Archive for the ‘Michael Penn’ Category

[ATTENDED: January 30, 2020] Aaron Lee Tasjan

I knew Aaron Lee Tasjan from a Tiny Desk Concert that I really enjoyed.  He was playing songs from his then new album Karma for Cheap which had a great psychedelic kind of sound to it.  I thought that he and his band played really well together and I was looking forward to seeing them.

So I was a little bummed to find out that he was playing solo (and acoustic!).

But it turns out that Tasjan is a great songwriter and while I definitely preferred the sound he got on the album, I enjoyed listening to his lyrics as he played acoustic guitar. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJUST SAY NOËL: A Gift for You from Geffen Records (1996).

This is a weird mix of songs.  I purchased this all those years ago because I loved the Sire Records Just Say series, and this seemed like a fine addition.  But this album really pushes what might have been anticipated in a Christmas collection.

Look at the names!  Beck! Sonic Youth! (when they were riding high), Elastica! But man, this is just a crazy mix of stuff.

BECK-“The Little Drum Machine Boy” (NSFC)
This is like 7 minutes of drum machine nonsense from Beck.  There’s mention of the Hanukkah robot funk.  Gonna drop some Hanukkah science.  And then 7 minutes of Beck’s nonsense lyrics.

AIMEE MANN with MICHAEL PENN-“Christmastime” (NSFC)
This is a little mopey because Aimee is always a little mopey.  The Michael Penn parts are a bit more upbeat.  They sound great together, but “all alone at Christmastime” isn’t really much for holiday cheer.

SONIC YOUTH-“Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  Martin Mull recorded this back in 1973.  That explains the spoken word part that doesn’t sound like something Sonic Youth would construct.  But after the spoken intro, they turn the end into 2 minutes of utter noise.  Thurston sings the actual song almost a capella with strange noises in the background and twinkling bells.  The last 40 seconds are just squelching noise.  And they end with Thurston saying “Merry Christmas, David Geffen.”

THE POSIES-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This song is downbeat and sad (“you made me for the last time.  That’s okay Christmas means little to me”).  The chorus is kind of pretty though.

THE ROOTS-“Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  And never would have guessed it was originally by The Roots.  It is shockingly about incest. The Roots version is even darker (and the recording features an echoed voice making it even harder to hear the words).

This version is bluesy and slightly funky in a very white way.

REMY ZERO-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This is muted and mopey and I have literally no idea what its about.

This is without a doubt the best song on this record.  Although as far as I can tell aside from chanting (and playing) the melody from the Christmas song “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” there is no connection to Christmas whatsoever.

WILD COLONIALS-“Christmas Is Quiet” (NSFC)
This is six-minute mellow folk dirge.  Her voice is pretty, but good lord, six minutes?  Even a build up and backing vocals doing la las can’t rescue this.

XTC-“Thanks For Christmas”
Obviously, I love this song as I have mentioned elsewhere.

The Toys song is such a weird inclusion–clearly it’s only here because they own the rights.  But it’s a really pretty song and it should be played more at the closing of the year, for being a lovely optimistic song.  Even though I like this version, I’d like to hear a cover from someone else with a strong voice (and not necessarily Seal, or whoever that is, joining in).  I’ll bet it could be done really well.

TED HAWKINS-“Amazing Grace”
Hawkins has a low gravelly voice.  This is a lovely cover of just him and his guitar.

So overall, this is a disappointing collection of songs.  Most of them can’t be played in a festive way.  But there are a few rocking standouts.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Announcements”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This was a fun, light-hearted look at Wedding announcements.  And of course, as with any fun, light-hearted look at something, there were undercurrents of seriousness that made the story even better. (more…)

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stickyThe cricket-loving songwriters are back with their second disc.  Although I bought their first disc because I love Neil Hannon, I found myself enjoying the songs by Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh even more.  (Which led me to get some discs by Pugwash, a great, sadly unknown band).

I’m inclined to say I like Walsh’s songs better on this disc as well–his title track has a groovy classic ELO-inspired guitar riff and Walsh’s great falsetto vocals.  But I also love the bouncy fun of “Boom Boom Afridi” (written by Neil Hannon). So maybe I just like the two of them together.

These are followed by the amusing “It’s Just Not Cricket” which features a group of rowdy indignant cricket fans singing along. See the awesome accompanying picture below which shows the kind of sort of naughty but not really way the sport is portrayed on the disc.  cricket“The Umpire” gives some real sympathy to the Cricket umpire (who eats his eggs and soldiers) as his position is taken over by machines.

I don’t know much about cricket, so I don’t claim understand what most of these songs are about, but the awesomely bouncy and catchy “Third Man” is a total mystery to me.  But that doesn’t stop me from singing along. It’s like a classic lost Pugwash song.  It even has a (weird) narration from Daniel Radcliffe.  “Chin Music” is a pretty, carnivalesque instrumental.

“Out in the Middle” is a slower Walsh song which is also very pretty.  “Line and Length” is a silly song which (in spoken word) explains how line and length are used in cricket. It has a very discoey chorus which differs nicely from the formality of the verse. “The Laughing Cavaliers” is a march with a big choral vocal line. “Judd’s Paradox” has a lengthy spoken section by Stephen Fry (at his most formal). It’s a very enjoyable song with an interesting perspective on cricket and history.

“Mystery Man” is a pretty, sixties-sounding song with bouncy jaunty keyboards and a catchy chorus–except that the verses are all about how he’s a tough bowler.  It’s also got a hilarious spoken word section read by Matt Berry “trod on wicket.”

“Nudging and Nurdling” ends the disc and is more or less 5 minutes of people saying the words “Nudging and Nurdling” set to a boppy silly melody.  The list of contributors is extensive, although I’ve only heard of Daniel Radcliffe, Neil Finn, Joe Elliott, Matt Berry, Graham Linehan, an Michael Penn (!) who sounds so American. I love they way they build something so simple (and kinda dumb) into such a big song by the end.

Hannon and Walsh know how to write gorgeous songs (even if they can be rather silly).  This is a great collection–even if you don’t know anything about cricket.  You too will soon be shouting along with the Laughing Cavaliers.

[READ: November 9, 2014] In Real Life

I was pretty excited when I saw this book.  I really like Cory Doctorow and here was a comic of his published by First Second, one of my favorite graphic novel publishers (I need to make a category for them…there, done).  I didn’t know Jen Wang’s artwork, but that hardly mattered as the cover was gorgeous.

So the story is an interesting one.  It begins simply enough with Anda, a young girl who has moved from San Diego to Flagstaff (of course, we don’t learn that she moved to Flagstaff for a few pages, so the fact that we are introduced to Flagstaff by a snowfall was confusing to me–I assumed she was on the East Coast).  However, this was not as confusing to me as the other character in the book who doesn’t know where Flagstaff is.  What high school aged person doesn’t know that Flagstaff is in Arizona?

Anyhow, we see Anda in school and her class is given a presentation by Liza the Organiza, a woman who is introducing the class to an online virtual game called Coarsegold (I’m also confused as to why this woman would be allowed to give this presentation in school, but maybe I’m too nitpicky here?).  Incidentally, I really enjoyed most of the art in the book, but the picture of Liza the Organiza on this same page is quite disturbing to me.  In fact, a few pictures in “real life” seem a little “off” to me, and I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the visual aspect of the book.  But when we get into the game, the pictures are simply fantastic, so I don’t know what that’s all about. (more…)

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This is Peter Bjorn and John’s second album.  I enjoyed Writer’s Block and Living Thing and when I read that their earlier discs were just as good, i had to check them out to be sure.  Their first two discs are less polished, less slick.  Normally I’d say that automatically makes them better, but PB&J’s sound is pretty great with or without the production values.  This disc feels like  a transition disc, like something big is going to be coming soon (which it did).

The opening song is a pop masterpiece in the tradition of The Beatles (or more accurately, The Monkees–who wrote great pop songs with just a little less panache).  It is catchy right out of the block, with some interesting slower parts to add drama.  And Peter’s voice is perfect for this kind of pop convection.  It even opens with a Speak n Spell!  “Money” has a harder riff, but the chorus is trippy and fun.  “It Beats Me Every Time” is a darker song with a melody (and vocal style) that reminds me of Michael Penn (especially the chorus).  [I love Michael Penn and think he is vastly underrated].

“Does It matter Now?” is the first song that isn’t awesome.  It’s a fine song and there’s some great backing vocals in the middle of the track, but it’s not as good as the first three.  But “Big Black Coffin” springs back with a wonderful melody and chorus (and more Michael Penn style).

“Start Making Sense” is 2 minutes long and that’s fine, but it would probably drag if it were longer.  But then “Teen Love” is great, with a cool drum section that bridges to the a great chorus.  “All Those Expectations” is a slow guitar ballad.  It is sweet but a bit too long.  “Tailormade” ends the record on a good note, an interesting keyboard-based song with multiple parts and although the verses seems long the pay off in the chorus is worth it.

Strangely, the disc actually ends with what sounds like a demo, “Goodbye, Again Or.” If it’s not a demo, then it sounds like he’s in the next room. Maybe with the door shut.  I can’t really grasp the song as I’m so distracted by the recording.

My version of the disc has five bonus tracks.  I’m not sure that this is the kind of disc you want bonus tracks for, (my first listen I couldn’t believe this album was so long!) but, really, who says no to free music?

“(I Just Wanna) See Through” has a rock n roll guitar intro.  “The Trap’s My Trip” starts out slowly but adds drums with a wonderful introduction after two minutes and then brings in a  great rocking guitar.  It’s a wonderful b side.   “Punk’s Jump Up” is a fun little jam/practice.  While “Unreleased Backgrounds” is a slow guitar song.  These are nice bonus tracks.  Not essential but enjoyable.

This is a solid record from PB&J.  Even though some of the early songs are really catchy, nothing is as immediate as “Young Folks.”  But it’s still really strong.

[READ: February 15, 2012] “The Silence Here Owns Everything”

Continuing with Narrative magazine’s “30 Below” winners for 2011, this story won second place.  It was deceptively simple and I enjoyed it quite a lot.  The story was broken down into several sections (which I like), although all the action takes place over one  weekend.

It’s written in the first person from the point of view of a high school sophomore (I gather).  She and her best friend Kendra are walking home from school on a Friday afternoon.  Kendra has bruises on her face, which we assume are from her father.  It’s obvious that despite Kendra’s difficulties, the narrator looks up to her quite a lot (she may even have a crush on her, but that’s not really an issue).

The bulk of the story centers on the girls as they walk home, as they hang out at Kendra’s house, as they smoke some weed and as they fall asleep–you know, a typical high school weekend.  And Clodfelter captures the tone and details of the setting perfectly.  It feels completely real.  Especially when Kendra reveals that her boyfriend is coming over in the morning and the narrator wishes (but doesn’t say) that it could be just the two of them instead. (more…)

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