’77*                 Inside Of Love*           Are You Lightning?
Rushing

[READ: March 25, 2016] “The Limner”

I really enjoyed the way this story unfolded.  I was especially intrigued at the details of the painter’s disability and how we didn’t learn of it until several pages in.

So this story is about a painter, Wadsworth.  I’m not exactly certain when this is set, but suffice it to say it is set when a portrait was the only way of guaranteeing your image would live n in posterity).  Wadsworth is painting a man, Mr. Tuttle. Tuttle is quite cheap (he is arguing about the fee–$12).

Wadsworth says that he has written Tuttle’s comments in a book–the book that every patron writes in–and that Tuttles’ comments are just as obvious and repetitive as all the previous patrons were.

Turns out that Wadsworth is an itinerant painter.  He moves into a town, puts an ad in the paper and if he has no customers in 5 days he moves on.  Some patrons give him lodging–some are even more generous. (more…)

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jean-jacques-sempe-the-new-yorker-cover-may-19-2008 SOUNDTRACK: IRENE DIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert #380 (August 9, 2014).

iremeVirtually no infomation is given about Diaz in the blurb for her Tiny Desk Concert.

“My Sweetest Sin” opens as a one minute acapella song before she sits down at the piano and is accompanied by Carolyn Cardoza strumming away intently on ukulele for “Crazy Love.”  Her voice sounds lovely by itself but it sounds even richer when accompanied by the spare instrumentation.

“Lover’s Sway” goes through several genres.  It opens with a jaunty showtune vibe and then slows down for the verses.  And then indeed it gets jaunty once again, in a very different way.

For the final song, “I Love You Madly” she switches to guitar.  She says it was her first love song because she used to write a lot of depressing songs.  This is a pretty, mellow song and she at times sounds a bit like a country singer and a bit like Natalie Merchant.  It’s a little too slow and long for my tastes, but it is very pretty.

Diaz is quite a talent with a nice range of styles.

[READ: February 24, 2016] “East Wind”

This is the story of Vernon, who had moved to an unspecified busy waterfront town just a few months earlier.  A recent spate of vandalism had caused some beach huts to be burned down.  The town was horrified, but he didn’t mind so much because it improved his view to the sea.

He is sitting in a restaurant, and when the waitress asks if he’s done he replies with the cryptic, “All the way from the Urals.” When the waitress is understandably confused he says that’s where the wind comes from.

The waitress, a strong-looking woman, pronounces it Oorals.  He assumes she is Eastern European, perhaps Polish.  He jokes with her that they should o for a swim.  She replies, no swim, although he hadn’t actually meant it.

He became a regular there.  And on another occasion he said to her that they should run away and live in a beach hut.  “I do not think,” she replied.  But then he asked her out and she said yes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKS. CAREY-Live at Sasquatch Music Festival, May 29, 2011 (2011).

I learned about S. Carey through NPR.  S. Carey is the drummer for Bon Iver and he set out on his own playing these cool, atmospheric songs.  What I like best about them is that they feature the vibes.

The whole set has a cool, chilled out sound.  The vocals are slow and dream-like (I’m sure there are lyrics, but I don’t know them) and at times he sounds not unlike Dallas Green from City and Colour.

When Sean (he is the S.) Carey banters with the crowd, he’s very friendly and relaxed.  I especially like the anecdote about going to the Twin Peaks Cafe and hearing Audrey’s music from the show (which the band then plays).  The Twin Peaks sounds melds perfectly with their own sound, which should give you an idea of what the band sounds like.

The songs are about 4 or five minutes except for “Mothers” which tops out at over 8 minutes and actually gets pretty raucous by the end.  For this band it’s a wild song ending.  It’s a good set.  And the surprise cover of Björk’s “Unravel,” which melds perfectly with “All We Grow” is a nice treat.

I don’t know if I’d want to see them live (I like my shows a bit more uptempo) but it’s a great relaxing set.  Of course, having said that, the final track, “Leave” is the most conventional-sounding with a really catchy chorus and a somewhat faster pace.  It’s my favorite song of theirs.

[READ: July 13, 2011] “Homage to Hemingway”

Like the students in this story, I was initially put off by the title of this book because I have grown to dislike Hemingway (probably unfairly, more of a decades-long, knee-jerk reaction to him). But I’m glad I read it because of a couple of things.  One: it was a good story.  Two: it is actually an homage to one of Hemingway’s stories (called “Homage to Switzerland”) so it’s doubly meta-.

In “Homage to Switzerland,” there are three brief stories.  In each one an American man waits for a train in a Swiss station.  Each man follows the same basic trajectory in the story, meeting a waitress but having no real resolution.  Perhaps the men, even though they had different names, were maybe the same person.

Barnes’ story also has three parts, although it is pretty clear that the man is the same in each part, despite their different section titles.  In 1. The Novelist in the Countryside he helps students with their fiction (I rather like reading stories about fiction writing classes, as odd as that sounds). (more…)

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ny19SOUNDTRACK: JILL SOBULE-Underdog Victorious (2004).

sobuleAfter ordering California Years, I saw that she had released this disc, Underdog Victorious, which I had never heard of.  Then I found it used for pretty cheap.  The most exciting thing about the disc is that there’s a crossword puzzle (that is largely about Jill herself) done by Will Shortz on the inside back cover!

And the music is really good too.  It’s a solid collection of sarcastic rockers and earnest tales of mild woe.  The short track “Under the Disco Ball” (a sarcastic look at homophobes) seems like it would be an ideal song to start any show.  I can see the disco ball spinning as she sings the final lines, “They have a scheme, they have a plan, to take the children of our land and turn them into stylists and women who play golf.”  And then she could bust into the rocking title track which features a delightful sing along chorus.

The disc opens with a couple of more gentle songs.  The self deprecating “Freshman” (she lives like a freshman), and “Jetpack” which is a nice romantic story about what she would do is she had a jetpack.  And then the single “Cinnamon Park” which should have been huge.  It’s catchy, it’s clever, it seems like it’s going to have a curse but it doesn’t.  It’s great!

“Joey” is a tribute to a faded actress (but I can’t decide if she’s real or not). And “Angel/?” is probably the most vulgar song she’s recorded.  It’s very funny.  And the last two mellow songs end the disc quite nicely.  There’s even a bonus untitled song about getting pulled over which rocks rather hard (for her) and is quite funny.

It’s a shame that Sobule had such a hard time with record labels because she is a preeminent singer-songwriter, and she should have a bigger fanbase.  (Although since she raised $75,000 in just a couple months for her California Years CD, I gather her fanbase is big enough, thank you.)

[READ: October 15, 2009] “Complicity”

This story was written in a really interesting way.  It deals with sensation, primarily touch, and the narrator treats tactile sensation, even his own, as something that is almost disconnected from himself.  And he reflects back on different situations where touch has been very significant to him.

He begins by remembering that when he was a boy with hiccups, his mother would slip a cold key down his back.  And he can still feel this sensation as an adult (although he’s not sure if it’s a valid cure for hiccups).

And then he talks about the game where you (and others) close your eyes and touch things and try to guess what the object is (pay particular attention to peeled lychees).  And this game seems to be a foundation for his upcoming date with a woman he met at a party.  While talking to the woman’s mother, he surreptitiously hands the woman a cigarette and a pack of matches behind the mother’s back.  This entirely tactile experience (touching fingertips, feeling the matches removed, etc.) stayed with him. (more…)

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