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Archive for the ‘Paul Theroux’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DIDONATO-“When I am Laid in Earth’ (Dido’s Lament)” (Field Recordings, February 4, 2015).

Joyce DiDonato is an opera singer with a wonderful voice.  She is also an outspoken LGBT+ advocate.

DiDonato, 45, straight and a native Kansan, is outspoken on LGBT issues and one of today’s most sought-after opera stars. At London’s popular Proms concerts she capped off the 2013 festival with “Over the Rainbow,” saying it was devoted to LGBT voices silenced by Russia’s anti-gay laws. At the Santa Fe Opera, she dedicated a performance to a gay New Mexican teen who took his life after being bullied.

For this particular performance, she was drawing attention to Mark Carson, a gay man fatally shot almost two years prior. The city’s police commissioner stated Carson’s death was clearly a hate crime.

The murder happened just blocks away from the famous Stonewall Inn, a historic gay bar.  And that is where she chose to perform this piece [Joyce DiDonato Takes A Stand At Stonewall].

“The idea of a murder happening blocks away from the Stonewall Inn is incomprehensible to me,” DiDonato says. “It shouldn’t happen anywhere. It tells me that we’re not done talking, and we are not done working for people to comprehend what equality is about and why it is important.”

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. A riot broke out, sparking successive nights of protest and, many say, the emergence of the modern gay rights movement.

LGBT rights have come a long way since that summer night 46 years ago, when there were still laws criminalizing homosexuality. But mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato believes there’s still work to be done, so she chose the Stonewall to gather a few friends, talk about equality and sing a centuries-old song that still resonates.

For this memorial she chose to perform a piece from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. The piece is called “When I am Laid in Earth” also known as “Dido’s Lament.”  She explains the piece: “‘Dido’s Lament’ is about a woman who is dying and she asks for absolution.  When I am in the earth, I hope that I haven’t created any trouble.  Remember me but don’t remember my fate.”

The aria unfolds slowly yet purposefully, with a refrain that seems to predict the mournful strains of an African-American spiritual.

The piece is beautiful and mournful.  And the musical accompaniment (students from Juilliard415) is understated and lovely.  The inclusion of the viola de gamba and the therobo is inspired.  Musicians:  Francis Liu and Tatiana Daubek, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; Arnie Tanimoto, viola da gamba; Paul Morton, theorbo.

[READ: April 15, 2016] “The Lower River”

This story looks at a man from Medford.  As the story opens its says the man, whose names is Altman, always imagined he’d one day return to Africa, to the Lower River.  He had loved it there when he volunteered in a village called Malabo.  He stayed for four years (longer than anybody else had).  He helped to build a school and taught at it.  He felt a real connection with the people there.

And now, some forty years later, as he was getting tired of Medford, as his clothing store was failing, as his marriage was failing, as he had very little left for himself in Medford, he decided, why not.  Why not go back to Africa and see if people remembered him at all.

The Lower River is the southernmost region of the southern province of Malawi, the poorest part of a poor country.  It is also the home of the Sen people.  They were a neglected tribe and rather despised by those who didn’t know them.  They were associated with squalor, credulity and incompetence.  And indeed, when he went there the first time people, were afraid to take him as far as the Lower River.

Now, Malawai is something of a vacation destination where rich people are pampered by the poor locals.  But when Altman arrives and asks for transport to the Lower River, people are hesitant to take him, there, making sure he knows where he is going.    Even after his driver drops him off he speeds away without any concern for formalities. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KHALID-Tiny Desk Concert #756 (June 18, 2018).

I feel like I know who Khalid is, like maybe he has collaborated with someone I know, but I assumed he was a rapper.

But nothing could be further from the truth.  For this Tiny Desk it’s Khalid and his acoustic guitarist Jef Villaluna.  Khalid sings and his voice is accented (Jamaican?) even though his speaking voice is not.  But all of that is somewhat dwarfed by some biographical details.

Before Khalid performed “Location,” his debut single that’s now four-times platinum, at the Tiny Desk, he told the audience the story of how he wrote the track during his senior year of high school not knowing where music would take him. (FYI: He graduated in the Class of 2016. Feel old yet?)

He looks much more than 20 years old as he sings “Young Dumb & Broke” which I actually like a lot more than “Location.”  But he seems like such a nice kid that I was instantly won over by him.

About “Location” he says he wrote it geared toward his senior prom (!) and it was only the sixth song he’d ever written.

And before singing “Saved,” Khalid explained that this was one of the first songs he ever wrote and remembers that when he put it up on SoundCloud, a rude commenter tried to diminish his talent.

He talked about how much the guy hated the song and really trashed it.  Khalid said he could confront the guy but that guy didn’t deserve his attention.  So he wrote another song and another song…  “‘I honestly couldn’t tell you what that guy is doing with his life but he’s not doing this,'” Khalid said with a contagious laugh.”

Khalid finished his set with a mini bow and a peace sign to the audience, but made sure to squeeze in time for some of the diehard fans in the crowd of NPR employees and their guests — many of whom were gleeful teens, some just as awkward, angsty and wide-eyed as he when penning his first songs in high school. He understood.

I’m not sure what his fully formed music sounds like–I can; imagine that these acoustic rendition would gather 4 million fans, but I imagine if you’re a fan of his originals, these stripped down versions are a real treat.

[READ: July 22, 2016] “Upside Down Cake”

This story seems like a fairly typical story of a family dinner which is doomed from the start.  But Theroux masterfully inserts a conflict which isn’t fully revealed until the end of the story.

The story begins with the narrator, Jay, talking about how visiting an aged parent always feels like it has an air of farewell to it.  He is thinking this because he is going to his mother’s 90th birthday.  He and his six siblings and their spouses will gather together and have a party that’s meant to note feel like a funeral.

Much of the story is this sibling’s perspective on the party–watching his siblings and their spouses act poorly in their own ways.  It’s not outrageously funny or anything, but there is a lot of smug smiling to be had at the way people behave around family.

There was even a dead sibling–a girl whom their mother never forgot about–and for whom a place was reserved at every meal.  Then there was Franny and Marvin (ill at ease out of his security guard uniform), Fred’s wife Erma (sighing and snatching at her hair), Rose’s husband Walter (playing with his camera as a way of ignoring everyone) Jonty’s little girl Jilly was there–she was the center of attention. There was Floyd in his black fedora (if you’re strong enough to scream, it can’t hurt that much, was it you who said that mother?)  They were till waiting for Hubby and his wife Moneen and Gilbert.

The last time they had all gathered like that was at their father’s funeral seven years ago.  Now, they all looked “bigger and droopier.”

The talk is full of teasing–gentle and otherwise and a lot of abuse hurled at mother’s cooking –although done in such a way that she assumed it was a complement.

And it seems like the story is just going to be this–an awkward dinner that people can’t wait to leave,  But then half way through the meal, Charlie and Julie come in with their son Patrick.  It seems that jay is the only one who knows him and he introduces the family to everyone, “their presence delighted me.”  He goes to grab Angela’s chair but everyone stops him.  He asks if she is in the bathroom and Mother says she’s in heaven.

After the party they all called each other to talk and complain.  Jay knew that if no one was saying anything to him directly then they were complaining behind his back.  Even mother complained that Jay had invited Charlie and his family to this dinner.

So just who is this Charlie who has everyone so upset?

There were so many possibilities and yet I never would have guessed the answer.  And the way it was presented was terrific.

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ny ayg4SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Frizzle Fry (1990).

frizIt always made me laugh that this album opens exactly the same as Suck on This–with the opening drums to Rush’s “YYZ.” But it quickly bends into the propulsive bass of “To Defy the Laws of Tradition.”  For many, this was their first listen to Primus, and hearing the crazy noise of Ler’s guitar come roaring out of the speakers followed by Les’ insane bass line and Tim’s wild drumming–it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before or since.  And then later to hear the tapping of the bass notes during the chorus–it’s certainly defying laws of rock tradition.

The lyrics of “To Defy” are interesting to me (if Christmas didn’t come, who would cry more the child or the stores?).  I also always loved the lyrics of “Groundhog’s Day” (“lingering taste of toothpaste made the milk go down a bit funny”).  I like the fidelity of this recording better than Suck on This (all five re-recorded songs actually).  This song also gives Ler a lot of pace for a long solo. “Too Many Puppies” is one of the earliest song  Les wrote (although I believe it was different in speed at the time).  It is a loud song in which Ler’s guitar stays hidden for a while then bursts forth full of noise and chaos at opportune moments.

“Mr. Knowitall” is also full of great lyrics (“they call me mr know it all, i am so eloquent, perfection is my middle name and whatever rhymes with eloquent”) and a really groovy bass with interesting “lead” guitar work.  I feel like the drums get a prominent place in “Frizzle Fry” (the drums are great all the way through, but they really shine here).  Of course the fast section at 4:40 is pretty amazing, too.

The opening to “John the Fisherman” is different than on Suck on This and it is crazy the sounds he get out of that bass. The quality of this recording (and the video) are great.

“You Can’t Kill Michael Malloy” is  26 second piece that was composed and performed by Matt Winegar (according to the Primus book the song is actually much longer and Les wishes he had played the whole thing here).  It leads to the slow intro of “The Toys Go Winding Down” which features one of my favorite triplet-filled bass lines ever.  It also features some great bowed bass from Les.

I love that “Pudding Time” opens with such a great amount of noise and that the bass is actually more of a percussive instrument for the verses.  “Sathington Willoughby” is another weird little song (25 seconds) that gave them a chance to play with banjos.  It serves as a great intro to the wild drums of “Spaghetti Western.”  This is the strangest song on the disc (which is saying a lot).  It’s almost an instrumental with Les reciting a little story about watching Spaghetti Westerns on TV (the way the boots are all reverbed out).

“Harold of the Rocks” is such a great song and this version sounds great–you can really hear what Ler is doing.  It ends the album in a fun way.

Frizzle Fry is still one of my favorite albums, and it still sounds totally weird and unique all these decades later.  I was marveling at how long this album is and how long many of the songs are–quite an auspicious “debut.”

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Action”

I have basically blown off the New Yorker since last summer and have now made it my resolution to read all the issues I missed from last year in a timely fashion.  So here I’m starting with August.

I often like Paul Theroux’s stories, although I don’t really have a sense of his style overall.  This story proved to be very simple but incredibly detailed.

It is about a boy, Albert, who works for his father in his shoe store.  Albert’s father was a widower and a very economical man–he would often only speak in one word sentences, especially to Albert (“‘Where?’ meaning, “Where have you been?'”).  His father worried about him, but didn’t really show it.  Rather, he monitored everything that Albert did.  He made sure that Albert was working most of the time that he wasn’t in school (even when the store wasn’t busy).  So Albert had no social life.

Albert did have one friend (whom his father greatly disapproved of) named Eddie.  Albert liked Eddie especially because Eddie often said “I’m a wicked bad influence.”  Eddie knew all about Boston and showed Albert around to places that his father would have been very upset by.  Of course, Albert had no money so he never went in these places, he just knew of them.  Eddie also introduced Albert to his “girl” Paige, whom he described as easy. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_10_07_13Kalman.inddSOUNDTRACK: DAVID DONDERO-Tiny Desk Concert #10 (December 5, 2008).

donderoBob and Robin at NPR love David Dondero.  I have never heard of him outside of their show (where they play his new songs when they come out).  Apparently he has some kind of connection to Conor Oberst (their voices sound similar—although I gather that Dondero came first).  I don’t care for Oberst in general, although I find that Dondero’s voice is more palatable to me.

He plays four songs on acoustic guitar.  And they’re all enjoyable.  They are simple folks songs “We’re All Just Babies in Our Mama’s Eyes,” is a little fast.  While “Rothko Chapel” is probably my favorite of the four.  I was really intrigued by the Chapel (which is real and which I’d never heard of) and which sounds cool—his song is an interesting look at it. “In Love With the Living and the Dead” and “It’s Peaceful Here” round out the set.

I feel that more than his music (which is good but not especially memorable), it’s his lyrics that Dondero is known for.  his songs are thoughtful and interesting and look at a variety of subjects.

[READ: January 6, 2014] “I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife”

This is an interesting story constructed in a way that lets you know that something big has happened between two people.  But we are never told exactly what happened, we are simply given a lot of stories with which to construct the event ourselves.

Jay is walking home—his father has just died—and he is greeted by an old friend, Ed Hankey.  Jay doesn’t feel like talking to Ed about his father, especially when Ed tells him that Murray Cutler is currently in hospice.  Murray was their English teacher–Jay has become a writer—with Ed emphasizing how important Murray was to them.

The story bounces back and forth between the preparations for Jay’s father’s funeral and his visits to Murray in hospice.  The differences are pronounced but not emphasized: Jay’s family is there to make arrangements, to plan for all of the details.  Meanwhile, Murray has no family, no one to visit him in hospice.  Indeed, when Jay visits him, a volunteer is reading to him. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_02_25_13Ulriksen.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE KNIFE-Shaking the Habitual (2013).

theknife2Since I reviewed the 19 minute song from this album yesterday I thought I’d check out the rest of the disc (still a handful).  I kept bearing in mind that The Knife are pretty much a dance duo.  So this departure is not only radical, it pretty much undercuts the kind of music they make.  The progress is probably exciting but I imagine fans would turn away in droves.  I wonder how this record will play out for them in the long run.  Incidentally, I wasn’t a fan before, so I don’t really have a horse in this race.

“A Tooth for an Eye” opens the record with an interesting percussion sound an a pulsing keyboard melody.  The keening vocals come in sounding weird and distant and more than a little eerie.  “Full of Fire” is a 9-minute song with a weird skittery “melody” that seems to float above the battered mechanical “drum.”  The whispered vocals are strained and also a little creepy.  The middle section has the skittery music jump around while the vocals get even more processed—making it simultaneously more friendly and less so.  It’s probably the coolest weird song on the disc, with parts that are catchy and interesting and parts that are just peculiar.  This is the single, by the way.

“A Cherry on Top” is 8 minutes of reasonable quietude, with the second half introducing an autoharp.  It’s certainly the most mellow thing on the disc.  Although it’s not exactly relaxing.  “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” seems like it should be the single—it is propulsive and while the vocals are certainly odd, they are the most conventional thing on the album.  “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” has big electronic pulsing drums and whispered vocals.  It’s a fairly normal sounding song (at least for this album), and could easily play in a goth club.

“Crake” is 55 second of squalling feedback.  The album also has “Oryx” which is 37 second of wailing noise.  In between is the 10 minute “Raging Lung” which is not available on Spotify.  “Networking” a skittering beat with a second beat that may just be a sample of a person making noise in his or her throat.  The “voices” get stranger throughout the song, keening, twisting and spinning, reminiscent of The Art of Noise.

“Stay Out Here” is a ten minute song.  It starts with a fairly standard electronic drumbeat.  Whispered vocals come in giving it a kind of Nine Inch Nails vibe, until the female vocals come in (and are quickly manipulated to sound kind of male).  The switch from male and female vocals is interesting, giving it an almost modern sounding Dead Can Dance feel.

“Fracking Fluid Injection” has sounds like scraping, rusted gates as the beat with sampled voices overlaid.  Again, this is nearly 10 minute long.  The problem with things like this, aside from their relative tediousness, is that they aren’t all that original.  Now originality is nothing to hold a band to, we all know, but if you’re going to do non-form sounds that are echoed with little else to it, it would be more interesting if there was something original to pin to it.  “Ready to Lose” ends the album with a steady beat and a pretty standard vocal line (even if the voices are processed).

So this album us a pretty radical departure for the band and it’s a pretty radical departure for dance music as a whole.  I’m curious to see if this will lead to a anything or if this will be their one weird album.

[READ: April 15, 2013] “The Furies”

The story opens with a rather creepy man stating at his wedding reception that he is in an exclusive club: “There are not too many men who can say that they’re older than their father-in-law.” Ew.  He was fifty-eight, his new wife 31.  His father-in-law is 56.  The father-in-law seems okay with this, but really how could he be?

Ray is a dentist and his new wife, Shelly, had been his hygienist for years.  When Shelly told him she was thinking of getting a new job, he professed his love for her, and informed his wife, Angie that he was in love with Shelly.  Angie took it badly, but he was surprised when she seemed mad that he didn’t do this years earlier while she still had a chance to meet someone (rather than being distraught that he was leaving her).  As a parting shot she says that she wishes him ill.  And she hope he suffers with the woman who took him from her.

But they had no children, just assets, and things were divided evenly and cleanly.  And he thanked his lucky starts to be with a new woman, someone who was fun and so different from his first wife. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-“Santa Maria” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers(2009).

I don’t often listen to songs that are as simple and straightforward as this one.  It’s an acoustic guitar with occasional piano and Callahan’s deep voice.  The melody is enjoyable and the vocals are crystal clear.  (Callahan is from Smog, a band I know of, but whom I don’t really know).

The original of this song is by Versus on their Afterglow EP.  I’ve liked Versus for a long time–their mix of male/female vocals and rockin’ guitars is always exciting.  But I didn’t remember this song at all.  It turns out that it’s kind of a slow, brooding number, something I probably wouldn’t have paid a ton of attention to back when I was rocking out more.

I prefer the Versus version as there’s more interesting tricks afoot, although Callahan does some cool subtleties by the end of the song that really bring out some interesting twists to the song.

[READ: April 16, 2012] “Our Raccoon Year”

I’ve read a few pieces from Paul Theroux, and I’ll say that this piece really surprised me.  While I wouldn’t try to categorize all of Theroux’s writing, I would say that a domestic story about raccoons is one that I would not have expected.

The story opens with the narrator, a young boy, telling us that his Ma decided to go away.  Their Pa explained that she was where she wanted to be “with her friend.”  Given the circumstances, and the fact that Pa was a well-respected citizen (and attorney), Pa was given custody of the narrator and his brother. He was the first man to be given custody of children after a divorce in their region and it only upped people’s opinions of him.

That’s a neat conceit for a story.  So it’s surpising when he says that it also began their “raccoon year” which means it was their year of dealing with raccoons. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-Sasquatch Festival, May 28, 2011 (2011).

I loved Hüsker Dü.  I loved Sugar (a tad less).  I loved Mould’s Workbook.  And then I kind of loss interest in the guy.  He recently wrote an autobiography, which I would consider reading, but musically, I assumed he was done.

So I wasn’t even that interested in listening to his set (shame on me).  This turns out to be a really cool set in which it’s just Bob and his electric guitar.  He plays a varied set of songs from throughout his career.  He plays some of his hits (“See a Little Light,” “Hoover Dam”) but mostly he plays interesting non-hits (“Chartered Trips” (!!), “I Apologize”).  (Is it possible that Grant Hart wrote all of Hüsker’s big hits?)

The most amazing thing about the set is Bob himself.  He sounds so cool and chilled out (even though I think he was like the very first opening act of the concert–which is a pretty shitty time slot).  He seems to be really happy playing (hearing him respond to a request with “I forgot how to play that one” is pretty darn funny.)  Of course, a little later when he says “What’s that?  I’m trying?” he almost sounds like Al Bundy.

But then, look at him, he’s an old man now.  And sure, he’s been playing music forever, so gosh, he’s got to be super old, right?  What?  He was born in 1960?  He’s nine years older than me?  Oh good grief.  So, wait the first Hüsker Dü album came out when he was 22?  He really crammed a lot of music into just a few years.  Not bad, Bob.

And yes, I’m fully invested in relistening to all the great music you’ve made now.  Thanks, Sasquatch.

[READ: July 13, 2011] “Incident in the Orient”

This very short story features a dead dog. I’m getting that out of the way since I know some people won’t read any further once they know that.

I rather liked the brevity of this story, how Theroux is able to cram a lot of information and a lot tension into just a couple of pages.  The story is also a strange little onion of a tale, with the narrator working for a man (Moses) who is a sort of mercenary construction boss.  The narrator gives a lot of insight into Moses, although he also admits that he doesn’t really know the man very well (how could anyone know him).

He has done work in various war-torn countries and has effectively built a crew out of a small group of devoted men, mingled with local help.  The most fascinating thing is that Moses is a short man with a lisp and yet he commands the respect of everyone who works for him.  He takes no shit, but he pays well and uses local materials (including tearing down materials from destroyed buildings if necessary).   (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: MASTODON-Blood Mountain (2006).

As I was in a metal/Black Sabbath kick, and Mastodon is always mentioned as a fantastic metal band, I figured I’d give them a try. As with The Sword, I saw no resemblance to Black Sabbath, and at first I was afraid it was just another sludgy death metal record.

[DIGRESSION]: I just read a great article in The Believer about the USBM (United States Black Metal) scene, and how it compares to the black metal in Norway and other European countries where the bands take the music seriously enough to burn churches and such. The article was really interesting. I knew some of the bands that he talked about, but the only ones I had heard were the “grandfathers” of the genre, like Venom and Bathory. Any of the new bands that he focused on, if I’d heard of them at all, I certainly hadn’t heard them. Regardless, it was a great read, and really got me hankering for a band like Mastodon, even though they’re not really in the genre at all.

Anyway, after two listens, I really got into the Mastodon album. I don’t know anything about their previous releases (except that they are heavy), but Blood Mountain is all over the map. It is a fascinating mix of thrash metal, hardcore, beautiful melodies, prog rock, and total chaos. In fact, the song “Bladecatcher,” is three and a half minutes of total insanity. I haven’t heard anything lie it since John Zorn’s Naked City. There’s a beautiful melody which progresses into a screaming guitar riff, which morphs into a headbanging thrash part which basically just unravels into a noisy spasm, wherein the high-pitched noises might be voices, or might by keyboards, or might just be the machine melting. (more…)

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ny917.jpgSOUNDTRACK: SWANS-Omniscience (1992).

swans.jpgWhen I was in college, I really liked the Swans. They were noisy as all get out, and were at the forefront of an industrial style that has since become mainstream. But at the time they were pretty scary.

I particularly liked Children of God, a great album split between noisy M. Gira songs and pretty, soft Jarboe songs. Shortly after this record they released a very soft record called The Burning World with a totally mellow cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

I had sort of stopped listening to them sometime after college, and then my friend Lar got into them and found out that I had a bunch of their older, then out-of-print, records, so we started sharing them. I got back into them and was able to fill out my collection of Swans works, all except Omniscience. He made me a copy of it and I liked it, and I just found a used one for myself.

Omniscience is a live record which came towards the end of their career. And the amazing thing is how beautiful the record is, for the most part. There are still some noisy, bass-heavy parts, but Swans had changed so drastically from the noisy band of yore that Omniscience is practically atmospheric in feel.  There are some interesting samples of dialogue that are simply weird and arbitrary, but they do set a mood for the show.  But compared to say, Public Castration is a Good Idea, it’s soothing.

[READ: October 15, 2007] “Mr. Bones.”

This is the second story by Theroux that I have read. (The first one was in the New Yorker a few months ago, and is being released in a new collection of his shortly). I’d heard the name of Theroux over and over, but wasn’t really familiar with his work. The other story was set in India, as I’m led to believe much of his stuff is. So, this one came as quite a surprise. (more…)

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