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Archive for the ‘Robert Coover’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-“Sleep” (Field Recordings, November 1, 2012).

I read this performer’s name as Alien Stone and was kind of excited.  Far more than when I realized his name was just Allen Stone.

This [Allen Stone: A Rollicking Moment, Performed On The Wind] is the final Field Recording set backstage at the Sasquatch Festival.

It amused me as the song started that they start singing “Danger Zone”  And the opening moment where:

“I feel like Zeus,” Allen Stone announces with a laugh as gusts of wind whip his long hair in dramatic fashion. With a mountainous vista behind him, he’s found himself in the kind of majestic rock ‘n’ roll moment that requires a callout to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”

I was thinking that Stone sounded a bit like Stevie Wonder as he sang (which the blurb agrees with), but I also sensed a bit of Jamiroquai.

I thought the song was kind of dull, but maybe that’s because it is normally much bigger.

Usually, Stone performs his bluesy soul with the aid of a crack band, but here, we got the 25-year-old belter to perform his single “Sleep” — usually a big, rollicking rave-up — with just a guitarist (Trevor Larkin, performing unplugged) to supplement Stone’s voice. Channeling Stevie Wonder in all but appearance, Stone demonstrates here that his sound can withstand just about anything, even as it’s stripped down to its skeleton and performed on the wind.

I’ve not heard of him since this, so I don’t know what happened to him, but I’m not really that curious to find out.

[READ: January 11, 2017] “The Hanging of the Schoolmarm”

This is a short, simple story in which the title pretty much tells the whole thing.

But Coover has some fun as it gets there.

The story opens with the schoolmarm playing poker in the town saloon.  At stake is the saloon itself.  The men are awed by her refined and lofty character–they cuss a lot, but never around her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: APANHADOR SÓ-“Prédio” (Field Recordings, May 13, 2015).

Apanhador Só  is from Brazil.  At the beginning of the video you see the guys in the band gathering…junk.   Childen’s toys boxes of refuse and homemade instruments.

The video starts and the singer explains that Prédio means building.  He says the song is about a different vision of life, a different perspective.  As it pans back we see that the only conventional instruments are a floor tom and a guitar.  And all kinds of weird other things.

In this video, shot during SXSW in Austin (2015), its members coax rhythms and beats from a trunkload of found items, including a children’s bicycle and other playthings. The resulting performance of “Prédio” is the stuff of hip-swaying joy.

The song starts with one of them tapping a bicycle bell.  Soon he starts keeping time by spinning the wheel and clacking the spokes.  Then he switches to a jug of some kind that changes the sound as he uncovers the opening.

There’s even a kazoo solo.

Near the end of the song, there’s wonderful breakdown where you can see then hitting and kicking everything at their feet-all kinds of junk that makes a cool cacophony.  The song is really catchy and lovely, although I admit I was more focused on what they were playing more than what they were playing.  (The items rather than the melody).

[READ: January 4, 2017] “Invasion of the Martians”

This was the funniest , most enjoyable thing I’ve ever read by Robert Coover.  Probably because it is so base and straightforward, it transcended some of his usual stylistic things.

A Senator from Texas is in bed with two women–the Secretary of the Interior (whom he calls the Secretary of the Posterior) and his intern–when he gets the news that Martians have landed in his home state.

He greets them warmly with Southern hospitality, but they don’t seem to speak any civilized languages.  They also don’t have any papers.  As the Senator was explaining this to them, they shot him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERORGANISM-Tiny Desk Concert #735 (April 25, 2018).

Superorganism came out of nowhere with the weird song “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” a weird hybrid of pretty much every genre.  Is was catchy and irritating at the same time.

I didn’t really think too much of them until I started hearing a but more about them.  And that their show at a small club in Philly sold out really quickly.  Then I learned more about the band and saw a live video performance and they seemed really interesting.

Are they a novelty band?  Sure.  But they are having a lot of fun, and that goes a long way with me.  Especially if the songs are catchy.

Why does it take 7 people to make simple, catchy pop songs?  I have no idea.  But they all seem to be important in their own way.

The multinational band of theatrically fun and talented musicians in Superorganism mix melody and mischievous with almost Seussian folly. In addition to the 20-plus inflatable whales they provided, the band requested via email that we provide “7 x Crunchy apples, 7 x cans of Coca Cola (or similar, as long as they are 330mls/12oz cans it doesn’t matter).” They added, “PLEASE NOTE THIS IS NOT A RIDER BUT PART OF THE PERFORMANCE.”

When the seven members of the band arrived and huddled behind my desk, they blew into straws, making percussive noises, used toy cars and radios for sound effects and added lots of handclaps. And in the midst of it all was Orono Noguchi, a small-framed, self-described “average 17-year old Japanese girl living in Maine.” (That’s from an email she wrote me last year). The band set up a couple of belt pack guitar amps for their Moog and electric guitar, along with a big Anvil road case to beat on for percussion – and then they sang about prawns.

The first song “The Prawn Song” really shows everything you need to know about the band (and whether they are for you or not).  Noguchi sits, sing/speaking deadpan lyrics.  The other six splash in buckets of water, blow bubbles in glasses, honk horns and clap a lot.  There’s also a lot of backing vocals.  And a guitar.  And the word?

“Oh, have you ever seen the prawn cause a world war?
Have you ever kissed a prawn; got a cold sore?
Have you ever seen a prawn kick off?
Have you ever seen a prawn in a pair of handcuffs, oh

You people make the same mistakes
Over and over, it’s really kinda dumb, oh
Slow learning is kinda your thing

You do you, I’ll do me / Chillin’ at the bottom of the sea and I say…

[Chorus]  I’m happy just being a prawn.

“Night Time” has a bit more “music” and fewer  effects (relatively), but still a lot of handclaps.  It’s catchy and quieter than their usual frenetic songs (being about nigh time).  But there’s still some fun quirk in it (especially the end).

Then they play “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” (and not their new single “Everybody Wants to Be Famous,” which surprised me).  There’s a Beck’s “Loser” aspect to the lyrics of this song.  Once again for a seven piece band, their music is surprisingly minimal.

And they do actually use the apples in this song.

There is much fun to be had with all the songs and I can’t decide if Noguchi’s deadpan makes things even more fun or if I just want to assure her that it’s all okay.

I bought tickets to an upcoming show of theirs because who even knows if they’ll be around in a year, so enjoy them while I can.

[READ: April 25, 2018] “Treatments”

I often feel like Robert Coover’s writing consists of him getting an idea, writing it down as it comes to him, editing it for spelling and then releasing it.

This is actually three short pieces here and each one is a “treatment” for a terrible/absurdist take on a clichéd movie.

“Dark Spirit” is a surrealist twist on the Beauty and the Beast Tale.  I love when Coover puts in a nugget that makes you go, woah!, like “The industry is obsessed with this hackneyed tale, once inflicted upon young virgins to prepare them for marriage to feeble old buzzards with money.”  Woah, that blew my mind.  It seems so obviously true, and yet I never heard it put that way before. (more…)

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jan 12SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-June 2010 Rehearsal EP (2010).

rehersalBack in 2010 Primus reunited (again).  And they released a free downloadable EP of their recent rehearsals.  It’s got 4 songs and the mix is interesting–Les in the left speaker and Ler in the right, so you can hear each individual part if you like.

Two of the older songs are some of my favorites: “Pudding Time” and “Harold of the Rocks.”

The other two songs are “American Life” which comes from Sailing the Seas of Cheese.  It’s a deep cut as opposed to the more obvious single, “Jerry was a Race Car Driver.”  This version is 3 minutes longer than the original, which means that Primus are still in jam band mode.  “Duchess and the Proverbial Mind Spread” is from The Brown Album.  It’s got a pretty good solo from Ler.

This EP features the drumming of Jay Lane who was in Primus before Tim Alexander.  This is the first official Primus release that he has been credited with.  And his drumming sounds really good.

Since tis is a rehearsal, some leeway can be given with the sound quality which is very crisp–perhaps too crisp.  But overall it’s great to hear these guys sounding so in tune with each other.

[READ: January 27, 2015] “The Crabapple Tree”

In my reading experience, Robert Coover likes to play around with fairy tales and turn them on their heads or, sometimes, inside-out–showing viscera and all.

To my knowledge, this one doesn’t mess around with an extant story, but it does have a very fairy tale quality to it.

I love that it happened “here in our town.”  Th narrator’s friend married a local farmer.  When the friend had her baby she died in childbirth.  The farmer buried her under the crabapple tree.  He proved to be a rough unpleasant guy: he drank too much and didn’t care much for the baby.  He soon found another wife who, maybe, was a hooker.   The kids in the area called her Vamp.

Vamp had a daughter from another marriage, Marleen.  She was kind to her stepbrother although their games were certainly unusual.  She’d put a collar on the boy and he’d walk around on all four with no clothes on–she taught him to pee by lifting his leg.  But she cared for him and when he got sick, she could make him well again, kind of magically. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_01_27_14DeSeve.inddSOUNDTRACK: RODNEY CROWELL-Tiny Desk Concert #365 (June 16, 2014).

rodneyI’ve never heard of Rodney Crowell, although he’s apparently been writing country songs for nigh on 40 years.  And he looks like a rugged old country music star.

But his songs don’t feel all that country.  His first song “Famous Last Words Of A Fool In Love” is a delicate ballad with a pretty guitar melody.  The second song “Jesus Tell My Mama” is more of a blues song (especially when his female backing vocalists kick in and help out).  The final song “God I’m Missing You” (which is not about God) he does solo.  It’s another sad, simple ballad.

Crowell’s voice doesn’t really sound country, although I can see how it would be considered such.  It’s just a powerful voice and I enjoyed hearing him.

All told these three songs barely stretch to ten minutes.  But it’s an interesting snapshot of how an older singer can move out of the genre that he is known for.

Incidentally, NPR is putting up these Tiny Desk concerts so frequently I’m never going to be able to catch up.  Slow down guys!

[READ: June 11, 2014] “The Frog Prince”

I’m surprised to see a second Robert Coover story in the span of just a few months in The New Yorker.  Perhaps because these are only one page, he gets to have a second one.  Like “The Waitress” (which appeared in May), this story plays around with a fairy tale.

I enjoyed this one more than probably any fairy-tale-related story that Coover has done.  Because in this one he really explores the harsh reality behind falling in love with a frog prince.  For indeed a woman does–she kisses a frog and he turns into a prince.  Naturally, she has to divorce her current husband, but she does so willingly to be with this magical prince.

But the harsh reality is that a prince that comes from a frog is going to be very frog-like: bulging eyes, a whip-like tongue and a kind of constant slurp.  However, he also has the secretions that get her very very high.  She enjoyed licking him when he was an amphibian, but when he turned, there was only one place left that had those secretions, his nether regions: “he wasn’t the cleanest of princes, but the trip was worth it.”  She looks forward to spending more and more of her time high. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_19_14Drooker.inddSOUNDTRACK: FANFARLO-Tiny Desk Concert #39 (December 16, 2009).

fanfarloThis is a Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concert, with a yule log in the TV and everything.  I’ve liked most of what I’ve heard from Fanfarlo.   I think of the band as synthy, but this version is acoustic guitar and mandolin (and three backing vocalists).  The male singer has a unique voice.  “Drowning Men” sounds great and they make quite a lot of noise for just the two instruments–when the xylophone solo kicks in, it quite a nice touch.

For song two (“Comets”) they bust out a harpist–she is not part of the band, but is a friend from New York.  She plays excellent accompaniment and the melodica is a nice touch as well.   Perhaps most interesting was hearing their biographies.  The band is based in London, and they have members from Sweden, Belgium, someone who lived in Abu Dabi, Scottish/Samoan, half Polish/half English and half English half Icelandic.  Cool.

For the final song it’s a cover of Low’s “Just Like Christmas.” It’s a simple stripped down version with guitar and melodica and it is quite beautiful.  And they don’t stop until everyone sings along.

[READ: May 27, 2014] “The Waitress”

In “The Waitress,” Coover takes a fairy tale premise and brings into the contemporary world.

This is a concept that Coover plays with a lot (with different degrees of success) and I found this one to be very good.  It is only a page long, which may have had something to do with why I liked it–it didn’t overstay its welcome.

It was also not terribly ambitious.  And, as with all stories like this I kind of have to wonder what’s the point.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_09_02_13Viva.inddSOUNDTRACK: TYPHOON-“Artificial Light” (2013).

typhoonartSince I mentioned “Artificial Light” the other day, I thought I’d link to it today.

The song opens with a pretty guitar melody punctuated by horns.  The singer’s vocal style is dramatic and often unexpected–especially the way he gets louder mid sentence and then drops to a whisper at other times (reminds me a bit of Wolf Parade or perhaps even Modest Mouse).

There are very pretty moments in the song (especially when the orchestration fills in).  But the horns also give it a kind of Spanish feel, which rides on top of the heavier guitars in the verses.

At about two and a half minutes, the song drops out completely.  It is picked up by some gentle guitar and horns as it builds back up.  By the end the chorus of voices builds the song to new heights and widths.

It’s interesting what you can do with so many band members in five and a half minutes.  This song really runs a breadth of ideas but remains quite pretty throughout.

[READ: September 12, 2013] “The Colonel’s Daughter”

The Kids in the Hall once made a sketch in which there was no beginning or ending, just a middle.

In the sketch, a man in a tutu slaps a man in a scuba diving suit saying.  “Stop it. stop it. I’ve got to stop you and your revolutionaries from taking over this country.”

This story is like the inverse of that sketch.  It has a beginning and an end but no middle.  Interestingly, since it is also about revolutionaries taking over a country, I now just insert that sketch into the story (I’m sure that makes Coover very happy.  I wonder if anyone else mentions this sketch in the review of this story).

I have mixed feeling about Coover’s work in general.  It often feels more style over substance.  And I fear that this one may have been playing with that somewhat. Interestingly as well, there is a lot of substance, but it is played in such as way as to make it almost seem meaningless—unless you are willing to really unpack it (which I wasn’t).

So, the Colonel is intent on overthrowing the President (the country is unnamed).  He has chosen the group of men sitting in the room with him.  Some of them know each other but not all do.  They look around and size each other up.  Indeed, 5/6 of the story is the men sizing each other up.  To me, the men are interchangeable.  I don’t know if that is lazy reading on my part or if it is indeed on purpose.

Each man gets a brief biography—the Deputy Minister, the Police Chief, the biplane pilot, the business man, the professor, the doctor and possibly someone else.

We learn a little about each man and why the Colonel would have chosen him.  We learn about his fears about the mission and who he mistrusts the most.  We also learn that one of the men is a double agent, working for the President.  Like a game of Clue, pieces of information are given that would let you know who the man is, but again, I didn’t feel like doing the work to figure it out.  I am curious to know if you can tell who it is from the story, but not curious enough to do the work (so I should not be rewarded). (more…)

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#16SOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-Beaster EP (1993).

beasterI didn’t know that Beaster, the Sugar EP was recorded at the same time as Copper Blue.  Mould’s biography was very helpful in explaining all the details of the timing and styling behind these two recording.  As well as how the super pop of Copper Blue could be followed right on the heels with the very very dark EP of Beaster.

I have often thought of this disc as being really dark and insular and Mould confirmed as much—he was really airing out some demons with this disc.  But they thought it would be better to put them all in one place rather having them bounce around the poppier full length.  What must fans (like myself) have thought to hear this dark album after the pop of Copper Blue.  I mean just look at the cover!

I hadn’t listened to this in a long time, so I was surprised by how cool “Come Around” sounds—Mould’s acoustic guitar high in the mix with some appropriately grungey guitars in the background.  There are lyrics but for the most part I think of it as just Mould making sounds with his mouth.

It’s followed by the blistering “Tilting.”  It’s got superfast drumming with aggressive guitars, it’s like we’re back to the early Hüsker Dü punk sound (with a little more clarity).  The drumming is great in this track.  The song ends with a preacher being interrupted by dissonance and what sounds like electronic interference. And this song morphs into “Judas Cradle” one of Mould’s darkest songs.  It’s very claustrophobic-feeling with echoed vocals, lots of feedback and lots of compression on the overall sound—quite different from the big open sound of Copper Blue.  And yet for all of that, the chorus, “Have you seen the Judas Cradle, ah”is really quite catchy.

“JC Auto” has some buzzsaw guitars which make it seem like it’s going to be quite an angry song and yet the bridge is quite welcoming (all this talk of holidays) and then the chorus is amazingly fun to sing along to (Mould always finds pop in anger): “Passing judgment on my life you never really got it right/I can’t believe in anything / I don’t believe in / Do you believe in anything / Do you believe me now…  Look like Jesus Christ / act like Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know Here’s Your Jesus Christ I’m Your Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know.”  And, as always, I love when Mould repeats his lyrics in the background (the “I Know I Know” surfaces throughout the end of the song).

“Feeling Better” has weird synth blasts that kind of works in the song but sounds out of place on this record.  This song flips between really aggressive guitars and a very bright poppy chorus.   At 6 minutes this song is a little long (because it’s primarily repeating itself by the end), whereas Judas Cradle and JC Autos’ 6 minutes are well justified.

The final song “Walking Away” is a strange one. It is comprised entirely of organs (church organ it sounds like) with Mould delicately singing “I’m walking away back to you”  The end starts to wobble giving a bit of a nauseous feeling but then it’s over.  So even in his most downtrodden and questioning, Mould still has the chops to write some great music.  Down be put off by the cover, Beaster is a great album.

[READ: March 28, 2013] McSweeney’s #16

After the fairly straightforward Issue 15, McSweeney’s was back to fun with Issue #16.  The issue opens up into a kind of quad gatefold which has , in order–a comb, a book, another book and a deck of cards.

The main book contains nine stories, by the typical McSweeney’s roster at the time.  The other booklet contains a lengthy story by Ann Beattie.  The deck of cards is for Robert Coover’s “Heart Suite” and the comb is a comb.  It’s a nice one, although it has never touched my hair.

The MAIN BOOKLET (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SKINNY BOYS-“Jockbox” (1986).

I didn’t realize that the theme song from Workaholics was from a real song.  I loved the “I’m fresh” bit in the show, but I thought it sounded like it might actually be from something.  Sure enough, the internet led me to this.  The Skinny Boys (evidently a response to The Fat Boys) from the hip hop mecca of Bridgeport, CT put out this beatbox song (with that cool sci-fi keybaord) as a shocase for their member: The Human Jock Box.

This is a pretty bizarre track.  And I’m not even sure what they’re talking about.  But I love the hiccups around the three minute mark.  Note also how by the end of the song, the keyboard plays the riff from Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” and then a little later “America the Beautiful” (with accompanying beatbox).  Wha??

The Workaholics bit is from 1:13 to 1:23.  You gotta be fresh!

[READ: July 25, 2011] “Matinée

I’m not going to say how I just don’t get Coover.  Every time I read one of his stories I think the same thing: it’s clever but, well, so wha?  I know that Coover is an experimental fiction writer, but I just feel that there’s no emotional resonance to his stories.  Perhaps I like experiemntal art and music but not fiction.

There were some really cool tricks with this story.  All of the (unnamed–don’t get attached to them) characters are watching movies or are in the movies.  And so, in a series of what, infinite regresses? chance encounters? something, new characters are introduced, they watch a film (possibly of the people who were watching them?) they may or may not have sex and then the “camera” shifts to a new couple. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARKTHRONE-“Kathaarian Life Code,” (1992), “Sacrificing to the God of Doubt” (2004), “Canadian Metal” (2007).

After watching Until the Light Takes Us, I wanted to check out some of Darkthrone’s music.  According to their Wikipedia page, over the years the band who pioneered black metal has morphed away from the sound.  They’ve added elements of punk and speed metal to their bludgeoning sound.  In the movie Fenriz says that he listens to all kinds of music and is very open-minded.

Kathaarian Life Code” is a ten minute dirge of black metal.  It opens the band’s second album (considered to be a black metal classic) with chanting and guttural spoken words.  Then it blasts forth with the jackhammer style of drums that is now standard in black metal.

It slows down from time to time, allowing for the really heavy parts to blast through the chaos of the fast parts.  It’s pretty intense and not for the faint of heart.  You can hear occasional guitars screaming through the din, but the production is intentionally murky, dark and noisy.  As they say in the movie, the bands intentionally recorded on the shittiest equipment they could find.

Sacrificing to the God of Doubt” is a later song, taken from what is considered their final album in the black metal style.  The band was turning away from the traditional black metal sound, and there are elements of punk (guitar riffs that are audible, and a sound that is less bass heavy) present.  And the production, while still mired by noise is relatively cleaner.

Canadian Metal” is from their third most recent album, after the shift from black metal was more or less official.  It sounds more like an early death metal song.  There’s low tuned notes, audible vocals (growled, but you can actually hear words) and a kind of headbanging aspect to it.  The album is called F.O.A.D. which was a song by Venom (and others, obviously), and this track reminds me of Venom somewhat.  I wouldn’t say that the band has sold out because there’s no way anyone is playing this on the radio, but it’s interesting to see how a band has managed to change things up and add new elements to its sound even though they were the forerunner and grandfather of a scene.

[READ: February and March 2011] A Child Again

This is a collection of short stories from Robert Coover.  There is a kind of theme throughout (most of) the stories about returning to childhood.  But the overall sense is one of despair, sadness, pointlessness and sex.  Lots and lots of sex.  And the sex is usually as vulgar and nasty as the tone of the book suggests it would be.  It’s a little off-putting, actually.

I was planning to say that I didn’t like this collection at all because I really didn’t enjoy the first half-dozen or so stories.  I continued because Coover has a great reputation that I didn’t want to give up after a few misfires.

The real disappointment came because the stories seem so promising: many of them are a kind of retelling of classic fairy tales that looks at “what happened afterward.”  However, and this was true for almost all of them, Coover tries to do two contradictory things with the stories.  He is playing with fairy tales but he is also writing stories that are completely unlike fairy tales.  By that I mean, Coover’s stories are long and very detailed, they bring far too much information to the story.  And a fairy tale is almost by definition short.  I mean, “Puff the Magic Dragon” is a song that’s about five paragraphs long.  But Coover’s “Sir John Paper Returns to Honah-Lee” is 26 pages long.  So instead of playing with the original, it feels like an original story that uses someone else’s characters.  It’s unsettling and unsatisfying.

It’s also not very funny.   And I’m not sure fit’s supposed to be.  But with a title like “Sir John Paper Returns to Honah-Lee” you expect the funny.  And there are funny moments.  I mean the whole premise is that little Jackie Paper has grown up into Sir John Paper.  He’s now an old Knight and he is sent to slay the dragon (Puff) who is plaguing the city.  Even though that is a tragic story, it is also inherently humorous.  And there are laughs when they reunite.  But it gets so bogged down in details, that the essence of the story seems to get lost.  Perhaps I’m just disappointed because it (they) turned out so unlike I wanted them to be. (more…)

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