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Archive for the ‘Mercury Rev’ Category

little vamopSOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn [CST025] (2003).

hymnThis album, at least according to the liner notes, seems to be broken into three sections, as the title suggests.  Although there is no explicit attachment of a particular hymn to the songs, there is a gap between the listings, giving each section three songs.

“Federica” is 9 minutes long and opens with a very lovely slow guitar melody.  Then the drums crash in and the song doesn’t change so much as intensify.  At around 3 minutes the song pauses before a loping bass adds to the mixture and the songs gets bigger and bigger, and even a little funkier. When the distorted guitar comes in at 5 minutes, it’s hard to believe it’s basically the same song all along.  It builds to a cacophonous explosion and then settles down again. A new style emerges—slow and plaintive with mildly distorted guitars. But they can’t stay muted for long. The distorted guitar comes back and forces the song forward with some distorted bass and other noises until it resumes a reprise of the original guitar melody.

“War on Want” is only 2 minutes long.  It is mostly strings that seemed to be looped in some way.  There haven’t been a lot of strings in DMST records so far, so this is new.  They drift slightly out of tune as they introduce the 3rd song “Auberge le Mouton Noir.”  The song opens with some crackling noises and some pretty, slow chords. which resolve into a simple riff.  The song builds, growing faster with a great propulsive beat. I like that it switches back and forth between the chords and the guitar riff.  Is that a slightly out of tune bass guitar before the ringing guitar solo takes over?

The second section begins with “Outer Inner & Secret.”  It’s ten minutes long and opens with an interesting bass line and guitar motif. It’s quiet and insistent, kind of dreamy. After exploring some quieter avenues some feedback squalls float in and out.  About 4 minutes in the song builds, but it quickly recedes only to build again and recede once more.  For the third build the drums kick in and the song launches in a louder direction for a few measures.  But just as you think it’s going to take off for a while, it settles down and then comes back to a quitter style with martial beat and keyboards.   The remainder of the song switches between loud building guitarists and quitter moments with just bass and drums.  For the last-minute or so horns burst forth and then the music drops away except for the horns, which end the song with a plaintive melody.

The 4 minute “107 Reasons Why” is a slow horn & guitar melody song.  There’s some interesting sounds that play over the top of the delicate melody, including a nice horn line.

“Ontario Plates” is 7 minutes long and opens with very jazzy drums and bass–it’s rather noir with a quiet saxophone.   Once the sax plays over the top it just increases the jazziness. DMST has always had a jazz feel but this one really pushes it about as far as the band has gone. The drums start to come to the fore and I love the way about 3 minutes in the drums morph into something else and the song almost imperceptibly switches into a new song entirely. The bass takes over and a new riff enters the piece. About 5 minutes in, the song switches to a very bright and uplifting motif–big horns, bright guitars and a catchy riff.  It’s quite lovely.

The third section opens with “Horns of a Rabbit.”  This song introduces big drums and kind of electronic bass sound.  About two minutes in the noise beaks through—bashing guitars and intense drums.  It even includes a pretty wild guitar solo. I like how the song (which is only 4 minutes (kind of disintegrates on itself before merging into the two-minute “It’s Gonna Rain,” which may indeed be simply the sound of rain on a tin roof.

The final track, the 7 minute “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!” opens with some synths sounds—unlike anything else on the record.  And then a pretty guitar intro mixes with some lovely horns.  It’s probably the most delicate thing they have created.  After 3 minutes the occasional guitar swirls grow louder and it grinds it way to a happy and uplifting keyboard riff.   Then a bunch of surprises for DMST: A slide guitar plays a little solo and then, most surprisingly, a chorus of voices sings the melody.  The ending slide guitar sounds like it could come from Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips.  If you listen closely, you can hear people shouting Hooray! in the background.

This album feels a bit more claustrophobic than their others, and while I like pretty much all of the songs, I really like their other albums more.

[READ: December 20, 2015] Little Vampire

Joann Sfar is responsible for the Sardine comics which I kind of liked but mostly didn’t (I think that may have been because of the uglyish drawing style).  But here Sfar has another series called Little Vampire.  (I also just learned that Joann Sfar is a man, so apologies earlier, but I think that’s an understandable mistake).

This book collects three stories into one volume, all translated by Alexis Siegel.  Each story is about 30 pages.  And they follow the “life” of little vampire.  He is a sweet boy with a bald head, big eyes and pointy ears.  He lives in a castle with call all kinds of undead people including his dog Phantomato (he is bright red and rather devious) and several other monsters.

“Little Vampire Goes to School” introduces us to the home where the monsters live.  As the undead are partying, Little Vampire comes down and says he wants to go to school.  The others are horrified, but he won’t give up the idea. He says he’s bored and wants to meet other children (most of the undead are adults).

Little Vampire’s mother (who is strangely pretty in her weird design) and the other elders allow him to go to school, but he can only go at night when it is closed.  So the undead come and all attend school with him.  The class is taught by The Captain of the Dead who is an old dead pirate. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Keep Away the Dead [CST083] (2011).

I really enjoyed Siskiyou’s first album. This album updates the sound and makes it a bit bigger.  And yet somehow the album still sounds fragile.

The album is full of songs that are catchy, but not really easy on the ear.

The first song reminds me of Arcade Fire.  Something about the ringing guitar and crescendos.  But the recording feels more like a demo, much more intimate that Arcade Fire.  “Where Does That Leave Me” is an even more spare number, just vocals and guitar although it slowly builds.  “Twigs and Stones” is the first song that sounds like the bulk of the album—where Colin Huebert’s vocals really come to the fore.  His vocal style is loud and verging on the whiny (again, like Arcade Fire).  This song also has a lot of other instruments that percolate to the top—reminding me of older Mercury Rev.

“Revolution Blues” is the standout track for me, it’s incredibly catchy (and fun to try to sing in his eccentric voice).  The accordion and the minor key intensity is really powerful.  I guess it’s a shame that it was written by Neil Young, then (although the Siskiyou version is much better).  “Dear Old Friend” is a more country sound (which for me is shorthand for slide guitars), but it keeps the same style and feel as the other songs.  “Fiery Death” is the first song where percussion makes itself known very loudly.  It’s a cool introduction of loud thumping.  “Sing Me to Sleep” is a 2 minute lullaby and “Dead Right Now” is a 2 minute coda that ends the album nicely.

The disc is short (about 30 minutes) but a lot of emotion and craft is packed into it.  It’s really enjoyable.

[READ: May 24, 2012] “Sweet Dreams”

I’m always disconcerted when a story is in English but is set in another country.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  When it seems like it’s set in another country because the author is from that other country and he or she is writing about that other country without specifying it (usually because it is translated).  It’s very Amerocentric, but perhaps everyone thinks a story is set in their town unless told otherwise.  So I didn’t realize that this story was originally written in German (it was translated by Michael Hoffman), but it felt like it was taking place in Europe.  I actually guessed France, until later on it was revealed to be Switzerland.

There’s something cool about stories that are written elsewhere, especially if you don’t know the place well, it allows for almost anything to happen.  A couple riding a bus in Europe doesn’t mean the same thing as a couple riding a bus in, say Tallahassee.  But having set up that distinction, this story is about love.  And love is universal.

The story is written from the point of view of Lara, a shy bank worker.  She has been dating Simon for several months and they have recently moved in together.  They should be in the first bloom of love—on their own for the first  time (they never felt comfortable fooling around at their parents’ houses)—but her shyness in particular won’t loosen.  She doesn’t like him to see her naked, and they are very reserved in their love-making.  And from the start Stamm places a dark tone over the story.  The get a place in the town that he likes but it’s pretty run down.  He hadn’t brought much to the apartment, and he seems critical of some of her purchases.  He even comments that “forever is a long time” when she says that the towels she bought will last forever.  And then on the bus, a man, dressed in a long black coat stares at Lara over and over.  It may be innocent, but it’s still disconcerting.

When they get home, she takes a bath (she won’t let him in the bathroom) and asks him to go to the restaurant downstairs to buy a bottle of wine.  She finishes the bath and he’s not back yet, so she reads the paper.  Which is full of more grim news.  When she reads about a dead body found in the lake nearby and since we know she doesn’t feel comfortable about the restaurant downstairs, we know something bad has happened. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MERCURY REV-Deserter’s Songs (1998).

Mercury Rev has changed a lot as a band over the years.  They began as a noisy punk outfit who was getting kicked off of airplanes, and by this album (seven years after their debut), they’ve turned into a kind of sweet orchestral pop band (a transformation not unlike The Flaming Lips).  I got into them with their album before this See You on the Other Side with the seriously rocking song “Young Man’s Stride.”  This album came as something of a shock, it is often so delicate.

I used to really love this album a lot and then one day I thought that it was a little irritating sounding, and that has stuck with me ever since.  The irritation comes from a combination of the really high-pitched vocals and the musical saw that seems to accompany most songs.  However, I hadn’t listened to it in quite some time and hearing it now, I found it enjoyable once again.

It opens with “Holes” a five-minute song that layers many different instruments (musical saw, of course, and horns) over Jonathan Donohue’s timid and wavery voice and gentle keyboard washes.   “Tonite It Shows” continues in the pretty vein–a beautiful song that name checks Cole Porter.  “Endlessly” features more unearthly soprano singing (there’s a lot of high-pitched music on this disc).  It has a lovely melody and references “Silent Night” on the flute.

The first highlight has to be “Opus 40” which tempers all of the potential irritants but maximizes the beauty and wondrous songwriting.  It soars to the heavens but stays grounded with a cool retro organ solo.  The other major highlight is “Goddess on a Hiway.”  “Hiway” is even better than opus 40 at blending the wonderful elements of this album.

“Hudson Line” is an anomaly on the disc–raw saxophone solo and low vocals change the pace of the album quite a bit.  “The Funny Bird” actually sounds like a Flaming Lips song circa 2008.  The Flaming Lips comparisons aren’t all that surprising since Donahue played with the Lips back in the early 90s.  And “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” is a pretty raucous song (“stomp” is correct).  It has a traditional feel and ends the disc on an upbeat note.

So, yes, although some of the effects on the disc veer into annoying, it’s still a great disc overall.

[READ: Week of April 16] Gravity’s Rainbow 3.25-3.32

We have finally exited The Zone this week.  The lengthy Section 3 has come to a close with an unceremonious send off to Slothrop, who I assume we’ll see in Section 4, with the reintroduction of old characters and with a chance meeting that made me go wow!

I’m really amazed at the interconnectedness of the book.  While I didn’t think that things would be unrelated, the number of unexpected connections is really tremendous.  And while I missed many of the other characters, seeing the occasional one pop up is pretty exciting.

I’m happy to leave the Zone, not because I didn’t like it (although I admit I Slothrop’s slog from one place to another was getting a little tiring), but because I really want to see how he wraps all this stuff up.  Connections are popping up everywhere, and I feel like he’s doing a whole lot more than I initially thought. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIGURINES “The Air We Breathe” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

Figurines are from Denmark.  This song has a very distinctive Mercury Rev feel (late-period  Mercury Rev) with high pitched vocals and delicate intertwining melodies.

The verses are done on simple piano and the bridge has some nice harmonies.  This is a cool alt rock song that stands up to repeated listens.

[READ: March 28, 2012] “Into the Unforeseen”

The timing of this article is quite amazing.  Having really enjoyed Galchen’s short story, I decided to see what else she had written.  It’s not a lot, but she has written three things published in Harper’s–two essays and one short story.  This first essay is all about César Aira.  I didn’t even know who Aira was when it came out in 2011, but now, I get to read it again having just finished another of his novels.  (The essay concludes with information about Varamo, a novel that was just recently translated into English which I picked up at the library, yesterday).

This essay is about the week that Galchen spent with Aira in and around Aira’s home (but not his birth town of Coronel Pringles which he kind of jokingly forbids her from seeing.  Galchen loves Aira’s writing (and has a kind of crush on him, although they’d never met before).  She doesn’t say in this article but she was a Spanish language major, so she has clearly been reading his books in Spanish.

She lets us know that the day before she met Aira, her ten-year relationship ended (she hints at the reason but is quite discrete).  She brings this up because of an emotional moment later in the article.  And that’s what I loved about this article–it was personal and really invited the reader in to experience this meeting with her.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MGMT-Oracular Spectacular (2008).

I bought this album a few years after it was hailed as the best album by everyone.  I never quite realized that they did all the songs I knew from it, but I was pleased that I bought it.  Then I promptly lost the disc.  I found it about seven months later in another case (doh!).  And I have given it a number of listens since then.

I’m confused as to why this album was so popular.  I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just not sure why it was so hailed.  It’s a strange kind of record. There are a number of dancey hits (which aren’t really that dancey or anything), but there’s also a bunch of trippy psychedelic stuff as well.

The opener, “Time to Pretend” has a wonderfully catchy keyboard line that expands into a wonderfully simple, but catchy verse/chorus.  “Weekend Wars” reminds me of some of the weirder alternative hits of the early 90s.  The sound is kind of trebly and slightly off, but the middle of the song is full of beautiful swells of keyboards, giving it a strangely hippie vibe.

“The Youth” is a slower track which has a gentle sound and a nice chorus.  It’s pretty far from the danciness of the opener.  “Electric Feel” brings in some disco and funk.   The keyboards are very 70s trebly with a big bottom bass.

The standout track is “Kids.”  It marries the weird keyboard sound of the opener with a wonderfully catchy riff.  It also has a simple chord structure and big drums.  It’s the kind of song that sticks in your head from the first time you hear it.

The second half of the disc is where things change and the more psychedelic aspect so the band come in.  The album was produced by Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) and while that style is evident in the front of the album, it’s hidden under the more brash punk sounds.  n the last few songs the punky elements are absent and the psychedelia shines through.  “4th Dimensional Transition” is a wash of interesting sounds.  “Pieces of What” is a simple acoustic guitar with vocals that sound like they come from outer space.  “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters” never really coalesces, although the parts are interesting.  “The Handshake” is another folkie kind of song with overtones of David Bowie (who is never really absent anywhere on the disc) especially at the end of the song.  “Future Reflections” ends the disc with a synthy ballad.

The disc is quite different from the first five to the last five songs.  And I find that when I’m enjoying the hits, I’m less excited by the trippy parts (which meander as opposed to the immediacy of the hits).  But I think I could find myself enjoying the vibe of the second half of the disc more if the first half didn’t prep me for that stark pop punk sound.  I guess it has something for everyone.

[READ: June 28, 2011] Slapstick

I tend to read books that are long, or at least that feel long.  So Vonnegut is like a guilty little pleasure.  I read this in three lunch hours. And it felt like something of an accomplishment.

I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy this one as much as his previous books.  It was a lot darker and felt a bit more mean-spirited than his others.  True, Vonnegut is nothing if not mean-spirited, but there was something different about this one.  Was it that the protagonists were two meters tall with six fingers and toes and for the first several years of their lives spoke in nothing but baby talk?  Was it that they were so reviled by their parents that they were sent away to the parents’ second home and allowed no visitors?  Or was it that Manhattan was now called “The Island of Death?”  Or maybe it was just the repeated use of “Hi Ho” at the end of virtually every paragraph.

Or maybe it’s that the story doesn’t really feel complete.  There isn’t a lot of story here, but as with lots of Vonnegut, there are a lot of little details that join the story together.  The novel is constructed as chapters, but within the chapters are very short almost paragraph long sections separated by dots.  These little paragraphs sort of work as small scenes, with most having a kind of punch line at the end (this is not too dissimilar from Breakfast of Champions, but the sections are even smaller here).

The two aforementioned protagonists are as described.  But although they speak in nothing but nonsense syllables, they are in fact quite intelligent.  Indeed, when they put their minds together (literally) they reach epochal levels of genius.  And when they put their heads together they write several massively intelligent treatises and the most popular child-rearing manual in history, So You Went and Had a Baby.  Well, actually, Wilbur wrote it for Eliza is illiterate (she just has most of the brainstorms).  Technically, the real protagonist of the story is Wilbur, for these are his memoirs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLUES-Clues [CST057] (2009).

cluesThis is another of my favorite recent Constellation Records CDs.  Clues remind me of Mercury Rev, if they had remained a more indie/underpolished band instead of their more recent orchestrated pop.  The lead singer sounds a but like Jonathan Donahue (and sometimes Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips) and the band in general plays the sort of unusual pop that these bands have made common.

Every song on this disc is a winner.  It’s even hard for me to pick a favorite, although track number 8 “Cave Mouth” (I have no idea what the songs are about lyrically) is just fantastic: great musical riffs, great breaks, infectiously catchy melody, and yet the whole thing feels just a hair off balance.  It’s sublime.  And the rest of the disc works in a similar way: things are a little off kilter, but that make you listen even harder to find out what’s going on.

The best example of this is the last song: “Let’s Get Strong.”  The song is a pretty, simple piano ballad.  It’s very catchy and quite pretty.  But a few measures into the song, you become convinced that the piano is out of tune.  And as you listen attentively, you can’t decide what’s going on that makes the song sound off.  And by the end, you’re hooked.

Clues is definitely a quirky band.  And yet they are not offputting.  They’re just following their own muses.  And we’re all the better for it.

[READ: September 28, 2009] “Temporary”

This story concerns two women living in Los Angeles. They met when they were both applying for a temp position.  Shelly, the more outgoing of the two invited Vivian to live with her in her new place. The rent is cheap.  The only problem is that it’s a room in a factory, and technically it’s illegal, so if the police ever come they will be evicted on the spot.

And so, the title really conveys the lives that these women lead.

While Shelly’s back story is not really divulged, we learn a bit about Vivian and her upbringing.  When she was young her mother became very ill. They assumed she wouldn’t make it, but, amazingly she pulled through. This incident of more or less self sufficiency led Vivian to lead a rather sensible life, growing up faster than she probably should have.   As such, she is constantly surprised by Shelly’s behavior and lifestyle.

When Vivian landed the temp job, Shelly gave up her job hunt.  And yet Shelly always seems to be able to make the rent with no trouble.  She also has a habit of giving Vivian anything that Vivian complemented her on (which makes Vivian uncomfortable).  Shelly also walks around the apartment in loose robes, and tends to leave her “boyfriends” lying around the same way she leaves her extra cash lying around.

It’s Vivian’s temp job that provides the emotional heart of the story.  She works at an adoption agency transcibing the interviews of prospective adoptees.  One couple in particular grabs her attention.  The man seems like a bully and the wife seem too deferential to be healthy.  Since she listens to their tapes over and over for transcription purposes, she gets the man’s voice ingrained into her head.  It is inevitible that she will encounter these voices in real life, but the where and how are too good to spoil.

The main plot ends before the story ends.  The ending is a coda that ties the whole story together.  It feels extraneous at first and yet upon reflection it works very nicely to wrap up the story.

This was the first story I’ve read by Marisa Silver, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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