Archive for the ‘Semisonic’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RINGO SHEENA [椎名 林檎]-Shōso Strip [勝訴ストリップ] (or Shouso Strip or Winning Strip) (2000) 

Yumiko Shiina (椎名 裕美子Shiina Yumiko, is known by her stage name Ringo Sheena (椎名 林檎Shiina Ringo). She later fronted the band Tokyo Jihan.

I’m not exactly sure how I discovered this album.  I think I had been reading about psychedelic Japanese bands and this album came up as a must-listen.

I found a copy on eBay (it’s also streaming) and, wow–it’s my favorite album in a long time.  Ringo Sheena flirts with just about every genre of music throughout her career.  Often times, including several genres in one song.  But throughout this album, it’s her singing and songwriting that really stand out.

Plus, I absolutely love the sound that she gets from her bassist.  I have included all of the credits from the album below because my copy of the album is entirely in Japanese. The “official” Wikipedia entry is first, but the Google Translated version is second.  I’m not sure what is going on with the Google Translated version, but for most of the songs the bass is described as “Bombshell base” which is totally accurate.  Interestingly, sometimes the guitar is described as “Oxygen deficient guitar” which I think just means electric, but I love that description.

So the overall feel of this album is grungy.  There’s a lot of distortion among the guitars and the drums.  None of the songs would be described as metal, but there are definitely some heavier rocking elements.  But there is an underpining of J-Pop throughout.  Both in her catchy choruses and the way her voice soars as she sings.

The disc opens with “I Am a Liar” (虚言症 Kyogen-shō) 5:26 [“False” from Google Translate].  A funky slap bass and some flutes introduce this song that has a great mix of alt rock and J-Pop.  Sheena Ringo has a great voice that can sing low but also soars nicely when needed. The chorus of this is instantly catchy with a great melody disco flourishes and her fantastic vocals.

“Bathroom” (浴室 Yokushitsu) 4:15 [bathroom] is a wild song (and one that she has apparently performed in very different styles over the years).  A ripping funky bass and synth lead to a great pulsing ear worm of a melody.  The chorus is warm and inviting and fantastic.  “Excuse Debussy” (弁解ドビュッシー Benkai Dobyusshii) 3:16 [Excuse Debussy] is another propulsive rocker with a great fat bass sound.

Things slow down for “Gips” (ギブス Gibusu)  (which apparently means “orthopedic cast”) 5:38 [Gibbs] but it has a huge soaring chorus that is partially in in English “don’t you think I wanna be with you….”  It’s about the catchiest peppiest thing and it is awesome.  The songs is quite long–over five minutes–and the last few minutes feature a great guitar line that repeats and repeats until it breaks apart with chaotic confusion.

Things slow down even further for the gorgeous strig opening of “A Driving Rain in Darkness” (闇に降る雨 Yami ni Furu Ame) 5:03 [Rain in the Darkness].  Interesting electronic sounds and some electronic percussion mask the beauty of the stirrings and then after 45 second the strings turn pizzicato and pop song structure stars with a loping bass that plays some funky high parts.  It’s a pretty song that segues nicely to the scorcher that is “Identity” (アイデンティティ Aidentiti) 3:05 [Identity].  It opens with a ripping guitar and Sheena screaming like the best of them.  This song hits pretty standard metal sounds and is a total rocking freak out with her singing syllables as the guitars and drums just go bananas.  Her band is really fantastic.

“Crime and Punishment” (罪と罰 Tsumi to Batsu) 5:32 [Crime and Punishment] plays like a torch song ballad, but it’s accompanied by a heavy guitar and a big fat bass that keeps it in the alt-rock arena.  The juxtaposition is great.  There’s a lengthy jamming coda as well.

“Stoicism” (ストイシズム Sutoishizumu) 1:46 [Stoicism] is a short interlude.  Her voice is manipulated while she’s singing a simple melody as bouncy synths underscore the whole thing.  It flows into “A Broken Man and Moonlight” (月に負け犬 Tsuki ni Makeinu[3]) 4:14 [Lose dog on the moon] which sounds like a grunge version of “Closing Time” until the loud distorted bass crashes in and upends everything. The end totally rocks out.

“Tidbits” (サカナ Sakana[4]) 3:43 [Fish] opens with a harpsichord and the makings of a bubblegum pop song.  But as the verses come in it feels kind of noirish with horns and a great catchy chorus.  The end of the song features that noir bass and a piano.

“Sickbed Public” (病床パブリック Byōshō Public) 3:16 [Patient Public] has super distorted drums and a heavy bass rumbling underneath her whispered vocals until it switches to a bright J-Pop chorus.  “Instinct” (本能 Honnō) 4:14 [Instinct] has a menacing opening of sound effects and turntables that meld into a super catchy poppy melody with wild bass.  The verses slow to a slinky sound, but that chorus is undeniable–especially when the whole song shifts up a note midway through.

The disc ends with fun watery sounds that bloop and blip for the opening of  “I Am an Addict” (依存症 Izon-shō) 6:23 [Dependence].   The song begins with a delicate synth but there’s a fun fun soaring chorus (of course) that you can’t stop humming.  The song and disc end with ends with three minutes of everyone jamming at the end of a show when the star has left the stage and the band is just going to keep playing until they can’t anymore.

I haven’t really looked into much more by her–although I did enjoy the one Tokyo Jihen song I heard.  This album is so good I’m afraid to explore anything else for the time being.  So I’ll just enjoy this one.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 1

Konami Kanata wrote the wonderful manga Chi’s Sweet Home about a family who adopts a cat.  It’s wonderful and is apparently one of many manga about cats.  Even though it’s sweet and adorable there are occasionally weird thing that make it seem more adult than it seems to be (the word pissing is in one of them, which seems a little odd for a cute book).

The framing device of the book is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   FukuFuku wants to see them too, which means lying on them, of course.

And so there are 24 short pieces about kitten FukuFuku’s introduction to living with this woman.  I understand that the book is translated, so I don’t know if the cat sounds are translated as well, but I love that when she tries to pick up the kitten for the first time, it says “Mii?”  And when she grabs for it it says “Mya”

The translator also has a lot of fun with the kittens’ action words: Skoot, Bound, Dash, etc. (more…)

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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…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SEMISONIC-Feeling Strangely Fine (1998).

In my mind, Feeling Strangely Fine is the pinnacle of Semisonic’s pop greatness.  I mean, it’s got “Closing Time” on it.  And while I am now pretty tired of the song (can it really be 13 years old?), when it came out it was pretty awesome.  And so I tend to think of The Great Divide as being in the shadow of this record.  But in retrospect, I think I have to favor Divide over Fine.  This album has a bit too much polish, a bit too much smoothness for my liking.  And while there are some great songs on it, I’m not entirely sure it matches up to The Great Divide.

“Singing in My Sleep” is a supremely catchy song–a simple riff, mellow verses and an urgent chorus.  It should have been huge too.   And “Never You Mind” has that Semisonic quality in spades–simple accents that make a song catchy (a little guitar riff) and really catchy choruses.  Plus lyrically, it’s rather clever.  “Secret Smile” is one of their few ballads that I really like.  I guess they have just mastered pop hooks for this record.

But to me the rest of the record pales a bit compared  to The Great Divide.  “DND” is a similar slow song although it’s a bit slinkier.  And there’s some very mild funk on “Completely Pleased” which is a welcome return to the rockier songs but which doesn’t quite reach the heights that they have hit before.

“California” is a fun track.  It could use a bit of oomph but it shows off some fun noises at the end.  And the last two tracks just kind of fade the disc out.

Nothing on the album is really bad.  And indeed, in the right frame of mind these songs are all really enjoyable, but i think after comparing them to some of the earlier tracks and even the earlier tracks on this record overall this one comes up a bit short.

[READ: November 6, 2011] “Exorcism”

This is a Eugene O’Neill play that was believed to be lost forever.  He staged the play in 1920 but after a brief run, he destroyed every copy, possibly to assuage his dying father.  But this copy was recently found amongst a friend’s papers.

So that’s pretty exciting that a new Eugene O’Neill one-act play is now available.  I believe the whole thing is printed here–it’s so hard to tell with the New Yorker.  But they also say that Yale University Press will be publishing the play in the spring.  If the whole thing fits onto 7 New Yorker pages, how are  they going to publish it as a book?  Well, that’s Yale’s problem.

I don’t know that I have read many, if any, O’Neill plays.  I’ve never really taken any drama classes, although I know about O’Neill’s mastery of drama.

So this is probably as good a place to start as any.

This is the classic “nothing happens” kind of story which proves to be a powerfully emotional story (especially as it resonates so closely to his own life). (more…)

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The Pleasure EP is an even more alterna version of what we’d get on The Great Divide.  Divide duplicates some songs from this earlier EP, and you can see them all polished up on the full length.

“The Prize” which has a great squeaky solo on Divide is even more raw and noisy here.  And “Brand New Baby” which was dumped near the end of Divide shines here in its more raw version (again, not really raw, just a little raw).

“In the Veins” has some fuzzy guitars (which show the band’s origins) and a bit of a punk feel.  And “Wishing Well” is more or less a typical ballad except instead of piano or acoustic guitar the music is a distorted electric guitar.  It mixes things up a bit, and while it doesn’t really have the hooks that Semisonic would later develop, it’s got a wicked guitar solo.

“Star” is a nice ballad, but “Sculpture Garden” is a good rocker to (sort of) end the album.

I say sort of because the band included seven 20-second ditties at the end of the disc, which they call “Shuffle Stuff.”  So when you put the disc on shuffle, you’ll get all kinds of funny little bits.  It’s nothing special, but it’s fun.  Kind of like this EP.

[READ: November 9, 2011] “Miracle Polish”

I’ve enjoyed Millhauser’s stories in the past, and I enjoyed this one very much as well.  It was a little obvious (I mean with this set up only one thing can happen) right from the get go but I thought he did a good job in changing my expectations and pointing the story in a slightly different direction.  And even though it was a little predictable, it was still enjoyable.

There was something wonderfully old-fashioned about the story.  It opens with a man walking door-to-door selling bottles out of his satchel.  The narrator feels sorry for him and, although he immediately regrets inviting him in, he decides to buy whatever he is selling and be done with it.  The salesman, painfully slow and meticulous, talks about his “miracle polish” which you just wipe on a mirror and…  The narrator says he’ll take one. 

The salesman is a bit shocked by the brusqueness and tries to get him to buy more than one, but the narrator basically tells him not to push his luck. 

He takes the medicine bottle of Miracle Polish and puts it away, more or less forgetting about it.  A few days later, however, while checking himself in the mirror, he notices a smudge in the corner of the glass.  He grabs the polish and rubs it on the mirror.  The smudged area now looks super clear, so he rubs it on the whole mirror.  And he is blown away. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SEMISONIC-The Great Divide (1996).

Before Semisonic took over the world (and irritated everyone) with “Closing Time,” they were a band that formed out of the ashes of Trip Shakespeare.  Dan Wilson created Semisonic evidently because he wanted to be more poppy (which he perfected in “Closing Time,” obviously).

This album came out two years before “Closing Time” and it is a wonderful collection of alternapop.  There’s nothing terribly aggressive or weird in this collection, but neither is there anything so commercial that you want to scream.

The highlight for me is “Down in Flames.”  It goes in a few unexpected directions (especially with that screechy solo).  It’s a little dark, but it’s really catchy without ever pandering to Top 40 sensibilities.  It’s a really great song.

Some other highlights are the first three songs on the disc: “F.N.T.” is a poppy delight, “If I Run” has some great hooks and “Delicious” is a slinky sexy song with some unexpected moments.

Even a song like “Across the Great Divide” which isn’t the best on the disc has some nice surprises-when the vocals suddenly go falsetto.

There’s a couple of clunkers in the middle.  “Temptation” is a little too pop ballady for my liking and “No One Else” is a little bland.  I think their more uptempo songs are their strongest.

But “The Prize” is a satisfying pop rocker.  And “Brand New Baby” has some surprising pop vocals and a wonderful third part that is worth getting to the end of the album for.  While “Falling” is a surprisingly dark but catchy number (a Semisonic trait it seems).

The end of the album is rather unremarkable, but it’s still a solid collection of songs with nothing overplayable.  Sometimes one hit wonders are unfairly labelled as such.

[READ: November 8, 2011] “Sun City”

This was a fascinating story because it went in directions that I never anticipated.

I found the opening a little confusing as there were several women mentioned and no real relationship is given among them.  But it turns out that Vera and Bev are “roommates” and Rose is Vera’s granddaughter.  Vera just died (unexpectedly at 87) and Rose has travelled out to Arizona to go through her things.  Rose’s mom (Vera’s daughter) had a falling out with Vera years ago and won’t be going to the house.

Vera loved Rose but was somewhat disappointed in her–she was single and a bartender.  But Vera was not disappointed that Rose is a lesbian.  And Vera’s acceptance of that led Rose to believe that Vera and Bev were more than “roommates” as well. (more…)

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Just as I was thinking that Nada Surf had dropped off the face of the earth, I discovered that they were releasing LuckyLucky continues Nada Surf’s fantastic output of beautiful melodies and poppy, almost folky songs.  I hate to make it sound like Nada Surf have mellowed, but they certainly have.  Nevertheless, their song craft has risen to even newer heights.  The first three songs are some of the best singles you’ll hear (and you may have heard “Whose Authority” which got some airplay…. If you liked that then you’ll love the rest of the album.)

There are obvious precedents for who Nada Surf now sound like, but it’s not an aping of sounds where you say, oh they sound just like Matthew Sweet or Semisonic or something, but they have that kind of vibe.  If the jangly alternapop of the late nineties were still popular, Nada Surf would be leading the pack.  As it is, they don’t sound retro in any way, the songs just exist, almost timelessly.

The middle songs culminate with “I Like What You Say.”  There’s no reason this song shouldn’t be a huge hit.  The lyrics are slightly hard to sing along to (which usually makes for the kind of song that people like to learn) “You say, I like what you say, I like what you say, you say,” but the chorus of “Baby, I only want to make you happy” lifts your spirits.  All eleven tracks are solid, and there’s enough diversity, even within the limited palette to keep you interested.  There’s even a short oom-pah-pah at the end of “Ice on the Wing.”  I’m not sure why it’s there, but it adds a nice bit of texture to the album.

This disc came with a bonus EP (something Nada Surf seems to like doing) which comes with acoustic versions of two of the songs from the album, and two new songs.  The last one, “Everyone’s on Tour” shows a rare glimpse of Nada Surf really rocking out.  It’s something of a throwaway song, but it shows off an interesting side of the band, just in case you were afraid they were getting too mellow.

[READ: Fall 2007] To Kill a Mockingbird.

There was some impetus that made me want to read this book and watch the movie.  I think it’s because Sarah likes to repeat her favorite line from the movie (see below) and I wanted to see it myself.  I wasn’t entirely sure what it was even about.  I think it was simply that I knew so many cultural references to this book without knowing the original.  It made me say, okay, time to read this thing.  (Similarly, if you’ve never actually seen 2001, A Space Odyssey, you are missing hundreds of cultural reference points every day).

And I am so glad I did.  Now, obviously, its a Pulitzer Prize winning story, and everyone is supposed to read it in school (why didn’t I?), so I’m not the only one to think it’s good.  But in addition to being Substantial and Substantive, it was also a really enjoyable read.  I admit that some of the classics are difficult to get through, but this one was so great I practically rushed through to the end.

So, of course, this is where Boo Radley comes from.  It’s also where Atticus Finch comes from.  It’s also a story about race, rape and a lawyer who is willing to stand up for what’s right even in the face of violence. That’s a lot to pack into a small book. (more…)

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