Archive for the ‘Sam Lipsyte’ Category

 SOUNDTRACKTHE GO-BETWEENS-“Streets of Your Town” (1988).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

The Go-Betweens were the brainchild of wonderful songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan.  They wrote beautiful poppy, catchy songs, often with dark lyrics.

“Streets of Your Town” starts out with a boppy beat and a catchy guitar riff.  It opens with the chorus–“round and round, up and down, through the streets of your town.”  Then the tone shifts.

The verse is still musically perky but then you get this lyric

,And don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives

Right back into the bouncy chorus. This was a pretty big single for them and yet those lyrics.  A perfect study for a budding sonmgrwiter.

[READ: February 3, 2021] “Waiting for To-Go”

This is a short Shouts and Murmurs piece from Sam Lipsyte.  I have really enjoyed his stories but realized I haven’t seen anything from him in a while.  This, like many Shouts and Murmurs, seems pretty funny but in reflection, is only mildly amusing.

The title is part of the joke in this piece.

Two people named E and V (see Beckett) are sitting in a room gazing at their phones

In the first scene one of them says he heard a podcast about the Neolithic or something.  The other asks if that was the Stone Age, but he says no, they had copper, like copper axes.

The second person says copper sounds nice, but he is referring to the copper pan that he just bought,

In scene two, later tin the night, one of them, looking at his phone, says “My God. That’s amazing.”

What is it?


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SOUNDTRACK: OF MONSTERS AND MEN-“Mountain Sound” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2012).

When this song first came out I was instantly smitten by it.  The combination of male and female vocals, the big chorus and interesting instrumentation were just terrific.  And the song is catchy as anything.

And then the rest of the world thought the same and this song became inescapable.

Around the same time I heard Of Monsters and Men, I also heard The Head and the Heart who had a similar aesthetic.  And I still have a hard time telling them apart (even if OMAM is from Iceland and THATH is from Seattle).

This Field Recording [Of Monsters And Men Brings Out The Sun] was filmed on the first day of the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

We managed to get backstage of the Gorge Amphitheater to capture a live session with one of the hottest new bands to hit the festival circuit, Of Monsters and Men. No strangers to natural beauty, the Icelanders were nevertheless stunned by the picturesque backdrop of the Gorge as they performed “Mountain Sound,” one of the new songs added to the American release of their debut album.

“We sleep until the sun goes down,” they sang repeatedly while the sun instead broke through the clouds as if called out by the song’s radiant optimism. The band will continue to thrill fans in larger and larger venues, but it’s private moments like this when Of Monsters and Men best displays its natural charm.

This is a wonderfully low-key take on the song with just a couple of guitars, and accordion and a trumpet (and a big plastic drum as the percussion).

I’ve heard this song so many times that it’s nice to hear it in such an unadorned fashion.  To actually hear the two lead vocals–how unusual they sound.  And to see how much fun the band is having playing at the Sasquatch Festival (yes, in Seattle).

[READ: November 12, 2018] “Show Recent Some Love”

I love Sam Lipsyte’s stories.  I love the tone and breeziness he showcases, even in stories with serious undertones.

This story ( I assume it is an excerpt) is unofficially set during the #metoo movement.  Mike Maltby was recently fired from his own company: “Only an ogre could defend Mike Maltby.”  Isaac, the protagonist, was not an ogre–maybe a jerk–said Nina his life partner.

But Isaac agreed that Mike’s ouster was for the best–Mike had done all kinds of heinous things in executives suites, “because it wasn’t about sex.  It was about power.  And sex.  And probably a few other things.”

But Isaac felt a twinge of remorse because Maltby had hired him and “had also been, weirdly enough for a brief time, his stepfather.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Loose Canon: Live in Europe 2016-2017 (2018).

I loved The Divine Comedy at the turn of the century (the fin de siècle, if you will).  They were one of my favorite bands.

Since then Neil Hannon (the man behind the band) has released a few albums which I have liked–but none as much as those early records.

This recording is primarily his latter songs, and as such isn’t as exciting to me.  (Although setlists from the tour shows that he played a lot of older songs as well, so this disc is mostly a latter period recording).

The first three songs are from the newest album Foreverland: “How Can You Leave Me On My Own,” “Napoleon Complex” and “Catherine the Great.”  And among the next few songs are “To the Rescue” and “Funny Peculiar.”   So that’s five in all from that album.

The previous album Bang Goes the Knighthood accounts for five more songs “The Complete Banker,” “Bang Goes The Knighthood,” “At The Indie Disco,” “Assume The Perpendicular” and “I Like.”

So that’s ten of seventeen from the two latest albums.

After listening to it a few times I have come to appreciate his newer music even more and to see that it is equally as cleverly crafted.  He’s just a different person now with different lyrical and musical ideas.  I will certainly give a re-listen to the last decade;s worth of music.

“How Can” is fun a bouncy, “Napoleon” is snarky and witty.  “Funny Peculiar” is a duet with  guest vocals from Lisa O’Neill.  She has a fascinating singing style which is kind of peculiar in its own way.

“The Complete Banker” is wonderfully sarcastic and catchy and “I Like” is so simple and delightful.  “Assume the Perpendicular” is an other fun uptempo song, but of this batch its “Indie Disco” that is the real highlight (this includes an excerpt from New Order’s Blue Monday”).

It also sounds like this was a fun souvenir for anyone who saw the tour (he dressed up as Napoleon and others, and apparently “Indie Disco” was really fun live).  I have always wanted to see them and hold them high on my list of bands to see.  But he hasn’t been to the States in almost ten years, so I don’t have high hopes to experience them live.

The band for The Divine Comedy’s live shows has changed over the years, sometimes large and orchestral or, like this tour, a simpler five-piece.  They sound good although they do underplay the orchestral quality of the music.

Going back there’s one from Victory for the Comic Muse “A Lady Of A Certain Age” and one from Absent Friends “Our Mutual Friend.”  These two songs are lovely and quite poignant, especially “Lady.”  They are a far cry from the raucous songs of old.

The first older song is from 2001’s Regenertaion with a wild and fun rendition of “Bad Ambassador.”  His voice doesn;t sound great on this song.  I’m not sure if he ever sounded great live, but he certainly underplays some of the bigger moments in the song.

The crowd really gets pumping for Fin de Siècle‘s “Generation Sex” and “National Express.”  These two songs are a lot of fun and I imagine mus t be really rousing live.  Once again he doesn’t sound great. Not that he has lost his voice but almost like he;s not trying all that hard.

The disc is collected from shows all over Europe, so its interesting if they picked songs where he doesn’t sound that great.

It’s not until the encores that he brings out two really old songs 1994’s “A Drinking Song” and “Tonight We Fly.”

I’m sure they picked this particular version of “A Drinking Song” because he admits to being quite drunk himself.  And there’s a funny moment where he gets a hair caught in his throat.  “Is it yours?”  Indeed, his banter with the audience is a highlight.  He is clearly a good showman, and perhaps that makes up for some of the shortcomings of the disc.  This song is a good example.  His voice is much louder than the instruments and, frankly, he doesn’t sound that great as what is mostly a capella–but the overall presentation is fun.

The ending “Tonight We Fly” is a treat as well.  Again, he doesn’t sound perfect, but he sounds like he’s having fun.

I feel like this makes me want to see them a little less–except that it sounds like the performance is great even if his voice isn’t anymore.  Regardless, is he ever comes back to the States, I’ll be there for sure.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The People Who Kept Everything”

I read this novel 7 years ago.  But since I’ve been going back through old Harper’s and found this excerpt I thought it would be worth reading (the excerpt) again.  And I really enjoyed it, I had forgotten about this scene until the end of the piece.

The narrator says that on the night before he left for college his father gave him a Spanish dueling knife and told him to keep it and never lose it.

When the narrator asks his father where he got it he says he’d better not say–he could tell him he won it in a card game in El Paso or a cathouse in Brownsville.

He kept the knife in a drawer and it moved with him to every location her went–dorm rooms, apartments.  Often it was in the kitchen with the cutlery, ignored by everyone except the new girlfriend who wanted to cook something. (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Heavy Rocks (2011).

Heavy Rocks, also known as Heavy Rocks 2011, was released at the same time as Attention Please and New Album.   The album has the same name and cover style and font as their 2002 album Heavy Rocks, although this one is purple and the 2002 release was orange.

Heavy Rocks shares the tracks “Jackson Head” and “Tu, La La” with New Album.
Heavy Rocks
shares the tracks “Aileron” with Attention Please, although it is radically different.
New Album shares the songs “Hope,” “Party Boy” and “Spoon” with Attention Please. 

The vinyl edition features extended versions of “Missing Pieces” and “Czechoslovakia.”

Unlike the other two albums, this one is largely heavier, exploring their more metal urges.

“Riot Sugar” (“甘い暴動”, lit. “Sweet Riot”) 3:56  has a raw sound with a soaring solo and a chugging, heavy tone.  It abruptly ends mid guitar solo and segues into “Leak-Truth,yesnoyesnoyes-” (“Leak-本当の反対の反対の反対の反対-“, “Leak (The Opposite of the Opposite of the Opposite of a Real Opposition)”) 4:11  which opens with a quiet unprocessed guitar and then the song starts rocking out–a kind of grungy alt-rock sound.  The vocals are whispered with a kind of throbbing bass line throughout.

“Galaxians” 4:09 opens with pummeling drums and all kinds of (80s) arcade sounds–including a bomb dropping and Atsuo screaming and shouting.  It is heavy and raw and pure punk.

“Jackson Head” (“ジャクソンヘッド”) 3:00 The version of this song is less synthy than that on New Album.  It’s got those punky distorted vocals right up font a shouted chorus of Jackson Head repeated over and over.

“Missing Pieces” (14:27 on vinyl release) 12:22  starts slowly with a pretty guitar melody and muted vocals.  After 6 minutes the song rocks but doesn’t get too noisy.  But after two more minutes it turns into complete and utter noise for another 2 minutes.  Then it all drops away and goes back to the quiet intro guitars.  The last two minutes just rock out.

“Key” (“扉”, lit. “A Door”) 1:46 This is a quiet brief instrumental with twinkly keys and a soaring solo.  It segues into “Window Shopping” 3:57 which opens with a woman speaking Japanese and then some heavy riffage.  There’s a shoegaze echo on the whole thing, especially the doo doo/ doo doo chorus.

“Tu, la la” 4:21 Such a great riff they had to play it twice.  This is a heavier and more guitar based version than on New Album.  It’s my favorite Boris song.

“Aileron” (“エルロン”) 12:45  The version on Attention Please is 2 minutes of acoustic guitar.  This one is nearly 13 minutes, and it begins with a slow echoing guitar notes but it soon gets heavy.  It’s a long, slow, heavy piece with drones and echoed vocal for nearly the whole song, although after 12 minutes there is a delicate piano coda.

“Czechoslovakia” (“チェコスロバキア”, 5:46 on vinyl release) 1:35 Not sure what happens in the vinyl version, but this short rocker has loud guitars and thunderous drums.  Just as it’s about to take off it fades after 90 seconds and ends the album.  Always leave them wanting more.

[READ: February 8, 2016] “Package Tour”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.  The subject this time was “Time Travel.”

For the final time travel essay Sam Lipsyte balks at a couple’s genuine desire to use a time machine to go back to Brooklyn a few decades to buy a cheaper brownstone.  People in Brooklyn apparently constantly bemoan who cheap places were in their youth, but this one, well:

I pictured the couple hunched in some rattling claptrap wormhole-traverser–because all time machines are built with scrap iron and held fast with duct tape and cut-rate rivets, even those designed for hunting down investment lofts.  Their lips would be peeled back by G-Forces as their ship shredded along the seam of the space-time continuum until they landed in Cobble Hill, 1974.  There they’d hop out, buy a building, and head back. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist

organistThe final 10 episodes of The Organist’s second season were of the same caliber of podcast.  I was surprised to see that it ended in March.  And, in a recent Kickstarter from McSweeney’s, the talk about getting funding to make more episodes.  I’d be bummed if they ran out of money to make more of these. Even if I have griped about the repeating, the quality of each episode is really quite good.

Episode 40: Cosmo’s Factory (December 30, 2014)
I was fascinated by this piece because I found the drumming in the song to be nothing special.  I never would have noticed all of the nuances that he fixated on.  And the song really isn’t that interesting.  Drummer Neal Morgan, who has supported Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Robin Pecknold, and others, sat down with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug Clifford to dive into ecstatic detail on the arrangement of “Long as I Can See The Light.”

Episode 41: A Funeral for Everyone I Knew (January 6, 2015)
This week they finally get around to the Greta Gerwig piece they mentioned in Episode 38.  It is Funeral for Everyone I Knew, a new radio play by novelist Jesse Ball.  Starring Greta Gerwig and Whip Hubley, the play follows the dark machinations of a dying man, and his elaborate plans for his own funeral.  Frankly it wasn’t really worth the wait, and Gerwig isn’t in it enough. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_05_14Berberian.inddSOUNDTRACK: AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #40 (December 21, 2009).

chmaberThis was a very nice classical Tiny Desk Concert.  The Orchestra plays three songs.  The first two are a Ravel String Quartet, and a Kaddish based on Ravel written by one of the members of the Orchestra.

Then comes a surprise.  Composer Joseph Tawadros accompanies them on the Egyptian oud and his brother James plays percussion on Tawadros’ song “Oasis.”  I love the addition of the oud to the orchestra–it brings a wonderfully alien sound to the piece.  You can see the whole show here.

This was the final Tiny Desk Concert of 2009.

[READ: May 29, 2014] “The Naturals”

I have enjoyed just about everything that Sam Lipsyte has written and this story was no exception.  As with many of Lipsyte’s stories, the main character has an unusual name: Caperton.  Caperton works as a consultant for a marketing firm.  He is trying to secure a job for a lakefront property.  The man in charge of the meeting keeps calling the kiosk that they are going to install a “koisk” (this alone made me love the story).

Caperton has recently broken up with his girlfriend because he confirmed to her that he did not want to have children.  He’s a little bummed but not heartbroken.

But the main action of the story is that Caperton’s father is dying and his stepmother has called him to come home.  Evidently Caperton’s father has been on the verge of death many times so Caperton’s not entirely sad about the situation.  But he goes nonetheless.  And we learn that Stell, his stepmother is nice enough but has always had one rule–stay out of her refrigerator.  She is happy to fix anything for anyone as long as they keep out of the fridge.  (This also made me love the story).


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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC and REGGIE WATTS-Reggie makes Music on IFC (2012).

“Weird Al” is going to be on Comedy Bang Bang this week.  And to tie in with his appearance, Al (and Tenacious D, who are in the video but don’t really do anything) performed a song with Reggie.  Specifically, Reggie does some beatboxing while Al wails on the accordion.

There’s nothing funny about it (well, actually there is, although there are no words), but Al shows how an accordion should be played!

If you like your polka fast and furious, check it out.

[READ: August 6, 2012] “Get a Head of Steam for Your Self-Esteem”

I’ve enjoyed Sam Lipsyte’s humor quite a lot.  This is a very short jokey piece in This Land.  This is the second piece I’ve read in This Land, not bad for a publication I’d never heard of before the first one.

So this is a “letter of affirmation.”  As Lipsyte’s introduction explains:

Write a note of affirmation with a good fountain pen and thick creamy paper and put it in your purse, wallet or lunch, or else simply text the message. The example below is one I use for myself, but you may use it as a model, substituting details as needed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (1987).

This record was created by Trey Anastasio as his senior project at Goddard College.  The thesis included an essay piece and this collection of songs (recorded by Phish) relating this epic tale from the band’s fictional land of Gamehendge.  It was never officially released, but since Phish is so free with the tape trading, it is pretty widely available online (heck, even Wikipedia has a link to the Lossless SHN download of the album).

This release is legendary in the band’s history because they have played all of the songs from this album many times in their live shows (some much more than others, of course).  And while they have more or less played the Gamehendge saga a few times in concert, I’d always wondered what the original story was all about (many songs have since been added to the saga as it grew larger).

So here in all its tape-hissy glory is the original.  My first thought is that I guess it was hard to get good sound recording equipment in 1987 (or else this is a multi-generational copy—the “white cassette” from a year earlier sounds better).  And there seems to be a few flubs in the narration (which could be from copying).  I actually surprised he didn’t use a more authoritarian voice for the narration.

For fans, this is fun to hear because of that narration.  Live, the narration varies all the time, not always explaining what is going on the same way (some live narrations are far better and much more interesting).  But here you get it straight from the source.  The narration is accompanied by rather pretty instrumental music (which varies depending on who he is speaking about).  But for those of us who know all of these songs, the biggest surprise is finding out that “AC/DC Bag,” “The Sloth,” and “Possum” were part of the story (or maybe the biggest surprise is learning from the narration what the hell an AC/DC bag is (a robotic, mechanized hangman, of course).

The story is pretty interesting (Wilson and the Helping Friendly Book and all that), although by the end it loses itself a bit.  And I’m not really sure that “The Sloth” and “Possum” fit into the story at all.   But hey, he was a college senior when he wrote it, one can forgive a little sophomoric nonsense, right?

[READ: June 11, 2012] “The Republic of Empathy”

This is the first fiction I’ve read of the sci-fi issue.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be sci-fi, because it’s not really, at least not in terms of genre (I’d say sci-fi fans would object to the designation of sci-fi for this).  But it is futuristic and neat.  I especially enjoyed the humor and the construction of the story—Lipsyte is usually good for both of these.

It begins with William.  Williams is married to Peg.  Peg wants to have a second child as a gift for their first child (who has just grown out of the new baby smell).  William thinks this is crazy, but Peg says it’s a dealbreaker.  The next day William, who works for a flip-flop company, smokes a joint with an ex-cop friend, Gregory on the roof of their building.  On the roof across from them, they see two men fighting. And then one falls of the roof—splat.

Gregory says he’s seen this before but that William will be traumatized.  And he is in his dreams, but he’s even more traumatized when he dreams that his wife is pregnant and they already have two kids.  Oh, and that the neighbors, the Lockhorns, masturbate each other in the living room with the windows open.

Section two is from Danny’s point of view.  Danny is Gregory’s son.  Every few weeks Gregory is dating a new, younger lady.  This one is only a few years older than Danny.  It’s gross (and Danny feels like a bad YA narrator as he relates the story).  This is all before (I assume) Gregory comes out of the closet.  Because William knows that he’s gay in the above scene. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRINDERMAN-Grinderman 2 (2010).

The first Grinderman album was a sleazy delight.  And this Grinderman is much of the same sleazy heavy rock, although it’s slightly different.  It opens with “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” which lets you know that Grinderman are still dirty and sleazy.  The song just rocks.  Screaming blistering rock.

Now, fans of old Nick Cave and The Birthday Party know that Nick is no stranger to noise and dissonance.  Some of these songs harken back to those days–the music (on”Worm Tamer” is crazy–feedback squalls and trippy organ) and yet they never veer into chaos.  They are tightly controlled but with wonderfully loose edges.   It also features the wonderful lyrics: “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster–two big humps and then I’m gone”).  “Heathen Child” is a loud, raucous, blasphemous treat, one of the best on the disc.

“When My Baby Comes” slows things down a bit and actually veers terribly close to Bad Seeds territory (which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but Grinderman is supposed to be an escape from that, right?).  The song loudens up, though and a really cool slippery bass propels it for the rest of its 7 minute length.  “What I Know” is like a slow prose poem, but it is followed up by the blast that is “Evil!” a wonderfully brash 3-minute blast of noise rock.  The chanting backing vocals are wonderfully evil.  “Kitchenette” ups the sleaze factor nicely.

“Palaces of Montezuma” is another mellow song–also very Bad Seeds like.  It seems like it would be long (like it would keep building), but it’s only 3:30.   “Bellringer Blues” ends the disc with some cool backwards guitar and more chanted vocals (definitely the signature sound of Grinderman).  It ends this awesome disc on a very high note.

[READ: November 18, 2011] “The Climber Room”

I really enjoyed Lipsyte’s The Ask, so I ‘m delighted to see him with a new short story.   This one concerns a young (but no longer that young) woman named Tovah.  She has taken a job at a daycare center called Sweet Apple.  As the story opens, Tovah meets the other main character of the story, a man whose name she (hilariously) mishears as Randy Goat.  It turns out that Randy Gauthier is a rich man whose children have all gone to Sweet Apple and his new girl Dezzy is now enrolling.

Tovah isn’t trained for this job–she’s just there part time–and either despite or because of this, Dezzy takes to her immediately.  On a day that Tovah is not there and Dezzy fell off the Climbing Room (a jungle gym) she cried and cried for Tovah.   Mr Gauthier spies Tovah the next day and informs her that he has switched her schedule so that she will only be there when Dezzy is there.  Tovah is (understandably) freaked and a little pissed.  But when he tells her to Google him, she learns why he can have such sway over things.  (more…)

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