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Archive for the ‘Ra Ra Riot’ Category

coverSOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-“Endless Pain/Endless Joy” (2019).

indexIn 2007, Ra Ra Riot released an album of chamber pop loveliness.  There were strings and lots of soaring melodies.  The songs were gentle and sweet and the lyrics were thoughtful.

Twelve years later and I would never have guessed this was the same band.

“Endless Pain/Endless Joy” starts with crashing drums and a fast bass line.  The lyrics are sung in his high register but they are almost whispered, or at least sound like they are far away.  After the first verse, the bass doubles down and the rumble grows.

When the chorus finishes, the guitars come clanging in, angular and discordant, playing a clash of sounds for a few measures before departing.

The second half of the song increases the urgency with the fast paced drums and bass, but it adds lots of backing sounds–synth stabs, guitar swirls and other noises until, with ten seconds left, that clatter comes back–crashing through to the end.

It’s largely the same band members, but wow, what a difference a decade makes.

[READ: August 20, 2019] “Floating Bridge”

Neal and Jinny have been together for over 20 years.  Jinny is 42 and Neal is 16 years older.  She always assumed she’d outlive him. Then she got the news.

The oncologist said the news wasn’t great.

Neal went to pick yup the girl who would be staying with them to help out.  He knew her because she worked in the kitchen of the The Correctional Institute where he worked.

The girls’ name was Helen.  She was tough but Neal tried to break through her shell–that’s the way he was. (more…)

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dtmaxSOUNDTRACK: TOM WAITS & KEITH RICHARDS-“Shenandoah” (2013).

roguesgallery-f8be47f3887d51de57ea842a129f0a722e53ef74-s1This tune comes from the album Son Of Rogues Gallery.  The album is, of all things, a sequel to the album Rogues Gallery.  The full title is Son Of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.  The first album was a kind of novelty–I can’t even say novelty hit as I don;t know if it was.  But it must have had some success because here’s a second one (and there’s no Pirates of the Caribbean movie to tie it to).

The album has 36 songs (!) by a delightful collection of artists, including: Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, Macy Gray, Broken Social Scene, Richard Thompson, Michael Gira and Mary Margaret O’Hara (among many others).  I enjoyed the first one, but I think the line up on this one is even better.

“Shenandoah” is not a song that I particulalry like.  Because it is traditional, I have a few people doing versions of it, but I don’t gravitate twoards it–it’s a little slow and meandering (like the river I guess) for me. And this version is not much different.  What it does have going for it is Waits’ crazed warbling along with even crazier backing viclas from Keith Richards (there;s no guitar on the track).

[READ: January 7, 2012] Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

I had mixed feelings about reading this biography.  I’m a huge fan of David Foster Wallace, but I often find it simply disappointing to read about people you like.  And yet, DFW was such an interesting mind, that it seemed worthwhile to find out more about him. Plus, I’ve read everything by the guy, and a lot of things about him…realistically it’s not like I wasn’t going to read this.  I think I was afraid of being seriously bummed out.  So Sarah got me this for Christmas and I really really enjoyed reading it.

Now I didn’t know a ton about DFW going into this book–I knew basics and I had read a ton of interviews, but he never talked a lot about himself, it was predominantly about his work.  So if I say that Max is correct and did his research, I say it from the point of someone full of ignorance and because it seems comprehensive.  I’m not claiming that he was right just that he was convincing.  And Max is very convincing.  And he really did his research.

It’s also convenient that DFW wrote a lot of letters–Max has a ton of letters to quote from.  And DFW wrote to all kinds of people–friends, fellow authors  girlfriends, colleagues….  Aside from old friends, his two main correspondents were Don DeLillo, whom he thought of as a kind of mentor, and Jonathan Franzen, whom he considered one of his best friends and rivals.  I guess we can also be thankful that these recipients held on to the letters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-“Is It Too Much” (2013).

raraI loved the first Ra Ra Riot album The Rhumb Line.  This song expands on some of the ideas from that album, but I fear that it goes in the one direction I would have preferred they not go.  The album had strings, nice harmonies and a great singer all melded into an interesting rock structure.

This song retains all of the elements that were interesting, but it removes it from the rock structure, making it  sound much more lightweight.  It’s pushing too far into easy-listening.  And do I hear autotune on the vocals?  The instrumental middle section is the most interesting part of the song.  But Ra Ra Riot seems to have removed the riot part of their sound.  If this is the direction of the album, I’m afraid I won’t be following.

[READ: January 8, 2013] “Consider the Writer”

I just finished the D.T. Max biography of David Foster Wallace.  I was curious what kind of reception it received.  And lo, here’s a review by Rivka Galchen (something I would have read anyhow since I enjoy her so much).

Galchen opens with two main points–the biography is gripping (and it is, I’ll be saying more about that tomorrow, too).  She writes: “In writing a chronologically narrated, thoroughly researched, objective-as-­imaginable biography, Max has created a page turner.”

The second idea is that you keep thinking “that you just don’t find Wallace all that nice”  (which I also thought).  But then she wonders if it is fair to be worried about that.  We should not judge others after all.  Especially since, as she points out, “We don’t always find ourselves asking whether a writer is nice. I’ve never heard anyone wonder this at length about, say, Haruki Murakami or Jennifer Egan.”  So why is that a concern about Wallace?  Because niceness is what Wallace wrote about, tried to encourage.  And perhaps “One understandably slips from reading something concerned with how to be a good person to expecting the writer to have been more naturally kind himself.”  But that is not necessarily the case–people strive for things that they cannot achieve.   I like her example “the co-founder of A.A., Bill W., is a guru of sobriety precisely because sobriety was so difficult for him.”   And her conclusion: “Wallace’s fiction is, in its attentiveness and labor and genuine love and play, very nice. But what is achieved on the page, if it is achieved, may not hold stable in real life.”

And Galchen talks a bit abut DFW himself (the book is a biography after all).  How he wore the bandana because he sweated so much–how self conscious he was about that and by extension nearly everything he did.  This mitigates his not-niceness somewhat.  It also ties in to his alcoholism  drug use and depression.  And his competitiveness, which is obvious in the biography.  She enjoys the pleasure of Wallace’s correspondences, “especially with his close friend and combatant Jonathan Franzen, but also with just about every white male writer he might ever have viewed as a rival or mentor. Aggressive self-abasement, grandstanding, veiled abuse, genuine thoughtfulness, thin-skinned pandering — it’s all there.”  I rather wished that the authors’ own reactions were included (of course it’s not biographies of them, and they are still alive), just to see if they sparred back with Wallace or if they were put off by yet indulgent of his needs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-Live at the Black Cat, Washington DC,  October 12, 2008 (2008).

I really like Ra Ra Riot’s album The Rhumb Line, and this concert is basically a showcase for that album.  There’ s an interview at the end of the show (all downloadable from NPR), in which the  band says that critics raved about their live show as much as their album.

I don’t really hear that the show is more energetic than the album (maybe visually they are wild), but it did sound fantastic.  It’s amazing to hear a rock band that is dominated by strings–the cello and violin are often louder than the guitar (but not in a competing/drown you out kind of way,  more of a strings do the melodies and the guitar adds bulk to the sound).

I always enjoy hearing a band that is grateful to their audience for showing up (this is most evident in young bands, who seem so much more genuine about their love of the audience) and Ra Ra Riot are certainly that .  They seem genuinely surprised at the turn out, and they play a great set accordingly.

There are two songs that aren’t on the album here “A Manner to Act” and the encore “Everest.”  They both feel like they came off the album, which bodes well for their second album, Orchard, which just came out in May.  Ra Ra Riot also do a great cover of the obscure Kate Bush song “Suspended in Gaffa.”  At the end of the show they tack on a cover of “Hounds of Love.”  Lead singer Wesley Miles has a wonderfully strong voice and he can reach some pretty high notes–not soprano or anything like that, just strong enough to be able to pull off a Kate Bush cover.

This is a great show.  And when you read about the tragedy they suffered just as they were starting to take off, their obsession with death may not be so surprising.  I’m looking forward to Orchard.

[READ: 1995 and August 18, 2011] Microserfs

After reading Life After God and thinking about Microserfs, I looked up Coupland’s bibliography and saw that indeed Microserfs came next.  And I was really excited to read it.  I have recently watched the JPod TV show and I knew that JPod was a kind of follow-up to Microserfs, so I wanted to see how much of it rang true.  And I’ve got to say that I really rather enjoyed this book.

While I was reading this, I started taking notes about what was happening in the book.  Not the plot, which is fairly straightforward, but about the zeitgeisty elements in the book.  And, since I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace, I was also noting how many zeitgeisty things this book had in common with Infinite Jest.  I’m thinking of tying it all together in a separate post, maybe next week.  But I’ll mention a few things here.

My son also loved the cover of this book because it has a Lego dude on it and he has been really getting into Lego lately.

So Microserfs is the story of a bunch of underpaid, overworked coders who work for Microsoft.  The book is written as the journal of Daniel Underwood (Coupland still hadn’t really branched out of the first person narrative style, but the journal does allow for some interesting insights).  The story begins in Fall 1993.  I felt compelled to look up some ancient history to see what was happening in the computer world circa 1993 just for context.  In 1991, Apple released System 7.   In 1993, Windows introduced Windows NT, Intel released the first Pentium chip, Myst was released and Wired magazine launched.  In 1994, Al Gore coined the term Information Superhighway.  Yahoo is created.  The Netscape browser is introduced.  So we’re still in computer infancy here.  It’s pretty far-seeing of DC to write about this.

Daniel works at Microsoft with several friends.  Daniel is a bug tester, Michael (who has an office, not a cube) is a coder, Todd (a bodybuilder) is a bug tester.  There’s also Susan (smart and independent), Abe (secret millionaire) and Bug Barbecue (an old man–he’s like 35).  The five of them live in a house on “campus.”  There’s also Karla (a type A bossyboots who doesn’t like seeing time wasted) who works with them but lives up the street.

As the story opens, Michael has just received a flame email from Bill Gates himself and has locked himself in his office.  This leads to a very funny scene and ongoing joke in which the office mates feed slide two-dimensional food under his door and he vows to eat only things that are flat. (more…)

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pumphouseSOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-The Rhumb Line (2008).

raraI have a hard time describing this album.  It has a lot of ingredients that don’t make sense individually, yet which work very well. I would almost resort to calling them pretentious rock, but that seems so derogatory.  Vampire Weekend falls into this category of highly literate pop too, and we know how much  I love that album!

Ra Ra Riot play catchy indie pop, but their main instruments are cello and violin. And yet they’re not anything like Rasputina’s string-laden goth music.  Rather, they write catchy poppy songs that are punctuated with strings.  I even wanted to say they don’t have a  guitarist, (they do) but I guess that just shows how well his licks meld with the rest of the music. And, indeed, on some tracks, the guitar is up front and wonderful.

They also get labelled pretentious because one of their songs (and one of their catchiest) has lyrics from e.e.cummings, or rather, they use his poem “dying is fine)but Death” as the lyrics for the song “Dying is Fine.”  They also cover Kate Bush.  Now the Futureheads covered Kate Bush a few years ago, so perhaps Kate is the next go-to artist for covers.

Ra Ra Riot wins extra points for covering a fairly unknown, and utterly bizarre song, “Suspeneded in Gaffa.”  This happens to be one of my favorite Kate songs, so I’m a bit critical.  However, they do a very good job of making it a pop song (There’s enough weird stuff in Kate’s version to never give it mainstream acceptance).  And the strings work very well for it.

Ra Ra Riot was also featured on that paragon of good taste: the show Chuck [And since I have mentioned the  music of Chuck on many occasions, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a shout-out to this site which lists all of the songs in Season One–gotta update Season Two fellas].  Chuck played “Can’t You Tell” in a romantic scene, and it worked quite well.

So, after all that, what can I say about the band.  They may be too commercial for some, but I think their combination of strings, intelligent lyrics and good vocals is pretty great.  Incidentally, in case you were wondering, a rhumb line  (or loxodrome) is a line crossing all meridians at the same angle, i.e. a path of constant bearing. Following a rhumb line requires turning the vehicle more and more sharply while approaching the poles (thanks Wikipedia).

[READ: May 26, 2009] South of the Pumphouse

So this book is by Les Claypool, lead singer and bassist of Primus.

Claypool’s lyrics are typically stories, full of weird characters in weird situations.  Oh, and fishing.  Lots of fishing.  And that sums up this book pretty well.

The book is set in El Sobrante, California, a redneck haven that has not progressed along with the rest of the state.  Earl is a fisherman and meth addict.  In that order.  Fishing is Earl’s life.  His father fished every weekend, and Earl and his brother Ed went with him.  Rain or shine. (more…)

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