Archive for the ‘Mogwai’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LMFAO-“Party Rock Anthem” (2012).

My son doesn’t seem to care about music.  It’s shocking to me since I love music so much.  He really likes They Might be Giants’ Here Comes Science, but I think more for the words than the music (which makes me proud for other reasons).  He likes the music from Kirby and Star Wars and he liked some Mogwai because it sounded like a soundtrack to a movie.  When he sings to himself it’s always the tune from Christmas Carols.  In fairness, I didn’t really appreciate music until I was 7 or 8, but so many young kids seem to really be into music (with amazingly bad taste), that I’m not sure what to think.

So the other day he was singing some words to this song.  I was shocked.  Where in the hell had he heard it anyhow?  Then the other night his CD player didn’t work so I tuned in a random radio station and he heard this and wanted it on.  So, he finally has a song that he likes.   I hadn’t really listened to this song, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I don’t really have an opinion of it.  It’s a dance song.  It reminds me of Daft Punk and maybe early Prodigy.  I’m a sucker for the keyboard riff that sounds kind of twisty (fake electronic music appeals to the sci-fi geek in me).  Lyrically it’s innocuous enough I guess–it is a dance song after all (wait are they dissing The Beatles and Led Zeppelin?).  The funny thing to me about songs like this is that they are all kind of interchangeable–each year or so someone comes out with a new dance theme that everyone can pogo to and do X to and “have a good time.”  I think perhaps that this was even played at a recent Cub Scout function to the confusion of most of the adults.

Since my son doesn’t dance and would certainly never dance in public (I don’t even think he’d even “put his hands up”), I’m not quite sure what the appeal of this is to him (“other kids like it” is probably as far as it goes).  But hey, maybe this is a gateway into his actually wanting to listen to his dad’s music.  [And when does he ask me what LMFAO means?  Probably never, because he has no idea that that’s the band’s name].

[READ: June 6, 2011] Squish: Brave New Pond

The second squish issue depends a bit on the first one.  There are a number of references in the book to the first one (with a comment about half way through that says to just go and read the first one already).

In this one Squish, who is an amoeba, is reading a comic about Super Amoeba.  He’s a superhero who helps everyone in Small Pond (including an amusing scene where a girl drops her ice cream and he flies to her rescue).   But then he is asked to join The Protozoans, heroes who help the World, not just Small Pond.  And Super Amoeba is thrilled  and is soon off to join them (in their spiffy (and tight) uniforms).

This parallels to Squish’s own situation.  It’s his first day of school.  And he has decided to make some changes.  Maybe he won’t hang out with his old friends so much, maybe he’ll try to become more popular, maybe he’ll even get picked for the kickball team, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll get to hang out with The Algae Brothers, the biggest, meanest, coolest kids in school.  [This story line has striking parallels to Queen Bee, eh?  Does anyone ever make stories from the POV of kids who are already popular?].

He has a hard time ditching his old friends (they’re so clingy).  But it turns out that last year, when Squish stood up to Lynwood, the meanest amoeba in the pond, the Algae Brothers noticed.  And when they recognize him, they invite him to hang with them (where nachos with cheese are actually delivered to their table at lunch!).  He’s made it!

Being cool is pretty great.  Sure he misses his old friends a bit, but everyone is in awe of his new found status. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Special Moves (2010).

This is Mogwai’s first live album and it really captures the band in all of its intense glory.  This is a good year for a Mogwai live recording because they play some of their newer song which are a bit more melodic (and sometime have words) but they also revisit their older songs–which still sound intense.  It’s a great overview of their career so far and it’s a great testament to how different their music sounds over the course of so many years–even though they still sound like Mogwai

We get two songs from Their (then) latest The Hawk is Howling –“I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead” and “I Love You I’m Going to Blow up Your School.” Two songs from Mr Beast “Friend of the Night” and the stunning set closer “Glasgow Mega Snake.” Two from Happy Music “Hunted by a Freak” and “I Know You Are But What am I.” Two from Rock Action “You Dont Know Jesus” and “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong.”  From Come On Die Young we get “Cody” and from their debut, two classics: “Like Herod” (which is amazing live) and “Mogwai Fear Satan” (also amazing)–each one over 10 minutes long and full of the emotional release that we’ve come to expect from Mogwai.

This is a great place to start if you want to hear what Mogwai is all about.

[READ: June 4, 2012] Jailbird

First off I want to say how neat it is that I took this book out of the library and that it’s from 1979.  Thirty-three years old!  Books are cool.

Anyhow, I have a stack of dozens of books I want to read, and yet somehow Vonnegut said, no, read me now.  In addition to Vonnegut books being relatively short, they are also very quick to read.  I read this in a couple of days, which is very satisfying.

My old boss at the library told me that she thought Vonnegut more or less stopped writing good books after Breakfast of Champions.  I disagree, but that has certainly colored the way I look at his later books before I read them–which one had she read that turned her off?  I kind of suspect it was this one.

In some ways this is a minor novel.  It’s fairly brief (240 pages, although there’s  30 page Prologue which I gather is from Vonnegut himself (you never know, he has so many layers going on)).  He explains some of the details that are in the book and several other interesting preface-type things.  I enjoyed the bit about the fan who wrote to Vonnegut and (Vonnegut claims) summed up all of his works in just seven words: “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.”  And that is the basic plot of this book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Earth Divison EP (2012).

Oh wait, this isn’t the Mogwai EP.  What CD did I put in?

Holy crap, it IS the Mogwai CD.  And it opens with a beautiful piano and violin ballad called “Get to France.”  While it’s true that Mogwai has always been about melody (under the noise), I never expected this.  It sounds like a gorgeous soundtrack to a sad film.  It’s followed by “Hound of Winter” a gentle ballad of acoustic guitars and strings.  I know that Mogwai has a softer side, it’s just surprising to hear it all at once like this!

“Drunk and Crazy” is more like it.  It opens with a wall of guitar noise which…vanishes after about two minutes into a gentle, dark string section (strings are by Luke Sutherland of Bows and Long Fin Kille).  And while the distortion never entirely goes away (it’s evident in the piano), it is certainly pushed to the background until about 90 seconds later when it begins to overtake the track again.  It’s nowhere near as dynamic as their best stuff, but it really showcases what Mogwai can do in just over 5 minutes.

The EP ends with “Does This Always Happen?”  While it reintroduces electric guitars, it’s still a mellow song–a pretty electric guitar riff repeated while piano stabs and chords flesh out the tune and strings make it a fuller song.

None of  these songs will become “classics” (although Does This Always happen?” sounds the most like  a Mogwai song).  But it’s always great to hear them expand what they can do.   And these EPs give them a chance to show off some new styles.

To learn more about these tracks, read Stuart’s explanation of them at The Guardian.

[READ: May 25, 2012] “The Proxy Marriage”

I love Maile Meloy and I was crazy excited when I saw that she had a story in this issue.

Meloy writes stories that seem simple—they avoid a lot of the trappings of contemporary stories, indeed, they often feel like they are set in the past, even if, like in this one, they are very current.  Part of that is setting.  She tends to write about people and family interactions, which don’t require a time frame.  She also tends to set her stories in unlikely places—Montana, for instance, where not too many stories are set.  Of course, this one is set in Montana for a good reason.  It is the only state that allows double proxy marriage.  Which is what?  In a proxy marriage, if your beloved can’t make it, you can have a stand-in for him or her do the speaking and signing.  In a double proxy marriage, neither person is present but they agree to let proxies serve for them.  Why on earth would you do this?  Well, this is common in military cases, where one member is serving overseas and the other doesn’t live in Montana—this allows the non-military person to get all of the military benefits that a spouse is entitled to.  Since Montana allows this, and since this story is set soon after the 9/11/01 attacks, it all jibes.

But this story is really about unrequited love.  And I have to say, now that I’m an adult, that unrequited love sucks.  I mean, true it sucks when you’re in it too, but I hate stories that romanticize the idea that you should hold fast to the belief that this person who doesn’t  think about you that way will somehow come around. It happens a lot in stories (and always swells the heart) but when have you ever heard of it happening in real life?  Most of the time the person isn’t worth it , but realistically, once you have left school (it always happens in school) that person has found someone new and that’s the end of it.

This story’s unrequited lover is William, a shy awkward boy who plays the piano.  The girl he pines for is Bridey Taylor, with golden curls and dreams of being an actress.  William never asked her out.  Bridey was popular and other boys asked her out—and William suffered through every one.   But they were friendly—she sang while he played piano, and he helped her with school work.   Then the 9/11 attacks happened.  And this is where the story gets interesting.  Because although neither of  the main characters are not directly involved in the attacks, when the requests start coming in for proxy marriage, Bridey’s father, who was willing to perform them, asked William and Bridey to be the proxies. (more…)

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“Batcat” is one of my favorite Mogwai songs.  The melody is intense and the drumming is wonderful.  I picked up this single for the B sides (which will undoubtedly be collected somewhere one of these days anyhow, but that’s okay. 

It was very hard to pass up a song called “Stupid Prick Gets Chased by the Police and Loses His Slut Girlfriend”  Given that the song has “Chased” in the title, this is a surprisingly slow tune.  It builds slowly over a series of keyboard waves.  There’s also a slow guitar melody that keeps the piece grounded.  It’s one of their more subtle songs, which again, is rather surprising given the title.

“Devil Rides” is quite jarring in that it features vocals by Roky Erickson.  I don’t really know anything about Roky.  I picture him as a large, unkempt man with crazy hair and a beard.  His voice is otherworldly and seems to be maybe just a wee bit off from what the music is playing.  It’s a strange track and works very well with Mogwai’s history of slightly off-kilter vocalists. 

[READ: November 3, 2011] The Discomfort Zone

After reading The Corrections, I planned to read one of Franzen’s earlier novels.  But they were all quite long (even his debut!) and I wasn’t ready to get so immersed yet.  Then I found The Discomfort Zone in the biography section of the library.  It was less than 200 pages and seemed like just the thing.  It turns out, however, that I had read most of it already.  Three of the pieces were published in slightly different form in the New Yorker: “The Retreat,” (here as “Then Joy Breaks Through”) “The Comfort Zone,” (here as “Two Ponies”) “Caught” (Here as “Centrally Located”) and one “My Bird Problem” (here as “My Bird Problem”) which appears to be unchanged. 

That leaves two essays that were new to me: “House for Sale” and “The Foreign Language.”

The collection works as something of a biography, although really it’s not–it’s a collection of essays about his life, but I don’t think I would go so far as to say biography.   The book also doesn’t follow a chronological order. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Mr. Beast (2006).

After several mellow, quiet albums, Mr Beast brings back a lot of the Mogwai noise.  I distinctly remember listening to Mr Beast when it first came out because it was the first time I was home with my son and I exposed him to something other than kids music (he was 8 months old at the time).

Mr Beast changes things up from previous disc in a few ways.  There’s no long songs on the disc (5:30 is the longest), but there’s a return of some of the noise from earlier discs.

“Auto Rock”, although featuring keyboard, is a pretty heavy track, with big drums and loud layers of music that try but fail to disguise a riff.  But the best song on the album comes next “Glasgow Mega-Snake” is that awesome Mogwai beast: rocking guitars, a memorable riff and powerful drumming.  It’s recognizable once it starts, it’s got cool screaming solo notes and just when you think it’s going to end quietly, pow–it is indeed mega.

Despite all evidence to the contrary I think of Mogwai as an instrumental band.  So it’s always surprising when they have vocals on a song.  But it’s even more surprising when the song has steel guitars, is exceedingly mellow and has gently sung, slightly synthesized vocals.  And that’s what “Acid Food” is.  It’s followed by “Travel is Dangerous” which features the least processed vocals of any Mogwai track that I can think of.  It’s a wall of sound from the guitars, but it’s also a pretty conventional verse/chorus structure–will wonders never cease?  Despite that, there’s some wonderful screaming feedback during the solo portion of the song.

Diversity is the name of the game on this album though, as “Team Handed” is a gentle piano ballad.  “Friend of the Night” is one of their catchiest melodies–the piano runs through a series of riffs and ending with a beautiful piano line.  “Emergency Trap” and “Folk Death 95” are two more mellow tracks, but these have some intricate guitar lines running through them as opposed to the ashes of sound from previous discs.

“I Chose Horses” has a spoken vocal part from Tetsuya Fukagawa from the Japanese band Envy.  He speaks slowly and placidly over a beautiful piano melody. The disc ends with “We’re No Here” a final blast of noise to show that they’ve not gotten all soft.  It starts like many of the other songs, but by the end, the guitars are ratcheted up, with a simple but powerful solo taking over the back half of the song until a final descending feedback closes out the disc.

It’s an amazing piece of music. The bonus DVD shows how they made the disc.  I think it was the first time I’d ever seen/heard the guys in the band.

[READ: July 6, 2011] Wonderstruck

Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a fantastic pastiche of gorgeous pictures and exciting text–not quite graphic novel and not quite illustrated book.  While the story was wonderful, the pictures were truly amazing–beautiful pencil (charcoal?) pages, many of which spread across two pages.  They were textured and very detailed.  And they brought to life elements of the story in a way that the text couldn’t.

Wonderstruck follows the same format: several pages of wordless illustrations followed by several pages of text.  But unlike Hugo Cabret, the words and pictures tell two very different stories.  The pictures tell the story of a young deaf girl.  The girl adores the actress Lillian Mayhew and even sneaks out to the movies to watch her films (this is set before “talkies”, when the deaf could watch films the same as everyone else).  We follow her through her life as she runs to the New York City and runs into several important figures in her life.  There several surprises are in store for her (and the reader), which I will not spoil here.  Suffice it to say that several times I said, wow! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI: GovernmentCommissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2003 (2005).

It’s unlikely that Mogwai will ever release a greatest hits (well, someone probably will, but the band themselves don’t seem likely to do so).  As such, this compilation of BBC Recordings will certainly work well as one.

As I’ve mentioned many times, the BBC recordings are universally superb.  The quality of the recordings is unmatched.  And, typically the band takes the sessions very seriously.  The major different between these sessions and the official studio release is that the band is playing these songs live.  They are mixed well and sound great but they are live, so you can catch occasional subtle differences.

Mogwai, despite their seemingly improvised sound (all those noises and such) can recreate everything they do perfectly, and their live shows are tight and deliberate (except for the occasional moments where they really let loose).

The ten songs here span their career and are not played in chronological order.  This allows all of these wonderful songs to play off the tensions of each other.  And it shows that their later songs, which are less intense than their earlier ones, are still quite awesome and in a live setting don’t really lack for intensity after all.

The highlight of this disc is the scorching eighteen minute version of “Like Herod.”  The original is intense and amazing, and this live version allows them to play with the original in small ways, including allowing the quietness to really stretch out before they blow the speakers off the wall with the noise section of the track.

Even though I’m a fan of Mogwai, I don’t hear a radical difference between these versions and the originals.  Or should I say, it’s obvious which song they are playing.  There are some obvious subtleties and differences as befitting a live album, but unlike some live discs you don’t immediately notice that this version is “live.”

And that works well for both fans of the band (because as you listen and you hear the subtleties) and for newcomers–(because you’re not listening to weird, poorly recorded versions or versions that are for fans only).  And so, you get ten great Mogwai tracks.  Just enough to make you want to get some more.

[READ: June 11, 2011] The Burned Children of America

I found this book when I was looking for other publications by Zadie Smith.  This book kept cropping up in searches, but I could never really narrow down exactly what it was.  As best as I can tell, it is a British version of a collection of American authors that was originally published in Italy (!).  Editors Marco Cassini and Martina Testa work for minimum fax, an Italian independent publisher.  In 2001, they somehow managed to collect stories from these young, fresh American authors into an Italian anthology (I can’t tell if the stories were translated into Italian or not).

Then, Hamish Hamilton (publisher of Five Dials) decided to release a British version of the book.  They got Zadie Smith to write the introduction (and apparently appended a story by Jonathan Safran Foer (which was not in the original, but which is in the Italian re-publication).  This led to the new rather unwieldy title.  It was not published in America, (all of the stories have appeared in some form–magazine or anthology–in America), but it’s cool to have them all in one place.

The title must come from the David Foster Wallace story contained within: “Incarnations of Burned Children,” which is one of his most horrific stories, but it sets a kind of tone for the work that’s included within (something which Zadie addresses in her introduction): why are these young successful American writers so sad?  So be prepared, this is not a feel good anthology (although the stories are very good).
Oh, and if you care about this kind of thing, the male to female ratio is actually quite good (for an anthology like this): 11 men and 8 women.

ZADIE SMITH-Introduction
Zadie Smith was a fan of David Foster Wallace (she wrote a  lengthy review of the ten-year anniversary of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which is republished in her book Changing My Mind), so she is an ideal choice to introduce this book.  Especially when she provides a quote from DFW’s interview in 1995 about how living in America in the late 90s has a kind of “lostness” to it.  With this in mind, she sets out the concerns of this collection of great stories: fear of death and advertising.

Zadie gives some wonderful insight into each of these stories. The introduction was designed to be read after the book, and I’m glad I waited because while she doesn’t exactly spoil anything, she provides a wonderful perspective on each piece and also offers some ideas about the stories that I hadn’t considered.  And it’s funny, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Happy Songs for Happy People (2003).

Happy Songs for Happy People follows up Rock Action with more sedate music from Mogwai.  In fact, while Rock Action was pretty mellow (with a few bursts of noise) HMFHP is even more mellow.

Although it does open with a rocking track: “Hunted By a Freak.”  “Hunted” is one of Mogwai’s best songs.  It opens the disc with a catchy riff, some cool synthesized vocals and great washes of sounds.  It’s great on record and even better live.  But starting with “Moses I Am’n’t” the album takes a decidedly more mellow approach.  “Moses” is a song of slow washes layered on each other. There’s interesting textural sounds on display, but not a lot of melody.  It leads to “Kids Will Be Skeletons,” another mellow layered song.  It has a simple melody with delicate (!) keyboard washes.

But just when you think Mogwai have gone all soft, “Killing All the Flies” adds some intense sounds to the disc. It is similarly structured to the earlier songs on the disc, although it has some rather happy-sounding guitar lines in it.  It also grows in intensity about two-thirds of the way through.

“Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep” (sic) is a short, quiet song with subdued vocals.  It’s followed by “Ratts of the Capital” the only really long song here (8 and a half minutes).  It opens in this more subdued vein (is that a glockenspiel I hear?), but by 4 and a half minutes all you hear is guitar–growing louder and louder.  There are solos buried in the noise that threaten to explode out of the speakers, but they ultimately seem to hold back a wee bit.

“Golden Porsche” mellows things out again with a very pretty, very simple song (almost 3 minutes of beautiful melody) that reminds me of the interludes in Twin Peaks.  “I Know You Are But What Am I?” opens with a tense kind of piano (with some slightly off chords).  They merge with pretty keyboard notes which counteract the somewhat sinister feel of the main riff.

The disc ends with “Stop Coming to My House” (Mogwai have always excelled at song titles).  It’s a very subdued track (quiet drums propel waves of keyboards) and as the songs continues, more and more waves layer on each other until it just all fades away.

I obviously prefer the louder, more raucous Mogwai tracks, so these two albums are not what I think of when I think Mogwai.  These two albums feel like the work of a more mature, more restrained band–as if they are deliberately trying to put constraints on their music to see what they can achieve.  But even if they are less intense, the songs are wonderfully structured and show a still show a great emotional range.

[READ: June 07, 2011] “Clever Girl”

This was a fascinating story and is yet another story by Tessa Hadley that I really enjoyed.  And it’s another story that I didn’t realize was set in England until the fourth paragraph, which opens “Mum unpacked.”

Anyhow, this story follows Stella, a young girl whose family moves to a small suburb that has recently been developed (trees were cut down and none newly planted).  Stella and her mother used to live alone together for many years, but recently Stella’s mom met Norbert.  They married and moved into this new suburban house.

The story is told in past tense about the events from Stella’s childhood.  But there are occasional moments where the narrator pops in and offers some moments of “grown up Stella” perspective–like maybe she could have been nicer to Norbert.  Grown up Stella realizes that Nortbert was really perfect for her mom (especially since she was an older woman,  with a grown daughter).  At the time, she thought that Norbert seemed okay, but the whole move has upset her sensibilities.  [I also love that Norbert is known as “Nor,” which is wonderfully contradictory.] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-5 Track Tour Single (2001).

I usually am able to track provenance of my discs pretty well, but this one I am only largely certain came from my friend Lar (sorry Lar, the memory is not what it used to be).  But where else would I have gotten a CD from a Mogwai show if I’ve never seen them live?

This promotional bauble is a delightful collection of 5 songs (duh).  The first three are studio recordings that were pretty much unavailable elsewhere (I read some sit that explained where you could’ve gotten them beforehand, but let’s just say unavailable).  And the live tracks were also unreleased.

The three studio tracks, “Close Encounters,” “Drum Machine” and “D to E” are very pretty, rather delicate instrumentals.  I would say that they are uncharacteristic of Mogwai, except that Rock Action was a pretty mellow album.  Nevertheless, even for Mogwai these are especially mellow and pretty.

The final two tracks are live: “You Don’t Know Jesus” is from Rock Action, and this live version is a bit more dramatic than the album release.  The final track is the amazing “New Paths to Helicon (Part II),” a song which never suffers from a lack of drama.

This is a pretty great tour artifact.

[READ: May 30, 2011] “Trade”

I was a little skeptical of this Simon Rich piece because I find that sports metaphors don’t always pan out, especially for a (somewhat) longish comedy piece.  But Rich manages to make the whole thing not only funny but also fit within the confines of the metaphor.

For this is the story of a breakup told as if it were a baseball trade.

Josh is traded by his girlfriend Kate.  He is devastated; he thought he was doing very well on her team.  But when he speaks with his brother Craig (who offers condolences and a trade story of his own), he realizes that his relationship numbers were not up to stuff.   But Josh is really devastated when he finds out who he was traded for (when he meets the man to exchange Kate’s apartment keys). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOGWAI-Rock Action (2001).

After all of Mogwai’s releases over the years (and all the various compilations and imports and whatnot, it’s hard to believe that Rock Action was only their third proper full length release.

I just recently learned that the song “Dial: Revenge” has vocals by Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals (the lyrics are in Welsh, apparently so that it would sound like gibberish to most of the English-speaking audience (SFA released a wonderful album sung entirely in Welsh, called Mwng).   This song is a very delicate  piece which reminds me in some ways of later Mercury Rev (Rock Action was produced by Dave Fridmann who produces Mercury Rev).  It’s got a soaring “chorus” and strings.

“Sine Wave” opens the disc with some heavily distorted noises that seem to be fighting with some echoed guitar notes.  The song feels different from other Mogwai songs but it doesn’t really sound different–it’s clearly Mogwai.  “Take Me Somewhere Nice” is perhaps the most conventional song Mogwai have done.  It has a verse/chorus structure and even has whispered vocals–that follow a melody.  The biggest surprise has to be the strings that overlay the top–they’re a bit disconcerting at first, but it quickly shows how well the band can pull this off.  It’s followed by something of a continuation of that song with the 59 second “O I Sleep,” a simple piano track with Stuart’s whispered vocals over the top.

“You Don’t Know Jesus” falls into more typical Mogwai territory.  It’s a 9-minute epic which somehow build and builds even though it feels like it’s all crescendo–until the last few moments trail off into quiet notes.

The one minute “Robot Chant” is more noise, but it leads into the surprisingly upbeat “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong.”  This is a faster track, which builds for over 9 minutes.  The middle part slows down so you can really hear the synthesized voice over the proceeding.  You can eventually hear the banjo as well.

The disc ends with the pretty ballad, “Secret Pint.”  It’s a simple piano based song (with lyrics). The recording is very clear (you can hear all of the dynamics of that opening cymbal).  While it could never be a hit, it easy certainly their most accessible track.

Rock Action is a different kind of Mogwai album: slower, more deliberate, with conventional music structures but which is in no way a commercial record.  It’s also less dramatic than albums (or EPs) past.  If you want soaring epic Mogwai, this is not your album (even the 2 nine-minute songs aren’t as dramatic as previous songs), but it’s a welcome addition to Mogwai’s repertoire.

[READ: May 27, 2011] “M&M World”

I didn’t know that there really is a M&M’s World in Times Square, but apparently there is.  And it sounds like a nightmare!

Anyhow, the story begins with Ginny agreeing to finally take her kids to M&M’s World.  Her girls are Olivia and Maggie and they have been dying to go to M&M’s World forever.  The kids march down the street, looking in all the shop windows until they finally reach the destination.

Walbert describes the store in all of its bustling glory–and given her details I’ve no doubt it’s exactly as she describes: busy, crowded, noisy, overstimulating. (more…)

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