Archive for the ‘Mary Gaitskill’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Turtle in the Clouds” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song is super funky–from the cool bass and keys sound to the lay it down riff.  It’s also got a fun singable chorus.

The juxtaposition of the two sections is great.  This is a highlight of the disc for sure.

[READ: December 20, 2018] “Acceptance Journey”

Carol moved to Rhinehorn for a six-month job at a private college.  She had also just broken up with her “boyfriend”: “More exactly, she’d run out of their motel room after he’d become enraged at her for singing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” in the shower and accused her of wanting to sodomize him.”

Carol was 57 and divorced and had debt from her ex-husband’s failed life-coach business.  The temp job was routine and mindless, just what she wanted.  She intended to make friends with no one until one day the neighbor, Duane, called over to her.  He explained that his wife, Dana, knew the woman she was replacing (maternity leave) and teat they would love to have her for dinner.

It was a lovely family dinner.  The food was good, and the children were charming.  They prayed before eating.  And somehow it made Carol shy of seeing them again.  Where she used to walk in the neighborhood, she now felt the need to drive around.  She drove out of town on various roads looking at billboards.  One continued to catchy her eye.  It was for something called The Acceptance Journey. (more…)

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I have seen Palehound twice, once as a headliner and once as an opening band (in that order).  I love Ellie Kempner’s guitar style and her slackerish vocals.  Her lyrics are usually incisive and the way she pulls all of that together is really terrific.

Her recorded output is pretty stellar.  She has a few EPs and/or singles and then this, her first album, which comes it at less than 30 minutes.  It features some of Kempner’s great guitar, prescient lyrics and really catchy songwriting–a potent combination.

“Molly” opens with a great rumbling bass line, a cool guitar riff and a wonderful overdubbed distorted guitars.  It’s immediately catchy.  The whole verse is crazy catchy and then after two lines, she adds a new riff before returning to the first one.  There’s so much going on and its all terrific.  Next up is a cool bridge followed by a third part with yet another great guitar soloing type of riff and loud chorus of “ooooohs.”  There is so much going on in this song, I was shocked to see that it’s under 3 minutes long

“Healthier Folk” starts out as a kind of bedroom-sounding acoustic guitar song, but after a verse there’s a trippy chorus with soaring guitars

Mouth ajar, watching cuties hit the half pipe
I only feel half-right
Around healthier folk
But oh, why don’t hold me?
They just
Cradle me like a homesick child

Mid way through, the guitars get louder with a heavy riff before returning to that trippy middle section.

Even though Kempner rocks out, she also has some slower songs.  “Easy” is a slow song with this great line: “I’m pushing back your tongue / With my clenched teeth home security system.”  I love how the chorus (and more) is just a blast of noise without speeding up the tempo of the song.  Two thirds of the way through, the song picks up briefly (“All I need’s a little sleep”).  And the last thirty seconds are a wild, chaotic-sounding series of riffs (with a noisy feedbacking guitar solo).

“Cinnamon” has yet another terrific riff.  Live, this song absolutely scorches–vocally and guitar wise.  This version is a little tamer, but you can really hear what a great guitarist she is.

“Dry Food” starts slowly, with a pretty guitar line and a cool vocal delivery.  I love the way the verses are slow and the chorus builds into a strangely catchy melody without really picking the tempo up.

“Dixie” is a quiet confessional with some great lyrics and a catchy chorus.

And people that I’ll never meet
Have been showing up naked in my dreams
And I try to close my eyes but I really want to see
Their breasts like eyes are staring back at me

The hair that’s in my shower drain
Has been clogging up my home
And I try to scoop it up but I retch until I’m stuck
To stare and gag into a Dixie cup (with a cough on the repeat of this line)

“Cushioned Caging” is a more aggressive rocker, but her vocals don’t really match the guitar loudness, making you lean in to hear her.  The disc ends with “Seekonk,” the longest song on the disc (nearly 5 minutes).  It’s slow with a couple of different parts to flesh it out.

Kempner really showcases the various aspects of her songwriting.  It’s a really solid album and could easily be much longer.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “The Little Boy”

This short story was interesting in that it seemed far more about an old woman than a little boy.

Mrs. Bea Davis is walking through an airport after visiting her daughter Megan in upstate New York.

We learn a lot about her and her daughters Megan and Susan as well as her ex-husband.  We learn some about her because she is talking to her self.  A woman with a small boy passed and the boy turned to look at her.

The trip had been okay, as best as could be expected. Bea felt that Megan and her husband enjoyed making fun of ugly people (“That guy is like an anteater in leisurewear. That girl, she can’t wear that dress, look at her stomach.”)  the way Bea’s own sisters Tomasina and Livia would go to Woolworth’s and comment on the ugly poor people.    (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH on NPR [interviews and stories] (2006-2009).

While I was finding all of these awesome downloadable shows on NPR, I also found that there are hundreds of downloadable NPR stories about all kinds of bands.  But I was especially interested in the Sonic Youth ones because, well, I’m a fan of the band, but also because it seemed so incongruous to me to hear Peter Sagal introducing a story about Sonic Youth (with noise rock in the background).

The three downloadable shows cover the period from 2006-2008.  It’s no coincidence that this is the Rather Ripped period, where the band is at its most commercial.  And yet it is still pretty neat to hear them play samples of the noisier music as well.

The first one, A 25-Year Experiment in Artful noise (June 12, 2006) appeared on All Things Considered.  It is an interview from WHYY (but with the Peter Sagal intro!).  Joel Rose asks the band about their longevity as well as the history of their sound (this is where Thurston admits that their unusual tunings were because their crappy thrift store guitars sounded very bad in normal tuning).  This interview also revealed to me that Thurston and Kim were married in 1984.  I knew they were an item forever, but didn’t know they were official for that long.  Well done!

The interview also mentions their appearance on the beloved show The Gilmore Girls.  They watched the show with their daughter, Coco and heard Sonic Youth mentioned a few times (by cool chick Lane).  So they got in touch with the producers and were invited on set (I wonder if the actress who played Lane liked them as much as Lane did?).  And they played a fun “troubadour” version of one of their songs on the show (with Coco on bass).

The second download, Story of a ‘Kool thing’ (June 13, 2008) is more of an interview with David Browne, whose book Goodbye 20th Century:  A Biography of Sonic Youth, I have not read (although it sounds good).  This interview delves into their earlier music a bit more (how cool to hear Tom Violence on an NPR show–admittedly this show is The Bryant Park Project, so it’s not quite All Things Considered).  This segment is a general overview of the band’s history and of the book itself (but unlike the book, this offers snippets of music!)

The third one has a rather snarky title: “Turning ‘Sonic Youth’ Fans Into Readers” (January 27, 2009). It’s not so much about the band as it is about a book curated by Peter Wild called Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth.

It’s a brief segment which delves into the inspiration for the book and for Wild’s own story “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style.”  There’s a strangely credulous tone to the whole piece which makes it seem like they don’t really like the book.  I’m curious about the book as there are a few well-recognized writers on board, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to reading it (although Amazon sells used copies for $2.50).

Contributors include:

Hiag Akmakjian • Christopher Coake • Katherine Dunn • Mary Gaitskill • Rebecca Godfrey • Laird Hunt • Shelley Jackson • J. Robert Lennon • Samuel Ligon • Emily Maguire • Tom McCarthy • Scott Mebus • Eileen Myles • Catherine O’Flynn • Emily Carter Roiphe • Kevin Sampsell • Steven Sherrill • Matt Thorne • Rachel Trezise • Jess Walter • Peter Wild

[READ: April 18, 2011] 826 NYC Art Show Catalog

This item is always for sale pretty cheap at the McSweeney’s site.  It recently was marked down to $3 so I figured I’d check it out.  This is a collection of art prints.  Each one is on a stocky paper just under  8 1/2″ x 11″.  The prints are reproduced beautifully (there’s about an inch and a half border (making them suitable for framing).  The back side of the print has a review of the print.  And, most amusingly, the reviews are by 6 to 8 year olds.

The art is hard to summarize, as it covers a lot of ground.  There’s a ton of different styles as well, from straight ahead photography to line and pencil drawing to painting.  These artists each have one page: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Kicking a Dead Pig + Mogwai Fear Satan Remixes (1998).

This release came out soon after Young Team, when it seemed like Mogwai was just flooding the market.  It’s a remix album of a number of tracks from Young Team. And, when it was re-released it contained several mixes of the track “Fear Satan” as a bonus disc.

In general, I’m not a fan of remixes.  There, I’ve said it. Back in the flush 90s, when I used to buy a lot of import singles, I enjoyed the B-sides, but was always disappointed when there was a remix rack.  Some are fine.  Indeed, some are pretty good.  But for the most part you get a very long song that is mostly drum machine and sounds and noises.  And I know that they are designed for dancing, but I’m not a dancer, so despite how much techno I own, I’m very rarely thrilled to ge a remix.

Which is  as good a way as any to say that this is a pretty inessential disc, even for Mogwai fans. Even though Mogwai themselves throw a couple of remixes on there.  And for the most part, what we get are washes of sound.  Since Mogwai don’t really do lyrics, it’s not always very obvious what song the remixers are remixing.

  • Hood: “Like Herod” has some interesting staccato, which Mogawi typically doesn’t have.
  • Max Tundra: “Helicon 2” is primarily ride cymbal although a guitar motif does come in (with some pretty harmonics) eventually.
  • Klute: “Summer” (Weird Winter Remix). There’s nothing distinctive about this.
  • Arab Strap: “Gwai on 45.”  I actually expected a lot from this mix because Arab Strap are a weirdly wonderful band and the guys have worked with Mogwai.  But then, they’re not an exciting band–they’re very good, just understated.  And as a result, this remix is okay but nothing too exciting.
  • Third Eye Foundation: “A Cheery Wave from Stranded Youngsters” (Tet Offensive Remix) is also okay.
  • Alec Empire: “Like Herod” (Face the Future Remix).  Alec Empire usually turns all of his remixes into super fast like 500 bpm noise explosions (just like Atari Teenage Riot). He doesn’t do that here, and the song just kind of melds in with the rest.
  • DJ Q: “R U Still In 2 It” has a vocal, but it is mostly one word repeated over and over.
  • Kid Loco: “Tracy.”  I liked this track more than many others.
  • Mogwai: “Fear Satan.”  It’s weird to me that you would remix one of your own songs, although I guess it’s fun.  I still like the original better.  And I’m fairly certain this one is different from the one on the next disc.

The four “Fear Satan” remixes are by:

  • Mogwai: delicate, the washes of sound are quiet and warm, and it really features the flute quite a lot. Although by the end, the feedback does come in.
  • μ-Ziq: remix is much more staccato. The washes have been removed.  There’s very little connection to the original.
  • Surgeon: remix begins electronically and builds as a slow wave.  It’s pretty much one note getting louder and louder until about a minute left when it changes tone.  It’s hard to imagine even calling this a remix.
  • My Bloody Valentine: at 16 minutes,  the MBV remix stands out for length. After about five minutes of interesting feedback squalls it shifts to a high-pitched noise, almost like a drill. After a few minutes of this it shifts into a very pretty electronic song.  By the end it’s a pounding heavy drum fill rocker.  Any resemblance to “Fear Satan” seems purely coincidental, but it’s a wild ride.

[READ: March 11, 2011] The Revolution Will Be Accessorized

I only heard about this anthology when I read the Sam Lipsyte piece from it.  I didn’t really like his piece, but the rest of the anthology sounded intriguing.  It was put out by BlackBook magazine, which I have a sort of vague awareness of, but couldn’t really say anything about (it’s some kind of counter-cultural fashion magazine or something).  But it seems like the counter-cultural aspect really lends sway here.

This anthology is a collection of short stories, essays and interviews.  There’s also an introduction by Jay McInerney

JAY McINERNEY-Introduction
He talks about BlackBook and the essays contained here. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAYYORS: 3 EPs (online only) (2008-2009).

I learned about Mayyors from the NPR’s Best Metal and Outer Sounds releases of 2009 on All Songs Considered.  I enjoyed Viking’s picks for 2010 quite a bit so I thought I’d investigate his previous years’ selections.  I’d never heard of Mayyors before, but he makes the band sound so intriguing (and dirty).

The write up is so wonderfully enigmatic that I had to find the tracks online.  I mean, how can you pass up this:

This is a plea to Mayyors: If you’re going to release one of the ugliest pieces of noise rock this side of The Jesus Lizard, please start issuing your music in editions bigger than David Yow’s beer gut. After a couple of ripped 7″ singles made the rounds on blogs last year, those seeking the puss-popping skronk of Mayyors scavenged message boards and listservs to get their hands on the next limited affair. (After all, these Sacramento-based dudes don’t have a Web site or any known email addresses. Punk rock, I guess.) The Deads 12″ EP significantly dirties the rock gene pool with nauseating feedback and power chords dumber than the actual mud driven over the orange covers. Once again, Google is your friend.

That link to Google is the only way I was able to find these songs.

So Mayyors have released three EPs since 2008.  Each had a pressing of about ten copies, apparently.  You really can’t find any information about them online.  I don’t even understand how the band plays shows since their total recorded output is about 2o minutes long.  But I was able to get all 9 songs.

Having said all, that I don’t always like the music.  It hurts your head. The general sound is really downtuned sludge rock.  It’s not squealy feedbacky noise, it’s just distorted guitars played very loud and fast with vocals that are pretty incomprehensible (with lots of echo!). I have no idea what he’s singing about.  I’m sure it’s not very nice.  But I feel like their music would be even more subversive if they sang about love and kindness (or like the cover of Megan’s LOLZ: unicorns and rainbows).

The first EP: Marines Dot Com has two tracks “Metro” (3:08) and “Fatigure” (3:35).  “Metro” reminds me a lot of early Butthole Surfers.  “Fatigure” has a discernible riff (which is of course very downtuned.  It’s entirely possible they have only a guitar and a bass.  About half way through, the song changes into a noise-fest.  Of course, nearly 4 minutes of noise is pretty tough to handle.  Especially since the noise is sludgy and loud loud loud.

The middle EP, Megan’s LOLZ, is my favorite.  Three songs: “Intro” (0:59), “Airplanes” (3:23), “White Jeep” (2:18).  The noise and sludge is still there, but you can actually hear nascent riffs under all the noise. It also seems a little crisper (or something), which makes the tracks stand out a little more.

“Intro” actually plays around with different kinds of noise, suggesting they’re in for something new on this EP (of course, it’s still buried under noise and sludge).  “Airplanes” has another discernible riff, although it does sound like it’s recorded in an airplane hangar.  “White Jeep” has a similar (if not the same) riff, but it plays a bit more with feedback and genuinely piecing noises.  (There’s even a  kind of guitar solo).

The latest EP, the one that Viking likes, is called Deads.  It has four songs: “The Crawl” (1:41), “Ghost Punch” (1:41) “Clicks (2:42) and “Deads” (2:53).  And as he describes above, the cover does appear to have been driven over by a muddy truck.

This album is a bit more “polished” (how dare anyone use that word).  In fact the sludge doesn’t really get put onto “The Crawl” until about 50 seconds in.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a sludgy mess, but you can sort of tell what instruments there are and that there’s a guy singing.   “Ghost Punch” sounds a bit more death metal-like than their other songs, although it’s so tinny, it sort of transcends the genre somewhat.  “Clicks” seems to be the song of choice for examples of what Mayyors can do.  It’s got intense delay, squealing noises and a vocal melody! (Do I hear screams of sellout?).  Hear it and “The Crawl” here.  “Deads” actually has staccato notes in the opening, but it’s all sludge from there.

And then there’s silence.  Blissful silence.  Mayyors: Not for the sensitive.

[READ: March 5, 2011] “The Other Place”

Mary Gaitskill is generally acknowledged as a master short story writer.  I haven’t read all that much by her.

I’m not sure if her stories are all as dark as this one, but man this is quite dark, indeed.  It’s about a man and his son.  Well, actually it begins with the son.  He is into guns. Like really into guns. He draws them, he makes stories about them, he plays guns outside even if they don’t have guns.  He also loves violence on TV, especially if it’s funny.  The boy is thirteen.

When I read the story, I initially thought that the father was upset or worried about this gun fascination, because he opens the story with “How did this happen?”  But he seems to know how this happened: “The way everything does, of course.  One thing follows another, naturally.”

And so, with the wrong impression, I couldn’t quite understand why the father was so surprised by the son’s behavior because as the father relates his own past, it’s pretty full of violence itself.  Indeed, as it progresses, it seems like the son inherited all of his father’s traits. (more…)

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ny1It took me going to Seattle to learn about The New Yorker magazine.  I was visiting my friend Rob and he was really surprised that I didn’t read the magazine all the time (my reading always seems to surprise people, see The Believer.)

Upon my first read of the magazine, I was surprised to see that the first twenty pages or so are taken up with upcoming shows: films, concerts, sports, everything.  I actually wondered how much content would be left after all that small print.

Since then I have learned that Sasha Frere-Jones writes columns in here quite ofuiten.  For reasons known only to my head, I was convinced that Sasha was a black woman.  Little did I realize that he is not.  And that he was in a band that I have a CD of called Ui.  He is an excellent resource for all things music, whether I like the artist he’s talking about or not.  Some entries are here.  This audio entry about Auto-Tune is simply fantastic.

But of course, there’s a lot of content.  And the first thing you get are letters.  I don’t think I have EVER looked at the letters section. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-Moving Pictures (1980).

movingpicturesThe other night on the show Chuck, Rush was described as “the music of the universe” (which enabled our hero to defeat Missile Command and get secret codes–thereby saving the lives of millions.  I have taken this as a sign that geeks have totally taken over the world.  They played “Tom Sawyer” 3 times during the show.  It was pretty awesome.  And my 13 year-old self would have been so excited, it might have been too much for me.

Since about 8th grade, I’ve been a huge Rush fan. And, yes, I do play bass guitar, thank you for asking.  I’m still a fan, although not nearly as rabid as I was back in the day.  Nevertheless, it’s pretty exciting to see these guys making inroads into pop culture, and it has only taken some thirty-four years after their first record.

Having said that, everyone knows Side A of this record (“Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta”, “YYZ” and “Limelight”).  So, I’m not even going to mention it.  Rather, I’ll focus on Side B (how quaint am I with this terminology?).  I think the overexposure of Side A led me to really investigate Side B.  And, for my money, Side B is the more enjoyable side.

“The Camera Eye” starts it out with a wondrous eleven-minute epic.  It has different sections, it has repeating motifs, and it’s probably the most overlooked song in their catalog (their other epic tracks were usually A sides which meant more notice).  It doesn’t have a lot of the drama of Rush’ other ten-minute-plus songs, rather, it’s a meditative look at life in the city.  And yet, all of the parts are essential, with a few minutes of little bits and pieces throughout the track.  And then suddenly you’re eight or so minutes in and totally hooked.  I’ve always has a soft spot for this song.

“Witch Hunt” has such a fantastic drum opening.  My friend Joe was the drummer with whom I jammed to Rush back in the day.  Now, no kidding, Neil Peart is an amazing drummer, but sometimes you have to really listen to a song through the ears of a drummer to hear how amazing he is.  The opening drum motif is so complex, it’s amazing that one man could play it.  And then he throws in a cowbell to boot!  It also has some fantastic lyrics that I find myself singing a lot lately when I think of rabid right-wingers: “Confident their ways are best. The righteous rise with burning eyes, of hatred and ill-will….”  “Those who know what’s best for us, must rise and save us from ourselves….””Ignorance & prejudice and fear walk hand in hand….”

As “Witch Hunt” has a crazy opening drum motif, “Vital Signs” has a great guitar intro.  The guitar chords aren’t terribly complex, but Alex Lifeson plays the chords in a different pattern during alternate lines.  Boy is that fun to play.  This also features one of the great early keyboard workouts for Geddy Lee.  The keyboard riff in “Tom Sawyer” is pretty memorable, but in “Vital Signs” it’s intense.  The two main sections of the song don’t seem like they should fit together, but they segue nicely with drum fills and a smooth and fun bass solo.

It was in listening to the the Snakes and Arrows live CD recently that I was reminded how much I love “Witch Hunt” and what a great song it is.  My only regret is that I never got to see that one live.

[READ: October 31, 2008] “Don’t Cry”

I was introduced to Mary Gaitskill’s writing about a decade ago.  I really liked her short stories.  It’s been a while since I’ve read her work, and I basically forgot what her main themes were.  So it surprised me to find that this story was set in Ethiopia. (more…)

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