Archive for the ‘Peter Stamm’ Category

fivedials_no28SOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-The Twelve Days of Christmas (2010).

phineasWhile The Bird and the Bee has become my new favorite serious version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, this Phineas and Ferb version is my new favorite silly version of the song.  Sure it’s especially funny for fans of the show but, as anyone who has seen the show knows, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is comedy gold and so his wishes for Christmas and his updates and concessions (and the fact that he is a traditionalist) absolutely make this worthy of repeat listens.

[READ: December 19, 2013] Five Dials Number 28

Five Dials #28 is vaguely thematic–about heroes.  Some items are literal (the writers-as-heroines drawing), some are speculative (my favorite conceit–the stories of quickly killed side characters in movies), and some are unrelated at all–the guy who helped out Will Self.  This issue was launched from Sydney, Australia.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Heroes and Convicts
Taylor talks about everything mentioned above and then talks about Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and his primer on modern art: The Shock of the New (which has an accompanying documentary series). (more…)

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fivedials_no26SOUNDTRACK: BOB DYLAN-Christmas in the Heart (2009).

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Christmas_in_the_HeartI have been a dabbler in Dylan over the years.  I like his hits, I like some of his albums, but I’ve never been a huge huge fan.  So the biggest surprise to me was that Bob Dylan now sounds like Tom Waits.  His voice is so crazily gravelly, it’s almost (almost) unrecognizable as Dylan.

That said, on some of the tracks it works very well–like he’s had too much to drink and is enjoying the revelry of these traditional songs.  I imagine him as a benevolent uncle trying to get the family to sing along.  And sing along they do.  He has a group of backing singers who sound like they are straight out of the forties and fifties (on some songs the women sing incredibly high especially compared to Dylan’s growl).  I’m not always sure it works, but when it does it’s quite something.

The first three songs are a lot of fun. However, when he gets to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it really sounds like he has hurt himself.  He seems to really strain on some of those notes–note the way he pronounces “herald” (heeerald).

The more secular songs fare better with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounding especially Waitsian and being all the better for it.  Although I feel that perhaps he made up some lyrics–“presents on the tree?”  It’s interesting that in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” he sings the first verse in Latin (I don’t know that I’ve heard any other pop singers do that) and it works quite well.

A less successful song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which the music just seems to be too slow for him.  His verses end early and it seems like the backing singers are just out in the middle of nowhere.  Perhaps the best song is “Must Be Santa.”  I love this arrangement (by Brave Combo) and Dylan has a ton of fun with it (and the video is weirdly wonderful too).

“Christmas Blues” is a bit of a downer (as the title might suggest).  I’d never heard this song before and Dylan is well suited to it.  Dylan’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is also very good–he croons gently and his voice sounds really good.  I was surprised to hear him do “Christmas Island,” a song I have come to love this year–his version is quite fun as well, with the backing singer doing Aloha-ays.

Finally, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is pitched a wee bit high for him (and the Waits voice is more scary than avuncular here).

So overall it’s a weird collection (to say nothing of the artwork–both the cover and the inside cover), but I think it’s well suited to the day after the festivities.

[READ: December 15, 2013] Five Dials #26

I was shocked to realize who many Five Dials issued I had put off reading (and that this one came out over a year ago!).  I knew 26 was a large issue, so I put it off.  And then put it off.  And then put it off, until Issue 29 came out.  (I read 29 before this one, which got me to jump back and tackle this large one).

I have to admit I did not enjoy this one as much as previous Five Dials.  The bulk of the issue was taken up with German short stories, and I don’t know if it was the choices of the editors, but (a few) of the stories just didn’t grab me at all.  Having said that, there were one or two that I thought were very good.  But with this being such a large issue, perhaps it deserved to be spaced out a little better–Weltanschauung fatigue, no doubt.

This issue starts with Letters from Our Glorious readers and other sources.
I feel like this is a new feature for Five Dials (although again, it has been a while).  There is applause for the Bears (From Issue #24) and the acknowledgement of Zsuzsi Gartner’s first adoptees of her story ideas (Issue #25 Pt 1).  There’s also the amusing story of a guy who got nailed at work for printing the color issue (something I used to do at my old job as well) and a refraining of answering spam.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Ewen and German
Taylor doesn’t say much in this intro, since the “heavy lifting” is done by Anna Kelly.  He does mention Paul Ewen (and his food writing) and the first Five Dials questionnaire (which I assume it is too late (and too far away) for me to submit for that free HH book).

She explains about wanting to know secrets, and how when she was little, learning Pig Latin was a such a huge boon to her secretive life.  Then her sister started studying German, and Anna herself was hooked.  She says that reading German works in German is like flying.  And she wants to share German language writers with us.  Of course, we won’t be reading them in German, so there will be no flying.  (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Keep Away the Dead [CST083] (2011).

I really enjoyed Siskiyou’s first album. This album updates the sound and makes it a bit bigger.  And yet somehow the album still sounds fragile.

The album is full of songs that are catchy, but not really easy on the ear.

The first song reminds me of Arcade Fire.  Something about the ringing guitar and crescendos.  But the recording feels more like a demo, much more intimate that Arcade Fire.  “Where Does That Leave Me” is an even more spare number, just vocals and guitar although it slowly builds.  “Twigs and Stones” is the first song that sounds like the bulk of the album—where Colin Huebert’s vocals really come to the fore.  His vocal style is loud and verging on the whiny (again, like Arcade Fire).  This song also has a lot of other instruments that percolate to the top—reminding me of older Mercury Rev.

“Revolution Blues” is the standout track for me, it’s incredibly catchy (and fun to try to sing in his eccentric voice).  The accordion and the minor key intensity is really powerful.  I guess it’s a shame that it was written by Neil Young, then (although the Siskiyou version is much better).  “Dear Old Friend” is a more country sound (which for me is shorthand for slide guitars), but it keeps the same style and feel as the other songs.  “Fiery Death” is the first song where percussion makes itself known very loudly.  It’s a cool introduction of loud thumping.  “Sing Me to Sleep” is a 2 minute lullaby and “Dead Right Now” is a 2 minute coda that ends the album nicely.

The disc is short (about 30 minutes) but a lot of emotion and craft is packed into it.  It’s really enjoyable.

[READ: May 24, 2012] “Sweet Dreams”

I’m always disconcerted when a story is in English but is set in another country.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  When it seems like it’s set in another country because the author is from that other country and he or she is writing about that other country without specifying it (usually because it is translated).  It’s very Amerocentric, but perhaps everyone thinks a story is set in their town unless told otherwise.  So I didn’t realize that this story was originally written in German (it was translated by Michael Hoffman), but it felt like it was taking place in Europe.  I actually guessed France, until later on it was revealed to be Switzerland.

There’s something cool about stories that are written elsewhere, especially if you don’t know the place well, it allows for almost anything to happen.  A couple riding a bus in Europe doesn’t mean the same thing as a couple riding a bus in, say Tallahassee.  But having set up that distinction, this story is about love.  And love is universal.

The story is written from the point of view of Lara, a shy bank worker.  She has been dating Simon for several months and they have recently moved in together.  They should be in the first bloom of love—on their own for the first  time (they never felt comfortable fooling around at their parents’ houses)—but her shyness in particular won’t loosen.  She doesn’t like him to see her naked, and they are very reserved in their love-making.  And from the start Stamm places a dark tone over the story.  The get a place in the town that he likes but it’s pretty run down.  He hadn’t brought much to the apartment, and he seems critical of some of her purchases.  He even comments that “forever is a long time” when she says that the towels she bought will last forever.  And then on the bus, a man, dressed in a long black coat stares at Lara over and over.  It may be innocent, but it’s still disconcerting.

When they get home, she takes a bath (she won’t let him in the bathroom) and asks him to go to the restaurant downstairs to buy a bottle of wine.  She finishes the bath and he’s not back yet, so she reads the paper.  Which is full of more grim news.  When she reads about a dead body found in the lake nearby and since we know she doesn’t feel comfortable about the restaurant downstairs, we know something bad has happened. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POKEY LaFARGE-Tiny Desk Concert #122 (April 20, 2011).

I had never heard of Pokey LaFarge before this Tiny Desk concert was sitting in my download folder.  In fact, the notes on the page say that they had never heard of him before they saw him wandering around SXSW.  And then he climbed onstage and played a great set.

LaFarge plays an old-timey style of music.  It’s a kind of Squirrel Nut Zippers retro sound.  As with the Zippers, I love their music in small doses.  And so, this Tiny Desk set is a perfect little sample of LaFarge’s music: happy, bouncy, jazzy.  There’s an upright bass solo, songs about being happy and singing “La La La” and other upbeat stuff.  It’s quite satisfying.

Especially if, as the notes say, you use it as a kind of antidote to the raucous music that you generally listen to.  A Pokey LaFarge song will perk you out of any self-inflicted gloom.  I just don’t need to hear more than three.

[READ: April 15, 2011] 2 book reviews

It looks like Zadie Smith has become a regular fixture at Harper’s.  I’m undecided if I’m going to review all of her book reviews from now on (perhaps I’ll lump some together in one post).  But in the meantime, I’m mentioning this one primarily because she reviews the story that I mentioned in yesterday’s post: Edouard Levé’s Suicide. (more…)

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