Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Nine Inch Nails’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILL RIEFLIN (September 29, 1960 – March 24, 2020).

Bill Rieflin is a musician that I’ve known of for as long as I can remember.

He played with the Revolting Cocks and then, how I knew him best, as the drummer for Ministry.  I feel like his name appeared in dozens of places on the industrial scene.  He helped to create Pigface and even played with KMFDM (as a drummer and keyboardist).  He also played on the Lard albums and drummed with Nine Inch Nails and Swans.

With all of that industrial background it came as something of a surprise to hear that he was going to replace Bill Berry (as a hired drummer, not a band member) in R.E.M. (in live shows and on their last couple of albums).

He even played drums on Taylor Swift’s album Red (which is amusing given his later King Crimson connection).

He had been friendly with Robert Fripp since at least 1999.  Fripp played on Rieflin’s solo album Birth of a Giant and had worked with him in various projects through the years.  I didn’t know about that Fripp connection, so when I found out that he was going to be one of the three drummers in the 2014 King Crimson tour, I was really surprised.

I was also really impressed at his drumming and am now really happy to have seen him play.  When Crimson toured again in July of 2017, Rieflin had taken a sabbatical but was now back.  But since they had replaced him while he was away, he was now playing keyboards (which meant that Crimson now had eight members on stage).  When I saw them again in November 2017, Rieflin was once again on sabbatical.

I assumed it was for health reasons (why else do musicians take sabbaticals), but his cancer was kept under wraps. (He’d evidently been fighting it since 2013).

So at least I was fortunate enough to see him play twice before he died.

Here’s the second drummer that I know of to die of cancer in 2020.  Even while Coronavirus is getting the front page, cancer still does its dirty work.

[READ: December 2019] “Who We Are”

The December 2019 issue of the West End Phoenix focused on Indigenous People.  Most of the writers were Indigenous and the news stories shone a light on Indigenous issues.  Much of the presence of Indigenous peoples is seen through their art–whether through beads, paint or sculpture, the images are often quite striking.  The issue even included a “colour me” page with a striking image from Taylor Cameron, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist from Saugeen First Nation (I can’t find an image online).

The issue also featured two full page graphic short stories.

The first features very clean illustrations from Scott B. Henderson.  The lines are very crisp and yet the art is quite minimal, achieving a lot with very little.

The story is a true story. (more…)

Read Full Post »

raslSOUNDTRACK: METHOD OF THE W.O.R.M.-Cicatrix (2015).

motwormMETHOD OF THE W.O.R.M. is the project of one guy–known as Grimm.  Cicatrix is a collection of songs that spans decades (“begun long before the present digital day”) and recently remastered and released.

The blurb on CdBaby (where you can download the disc–it’s also on iTunes) notes that Method of the W.O.R.M. is “an industrial hard rock with a trip hop edge, intelligent grown up lyrics delving into the microcosm and macrocosm of our world. Influences run the gamut of NIN, Massive Attack, Cop Shoot Cop, Swans, Coil, Tricky, Skinny Puppy, Tom Waits and many others.”

There’s quite a diversity in that list even if the bands are similar, and you can hear the melding of influences.  And you can hear most of them in the songs. But what sets MotWORM apart from these bands is a keen sense of melody in the vocals.  Most industrial music tends to bury the vocals with distortion or just under the music.  But Grimm’s got a good (even pleasant) singing voice which elevates the songs above the din of lesser industrial bands.

While it’s not like pre-digital technology was all tape manipulation, it also wasn’t as easy as it is now.  And the complexity in these songs shows a lot of skill and attention to detail.

“No Flesh” opens the collection.  After some interesting noisy samples (steel drums?), a slow bassline enters (which also sounds sampled—it’s got a very 70’s sound).  The song slowly builds with more and more layers of sound until the vocals come in–a gentle singing that also builds.  There’s a Skinny Puppy feel in the music, but the vocals are very different from Puppy’s style.  “Purge” is the first of many songs with sampled dialogue, but it’s the sounds around the dialogue that are so interesting–squeaks and buzzes, radio tuners? who knows where they come from.  Once the verses start, the main music in this track is more synthy–a compelling riff that wends through the mix.  When the distorted guitars kick in, it takes the song to an entirely new level.

“Burned” showcases the vocals up front in the mix over a simple layered melody.  But there are actually a lot of vocals in this song, including a fascinating sample that opens and closes the track.  Grimm adds layers of vocals–harmonies (or not exactly)–distorted vocals and clean vocals.  I particularly like when the higher voice sings a new (very cool) melody in the middle of the song (the sampled voice melds nicely if creepily with this too).  This song is a real highlight.

“Tragic Rabbit” has some more interesting samples and a pulsing synth line with cool swirling sounds over the top of the vocals.  “As If a Dream” is a slow trippy number with an excellent processed sample.

“A Viral Method” introduces live drums (which sound great and were provided by Swans’ Phil Puleo).  It also has a great live guitar sound playing a fast riff and harmonics.  There’s more great harmony vocals. And a wild riff for the bridge (do I dare say a bit prog rock?).  Although I love the cool samples and layers in the earlier songs, this live instrumentation adds an excellent urgency to the music.  The only problem with this song is that it’s so short.

“Absolution” starts off quietly but after the distorted guitars, the chorus is super catchy–the way it seems like it’s going to end but rebuilds itself.  It’s really well crafted.  “A Moment of Silence” opens with a retro-sounding synth bass.  It’s a fairly minimal song with the vocals really taking over as that synth line drifts to the background and new sounds bubble up.  “Wasted” opens with distorted guitars kind of like a Ministry song, but the vocals are much cleaner, which brings an unexpected quality to what could have been a typical heavy song.  Especially the chorus which is musically bright (even if it’s lyrically dark).

“Freak-O” (what a great title) opens with some loud jackhammer type drums.  The song creeps along menacingly (with a great sample of someone shouting “You are one ugly son of a bitch!”).  I like the simple melody that simmers up from the noise by the end of the song.  “Miscreant” opens with quieter acoustic guitars before the drums kicks in and a menacing synth line takes over.  The vocals are quietly sung with an interesting effect placed on them.  The middle of the song has some wild sounds–I’m not entirely sure what’s happening with them, but it makes for an unsettling ambiance.

“I Love You Goodbye” is my favorite song on the disc.  It starts out simply with big guitars but quickly retreats into a much quieter verse.   There’s a great riff that throws in a slightly dissonant harmonic note that is just great.  But as the song builds into a unexpected bridge with horns, the song adds an dark carnivalesque atmosphere (and that harmonic note returns in a more prominent role).  It’s such an unusual riff and really bodes well for the interesting direction MotWORM might be heading (if they ever release anything else).

This is a real fun disc full of interesting sounds and samples.  If you like industrial music this is a disc totally worth checking out.

[READ: July 31, 2015] RASL

Jeff Smith is creator of Bone, one of my favorite comics ever.  As far as I can tell he hasn’t done a lot since Bone, but he sure did his research for this book.

The title is unfortunate (and is explained satisfactorily in the last few pages, but it’s still awkward and hard to manage).  But the work inside is extraordinary.  The story concerns dimension jumping, art theft and a whole lot of information about Nikolai Tesla.  It’s also more mature than Bone, in that there are a couple of (non-explicit) sex scenes.

In a nutshell, RASL (real name Dr. Robert Johnson) and his partner Miles are scientists.  They grew up together and studied the works of Tesla.  Miles married Maya, a beautiful scientist who has assisted them with their work over the years.  They delved deeply into the research that Tesla undertook (Resonant frequency, remote control, the earthquake machine, wireless communication) and used his ideas to create a machine that is something like a transporter/dimension hopper. They are working for the military but hope to be able to use the device to end wars (idealist scientists as they are).  Their small tests has been successful, but RASL believes that they need more testing to see if there are any effects when you use it on bigger subjects.

So he takes the machine and hops.  It turns out that each hop between dimensions takes its toll on his body and also tends to confuse matters.  (In one dimension, he checks his iPod and sees that Blonde on Blonde was recorded by Robert Zimmerman (I love that detail)).

We learn that RASL (who as the story opens has shaggy hair and cuts and bruises, unlike the composed scientist we see in flashbacks) has been jumping from dimension to dimension to steal precious works of art as a way to make some money.  There is also a really creepy-looking man whose face looks almost amphibian (Smith has some really disturbing characters in this book) chasing after him.  This man kills everyone that RASL knows in different dimensions because he is after something 9and he believes that the people in other dimensions are not real).  It is slowly revealed why RASL has been reduced to this state. (more…)

Read Full Post »

terrySOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Phobos (1997).

phobosIt’s tempting to say that Phobos is a carbon copy of Negatron, but that’s not true.  While the line up is the same, and the overall tone is very similar—very heavy, aggressive music—there are subtle differences.  The first is that the album sounds vaguely more electronic, as if they were really flirting with industrial after the experiment with Jim Thirwell on the last album.  E-Force’s vocals, while still abrasive and screamed have a lot of processing on them which makes them far more interesting and actually quite a bit more understandable.  There’s also a lot of weird electronic effects that link the album and make it feel more “spacey.”

And while there are different sections of songs and parts that are actually quiet, this i still a difficult album–the vocals especially are exceedingly harsh and will turn off people who like the instrumental sections.  I hate to sound like the band’s declining popular are all down to E-Force, but he is the weakest link in the band at this point.  Whats weird about thee two E-Force era albums is that although they are very very heavy with several weird parts per song, the basic structure of them is very conventional.  So instead of sounding proggy and weird, they sound more like a bludgeoning metal band.  Which didn’t really work for them.  Indeed, the band intended to if not call it quits at least take a hiatus after this album.

Phobos opens with “Catalepsy I” an introductory song—noises and whatnot.  And indeed, these electronic noises link all of the songs of the record, with different sounds in between the tracks (like the way “Bacteria” opens with spacey effects and electronic drum noises for 35 seconds).  But the first proper song “Rise,” has an opening guitar riff that is quite normal—dark, but normal.  It’s true that the heaviness of the chugging section is heavier than most (like earlier Voivod), but it’s still not that strange. Until the verses come in.  And here’s where E-Force’s vocals are a little different—more processed and robotic sounding.  It actually works a lot better.  And in the middle of the song while the heaviness is ongoing, that opening normal guitar riff comes back.  Rather conventionally.

“Mercury” has a more typical Voivod guitar riff although the pounding heavy chords are still quite heavy.  There’s more of the distorted vocals and weird chords for the bridge.  It also begins a series of increasingly longer songs.  This one is nearly 6 minutes.  While “Phobos” is nearly 7.  It also has an interesting echoing staccato guitar riff with E-Force’s vocals very distorted (like Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy).  The bridge is a crazy noisy monstrosity and yet the middle section is very simple:  loud chords  delivered at a slow pace with interesting effects and fiddly guitar solo noises.  “Bacteria” reaches over 8 minutes long.  But it is unlike any of their earlier prog songs.  It has an interesting echoing guitar opening and a bunch of staggered parts.  But once the song’s major chords start up it sounds probably most like the previous album except for the lengthy instrumental/psychedelic section starting at around 5 minutes.

The album slows down somewhat with the 1:48 “Temps Mort” a short instrumental with what sounds alike an accordion. It’s a weird little time out (which is what the title means), and I like it a lot.

“The Tower” has an underwater kind of feel to it amidst the bludgeoning guitars.  The middle and the end have some very cool heavy trippy/spacey metal which is so radically different from the heavy Voivod chords that make up the proper song.  Indeed the very end is a minute of mellow spacey guitars.  “Quantum” is a pretty straight ahead (for Voivod) metal song with echoed vocals that take some of th edge off (until he screams the chorus).  There’s another cool instrumental section. In fact, the whole album has great instrumental sections, it’s kind of a shame the vocals are so offputting (although at the end of this song they are so distorted and computerized that they sound very cool)

“Neutrino” opens with those big loud slow ringing chords of noise before the simple but creepy solo riff comes in.  It’s 6 minutes long and has another interesting guitar line amid the noise.  It takes 3 minutes (of 7) before the vocals come in and the song gets much darker.  “Forlorn” is the closest thing to a hit on the album.  The chorus is really easy to sing along to.  And the verses are actually pretty straightforward.  It’s very very heavy and isn’t going to make the radio anywhere, but it’s still catchy.  The album proper ends with “Catalepsy II,” more swirling noises that sound like the beginning.

There are two bonus tracks on the CD.  “M-Body” was written by Jason Newsted and is the most industrial mechanized/voiced songs on the album.  It’s certainly out of place, although it does hint at what is to come on their next album.  “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a cover of the King Crimson song.  They’d done Pink Floyd and King Crimson fits pretty nicely.  As with the Floyd covers this one is very heavy.  Piggy gets the guitars right.  But as with the rest of the album, E-Force’s vocals just don’t work. Whereas Snake’s weird pronunciations accented the covers in a cool way, E-Force just seems to be forcing his way through the track (the fact that he puts 3 syllables in “century” is pretty unforgivable.  Overall the song is pretty great, although I’m not so sure about the guitar solo which sounds like Piggy doesn’t really know what to do.

And that’s the end of this Voivod lineup.  Two albums and a lot of lost fans.

[READ: September 20, 2013] Terry

I have known about this book for a pretty long time.  I was never really that interested in reading it because, while I don’t know all that much about Terry Fox, I felt like I knew enough about him to not bother with a full bio.

For those who don’t know (basically anyone from the U.S.), Terry Fox was a young man who developed cancer at the age of 19 in 1977. and had his leg amputated.  To draw attention to cancer research he decided to run (yes run) across Canada on the Trans Canada Highway.  He had a prosthetic leg, he practiced running every day (he was already a natural athlete) and he decided that in 1980 he would run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (he even had a bottle of water from the Atlantic that he wanted to pour into the Pacific).  His plan was to run between 26 miles a day.  Yes, run a marathon every day.  He called it the Marathon of Hope.

When he started out, the media coverage was nothing but as he progressed and his friend (who drove the van alongside him) started making media attention, Terry’s cause became more well known.  And by the time he made it to Ontario, he was a huge personality—making TV appearances, talking to anyone and, most importantly, making a ton of money for cancer research. (more…)

Read Full Post »

zitaSOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Running with Scissors (1999).

Running_with_Scissors_(Weird_Al_Yankovic_album_-_cover_art)This is the first album Al released with is new look—LASIK surgery and long hair.  He looked quite different, but it didn’t diminish his song writing skills.  Running with Scissors is a pretty great collection of songs.

“The Saga Begins” is a genius parody taking the music of “American Pie” and merging it with the plot from Star Wars Episode I.  The way he retells the story is snarky and funny.  “My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder” is a weird song—an accordion-based zydeco song about, well, a guy whose girl loves Eddie Vedder.  Vedder is kind of a weird person to pick (since he does make fun of him), although I guess it’s pretty mild abuse.  “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” opens with a joke on a Def Leppard song (in Hebrew) but then moves on to “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”  The original is pretty goofy and there’s not much Al could have done to it except this—changing it to being all about a rabbi. I like this version better than the original now.

The next track is the theme for The Weird Al Show.  It’s utter nonsense, but very funny.  And it packs a lot in to the 75 seconds that it lasts.  “Jerry Springer” is a parody of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”  The original is pretty weird/funny, so this seems an odd choice, and yet Al’s specifics to the Jerry Springer show is pretty funny.  Of course I hate shows like that so I don’t love this song.

“Germs” is a style parody of Nine Inch nails (the song opens a like “Terrible Lie”, and then moves through some other songs).  The sound is uncanny in its soundalikeness (except perhaps the “microscopic bacteria” section which is a little too goofy sounding even for NIN.

“Polka Power” is one of the first medleys where the parodied songs seem utterly dated.  Like The Spice Girls, Harvey Danger, Backstreet Boys (which I only know because he says “Backstreet’s Back.” Smash Mouth.  Chumbawamba, Marchy Playground, and Semisonic.  Of course, there is also a Beastie Boys line (“Intergalactic”), but it’s a very era specific song.  “Your Horoscope for Today” is a ska song of horoscopes inspired by The Onion (which is hilarious).

Of course, nothing comes close to “Its All About the Pentiums,” Al’s first rap song about being a total dork  It is amazing—heavy guitars and lots of screaming.  It’s even more bad ass than the original.  And the smack talk is hilarious Asking about his computer: “You think your Commodore 64 is really neato.  What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito?”).  I can listen to this song over and over.  It’s a wonderful precursor to “White and Nerdy.”  “Truck Drivin’ Song” has a remarkably deep voice for Al. It’s about driving a truck (as a transvestite).  The humor is childish but funny and with that voice it’s particularly so.  “Grapefruit Diet” is another series of jokes about being fat, but it works very well as a parody of “Zoot Suit Riot” with the jazzy horns and all.

That leaves “Albuquerque” an eleven, yes eleven, minute story song.  It’s a style parody of a song by The Rugburns which I didn’t know until recently (called Dick’s Automotive, but that song is much more “adult” than Al’s. The song is simple enough but the lyrics are wondrously absurd and very very funny.  And as it goes on and on and on you just marvel at the mind that created it.  And it’s catchy too.

Scissors is a great album which holds up quite well after 14 years.

[READ: June 23, 2013] Zita the Space Girl

I’d actually read the sequel to this book first, but I quickly found this first book and the family devoured it, too.

This is a charming and sweetly drawn series about a girl, Zita, who winds up in outer space.  As it opens, Zita is being a bit of a bully to her friend Joseph.  Not horrible but teasing in the way friends can do.  And when they find a giant meteor hole and a space-type gadget with a big red button on it, of course she threatens to push it in front to him,  He freaks out, but she does it anyhow.  And when she does, another dimension opens up and sucks Joseph away.  Oops.

So she pushes it again and winds up in the same place which she realizes is very very different from her own.  The thing that has Joseph is all tentacles in a diver’s helmet.  But that’s just one of the weird creatures here (as seen in Gilliam’s Guide to Sentient Species–which I take as a tribute to Terry Gilliam).  Like Strong-Strong, a large lumbering biped (who helps Zita), and a group of chicken creatures (who do not).  There’s also a man who plays a flute (called Piper) who may or may not be a friend.  She also meets a giant mouse named Pizzicato, but which Zita just calls Mouse.  Mouse is very sweet and communicates through a printer around its neck. (more…)

Read Full Post »

CV1_TNY_02_25_13Ulriksen.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE KNIFE-Shaking the Habitual (2013).

theknife2Since I reviewed the 19 minute song from this album yesterday I thought I’d check out the rest of the disc (still a handful).  I kept bearing in mind that The Knife are pretty much a dance duo.  So this departure is not only radical, it pretty much undercuts the kind of music they make.  The progress is probably exciting but I imagine fans would turn away in droves.  I wonder how this record will play out for them in the long run.  Incidentally, I wasn’t a fan before, so I don’t really have a horse in this race.

“A Tooth for an Eye” opens the record with an interesting percussion sound an a pulsing keyboard melody.  The keening vocals come in sounding weird and distant and more than a little eerie.  “Full of Fire” is a 9-minute song with a weird skittery “melody” that seems to float above the battered mechanical “drum.”  The whispered vocals are strained and also a little creepy.  The middle section has the skittery music jump around while the vocals get even more processed—making it simultaneously more friendly and less so.  It’s probably the coolest weird song on the disc, with parts that are catchy and interesting and parts that are just peculiar.  This is the single, by the way.

“A Cherry on Top” is 8 minutes of reasonable quietude, with the second half introducing an autoharp.  It’s certainly the most mellow thing on the disc.  Although it’s not exactly relaxing.  “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” seems like it should be the single—it is propulsive and while the vocals are certainly odd, they are the most conventional thing on the album.  “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” has big electronic pulsing drums and whispered vocals.  It’s a fairly normal sounding song (at least for this album), and could easily play in a goth club.

“Crake” is 55 second of squalling feedback.  The album also has “Oryx” which is 37 second of wailing noise.  In between is the 10 minute “Raging Lung” which is not available on Spotify.  “Networking” a skittering beat with a second beat that may just be a sample of a person making noise in his or her throat.  The “voices” get stranger throughout the song, keening, twisting and spinning, reminiscent of The Art of Noise.

“Stay Out Here” is a ten minute song.  It starts with a fairly standard electronic drumbeat.  Whispered vocals come in giving it a kind of Nine Inch Nails vibe, until the female vocals come in (and are quickly manipulated to sound kind of male).  The switch from male and female vocals is interesting, giving it an almost modern sounding Dead Can Dance feel.

“Fracking Fluid Injection” has sounds like scraping, rusted gates as the beat with sampled voices overlaid.  Again, this is nearly 10 minute long.  The problem with things like this, aside from their relative tediousness, is that they aren’t all that original.  Now originality is nothing to hold a band to, we all know, but if you’re going to do non-form sounds that are echoed with little else to it, it would be more interesting if there was something original to pin to it.  “Ready to Lose” ends the album with a steady beat and a pretty standard vocal line (even if the voices are processed).

So this album us a pretty radical departure for the band and it’s a pretty radical departure for dance music as a whole.  I’m curious to see if this will lead to a anything or if this will be their one weird album.

[READ: April 15, 2013] “The Furies”

The story opens with a rather creepy man stating at his wedding reception that he is in an exclusive club: “There are not too many men who can say that they’re older than their father-in-law.” Ew.  He was fifty-eight, his new wife 31.  His father-in-law is 56.  The father-in-law seems okay with this, but really how could he be?

Ray is a dentist and his new wife, Shelly, had been his hygienist for years.  When Shelly told him she was thinking of getting a new job, he professed his love for her, and informed his wife, Angie that he was in love with Shelly.  Angie took it badly, but he was surprised when she seemed mad that he didn’t do this years earlier while she still had a chance to meet someone (rather than being distraught that he was leaving her).  As a parting shot she says that she wishes him ill.  And she hope he suffers with the woman who took him from her.

But they had no children, just assets, and things were divided evenly and cleanly.  And he thanked his lucky starts to be with a new woman, someone who was fun and so different from his first wife. (more…)

Read Full Post »

cpatain 10 SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Bad Hair Day (1996).

bad hair dayBad Hair Day is an uninspired album title, especially given how great of an album it is.  As I posted last week, “Amish Paradise” is great, (I forget to mention the funny Gilligan’s Island verse in the middle.  “Everything You Know is Wrong” is just a magnificent They Might be Giants parody.  Now, TMBG and Weird Al are pretty kindred spirits (they both use accordions and sing silly songs).  In that respect, this song isn’t that different from a typical Al song, but there are so many great musical nods to TMBG that the song is just awesome.  And it’s very funny too.

“Cavity Search” is a parody of U2’s “Hold Me Touch Me Kiss Me Kill Me” and it works very well, both as a great soundalike (Al’s vocal tricks get better with each album) and the way he plays with the original (the drill solo is great) are really clever.  “Calling in Sick” is a kind of Nirvana parody, although I don’t hear it as well as other band parodies.  It’s certainly a grunge song and, as such it works.  But it was “The Alternative Polka” that proved to be my favorite of his medleys so far.  “Loser,” “Sex Type Thing” “All I Wanna Do” “Closer” (hearing him do Nine Inch Nails is hilarious–especially this song!), “Bang Bang Blame” (so much R.E.M. lately), “You Oughta Know,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” (Weezer’s song was supposed to be included here but they asked it to be removed and he did at the last minute–see the video below).  “I’ll Stick Around,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Basket Case”–a great mix of songs that I loved at the time and still do, this song is like reliving the mid 90s.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” is a fun a capella band version of a funny break up song.  He gets better and better at this kind of lyric (“a red hot cactus up my nose” is particularly wonderful).  “Gump” is a very funny parody of “Lump” by Presidents of the United States of America.  Evidently they liked his parody so much they used some of his lyrics in the final verse when they played it live.

“Sick of You” has a fun bass line (reminiscent of Elvis Costello) and a great chorus.  And “Syndicated, Inc.” is a very funny parody of that overplayed Soul Asylum song “Misery.”  It’s a very funny song about syndicated TV shows.  “I Remember Larry” is a pretty funny original about a prankster, although it’s the weakest song on the album.  “Phony Calls” is a parody of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and it’s pretty funny (especially hearing Al do TLC vocals).  The parody works pretty well, and it’s certainly helped by the sample of Bart and Moe on the Simpsons.  “The Night Santa Went Crazy” is a pretty funny twisted take on Santa.

This album is definitely one of his best.  Just about every song is a winner.  And it’s his best-selling album too.

[READ: February 22, 2013] Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers

Clark was pretty excited when this book came out.  He had just finished up book #7 or 8 when the book was published.  And so it didn’t take too long for him to get caught up with the series.  I was also pretty lucky to have just finished book nine so this “last” book (although not really) was very well timed.

When we left off in Book Nine, Tippy Tinkletrousers had inadvertently destroyed the earth and the giant zombie George and Harold were stomping through the town.  And, shockingly, they had just crushed Tippy in his robo-pants.   But as this book opens, Pilkey gives us the truth about zombies.  They are really slow.  So slow that Tippy was able to get out of the way of the giant foot (and do lots of other things) and put a giant ketchup packet under the foot so it got squished instead of him.

The rest of the book is simply chock full of time travel, overlapping people and all kinds of paradoxes.  I have to wonder if Clark got it, but he just read it again and he did seem to have decent understanding of what happened. (more…)

Read Full Post »

CV1_TNY_12_17_12Sorel.inddSOUNDTRACK: JONI MITCHELL-“The River” (2002).

joniMuch like Zadie Smith in the article, I was never much of a Joni Mitchell fan.  We may be one of the only houses in America without a copy of Blue somewhere.  Much of my ignorance about her comes from simply not being exposed to her.  Which also seems absurd and yet it is true.

I know her from covers, which should establish her as a great songwriter, if nothing else.  And by now I know a number of her songs, like this one.  This is kind of a Christmas song (it has the word Christmas in it), although it’s not very Christmassy.  I have a hard time believing that Zadie Smith’s husband never noticed that she is quoting the music from Jingle Bells in the beginning of the song though, as it’s really quite obvious.

It’s a  pretty song, and hey maybe it’s time to see what else is on Blue.

[READ: December 20, 2012] “Some Notes on Attunement”

I love hearing about Zadie Smith’s family–her hip black mother and her dorky white father.  I love that she embraces both sides of her life.  And when she writes about it, she presents it so fully.  So growing up her parents listened to Burning Spear and Chaka Khan and Duke Ellington and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and yet somehow never Joni Mitchell.  And she wonders how they didn’t know or perhaps why they didn’t like her.  [My parents were to old for folk music, so that’s my excuse].

She talks about the first time she heard Joni, at a college party (it was Blue, of course) and frowned at it.  Her friends, both black and white said, “You don’t like Joni?”  But, she explains, “Aged twenty, I listened to Joni Mitchell–a singer whom millions enjoy, who does not, after all, make an especially unusual or esoteric sound–and found he incomprehensible.”

And then at 33 she had another experience–listening to Joni Mitchell in a car with her husband on the way to Wales.  Which is where we hear her saying “And that bit’s just Jingle Bells.”  She says she didn’t expect to get much out of that line “and was surprised to see my husband smile, and pause for a moment to listen intently: “Actually that but is Jingle Bells–I never noticed that before.  It’s a song about winter…makes sense.”  Wait, how could he not hear that before??? (more…)

Read Full Post »

CV1_TNY_12_17_12Sorel.inddSOUNDTRACK: JOHNNY CASH-“Hurt” (2002).

cashI had never heard the Johnny Cash version of this song, but since it was mentioned in the article, I wanted to check it out.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Cash.  I like some of his stuff, but I’m not on board with the whole iconic man in black thing.  But I understand his tough guy schtick.

And that’s why I have a problem with Johnny singing this.  It s just too angsty for what I know from Cash.  Cash is a badass, he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.  I just don’t buy “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel” coming from him.  And I don’t like the delivery of the verses.

On the other hand I like the chorus a lot.  The guitar sounds great here and it is less angsty than the verses: “I will let you down, I will make you hurt.”  That I can buy.  And I like the way he delivers those lines as well.

So I come away from this with a mixed feeling.  And yes, I still prefer the Nine Inch Nails version.

Interestingly, Reznor was really moved by the video, which I have not seen.

[READ: December 20, 2012] “Music from the Machine”

I was a little dismissive of Nine Inch Nails when Pretty Hate Machine came out.  I liked “Head Like a Hole” but felt the whole album was a commercialization of the industrial sound.  And indeed, it was, but I’m less of a purist now, so I can deal with it.

After Pretty Hate Machine, I fell head over heels for NIN, and I think that “March of the Pigs” and all of The Downward Spiral are amazing.  But after The Fragile, I lost interest again.  Perhaps NIN was a phase.

This article reintroduced me to Reznor.  I never really wanted to know that much about him, and thankfully, this piece only gives a little bit of background (unlike some of the really long New Yorker biographies, this one is nice and tidy with some family history but not too much).  It really focuses more on what he has been up to since he put Nine Inch Nails on hiatus (and since he won an Oscar!). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1998).

Suffice it to say, if it were not for this album I wouldn’t have read this piece by Blake.  I have been aware of it through the “doors of perception” quote that created the band name The Doors, but I never had any compelling reason to read it before.

Of course when I first listened to this, I had no idea that it was literally the entire work of Blake’s piece set to music.  And I had no idea that there would be so many diverse styles of music on the album.  I’m going to focus more on the music, as I’ll address the “lyrics” later. 

The first song starts out in a kind of synthy way–maybe early Depeche Mode.  But it quickly become more sinister, with a heavy guitar section and then a spoken word over industrial keyboards like early Nine Inch Nails.   Track two, simply called “Plate 3” is a mournful guitar solo which plays behind a woman reciting plate three.  Strangely enough, this plate is split in two parts where Blake references the bible and so Ulver end the spoken part in the middle but keep the ominous music going for the final two minutes of the track.  The next track picks up with “Plate 3, Following,” a slower piece with creepy echoey male vocals that echo the female lead.

“The Voice of the Devil, Plate Four” is a very delicate guitar part.  The female voice introduces the piece and the male voice recites the statements .  It;s the most easily understood of all the tracks (the vocals are crystal clear).  When the parts are done, the song turns in to a heavy metal guitar solo over some heavy chords. It’s a really great mix.  “Plates 5-6” is also a very clearly spoken/sung track.  Over a classical guitar with occasional heavy beats, the voice narrates (with amusing mispronunciations (there are many thoroughout the piece, but hey English isn’t their first language)).

“A Memorable Fancy (Plates 6-7)” is the first of five fancies.  This one has a very electronic feel (later period Nine Inch Nails).  This one even creates its own chorus by repeating “fires of hell” where the words do not belong.  “The Proverbs of Hell” is probably the most complex and multifarious musically.  It goes through many different musical and vocals styles.  The opening is barely audible while later parts are spoken clearly.  Other lines are hidden under a fog of noise.  Musically it’s very engaging, but it’s a shame to miss out on the poetry without a lyric sheet.

“Plate 11” also opens virtually inaudibly, with a crazy echo placed on the female vocals.  Half way through the voice become clearer and the music, which was quiet and mellow, picks up, but retains the simple melody it had.  “Intro” is an instrumental, an odd thing to include if they are following the book so specifically, as there is no intro.  It is simple, repeated waves of chords which grow louder for 3:30.   It ends with some maniacal drumming .  However, it is a nice breather as we head into “A Memorable Fancy Plates 12-13,” which opens with a very slow piano.  It turns into a largely drum-based song with a clear spoken word.  Until about half way through when the voice is heavily distorted until the end.

“Plate 14” is a percussion heavy electronic track with heavily distorted vocals (this is where “the doors of perception” bit comes from).  It leads to “A Memorable Fancy (Plate 15)” which opens with more low rumblings (like “Intro” above).  When the vocals come in, after 3 minutes, they are distant and tinny, but very clear.

Disc 1 (did I mention there were two discs) ends with “Plates 16-17.”   It opens with quiet music that slowly grows louder and more electronic.  The vocals are echoed and distorted and hard to understand.  The end of the track picks up the electronic beat for about a minute.

Disc two opens with the eleven minute “A Memorable Fancy (Plates 17-20)”.  It opens with a cool beat and a dark tone with vocals that are mostly understandable.   After a couple of minutes, the song settles into a late period Depeche Mode style–distorted guitars and vocals that sounds not unlike Dave Gahan’s.  By the end, it’s a pretty standard heavy metal chugging guitar (with a simple but interesting solo).

This is followed by another “Intro,” this time a rather pleasant guitar solo over picked guitars.   “Plates 21-22” is quite enjoyable as the vocals are clear and emphatic over a standard heavy metal song.  It feels like comfort food after all of the different styles of the disc.

“A Memorable Fancy Plates 22-24” has a great weird keyboard style (kind of Marilyn Manson).  The penultimate track is another “Intro.”  This one has some swirly minor-key guitars that sound  a bit like the guitar outro to Rush’s “Cygnus X-1.”   It goes through several iterations before ending in distorted waves that lead to “A Song of Liberty Plates 25-27”.   There are three guest vocalists on this track: Ihsahn and Samoth from Emperor and Fenriz from Darkthrone.  The interesting thing about this is that Garm (the male vocalist on all the tracks) has so many different styles of singing/speaking throughout the album that it’s hard to even notice that there are guests.

It start as mainly electronic piece with heavily distorted vocals (Ihsahn sounds like he is being strangled).  In the second part, the vocals are clearer.  The drums gets louder (sounding like the Revolting Cocks, maybe).  By the third part (Fenriz) the song turns into a guitar solo and the style of recitation reminds me of Allen Ginsbregr’s Howl.  His section ends with a distorted voice chanting the final lines and then twenty minutes of silence (the track is listed as 25 minutes, but there’s only 5 minutes of song and then 30 seconds at the end).  The final “Chorus” of the book is pretty well inaudible.

Despite the complexity of the album and the hard to follow lyrics and all of that, the entre work is really something. It is powerful and complex and runs through so many wonderful pieces and movements.  I have no idea how to classify it as it has pieces of metal and electronica as well as classical.  Perhaps it’s safe to just call it a soundtrack.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this CD, but I barely scratch the surface of what could be said about it.  Check out this amazing review from Encyclopaedia Metallum who go into wonderful depth and a thorough comparison of the music to the text.

[READ: November 27, 2011] The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. 

The Blake piece is available online in several places, although I got my copy from the library.  Mine contained several critical essays which I looked at briefly but decides they simply weren’t all that compelling, especially since Blake’s work (aside from details that simple footnotes might hep to clear up) is pretty understandable. 

In total, Blake’s work is 27 plates long. Each plate is hand written (in a fancy script) and many have illustrations (also hand drawn and colored).  There are allusions to many different things and it helps to be familiar with the Bible and with Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological work Heaven and Hell which is directly referenced several times.  Indeed, this work is clearly a response to that one; the opening states “and it is now thirty-three years since its advent” when Swedenborg’s book was published 33 years before Blake’s.

The gist of Blake’s piece is that God did not intend for man to separate the sensual and physical from the spiritual and mental.  It is basically a plea to hedonism, although not even seemingly to excess.  More like an “if it feels good, do it” attitude.  And he lays out these ideals pretty clearly in many of the passages.  True, there are many passages that are inscrutable (like the crazy opening–don’t be put off bu Rintrah), but when he gets to his main points, he is quite clear.  Blake attacks established religion but does not condemn God or endorse atheism.  So we get quotes like this:

“Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”  And shortly after: “Energy is Eternal Delight.”  Blake cites Paradise Lost as a history of the separation of these two ideas and concludes “that the Messiah [Reason] fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Rid of Me (1993).

For Rid of Me, PJ Harvey jumped to the big leagues (relatively) by enlisting maniac Steve Albini as a producer.  And he takes the rawness of Dry one step further into a sound that is both raw and sharp.  He really highlights the differences between the highs and lows, the louds and quiets.  And man, when this came out I loved it.

Like NIN’s “March of the Pigs,” the opening of “Rid Of Me” is so quiet that you have to crank up the song really loud.  And then it simply blasts out of the speakers after two quiet verses.

“Legs” turns Harvey’s moan into a voice of distress, really accentuating the hurt in her voice.  And Harvey hasn’t lightened up her attitudes since Dry, especially in the song “Dry” which has the wonderfully disparaging chorus: “You leave me dry.”

“Rub Til It Bleeds” is a simple song that opens with a few guitars and drums but in true Albini fashion it turns into a noisy rocker.  “Man Size Quartet” is a creepy string version of the later song “Man Size” (I’ll bet the two together would sound great).  And the wonderful “Me Jane” is a great mix of rocking guitars and crazy guitar skronk.   Albini really highlights the high-pitched (male) backing vocals, which add an element of creepiness that is very cool.

For me the highlight is “50 Foot Queenie”.  It just absolutely rocks the house from start to finish.  The song is amazing, from the powerful…well…everything including the amazing guitar solo.  “Snake” is a fast rocker (all of 90 seconds long) and “Ecstasy” is a song that feels wrung out, stretched to capacity, like they’ve got nothing left.

It’s not an easy record by any means, but it is very rewarding.  This is a CD that really calls for reamastering.  Because it is too quiet by half, and could really use–not a change in production–just an aural boost.

[READ: end of February and beginning of March] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

This is a collection of 7 essays that DFW wrote from 1990-1996.  Three were published in Harper’s, two in academic journals, one in Esquire and the last in Premiere.  I devoured this book when it came out (I had adored “Shipping Out” when it was published in Harper’s) and even saw DFW read in Boston (where he signed my copy!).

click to see larger

[Does anyone who was at the reading in Harvard Square…in the Brattle Theater I THINK…remember what excerpts he read?]

The epigram about these articles states: “The following essays have appeared previously (in somewhat different [and sometimes way shorter] forms:)”  It was the “way shorter” that intrigued me enough to check out the originals and compare them to the book versions.  Next week, I’ll be writing a post that compares the two versions, especially focusing on things that are in the articles but NOT in the book (WHA??).

But today I’m just taking about the book itself. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »