Archive for the ‘Salvador Plascencia’ Category

salSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Morning Phase (2014).

morningThe release of Beck’s latest album is what got me investigating Beck’s back catalog–just to see how Beck arrived at this mellow chillout place.

I read a lot about this album when it came out and, even hearing Beck discuss it, I feared it would be a little too slow and mopey for my tastes.  It is slow, but it’s not really mopey.  It’s quite pretty, in fact.  And as I’ve come to learn by going through Beck’s back catalog, he likes to experiment in all sorts of ways, but at his core, he is just a really good songwriter.

So it opens with 40 seconds of strings that act as  nice introduction to the tone of the album, but don’t prepare you for the pretty acoustic song “Morning.”  Lyrically it’s pretty dark, although with his falsetto, it’s kind of hard to realize that.  The melody and vocal line are really lovely (especially the weird echo they put on his voice).  And it has a surprisingly big sounding chorus–redemption even in sadness.  “Heart is a Drum” has piano and an acoustic guitar with swelling strings–once again, the chorus is big and (relatively) fun.  “Say Goodbye” is a sad song, and yet it is still catchy (which is nice), with a simple acoustic guitar.   “Blue Moon” has a wonderfully catchy verse structure and it picks up the tempo somewhat with beautiful swells of music.  And the chorus is dynamite too–it is a worthy single.

“Unforgiven” slows things down even more, making one of the moodiest Beck songs.  And then comes “Wave,” perhaps Beck’s darkest and moodiest song–just waves of strings with no drums and Beck’s longing voice over the top.  “Don’t Let It Go” has some very nice singing from Beck.  His voice has always been good, but he sounds like his voice is maturing somewhat here.

“Blackbird Chain” is the prettiest melody on the record, and it feels especially light after the downcast last few songs.  It has a great chorus and really strong verse melodies. My only gripe is the very brief string accompaniment in the middle of the song which feels like overkill–the piano solo is nice, bit the strings are too much.  But they’re very brief and don’t ruin the song.  “Phase” is a 1 minute instrumental that leads into “Turn Away.”  “Turn” has Beck’s layered vocals and a wonderful easy guitar sound.  The whole song has a sixties acoustic vibe, an again, the melody is great.  “Country Down” has a, yes, country feel (including harmonica solo ala Neil Young), and Beck’s lower, more powerful voice.  It’s a strange turn on this album, but it keeps with the mellow vibe.  The disc ends with “Waking Light” a slow, building song with more great vocals and a wonderful chorus, that makes good use of loud and soft.  It’s a very strong ending to an album.

Unlike other Beck albums this one is definitely a “have to be in the mood” for it.  There’s no pop singles, no dancey hits.  It’s all very mellow.  But it’s very pretty.

[READ: April 2, 2014] The People of Paper

An excerpt from this book was published in McSweeney’s #12.   Here’s what I thought of the excerpt:

This is an excerpt from Plascencia’s novel of the same name, a novel that I own but have not read yet.  And wow is this crazy.  There is, indeed a person made of paper and there are people made of meat, and there are different narrators.  Federico de la Fe is a grown man who wets the bed–as the story begins he and his wife (who tolerates the wet spot) are going to the water’s edge to fill it with new straw.  His wife has gotten used to it (ew), but once their young daughter is potty trained and her husband isn’t, she gets quite cross.  It is only after his wife has died that he learns of a cure–sticking his hand in the fire.  See, crazy–and we haven’t even gotten to the lady of paper yet.  I’m assuming that actually reading the full novel will bring some clarity to this story.

I included this as an introduction because this story is very very unusual, even after reading the whole thing.

In addition to the story being unusual (and, as it turns out, completely metafictional), even the physical product is unusual.

The story is broken into several styles, which are distinguished at the front of each chapter by either three lines, three dots or one dot.  In the three lines chapters, each page is broken into 3 columns–each column is about a character.  In the three dots section, the chapter is formatted normally, but different characters are written about.  And in the one dot section, the small chapter is about one person (you can read more about this in the interviews below). (more…)

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12SOUNDTRACK: FRANK OCEAN-“Bad Religion” (2012).

frankoI didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the  Best Albums of 2012 lists.  He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them.  So it was time to check him out.

It  turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past.  But he’s also been on a lot of big name records.  Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover.  And I guess that’s progress.

So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot.  Which is a good thing.  I really like this song.    It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way).  And a really aching vocal line.  It’s really effective and it’s really simple.  And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated.  Crazy, I know.

Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get.  And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling.  It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard.  It’s just Frank  (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats.  A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and  I think I may have to get it as well.

[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12

At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year.  I didn’t.  Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason.  Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing.  Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire.  For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today.  My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter.  We’ll see.

So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas.  The cover:  It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo.  The colophon/editor’s note is also back.  Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it.  It’s very funny and a welcome return.

As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors.  They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known.  And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories.  And Roddy Doyle.

There are some other interesting things in this issue.  The pages come in four colors–each for a different section.  The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow].  There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin.  And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff.  They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.

LETTERS (more…)

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32SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Tindersticks [the red one] (1993).

tsTindersticks are a fascinating band.  The first distinctive thing about them is Stuart Staples’ voice: a deep rich bass that he uses almost like a whisper.  The second thing you notice is the music.  It’s an orchestral/chamber pop collection of dark rockers with fantastic moodiness to it.  And then you notice the lyrics: dark songs of lost (and decayed) love.

Yet despite the description of chamber pop, the nad is really much darker than chamber pop suggests.  The band has a very noir sound: organs that penetrate through walls of sound, tinkling pianos suring hushed moments.  The horns and strings add dark atmospherics (strings zing like a Hitchcock movie).  And the minor key chords are rich and loud.

You also get a song like “Whisky and Water” which genuinely rocks hard (loud guitars are featured).  Or a simple acoustic guitar driven song like “Blood.”  Throughout the disk you get these fantastic melodies that play off of Staples’ voice and the twisted lyrics.  “City Sickness” and “Patchwork” are just two of the tracks that are very catchy.

And then there’s the fantastic “Jism” with its awesome noir organ.  Or “Raindrops” with its accents of vibes and the beautiful piano trilling at the end (and the detailed and emotional lyrics: What we got here is a lazy love / It mooches around the house / Can’t wait to go out / What it needs, it just grabs / It never asks / We sit and watch the divide widen / We sit and listen to our hearts crumble”).  “Her” follows up with a wonderfully flamenco-infused spaghetti western number.

And lets not forget “Drunk Tank” a propulsive song that is as sinister as it is catchy.  Oh heck, I could just keep raving.  But there’s 22 songs!   Four songs are about a minute each, and the disc is about 75 minutes (not bad for a debut!).  And the disc never loses momentum or its sense of purpose.

What really distinguishes this disk is the mood of the music.  Like the best soundtracks, you can feel the emotions and imagery with the music alone, but when you add Staples’ evocative lyrics and powerful voice, it’s a deadly potent combination.

The disc was reissued a few years ago with a bonus disc of demo tracks.  The demos are surprisingly rich (they’re not at-home recordings or done without accompaniment) so they don’t differ that dramatically from the originals.  But they have a slightly less polished feel, which doesn’t hurt the band at all. There’s also a demo of the fantastic “For Those…” which doesn’t appear on the original disc.

I have to thank my friend Lar for getting me into this band. (Thanks Lar).

[READ: October 19, 2009] McSweeney’s #32

The concept for this issue is this: McSweeney’s asked several authors to “travel somewhere in the world–Budapest, Cape Town, Houston, any sleepy or sleepless outpost they could find–and send back a story set in that spot fifteen years from now, in the year 2024.”

And so, all of the stories are vaguely sci-fi-ish in that they are future related, but they are all grounded very heavily in reality, in particular, the reality of individuals trying to live in this future world. (more…)

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