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Archive for the ‘Red Dwarf’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CLIPPING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #189 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

clipping. is an intense band.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live opening for the Flaming Lips.  I was hoping to see them again before the pandemic hit.  This Tiny Desk doesn’t in any way replicate a live show because they play a little visual trick on the viewer–and they keep it up for the whole set.

Leave it to clipping. to innovate around the central notion of the Tiny Desk; to take the series’ emphasis on close-up intimacy and transport it to new heights of, well, tininess.

clipping is a dark, violent band

Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes craft a bed of hip-hop, industrial music and noisy experimentalism, then set loose rapper Daveed Diggs, whose violent imagery summons ’90s horrorcore and a thousand bloody movies. The band’s last two album titles — There Existed an Addiction to Blood and Visions of Bodies Being Burned — offer up a sense of the vibe, but Diggs’ gift for rapid-fire wordplay also acts as a leavening agent.

That’s right, Daveed Diggs.

The guy won a Tony Award for playing Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton, and he still knows how to sell every word that leaves his lips.

So it’s especially amusing to see them have a lot of fun with the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  The video opens with a few scenes of tables and gear.  But when the show starts, Daveed Diggs picks up a microphone that’s about the size of a toothpick and starts rapping into it.

  And when William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes come in they are playing laptops and other gear that’s barely an inch in length. I have to assume that this stuff doesn’t actually work and yet they are taking their job very seriously–touching and sliding and tapping and looping on these preposterous toys.

“Something Underneath” starts quietly and then Diggs shows off some of is incredibly fast rapping skills.  Then the guy on the right (I’m not sure who is who) comes into the cameras and starts messing with his tiny gear.  After about 2 minutes the guy on the left comes in and starts making all kinds of distorted beats.  It starts getting louder and louder and louder until the noise fades out and its just Diggs’ voice looping “morning” as he moves the camera and he starts the slower track

The only movement in the video is Diggs moving his camera around to different angles for each song.

“Bout That” is fairly quite until a few minutes in when the song launches off.

Diggs shifts his camera and is finally fully on screen before they start the creepy “Check the Lock.”  It’s got clanking and scratching and pulsing noises for the line

something in this room didn’t used to be / he ain’t ever scared tough / but he check the lock every time we walks by the door.

Midway through the guy on the left starts cranking a tiny music box and he plays it through the next two songs.

It segues into “Shooter” [is there a name for this style of rapping–each line has a pause and a punchline–I really like it].

The music box continues into “The Show” which starts to build louder and louder, getting more an more chaotic.  It fades and builds noisier and chaotic once more until it reduces to a simple beat.  And the guy on the right drinks from his can of BEER.

Noisy squealing introduces “Nothing Is Safe.”  Daveed is pretty intense as he raps “death comes for everyone” pause and then full on sound as he resumes.

clipping is not for everyone–certainly not for people who want to see the guy from Hamilton (he was doing clipping before Hamilton, by the way).  But it creates an intense mood.

The blurb says that Chukwudi Hodge plays drums, but I didn’t see or hear any so i assume that’s a mistake.

[READ: April 21, 2021] Better Than Life

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know of the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This second book picks up from where the events of the previous book cliffhangered us.  There is a TV episode called “Better Than Life” and this book is kind of an super- mega-hyper-expanded version of that episode.  Except that the things that happened in the episode don’t even really happen in the book, either.

The basics of the episode are that Better Than Life is a video game that allows your deepest subconscious fantasies to come true.  And since everything is your fantasy, this game is indeed Better Than Life.  It’s easy to leave the game.  All you have to do is want to.  But who would want to leave a game when everything in it is better than what you’d be leaving it for?

As such, your body stars to wither and decay because you don’t eat, you don’t move, you just exist.  It’s a deadly game.

Rimmer’s fantasy at the end of the first book was that he had married a supermodel–a gorgeous babe whom every man wanted.  Except that she wouldn’t let him touch her for insurance reasons.  Rimmer has a problem or thirty with his self image.  But he was still super wealthy and women everywhere adored him. However as this book opens, he has divorced his babe and married a boring woman who also doesn’t want to have sex with him.  As thing move along, he loses his fortune and, ultimately his hologrammatic body.  He becomes just a voice.  Through a serious of hilarious mistakes, he winds up in the body of a woman.

One of the nice aspects of this book is that Grant Naylor have Rimmer see what a douchey sexist man he’s been all this time–believing all women were either his mother or a sex bomb.

The Cat’s scenario is pretty much all libido–Valkyrie warriors serving him and he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants–his clock doesn’t have times, it has activities: nap, sex, eat, nap, sleep, etc.

The one difference is that Kryten is there with him.  Kryten’s deepest fantasy is leaning, and so he keeps finding new things to clean in Cat’s world.

There’s another wonderful bit of anti-religion in this book (there’s always some anti-religion aspect in these stories).  In this one they talk about Silicon Heaven.

The best way to keep the robots subdued was to give them religion. … almost everything with a hint of artificial intelligence was programmed to believe that Silicon Heaven was he electronic afterlife….

If machines served their human masters with diligence and dedication, they would attain everlasting life in mechanical paradise when their components finally ran down.

At last they had solace. They were every bit as exploited as they’d always been, but now they believed there was some kind of justice at the end of it.

Lister’s fantasy is the same as it was before.  He’s living in the city from It’s a Wonderful Life and he’s married to Kristine Kochanski and he has two boys.  As the book opens there’s  a wonderfully touching moment with his family and his kids.

But it is abruptly demolished when a woman driving a tractor trailer crashes the truck in to Bedford Falls.  Literally all of Bedford Falls–every building is demolished or caught on fire.  There’s virtually nothing left.  And when the woman gets out of the truck dressed as  a prostitute and claims to know Lister, well, Kristine takes their boys and leaves him.  He has nothing.

It should come as no surprise that the woman is actually Rimmer.

What about Holly, the ship’s computer with an IQ of 6,000?  Can’t he save them?  Well, no.  He can’t get into the game, plus, he’s going a little crazy from being alone for so long.  So crazy in fact that he decides to start talking to Talkie Toaster, a gag gift that Lister bought for $19.99.

The sequence with the toaster is hilarious on the show (it only wants to talk about bready products!) and it translates perfectly to the book as well.  Essentially, Talkie Toaster encourages Holy to increase his IQ (which has been slowly leaking away) at the risk of shortening his life span.  Unfortunately, things go a little awry and Holly’s IQ eclipses 12,000. But his run time is cut to a number if minutes.

So he need to turn everything off if he wants to stay alive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Lost Society (2020).

Voivod have been around for over 30 years.  In that time, they’ve releases only four lives albums.  The first one was from the period when their original and current singer had departed, so that doesn’t really count.  In 2011 they released Warriors of Ice, a live album that featured the reunited original lineup minus deceased guitarist Piggy.  The third was a limited release from the 2011 Roadburn Festival.

Thus, we have this new release to acknowledge the excellence of their 2018 album The Wake.  This show was recorded at Quebec City Summer Fest on July 13, 2019.  I saw them on this tour on April 5, 2019.  The setlist was largely the same, although they played more in their hometown (and I would have loved to see “Astronomy Domine”).

Being in front of a hometown crowd has the band fully energized.  It also allows Snake to speak French to the audience, which is fun.

Most of Voivod’s music is really complicated and difficult (the chords that Piggy and now Chewy came up with are pretty hard to imagine).  And yet they play everything perfectly.  There’s not a lot of room for jamming when the songs are this tight and complex, but it’s clear the band are enjoying themselves anyway.

Since this is touring their new album, the majority of songs (4) are from it with two more songs from their 2016 EP Post Society.  The rest of the set is pretty much a song from each of the albums prior to 1993 (excluding the album with the best name: Rrröööaaarrr).

They interfile the new songs with the older ones, and it feels really seamless.  This shows how much of a student of Piggy new guitarist Chewy turned out to be.

The few times that Snake speaks in English, he says that Angel Rat’s “The Prow” is “time to dance time to party have fun” something one wouldn’t expect to do at a Voivod show, but compared to their other songs, it is pretty dancey.

My favorite Voivod album (aside from The Wake, which is really outstanding) is Nothingface, so I was really excited to hear “Into My Hypercube” and to hear that Rocky’s bass sounded just right.

Their older stuff is a little less complex and proggy so a song like 1987’s “Overreaction” is a bit heavier and straight ahead.

One of the more entertaining moments is during the opening of “The Lost Machine” where Snake stands between Chewy and Rocky and waves his arms to strum the chords first guitar, then bass, then guitar then bass, etc.

It is strange to think that this is only one-half of the classic line up.  In fact, drummer Away is the only person to have never left the band.  I assumed that when Piggy died, there was no point in continuing, but these replacements were really great.

And, Snake makes sure we never forget Piggy.  They end every show with the song that has the same name as the band.  And before they play it, he starts a chant “Piggy! Piggy!”  In this live recording, you can hear the audience screaming along to “voivod,” a nonsensical word that remains strong thirty-five years on.

The setlist for the album is at the bottom of the post.  I sure hope they tour around here again someday.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know if the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them (and read them, I think, although it’s all new to me 30 years later) sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This first one is basically an expanded version of some of the episodes from the first and second season.

Most of the jokes from the episodes are present here–so it’s easy to picture the characters saying the lines.  But there’s also a ton of new stuff.  Much of it fleshes out things that happened in the show, but still other things are brand new.

The book starts with the death of a Red Dwarf crew member.  He is now a hologram and rather than being excited about being alive, he is horrified to think of all the things his wife will get up to now that he is dead but aware of what is happening.  We also meet another man who is about to die–this time by suicide.  He is in debt for a lot of money and decided it was better than being beaten to death by the men he owed money to.

Turns out, this man outranked the first man and since the Red Dwarf mining ship could only support one hologram, this man was brought back at the expense of the first one.  A lot of ground is covered in these first two chapters and we haven’t even met any of the main characters of the show yet.

Dave Lister comes along in Chapter 3.  For those unfamiliar with the show, Dave Lister is the main character and also the last human being alive.  In the show he is three million years into deep space.  But he had been in stasis so he is only 27 when he is brought out and told the news that everyone is dead.

But as the book starts, Lister is miserable on a planet Mimas.  He got really drunk at his birthday party in Liverpool and, by the end of the night, he was on a planet very far from home with no money to get back. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-“I’m a Stranger Now” (2019).

I’ve enjoyed The Tallest Man on Earth and I’ve been looking forward to seeing him live for a while.  I’ve actually had really back luck with his tours.  One time something came up on the night I was supposed to see him.  Another time he had to cancel his tour.  But, with luck, I will get to see Kristian Matsson live.

The Tallest Man on Earth sings simple folk songs.  The greatness of his songs comes from his voice and delivery.  There’s something about his voice and his style that is steeped in American folk, but the fact that he’s from Sweden changes his outlook and his accent.

This song from his album I Love You, It’s a Fever Dream follows in the style he is known for–spare, simple melodies and his often wordy lyrics.

Starting with fast acoustic chords (played high on the neck), Kristian begins singing in his familiar but unique style.  The bridge ends with a fast vocal melody that is a pure hook that leads to the singalong titular chorus.

After three minutes, the song slows down to a quiet guitar melody and near-whispered vocals.

[READ: May 1, 2019] The Man on Platform 5

I know Robert Llewellyn from the show Red Dwarf, of which I am a huge fan.

In fact, I didn’t know anything about this story, but I figured if Kryten wrote it, it must be good.  I had read his memoir, the wonderfully titled Thin He Was and Filthy Haired, and I was sure I had read this at the time as well.  But evidently not, because when I started flipping through it I realized I didn’t know a thing about this story.  I also see that he has written quite a lot more in the last two decades.

It seems fairly obvious from the get go that this story is a gender reversing story of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.  Instead of a man trying to improve a woman, in this story, a woman is trying to “improve” a man.  In some ways it’s very modern and progressive and in other ways it’s pretty stuck in gender stereotypes.  But hey it was the 90’s, before writers were enlightened.

The man who needs bettering is Ian Ringfold.  He is a trainspotter!  (I love that Llewellyn made that his hobby as I have heard of it but never knew exactly what it entailed).  He loves obscure facts, dry goods (he works in a supermarket) and being incredibly dorky.  He is deeply into what he likes and genuinely can’t understand why other people wouldn’t like those things.

Enter Gresham and Eupheme.  They are half-sisters and have spent pretty much their entire lives squabbling.  Their train breaks down on the same platform that Ian is currently trainspotting.  Eupheme, the more humane one of the two, bets Gresham that she can turn this sad “anorak” into a “useful member of society.”  Gresham says it cannot be done.  Eupheme (who is short on funds) says that if she can turn this loser into someone that Gresham would fancy that Gresham would pay her a tidy sum.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Philadelphia Radio Stations (circa 1990 and 2010)

There’s a Dead Milkmen song called “The Big Sleazy” in which the chorus is

“I hate MMR I hate YSP/You know that classic rock/Does not interest me.”

I’ve always been amused by the song, especially when I travel to Philly and hear these stations.  That song is from 1990, so 20 years later I’m not sure what the band would think of their new playlists.

But one thing I never really noticed before is the middle verse which is about one of my favorite Philly stations WXPN.  The verse is:

I hate what they’ve done to XPN
Those folk Nazis ruined my favorite station
I hate what they’ve done to XPN
If you hear it now it’s just a pale imitation.

Now, I have no idea what XPN was like before, but, yea, I can see that he folk Nazis are in charge.  Of course, I rather like that.  However, XPN also plays a bunch of artists who are broader than the folk label, so I wonder if they have changed even more since 1990.

History is fascinating, innit?

[READ: April 3, 2010] Trinity

Collins Gibson is a patron at our library.  He has been working on this book for a few years now.  The first time I looked at a bit of it, it was a novel.  I hadn’t seen him for a while and now he has brought the book back as a screenplay.

I didn’t read enough of the original novel to know whether this works better as a novel or a screenplay, but given the very visual nature of the story, it seems like screenplay fits the story better. And so, since Collins is a good guy, I’m going to do my part to get the word out about the story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT–Blue Öyster Cult (1972).

Craig Ferguson mentions that the only concert he saw as a teen in America was Blue Öyster Cult.  My guess is that it would have been around the Agents of Fortune or Spectres tour (ie, around “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”) so that must have been a killer show.

In honor of his book, I’m going to look at the lesser known early work of BOC.  Their first disc is a fascinating amalgamation of hard rock, blues, boogie and psychedelia.  All of that is coupled with the utterly perplexing lyrics that they came up with. In addition to the huh? factor of titles like “She’s a Beautiful as a Foot” and “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” we also get fascinating title like “Transamaniacon MC” (later on John Shirley would write a book called Transmaniacon as a tribute to this song).

The album isn’t heavy by today’s standards, but at the time, this was some pretty heavy stuff.  The rocking chorus of “Transmaniacon,” the blistering speed of “Stairway to the Stars,” and yes, the undeniably heavy riff of “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” let you know that this is no simple rock album.

And yet, they work so well with the fundamentals: Steppenwolf is clearly an inspiration.  This is classic rock that doesn’t quite fit the classic rock mode (which, frankly, makes it far more interesting).  There’s a lot to like here, and there’s more to come.

[READ: February 26, 2010] American on Purpose

I keep saying I don’t read memoirs but then I keep reading them. Yes, I’m a liar.

Well, in this case, I felt it was justified because a) Craig Ferguson is hilarious and I assumed his book would be too and b) he has already written a novel that I really liked (as well as 3 screenplays which I have not seen). So I figured it would be a well-written, funny book.  And, since it turned out I had two days off because of the “snow” I finished the book in a couple of days.

Right, so Craig Ferguson is the host of The Late Late Show, a show that Sarah and I fell in love with last year and then kind of forgot about it. And then we caught it again recently and have been enjoying some TiVo’d bits every now and then. Ferguson has a wonderfully warped sense of humor and his show veers into the bizarre more often than not.   But he is always enjoyable, and his celebrity interviews are worth watching for how funny and un-promotional they are.
But what about this book? This book basically details his life growing up in Scotland, moving to the States and becoming a “huge star.”

But the crux of the book is about his descent into alcoholism, how it destroyed his first marriage and several other long term relationships, as well as potentially his career. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-Vol. 4 (1972).

When I was younger I liked this Sabbath album a lot more than I do now.  There are some absolutely stellar tracks on here, but most of the songs are a rather peculiar for Black Sabbath.  It showcases ballad-y nature that Ozzy would have for some of his biggest hits twenty years later.

“Wheels of Confusion” opens the disc with a fascinating bluesy sounding guitar solo that turns into a straightforward rocker.  But, as it’s 8 minutes long, there’s a lot of twists and turns.  And it ends with a two and a half minutes of upbeat guitar soloing (with a tambourine keeping the beat!).

“Tomorrow’s Dream” opens with a rocking bendy guitar riff  but in the middle the chorus turns the song into a delicate ballad.  This is followed by “Changes” a full-on piano ballad (!).  It’s catchy, no doubt, and I loved it when I was younger, but I’m not entirely sure it passes the test of time.  This is followed by “FX” which is literally almost two minutes of echoing blips and bleeps, some of which go back and forth on the headphones.  It’s a very strange addition to any disc and is really the perfect example of “filler” unless by some chance this was majorly cutting edge at the time.

This is redeemed by “Supernaut” one of the all-time great Sabbath tunes.  It’s heavy, fast and features a great guitar riff.

“Snowblind” is a another fantastic song.  A great riff, and of course, it’s totally pro-cocaine!  How can you tell?  Well, because at the end of the first verse, you can hear a very unsubtle whisper of “cocaine.”  My, how the band has changed in just a couple of years.  This song also features a ballady mid-section.  It also features an awesome middle bit that rocks very hard (and can be summed as: don’t tell me what to do).  The drugs hadn’t deteriorated Sabbath’s songwriting yet, but give it a couple more records!

“Cornucopia” is one of the weird songs that you find on the second side of a Sabbath album.  It’s a got an awesome slow, doomy opening riff which then turns into a speedy rocker.

When I was kid I really liked “Laguna Sunrise” and I still do.  It’s a pretty acoustic guitar number (with keyboards or strings or something).  After “Changes” you’re not surprised by anything that Sabbath will throw at you, but this song is really shockingly delicate.

“St. Vitus Dance” is probably the most schizophrenic Sabbath song.  The opening guitar riff is so incredibly upbeat, happy and boppy; who knows what will come from it.  And then the verses turn dark and edgy with lyrics about a breakup.  And then the happy guitar bits come back!

The disc ends with “Under the Sun/Everyday Comes and Goes.”  It is once again another wonderfully sludgy guitar riff that turns into a fast rocker (“I don’t want no Jesus freak to tell me what it’s all about!”).  After the verses, you get this wonderfully weird guitar solo that’s like an ascending scale on acid.  Fun!  About three minutes in, it turns into “Everyday…” an uptempo rocker that’s not out of place with the other half of the song, but which does seem like an odd placement.

This disc was strangely experimental for Sabbath.  And, while it’s nice to see them not getting stuck, some of their choices were certainly weird.  And yet all Sabbath fans seem to regard this disc pretty highly (I think it’s the iconic cover that we all remember so fondly).

[READ: December 10, 2009] Unseen Academicals

Terry Pratchett knows football (soccer)??!!  In all the years of Discworld books, I don’ think there has been any mention of football (or even any sport).  Who knew he had a 400 page book about football in him?

Oh, and what is wrong with US book publishers?  Look at the utterly lame US cover at the top here.  First of all, the book is about soccer…why are they reaching for the ball with their hands??  Second, look here at this awesome UK cover by Paul Kidby (the official illustrator of Discworld).  Does he not have publishing rights in the US?

American readers, check out this cover.  It is awesome!  It gives you the whole cast, it gives a wonderful graphic of just what you’d be up against when you play this team.  Look, there’s the Librarian!  And, of course, the drawing is great.  Well, at least we have the internet.

But back to the football.  As with any Pratchett book it’s not just about football.  There is a whole bunch of stereotype-busting, inner-strength growing, pop-culture raspberrying, and general hilarity as well.  Oh, and Rincewind is back!  Hooray! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FEELIES-Only Life (1988).

The Feelies were based out of Haledon, NJ, a town not more than fifteen minutes from my house.  I’ve always felt this weird association to them.  One day a coworker drove me past one of the band members’ houses when I worked in North Haledon (in retrospect this was probably bullshit).

It was this album that introduced me to them.  Prior to the internet, it wasn’t always easy to find out how many albums a band had out, so I assumed this was their first.  I’d assumed that we were close in age and that I could have run into them at any local club or hangout.  Well, it turned out that this was their third and their first came out in 1980.  When I was 11.  So, clearly  there is absolutely no way we were peers.

Somehow, when I first heard The Feelies, I had not been exposed to The Velvet Underground (what?).  So, when I heard them, it didn’t occur to me to say, “Hey that guy sounds just like Lou Reed.”  And he does.  Almost uncannily so on “It’s Only Life”.

But hey, get past that and you’ve got a really great jangly alterna-pop record from the late 80s.   While R.E.M. is sort of the master of the jangly pop song, there’s no real comparison here (okay, actually “Deep Fascination” could be mistaken for R.E.M. until the vocals kick in).  The biggest difference is tempo. The Feelies just kind of meander along at a calm and relaxed pace.  Not slow enough to be, god forbid, dull, but not exactly peppy either.

One thing I like about the band is that the bass and drums are always out in front.  The bass, in particular seems to really propel the songs (especially “Too Much”) which provides a great rhythmic feels and allows the guitars ample room to roam.

And the guitars do roam.  There are two guitars and they share soloing duties.  This soloing bit is rather a departure for college radio bands in the late 80s.  So, it definitely set them apart (as did the fact that there are like 30 words in each song).

The gorgeously simple yet very compelling “Higher Ground” is certainly a high point for the disc.  As is their cover of the Velvet’s “What Goes On.”

When I was a DJ in college, I randomly selected “Away” to play during a show (the first Feelies song I’d heard).  Even after twenty-one years it’s still as fresh and interesting.  It’s also rather different from the rest of the album.  It’s uptempo for one thing.  But it also starts with a cool slow guitar opening.  The song builds faster and faster and has a great sing along chorus.   The drums also sound wonderfully abrasive.  It’s really a great song and a great introduction to an underappreciated band.

[READ: November 22, 2009] Intermere

Following hot on the heels of Symzonia, I received Intermere through Inter Library Loan.  Intermere is even shorter (at 150 pages)!

What I liked about the story is that it removes all pretense as to the setting up of and the getting to the inner earth location.  As the story opens, our narrator, Giles Anderton, is pretty much immediately in massive trouble.  The boat he is on is about to sink and he is soon plunged headlong into the ocean.  (What an exciting opening!)

When he wakes up a short time later, he is on an island and is warmly greeted by a group of very short but very beautiful (ie, very pale) people. (more…)

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bogSOUNDTRACK: BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-BBC Sessions & Live in Belfast 2001 (2008).

bsbbcVirtually every review of the BBC Sessions says the same thing: these tracks barely differ from the original recordings.  And, for better or worse, that is very true.  In fact, even the trumpets and other instruments sound so perfect, you tend to forget it’s a live recording.  Clearly this sends a positive message about their live playing.  But if that’s the case, why would you buy this?

Well, clearly Belle & Sebastian devotees will buy it even if there’s only marginal differences.  But really the selling point is the last 4 songs, all of which are brand new (at least to me). It’s also amazing to me how on the first batch of live songs from 1996, the band sounds so delicate it’s as if they would fall apart just by looking at them.  The opening songs are soft, and Stuart’s voice is barely a whisper.  And yet through all of that the choruses are still catchy, and the songs are amazing.

But really the main hook for this set is the Live in Belfast disc.  It comes from 2001, and is a surprisingly rollicking set.  I saw B&S several years ago at a small club in Manhattan. It turns out to be one of my worst concert experiences.  Not because of the band, but because it was so overcrowded (B&S were the “IT” band at the time) that I had to keep moving back to stop getting crushed.  I eventually spent time in the lobby trying in vain to hear the set.

So this is the next best thing for me.

The set is an interesting mix of covers (and surprising ones at that–“The Boys Are Back in Town!”) and B&S rarities (with a couple of popular songs like “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man” thrown in as well).  There’s also a fun rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” by a fan named Barry who requested the song and then came up on stage to sing it.  The band is loose, a little shambolic and apparently having a lot of fun.

It’s a remarkable collection of tracks for any fan of the band and certainly overcomes the similarities of tracks on the first disc.

[READ: May 24, 2009] Beware of God

I read this book exclusively because of my authority as a librarian. I received an email saying that the person who had put this book on hold no longer wanted it (her book club was last week and she had to buy the book…that’s a book club I want to be in, actually).  When I took it off the hold shelf, I saw who it was by, and since I have wanted to read his stuff (and this book was fairly small) I thought I’d take it home with me.  When we canceled the hold, I learned that someone else had a hold on it, so technically I couldn’t take it.  However, I broke a rule. Since it was Saturday and Memorial Day weekend this book wouldn’t be shipped out to the net person on line until Tuesday morning!  Surely I could read this in time with no one the wiser.  Well, imagine my surprise to have read it by Sunday night…it could have gone back even if it wasn’t a long weekend!  Huzzah!

I hope that doesn’t get me fired. (more…)

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I’ve been a fan of British entertainment, especially comedy, since I was a little kid. The first time I saw Benny Hill on Channel 9 at a past-my-bedtime hour, I knew it was something special. Not because it was particularly funny (which at the time I thought it was), but because it was unlike anything that the U.S. was making. Then I discovered Paul Hogan (true, an Aussie, but still under the UK banner). Then came the Comedy Holy Grail of Monty Python’s Flying Circus . I couldn’t get enough of Monty Python and of course, Fawlty Towers. This led to more contemporary works like The Young Ones and Black Adder and Red Dwarf, and I’m still hooked.

One thing that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time is the Brits’ constant use of World War II in their entertainment. Comedians, writers and musicians of a certain age tend to use WWII as a component of their work. This came up again in Bruce Robinson’s book. It is a constant in Richard Thompson’s work. It is essential to latter Roger Waters work, both in and out of Pink Floyd. Monty Python plays around with it, and many other comedians do too.

I think Americans lazily think of the British as pretty much like us. And this has been even more prevalent with the recent Bush/Blair relationship. And despite my love of British entertainment, I am guilty of imagining the Brits to have similar shared experiences (common language can do that I suppose). So, it made me wonder why we in the U.S. don’t seem to have WWII so ingrained in our cultural entertainment. Sure, we have our swing bands, and the iconic photographs and even Saving Private Ryan. But it seems like we have a “Mission Accomplished (for Real)” checkmark next to it, and we’re happy it’s over and that’s that.  Even in my family, my dad was in WWII, and yet it wasn’t really a big deal when I was growing up, or even in his personal history.  Weird.

It was then that my wife reminded me that the British were bombed in the war, that it really hit home for them in a way that it never did here. Even though Pearl Harbor was American soil, and we did experience air raid drills and blackouts, we didn’t have the impending threat and fear as directly as the British did. All of this is of course common knowledge, and I feel foolish for not thinking about it before. And yet, somehow I never put these pieces together. Of course, British artists were impacted by WWII because it directly impacted their lives, their towns, their families.

There really isn’t a point to any of this other than to stop wondering how come there’s another British song/story/joke about WWII. I’ll just go back to enjoying it.

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