Archive for the ‘Devendra Banhart’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist

organistThe final 10 episodes of The Organist’s second season were of the same caliber of podcast.  I was surprised to see that it ended in March.  And, in a recent Kickstarter from McSweeney’s, the talk about getting funding to make more episodes.  I’d be bummed if they ran out of money to make more of these. Even if I have griped about the repeating, the quality of each episode is really quite good.

Episode 40: Cosmo’s Factory (December 30, 2014)
I was fascinated by this piece because I found the drumming in the song to be nothing special.  I never would have noticed all of the nuances that he fixated on.  And the song really isn’t that interesting.  Drummer Neal Morgan, who has supported Joanna Newsom, Bill Callahan, Robin Pecknold, and others, sat down with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug Clifford to dive into ecstatic detail on the arrangement of “Long as I Can See The Light.”

Episode 41: A Funeral for Everyone I Knew (January 6, 2015)
This week they finally get around to the Greta Gerwig piece they mentioned in Episode 38.  It is Funeral for Everyone I Knew, a new radio play by novelist Jesse Ball.  Starring Greta Gerwig and Whip Hubley, the play follows the dark machinations of a dying man, and his elaborate plans for his own funeral.  Frankly it wasn’t really worth the wait, and Gerwig isn’t in it enough. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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endofloveSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-LEONARD COHEN: Songs of Leonard Cohen (2010).

leonardcohenI won’t say anything because no one ever listens to me anyway. I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record.

-Neil from The Young Ones.

This second recording from Beck’s Record Club is, indeed, a Leonard Cohen record.  I like Cohen and have a bunch of his stuff.  Although he’s never been a huge favorite, I find his songwriting to be top notch.  And, since his arrangements are usually pretty sparse, it’s easy to cover his songs in a myriad of ways, which these artists certainly do.

But just to catch you up to speed about this whole Record club business:

According to the Beck/Record Club website:

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. As you will hear, some of the songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens. And those who aren’t familiar with the albums in question will hopefully look for the songs in their definitive versions.

Introducing this second recording, Beck explains:

This time around the group includes Devendra Banhart, Ben, Andrew and Will from MGMT, Andrew from Wolfmother, Binki from Little Joy, and Brian and Bram returning from the first Record Club.  ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’ by Leonard Cohen was chosen by Andrew from MGMT. For those interested, our close second choice was Ace Of Base, which we’ll keep on the list for next time.

So, here we have Cohen’s debut.  I own it and am familiar with about half of the songs, but I didn’t want to listen to it before hearing their covers.  And so, the track listing and comments:

Suzanne (4:54)–A classic song, here given respectful treatment.  And yet they’re not afraid to play around with it, so they give it a dance beat and group vocals, all of which sound great.
Master Song (6:37).  I don’t know this song, and I don’t recognize it from this cover which is perhaps the greatest twist of a Leonard Cohen song ever. They sample Metallica’s “Master!” every time they sing the chorus.  The song is done as a rap with the voices pitched differently in every verse, there’s also a great funky bass throughout.  I assume the lyrics are the original, but I’m not sure.  The only problem with it is that it goes on for way too long.  But otherwise this is what record Club is about–having fun experimenting with songs.
Winter Lady (2:46). This is done as a pretty folk song, the way Leonard intended.
Stranger Song (5:26). This song is also dancey (with MGMT, that makes sense).  It has big drums and cool harmonies.
Sisters Of Mercy (4:36).  This is also pretty, done on an acoustic guitar with multiple singers taking turns.
So Long, Marianne (6:54).  This is also pretty faithful (of another classic).  There’s a group chorus which again sounds great.  The one difference is buzzy guitar solo.
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (4:27).  This has a cheap Casio vibe, yet it still sounds good.  Beck sings and the whole things is quite nice.
Stories Of The Street (5:06).  The songs starts with a simple bass and xylophone, but it gradually builds into a full band song which sounds great.
Teachers (4:04).  This is an insane punk version of the song.  It is super fast with a crazy guitar section and shouted vocals.  It shows just how adaptable Cohen’s music is
One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong (5:42).  This is a pretty, slow version of this song with keyboards as the main instrument.  It’s a very nice song until it nears then end when the singer just starts screaming and going nutty  Which is okay, but that goes on for too long at the end.

So overall, this is a very enjoyable collection of covers.  The faithful ones sound wonderful and the silly songs are, yes, silly, but they are not just tossed off (except maybe Master Song.  This must have been a lot of fun to record.

[READ: March 14, 2014] The End of Love

The End of Love is four long short stories.  Each one is about the end of a relationship.  Even though I enjoyed all four stories quite a lot, the book was a lot slower to read than I would have anticipated from its scant 163 pages.  And surprisingly, the stories weren’t sad or mopey–rather, they looked at the relationships via a slightly distant narrator who was engaged and engaging.

I have been reading a lot of Latin American writers, but this book, which was written in Spanish and translated by Katherine Silver, was written by a Spanish writer.  So that’s a little bit different in feel.

“We Were Surrounded By Palm Trees”
This story is not set in Spain. It is set on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa.  It is about a man and his girlfriend, named Marta.  They have gone to this remote island for some secluded time alone.  But it turns out that they have to share the small boat (and therefore the small island) with another couple.  Christine and Paul are a German couple who are not outgoing and friendly as the narrator fears (he doesn’t want to spent his romantic vacation with those two), but are cordial and looking to share some of the troubles of their vacation.  One such trouble is meeting with the village elder and the chief, which Paul offers to do.

The details of the island were a little unclear to me.  I think that is somewhat intentional, but there is some confusion about the nature of the power structure on the island and what exactly people get up to there.  So when Christine goes missing, Marta is instantly concerned.  And then when Paul and Christine don’t turn up for dinner, they decide to go and find them.  Christie and Paul are involved in something that I found a bit confusing, but which involved elders of the island.

As the story draws to a close and there is yet more confusion as to where the Germans are, Marta and the narrators are at odds with each other about what to do.  And the strain begins to form between them.   Even though the details of what happened with Paul and Christine are vague, the details of Marta and the narrator are very powerful and really tell the story.  It was wonderful. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010).

Three minutes of noise and pounding drums.  Monotone bass notes that hit as hard as the drums. An air of foreboding.  Yes, Swans are back.

The opening track of their new album is called “No Words/No Thoughts.”  The first part, the four minutes of instrumental, is clearly the No Words.  When M. Gira’s voice finally comes in, he’s not much happier than he was for his last Swans album.

The sounds of Swans are back, but the really big difference is that the menace is tempered somewhat.  I’m almost tempted to call it better production values. Early Swans was really scary…slow, ponderous and heavy.  And while those same qualities are here, it’s not quite as ponderous or heavy, and the pace is rather brisk on this first song.

But after this cacophony, we get the two minute a cappella “Liars.”  The music is only humming background vocals, but it is no less intense, especially when Gira’s sonorous voice reads a spoken section.  It’s very catchy (practically a first for Swans), but no less spooky.

“Jim” has some more cool harmonized backing vocals: a whole bunch of “Na Nas” which again, does not lessen the intensity of the song.  Although for old school Swans style, it’s track 4, “My Birth” with its creepy piano opening and bludgeoning noise for four minutes that shows that Swans are reaching back.

“You Fucking People Make Me Sick” opens with a Jew’s harp and then features guest vocals from Devandra Banhart and a child singing call and response.  While not as scary as some other tracks, it’s very creepy and not quite Devandra’s usually hippie fare.  It’s really good.  Especially the end instrumental part with dissonant piano and horns (!)

“Inside Madeline” is another song with 4 minutes of instrumental introduction before settling down into a relatively quiet song (more horns) that is far less sinister than most of these tracks.  “Eden Prison” has a wonderful circle high pitched guitar swinging around the background of the clattering noise.  It’s 6 minutes let up only briefly but the really convey claustrophobia.

The disc ends with the quiet “Little Mouth.”  It’s a slow ballad with whistling (!) and acoustic guitars in the background.  There’s a beautiful guitar solo which ends with Gira’s a cappella voice ending the disc.

I keep referencing Swans early music.  It’s true that their later stuff was far less scary and intense (“Can’t Find My Way Home” was a beautiful ballad which should have gotten more airplay than the original).  But this disc is certainly a call back to Swans’ roots.  Another thing is that Jarboe is not present on the disc (a first since their early days).

It’s a great return of a New York institution.

[READ: February 15, 2011] “Truncat”

This story is set in the same world as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, although it does not take place in The Magic Kingdom at all.  Rather, it is set in Toronto and is considered a quasi-sequel to the book even though none of the characters are the same either.  Although all of the elements of that novel are in place: deadheading, whuffie, and apparent age among other things.

Interestingly, this story gives more details about the world than Down and Out did.  Or at least it spells it out more clearly.  So we get:

Adrian’s father was apparent 22, hardly older-seeming than Adrian himself, though his real age was closer to 122.

It doesn’t explain everything, but it spells things out pretty clearly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2005 Music Issue CD (2005).

The second annual Believer CD ups the ante from the first by featuring all previously unreleased songs. And, just to put more of a twist on things, the artists were asked to do covers of songs that they have been listening to lately. There was only one song that I knew the original of (The Constantines’ track), so I can’t say a thing about how well the covers were covered.

This becomes something of a fun rarities mix CD. As with the previous one, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in the musicians, but given the target audience of The Believer, it all seems to make sense.

We get The Decemberists (actually Colin Meloy solo) covering Joanna Newsom (who I don’t know but whose song I liked quite a bit). The most interesting track to me was by a band called CocoRosie who I’m totally unfamiliar with. The song is recorded as if it they were using a 19th century recording machine. It sounds so far away and yet it feels modern at the same time. I have no idea what they normally sound like, but I’m certainly intrigued.

There’s a few parings that are practically predestined: The Mountain Goats cover The Silver Jews, The Shins cover The Postal Service and Devandra Banhart covers Antony & the Johnsons. There’s also a track from Wolf Parade, a band I have recently gotten into. Only two bands perform and are covered on the disc: Ida and The Constantines.

It’s an interesting assortment of songs. As with any cover, it’s hard to know if you would like the original artist or if you just enjoy the new artist’s’ interpretation. But a song like “Surprise, AZ” by Richard Buckner is so well written that I don’t think it matters what Cynthia G. Mason’s cover sounds like (which is quite good).

The disc is largely folky/alt-rock, but once again, it’s a good distillation of the genre, and a very enjoyable collection.  The track listing is available here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Kawabata”

This story had the (in my estimation) fascinating attribute of reading as if it were written a long time ago. The writing was very formal. It also centered around a man and a woman who meet at a bed and breakfast and do little more than walk around town. Since no real clues as to the time it is set are ever given, I could imagine them dressed in nearly turn of the (20th) century garb.

A few things do dispel this fantasy: the use of the word “tits” for one, and the fact that no married woman would have been seen out with a widower while her husband was away. But despite that, I enjoyed the formality of the story. (more…)

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trout–Fast and Bulbous.
–Bulbous yes, but also tapered.

This is an infamous disc in the history of music.  Which surprises me, as I can’t imagine many people have ever listened to it in its entirety.  I learned about it though my Frank Zappa fascination (he produced the record).

This disc also holds some kind of fascination for fiction writers.  I recall an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (yes, of course I watched it) in which a new character was introduced.  He was a cool hip indie guy and I thought he was finally a cool character on a show I was getting rather sick of.  But because he was different, he was of course mocked.

He is first mocked for keeping his records in alphabetical order (and come on, anyone with more than 50 discs has to, it’s not a sign of weirdness, just common sense).  And second he was mocked for owning this album (picture a 90210er say Captain Beefheart?).  Of course, later on, he goes on to commit murder or arson or some other thing, thereby proving that alternative music is only for psychopaths, but heck, when has TV ever lied to us?

And now, this disc is a favorite of the hero of this book (which is what prompted me to bust out the disc and give it a listen).

And so wow, what a weird album.  Even 41 years later this record is still waaay out there.   The disc opens with “Frownland.”  And how to describe it?  The left speaker is playing sort of free jazz guitar chords.  The right speaker is playing a wild atonal guitar solo with a thumping bass.  In both speakers you get all over the place (but rather quiet) drums and the good Captain himself singing in a voice that could have inspired Tom Waits.  And the Captain’s song would be a very catchy melody if it had anything to do with what everyone else was playing (which it doesn’t).  And the whole things lasts for under 2 minutes.  There’s 28 songs not unlike this one, for a total of about 75 minutes.

Some other treats: a wild skronking horn solo on one song.  There’s also a song about the Holocaust.  And there’s even several music-free spoken word “poetry” readings.  And of course, the aforementioned bulbous quote.

Amidst this chaos are three songs that are more or less songs in the conventional sense, “Moonlight on Vermont,” “Veteran’s Day Poppy” and “Sugar ‘n Spikes,” meaning they have verses and choruses and whatnot.  But even those are still pretty far out and won’t be (and haven’t been) on the radio anytime soon.

Word is that this is a hugely influential disc and it lands on all kinds of Best Album Of All Time lists.  I can see that it has influenced a few people over the years (Devandra Banhart comes to mind), but still.  This is the kind of music you put on at a party when you want everyone to go home.

[READ: November 6, 2009] I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President

I heard about this book when Jon Stewart gave it a big plug on The Daily Show (the author is one of the writers for the show).  After many of the “heavy” titles that I’d been reading, it was a delight to read something that was purely comic.

And it was very funny indeed.

The book reminded me in many ways of Artemis Fowl (if Aretmis hadn’t turned over a new leaf–and without the fairies, of course).  In fact, I’m not entirely sure what the age group for the book is.  The main character is in seventh grade (and the language is very mild, certainly suitable for kids).  But when I found it in the book store, it was in the adult section.  So, I’m not entirely sure where to place it.

Anyhow, the premise here is that Oliver Watson is an evil genius.  Evil here doesn’t mean psychotic or sociopathic, he doesn’t want to kill people.  He just wants things to go the way he wants.  All the time.  And he is usually quite successful.  He is, after all, one of the top 5 wealthiest people in the world.  And he’s only in 7th Grade. (more…)

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