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Archive for the ‘Zev Borow’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRAHAM COXON-The End Of The F***ing World (Original Songs and Score) (2018).

When I saw Graham Coxon live, he played a bunch of songs from this soundtrack.

I assumed that the soundtrack would be one song and a bunch of moody instrumentals, so I never really looked into it. But recently I read that it was really good.

And it is.

There’s 16 songs on the record.  Most are full songs and the few instrumental pieces are just as interesting.

“Walking All Day” is the catchy song that he played live that did interest me in the soundtrack.  It’s a bouncy folk song with a buzzy acoustic guitar solo.  He sings in a quiet whispery voice which sounds different from his usual singing voice.  The lyrics are sweet, if not odd:

Walking all day with my mouth on fire
trying to get talking to you.

“Angry Me” has a punky strum on acoustic guitar.  It sounds like a bratty Blur song from the album that “Song 2” came from.  [He played this].

“Flashback” is 16 seconds of heavy metal noise with saxophones and pummeling drums.  It’s very disconcerting between these two songs, and I feel like it should come later for better sequencing.  But it is only 16 seconds.

“In My Room” is a quiet acoustic song.  It starts with just the guitar.  Then the bass and drums come in as Coxon slowly sings about those outside of his room:

Outside the window they’re singing
Inside the doorway there’s me
Endlessly thinking and working

“Bus Stop” is five minutes long.  There’s a two-minute super catchy instrumental section which is followed by a bouncy verse with rather shoegaze feel.

Then there’s a few really short songs all around two minutes.  “The Beach” starts with a rumbling slide guitar solo and adds picked guitar notes.  It’s got a very Western feeling.  “Saturday Night” is a quiet mournful ballad of acoustic guitar and piano.  He played this live (without the piano).

“On the Prowl” is a garage rock song with a very fifties feel.

“It’s All Blue” is another delicate folk song that Graham played live.  It features his more innocent vocal lines.

“The Snare” is a heavily reverbed noir kind of song with that familiar detective bass line and echoing guitar (very David Lynch).  The last minute or so totally rocks out with a distortion filled solo.

“Lucifer’s Behind Me” is a fast song with bongos and more vibrato guitar lines.  It’s kind of upbeat despite the feeling of pursuit in the lyrics.

“Field” is a lovely instrumental.  A 90 second acoustic guitar piece that is rather relaxing.  A nice contrast to “She Left the Light On– a stark and sinister acoustic song with a lead whistle!  The middle is catchy.  He played this one live.

“Roaming Star” is a 2 minute gentle acoustic piece with soft vocals  About half way through there’s some very old-fashioned sounding horns.  He played this one.

“Sleuth” is a two minute instrumental.  It has a chugging electric guitar with some looping guitar solo work over the top.

“There’s Something in the Way that You Cry” is a slow mournful ballad that he played live.  It’s a pretty sad ending to a soundtrack album that holds together really well and isn’t only instrumental pieces.

I now wish I had heard them before the show so I could have really appreciated them live.

[UPDATE: I watched the show in May 2020 and the soundtrack works really well.  The show is very very dark, as you might guess from the title].

[READ: June 20, 2019] “Superstring Theory for Dummies”

Zev Borow is associated with Dave Eggers.  He worked on their magazine Might and also on McSweeney’s ( I don’t think they work together anymore, but they might).  Since then, has written for just about every publication out there.  He also wrote episodes of and became a prominent story editor in the show Chuck.

This is the first piece of his I’ve read in the New Yorker and, as with so many Shouts & Murmurs, it’s mildly funny.

The bit starts with a quote from the Times in which the author tried to describe superstring theory which looks beyond the three dimensions of space.  Imagine that you are in the book Flatland.  You can move forward and back, left and right but not up or down.

So Borow expands on that.

(more…)

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createdSOUNDTRACK: ONE RING ZERO-As Smart as We Are (2004).

orzI had this CD sitting around my house for about 4 years.  I had received it as a promo disc from Soft Skull Press (along with several other books on CD) and I just never put it on.  Then one day I was going through all these promos to see if any were books I wanted to listen to.  It was then that I actually read the disc label and saw that it was a band with lyrics written by some of my favorite authors.

I liked the disc so much I wound up buying it because the packaging is truly cool.  It’s a little booklet and it features an interview with the band and some really cool insights into how the songs came about, how they got the writers to submit lyrics, and the cool fact that One Ring Zero became McSweeney’s house band, accompanying writers during their weekly readings.

One Ring Zero is comprised of two guys (and guests).  And for this disc they split the tracks in half and one of them wrote melodies for 8 songs and the other guy wrote melodies for the other 8.  I’m not sure that I could tell the song writers apart by their styles, though.

But sure, the lyrics are probably great, but what does the band sound like?  Well, in the introduction, they are described as specializing “in the sort of 19th century, gypsy-klezmer, circus-flea-cartoon music you mainly hear in your dreams.” And, yep, that is a good summary of things.  The band uses water pipes, claviola, slide whistle and a theremin (among other homemade instruments).

And so, as with other McSweeney’s things, I’m going to list all of the lyricists with their titles.  But lyrically it’s an interesting concoction.  The authors were asked to write lyrics, but not necessarily songs.  So some pieces don’t have choruses.  Some pieces are just silly, and some pieces work quite nicely.  But most of them are really poems (and I can’t really review poems).  They’re fun to read, and it is fun to see what these authors made of this assignment.

PAUL AUSTER-“Natty Man Blues”
A rollicking opening that lopes around with the nonsensical lyrics, “There ain’t no sin in Cincinnati.” This one feels like a twisted Western.

DANIEL HANDLER-“Radio”
A supremely catchy (and rather vulgar) song that gets stuck in my head for days.  “Fucking good, fucking good, fucking good…”

DARIN STRAUSS-“We Both Have a Feeling That You Still Want Me”
A Dark and somewhat disturbing song that is also quite fun.

RICK MOODY-“Kiss Me, You Brat”
A delicate twinkly piece sung byguest vocalist Allysa Lamb *the first female vocalist to appear) .  Once the chorus breaks in, it has an almost carnivalesque tone to it.  This is the only song whose lyrics were written after the music.

LAWRENCE KRAUSER-“Deposition Disposition”
A twisted song that works as a call and response with delightful theremin sounds.  It has a very noir feel.

CLAY McLEOD CHAPMAN-“Half and Half”
This is a sort of comic torchy ballad.  Lyrically, it’ a bout being a hermaphrodite (and it’s dirty too).  Vocals by Hanna Cheek.

DAVE EGGERS-“The Ghost of Rita Gonzalo”
This has a sort of Beach Boys-y folky sound (albeit totally underproduced).  But that theremin is certainly back.

MARGARET ATWOOD-“Frankenstein Monster Song”
This song begins simply with some keyboard notes but it breaks into a very creepy middle section.  It’s fun to think of Margaret Atwood working on this piece.

AARON NAPARSTEK-“Honku”
This song’s only about 20 seconds long.  It is one of a series of haikus about cars, hence honku.

DENIS JOHNSON-“Blessing”
The most folk-sounding of all the tracks (acoustic guitar & tambourine).  It reminds me of Negativland, somehow.  It is also either religious or blasphemous.  I can’t quite be sure which.

NEIL GAIMAN-“On the Wall”
A tender piano ballad.  The chorus gets more sinister, although it retains that simple ballad feel throughout.  It’s probably the least catchy of all the songs.  But lyrically it’s quite sharp.

AMY FUSSELMAN-“All About House Plants”
An absurdist accordion-driven march.  This is probably the most TMBG-like of the bunch (especially when the background vocals kick in).

MYLA GOLDBERG-“Golem”
This song opens (appropriately) with a very Jewish-sounding vibe (especially the clarinet).  But once that intro is over, the song turns into a sinister, spare piece.

A.M. HOMES-“Snow”
This song opens as a sort of indie guitar rock song.  It slowly builds, but just as it reached a full sound, it quickly ends.  The song’s lyrics totally about twenty words.

BEN GREENMAN-“Nothing Else is Happening”
This song has more of that sinister carnivalesque feel to it (especially when the spooky background vocals and the accordion kick in).  The epilogue of a sample from a carnival ride doesn’t hurt either.

JONATHAN AMES-“The Story of the Hairy Call”
This song has a great lo-fi guitar sound (accented with what sounds like who knows what: an electronic thumb piano?).  It rages with a crazily catchy chorus, especially given the raging absurdity of the lyrics.

JONATHAN LETHEM-“Water”
This track is especially interesting. The two writers each wrote melodies for these lyrics.  So, rather than picking one, they simply merged them. It sounds schizophrenic, but is really quite wonderful.  The two melodies sound nothing alike, yet the work together quite well.

[READ: Some time in 2004 & Summer 2009] Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

This was the first collection of McSweeney’s humorous stories/pieces/lists whatever you call them.  Some of the pieces came from McSweeney’s issues, but most of them came from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

The humor spans a great deal of categories, there’s some literary, some absurd, some nonsensical and, most amusingly, lists.  The back of the book has an entire selection of lists, but there are also some scattered throughout the book as well (I don’t know what criteria was used to allow some lists to be in the “main” part).

As with the other McSweeney’s collections, I’m only writing a line or two about each piece.  For the lists, I’m including a representative sample (not necessarily the best one, though!)

Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a lot (which is why I re-read it this year).  There are puns, there are twisted takes on pop culture, there are literary amusements (Ezra Pound features prominently, which seems odd).  It spans the spectrum of humor.  You may not like every piece, but there’s bound to be many things that make you laugh. (more…)

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adidasSOUNDTRACK: TV ON THE RADIO-Dear Science, (2008).

sciencThe problem with TV on the Radio for me is that their first EP is so damned good that anything else they do pales in comparison.  Having said that, Dear Science, comes really close to topping that EP.  I liked Cookie Mountain (their previous disc) but I felt like they put so many elements into the mix that it detracted from the best part of the band: Tunde Adepimbe & Kyp Malone’s vocals.

And so, on Dear Science, the vocals are back up front where they belong.  This disc is a lot less busy, which may seem a little like selling out, but instead, it just heightens the complexity and originality of the band’s work.  The disc rocks hard but it also heightens some really cool jazz and dance elements.    But it all comes back to the melodies and vocals for me.  And on Dear Science, they pretty much outdo themselves.

And you can dance to it!

[READ: September 30, 2009] Shiny Adidas Tracksuits and the Death of Camp and Other Essays

After reading David Foster Wallace’s essay in this book, I looked at the other articles here and decided to read the whole thing.  And I’m really glad I did.  It’s an interesting book full of, funny and often thought-provoking pop culture articles circa 1996.  As with some of the other pop culture/political books that I’ve read several years after they were relevant, it’s often weird to look back and see what things fully occupied the popular landscape at the time.  And, when a piece is completed dated, it’s pretty obvious, and sometimes unintentionally funny.  But there are many pieces here that are timeless (or at least hold up for a decade), and those are still really good reads.

This book also does a good job of summarizing the tenor of the defunct Might magazine.  A dose of irony, a splash of humor and a lot of criticism of what’s trendy.

The strange thing to me about this book, though is the targets that they chose to go after sometimes.  Rather than critiquing right-wing attitudes or corporate shenanigans (which they do touch on), they really seem to be after pop and rock celebrity.  For instance, there are two separate articles which take a potshot at Eddie Vedder (this was around the time of the Ticketmaster fiasco which didn’t put him in the best light but which could hardly be seen as only self-serving).  This seems rather unfair, unless his sincerity could really be called into question by a bunch of ironic jokesters.  Magazines like Radar and Spy used to do snarky articles like this. I’d always thought that Might was a little better than that.  But indeed, there’s one or two pieces here that have a holier- (or perhaps indier)-than-thou attitude.   Which may have been fine in the 90s but which seem petulant now.

But aside from those, the irony-free pieces are very enjoyable.  (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Goo (1990).

gooI’m not sure exactly why this Sonic Youth album was the first one I really got into.  I assume it’s because I was working at the radio station and probably got a bit of hype about their switch to DGC records.

And, say what you will about DGC being a major label, DG had some really great taste at the dawn of that label.

Goo and Dirty are sort of lumped into a kind of sellout phase for SY.  But  Goo is certainly harsher than Daydream Nation, and yet it also seems to flirt with the mainstream (with Chuck D appearing on it, and “Goo” having something resembling a sing-along chorus”).

Yet “Mary-Christ”  has a crazy background vocal section.  Kool Thing, the one with Chuck D, has a catchy enough chorus but the squealing guitars are very harsh.

Lee’s “Mote” is probably the catchiest song on the disc, although really the middle section has these sort of smooth songs like “Mote” and “Disappearer.”  But with “Mildred Pierce,” you get the scariest , most abrasive ending to a song you can imagine (and from what starts as a really pretty instrumental too).  And “Scooter and Jinx” is pretty much just a minute full of noise.

While 1991 may have been the year that punk broke, it’s Goo, complete with its Raymond Pettibon cover that sent punk, kicking and screaming, mostly screaming, into the mainstream.  All ready for Nirvana to smash the door wide open.

I just looked up Raymond Pettibon and learned that he is Greg Ginn’s brother.  Ginn founded Black Flag and of course Pettibon (whose real name is also Ginn) did virtually all the artwork.  I would even daresay that it was Black Flag that propelled Pettibon into underground fame…  he even outlasted the band that gave him his fame.  Wow, thanks Wikipedia.

[READ: July 5, 2009] “A Guide to Summer Sun Protection”

I don’t normally mention the Shouts & Murmurs one-page items from the New Yorker, but since Zev Borow is in pretty much all the McSweeney’s I’ve been reading, I thought I’d bring him up again. (more…)

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mcsweeneys3SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Riot Act (2002).

riotactThis album seems to get overshadowed by the anti-George Bush track “Bu$hleaguer.” Evidently many people were turned off by this track, and that may have had an impact on sales. Of course, I’m sure many other people were introduced to the band by this song, too. Regardless, the rest of the album shouldn’t be judged by this track, as it is rather unusual.

This disc is the first one to feature a dedicated keyboardist, “Boom” Gaspar.  He’s present on all of the live discs from this concert tour, and it is quite disconcerting the first time you hear the audience yell “Boooooooooooom” when he comes out.  But he plays a mean organ solo.

“Can’t Keep” opens the disc sounding unlike other PJ tracks.  It has a vibe like Led Zeppelin III–almost a world-acoustic feel.  “Save You” rocks out with the classic chorus, “And fuck me if I say something you don’t wanna hear.  And fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear.  Fuck me if I care.”  A great fast song with a cool bassline.  “Love Boat Captain” feature Boom Gaspar’s first contribution to a song: lots of organ.  It’s a rather touching song, a gentle piece, except for a center part which rocks out. “Cropduster” features a delicate chorus after a skittery verse.  If you are familiar with Matt Cameron’s contributions to the band, you’ll not be surprised by the unusual sound of this song.

“I Am Mine” starts a section of three great songs. This one is acousticy and uplifting.  “Thumbing My Way” is a pretty PJ ballad.  Then “You Are” has a really funky wah wahed sound on almost the whole song.  Three great tracks in a row.

Not that “Get Right” is bad.  It just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the previous three.  Rather, this is a punk blast that feels more than a little off-kilter (another Cameron track, of course).   “Help Help” begins the really weird section of the disc with this peculiar song (catchy chorus though).  It’s followed by “Bu$hleaguer” a spoken word rant, with an abstract chorus.  The chanting aspect is interesting, th0ugh.  “Arc” is a short chant, no doubt reflecting Eddie’s duet with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

“1/2 Full” returns to the “proper” songs with this sloppy jam.  The verses are quiet but the choruses rock.  “All or None” is another mellow disc ender, this one has some good subtle drumming that really propels this jazzy song.

At this point in Pearl Jam’s career, we get yet another solid effort.  You more or less know what to expect on their releases although there’s always a surprise.

[READ: May 7, 2009] McSweeney’s #3

This is the third volume of McSweeney’s print journal.  This one, like the first two, is a white, softcover edition.  If you click on the cover above it will take you to the flickr page with a larger picture.

[UPDATE: September 25, 2009]

It has just come to my attention that David Foster Wallace DOES have a  piece in this magazine.  (See my comment on the Notes from the authors).  His piece runs on the spine of the book and is called:
“Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected but not Improbable Transcript of Author’s Parents’ Marriage End, 1971” (which is also available in his book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men under the title “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)”).

The piece itself is almost shorter than the whole title and is basically a funny argument about which parent would get the double-wide trailer and which parent would get him.  Pretty funny stuff, and even funnier for being on the spine.

Okay, back to the issue.

[end UPDATE]

The opening colophon on this one explains the price increase (from $8 to $10).  It’s because this is a longer issue, it has color plates (foldouts!) and because of a sad but amusing anecdote of a lost bag with $2,000 cash.
There’s also notes about some stories (the Hoff & Steinhardt pieces are true) and an apology of sorts for running a story about the Unabomber.

And an actual (presumably) envelope sent from the titular Timothy McSweeney, as a way of verifying the authenticity of the title of the journal.

The final page of the colophon shows a sample of how long it will take for them to respond to submissions (which should not be funny fake news).  And it ends with a half a dozen or so random questions, which they do answer: ARE THE RIVERS THAT FLOW FROM HOT SPRINGS HOT? They are often very warm.  DO THEY GIVE OFF STEAM? Yes, and they smell vaguely of sulfur. MARTIN VAN BUREN: He had a certain charm.  etc.

LETTERS PAGE:

JONATHAN LETHEM
Ride with Jonatahn Lethem and the Mad Brooklynite as he narrates Manhattan’s superiority complex when it comes to the other boros.  Funny stuff. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (2008).

sigurSigur Rós are nothing if not ethereal.  Their music is constantly floating up in outer space somewhere.  So imagine the surprise when the first song of this disc opens with some thudding drums.  And, there are acoustic instruments aplenty this time around.  Their previous disc Hvarf/Heim had them playing a number of acoustic pieces in various unexpected settings.  And clearly the experience must have been a good one.

“Illgresi” is largely played on an acoustic guitar and “Ára Bátur” opens with a very pretty piano melody.  But lest you think this is Sigur Rós unplugged, “Ára Bátur” turns into a nearly 9 minute epic complete with orchestra, choir and as much ethereal sounds that you can cram into one song.  Indeed, a few songs before that is “Festival” another nine minute epic.  Although like in the beginning, there is a lot of bass, and a lot of drum.

But despite all of the musical changes, the band is still clearly Sigur Rós.  Jon Thor Birgisson’s voice is still unmistakable, and his lyrics are still inscrutable.  In fact, the final song, “All Alright” is sung almost entirely in English(!) and I didn’t realize until I just read about it recently.

In some ways this disc is not as satisfying as previous Sigur Rós releases as it doesn’t take you to quite the same planes of existence as past discs have.  And yet, in other ways it is more satisfying as it shows an earthbound side of them, allowing us to see their craft in action.

Despite any criticisms, Sigur Rós is still an amazing band, and this is an amazing record, too.

[READ: March 14, 2009] McSweeney’s #2

McSweeney’s 2nd issue retains some of the features from the first, and yet, some things have changed.

Similarities:

First: The cover retains that very wordy style that the first issue had.  There are more jokes (a good pun about Big Name authors).

Second: The letters column is still there.  What’s different is that in addition to some unusual letters (including the complete address of a letter writer), there are conversational letters between Gary Pike and Mr. McSweeney.  There’s also several small entries from Brent Hoff.  We are also treated to a letter from Jon Langford of the Mekons, Sarah Vowell, and a piece from Jonathan Lethem (the last of which was put in the letters column because they didn’t know what else to do with it). (more…)

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mcsweeneys1SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Hear It Is (1986).

hear-it-isI’ve claimed that I love the Lips, but then I was very harsh about their cover of “White Christmas,” and I noted that I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack of  Christmas on Mars very much.  So, I felt I owed them some love.  But my recollection of their early stuff was that it was pretty weird and hard to listen to.

And yet, I proved myself wrong.  Hear It Is is not the Flaming lips of the early 2000’s.  It’s almost like the bratty younger brother of that band.  Only Wayne and Michael Ivins are present, and the band is pretty much just guitar, bass and drums.  The guitar is distorted and noisy (except when it’s acousticy and mellow).  The album doesn’t sound too far out of place for a college radio record in the late 80s.

Except of course that Wayne and the boys are pretty out there. The music is psychedelic, acid inspired and quite punk.  So you get songs like “Jesus Shootin’ Heroin” a seven minute epic of heavy riffs and screaming, but also of background “Ahhhh’s”.  You also get “With You” a song that starts out like a pretty, acoustic ballad. “Godzilla Flick” is a ballad like no other.  And yet despite all of the freakouts and noise, really at this stage what you get is a Led Zeppelin inspired heavy garage band having a lot of fun.  To say that this is going to blow your mind would be unfair, but to anyone who says the early stuff is unlistenable, they are totally wrong.   Hear It Is is sloppy, punky and a little ridiculous, the ideal incubator for what will become the Lips of 2000.

This CD comes with a cover of “Summertime Blues.”  This disc was reissued along with their initial EP and some bonus tracks on the disc Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid.

[READ: 1998 and January 10, 2009] McSweeney’s #1

I have been reading McSweeney’s since its inception.  (My copy of this issue even has the two page typed letter that explains the failure of Might magazine and the origins of this one. However, it’s been over ten years since I read the first issues.  Given my new perspective on McSweeney’s, and how I read just about everything they release, I thought it was about time to go back to the beginning and proceed through the issues until I meet up where I first started reviewing them.

Issue #1 has many features that are absent in later issues:

First is the cover.  This cover is simply filled with words; practically littered with them.  There are subtitles, there are jokes, there’s all sorts of things (I mean, just look at the full title of this issue).

Second is the letters column.  The difference with this letters column compared to most publications is that they are all (or mostly) nonsense.  One comes from an author whose piece is accepted into the issue (Morgan Phillips).  Another is a funny/silly letter from Sarah Vowell.  And there’s a letter to his cousin from John Hodgman (whose comic potential may not have been tapped at this point?). (more…)

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