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Archive for the ‘Rasputina’ Category

[ATTENDED: January 25, 2020] Bob Mould

2020-01-25 21.13.34_previewI saw Bob Mould perform in 1996 at Avalon in Boston.  I don’t remember that much about the show.  He had a three piece band I believe (and Rasputina opened).  It was mix of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and solo songs (according to setlist.fm–see below).  Interestingly, there is a scathing review of his 1998 show in Chicago here.

So here it was 24 years later and Mould was touring again (he has toured a lot in the meantime, make no mistake) and I thought it would be fun to see him again.

This time it was just him and an electric guitar.  Once again he played Hüsker Dü, Sugar and solo songs.  Although now he had a lot more solo stuff to choose from.

What was fascinating about this show was that since it was just him, he was able to really rock through a whole bunch of songs at a pretty good speed–with minimal accompaniment or soloing.

And it was really quite loud–especially in this normally fairly quiet venue.  It was particularly amusing since I was in front of him so that that every time he moved to the left or the right, the amp (which was behind him) was so much louder–he was literally blocking a ton of the sound with his body.

Mould was in good form, telling some jokes and genuinely seeming to have a very good time. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Let England Shake (2011).

I’ve listened to this disc several times online; I have no details about the recording.  There’s samples, but I don’t know what they are and I can’t really tell what all the lyrics are (it’s obvious she’s pretty angry, but the details are lost to me).

The first question for me on hearing this disc is what happened to PJ Harvey’s voice?  It comes as such a shock when you compare it to Dry.  But once I accepted that this is not the PJ Harvey of Rid of Me, I listened to it as a new artist and I really like it.  But it’s a weird record to be sure.

The title track is played on an autoharp (!).  In fact the autoharp is a dominant instrument here.  It’s got a cool melody and, once you accept that she sounds like the singer from Rasputina, you can really appreciate what’s going on.

The second track, “The Last Living Rose,” returns somewhat to the PJ of old (the opening “God damn” sounds like she’s about to bust out some good-ol’ invective).  And there are guitars, but the music is upbeat (as are the vocal melodies) and there’s even a horn!  “The Glorious Land” has samples from the cavalry (I can see the horses riding across the plains) and a cool, slinky guitar (or is that the autoharp?).  There’s male vocals in the middle of the song, and it makes for disconcerting harmonizing (especially when PJ,’s voice ratchets up the weirdness and sounds more like Kate Bush).  But musically this song is great, it’s got a wonderful 80’s alt-rock feel.

“The Words That Maketh Murder” also has horns and some interesting male vocals chanting the lyrics.  This has one of the least subtle lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, although the re-imagining of the “Summertime Blues” refrain is pretty genius.

“All and Everyone” opens with more autoharp, and I think I’m realizing that the autoharp is what I think of as the interesting guitar sound (this song opens like a Smiths’ ballad.)  There’s more horns on this track which adds a weird dimension of sadness to it.  “On Battleship Hill” is a fast but delicate track in which PJ pulls out an astonishing falsetto–completely unexpected.  After the first verses, the rest of the song has, again, a kind of slinky 60s vibe.  “England” brings out the Kate Bush voice in PJ again.  This is a very delicate song, the music is mixed so low in the background that it feels like acapella–I guess Harvey has grown much more confident in her voiuce.  The music builds and builds though and there’s an unexpected middle eastern sounding vocal in the background.

“In the Dark Places” brings out Harvey’s guitar (in this case the Harvey is Mick Harvey, I believe) and her lower register vocals. While “Bitter Branches” is probably the loudest song on the disc, with a bunch of screamed vocals.  It’s rather startling considering the rest of the disc, but it’s nice to know just how much fire PJ still has.

“Hanging in the Wire” is another delicate song, with quiet pianos and Harvey’s sedate voice.  “Written on the Forehead” returns to that middle eastern vibe (“people throwing dinars at the belly dancers”) and that Kate Bush vocal–the backing vocals remind me of Peter Gabriel.  The album ends with “The Colour of the Earth.”  It’s the most disconcerting song of the bunch becuase it opens with a male singer (John Parrish?) singing what sounds like an old trad song (the melody is very traditional).  Then PJ joins in and makes the song her own.

It’s obvious that the lyrics are the main aspect of this disc, and I know that I’m missing something by not having them. I’m also missing a lot by not knowing all that much about England’s history.  It sounds like she has a lot of gripes with Eng-a-lund, and I’m curious to know what she’s on about.  But more than that, I’m totally hooked by the music.  It’s a great reinvention of a great artist.

[READ: February 9, 2011] The Ask

I was planning to read nothing except books from the pile by my bed for the foreseeable future.  And then, as if calling to me, I saw this book, which I was planning to read eventually, on a display right in front of me called Booklist Editor’s Choice (a new display for our library).  I stared at it for three hours and just had to check it out.

And I’m glad I did.  For the most part I really enjoyed this book, it was quite funny and the main character, kind of a schlub, was completely relatable.  I say for the most part because I felt like it dragged a bit about 2/3 of the way through (more on that later).  But its possible that it dragged because the first half of the book was just fantastic–fast paced and clever with lots of wonderfully funny lines (more on that later too).  And a setting that I found very entertaining.

The story is about Milo Burke. He is married to Maura and they have a going-on-four-year-old boy Bernie who is nothing if not precocious.  The titular ask concerns Bernie’s job.  He works for a small arts college in New York (which he called Mediocre University).  His job is to basically ask (hence the title) rich people for money for the college. We see him in his office as the book opens and we meet the rest of the staff: the surprisingly unslacker slacker Hubert (with whom Milo shares space and ribald jokes…this section is the funniest; many paragraphs end with sentences that hilariously undermine what he just described.

We often called it, with what we considered a certain amount of panache, the Mediocre University at NewYork City.  By we, I mean Horace and I.  By often, I mean once (4).

His supervisor is Vargina.  (This name, which is obviously over the top and childish and which I absolutely laughed at and then felt was maybe too easy of a laugh, has a great origin story and is really never not funny no matter how often you see it).  Milo has obscene fantasies about Vargina, but he is a (somewhat) happily married man and would not cheat on his wife.

He’s not very good at his job, but the other askers do alright so his job is safe.  Until, that is, he insults the daughter of one of the university’s biggest donors and he is summarily let go, without severance.  And then we get to see a lot about his home life. (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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