Archive for the ‘John Vanderslice’ Category

CV1_TNY_11_04_13Brunetti.inddSOUNDTRACKJOHN VANDERSLICE-Tiny Desk Concert #29 (October 7, 2009).

Ivanderslice only know about John Vanderslice from NPR.  He’s an artist that Bob and Robin have talked about him forever.  They play a song of each of his new albums, so I know quite a few of his tracks from over the years (he has put out ten albums since 2000).  And yet I have never seen his name anywhere else.  I’m fascinated by this, because he must have a following or he wouldn’t still be recording.  Turns out Vanderslice created a recording studio called Tiny Telephone where many big name alternative bands have recorded.  He also recently finished a Kickstarter campaign to create his own label which was hugely successful.

Most of his songs I find are nto that memorable at first.  But after two or three listens, all of their amazing features come out and the songs become wonderful–full of unexpected layers and instrumentation.

The Tiny Desk Concert contains four songs from his then recent album Romanian Names.  his band consists of two acoustic guitars, a bass guitar, a flute and saxophone (often playing in a way that sounds very un-sax-like) and a drummer who is playing a Surdo drum–the kind usually used in parades.  It is a deep resonating drum (especially when he gives it a good loud whack).

The four songs are diverse (within the confines of the band, of course) and passionate.  Vanderslice’s voice is pleasant, but it’s the way he uses it around the melodies (and especially the big minor chords that really sets his stuff apart) that makes these songs sound great.  Like the way the “still wide-eyed, you” section builds in “Romanian Names.”  The saxophone playing what sounds like a guitar solo is very very cool in the second song, “Forest Knolls.”  “Too Much Time” is a more upbeat song (it’s neat to see the cool percussion he gets out of one drum).  The final song “Sunken Union Boat” makes good use of the flute.  It’s a great set and makes me think that Romanian Names would be a good place to start with his studio albums.

[READ: January 5, 2014] “Fed”

Antrim’s story is a personal reflection.  He talks about the breakdown he had a couple of years ago.  He also talks about suicide (see, food stories always seem to be about something else).

The doctors were worried about him when he left for home–being older and by himself seemed like a dangerous way for him to live at the moment.  This was especially true as he was having trouble with coordination, which mean that cooking was out of the question.  This made things even worse because Antrim loved to cook.  (more…)

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bobrobinEvery year NPR airs a holiday music special (I’ve been posting from them for the last few days).  Initially, they were like any of the episodes, with descriptions of the songs.  Then they became a music only playlist (which was kind of nice).  Then they added some guests.  Last year they did a very enjoyable story of Bob and Robin together having a party that no one came to.  This year, today, they have released the 2013 edition.

In this story, Bob and Robin are driving to Kansas in a huge snowstorm.  They listen to some carols on the radio.  And then when the snow gets too bad they pull over into a small hotel.  Then Bob falls asleep and is visited in his dream by Annie Clark (St. Vincent), John Vanderslice, Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), Josh Ritter and Jess Wolf (Lucius) who tell some great memories of Christmas.

The songs they play are wonderfully diverse as usual (although there’s no Hanukkah songs this year, as Hanukkah was last month).  They range from standard favorites (Burl Ives’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) to very traditional songs (“Coventry Carol” an instrumental “sleigh Ride”) to funny songs (“Christmastime for the Jews”) to a brand new one: The Flaming Lips playing “Silent Night/Lord Can You Hear Me” (which completely makes up for their dreadful “White Christmas” from several years ago).

This is a wonderfully enjoyable story/holiday special.  Listen and enjoy.

[READ: December 7, 2013] Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Dancing Men

Since I’m going to write about a few of these, I’ll keep up this little intro bit so I don’t have to re-write the general ideas/criticisms.

These are indeed the actual Arthur Conan Doyle stories just severely edited and truncated.  In other words, a lot of the story is cut out and yet the original language is still in place (at least I hope it is, I hope contemporary writers didn’t write the dialogue), so for young kids I think the wording is a little confusing.  The drawings are a little too simple for my liking as well.  They do effectively convey the story, but I didn’t like the very basicness of them.  I feel they make the stories seems a little more childlike than they actually are.

Having said all that however, I found the graphic novels to be a compelling introduction to Sherlock Holmes’ shorter stories (although not for my 8-year-old apparently).

This story features the fascinating name of Hilton Cubitt.  He comes to Holmes with a confounding problem. He has discovered a slip of paper with stick figured men drawn on it.  When he showed it to his wife, she absolutely freaked out.  But she won’t tell him why.  So he brings the paper to Holmes to figure out what the heck is going on.

Since I haven’t read the original of this story,  I feel like the graphic novel is a better medium for this story because of the titular dancing men.  Perhaps the original has drawings in it, but if not, the graphic novel’s version which contains the stick figures corresponding to letters is a very successful way of quickly showing the trick.  (Even if, again, I don’t love the illustrations).

Holmes can’t do much with one slip of paper–he can’t even decode the pattern because there’s so little to go on.  But then more dancing men appear, and Cubitt brings more evidence to Holmes.  Holmes is able to crack the code (I couldn’t, but I wonder if there was more information given in the real story?).  Anyhow, Holmes has cracked the code, but that still doesn’t really solve the problem, which is the message within the code.

This may have been another case where more information would have made the story a bit more compelling.  It seems a little too easy that the “bad guy” is spotted, giving Holmes a pretty easy capture. Nevertheless, I do love a good puzzle and I’m curious to read how well the dancing men are described in the original.

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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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