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Archive for the ‘Hoax’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KOKOKO!-Tiny Desk Concert #911 (November 15, 2019).

KOKOKO! are a visually arresting band.  The band dresses entirely in yellow jumpsuits and they play…garbage.

KOKOKO! are sonic warriors. They seized control of the Tiny Desk, shouting their arrival through a megaphone, while electronic sirens begin to blare. There’s a sense of danger in their sonic presence that left no doubt that something momentous was about to happen. And it did!

Makara Bianko was the guy shouting through the megaphone, walking all around the room.  Then after the siren, he sat at the drums (which are held together with duct tape and electrical tape) and started singing lead vocals on “Likolo”

Dido Oweke on the “guitar” starts the simple riff.  It’s possible that it has one string and the bottom of the guitar is definitely an old can.

Backed by a bank of electronics, including a drum machine, this band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo redefines the norm of what music is and how music is made. Wearing yellow jumpsuits that are both utilitarian and resemble Congolese worker attire, this band from Kinshasa feel as though they’re venting frustrations through rhythm. And all the while they’re making dance music, all from their debut LP, Fongola, that feels unifying — more party than politics.

“Tongos’a” starts with an electronic drum pattern from Débruit on the synth (he’s making a lot of the noise and twisting knobs and chanting along) and a simple bass line from Boms Bomolo.  Everybody chants along to the chorus.

Starting “Malembe” Débruit sings an echoing opening call as he starts electronic drums and Love Lokombe plays some analog drums.

Each song is arresting and catchy as the next (although “Malembe” feels a little long.

The only bad thing about this Tiny Desk is that you can’t really get a good look at the instruments.  I mean, it’s clear that Love Lokombe is playing a rack of glass bottles.  But he’s also hitting some kind of metal scraps.  And at the end of “Malembe” Makara Bianko picks up a board with a can attached to it  There’s a guitar string, I guess, which he strums rapidly.  I guess he can change the pitch by moving the ca,  He gets a pretty cool melody sound out of it.  It’s such a cool instrument and I want to see more!

There’s a nice story about the band in this NPR piece at Goats and Soda.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Waiting for the End of the World”

In the great tradition of authors I like writing long form non-fiction for Harper’s, Lauren Groff heads to a Prepper’s Camp to learn how to deal with TEOTWAWKI.

The camp was started in 2014 by Rick and “Prepper Jane” Austin.

Groff acknowledges that she is not he usual prepper.

I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radial action to halt climate change, free Medicare and free public higher education for all, abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations, the eradication of billionaires; the destruction capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

Amen. (more…)

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   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #577 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE-Tiny Desk Concert #582 (November 28, 2016).

It is my fervent hope that I will wake up this morning and the world will say April Fools, and that these last few months will all have been a prank.  Or that this day marks the first day in formal steps to get the buffoon out of the White House before more people get killed.

Barring that, I can post these Trump-based pieces.

Margo Price is beloved by NPR.  I find her a wee bit too country for my tastes.  And yet, once again, a Tiny Desk Concert changed my opinion of her.

Price came to NPR on the day after the election.  I was in a fog of disbelief that day.  I can’t imagine how she managed to play and sing.  Here’s the intro:

When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play “All American Made,” a song she’s sung many times before, those words about America’s changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.

As this Tiny Desk progresses, even “Four Years Of Chances,” her song of a love gone wrong, feels less about a lousy husband and more about presidential politics. She dedicates her third and final song, “About To Find Out,” to Donald Trump; she says it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath.” When the song ends, she rips open her red cowboy shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Icky Trump”— a play on the title of The White Stripes’ song “Icky Thump,” which criticizes the U.S.’s immigration policies. She smiles, wipes a tear away: It seems cathartic, but temporary.

The music includes piano, guitar (of course), some slide guitar and harmonica.

“All American Made” plays down the twang in her voice and the lyrics are great.  It was written for her previous band Buffalo Clover.

1987, and I didn’t know I then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran
well it won’t be the first time and it wont be the end
They were all American made.

I was just a child
Unaware of the effects
Raised on sports and Jesus
and all the usual suspects

It’s a slow folk song with harmonica and a nice guitar solo.

“Four Years Of Chances” is actually about a failed relationship.  And we can all only hope that we don’t have to wait as long as she did in this song before ending this relationship.  It’s a faster song with good slide guitar work.  There’s a guitar solo, a piano solo and I like the way it goes up two steps after the solo.

I gave you four years of chances
But you threw em all away
I gave you one thousand, four hundred sixty-one days

“About To Find Out” seems so uncannily about Trump it is hard to believe it was written about someone else (as it says, it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath”).

Well I’ve had about enough of your two-cent words
And the way you’re running your mouth
No you haven’t got a clue or another thing to do
Except to take another picture of yourself
You’re living high on the hog looking down at us all
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

You have many people fooled about your motivation
But I don’t believe your lies
You blow so much smoke it’s bound to make you choke
I see the snakes in both of your eyes
But you wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass
And you’re standing much too tall
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

Tell me what does your pride taste like honey
Or haven’t you tried it out?
It’s better than the taste of a boot in your face
Without any shadow of a doubt
You better learn where the line is
You missed a lot you’ve gotta learn about
How’s it gonna feel to be put in your place
Well I guess you’re about to find out

Some folks today have got nothing to say
Except to talk about their wealth
But the poor’s still poor and the war’s still war
And everybody wants more for themselves
Like a rich man’s child you never walked a mile
One day you won’t have nothing to sell
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the way I see it you fell

Uncanny.

So yes, this Tiny Desk Concert has totally won me over to Price.  Although I really need to never hear “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” again–it is just waaay to twangy for my sensitive ears.  But more importantly, I hope she hasn’t given up the fight.

[READ: March 12, 2017] “It Is I Who Styles Donald Trump…”

My only other exposure to Crosbie was in the April 2012 issue of The Walrus, in which she wrote a couple of short pieces.

Obviously, I am all for hating on Trump, for ridiculing him and making him look as pathetic as he actually is.  And this entire issue was more or less devoted to the horror that is Trump.  So having a story that mocks him is something I can appreciate.

But, as with the comedians who mock Trump’s hair or skin rather than his racism, bigotry, lack of knowledge of the world, lying and everything else, this story is strangely superficial, and overall, just kind of strange.

It begins amusingly enough: “Last night I dreamt I went to Mar-a-Lago again.  I stood shuddering at the gates–was I to be the mistress of an estate named in colloquial Spanish?”

It even seems like it might go for an interesting angle: “as he sleeps his lips purse, and his hands fly our, defensively.”

But, as the title states (so I guess I was expecting too much), this is mostly about Trump’s hair: she “quickly took over this industry.” (more…)

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squish-7SOUNDTRACK: CANTUS-Tiny Desk Concert #264 (February 4, 2013).

Cantus is an a capella cantusgroup of nine men with beautiful voices.

The blurb tells that there are many choral groups all over Minnesota (I had no idea):

Is there some kind of weird vocal vortex in Minnesota? The state turns out so many excellent choral groups — at the school, church and professional levels — that it can arguably be dubbed the choral center of the U.S.

Cantus went professional in 2000 and has cut 15 albums on its own label. Unlike some choral groups who specialize in one style of music, Cantus prides itself on diversity. Just take a look at the three songs its members chose for this concert.

“Wanting Memories” is a song steeped in African-American culture, written by Ysaye Barnwell from Sweet Honey in the Rock. “Zikr,” composed by A.R. Rahman — the same guy who scored the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire — has roots in the Sufi tradition, where deep chords and repeated phrases signal a slow burn toward religious ecstasy. And the group closes with German composer Franz Biebl’s gorgeous “Ave Maria,” a signature piece for the group that blends traditional plainsong (or chant) with delicate melody and voluptuous harmonies that ascend heavenward.

I was really impressed with this set.  “Wanting Memories”was very pretty all the way through.  From what I can tell there are two “bass’ singers who hum the melody while the others sing different parts with various harmonies.  (There’s also a shaker keeping rhythm, but that doesn’t count against the acapella in my opinion).  In the middle of the song, the basses stop the humming and sing along (in a fugue style).  The absence of those droning sounds is a dramatic change in the song. They resume the hums and end the song like it began–beautifully.

“Zikr” has incredibly low bass notes–they are genuinely impressive.   There is an occasional drum that adds some Sufi authenticity–but the sound like they have been singing in this style their whole lives.  It’s really impressive that they are doing something that seems so unlike the Minnesotans that they are.  The end of the song speeds things up a bit which is a very cool sound added to a very cool song.

In introducing “Ave Maria” they explain that they started in 1995 with four guys.  They expanded to 7 so they could perform this piece.  This turns out not to be the traditional Ave Maria.  It is very different indeed–with a traditional Latin (not Latin America, but Roman Latin) feel.  And here again there is the amazing deep voice of the bass and some amazing tenors.

It’s amazing how different they sound in each of these three songs–their range is tremendous.  There’s a comment in the blurb about the beauty of the human voice and that is really the case here–their voices are pristine and beautiful.  It’s a marvelous Tiny Desk.

[READ: July 20, 2013] Squish #7

I love the Squish books.  They’re funny and quick and often teach you a thing or two.  I also love that most of the characters are named after real microbes.  And each issue also has a Super Amoeba comic book scattered throughout.

As this book opens, we see Small Pond, where Super Amoeba lives.  Something flies out of the sky and crashes into the pond.

As with every time Squish reads this book though, he is interrupted,  This time it’s to go to school.  His friend Pod is drowsy walking down the street.  He was up late working on his top-secret project.  Squish asks is he can help, and Pod says yes–give him Squish’s Twinkie.

At school the teacher is showing them about acids and bases. The kids are bored until he pours vinegar into baking soda and they all wake up.

The next day on the way to school, sneaky Squish takes a bite out of his Twinkie.  So that when he offers it to Pod, Pod refuses.

But when Squish gets to school, his stomach starts to gurgle and he turns green (literally). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: March 11, 2013] The Get Rich Quick Club

grq

I grabbed this audio book because I knew we were taking a longish trip and I wanted something for the kids to listen to.  It’s hard to find a book that both a 7-year-old boy and  5-year-old girl will enjoy (although truth be told, T. and C. are up for just about any story as long as the language isn’t too hard–nevertheless, I try to find stuff that’s age appropriate.  (Which means that the stories I’m excited for them to enjoy are about two years off yet) .  The library has a great online resource (Listen NJ) but the search features are awful–it’s really hard to search by age and it’s also hard to find stories that are a good length (2 hours or so). There’s so many that are 8 hours or 8 minutes.

But anyhow, I knew that Dan Gutman was a fun author (C. loves the whole My Weird School series) but I didn’t know this story.  And it turned out to be great.

The story is set in Maine.  It’s about five kids.   Gina Tumolois the leader.  She says right out that she always wanted to be rich.  Her hero is Bill Gates and she wants to be a millionaire before she is a teenager (she’s 11).  She is unabashed about her love of money.  And she is very bummed that she has none.

The summer starts and she is bored.  Because she has no money.  So she and her friend Robert , who hang out in the branches of the tree in the park behind their house start talking about what to do for the summer.  Then their friend Quincy comes over.  Quincy is my favorite character because she is from Australia and she speaks in Australian slang (which is very helpfully translated every time she speaks–you can learn a lot of great funny slang including some very finny words for “idiot” from this book).  There’s also the Boggle twins, 8 year old boys who are a pain–and unstoppable liars. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Hot in the Shade (1989).

Before this album came out, Paul Stanley did a little club tour.  My friends Matt and Nick and I got to see him in Wilkes Barre, PA. It was a pretty great show, and intimate in a way that Kiss shows can never be.  So we were pretty psyched for this new album.  And yes, this album holds special memories or me because we used to listen to it a lot after the show.

The biggest problem with this album is bloat.  I don’t have any kind of evidence to back this up, but this was the first Kiss album that took advantage of the compact disc’s length.  And so it’s easily twenty minutes longer than most Kiss albums (and the later albums had some filler on the already).  Plus it’s  almost longer than Kiss’ first two albums combined.     That’s just too much.

Even Kiss’ weaker albums usually start with a good song.  Not so much Hot in the Shade.  “Rise to It” is pretty generic even by mid 80s Kiss standards.  They try to make it fun with the Ri–e i-e-i part, but it doesn’t quite make it.  “Betrayed” is a bit more of a rocker and is quite a good song.  Lyrically it’s not so great (it’s funny to think of Gene Simmons trying o be down with the common man), but it rocks pretty hard.  My friend Matt and I liked “Hide Your Heart” quite a bit when it came out.  The chorus: Ah ah ah ah, hey hey hey do do do do do do do do do” is pretty bad though.  “Prisoner of Love” musically sounds like Kiss of old, until the verses come in.  “Read My Body” is really catchy until you realize it sounds just like “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  That’s embarrassing.  Although the metaphor is well done, at least.  “Slap in the Face” might as well be “Let’s Put the X in Sex” from Thrashes Smashes and Hits.

Then comes the cheesiest ballad in Kiss’ history—actually written by Michael Bolton, yes Michael Bolton.  And man do I love it.  Paul is in full voice, he sounds great, the harmonies are spot on.  It is the cheesiest metal ballad ever, but I never get tired of it.  It even has an acoustic guitar solo—pre-made for Unplugged!  “Silver Spoon” is a good rocker, with a fun chorus.  Although the gospel singers at the end are a bit overkill—it seems silly to have invited them in for 90 seconds of singing.  “Cadillac Dreams” is just a bit too close to a Beatles song for my liking.  “King of Hearts” is a decent song, and “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away” (were Kiss really hard up for money?  what’s up with these lyrics?).  We had an in-joke on my dorm floor, so I can never take this song seriously (that may also be because they steal the “Hey man” right out of David Bowie’s mouth).  Love Me to Hate You” is pretty generic although catchy.  “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” is also a decent song.

“Little Caesar” is the first (and only, really) song that Eric Carr sang lead vocals on.  As a singer he’s a really good drummer.  The song is pretty generic too and is unfortunately given the same name as a bad pizza company.  “Boomerang” has a good fast pace (once again, not unlike a Van Halen song).

[READ: August 11, 2012] “The Cryptozoologist”

This is yet another short story broken down into lots of little sections.  What’s neat about the way that this one is done is that because the narrator is a cryptozoologist, each section is headed by a cryptid (animals whose existence has not been proven).  But in addition to discussing these animals, the sections also describe a history of the narrator’s life.  His life in this field started when his grandfather told him about a snake which latched onto the end of its own tail and rolled away from its pursuers (section title: Hoop Snakes).  His grandfather never lied, so it had to be true.

It proceeds through The Mušhuššu (a serpent dragon spoken of in ancient Babylon), through the Jenny Hanivers (jeunes d’Anvers), into The Wolf of Ansbach (believed to be an old Bürgermeister who was transformed into a werewolf), and on to The Batutut, a monkey man in Laos.  Most of these sections describe the origins of the cryptids (and his lack of success at spotting them), but The Batutut section is also about himself and how he was in the war when this particular cryptid entered his life.

Then we move on to The Altamaha-Ha in Southeastern Georgia, while Giglioli’s Whale, which had two dorsal fins dates to 1867.  The Mongolian Death Worm, said to live in the sands of the Gobi desert is a cryptid that he actually experienced in the American desert.  he didn’t see it, but he could feel its presence.  The Madagascar Tree is a killing tree–it looks like a pineapple and eats sacrifices.  This story was told by two adventurers who saw the tree eat a woman.  The best part of is that there is no proof that the two men who are credited with telling the story actually existed themselves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DJANGO DJANGO-“Default” (2012).

This song was featured in a post on NPR’s All Songs Considered site on July 31.  Django Django are a Scottish duo and they sound very retro.  The two guys sing in close harmony that is more of an echo than a harmony.  The music is mostly very old-sounding guitars–big and unprocessed–and yet the rest of the track is quite processed and electronic.

It’s a simple, straightforward song (with some cool effects).  The NPR write up about them says that they are more of an electronic band, although this song doesn’t really suggest that (except in the middle section where the sounds are manipulated in a cool way).  I’m not sure if I’m all that interested in the rest of the album  In fact, after a few listens, I’m not as excited by this song as I initially was.  But it’s still fun.

[READ: July 31, 2012] The Rector and the Rogue

The Collins Library is back!  And since this seems to be the summer of non fiction, I decided to read it now.  I have loved every Paul Collins book so far in the Collins Library (old, out of print and forgotten titles that Collins resurrects) and this one–which I admit seemed questionable–was just as wonderful as the others.  The Rector and the Rogue details a much-forgotten episode of a grand-scale prank–the systematic public abuse of Dr Morgan Dix, Rector of Trinity Church by a trickster known as “Gentleman Joe” in 1880.  Yes, 1880.

Swanberg told the story, eighty years later, as a rather gripping tale.  The afterward explains that he just happened upon some information about the story and needed to know more.  So, he did the research and compiled first an essay and then this (reasonably short) book.

And so he begins his tale without letting the audience know what they are in store for (just like Dix had no idea what he was in store for).  One morning in February 1880, Rev Dix opened the door to see a safe salesman from Acme Safe in downtown Manhattan.  The salesman says that Dix inquired about safes.  Dix had done no such thing and sent the man on his way.  Then a man from a local girls’ school rang the bell and said that Dix’ charge was more than welcome to attend.  Dix had no daughter or interest in the school. The schoolmaster showed him a postcard from Dix which asked for information.  The postcard was not his own (obviously) and was not in his handwriting (obviously).  Then came a man selling two horses, replying to his postcard….  This went on all afternoon.

The afternoon mail was full also of responses to similar inquiries–about wigs, dance lessons, kitchenware, etc.

And so began the botheration of Dr Dix. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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