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Archive for the ‘A Silver Mt. Zion’ Category

HarpersWeb-Cover-2016-01-410SOUNDTRACK: A SILVER MT. ZION-He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms… [CST009] (2000).

smtzWhile working with Godspeed You Black Emperor, Efrim decided to start another band.  Ostensibly this was an attempt to “learn music” and to be able to communicate better with his fellow musicians.  Apparently, this didn’t work.  So rather he created another band A Silver Mt. Zion (whose name has changed on nearly every album).  Strangely enough, he took two other members from Godspeed with him Thierry Amar (bass and more) and Sophie Trudeau (violins).

So how different can this band sound, then?

Well, quite different, actually.  Efrim’s main instrument for this album is piano (there was no piano in Godspeed as far as I can recall).  And virtually the entire album plays like a slow modern classical piano album.

This album being made by the folks from GYBE, there’s bound to be some differences between the vinyl and the CD.  The vinyl lists two songs, while the CD breaks those two songs into four parts each.

“Lonely as the Sound of Lying on the Ground of an Airplane Going Down” is the first song.  It has four parts.

“Broken Chords Can Sing a Little” opens with some piano chords, slowly meandering through a slightly dark melody.  The song is 8 minutes long and about 3 minutes in, there’s some staticky recorded voices that speak over the melody.  A slow mournful violin comes in about 4 minutes in.  Another voice fights for dominance during the song (they may both be religious speakers, although it’s not always clear).  The last minute or so of the song is simply the two voices speaking over each other.

“Sit in the Middle of Three Galloping Dogs” introduces some drums into the mix.  It’s the only song with drums–provided by GYBE member Aidan Girt.  Those voices continue into this song.  The drums give the song momentum as they play under an echoing guitar and some cool overdubbed violin parts.  The song seems like it will continue the same, but about half way in, the music drops off except for a fast bowing violin and then it shifts tone completely, with a more intricate drumbeat and new layers of violin.

The end of the song merges with the next track’s opening piano notes.  “Stumble Then Rise on Some Awkward Morning” returns to the sound of the first track–spare piano and plaintive violin.  The song slowly builds, but in a very different way from GYBE.  The pianos grow more insistent, but don’t seem to be heading towards a cathartic conclusion, just toward a new location.  And the song ends with a series of descending piano notes.

“Movie (Never Made)”is only three minutes long and it marks yet another departure from the GYBE/SMtZ instrumental world.  Efrim sings! His singing voice is whispered and quiet (occasionally anguished) and works pretty well in this quiet song.  The beginning lyrics: “A Silver Mt. Zion / all buried in ruins / we was dancing the hora / until we vomited blood.”  (Efrim described recording the album as a “Jewish experience”).  The music is spare piano and a rather jazzy contrabass until the end when a violin is added.  But it is primarily a spare piano and vocal song.

Disc/Side Two is called “The World Is SickSICK; (So Kiss Me Quick)!” and also has four parts.

“13 Angels Standing Guard ’round the Side of Your Bed” opens with what sounds like distant voices fading in and out amid washes of guitar chords.  The bass and violin anchor the song to a melody.  The “voices” might actually be guitars, although they sound almost like angels singing amid the ambient waves.

“Long March Rocket or Doomed Airliner” is listed as being only five seconds long and is all silence.  The CD suggests that all of the songs are timed as round numbers (9:00, 3:00) which isn’t true according to the CD.

“Blown-Out Joy from Heaven’s Mercied Hole” begins with a slow jazzy bass and Efrim singing gently.  Harmony vocals (from Sophie) can be heard as well.  The song is nearly ten minutes–the longest on the disc.  And the vocals stop pretty quickly.  The rest of the song is violin over the bass with a sprinkling of piano notes as well (sometimes playing a lengthy riff or run).  This song also features two guests: Gordon Krieger on bass clarinet and Sam Shalabi on guitar (both of which come in around 8 minutes, I believe).

“For Wanda” is apparently the inspiration for the disc.  The album was born out of Efrim’s desire to record something for his dog Wanda, who died while GYBE were on tour.  This song is a slow melancholy piano with ambient sounds in the background (unclear what they are although they sound like fireworks).  Eventually, the violin comes in as well and continues the melancholia.  The song fades only to be followed by a quiet coda on the organ.

So yes, this is quite a different sound and feel from GYBE.  And, perhaps surprisingly, this would prove to be Efrim’s main musical outlet, releasing several albums and couple of EPs before GYBE would reunite.

[READ: January 19, 2016] “‘We’ve Only Just Begun'”

I was sure I had finished off all the older Harper’s stories, but here’s one that I missed.  And it is pretty peculiar.

The story is elliptical. not really having an opening and not really having an ending.

And as such, a review has to be somewhat elliptical as well.  The story opens:

“They got into our car at a stoplight. It was cold. We never lock the doors in back. There were two of them. At the apartment they terrorized us.”

One of “them” was named Grimaldi. (more…)

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 dancingSOUNDTRACK: deLILLOS-“Forelsket” (1987).

delilloKarl Ove mentions many bands in this book, but the deLillos are the only Norwegian band that he plays.  They sing in Norwegian and play sprightly, jangly guitar pop–they would fit in very well with some of the lighter alt bands from the late 80s and early 90s.

I have no idea what they’re singing about (well, the title translates to “love” so I guess I know what they are singing about.

The singer has a high, delicate voice and there’s some interesting harmonies.  I really like the way the song transitions from verse to chorus with the picked guitar notes–very catchy.

It comes from their second album, Før var det morsomt med sne  (Before it was fun in the snow), which along with their first was quite popular and was reissued with a bonus disc in the 90s.  Having said that I see that Amazon has one copy of the disc and no album cover listed.  Worse yet, I can’t find many other songs online (Spotify lists the album, but I can’t get it to play).

Sorry, deLillos (even searching for you gives us more Don DeLillo than you guys).

[READ: June 24, 2014] My Struggle Book Four

struggle4I started including the British edition page numbers because at my work we received both editions of the book, and I received the British one first so I grabbed it and started reading.  I noticed the page numbers were quite different (the British book is taller and the print is quite bigger, although this doesn’t explain why the previous books have fewer pages).

I had been interested in the differences between editions from the get go.  I had enjoyed the American editions, but I enjoyed reading this British edition more (bigger print?).  But when I noticed on one of the pages that the word “realise” was spelled as I typed it, it made me wonder if the American edition changed that to the American spelling.  [Actually, I see that Don Bartlett lives in Virginia, so perhaps he translates it into American first].  While I wasn’t about to go into a deep inspection of the topic, when I saw the American edition on a shelf at work, I had to do a little comparison.

And what I found out was that even though Don Bartlett is the (amazing) translator for both editions, someone (perhaps Bartlett himself?) is translating the American into British (or vice versa).  I looked at a couple of pages and noticed these changes from British to American:

  • BRITISH EDITION = AMERICAN EDITION
  • Pack it in, now = Give it up, now
  • roll-up = rollie [about hand rolled cigarettes]
  • looked daggers at = gave her a dirty look
  • a complete prat = completely useless
  • is that possible? = really?
  • to cook and wash up = cooking and doing the dishes
  • I had got = I’d gotten
  • had penned = had written
  • and yes, realised = realized.

Other than select phrases, every word is exactly the same.  So somebody goes through the books and changes them to British english idioms and spellings.  That’s fascinating.

I also see that this is the first book I had not read an excerpt from first.  Not that it would have made any difference as to whether I read the fourth one.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

So book four is set in Håfjord, a town in Northern Norway near Finnsnes (a five hour flight away–okay I had no idea Norway was so big!).  Karl Ove is 18 and has decided to become a grade school teacher there for one year.  The tax breaks are great if you teach, and he plans to teach and write his masterpieces and then get out.  He has no interest in teaching, but the town is small (most grades are 3-7 students), so he figures it can’t be too hard.

As in most of Karl Ove’s books, the stories jump around and flash back and do not stay all in this one time, but it is largely set in this locale.

My first thought was that I have never read a story with as much semen (both nocturnal emission and premature ejaculation) in my life.  It is a strange take away from the book, but there it is.  Karl Ove is 18 and really wants to have sex for the first time.  About 3/4 of the way through the book he reveals that he never masturbated (it just never occurred to him, apparently, and at 18 he’s too old to start–what!?).  As such, he seems to have wet dreams every night.  And every time he gets near a woman, he has an orgasm too soon.  He is horny all the time–it’s a bit disconcerting.

And since I mentioned that, I don’t know if Karl Ove’s life is typical of Norway, but I am shocked by the number of women who take their clothes off around him (he may have never had sex, but he was about to on at least a half-dozen occasions).  And he says that all through school (from around age 13 and up) it was common place for the boys to lift up the girls’ shirts and kiss and or fondle their breasts.  It is mind-boggling to me.  And the 16 year olds all seem to be having sex all the time–this may be skewed from Karl Ove’s perspective, but that’s what I now believe happens in Norway.

But while sex is the main theme of the book–sex, sex sex, there is more to it.

Karl Ove’s parents have split up and his father has started drinking in earnest.  The dad has remarried and has just had a baby.  Incidentally, I was also shocked to read that Karl Ove’s father, who is an abusive stodgy old man who is cranky and mean and abusive and all the stuff that we read about in the other volumes was only 43 at the time that Karl Ove was 18.  So the old man who I pictured as a gray-haired curmudgeon in this book is actually younger than me.  Great.

In Håfjord, Karl Ove is teaching kids who range from age 13 to 16.  It’s disconcerting to read about him thinking lustful thoughts about his students, until he reminds us that for most of the students, he is only 2 years older than them.  I am pleased to say that he behaves himself (except in his mind) with all of the students.  There’s even a really interesting flash forward to eleven years later when he runs into two of them again.

He proves to be a pretty decent teacher it seems.  The kids mostly like him (the girls all think he is hot) and he is young and tries to make it fun (he himself hated school and everything about it).  He even seems to help out an awkward boy (although that is never resolved).  We see him teaching, trying to interact with the kids and generally being a pretty good guy.

Until the booze comes out.

For in addition to semen, this book is chock full of alcohol.  Before graduating from gymnas (high school), Karl Ove basically stopped caring about anything.  He spent most of his time drunk.  It is astonishing the amount of drinking he does–it’s practically like an Amish Rumspringa how crazy he goes.  But even in this retrospective look, he talks about how much he likes it, how it loosens him up and makes him less nervous.

But really he just spends most of his time drunk, hungover or sick. He even got into the hash scene for a while.  He was living with his mom at the time and she was appalled at the way he acted–especially when he threw a party which trashed their house.   She even kicked him out for a time.

He seemed to be over the drink in Håfjord, but it turns out that there’s precious little else to do except drink up there, especially when it grows dark for most of the day.  So there is much drinking–he only misses class once or twice because of it but he comes very close a lot.

The irony that he is appalled at his father’s drinking, while drinking so much himself, is apparently lost on him.

The other main preoccupation with Karl Ove is music.   He talks a lot about his great taste in music (he reminds me of me–a little insufferable).  Back when he was in gymnas, he spent a lot of time discussing his favorite bands and favorite songs.  He got a job (at 16) writing reviews for a local paper (holy crap, jealous!) and then later gets a job writing a column for another paper.  For the previous book I listed a lot of the bands he mentioned, and I wish I had written them down for this one.  U2 features prominently (this is 1987, so I’m guessing Joshua Tree), but also Talking Heads, a Scottish post-punk/new wave band The Associates and their album Sulk which he describes as “an utterly insane LP.”  he and his brother really like The Church and Simple Minds (before they got so commercial).  He also has a whole thread in which he makes connections with albums:

Briano Eno, for example, started in Roxy Music, released solo records, produced U2 and worked with Jon Hassell, David Byrne, David Bowie, and Robert Fripp; Robert Fripp played on Bowie’s Scary Monsters; Bowie produced Lou Reed, who came from Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop, who came from the Stooges, while David Byrne was in Talking Heads, who on their best record, Remain in Light, used the guitarist Adrian Belew, who in turn played on several of Bowie’s records and was his favorite live guitarist for years. (64).

He also specifically raves about “The Great Curve” from the Talking Heads album, and of course, he raves about the first Led Zeppelin album as well.

Music is a huge part of his life (and he dresses accordingly too).  It’s unclear whether the kids think this is awesome or not, but he may be a bit too much for some of the locals.  The locals are mostly fishermen (which makes sense), and Karl Ove is a bit intimidated that he is so wimpy compared to them–one of the women even teases him about his tiny arms.

But his main focus is writing.  He writes a few shorts stories (to my knowledge he has never published any of them).  We see some excerpts and they seem fine–he fancies himself Hemingway.  But he also mentions a bunch of Norwegian authors (I love when he does that).  Sadly again, not too many of them have been translated into English.  [I really hope that some mega fan creates a database of all of the bands and authors he mentions].  He also talks briefly about his first novel which alludes to his time teaching here.  I happened to read a small summary of said novel (Out of the World) and feared that it spoiled what was going to happen.  But, in fact there does appear to be a difference between his fiction and non-fiction.

The book moves very quickly–from party to party, from failed sexual attempt to the next, even from his staying up all night long trying to write.  And most of the time he comes off as kind of a dick–he is also very self-critical, which somehow tempers that dickishness.

As with the other books I cannot figure out exactly why I am so addicted to his writing.  I brought the book home on Thursday night and finished it (all 548 pages of it) Monday night.  This really completes the picture of himself as he moved from childhood to adulthood and really lays the foundation for whatever is to come next.   Early in the book he talks about the books that he loved at that age, books that talk about the move from childhood to adulthood.  And thus, this book becomes something of a bildungsroman as well.  Although whether or not Karl Ove actually grew up at the end of this book will have to wait until volume 5 (which I have to assume is still another year away as there is no information about it online at all!).

For ease of searching, I include: Hafjord, For var det morsomt med sne.

 

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dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST017] (2001).

sparo2I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs.  I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,

In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.

“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now).  “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves.  And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever.  I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.

I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.

[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews

noveltyThis month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.

The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North.  In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.”  This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else.  Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance).  The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”

North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.

I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.

Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so).  Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative.  Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons).  Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian.  The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them.  And then, bvssarguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.

Some easy examples:

  • The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
  • A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.”  (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
  • After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
  • And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.”  [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].

And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you’re writing, Stones when you’re jogging; Beatles when you’re alone, Stones when you’re with people).  But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles’ arrival.

There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.

Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell’s third book: The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground by Glenn O’Brien.

coolschoolO’Brien’s thesis is the seemingly obvious one that “cool” is not a new thing–that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner.  But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting “a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.”  The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian.  I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.

Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard.  Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”

I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”

It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.

 

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