Archive for the ‘Outside’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: EARTH-All Tomorrows Parties, October 5, 2011 (2011).

Anyone who likes Black Sabbath a lot knows that they were originally called Earth.  About mid way through this concert, the lead singer/guitarist of Earth says that he grew up listening to Black Sabbath and reading HP Lovecraft, so Earth is clearly something of a tribute.   Incidentally, he grew up in Manalapan, NJ which is just down the road from us.

All of these bona fides means that I should love Earth.  But I have to say that although I didn’t dislike this show at all, it’s really not my thing.  Earth creates long droney songs.  I tried to measure a couple of BPM of songs and came out with 60 for one song and 42 for another (by contrast Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” is 180 BPM).

The songs are all instrumental and range from 8 to 12 minutes.  Again, nothing objectionable about that.  Indeed most of the songs are cinematic and cool sounding.  My problem with them is that there wasn’t a lot of dynamism in the songs.  The bass wasn’t crazy heavy or loud or chest rattling (as I had been led to believe Earth’s bass was).  The melodies were pretty, but it came across as soundtrack music–for a very very slow zombie chase, perhaps.

According to some basic history, Earth used to be a heavier, noisier band, but have morphed away from that, and I suspect I would have liked their earlier stuff a bit more (although the one older that they played, “Ouroboros is Broken” wasn’t that much different from the rest.

NPR broadcast most of the All Tomorrow’s Parties concerts, and I enjoyed listening to them all.  But Earth is just not my thing.  You can check it out here.

[READ: October 20, 2012] “A Farewell to Yarns”

I mentioned the other day that I read one complete piece in the three Outside magazines since I subscribed.  It was this one.  The thing that I have enjoyed about the Outside articles that I have cherry picked is that unexpected writers pop up to write an essay.  So here’s Ian Frazier, comedian and essayist, writing for Outside.  Weird.  (Or maybe not so weird, he’s an Editor).

And, unlike many of the other things I’ve read in Outside, Frazier is not, repeat not going to do anything brave or daring or stupid, he’s just going to muse about a topic.  I like it.

Basically, this whole piece is a compliant about how with everything documented and digitalized it’s impossible to tell fibs about the one that got away or as he calls it, “an outdoorsman’s sacred right to exaggerate.”  What I like is that he takes us all the way back to ye olde mapmakers who wrote Here be Monsters which leads to this wonderful idea that I have never considered “the pictures of the monsters must have been accurate; how would the mapmakers have known what to draw unless eyewitnesses had told them?”

And he moves on through those who spied the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.  He even talks about one I had ever heard of, a hidden city in Siberia called Gorod Koka-Kola, built during the cold war as a reproduction of an American city, they speak English and live and behave like Americans–perfect for spymasters to practice   Genius–and how would anyone ever know if it existed in remotest Siberia?

But Fraizer’s greater point is that “Lies make the wild scary and alluring.”  He grew up in Rural Illinois afraid of the Argyle Monster who haunted Argyle State Park–and, boy, how many adventures he had or dreamed of having back then. (more…)

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After enjoying yet another article from Outside, I figured it was time to subscribe, you know, give the magazine makers some money for their work.

I decided to wait for three issues to offer a verdict because the first two were really disappointing.  Subscriptions run $2 an issue with a list price of $7.  I haven’t really talked about subscription prices of other magazines before but this one is quite high.  It’s staggeringly high for the amount of ads that are in the magazine, too.  They have a half a dozen advertorials which look like articles (which I hate) and all those personals in the back.  Plus the mag is littered with ads for gear (which I know gear people love but still  it should impact the price of the magazine.  Sheesh).

So the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past were personal stories (from the likes of Wells Tower, etc).  They are extended pieces by reasonably famous authors and they have a great voice.  In the issues I’ve received so far, the feature stories have been the 50 Best Jobs and Are You Tough Enough?  That Jobs one seems like a fun article and indeed the places they chose were interesting.   Although this was more of a fluff piece than a real article–no one is getting a job looking at these companies–certainly not just because they read about it here.  Also, note that none of the companies are East of the Mississippi.  There’s also later article on adventure seeking entrepreneurs.  Yawn.  I gather that the Are You Tough enough type of article is the real meat and potatoes of the magazine, with headlines like “Eat Like a Champion” and “Surfing Monster Waves,” the actual target audience for this magazine must be slim indeed.  I know it’s not me. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Grizzly Man Soundtrack (2005).

This is a largely instrumental soundtrack by Richard Thompson.  It features some wonderful guitar work (no surprise there).  There are several slow acoustic numbers (“Tim & the Bears,” “Foxes”–which is in the style of his old traditional folk ballads) there’s also the slow impassioned electric guitar solo (set over a simple beat) of “Main Title.”  “Ghosts in the Maze ” is a dark piece, the exact opposite of “Glencoe” a traditional-sounding song, both of these are under two minutes long.  “Parents” adds a cello, which means a sombre song.  “Twilight Cowboy” is one of the longer pieces, and it really conveys an openness of nature.

“Treadwell No More” is a slow six-minute dirge type song.  “That’s My Story” has spoken dialogue by Treadwell, over a simple unobtrusive guitar.  But as the title of the record says, Music composed and performed by Richard Thompson.  Which means there are other musicians on the soundtrack too.  “Small Racket” is where things start to get noisy and a little uncomfortable.  There’s some squeaks and slashes of sound, but it’s mostly a tense guitar feel.  Then comes the darker, scarier stuff.  “Bear Fight,” is a series of cello noises and swipes.  “Big Racket” is indeed that, with guitar from Henry Kaiser and noises from Jim O’Rourke.  “Corona for Mr Chocolate” is all Jim O’Rourke, it’s also odd noises and moods.  None of these three songs are terribly off-putting but they reflect a very different tone.

The album ends with “Main Title Revisited,” which is what it says and “Coyotes” by Don Edwards which has some coyote yodels.

It’s a good soundtrack, really conveying what the movie is about, and while not essential Richard Thompson, it is still some great guitar work

[READ: July 23, 2012] Magic Hours

I thought that I had never heard of Tom Bissell, but I see that I have read three of these articles already (I guess I don’t always pay attention to the author’s name).

This collection of essays comes from the last eleven years (2000-2011).  The articles have appeared in The Believer & The New Yorker (these are the ones I have read) and Boston Review, Harper’s, New York Times Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Times Book Review and Outside (which I am starting to think I should really check out more).

Primarily they are articles about writing–he looks at fiction, non-fiction, film or a combination of them.  Bissell is a strong writer and he does not hold back when he sees something he likes or dislikes.  I found his articles (all of which are quite long–about 30 pages each) to be engaging, funny and very persuasive.  I’m really glad I read the book (and was even glad to re-read the articles that I had read before). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: METRIC-“Gold Guns Girls” (2009).

I mentioned to Sarah that WRFF plays this song all the time and that I really liked it but I had no idea what the band or even the song title was because they never say it.  And, I couldn’t really figure out any of the words (I’m usually working with loud tools) to investigate online.

Well, we were in the car the other day and, of course, they played it again.  Happily, the Prius has a “message” button on the radio that tells you the names of the band and the song title (if the radio station provides it).  Huzzah, here’s the song (hilariously, they played it on the way home from our Halloween party too, proving my point that they really over-play this song).  But I still think its great.

I’ve been interested in Metric for a while (there are members of Broken Social Scene in the band) but for some reason I never listened to them.

This track opens with a fast guitar riff which is undercut by this cool bass riff.  Over the top staccato vocals (that come in unexpectedly) and a nice harmony type vocal (like later period Lush) make this opening really captivating.

The repeated chorus “Is it ever gonna be enough” (with I think whispered “enough”s in the background) remind me so much of the mid 90s alt rock that I love so much.  I have no idea if the rest of the disc is like this, but I have finally bitten the bullet and decided to order the whole thing.  I hope I’m not disappointed.

[READ: 2005 & October 25, 2010] “Bird-Dogging the Bush Vote”

A while ago I read a whole bunch of pieces by Wells Tower.  I intended to read all of the pieces I could find by him and I discovered he had written a few pieces for Harper’s as well as the articles for Outside.  I’m fairly certain I read this story back in 2005 when it came out, as it sounds kind of familiar, but maybe I, like Tower himself, was too bummed with the results to actually read about it in detail.

In this piece, Tower decides to go “undercover” and volunteers at some Bush/Cheney offices in Florida (a pivotal state that year and one in which malfeasance was predicted on a large scale).  Tower is unabashed about his distaste for Bush (to us, not to the Floridians).  He admits that he did feel a bit of hope in the President right after the events of September 11, 2001, but by September 12, he was already disgusted with him again.

And so he spends a few weeks in Florida actually asking people to vote for Bush in hopes of finding something out of the ordinary.  Which, aside from some real mean spiritedness (which I’m sure was the same in the Kerry camp), there was nothing scandalous to report.   Although I will say that the example he gives (telling a Democrat that voting was on the day after the actual election, which I’d seen in a number of other places too, really pisses me off despite its fairly innocuousness and no doubt ineffectiveness–as a librarian I hate telling lies to people). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDS-Neopolitan (1991).

This was the first Odds album.  For such a quirky name, Odds played some pretty standard music. I’m not even sure if the first song qualifies as “alternative” as it sounds not unlike an early Phish song, only less quirky (and much shorter).

The disc offers a pretty nice range of poppy tracks, from acoustic based songs like “Are You Listening?” to louder guitar rockers liked “Evolution Time” (probably the most interesting track here).

Another notable song is “Wendy Under the Stars” a surprisingly explicit song about the day Elvis died.  The other track that stands out is “Love is the Subject” which has a harder more abrupt sound that is actually a bit premature for that style and sounds quite funky for this album.

Lyrically, the cleverest song (and one that seems to foreshadow their future songs is “Domesticated Blind” “Making babies, buying houses.  A French guy’s name is on our trousers.  We used to be such rabble rousers.  Before the world revolved around us; I’ve been domesticated blind”

I like this album, but I admit that it’s not the kind of disc that makes people go, “Ooh, who is this?  I want to get it!”

[READ: September 12, 2010] “Vogalooooonga”

This is the last of the Outside pieces that Tower wrote (not chronologically, just for my reading schedule).  And I’m really pleased that I saved it for last.

It does what Tower does best: tell a story while relating an event.  In fact, if he just changed a few details, this would make a great short story.

Wells and his brother have apparently been on many “assignments” together, and it transpires that when they travel together they often end up at each others throats.  So the piece opens with them agreeing to never do another story together again.  Then they get a call to go to Venice together to ride in the Vogalonga, “a 19-mile noncompetitive rowing regatta, held in late May, that promises a breathtaking tour of the old republic’s lagoon and outer islands” and that is traversed only in vehicles that can be paddled.  Wells’ brother says that they can’t pass up a trip to Venice, so he agrees to go along.

Based on the other stories that Wells has written, he is an athletic guy (and his brother is evidently bigger and stronger than he is).  Nevertheless, a 19 mile canoe trip in the canals of Venice can only lead to trouble.

And so this piece reads a bit like a David Sedaris story of familial in-fighting (although it’s a lot more manly than any of Sedaris’ pieces).  They fight from the get go (including his brother’s suggestion that they assemble their 17-foot canoe in their 10-foot hotel room.  And aggressive hilarity ensues. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CITY AND COLOUR-Live @ The Orange Lounge EP (2010).

City and Colour is Dallas Green from Alexisonfire (he’s the one with the good singing voice as opposed to the screamy guy).

This EP contains 6 songs, 4 from his last album Bring me Your Love and the 2 hits from his first album Sometimes.

As with his previous live release [Live CD/DVD], he sings these songs solo.  Each song is done on acoustic guitar.  But unlike that Live album, this disc does not appear to have been recorded in front of an audience.  There is no cheering, no banter, just him and his guitar.

If you’re a fan of Green (and you really like his voice) this is a great release.  There are several spots where he sings in if not acapella, then with very quiet musical accompaniment so his voice is pretty naked.  This is a limited edition EP (apparently) but it’s a really good introduction to the man and his music.

I must say though that I never noticed just how obsessed with death he is!  This recording style really highlights all the times he says death or dead.  Huh.

[READ: September 12, 2010] “Love in the Ruins”

This was the darkest of all of Wells Tower’s Outside magazine pieces.  And although it has some humor, for the most part it was a sad lost-love letter to a city that he once knew.

One year after Hurricane Katrina, Tower went back to New Orlenas to ride his bike.  He had lived in New Orleans for a short time before Katrina hit and he used to ride his bike for long stretches across the Mississippi River levee.  He decided to revisit it to see what it was like after the disaster. (more…)

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This is the first single from The Mommyheads’ new Dromedary release Finest Specimens.  The album (which is sort of a greatest hits, but not) comes out next month, but until then you can hear th is new track at a number of places, including the blog largehearted boy (which has all kinds of cool free listens on it).

This is a 7 minute (live) track.  It opens with some cool keyboards.  They feature what I’ve come to think of as Mommyheads style, in which the bass and guitars (or in this case keyboards) play different things that seem unrelated but which work together.  A great chorus pulls it all together.

This live song has about 3 minutes of instrumental jamminess at the end.  It doesn’t really help the memorableness of the song (as you’ve long forgotten the catchy “That’s right” hook by the end of it), but man they sound great jamming together like that: a tight, psychedelic freakout that just builds in coolness.  It’s almost like two songs in one.

[READ: September 11, 2010] “The Tuber”

This essay is about Wells Tower riding the rivers of Southern Florida in a tube.  It’s also about John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.”

One of the things that I like about Wells Tower is that even in his non-fiction, he ties things together with literary substance.  And so, he sets up this adventure as a twisted take on Cheever’s Neddy Merrill swimming the 8 miles of swimming pools in suburban New York: Tower wants to try to tube the rivers of Florida all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. (more…)

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This is the final bonus track on Dromedary‘s recently reissued Mommyheads album Flying Suit.

This is probably the most conventional Mommyheads song that I know of.  It reminds me a lot of the music from Late Night with David Letterman.  It swings, it’s jaunty, it’s kind of funny and it has some almost zany guitar work on it.

It is probably the ideal “bonus track” for a band that usually writes quirky, off -kilter songs as it doesn’t sound like it should be on the album, but it is still in the spirit of the rest of the songs.  The jazziness if reminiscent of their other work, but there’s something oddly rocking about this track.  It’s a real treat.

Check the songs out (and buy them) here.

[READ: September 10, 2010] “The Thing with Feathers”

Wells Tower week continues with this article about the thought to be extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.  He mentions humorously in the article that NPR went crazy about the woodpecker when one was seen in Arkansas, and I remember that very well.  There were several pieces about the woodpecker and I was really excited about it.

Hairy Woodpecker

I’m not a serious birdwatcher, but ever since I saw my first hairy woodpecker at my apartment in Boston, I’ve been a huge fan of having birds around. The hairy woodpecker is tiny (and very cute).  Since we moved to a wooded area of New Jersey, I’ve been lucky enough to see a red-bellied woodpecker and, I believe, the even more elusive pileated woodpecker.  We’ve even had flickers in our yard.

So this article sees Wells Tower heading down to Arkansas to talk to the man who claims to have seen the first Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Gene Sparling.  The man who caused all the fuss to begin with back in 2005.

And this is a great piece of non-fiction.  Tower brings his excellent storytelling skills and describes a trip into the Arkansas woods looking for this possibly extinct bird. (more…)

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Dromedary has recently reissued The Mommyheads’ Flying Suit CD.  And there are three bonus tracks available on it now.

I mentioned Flying Suitlittle while ago.  What I really liked about that disc was that it was all over the place and yet remained comfortably within its genre of jangle pop-rock.

This first of three new tracks is just under 2 minutes long.  It has a watery guitar and a propulsive bass, and yet it is still a sort of delicate song.  The vocals, as with the rest of the disc, are soft, with nice harmonies.  It’s hard to get overly excited about the song (as it’s not like a sonic blast of 2 minutes), but it’s nice to have even more Mommyheads.

Bonus track number 2 tomorrow.  Check the songs out (and buy them) here.

[READ: September 9, 2010] “Cannery Woe”

Since I recently read the Wells Tower story in the New Yorker, I remembered that I was going to read his other travel stories from Outside.  I started with this one because it is shortest (1 page).

Tower has a wonderful grasp of storytelling. So even a fairly simple story like this (where really nothing terrible happens) is made quite exciting. And the twist, such as it was, is totally unexpected. (more…)

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After the two minute bonus track of “Over” comes the lengthy (very lengthy for The Mommyheads) “Box”.

I’m not sure what the song is about, but it’s got some great licks within it.  It opens with a twisted guitar opening, one that never sems to settle.  In fact, the entire first verse seems like the song doesn’t quite know where it’s going (which is deliberate, of course).

Because by the end of the second verse we get a very lengthy instrumental break that is ferocious in its coolness.  It begins softly and then morphs into a psychedelic workout: harmonized guitar notes, funky drumming, and yet all within a mellow styling.  It’s very clever.

Its a strange song and it may be my favorite Mommyheads song of all.  It’s an excellent bonus track.  Check the songs out (and buy them) here.

[READ: September 9, 2008] “New Orleans, LA”

This is probably the most straightforward “reporting” piece that I’ve read by Tower.  As such, it doesn’t have a lot of flair to it.

It’s an interesting look at the rebuilding of New Orleans, into what appears to be a greener, stronger and better city than ever before.  It almost seems like you need a terrible catastrophe and the goodwill of citizens to make a place even better than it was before.

He mentions a few individuals who were (and maybe still are) doing extra work to rebuild the city, and they are quite inspirational.

It’s available here.

Because it was so brief, I’m pairing it with another brief but much more entertaining article: “Extract a Tick from Your Junk” from the “How to Do Everything (Well Almost)” piece from the July 2007 issue.  (more…)

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