Archive for the ‘Depeche Mode’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Tarot Classics (2012).

I really enjoyed Surfer Blood’s debut album.  This EP is a little stopgap until the next one. Although the sound is unmistakably Surfer Blood–poppy hooks and a very recognizable singing voice, the band sounds a little bit different here.  They haven’t lost any of their catchiness–there may be even more on the opener, “I’m Not Ready” (who doesn’t love when the guitar and vocals match each other?)  “Miranda” has that fun thumping chorus that is always fun to sing along to.

“Voyager Reprise” moves away from the surf-styled songs of their debut into an alt-rock of the 90s sound–when guitars were noisy (until they were quiet for a bit) and guitar solos happened between verses instead of as the third verse.  And “Drinking Problem” has a kind of early Depeche Mode (in vocals, not synths) feel–quite a departure from their debut.

In the way of EPs, the final two songs are remixes.  I’ve never been a fan or remixes and these don’t do much for me, but i do wonder if they will have any impact on their future sound.

[READ: June 14, 2012] “Olds Rocket 88, 1950”

All this time I thought there were only five of these short essays in this sci-fi issue of the New Yorker.  And yet tucked away near the back was the sixth one by William Gibson, a pioneer in science fiction.

Gibson’s recollection is of being a child and having everything seem like science fiction–something that is notably absent these days.  Like the chrome trim on his father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88, the prevalence of spacemen and space-themed ideas everywhere.  Even the word Tomorrow was capitalized.

Then he recounts a personal incident.  He got in trouble with his parents for arguing with an Air Force man.  The man said space travel would never happen. But Gibson knew it would.  How could it not?  And science fiction shaped this worldview.  Not that he believed the stories would come true, but that his entire mindset was that in the future “things might be different…and different in literally any way you could imagine, however radical.”

What a wonderfully freeing notion.  To me, this sort of future-looking lifestyle accounted for the unprecedented achievements of post 1950 America.  Now that we no longer think of tomorrow with a capital T, we don’t seem as enchanted by the future.  Perhaps it was a naive outlook, but you need a certain degree of naiveté if you hope to do anything radically new.

Gibson ties in the sci-fi books he bought for a dollar to other fantasists: J.G. Ballard, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, and how these thinkers weren’t all that far off from the likes of Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.  And he believes that without science fiction, he might not have been interested in what these other radical writers had to say.

It’s a short piece, but it really made me wish for more chrome and space-age technology in our lives–when people weren’t afraid to dram big.

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SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998).

Suffice it to say, if it were not for this album I wouldn’t have read this piece by Blake.  I have been aware of it through the “doors of perception” quote that created the band name The Doors, but I never had any compelling reason to read it before.

Of course when I first listened to this, I had no idea that it was literally the entire work of Blake’s piece set to music.  And I had no idea that there would be so many diverse styles of music on the album.  I’m going to focus more on the music, as I’ll address the “lyrics” later. 

The first song starts out in a kind of synthy way–maybe early Depeche Mode.  But it quickly become more sinister, with a heavy guitar section and then a spoken word over industrial keyboards like early Nine Inch Nails.   Track two, simply called “Plate 3” is a mournful guitar solo which plays behind a woman reciting plate three.  Strangely enough, this plate is split in two parts where Blake references the bible and so Ulver end the spoken part in the middle but keep the ominous music going for the final two minutes of the track.  The next track picks up with “Plate 3, Following,” a slower piece with creepy echoey male vocals that echo the female lead.

“The Voice of the Devil, Plate Four” is a very delicate guitar part.  The female voice introduces the piece and the male voice recites the statements .  It;s the most easily understood of all the tracks (the vocals are crystal clear).  When the parts are done, the song turns in to a heavy metal guitar solo over some heavy chords. It’s a really great mix.  “Plates 5-6” is also a very clearly spoken/sung track.  Over a classical guitar with occasional heavy beats, the voice narrates (with amusing mispronunciations (there are many thoroughout the piece, but hey English isn’t their first language)).

“A Memorable Fancy (Plates 6-7)” is the first of five fancies.  This one has a very electronic feel (later period Nine Inch Nails).  This one even creates its own chorus by repeating “fires of hell” where the words do not belong.  “The Proverbs of Hell” is probably the most complex and multifarious musically.  It goes through many different musical and vocals styles.  The opening is barely audible while later parts are spoken clearly.  Other lines are hidden under a fog of noise.  Musically it’s very engaging, but it’s a shame to miss out on the poetry without a lyric sheet.

“Plate 11” also opens virtually inaudibly, with a crazy echo placed on the female vocals.  Half way through the voice become clearer and the music, which was quiet and mellow, picks up, but retains the simple melody it had.  “Intro” is an instrumental, an odd thing to include if they are following the book so specifically, as there is no intro.  It is simple, repeated waves of chords which grow louder for 3:30.   It ends with some maniacal drumming .  However, it is a nice breather as we head into “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13,” which opens with a very slow piano.  It turns into a largely drum-based song with a clear spoken word.  Until about half way through when the voice is heavily distorted until the end.

“Plate 14” is a percussion heavy electronic track with heavily distorted vocals (this is where “the doors of perception” bit comes from).  It leads to “A Memorable Fancy (Plate 15)” which opens with more low rumblings (like “Intro” above).  When the vocals come in, after 3 minutes, they are distant and tinny, but very clear.

Disc 1 (did I mention there were two discs) ends with “Plates 16-17.”   It opens with quiet music that slowly grows louder and more electronic.  The vocals are echoed and distorted and hard to understand.  The end of the track picks up the electronic beat for about a minute.

Disc two opens with the eleven minute “A Memorable Fancy (Plates 17-20)”.  It opens with a cool beat and a dark tone with vocals that are mostly understandable.   After a couple of minutes, the song settles into a late period Depeche Mode style–distorted guitars and vocals that sounds not unlike Dave Gahan’s.  By the end, it’s a pretty standard heavy metal chugging guitar (with a simple but interesting solo).

This is followed by another “Intro,” this time a rather pleasant guitar solo over picked guitars.   “Plates 21-22” is quite enjoyable as the vocals are clear and emphatic over a standard heavy metal song.  It feels like comfort food after all of the different styles of the disc.

“A Memorable Fancy Plates 22-24” has a great weird keyboard style (kind of Marilyn Manson).  The penultimate track is another “Intro.”  This one has some swirly minor-key guitars that sound  a bit like the guitar outro to Rush’s “Cygnus X-1.”   It goes through several iterations before ending in distorted waves that lead to “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27”.   There are three guest vocalists on this track: Ihsahn and Samoth from Emperor and Fenriz from Darkthrone.  The interesting thing about this is that Garm (the male vocalist on all the tracks) has so many different styles of singing/speaking throughout the album that it’s hard to even notice that there are guests.

It start as mainly electronic piece with heavily distorted vocals (Ihsahn sounds like he is being strangled).  In the second part, the vocals are clearer.  The drums gets louder (sounding like the Revolting Cocks, maybe).  By the third part (Fenriz) the song turns into a guitar solo and the style of recitation reminds me of Allen Ginsbregr’s Howl.  His section ends with a distorted voice chanting the final lines and then twenty minutes of silence (the track is listed as 25 minutes, but there’s only 5 minutes of song and then 30 seconds at the end).  The final “Chorus” of the book is pretty well inaudible.

Despite the complexity of the album and the hard to follow lyrics and all of that, the entre work is really something. It is powerful and complex and runs through so many wonderful pieces and movements.  I have no idea how to classify it as it has pieces of metal and electronica as well as classical.  Perhaps it’s safe to just call it a soundtrack.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this CD, but I barely scratch the surface of what could be said about it.  Check out this amazing review from Encyclopaedia Metallum who go into wonderful depth and a thorough comparison of the music to the text.

[READ: November 27, 2011] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 

The Blake piece is available online in several places, although I got my copy from the library.  Mine contained several critical essays which I looked at briefly but decides they simply weren’t all that compelling, especially since Blake’s work (aside from details that simple footnotes might hep to clear up) is pretty understandable. 

In total, Blake’s work is 27 plates long. Each plate is hand written (in a fancy script) and many have illustrations (also hand drawn and colored).  There are allusions to many different things and it helps to be familiar with the Bible and with Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell which is directly referenced several times.  Indeed, this work is clearly a response to that one; the opening states “and it is now thirty-three years since its advent” when Swedenborg’s book was published 33 years before Blake’s.

The gist of Blake’s piece is that God did not intend for man to separate the sensual and physical from the spiritual and mental.  It is basically a plea to hedonism, although not even seemingly to excess.  More like an “if it feels good, do it” attitude.  And he lays out these ideals pretty clearly in many of the passages.  True, there are many passages that are inscrutable (like the crazy opening–don’t be put off bu Rintrah), but when he gets to his main points, he is quite clear.  Blake attacks established religion but does not condemn God or endorse atheism.  So we get quotes like this:

“Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”  And shortly after: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”  Blake cites Paradise Lost as a history of the separation of these two ideas and concludes “that the Messiah [Reason] fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Plays Covers on World Cafe (May 13, 2010).

I didn’t even know that Nada Surf had released a covers album (sometimes things slip through the cracks), but when NPR previewed their new song, I learned that they played some covers for World Cafe (not downloadable, sadly) to promote the album. 

So I’m going to be investigating that covers album shortly.  In the meantime, we get this very enjoyable four-song set (three covers and one of their own tracks). 

The band chats with David Dye briefly (about 5 minutes) before busting into the songs (a wonderful explanation of Bill Fox and a mention of reading about him in The Believer).  Their own track is “Whose Authority” one of their many wonderful songs.

The three covers are “Love Goes On” (by the Go-Betweens), “Enjoy the Silence” (by Depeche Mode) and “Electrocution” (by Bill Fox).  I didn’t recognize the first song until the Ba-ba-ba chorus kicked in, although I admit I’m not terribly familiar with it.  Similarly, the final song by Bill Fox is very obscure (as is Fox himself).  Both of these two songs are played with jangly guitars and are poppy and quite enjoyable.

The Depeche Mode song is the one that I already really knew well.  And boy do they make it their own.  They turn it from a somber dirge (catchy but somber) into a more upbeat almost poppy folk song.  It will probably be a polarizing cover (if anyone cares enough about Nada Surf to listen) and while I don’t think it’s as good as the original, it works so well in the context of a Nada Surf show, that it’ hard to argue with it.

Nada Surf is one of the great unsung bands and it’s hard to believe they aren’t more successful.

[READ: October 21, 2011] Mission Street Food

With Lucky Peach, McSweeney’s entered into the world of food publishing.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Lucky Peach.  But when I received Mission Street Food, I was no longer in the frame of mind to get excited to read this book, which, as the subtitle says, promises recipes and ideas.  And when I first flipped through it, I got to the recipes pages and said, well, when will I ever read this?

Then one night recently I couldn’t sleep and Mission Street Food was there, so I read the Preface.  And Anthony Myint has a great writing style, a great flair for telling a story and a wonderful story to tell.  Needless  to say, I read almost the whole first section before falling asleep.  And I was excited to tackle the rest of the book.

I hate to sound like I think that McSweeney’s has changed the way food book publishing is done, because that would be unfair.  I don’t read food publishing as a rule.  I can’t even enjoy looking in my wife’s cooking magazines.  Seeing names of foods and recipes for preparing them just doesn’t do anything for me.  But maybe the narrative of those books is more interesting than I give them credit.  Maybe I should sit down with another foodie book and see what it’s all about. (more…)

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Sometimes albums have a single that is nothing like the rest of the album.  So you buy the album and hate everything but that one song.  This album is almost the exact opposite.  It opens with a song that is so odd–noisy and with massively manipulated vocals, that you would never guess the rest of the album is like some of the best Depeche Mode-friendly pop in the last thirty years.

That opening song, “Children” is creepy, with lots of percussion and atmosphere.  And it gives you no expectation for what comes next: “Ambling Alp” a bouncy track with a super catchy chorus.  This track reminds me of Erasure at their heyday.

“Madder Red” seems to be comprised mostly of (rather nice) backing vocals) with lead vocals done in a mellow Depeche Mode style.  “O.N.E.” sounds pretty much exactly like a keyboard-heavy alt-radio hit from 1991 (it’s fantastic).  And “Love Me Girl” with its tremendous dual-vocals sounds like one of the best pre-guitar Depeche Mode songs ever.  It’s amazing. 

And yet for all of  this talk of sounding like mid 80s alt rock, Yeasayer adds enough new ideas–recording techniques, fullness of sound and current studio tricks that they don’t sound dated.  Or like a rip off.

The frantic keyboard lines of “Rome” propel that song, while “Strange Reunions” slows things down considerably.  Things pick up again with the chanting and the cool keyboards (and great post chorus riff) of “Mondegreen.” 

The disc ends with “Grizelda.”  It continues with this current groove.  Not the best song, but a decent ending to a great disc.  Just don’t let that first song scare you off of what’s inside.

[READ:  October 21, 2011] “Sez Ner

Sez Ner is evidently a place.  And this story is a snapshot of a day or two of that place. 

Sez Ner has a swineherd, a cowherd, some other farmhands and a priest.  This snapshot shows the men in their daily lives: accepting the fate of the dying animals, pushing the living animals to the edges of abuse and/or not really caring that much about them.  Some animals escape.  Some die.

The priest blesses everyone, takes his bounty and leaves. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FANFARLO-“Replicate” (2011).

This is the final Fall Music song I’m going to mention.  “Replicate” was Robin Hilton’s song of choice for the fall, and I can see what he liked about it–there’s a lot of unusual sounds going on (in many ways it reminds me of Sparks or maybe sort of early Depeche Mode, although no one in the discussion mentioned them).  It opens with a series of staccato string notes over a repeated lyrics (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The strings build and build, but they stop before any major climax; they are replaced by a fast, kind of spazzing keyboard melody with more repeated vocals, (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The staccato notes come back and both sounds build to another near-climax.

Until the chorus comes in with its supremely catchy but very cold “oohs”.   Even the end builds but does not quite achieve the climax one would expect, although it is still satisfying.

It’s a very clinical song, cold and detached (the instrumental break has wood blocks that sound like a woodpecker banging a tree on a winter’s day).  But the vocals are so warm, that they disarm the song of its coldness even if the chorus is “Will it replicate inside our bodies now?”   At first I really didn’t like the song, but after a couple of listens, I really heard what Robin Hilton enjoyed.  And I would like to hear more from them.

The video is pretty neat too:

[READ: September 19, 2011] “Animal Art”

This article was probably the most “academic” and “scientific” of them all five of the JSTOR articles I read.  And by that, I mean, that it was researched and tested and full of abbreviations and as a result it reads very dry.  Which is a shame (well, actually it’s not a shame, the scientific requirements are essential for there to be an academic article published)–what it needs is a cool popular version to lighten it up a bit (and it needs better pictures as well).

The article looks at the bowers of the bowerbird.  The bowerbird is a family of 20 species of bird found in New Guinea and Australia.  Bowerbirds are noted and named for the bowers that the males construct to win a mate (see photo at right).  What’s interesting is that the different species of bowerbird construct similar nests but do things quite differently (some “glue” the sticks of their nest together with either spittle or insect secretions while others weave their sticks together).  But they are all very particular about the nests they build:

When I shifted the position of a decoration, the bower owner either restored it to the original position or else discarded it in the forest.  Decorations changed from day to day as birds replaced wilting flowers and rotting fruit with fresh ones.

The articles sets out to discover whether the traits that the male bowerbird develop in their nests are inherited or are learned.  Diamond believes that they are learned because birds that are not very far apart use different techniques, but immature birds are often seen observing the adult birds to presumably learn from them.  The nests are built by the males, but, similarly, the immature females go with the adult females to inspect the nests, thereby learning what traits to most look for in a nest.

But what seems to have inspired this paper was the bowerbirds’ proclivity for choosing colors to decorate their nests: most use flowers and mosses from the surrounding area, arranging them in beautiful colors.  What Diamond did was to take colored poker chips (a series of uniform shape, size and texture) with varying colors to see if the bowerbird would choose based on color (his scientific conclusion is that it’s really impossible to tell because who knows what other variables are at play, but his more satisfying conclusion.  is that the birds decorate by color.

So, Diamond put the poker chips in front of their bower (on the moss “mat” that looks like a welcome mat).  And with one group of birds:

Within 10-30 minutes [three birds] picked up all chips regardless of color and discarded the in the forest.

While for a different group of birds, they quickly discarded any white chips (and one bird discarded the yellow chips as well).  There was a marked preference for colors in this order: Blue>purple>orange>red>lavender>yellow>white.  While these birds not only embraced the chips and used them for their decorations, other birds stole chips from their rival makes’ nests:

When I placed three chips of each color at bower W6, bird W5 stole within 3hr all blue, orange and purple chips, two red chips and no yellow, lavender or white.

(Poor W6 bird–he really has nothing).  But the study shows that the birds hate the white chips!  He even created a chart that showed that most of the birds kept 100% 0f the blue chips, and most of the purple chips while dismissing almost entirely the yellow chips; none of them kept any white ones.  (One bird in the study seemed to be quite a pig–this is the one who stole from W6–he kept far more than the other birds, including 100 % of orange an 66% of yellow–i wonder if the females thought he was a gaudy show off?)

Incidentally, this study was done in 1986, so it does not account for the more recent discovery that bowerbirds will basically use any old crap to build their nests, provided it is colorful.  Many people find this sad, but the birds don’t seem to mind.   In the article, the author says that one of the birds came up to his colleague, stood on his shoe, and tried to steal the blue docks that he was wearing.  Here’s a picture of a bowerbird with a whole bunch of blue clothespins.

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It’s not often I have a disc with the same name as a book.  But lo, here they are.  I’ve no idea if the album inspired Hannaham at all (or if he even knows of it) although the title track song does rather work well with the book, with lines like:

You won’t get caught if you don’t get queer/And you’ll be ready for a new frontier  You try and live And God says no.

I had loved Monster Magnet’s Powertrip quite a lot.  So, I was more than willing to get this follow up.  I’m a little disappointed in the disc overall, but I’m not entirely sure why.  It’s not quite a sharp as Powertrip, but it’s also not quite a trippy as their earlier stoner rock releases.

Having said that, there’s some great tracks here.  It opens very prominently with “Melt” and the phenomenal heavy rocker “Heads Explode” which features delightfully obscure lyrics like “I am a pillar of salt.  You’ll never be worse than me.”  And then comes, “Medicine 2001” another fast, chunky rocker.

There’s also some other way-out (for Monster Magnet) tracks, like the bluesy slide guitar sleaze of “Gravity Well.”

I think it’s the tracks at the end that kind of drag the disc a little bit “Queen of You” is an interesting slow track, but at nearly 7 minutes and coupled with the 7 minute “Cry,” it’s a bit too much all at once.  The final track, “Take It” is a weird, weird (for Monster Magnet) keyboard and drum machine track. It’s very mellow (and sounds like early Depeche Mode), and works as a weird experiment.  The actual final track is a bonus track, “Silver Future” which rocks once again.

I’m pleased that Monster Magnet experiments so much, but it feels like a full disc of MM songs with an extra EP of experiments tacked on.  I’m not sure what they could have done differently, but for some reason the disc falls a little short.

[READ: March 18, 2010] God Says No

This is a very simple tale of an overweight black man struggling with life in the 1990s.  The twist on the story is that he is not struggling because of his race or his size.  He is struggling because he is a good Christian man who is, without question, homosexual.

The book is written in first person and as such it reads like a memoir (although the main character has a different name than the author).  You can’t help but wonder how much of this book is true (although really it doesn’t make any difference), especially when one of  the characters dies.  It feels like tribute to an actual person.

The book opens with Gary Gray living in a dorm at a Christian college.  He is completely obsessed with his roommate, a hunky white guy who walks around in his boxers.  The roommate is clearly not interested in him, in fact he goes so far as to say he is repulsed by Gary (for being fat and black, in addition to anything else he may find flaw with). (more…)

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ny413SOUNDTRACK: DEPECHE MODE-Black Celebration (1986).

blackcelebrationSince the previous entry was all about The Smiths, I include Depeche Mode in this entry as the other big album that influenced my appreciation for college rock (or just British music, apparently).

My friend Garry, in addition to playing me The Smiths, also played me Black Celebration.  At the time I either didn’t like or didn’t know about Depeche Mode.  But I was really struck by this album.

DIGRESSION: It would only be years later that I would call them Daypatch Commode thanks to the Dead Milkmen!  Incidentally, “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything)” become something of a namechecking song to know go British bands back in college.  “You’ll dance to anything by…Book of Love… The Smiths…Public Image Limited…”

The thing that most impressed me about Black Celebration was the way the tracks…not necessarily melded together…but that they had all kinds of effects and things that sort of linked them.  It’s most noticeable on the first three tracks, or with the ticking clock that links “Stripped” to “Here in The House.”  It’s a little thing that adds a nice continuity to the disc, and was something I hadn’t really heard before.

But even beyond that, the sounds were totally new to me.  There’s all kinds of sound effects thrown in and experimentations that simply didn’t happen in the metal I enjoyed.  And the keyboards weren’t Top 40ish, they weren’t sounds that I didn’t like, they were just new.  There’s even moments that sound straight out of Phillip Glass.  The tracks were certainly downers, and yet there was something angelic about them.

Or maybe angelic’s not the right word…pretentious comes to mind.  There’s something so archly British about Dave Gahan’s singing voice on this disc…quite different from the heroin addict voice on Violater and later.

  “Black Celebration” has, at one point a cool whirling sound effects that plays with stereo in a way you wouldn’t expect from this kind of band.  And, as is Gore’s speciality, it is upbeat musically, yet clearly a downer lyrically.  “Fly on the Windscreen-Final” has the obviously unhappy lyric of “Death is everywhere” and yet again, musically it remains somewhat upbeat.  

Martin Gore also sings a lot on this disc, which helps to balance out the tone (even though at this stage he doesn’t sound radically different than Gahan). “A Question of Lust” is a delicate ballad, while “A Question of Time” shows the way of their more rocking songs later on.  The disc also features the fantastic “Stripped,” which has been covered like half a dozen times.  (Although DM’s is still the best version).

The disc also has a couple of short tracks (from under 2 minutes to just under 3 minutes).  These tracks seem somewhat less fleshed out than the rest of the disc, which may be why the disc isn’t as popular as their other ones (I just learned).  They act more like interstitials between songs rather than songs themselves.

Evidently the American release included “But Not Tonight” the one majorly upbeat track on the disc.  I’m not sure why it was excluded elsewhere (although it really doesn’t fit thematically), but it does add a happy note to a dark disc.

I’ve enjoyed Depeche Mode ever since, and has been quite pleasantly surprised by the rocking tone they have taken in the last few years.

[READ: April 9, 2009] “The Color of Shadows”

There was some interesting synchronicity in reading this story when I did as we had just watched The Savages a few nights before. The Savages stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings whose father is placed in a nursing home, and how they deal with the emotional strain this causes.

“The Color of Shadows” concerns a man named Paul who is in the unfortunate position of having to put his Aunt in a nursing home.  And what made this story so good was that this main plot point was in no way the most moving part of the story. (more…)

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