Archive for the ‘Peter, Bjorn & John’ Category

medusaSOUNDTRACK: PETER BJORN & JOHN-“I Wish I Was a Spy” (2012).

awesome4Yo Gabba Gabba has always been a source of interesting music–very cool bands devote time and music to this, frankly bizarre kids show.

This song from Peter Bjorn and John is fantastic.  While the lyrics are kid friendly, there’s no reason that this song need be played only for kids.

The song opens with a good vibrato “spy” guitar lick and vocal breaths.  The unusual percussion really shows how much this song sounds like a PB&J song even if it is of a very specific genre.  When the vocals come in (sounding very PB&J), the lyrics simply state that he wishes he was a spy, and then he gives some great examples of what he would do as a spy.

But the big surprise comes from the chorus which s bright and bouncy and talks about how we can all pretend we are all agents.

The Yo Gabba Gabba version ends at 2 minutes, but the extended version has more instrumental surf/spy guitar work.  It’s kind of an extraneous coda, but the sound they capture is really cool, so it’s fun to get the extra minute of guitar work.

[READ: May 6, 2014] The Medusa Plot

When I finished Vespers Rising, I said I would pace myself because the Cahills vs. Vespers series was six book which would conclude in March 2013.  Clearly I paced myself too slowly because here it is May 2014, Cahils vs. vespers is long done, and they are on the next series already.

But hey, I’m not playing the online game so there’s no time constraints for me.

Also, Clark started reading the original series so I wanted to keep a little ahead of him.  It seemed like a good time to start this middle series.

And man, once I started reading I was immediately brought back into the exciting world of Dan and Amy Cahill.  I had forgotten about the short story in Vespers Rising (about the ring that Amy now has) and about the Vespers in general.  But that didn’t matter, because it was quickly set up that the Vespers (led by the unknown V-1) in particular are bad and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal (which we don’t know yet).

It has been two years since the end of the 39 Clues.  As the book opens, several members of the disparate Cahill family clan are kidnapped: Fiske Cahill, Reagan Holt, Natalie Kabra (who, with her brother is now poor since their evil mother disowned them for not being evil enough), Alistair Oh (no!) and Ted Starling (his brother Ned escaped), Phoenix Wizard (Jonah’s little cousin) and, gasp, Nellie Gomez!  They are taken to an undisclosed location, given jumpsuits and left in a small cell with nothing to do and minimal food on a regular basis. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_12_03_12Thiebaud.inddSOUNDTRACK:  PETER BJORN AND JOHN-Live at KEXP May 10, 2011 (2011).

pbjkexpPeter Bjorn and John play KEXP every couple of years.  This set is promoting their most recent album Gimme Some.  I haven’t heard much of Gimme Some.  I found the last album to be kind of dark, but this one seems to have upped the poppy quotient a bit.  I was surprised when they opened the set with “Second Chance” which is the theme from 2 Broke Girls (and is the best thing about the show, I hope they get a ton of cash from that!).  If you ‘ve seen the show, you may be surprised that there are lyrics, but there are, and it works as a full length song, too.

“Dig a Little Deeper” has a kind of reggae feel and an amusingly long drum opening because “Peter dropped his guitar”.  It’s a poppy catchy singalong with lots.  “May Seem Macabre” is a funny title for a song that is as poppy and danceable as this one.  “Eyes” continues that upbeat poppy flavor.   This is a very fun set and I’m going to have to check out the album as well.  Peter Bjorn and John have proven to be a consistently great band where every album sounds different. You can listen to this show here.

[READ: December 5, 2012] “Nighthawk”

Tony Earley’s essay in the food issue differs from the others because it is not about a specific food, but about cooking.  Or, lack of cooking.  It’s a pretty funny essay about a boy of a certain age and time who was, if not spoiled exactly, simply waited on–by his mother and his grandmother.

His mother would make on demand fried bologna and onion sandwiches (wow, that sounds gross but I’ll bet it’s pretty good), and his grandmother would have waiting for him anything he desired when they visited.  Even when he went to college, he lived close by so he just went home for meals.

It wasn’t until he moved to Tuscaloosa that he realized he had no idea what to do in the kitchen (the description of the muffin tin and his inability to even conceive of its use is very funny).  And then, like other students, he subsisted on frozen meals and whatever else he could whip together with his meager skills.  His point though, is that eating alone is okay, but it really takes a toll on the taste of food–no matter how much cheap wine you drink with it to appear sophisticated.   (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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This brief set at SXSW (available from NPR & KEXP) showcases the band’s (then) new record Living Thing.  The album was just about to be released, so these are all previews of the album (“New music is the best music”).  The album itself is very sparse and these live songs are equally sparse, but are slightly different in construction (some songs have different instrumentation live than on record).

The crowd is very responsive, and the band is really funny.  During “Just the Past” there’s a section where the song sounds like it ends, but it is just a pause, and the band tsk tsks the audience for applauding too early.  There’s also a joke about John being Joaquin Phoenix and taking up a career in rap.

It’s a wonderfully lively set, even if it is a bit short (the gripe with almost every SXSW download).  It’s a good introduction to the album and a great introduction to a band who has been around for ten years and just started making inroads into American consciousness a few years ago.

[READ: April 16, 2011] Five Dials #1

Five Dials is an online magazine.  It is free to subscribe (and to download).  All previous issues are available on the site in PDF format.  I learned about it because they printed the eulogies for David Foster Wallace in Issue 10.  But the magazine looked interesting in itself, so I decided to go back and read the whole run (the most recent issue is #18).

The only real complaint I have with the magazine is that they don’t put a publication date anywhere on it.  Which is a shame if you’re anal retentive like me. According to Wikipedia, the inaugural issue came out in June of 2008.   It’s a monthly (ish) publication and, although I originally thought it would be a literary magazine, it proves to be very much of a magazine-magazine.  And a good one at that.

There’s a letter from the editor, there’s Current-ish Events, there’s essays, reviews and even fiction.  There’s also a “classic” letter from a “classic” author.  The magazine also has some very cool black and white art in it.  The style is very crisp and one that I find quite agreeable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SPOON-Transference (2010).

The first thing I think of when I think of this disc is staccato.  I’ve read that the disc sounds like a demo, which I don’t quite agree with, although it does sound very raw and spare (in the way the Peter, Bjorn and John’s Living Thing does).

Although the opener “Before Destruction” has a lot of guitars washing around, the dominant sound is a loud short chord and drum combination.  And from the second song on pretty much, things get very chunky.

“Is Love Forever?” has a riff based on tight military beat with guitar chords that match.  There’s very little in the way of extended notes or washes of sound.  “Mystery Zone,” an insanely catchy little ditty, has a similar staccato/spare sound.  Britt Daniel’s voice is pretty much the only instrument that holds a note for more than a beat.  (That’s not literally true, but it seems like it).  Meanwhile, “Who Makes  Your Money” is all drum beats and single keyboard notes.

It’s surprising that this spare musical accompaniment works so effectively, but it does.  Especially on “Written in Reverse” a predominantly pizzicato piano track that rocks in a maniacally-echoed fashion.  Or even more so on the 5 minute “I Saw the Light” which is basically drums and a propulsive bass.  There’s occasional guitar chords which build until the 2 minute mark, when a  3 minute minor chord piano & drum coda takes over.

“Good Night Laura” is a simple piano ballad (again with pizzicato piano chords), while the final song “Nobody Gets Me But You” is full of cacophonous piano runs, most of which sounding precariously on the verge of being random and out of tune, but which always manage to be weird and cool.

Spoon’s last album had a pretty big hit with “Don’t Make Me a Target” which was similar in style to these songs but which had more orchestration.  These songs feel like an attempt to strip away as much as possible and see what remains.  And I guess it’s a testament to the quality of the songs that it works.

[READ: December 1, 2010] This Isn’t What It Looks Like

Is it the nature of children’s books in the 21st century that they are all parts of a series?  Do authors write singular books with no plan of a sequel?  I don’t know.  And I’m not sure that I mind all that much.

This is the fourth book in the “Secret” series, and Bosch hasn’t lost any steam or quality for this part of the saga.  When we last left our heroes, Cass was in a “coma,” induced from eating a time traveling chocolate bar.  Max-Ernest has more or less given up speaking (which is impossible for him) because he feels so guilty about encouraging Cass to eat the chocolate.  And, Yo-Yoji, their erstwhile third member, is off in Japan with his family.  What is M-E to do?

Luckily for M-E, an old friend has returned to school, and he’s causing quite a stir.  Benjamin Blake (the awkward synesthetic artist from the first book) has returned from his finishing school.  He is polished and refined, he uses words like “chum,” and people seem to be well, interested, in him.  And most interesting of all (as only M-E knows), he seems to be able to read people’s minds!  And that’s just what M-E was hoping to do with Cass while she’s in the coma.

For Cass, you see, is “living” in the past.  In our time, she is in the coma, but her mind has traveled back in time to meet The Jester, the man who holds “The Secret” and the man who is her great- great- great- (etc) grandfather.  She is fully conscious in Renaissance times.  The big difference, though, is that she is invisible!  And, in a wonderful publishing joke (the kind of thing that Bosch does so well) all of the chapters that are about Cass are listed as negative (so the book starts with Chapter “-Ten”).  M-E’s chapters start at one, mind you, so you have positive and negative chapters which all converge at a hilarious interlude called Chapter Zero.

The bit about the Renaissance also works very well because their school is having its annual Renaissance Faire (I wish I went to THAT school!) which is sponsored by a theme restaurant which features jousting and medieval times (but which is not Medieval Times, ha ha–I love that everyone says how bad the burgers are but they love the experience).  The Ren Faire is a wonderful plot set-up because with Cass lost in “real” Renaissance, the parallels to the Ren Faire are very clever and often very funny.  (I also love that M-E keeps trying to explain that there is a big difference between Renaissance and Medieval but no one will listen).

And, indeed, cleverness is the word of the book (and the series).  Bosch is having continued great fun with word play (and footnotes!).  He also has some clever puzzles to solve.  The biggest one is the “Hint to the Secret” that the Jester leaves for Cass (and which even a fortune teller tells her about).  I was convinced I had the puzzle sorted out but I was wrong (and it was so obvious when it was revealed!).  And, there’s also a revelation as to the true identity of Pseudonymous Bosch (not the real life author, but the “author” of the books).  I had put a little of this together myself when reading the dialogue in M-E’s head.  But I won’t spoil the revelation of that.

The only secret I will reveal is to say that this is not the final book in the series.  For awhile it seemed like it was heading towards a conclusion.  But as we dramatically learn, there will be more adventures to come.  And that’s pretty cool.

I love an exciting series, but I especially love an exciting series that doesn’t talk down to its readers.  The footnotes and clever games are very fun and thought-provoking (there’s even two emails that are written in code that you need to decipher (unless you cheat and look in the appendix).  And speaking of the Appendix, there’s also a one-way staring contest and directions on how to make a camera obscura (which features in the book and seems like a fun project).

I honestly have no idea how nay books Bosch plans to write in this series (and I have no idea who Pseudonymous Bosch (the author) is for real.  It’s all part of the mystery that I enjoy quite a lot.

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SOUNDTRACK: PETER, BJORN & JOHN-Living Thing (2009).

After the raging (relative) success of Writer’s Block, with their crazily catchy whistling song, “Young Folks”, PB&J could have gone in any direction.

And I was quite surprised when the opening song of this follow up (actually, there’s an instrumental disc in between) opened with single note and drum sounds and virtually a capella vocals.  But unlike a typical a capella song, the thudding notes were kind of dissonant and unpleasant.  And there wasn’t much more to the song than that.

Even the second song starts out starkly.  A single piano note plays a simple riff.  The verse kicks in with some simple electronic drums (and again minimal accompaniment).  And this sparseness is the main musical theme on the disc.

And I have to say it took almost a half a dozen listen before I really enjoyed what they were doing.  They are eschewing the pop structure that won them popularity and they’re shifting their melodies to the vocal lines rather than the instruments (I guess).  It’s a risky proposition, but it pays off.

Take “Nothing to Worry About.”   It opens with what sounds like a distorted children’s choir singing the chorus at full volume.  But then it settles down into, again, a simple drum and vocals song with just a hint of instrumentation.  (Did they get all their music out on the instrumental?  I don’t know I’ve not heard it).  Even the title track is sparse guitar noises and clicked drums.  But, man, is it catchy (it reminds me in a weird way of Paul Simon).

And then, continuing my contention that the best and catchiest songs always have curses in them, “Lay It Down” with the chorus, “Hey, shut the fuck up boy, you’re starting to piss me off” will stick in your head for days.

The end of the disc (the last three songs) are considerably mellower.  They’re less catchy, but they use the starkness very well.

Initially I really didn’t like this album.  It had none of the immediacy of the previous disc.  But I found myself really enjoying it.  I wouldn’t want all of their albums to sound like this, but it was an enjoyable twist on a good formula.

[READ: October 7, 2010] Garden State

I mentioned the other day that I just found out about this book when looking up information about Rick Moody.  I was so excited to read a book set in Haledon (two towns from where I grew up) that I checked it out and begin it immediately (it’s only 200 pages, so that helped too).  But I have to say I was really disappointed with the book (even if it did win the Editor’s Book Award).

My first gripe is about the supposed setting in New Jersey.  I have no problem with fictionalizing an area.  Writers do it all the time.  But Moody fictionalizes the area in two ways to suit his thesis, and as a lover of New Jersey and a former resident of the region, I found the lack of reality to be very upsetting.

The first minor, and I have to say really weird thing is that despite the real towns included (Haledon, Paterson, Paramus) he makes up towns nearby–Fleece, Tyre– and he makes up a river–The Dern River.  He also plays around with the names of the highways that run through the state, constantly referring to the non-existent Garden State Thruway.  Now, again, there’s no problem with making things up, but nobody in the story ever goes to Fleece or Tyre, the Dern River doesn’t come into play aside from being a river that people refer to (it’s not a renamed Passaic river, because that’s included in the story, too).  So, why make up random town names?  Why say that you drive from Haledon to the edge of Paterson near Boonton, when that is not geographically correct (or relevant to the story)?  It just seems like he didn’t have access to a map. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PETER, BJORN & JOHN-Writer’s Block (2006).

My friend Eugenie told me about these guys: 3 Swedish songwriters whose names are, indeed Peter, Bjorn and John. This is their 3rd CD and I’m not even sure what I thought they would sound like except that Eugenie has great taste. I think I thought they would be a bit more synth poppy (I guess the Abba connection is pretty strong) but instead, they write wonderfully poppy songs, but they are more folky, or alt-rocky. I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this CD.

All three guys sing. Peter sings most of the songs and he sounds like a combination of John Lennon and Michael Penn…his voice varies quite a bit between songs. Bjorn sings two of the songs. His voice is quite different…deeper and more stark, and it’s quite a nice change from Peter’s (not that there’s anything bad about Peter’s). John sings one song, and his voice is fairly similar to Peter’s. But they all do harmonies, so you hear them all the time.

It took me about three listens to fall in love with this CD. There’s a couple of songs that are immediately gratifying; however, the rest really reward multiple listens. Interestingly, it’s the two Bjorn songs that are immediately catchy. “Amsterdam” and “Let’s Call It Off” (which gets a remix on the album too). “Amsterdam” (interestingly, Guster have a fantastically catchy song called “Amsterdam” which this song is not) has this immediately striking whistle (as in a person whistling) as its opening motif. It is stark and haunting, and will have you whistling it for days. “Young Folks” is a duet with Victoria Bergsman (not sure who she is) and has a deliriously catchy chorus. “The Chills” has this great shh-shh-shh sound that is at once chilly and interesting and reminiscent of The Cure’s “A Forest.” As you might guess, the CD covers some pretty different styles and genres, yet the album is not a mishmash. There’s a consistent PB&J sound that unifies the record and leaves you wanting to hit play again after it’s over.

The Swedish music scene has just been exploding lately…The Hives, Dungen, Jose Gonzales, Jens Lekman and PB&J are all adding to the (sadly seen as one-hit novelties) wonderful Cardigans.

[READ: January 2008] Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog

For Christmas, Sarah’s mom gave her this book, not knowing that she missed the intended target by mere inches. As soon as I saw the book I immediately had to read it. Diagramming sentences was always a guilty pleasure of mine, and I am saddened to hear that kids don’t do it anymore. (more…)

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