Archive for the ‘Portishead’ Category


I’ve wanted to listen to more from The Roots ever since I was exposed to them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  But as typically happens, I’m listening to other things instead.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to check them out (based on Samantha Irby’s rave below).

One of the best things about this recording (and The Roots in general) is Questlove’s drumming.  In addition to his being a terrific drummer, his drums sound amazing in this live setting.

Erykah Badu sings on the album but Jill Scott (Jilly from Philly) who wrote the part, sings here.

It starts out quietly with just a twinkling keyboard and Scott’s rough but pretty voice.  Then comes the main rapping verses from Black Thought.  I love the way Scott sings backing vocals on the verses and Black Thought adds backing vocals to the chorus.

Midway through the song, it shifts gears and gets a little more funky.  Around five minutes, the band does some serious jamming.  Jill Scott does some vocal bits, the turntablist goes a little wild with the scratching and Questlove is on fire.

Then things slow down for Scott to show off her amazing voice in a quiet solo-ish section.  This song shows off how great both The Roots and Jill Scott are.  Time to dig deeper.

[READ: November 1, 2020] Wow, no thank you.

This book kept popping up on various recommended lists.  The bunny on the cover was pretty adorable, so I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of Samantha Irby before this, but the title and the blurbs made this sound really funny.

And some of it is really funny. Irby is self-deprecating and seems to be full of self-loathing, but she puts a humorous spin on it all.  She also has Crohn’s disease and terribly irritable bowels–there’s lots of talk about poo in this book.

Irby had a pretty miserable upbringing.  Many of the essays detail this upbringing.  She also has low self-esteem and many of the essays detail that.  She also doesn’t take care of herself at all and she writes about that.  She also doesn’t really want much to do with children or dogs.  And yet somehow she is married to a woman with children.

From what some of these essays say, it sounds like she is married to this woman yet somehow lives an entirely separate life from the rest of the house.  It’s all rather puzzling, although I suppose if you are already a fan, you may know many of the details already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE EILISH-“Bury a Friend” (2019).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

There’s a ton of reasons why Billie is an unlikely pop sensation.  I won’t bother going through the myriad reasons, I’ll just talk about the music of this song–a suitably creepy song to kick off a series of Spooky Stories.

The song starts with a muted, almost musical drumbeat and clicks.  Then Billie’s processed voice sings with what I assumed is a slowed down version of her voice singing parallel with her.

After a muttered “come here,” and a screech, the verse starts.  It’s no less creepy and possibly more hypnotic.  It leads to a bridge in which at the end of each features a voice that cries quietly (and then reverses n the next line).

The repeated refrain of “I wanna end me” is probably the least creepy section of the song.

There’s one more part, a quickly spoken line ending with three thumps that lead to the next line.

Then it all repeats.

There’s no prettiness, no poppiness. It’s like a slightly more dancey version of Portishead.  It’s pretty darn cool.

I have no idea why it/she is so popular.  But good for her.

And the video is really freaking creepy too.

[READ: October 17, 2019] “The Foghorn”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

Gertrude Atherton had a story in the previous Ghost Box.  I was pretty impressed by it.

This story is also pretty twisted–fans of the macabre should really check her out.


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may20014SOUNDTRACK: EXHAUST-Enregistreur [CST021] (2002).

exhaust2While Exhaust’s debut was a mixed affair, their follow up really showed some great improvement.  The band feels more unified, there aren’t any single songs that were remixed (which stand out in a bad way), rather the remixing was done throughout the songs.  And, best of all there’s a lot more of that spooky bass clarinet.

The album feels more organic, “Gauss” opens with waves of music setting a mood until about a minute into track 2 “Behind The Water Tower” when the drums kick in the atmospherics gains urgency. “Voiceboxed” has a feeling of contemporary Portsihead which is neat from an album that came out almost a decade earlier.  This one has some samples of commercials , but they’re a little low in the mix so its hard to make them out. Although the spoken word part that swirls around your head is very cool and a little startling. (Headphones are a must for this album). There’s also a funny standup routine (yes, in the middle of the song)—wonder who it is.

“Ice Storm” opens with a sampled piano & a lot of static.  It morphs into a lengthy play/commercial/PSA by Heathrow Wimbledon and is called “The Maternal Habitat.”  I can’t find anything else about it online.  It’s rather fun to listen to, although when the skit is done, the music becomes strangely slow and the last two minutes (of 9) go on too long.  It bleeds into “Dither” which is mostly sampled voices and more commercials.  I love this Negativland kind of pastiche

“Behind the Paint Factory” mirrors “Water Tower” in that the drums kick in after 2 minutes and the song sounds great.  “My Country is Winter” is mostly tape manipulations including a screaming guitar solo that runs around your head.  “Silence Sur la Plateau” returns to that sort of ominous Portishead vibe with the sound of loud crinkling plastic as its main “music.”  There’ also a lengthy silence in the track which seems rather pointless to me.  The album ends much like it began with “Degauss” which is mostly clarinet solo and atmospheric sounds

It’s much better than their debut but still feels like they could have made a tighter album if they’d gotten rid of some (but not all) of the nonsense.

[READ: December 1, 2012] “The There There”

I have enjoyed Nelson’s stories in the past, and I feel like it’s time to find a collection of hers (and I see she has a lot, too).

What I especially enjoyed about this one was the way the title was used in the story and also the way it encompassed the main character in a way that was unrelated to the way it was used in the story.  In the first instance, the family is on vacation and they overhear some tourists asking “Where the hell are we?” while standing in front of the Colosseum.  The son explains that’s “like not seeing the Grand Canyon until you fell in it, like it’s the there there.”

The story is about a family–a mother, a father, and two sons.   It opens with the sons and the mother discussing the perfect murder.  The husband disapproves of the discussion but only indicates this with a cleared throat.  We see that Caroline, the mother, was imagining her husband when she was describing her murder.

While the story is basically about the mother (although told in third person), it flits back and forth to the other family members and how their behavior affects her.  First we see that their oldest son, having gone off to college, has fallen in love with his landlady–a woman with children older than him.  Caroline is appalled at this especially when Drew reveals that she’s not all that pretty, that he would have chosen one of those daughters. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_07_22_13McCall.inddSOUNDTRACK: JOHN MARTYN-“Glory Box” (1998).

martynI learn about music from the most random places.  The other night we were watching the British dramedy Doc Martin (starring Martin Clunes and the wonderfully awful Lucy Punch).  Punch’s character was talking to a boy who is interested in her.  She mentions Portishead and how great “Glory Biox” is (true) and then they talk about John Martyn’s cover and how it’s even better (not quite).

I’ve heard of Martyn, but only barely.  The boy says that he has all of Martyn’s albums (which seems surprising as he has a lot).

I can’t guess too much about Martyn from this cover, but I’ll guess he’s a bluesy guy.

The cover captures the essence of “Glory Box” and then runs it in a totally new direction–low and rumbly (voices and guitars).  Interestingly, he shifts the song to the male perspective which makes the entire song have a totally different meaning.  Neat trick, that.

I don’t love bluesy music as a rule, but I really like this version.  Not enough to get his other music–and I do like the Portishead version better–but it’ still a nice discovery.

[READ: August 1, 2013] “From a Farther Room”

This story starts off pretty sanely and then quickly jumps in the realm of Wha??

As the story opens we meet Robert Childress.  He is a married man with children.  His family is away for the weekend and his wife has given him her blessing to go out and have fun.  He meets Stearns, a bachelor who takes him out eating and drinking and drinking.  There is talk of a strip club and lap dances but that idea is nixed.  Nevertheless, Childress is very drunk–so much so that he takes a limo home (at what cost?) and then has the bed spins during the night–with the expected result.

So far so normal.

The weirdness comes when he is awoken by his dog.  The dog who is nudging some… thing on the floor.  Which, when Childress looks more closely, reveals itself to be… alive.  Right where he threw up.  Did he throw up a living creature? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  PUBLIC ENEMY-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Convention Hall, October 2, 2011 (2011).

NPR was cool enough to record and provide as a download most of the shows at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Asbury Park, NJ.  (Portishead wouldn’t allow their show to be recorded, sadly).  But Public Enemy was a welcome surprise!
This tour is in celebration of the anniversary of Fear of a Black Planet.  And they play most of Fear and a lot of other things too (with almost nothing from their 2000 era CDs.

I can remember back in the early days of rap that it was hard to imagine what a rap show would be like live since they didn’t play instruments and much of the music was sampled.  Well, PE has musicians on stage and they have DJ Lord filling in for Terminator X behind the turntables (big shoes to fill, but done largely well–especially his fun “solo” in which he samples The White Stripes and Nirvana–although he should have mixed in Portishead, no?).  And mostly they have the personalities of Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

I suspect that this show would be a bit more fun to watch than it is to listen to–Flavor Flav’s antics don’t always translate well without his visuals.    Like when he asks the audience if that can all say “Ho” (which he eventually holds for 33 seconds!), it seems like a delay tactic in audio, but is probably fun to witness.

What’s especially cool about the show is that PE play so many songs, including small snippets of songs as segues to other ones (like the seventy second version of “Anti-Nigger Machine” that intros “Burn Hollywood Burn” which is practically hardcore) or the minute and a half of “He Got Game” that follows “Night of the Living Baseheads.”  I like that they even threw in some skits from the record like “Meet the G That Killed Me” and “Incident at 66.6FM.”

But of course the real joy is the full length songs, “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” “911 is a Joke,” and of course “Bring the Noise” and “Fight the Power.”

Some of the improv sections don’t work all that well, the guitar solo in “Power to the People” leaves something to be desired (Khari Wynn maybe a legend, but he;s no Vernon Reid),  although the  “Jungle Boogie” riff is cool.   But the improv with guest drummer Denis Davis was pretty bad ass.  Flavor Flav hopped on the drums and was quite good for “Timebomb.”  We also got to meet Flav’s daughter Jasmine.  And Professor Griff was there too.

It’s also interesting that they keep saying they have no time left in the set (Portishead is next) but they play for at least 30 minutes after this.  Including a wonderful “By the Time I Get to Arizona and the set ending “Fight the Power.”

Chuck D has still got it and Flav is just as crazy and fun as ever (even if his screams and yos seems out of tune from time to time).  Of course, Flav has to get the last word in by raging  on for six and a half minutes  at the end (and about six-minutes in the beginning as well where he gave himself props about his reality show.

It’s a really good set–a little distorted from time to time, but really solid.  Here’s a link to the downloadable show.

[READ: October 2, 2012] Hocus Pocus

This book may have put me over the edge in terms of Vonnegut exhaustion.  I bought this book some time in 1992, but I never read it. It’s been in my house for twenty years and it was about time I read it.

But as I’ve been noticing, each Vonnegut book has been getting darker and more misanthropic.  And this one is no exception.  The construction of the book follows Vonnegut’s cut and paste style but it feels even more shuffled and indirect than usual (more on that later).  In many of Vonnegut’s books, the “climax” occurs somewhere in the middle and he fills in the details later.  For this one, the climax came around h.and I wouldn’t have felt like I missed anything.

In this book, the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke  is a Vietnam vet (usually his protagonists are military men, and Vonnegut has criticized Vietnam a lot, but this is the first time he’s had a Vietnam vet as protagonist).  He married his wife and had a wonderful family until he learned that his mother in law had a disease that made her crazy–but it only kicked in later in life, after he married her daughter.  And that his wife has the same disease–so by the middle of the story both of the women in his life are crazy “hags.”  And, like in his other stories, his children hate him. (more…)

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Girl Talk is the product of Gregg Gillis.  Gillis doesn’t play any instruments.  All he does is mash-up different songs into a killer DJ mix.  There is absolutely nothing legal about what he does (in terms of copyright), and for that reason alone, I love it.  But beyond that,  he does a great job of mashing two (and more) songs together.

Mostly this is a fun way to play “spot the song” [Hey: “In Your Arms,” Hey “War Pigs”].  And when you give up you can check out the samples list (which has 37 entries under the name D alone). [Hey, Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”]

I knew a lot of the songs that he sampled, but he also put in a lot of rap which I didn’t know.  The rap works well over the original music (what sampling would be like for real if it was legal).  [Hey, Portishead!]

Mostly you get a minute or maybe a little more of each song, [Radiohead’s “Creep”] sometimes the clips are sped up or slowed down to merge perfectly with the other.  And it’s a whole lot of fun.  [The Toadies!] As someone described it, it’s like listening to a whole bunch of radio stations at once [“Cecelia”].  And, if you don’t like the song that’s on [two seconds of the Grateful Dead?], just wait a couple seconds. [INXS].

Gillis doesn’t (really) sell his music.  Indeed, you can download all of All Day for free fromIllegal Art.  [Hey, the middle of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”].

I’m not sure if it’s art, per se, but it’s clearly a lot of work, and it takes a lot of skill to make it so seamless [White Zombie!].  It probably works very well at a party too.

[READ: June 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 13

Five Dials 13 is more or less the music issue.  It is specifically dedicated to festivals and their overindulgence of everything.  And so it is long (63 pages), it is full of rather diverse points of view, it even has clouds!  Thankfully it’s not full of overflowing portapotties.  It also has lots of artwork from Raymond Pettibon, which is pretty fantastic in and of itself.

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: On Festivals and George Thoroughgood
The letter opens with some comments on Festivals–two paragraphs of complainants about festivals with a final admission that the interlocuter is going to Glastonbury.  The end of the letter is devoted to a story from George Thoroughgood.  Usually I agree with the Five Dials‘ tastes without question, but I have a serious complaint about their love of Thoroughgood, about whom it would be charitable to say that he has written one song seventy-five times.  And I have absolute incredulity at this quote from George:

The promoters had gone to another festival where we played on Thursday before Roskilde, and they were so knocked out by the power of the performance they called me the next day and asked if we would mind if they changed our show time to close the festival.

Are you seriously telling me that they would change the headlining act a weekend before the festival?  How pissed would you be if your headliner was bumped for 90 minutes of ‘Bad to the Bone’?  Good grief. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE VASELINES-The Way of the Vaselines (1992).

I had never heard of The Vaselines until Kurt Cobain praised them so much back in 1992.  SubPop quickly issued Way of the Vaselines, a fairly comprehensive collection of their recordings.

I bought it and thought it was okay.  Not revolutionary or anything, but decent indie pop.  And I think my lackluster response is in part because I often react the same way to what you’d call originators of a scene when I’ve already been in the scene for a while.  Once people have blown the fundamentals away, it’s hard to appreciate the fundamentals anymore.

And so I’ve given them a new listen with more appreciative ears.  I also enjoyed poppier music a lot more now than I did in 1992 (it’s funny how poppy The Vaselines are and yet how noisy Cobain was).

The songs really hold up quite well in a Velvet Underground way (“Rory Rides Me Raw”), or the left field dance anthem cover of Divine’s “You Think You’re a Man.”  They also have some fast punk songs (“Dying for It”).

Nirvana covered three of their songs, “Son of a Gun” and more famously “Molly’s Lips.”  (The Vaselines version of “Molly” is much cuter (with a bike horn in the chorus)).  And, perhaps most famously, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” (which is pretty close to the original).

The Vaselines sang a lot about sex, (“Sex Sux,” “Monsterpussy”) that was disguised in a largely pop context.  But they also had inclinations towards fuzzy punk.

I think what’s so wonderful about this collection is that it’s four Scottish kids who had good pop sensibilities (and some talent) playing what they liked.  They’re an amateur love to the whole disc, and yet for all of their lo-fi ness, the songs sound good–even if you can’t always understand the lyrics. (Sub Pop remastered and re-released the package with bonus tracks as Enter the Vaselines, but I’ll not be getting that).

Were they, as Allmusic says, the best pop band from 1986 to 1989? I don’t know.  But they sure played some great songs.  I’m don’t think I need to hear their reunited selves, because there’s something about the charm of these Edinburgh kids playing these songs in something of a vacuum that I rather like.  It only took two listens to this record (probably the first time in ten years) for me to see how much was here.

[READ: April 16, 2011] “Underachievers Please Try Harder”

The subtitle of this article is “Indie Rock Reunites on the English Coast,” and I’m mentioning it because it got me to listen to the Vaselines record again.

It was an interesting article about the state of music and “festival” tours, specifically All Tomorrow’s Parties.  (This year’s ATP spinoff, I’ll Be Your Mirror will be in Asbury Park, New Jersey! and features Portishead, Mogwai and A Silver Mount Zion among others–were I 20 years younger, I’d be there). (more…)

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pride-zombiesSOUNDTRACK: The Core: WVPH, 90.3 FM.

coreThe Core is also from Rutgers University.  How do they have two radio stations?  Interestingly, the station is shared with Piscataway High School.  For several hours a day Piscataway High School takes over the airwaves.  Although I admit that I have not listened to any of the PHS stuff because the first block is at 6 in the morning, and the other block is from 1- 3PM.

The college folks, however, play a pretty excellent selection of alternative music.  They’re not quite as indie and out there as WRSU, but they’re not commercial either.  To me, they’re more of the kind of college station I’m used to from my days as music director at the University of Scranton.

In the few days that I listened, I heard a lot of familiar alternative artists, with a nice focus on new bands.  What I especially liked about the station was that they didn’t play too much in the way of commercial alternative (your U2s and R.E.Ms who were once alternative but are now mainstream).  Rather, they played bands like Art Brut, The Decemberists, Portishead and Neutral Milk Hotel: bands that many people have at least heard of, but that you won’t find anywhere else on the dial.

This is the station that I would turn to most if my CD player busted permanently.

The only thing I didn’t like about it, but which also reminded me of my days as a DJ, was that college DJs tend to talk A LOT.  We all think that we are imparting precious wisdom to the masses.  And often, that is true.  Although in this one case, the DJ said that the name of the band was Art Brut Vs Satan, which is in fact just the album name.  (See, I’m still a pretentious music snob!).   However, when I’m having dinner and reading a book, I don’t need a seven minute update about that last concert that you went to.

[READ: May 19, 2009] Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

When I first heard about this book (as a punchline on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me at my brother-in-law Tim’s house), I couldn’t believe it was real.  I was so intrigued by the concept, and then so impressed by the reviews, that I couldn’t wait to read it.

And this book does not disappoint.

For those out of the loop: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, as the title suggests, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with good old zombie action thrown in.  Elizabeth and Darcy… What?

Yes.  Zombies.

Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Pride and Prejudice, changed a few details and then added an entire…well, subplot is not right…more like an underlying condition to the story.  It turns it from a story of love and marriage into a story of love and marriage amidst zombie brain-lust. (more…)

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yourlifeSOUNDTRACK: PORTISHEAD-Third (2008).

3rdThis is probably one of the spookiest albums I’ve heard in a long time.  And, boy, do I love it.

Portishead has been away from the music scene for about ten years.  They’d had a couple of hits, sort of gloomy trip hop all held together by Beth Gibbons’ otherworldly voice (“Nobody loves me, it’s true, not like you do”).  But frankly, after ten years I wasn’t even sure if I cared about Portishead anymore.  And then, I heard the songs!

Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds even more ghostly than before.  And the noises that Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley make are totally beyond the pale.  Some of the music sounds like pieces from a late night horror movie.  Take the bizarro verse music of “Hunter,” guitar chords stretched beyond recognition alternating with a keyboard riff straight out of “Revenge of the Cheapo Zombie Monster.” Or the aggressive soundtrack of “Machine Gun,” in which Gibbons sings over a musical piece that is more or less an electronic drum that sounds like a machine gun.  It’s pretty intense.

But just when you think the whole disc is nothing but uneasy listening, they thrown in the beautiful acoustic simplicity of “The Rip,” a simple acoustic guitar playing over Gibbons’ sultry voice, or “Deep Water” a minute and a half of old timey ukulele music.  Of course, these songs are bookeneded by two creepy tracks: “Plastic” in all its eeriness, and “We Carry On” some of the most unusual sounds ever to be called music (aside from Einsturzende Neubauten, of course).

Somehow all of the unsettling sounds work wonderfully together.  And, although I haven’t processed all the lyrics yet, previous Portishead albums would lead me to believe that things aren’t very peachy in Gibbons’ world.  And yet, despite that, I find the album very uplifting and not at all depressing.

Maybe every band should take ten years between records if it yields results this great.

[READ: November 16, 2008] The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life®

I used to work with the author of this book.  Perhaps a dozen or so years ago, Christopher (just Chris back then) Monks and I worked at Wordsworth Books in beautiful Cambridge, MA.   When I learned that he was writing for McSweeney’s (and has since become the editor of their online website) I was very impressed and happy for him and not at all jealous or seething with envy at his wonderful, picturesque life in the Massacusetts suburbs.  But, more to the point, when I read his works, and his website, he displayed humor that was in little evidence at work.  (Talk about compartmentilization…).

Anyhow, he recently sent a generic email to everyone who has ever written him to say that he has a book out (and would we all go buy it, please).  Well, I’m always game to help someone who over the years I have come to consider a former co-worker. (more…)

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