Archive for the ‘GQ’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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braindeadSOUNDTRACK: JIM WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #8 (November 7, 2008).

jim whiteI didn’t know who Jim White was before this Tiny Desk Concert.  And I’m still not entirely sure who is he.  But he’s a gifted songwriter and storyteller.

Bob explains how he and Jim tried to work together for All Songs Considered, but that every time Bob asked Jim to do a 3 minute piece, he’d hand in a 15 minute piece.  And then somehow Jim would edit it into a 17 minute piece.  Jim admits that anything can set him off on a tangent (most of which are thoroughly engaging).  He also says that he writes songs not a bout “you” but about “me.”

So with him and a drum machine, he sings some really pretty songs.  “Jailbird” is a slow ballad that is quite beautiful.  I enjoyed that he played his harmonica solo without playing the guitar at the same time (I don’t know if the guitar was prerecorded or looped, I think prerecorded).

Then he gives a funny story about working with the guitarist for P.M. Dawn.  “Turquoise House” is a boppy little number about not fitting in.  It’s a wonderful song.  “Stranger Candy” is a darker song (full of lessons).  He says that it took him several tries to get the music right for this one.

There’s a fascinating story about a gift that Jim sent to Bob.  The story goes on about a racist incident in which his daughter rises above racism.

“Somewhere in the World” is a gentle ballad about finding the person you are waiting for.  I like it (except for that falsetto note at the end).  Then he talks about how for his old songs (like the previous one) he was kind of bummed.  But he has grown up and is happier.  And that has made his songwriting much more difficult.

The final song is called “A Town Called Amen.”  It’s another boppy little song, charming and sweet.  And Jim White seems about the sweetest, nicest musician in the world.

I came away from this Tiny Desk Concert really enjoying Jim White and wanting to hear more from him.

[READ: December 15, 2013] The Braindead Megaphone

This is Saunders’ first collection of essays and non-fiction.  At some point, I stated that I thought I would enjoy his non-fiction more than his fiction.  That is both true and not. I enjoyed his “reporting” essays (from GQ) quite a lot.  But I found his shorter, sillier pieces to be a but too much.  Nevertheless, he is an inquisitive reporter, looking for truth and traveling far and wide to find it (even braving the depths of FOX news). It’s a good collection and only slightly dated.

The Braindead Megaphone
This essay seemed a bit like a blunt instrument hitting a soft object.  Although 2007 is seven years ago, I feel like the subjects (dumb newscasters) were pretty soft even then.  However, it’s entirely possible that people who were apolitical or just simply not that interested in what obnoxious outlets like FOX were doing may not have been entirely aware that the Braindead Megaphone (ie. all news outlets) were not doing us any favors with their spouting of nonsense and being incurious about where stories are really news worthy or even accurate.  I imagine this is mostly just preaching to the converted.  I was a little worried that the whole book would be just as unsubtle, but that proved to be a foundless worry.  This is not to say that I didn’t agree with everything he said in this essay.  He was spot on.  And often he was pretty funny too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Bergtatt (1994).

Ulver has some music in the soundtrack to Until the Light Takes Us and my friend Lar pointed me to a location where you could download a bunch of their music (this was before Spotify of course). 

So I grabbed a few of their albums expecting to hear some brutal death metal.  And I kind of did, but I also heard classical guitar, flute solos and chanting.   So this album’s full title is Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (“Taken into the Mountain – An Adventure in 5 Chapters”) and it comes in at a whopping 35 minutes–not bad for an epic.

The opening track (“I Troldskog faren vild” (“Lost in the Forest of Trolls”)) is fascinating–a kind of chanting vocals over a quietly-mixed-in-the-background black metal.  The music is so quiet (and yet clearly black metal) that it almost comes across as ambient noise, especially over the multilayered chanting (I have no idea what language they are singing in).  It ends with a pretty acoustic guitar passage that segues into a very traditional sounding heavy metal section–with a catchy solo that takes us to the end.

“Soelen gaaer bag Aase need” (“The Sun Sets Behind Hills”) opens with, of course, a flute solo.  It’s a minute long and quite melancholy before blasting into the fastest of heavy black metal complete with growling vocals and nonstop pummeling.  But after a minute of that it’s back to the layered chanting like in the first song.  The song ends with a conflation of the two–the chanting metal with the growling black metal underneath.  It’s quite a sound.

Track three “Graablick blev hun vaer” (“Graablick Watches Her Closely”)opens with a lengthy acoustic guitar intro–not complicated, but quite pretty and unlike the poor recording quality of the metal, it seems to be recorded with high quality equipment.  After about 45 seconds that gives way to more black metal.  In a strange twist, the black metal section just fades out, replaced by more acoustic guitar and what seems like the end of the song.  But instead, there is a strange quiet section–not music, but sounds–like someone walking around in the cold forest with crunchy noises and little else.  For almost two minutes.  Until the black metal comes back with a vengeance.

Slow guitar with slow chanting opens track 4 “Een Stemme locker” (“A Voice Beckons”) (the shortest at only 4 minutes).  And the amazing thing is that it doesn’t change into something else.  It is a nice folk song.

The final song “Bergtatt – Ind i Fjeldkamrene” (“Bergtatt – Into the Mountain Chambers”) has a blistering opening followed by some of the most intricate acoustic guitars on the record.  It morphs into a very urgent-sounding black metal section which lasts about 5 minutes.   But just to keep us on our toes, the song (and the disc) end with more classic acoustic guitar.

There is a story here (allmusic says it is a Norse legend about maidens being abducted by denizens of the underworld) and that might help explain the music madness.  But as a musical composition it works quite well.  The chanting over the black metal is really effective and the acoustic instruments bring a nice sonic change from the pounding metal. 

This is not for everyone obviously, but the diversity makes this an interesting introduction into the black metal scene.  Baby steps. 

[READ: November 4, 2011] “Apocalypse”

This is the final non-fiction essay of Junot Díaz that I could find online.  The other one comes from GQ and is called “Summer Love”, but there’s no access to it online. 

In this essay, Díaz looks at the impact of the earthquake that devastated Haiti now that it has been over a year.  Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic which has a long and very brutal history with the people of Haiti–they share a land mass after all.  But rather than looking only at Haiti and how it was devastated, Díaz takes this as an opportunity to see what the earthquake reveals about our country and the state of the world.

The essay is broken down into eight parts.  The first revisits what happened.  The second discusses the meanings of apocalypse, which sets up the “theme” of this essay.  The First: the actual end of the world (which for the thousands of people who died, the earthquake was); Second: the catastrophes that resemble the end of the world (given the destruction of Haiti and the devastation that still lingers, this is certainly applicable); Third: a disruptive event that provokes revelation.

Díaz is going to explore this third option to see what this earthquake reveals. 

What Díaz uncovers is that the earthquake was not so much a natural disaster as a social disaster–a disaster of our creating.  The tsunami that hit Asia in 2004 was a social disaster because the coral reefs that might have protected the coasts were decimated to encourage shipping.  Hurricane Katrina was also a social disaster–years of neglect, the Bush administration’s selling of the wetlands to developers and the decimation of the New Orleans Corp of Engineers budget by 80 percent all contributed to a situation where Katrina could be so devastating.

Then he talks looks at the history of Haiti.  I had known some of this story, but not as much as he provides here–the constant abuse of the citizens, the constant abuse of their finances (both from simple theft and from French and American planning that changed their economy).  There’s also the story of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.  Basically Haiti was a disaster waiting to happen. 

Díaz goes into great detail about the global economy and how it impacted the poor in Haiti and he shows that it doesn’t take a lot of extrapolation to see it reflected in the rest of the world as well.  With the constant rise in standards for the wealthy and the constant abuse that the poor take, it’s not hard to see that Haiti could easily happen here.  If not in our lifetime, then certainly in our childrens’.

But Díaz has hope.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOGOL BORDELLO-East Infection (EP Extra) (2005).

I learned about Gogol Bordello from some live shows available on NPR.  I enjoyed their sets so much I decided to check out their albums as well.  And I love them.  The albums are full of frenetic energy (they give Sarah agita, she says).  But everything that I love about fun, spirited, gypsy music is present here.

The band is essentially a band of gypsies, headed by wonderfully-mustachioed Eugene Hutz.  And their live show (as demonstrated by the included video) is a wild circus of fun (curtains and dancers and fire buckets and bowling pins and musicians jumping out of boxes), it’s like a wild party.  The video is for “Never Young Again” which would appear in full on their next album. It’s a fun song that reverses the age-old lament of wanting to be young again.  But mostly you watch this for the live footage.

This EP is probably not the best place to start as an introduction to Gogol Bordello (but it was really cheap so I bought it first).  Although it does offer many of the different aspects of Gogol’s music.  The EP features 6 songs and the video.  The songs are intense, hyper, crazy and wonderful.  “East Infection” opens with some nonsense lyrics (“Lee lee lee lee lee, la la la la la”) and morphs into what may be more nonsense, although there’s actual lyrics here.  “Ave B.” (which is also on their following album Gypsy Punks) is a more acoustic-based song, but it still has loud parts to it.

“Mala Vida” is a cover of a song by Manu Chao.  This version is a super fast punky track sung in Spanish (despite Eugene Hutz’ origins in the Ukraine, he has lived in Brazil for years and sings many songs in Spanish).  The original is very similar in temperament, although GB version is a bit more frenetic.

“Copycat” is the odd track on the disc, it’s a kind of dub track with big fat bass and a very slinky sound.  It and “Mala” were produced by Steve Albini.

“Strange Uncles from Abroad” is to me a very typical GB song: lots of violin, lots of dah dah dahs and a great melody.  It has a total gypsy feel, and goes through some loud and quiet moments.   The final track, “Madagascar-Roumania (Tu jésty fáta)” is the longest track by far (6 minutes).  It sounds like a demo and lacks the punch of the rest of the disc, but it showcases the softer side of the band (and yes there is one).

So, maybe this EP is a good place to start after all.  It’s certainly not throwaway material.  And the EP cover alone is pretty outstanding.

[READ: June 14, 2011] Five Dials Number 10

This is the issue of Five Dials that introduced me to the publication.  It is a special issue devoted to the memory of David Foster Wallace.  The entire issue is comprised of the eulogies given at the DFW memorial.  [The details are a little sketchy here…I’m not sure if these are all of the eulogies or just the eulogies from well known people.  I’m not even sure who would have been in the audience for this memorial.  The notes say “These tributes were given on 23 October, 2008 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, New York University” and yet the Jonathan Franzen entry says “here at Pomona.”  So… details are sketchy].  Nevertheless, the tributes are heartfelt, informative and very moving.

Of course, I’m not going to ‘critique’ them, I’ll just try to summarize them.  But really, they’re all worth reading if you’re a fan. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Odds-nest (1996).

My friend Amber from Vancouver copied this disc onto cassette for me sometime around when it came out.   I had heard “Heterosexual Man” when it was a minor novelty hit in the early 90s, but Amber wanted me to hear more from this Vancouver band.

Since the Odds dissolved, Craig Northey has become a proficient soundtrack man (Corner Gas, Kids in the Hall, and much more). But back in the 90s, Northey was simply put, a great pop songwriter (his bandmate Steven Drake was no slouch either).

“Someone Who’s Cool” is a fantastic song that should have been huge: powerful pop with a hint of 90’s rock added to keep it from being treacly.  And, of course, Northey’s voice is great.  There’s nothing particularly notable about it: it’s not whiny or deep or twangy or anything, it’s just a good singing voice (which is kind of unusual these days).

“Make You Mad” and “Hurt Me” have really catchy opening guitar riffs (and are a bit heavier than “Cool,” and yet they feature choruses that are full of harmonies and sing alongs.

“Tears & Laughter” has a jagged, wild guitar sound that, while not overtly heavy or anything, really rocks on this disc. “Nothing Beautiful” should have been a huge indie rock hit, but maybe it was too polished for indie cred.  It’s a great minor key song with, yes, a very catchy chorus.

This was the final Odds record.  It’s a solid collection of songs.  Of course, the band has recently sort of reunited as the New Odds, so we’ve not heard the last from them.

[READ: September 11, 2010] “My Kushy New Job”

This article sees Wells Tower heading off to Amsterdam for a crash course in learning to sell drugs.  He is assigned a two-week job as a dealer in a Dutch coffeeshop.

I’ve been to Amsterdam and I checked out a coffeeshop while I was there, but this article provides more information than I ever knew about them (and suggests that they are trying to spruce up their image since then). It seems that the selling of pot in Amsterdam is still a nebulous area, legally.

Shops can only have a certain amount of supply on hand (which means that most stores have offsite premises where they keep their extra stash; they house more than the legal amount and are therefore illegal.  And, technically, the people who transport the stash from offsite to onsite can be arrested up until the moment they enter the shop.  Customers can only by a small amount at time and, strangely enough, coffeshops cannot advertise (more on this later).

Tower finds the whole experience to be far less “woah, cool man” than everyone who hears about the job thinks it will be.  First, he finds that the buyers are really intense (and don’t appreciate how long it takes him to measure a gram of hash).  But by the end, he finds most of them to be simply rude and a little dead inside. (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.


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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