Archive for the ‘Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’ Category

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Heart Side–Chris Murphy] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.  According to Wikipedia, Murphy has written several Sloan songs that have been released as singles, including “Underwhelmed” from the album Smeared, “Coax Me” from Twice Removed, “G Turns to D” from One Chord to Another, “She Says What She Means” from Navy Blues, “The Other Man” from Pretty Together, and “The Rest of My Life” from Action Pact.

 Murphy, like Ferguson writes some really catchy songs here.  They are no connected like Ferguson’s though, and they feel more like discrete songs.  “Carried Away” is another amazingly catchy song that I get stuck in my head for hours.  The song opens with a full sound including strings. The verses are slow. But the chorus just kicks in catchy and easy to sing along with this great line: “She carried on buit she got carried away…”

“So Far So Good” is a slow piano ballad. The chorus swells in a big classic-rock-with-piano way and is also catchy.  “Get Out” is a short rocker, under 2 minutes.  It comes in, rocks hard and gets out. “Misty’s Beside Herself” is another song with an infectious chorus.  It’s a slow ballad, but with a big powerful chorus full of harmonies. It’s really pretty. “You Don’t Need Excuses to Be Good” has rawer guitar sound and sounds a bit more like older Sloan. Although it’s not as catchy as the other songs, there’s something about the sound (how different it is from the other songs) that really makes it stand out (that guitar solo s pretty great too).

Like Ferguson, Murphy knows how to write great catchy songs, and these five songs really showcase his strengths as a writer.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Care and Feeding of the Amish”

The Walrus‘ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about kidnapping.

I’ve enjoyed Kuitenbouwer’s peculiar vantage point in a number of stories before.  Since this was a “crime” story I was curious about what this title could possibly have to do with a crime.  And then it’s laid out–a bunch of kids in a Montessori class (who are camping out in the woods) are lying in await for an Amish buggy to come by.  (While waiting for the ambush one of them farts, which really sets the tone for the story: “The fart hovered at nose level as the nostalgic clop of horses sounded and a decision became necessary”).

And then the decision is made.  Becky ran out into the street with a stick which made the buggy driver stop.  While Becky was asking him how many Amish it took to change a light bulb, the rest of her class snuck behind the buggy and grabbed the buggy’s little boy occupant.  She then frightened the horses and the buggy took off–with the driver unaware of the kidnapping. (more…)

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amercancaThe reuniting of Crazy Horse after a time is always cause for excitement.  In this case, they released this strange album, which seems like it should be an EP but is almost an hour long.  It’s basically the band jamming on traditional Americana songs (for the most part).  And it is totally a jam–you can hear them talking about what they just played after a number of tracks.  Critics have complained that Young hasn’t really been writing any thing new in the last few years, and this would bear that out to a certain extent.  But here’s the thing–the music is really good (for the most part), but the lyrics–the traditional lyrics–are sometimes really off-putting, almost feeling like a joke.

The one real standout is Clementine  which the band totally disassembles and make into a sloppy rocker that bears almost no resemblance to the original.  Young even plays around with lyrics, making it a much different story–with a dark, twisted ending.  There’s something a little fun about “Oh Susannah” ( I like the b-a-n-j-o part) although it sounds a little half baked.  “Travel On” also feels less successful.  I think the problem with these songs is that the fast pace doesn’t allow for the band to stretch out much–Crazy Horse works best with slow big open (sloppy) chords rather than these martial type beats.

“Tom Dula” (which is “Tom Dooley”) is almost 9 minutes  long.  This song feel like a murder ballad-a slow meandering song that rather works.  The same is true for “Gallows Pole” which has the same feel.  For me the least successful is “Get a Job,” a song I dislike at the best of times, but this is just a goofy cover.

“Jesus’ Chariot” successfully straddles the line of changing the original (“She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”) with a cool minor key workout and noisy solo.  The singing is so different from the original that it doesn’t really sound like the traditional song.  They give “This Land is Your Land” a kind of country feel.  It works pretty well.  As does “Wayfarin’ Stranger” which is a very low key affair.  The album ends strangely with “God Save the Queen” which he slides into “My Country Tis of Thee.”

So this album is kind of a mess.  It probably would have made a great EP.  But it also works as a fun document of what the guys were up to before they released their “proper” album Psychedelic Pill a little later in the year.  It’s not essential by any means, but it’s an interesting item.  Interestingly, the liner notes explain the lyrical changes are actually the original lyrics–lyrics that have been lost or removed over the years.  I rather like that.

[READ: January 5, 2013] “Seal”

Kuitenbrouwer also had a story in the January/February Walrus last year.  Hmm.  But Kuitenbrouwer writes about such diverse subjects that, aside from a certain harshness in her characters, it wouldn’t be obvious that it was the same author.

I love that in this story the narrator distances himself from the story before even beginning it: “I never had another story but this one, and even it is not mine.”

And what we get is the story of a fishmonger.  He and his wife live above the fish store.  The narrator, a young boy named Ivan, lives above them on the third floor.  He is strangely obsessive about the fishmonger and his wife. He plays fishmonger every day with his parents.  And he pays a girl to go in and ask the man a question (do you like fish?).  The answer is yes and that he eats it for every meal.

The fishmonger, Kieran, is also the fisherman, walking out the back of his shop and into the sea to fish–he even gets special orders right from the sea if he doesn’t have any in the shop.  Kieran is a loud but jolly man. He knows that Ivan paid the girl to ask the question and he teases him about it.  He tells Ivan it’s cheaper to just ask him directly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS! We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed (2008).

This is Los Campesinos! second disc in a year (after the smashing success of their debut).

The disc opens with a blast in “Make It Through the Walls”–great male and female shared vocals as well as gang screamed vocals; and by the end: violins.  It’s like the Los Campesinos! catalog packed into four minutes.  It’s followed by “Miserabilia” a perfect three-minute pop song (except for all those rough edges, of course), but it very nicely combines melody and punk attitude.

The title track continues with the frantically happy sounding music that backs off for lyrics like “We kid ourselves that there’s future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future.”   Meanwhile, “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” emphasizes their low end, which doesn’t often get a lot of emphasis.  “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It?” has some great violins and group vocals (not screamed for a change).  “The End of the Asterisk” is an under two-minute blast of fun nonsense (with a fun chorus).

I’ve talked about the music but not much about the lyrics–but rest assured they are just as literate and darkly comic as on Romance is Boring.  Although the titles are certainly a giveaway, none sum up Los Campesinos! as much as “Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1” (which has some very cool sound effects thrown in too).

“Heart Swells–Pacific Daylight Time” is one of their achingly slow songs that reminds me of “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future” (I know, that song came later, but I’m reviewing them backwards).  Although this one is much shorter.  The disc ends with “All Your Kayfabe Friends” which has these fun triplet notes that ascend and descend with each line.

My copy came with a bonus DVD.  The disc contains a 30 minute home movie of the band on tour.  It’s nothing terribly revelatory, although it is amusing in places.  The home movie quality of it makes it a bit more personal, but also means that some shots are totally missed, which is a shame.   There’s also a few minutes of the band on various stages, which is quite a treat as I’ve never seen them live–they really embody their music and Gareth Campesinos! is a great front man.

At only 32 minutes, this is certainly a short release.  Wikipedia says that they argued that this was not a cash grab after the success of their first album.  And that’s believable, even if the only thing that makes this more than half an hour is the fiddly instrumental “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky.”   Nevertheless, Los Campesinos! released some wonderfully cool songs.

[READ: February 28, 2012] “Laikas”

I complained recently that although Kuitenbrouwer calls this piece “Laikas” when you click on the link to Significant Objects, it is listed as “Greek Ashtray-Plate.”  This evidently has something to do with the nature of its publication.  Although I don’t know the pre-publication information, underneath the story it says:

The bidding on this object, with story by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, has ended. Original price: 69 cents. Final price: $30. Proceeds from this auction go to Girls Write Now

So, one assumes that Kuitenbrouwer wrote this short (very short) story about the ashtray-plate–after all, the full name of the website is Significant Objects…and how they got that way–so it all pieces together nicely.

As I said this is a very short piece (a page and a half, tops) that works as a quick sketch of why the ashtray-plate looks the way it does as well as a brief sketch of its owner. The details about the ashtray-plate are wonderful, vivid and violent in ways that I wouldn’t have expected–the placement of the burns is wonderfully described.

The rest of the story is strange, though. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK CAVE AND WARREN ELLIS-The Road: Original Film Score (2009).

I haven’t seen The Road, and I probably never will.  Nor have I read it.  The only reason I was listening to the soundtrack was because I like Nick Cave.  So this is a contextless review.  Of course, I know what the book is about and I rather assume that the film is equally harrowing.  I expected the soundtrack to be full of desolation and horror.

So I was quite surprised that most of the main themes are played on a piano with gentle strings or simply violins.  True there is a sense of emptiness and loss in these songs (they’re not jaunty piano pieces or anything) but they are still unexpectedly pretty.

Of course,a song like “The Cannibals” is bound to be more disconcerting, which it is.  It starts with creepy scratchy violins and then tribal drums take over–all set over a buzzing background.  This is more of what I expected the whole score to be like.   Similarly, “The House” must be a very frightening scene, as the music is threatening, loud, intense and quite scary with, again, more creepy percussion.  Unsurprisingly, a track called “The Cellar” is also spooky; it is only a minute long.

But then songs like “The Church” are so delicate and beautiful and not even all that sad–it actually makes me wonder what the scene in the film is showing.  The end of the score feels like the end of a movie, which I know it is, but it feels like a conventional movie, with closure, something I’m led to believe the book doesn’t have a lot of.

Taken away from the movie, this soundtrack is quite nice.  Aside from the three scarier tracks, this would make for some nice listening on a sad, rainy Sunday.

[READ: February 28, 2012] “The Longest Destroyed Poem”

I enjoyed Kuitenbrouwer’s “Corpse” so much that I decided to see what else she had written.  It comes to three books and four uncollected short stories.  There’s “Corpse” from The Walrus, this one here, another one called “Laikas” (which has a different title on the site where it lives) and a fourth with a broken link.  Boo.

But that’s okay because I’ll certainly investigate her books too.

Like “Corpse,” this story explores women’s sexuality, but it explores it in a very different way.  In fact, I loved the way it was introduced–especially because of the wonderfully convoluted way the sentence reveals it (and how it’s not even the main point of the sentence):

She looked fabulous. Better than back then, when she’d thought she wanted to be an artist, and Victor had made a point — she realized this as she realized many many things, that is she realized it in retrospect — of dropping into the conversation — the one she hadn’t actually been having with him, because she was instead focused almost solely on the fact his much younger roommate had a hand under the blanket her crotch also happened to be under — that he was off to bed early so he could work on a poem he’d been having trouble with.

I had to read it twice because I thought it was funny the first time, and when I fully parsed it, it was even funnier.

So yes, sex.  But as the story opens, years after the above event, Rosa sees Victor and decides to crash into him with her car.  It’s shocking and it’s shockingly well told.

I love the way Kuitenbrouwer uses language.  I could probably quote from this story six or seven times, but I love this sentence that forecasts the trouble ahead:  “Victor noticed her in that split second, too, and he knew what Rosa was up to, for his face changed, channel surfing from neutral smug — well, this was his everyday face — to impending doom.”

As she’s about to ram him (with a Prius, no less), we flash back to their spirited relationship. (more…)

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I had assumed that this album was massive until an email sent around to some of my friends revealed that many of them had never even heard of the band.  So I guess it’s massive in my own little world.  Well that’s fine, I’ve always liked rougher folk music.  And there are two or three songs on this album that absolutely deserve to be massive.

If you’re like my friends and you don’t know Mumford & Sons, this album is a kind of rocking folk album (lots of banjos and harmonies).  But it’s less Fleet Foxes and more Waterboys–earnest folk with updates to the traditional sound.  The disc opens kind of slowly with “Sigh No More.” It take about two minutes to get going (and for the banjo to kick in).  In addition to the banjo (seriously, who knew a banjo could be so catchy?–well, bluegrass musicians, for one), the main selling point is main Mumford’s voice–it’s powerful, bellowing and quite emotive.

“The Cave” is the first indication that this album is going to be impressive.  It starts out deceptively simple. Once you get to the second round of the bridge, “and I….” the song soars to the heavens in catchiness, (the singer’s enunciated vowels are weird and fun too).  “Winter Winds” has a bit more Irish feel to it (Irish via The Pogues), but it also has the same kind of soaring qualities as “The Cave.”

“Roll Away the Stone” features the banjo heavily and is all the better for it.  And “White Blank Page” really features the rough-hewn vocals that are the signature of Mumford & Sons.  Never has the word “raaaaage” been so singable!

Some of the slower moments of the album kind of bog the disc down.  Of course you couldn’t play everything at breakneck speed and still have your dynamic parts sound dynamic.  So a song like “I Gave You All” opens slowly but it builds in power.  The break is welcome (although quite a lot of songs start out slow and then get faster).  But the chorus is outstanding.

The pinnacle of the album comes with “Little Lion Man” an amazingly catchy chorus (with a very bad word in it) and more raucous banjo playing.  It’s almost impossible not to stomp your feet along.  “Thistle & Weeds” is another slow builder–you can really hear the angst in his voice by the end.  The end of the album is kind of a denouement.  On my first few listens I didn’t care for the end of the disc so much but by now the album has so won me over that I can just enjoy this folkier ending.

In many ways there’s no major surprises on this disc–it’s rocking folk after all–except for just how damn catchy the band is.

[READ: February 22, 2012] “Corpse”

I wasn’t too keen on reading this story (one of the Walrus‘ longer stories) because of the title (and the accompanying picture of two boys with a deer in their sites).  I didn’t think I would enjoy a hunting story.  And yet, it started out so peaceful and zen that it sucked me right in.

It opens in a very female space.  Maura and Angie are relaxing in Maura’s house.  Well, Maura is doing yoga while Angie is relaxing.  Maura is talking about the yoni, the great universal twat. Angie visualizes a massive latex vulva that she and her boyfriend Gordon enter.  After a few moments, Angie and Maura look at each other and start cracking up.

The female space is penetrated by Malcom, Maura’s 13-year-old son, carrying the beginnings of a bow and arrow.  He wants to know what’s so funny.  They pass of a few lame jokes which he doesn’t fall for until Angie comes up with a really funny one.  One that is especially funny in the printed delivery, in which you’re not entirely sure that  joke is being told (a nice trick!).  So I won’t spoil it here.

Malcolm informs them that he is just going to shoot his arrows at cans with his friend Andrew.  But in fact they have bigger plans.  A deer has been spotted in the local dog park (they live in the city so the deer are a rarity).  After laughing at the joke, he runs off with Andrew to go hunting. (more…)

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