Archive for the ‘Q’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: A-Hi-Fi Serious (2002).

Many bands are hard to search for online.  A may have topped the roster of most unsearchable bands (they were named in 1993 way before Google was even a thought and when they would be at the front of record store racks).  A are also the alphabetically first CD I own.  So my collection literally goes from A to Z

A are a band from Suffolk England.   They formed in 1993, broke up in 2005 and have been sort of reuniting off and on every since.

Their second album A vs. Monkey Kong was well received and this, their third album had a solid single in “Nothing.”  I’m not sure how I heard of them (probably well reviewed in Q magazine back in 2002) so I grabbed this album.  This album comes with a Quicktime video!  When I learned about this band back in 2002, scads of information were not available about them.  So as I was looking them up I learned all kinds of things about them (like that they cite Rush as an influence).  And that this album name comes from the name of the hi-fi electronics store Alan Partridge buys a stereo from in the last episode of I’m Alan Partridge series 1.

This album is pretty punky/grungy.  Lead singer Jason Perry has a distinctive voice with some good power.

There are all kinds of hit-making elements in here.  Big crunching guitars coupled with soaring vocals dominate most of the songs, like “Nothing” and “Pacific Ocean.”   “The Distance” also revels in the grunge punk guitar sound with a totally metal guitar solo

Songs like “Something’s Going On” have a distinctly pop-punk bratty sound.  So does “Starbucks” with the line: “don’t wanna get a job at Starbucks”  The title track also works in this snarky, funny, catchy vein.

“Six O’Clock” mixes some cool electronics in the verses while the chorus is, once again, big and catchy.  “Going Down” has a much smoother sound with anything distinctive coming from his vocal delivery.

“Took It Away” does the quiet/loud verse thing very well.  Some deliberate glitching is a fun surprise too.  While “The Springs” introduces acoustic guitar and lots of oohs–a real flick-your-lighters kind of song.  “W.D.Y.C.A.I.” is also catchy with a sing along (woah oh) bridge and a super poppy chorus.

“Shut Yer Face” sounds like the quintessential grunge song–snarky lyrics, big grungy guitars, and a soaring chorus.  It even has vulgarish lyrics, record scratching and other samples!  And man is it catchy.  If this didn’t crack the States for them, nothing would.

[READ: April 15, 2019] “Djinn”

I was shocked to see that Esquire had published a story by Russell Banks in both March and June of 2000.  I was also shocked to see that a man gets shot in this one as well (that’s four of the first five stories in Esquire in 2000 in which someone is shot).

This is a story of a man who works in Hopewell, New Jersey.  They manufacture and sell women’s and children’s high end rubberized sandals.  The sandals were manufactured in Gbandeh, the second-largest city in the Democratic Republic of Katonga, a recently desocialized West African nation.

One of his jobs was to travel to Gbandeh and make the acquaintance of the local managers with hopes of facilitating communication.  And of course to make sure the Katongans could adapt the the fast paced technology in place. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. (2000).  

When this disc came out it was greeted with rounds of praise.  And it’s easy to see why.  It’s a mature album and it seems very New York City (or, perhaps, more specifically, it seems very Patti Smith–“Good Fortune” practically has Smith singing–I mean the way she says “Little Italy” could have been sampled from Smith).

And after the somewhat wispy Is This Desire and the stopgap Dance Hall at Louse Point, it was great to hear PJ back in full swing. These songs are stripped down (but not raw like her early albums) and most of them pack a punch.  And I just read this quite from PJ  in Q Magazine:

I want this album to sing and fly and be full of reverb and lush layers of melody. I want it to be my beautiful, sumptuous, lovely piece of work.

And it is.  It’s very commercially successful. And it was commercially successful without compromising herself.

“Big Exit” and “Good Fortune” are wonderful rockers, catchy without being predictable.  “A Place Called Home” continues in this vein, with a somewhat slower, moodier piece.  It also exhibits some of her higher register (in the bridge), but for the most part she sings in the deep voice she’s been known for (Uh Huh Her came next, and then she switched over to the higher pitch on White Chalk).

“One Line” even made it on the Gilmore Girls (paragons of good musical taste).

“Beautiful Feeling” is a slow brooding number.  Typically, I find that I don’t like these songs from PJ, but this one is fantastic.  It’s followed by the noisy “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore” which is very dark lyrically.

Midway through the disc, we get a surprise Thom York from Radiohead sings the lead vocals on “This Mess We’re In” (PJ does backing vocals) and it shows that Yorke sounds great doing anything.  It’s a great song.  “You Said Something” is the first real upbeat moment on the disc, with some nice acoustic guitars.  And it’s followed by the absolutely rocker, “Kamikaze” which harkens to some of the noisier aspects from her earlier records (especially her screaming vocals).

The back half of many PJ albums seem to lose momentum, but not this one: “This is Love” is another great single, catchy with some simple but cool sounding guitars.

“Horses in My Dreams” is one of long (5 minute), slow numbers.  It is a kind of languid piece, which I admit I don’t like all that much.  (I find that PJ’s slow pieces aren’t dynamic enough).  But the album closer “We Float” (at 6 minutes, I think the longest track she’s done) is the kind of moody piece that Harvey does right.  There’s some simple drums and piano that comprise the verses, but when she gets to the chorus, the song perks up with her gorgeous singing “We Float.”

Confusingly, the whole album seems like it is more from the “City” than the “Sea” (“We Float” being the exception), but that’s okay.  It’s a wonderful album and the start of another great decade for PJ.

[READ: late March 2011] discussing The Turing Test

Occasionally things converge in my reading life. And sometimes things converge rapidly.  I had just read an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker that discussed machines becoming (or surpassing) humans.  The timing of this coincides somewhat with the appearance of Watson on Jeopardy! so it’s not entirely surprising to see it.  Watson proved to be very good on Jeopardy!, but that seems mostly because it can buzz in more quickly.  The real test for a computer’s “humanity” is what has been termed “The Turing Test.”

Gopnik’s summary of the Turing Test:

If a program could consistently counterfeit human language in an ongoing exchange, then, many theorists have argued, the threshold of language would have been crossed, and there would be no need for more games to conquer. This is the famous “Turing test,” named for Alan Turing.

The next night I read a story by Ryan Boudinot (in The Littlest Hitler).  The story is not current at all, and yet he also mentions the Turing test.

The third article is another book review.  The subtitle is “What will happen when computers become smarter than people?”  Again, given everything that’s happening in the world technology-wise, it’s not a total surprise, and yet the items are all quite different and it was interesting to read them all so close together. (more…)

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oct5SOUNDTRACK: PLACEBO-Battle for the Sun (2009).

battlesunI’ve been a fan of Placebo since their first disc came out (I had to hunt it down after reading a great review in Q magazine).  Imagine my surprise when they took off with their next album and the huge single “Every You Every Me.”

Battle for the Sun is their sixth album and things haven’t changed too dramatically for them (except that they don’t have any huge singles anymore).  This album experiments with a few different styles (including a few places where it almost sounds like pop metal influences are creeping in). There’s even horns on a couple of the songs.  They don’t add a lot to the tracks, but they also don’t really detract from them either.

But even with these modifications, their sound remains hard guitar driven alt-rock with a touch of glam and the ever present love it or hate it vocals of Brian Molko.  Molko has a fascinating way with lyrics.  So on “Battle for the Sun” we have fascinating parts where he sings a word 7 times at the end of certain lines: “I, I, I, I, I will brush of all the dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt.”  And this will either drive you insane or you will accept it as part of the song.

As with past Placebo records, I have enjoyed this one quite a bit.  There’s always something catchy coming forth, and even if Malko’s lyrics aren’t the most original (“no one here gets out alive” (!)),  his delivery is wonderfully arch/angry/sexy depending on his needs.

The album overall isn’t as grand as Without You I’m Nothing, but if you like Placebo, Battle for the Sun won’t disappoint.  If you’re not a fan, it’s not going to change your mind about them.

[READ: October 15, 2009] “Victory Lap”

This is, hands down, one of my favorite short stories of the year.  The story takes some major sharp turns to get where it winds up, and it is very intense at the same time.

It opens with this hilarious look at soon-to-be-15 Alison Pope.  And if the story had stayed just with her it would have been fantastic anyhow.  Alison is in her own head: as she walks down the stairs of her house, she dismisses suitors on either side, speaking garbled French and mocking their word choices (“Had he said small package?”).  But when she gets to the bottom of the stairs, she sees a baby deer in the woods (of her living room).  And when she speaks to it, it answers (in the voice of her younger sister).  The section is full of {actions} and is charming and very funny.  Saunders captured this character perfectly, and as I said, I could have read about her for pages and pages. (more…)

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thenwecameSOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Liberation (1993).

libeartiuonThis is considered by many to be the “first” Divine Comedy album, even though Neil Hannon released a previous album under the name Divine Comedy (Fanfare for the Comic Muse).  He disowned that album, but, as you do, he reissued it several years later after much demand.

This is the second Divine Comedy album that I bought (after Promenade). And so, because I just reviewed Promenade, this review works as something of a comparison, which is of course, unfair, as Promenade should be compared to this, but so be it.

What I was most struck with, when listening to this disc after Promenade is how, even though the album covers are designed similarly, and everything about the discs suggests they should be similar, just how dissimilar the music is.  Not in a global “who is this band?” sense, but just in the particulars of the orchestration.

With Liberation, there’s no Michael Nyman influence.  Rather, you get some beautifully written orchestral pop music.  Although the orchestra is not terribly conventional: with harpsichord and organ being among the top instruments heard.

In a comparison to Promenade, Liberation is less thematically consistent but has more singles to offer.  “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” (the title of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, so the literate songwriting is clearly in evidence) is a wonderful pop song.  As is “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count,” (“Even when I get hay fever I find, I may sneeze, but I don’t really mind… I’m in love with the summertime!”) the catchiest ode to summer this side of the Beach Boys.  “Your Daddy’s Car” speeds along on plucky strings and is just so happy, even when they crash the car into a tree.  “Europop” is a fantastic dressing down of Europop songs while still being hugely catchy.

Because I really enjoy Promenade (and Casanova) I tend to overlook this disc, but really it is just as good, and in some cases better than those two.  An air of pastoral glee pervades the record making it a real joy to listen to.  Especially in the summer.

[READ: December 8, 2008] Then We Came to the End

This book has the great distinction of being written in the first person plural (the narrator is “we,” for those of you who don’t remember eighth grade grammar).  This, of course, brings the reader into the story almost against his or her will.   Really, though, as you read it, you don’t think of yourself as being in the book, but rather, that the company that the unnamed narrators work for is something of a collective mentality.  And so it is.

The narrators work at an unnamed advertising agency in Chicago.  The time frame is the late 1990’s to early 2001 and there are lots and lots of layoffs.  Any time someone is laid off, “we” say they are “walking Spanish down the hall” (from a Tom Waits song).  And slowly they watch as one by one, staff are let go. (more…)

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promednade1I heard about The Divine Comedy in the beloved British magazine Q.  I used to get every issue up until about two years ago.  I enjoyed their reviews, and especially enjoyed learning about bands that were under the radar here.  I think the Divine Comedy album that was being talked about was Casanova, but I wound up getting Promenade first.  And once I did, I was hooked.

Promenade is their second album, and it is still my favorite.  It features a musical soundtrack that is similar to Michael Nyman in its electronic/repetitive structure.  Nyman’s The Piano soundtrack came out in 1993, and although Nyman had been writing scores for years, The Piano seems like a pretty close reference point to Hannon’s work.

And yet, despite the “modern” sounding style of the music, the lyrics are old school Britain at its best.  And, Neil Hannon’s voice is truly an old-school croon (it’s almost cheesy, but not quite).  But it’s the words, oh the words, that really sell the disc.

In fact, the song that sold me from the beginning was “The Booklovers,” which is just a list of authors.  Really.  But the list is punctuated with smarty pants allusions to the writers’ works and it’s all wrapped up in a catchy chorus. But that’s not all, each song references literature in some way.

“Bath” opens with an orchestral flourish as a woman, well, bathes. “Going Downhill Fast” is about racing your bike downhill, with my favorite line: “Vacuous vice!/Just once or twice/Thrice/Four times in five we forget we’re alive.” A Seafood Song” and “Geronimo” lead you to the realization that this album is about two young lovers.  First they are having lunch, and then they get caught in a torrential downpour.  “Don’t Look Down” has one of my favorite orchestral pieces as towards the end of the song, the young man on a Ferris Wheel has a discussion with a God “who really ought not to exist” as the music grows more and more tense.

“When the Lights Go Out All Over Europe” is another stellar song that contains a wonderfully building chorus.  “The Summerhouse” is a really nice ballad.  “Neptune’s Daughter” has the story taking a dark turn until the ribald delights of “A Drinking Song.”  This song in particular has been one of my favorites because it is raucous and silly and oh so clever.  It also ends with one of the great couplets in all of drinking songdom: “From the day I was born ’till the night I will die/All my lovers will be pink and elephantine.” It is soon followed by “Tonight We Fly” a propulsive song of the two lovers “flying” over their life together and flying away from everyone.

It’s truly sublime.  I can understand those who don’t like Michael Nyman’s style not really enjoying this disc.  But if you like lyrical wonderment, you must check this out.  Divine Comedy’s next disc “Casanova” removes the Nyman influence but retains the cleverness. By most accounts it is a better album but I still love Promenade.

[READ: January 2008] Public Enemy #2

Sarah bought this collection for me for Christmas last year.  I don’t read a lot of comic strips, but occasionally one pops up on my radar.  I had seen a few Boondocks comics and really liked them.  This is the 2nd to last collection of the strip (I think…some are called treasuries, so I’m not sure what the distinction is). (more…)

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