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Archive for the ‘Sparks’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Weezer (The Black Album) (2019).

When the Black Album was announced, the Weezer camp said it would be a reversion back to the blue album or Pinkerton (what people who lovehate Weezer have been wanting since they released the third album).  Well, despite that promise, this album proved to be a genre bending album full of disco beats, remarkably dumb lyrics (what’s up with that PhD Rivers) and of course, super catchy choruses.

No matter what Weezer does, it always sounds like Weezer–perhaps that’s just Rivers Cuomo’s voice or maybe his songwriting sounds the same in any genre.  So this album is almost forty minutes of Weezer in various forms (but nothing too outrageous for them).

“Can’t Knock the Hustle” brings in the disco with a funky 70s synth, backing oohs, and an unexpected mariachi flair when the “hasta luego/adios” line comes in.  Was there ever a less threatening thing than Rivers saying Don’t step to me, bitch.  “Zombie Bastards” is a really dumb lite reggae song but the chorus, with the presumably sampled Yea! is some dumb fun.

“High as a Kite” is a gentle song with some fun bouncy bass and one of the catchiest choruses around.  When you give up hating on Weezer, you can just accept that songs like this are really great to sing along to.  The middle section spreads some more 70s good cheer (with those nice bass notes again).  “Living in L.A.” is a little more aggressive sounding but really poppy with another knockout chorus.  I genuinely love singing along to these two songs.  Everyone thinks of Randy Newman as the “I Love L.A.” guy but by now, Rivers has written more songs about L.A. than anyone, I think.

“Piece of Cake” is a mellow synthy ballad.  It’s not as catchy, but the chorus has a nice hook.

“I’m Just Being Honest” actually sounds like it could be a Weird Al song.  Not musically but lyrically, since it’s basically a lot of truthful insults.  This hearkens back to Pinkerton days, but would do so more if there were some more rocking guitars.  “Too Many Thoughts in My Head” is the most disco of the bunch, with the wah wah guitar and slinky bass.  Even River’s voice sounds different in the verses–whispered and a little sinister.  The chorus rocks in that same slinky electronic style.

“The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is like a 70s monster riff song (although it’s not all that monster sounding) with a sweet chorus. It’s very organic sounding with lots of “do do dos.”  On the opposite end of things is “Byzantine” with its Casio drum beat and processed “ooh ooh oohs.”  It also has the strange pseudo-dis:

I want Neil Young on your phone speaker in the morning
and fuck him if he just can’t see
This is how his songs are supposed to be heard
no more lectures on fidelity.

This song suggests that Rivers was unfamiliar with Sparks before meeting this person, and I find that very hard to believe.

“California Snow” ends this disc with swirling keys and a big synth riff that sounds not unlike “Mr. Crowley”  There’s a sort of hip-hop vibe in the vocal delivery (which doesn’t really work, but whatever).  A catchy chorus is followed by a wholly different sound in the next verse–softer and more “Weezer.”

I don’t know if any new Weezer album is necessary, but I can still enjoy a half hour of Rivers and the guys.

[READ: October 10, 2020] “Le Nozze”

This issue of Harper’s has an essay about Shirley Hazzard on the release of her Collected Stories (from which this story comes).  The article raves about her writing particularly how hard she worked to find the perfect word.  Her most famous work is 1980’s Transit of Venus and she says she that had twenty or thirty drafts per page of the book.  She has written two short story collections, four novels, and a handful of nonfiction (some of which was very critical of the United Nations (!)).  I really enjoyed the essay which made me really want to read her novel.  But I can start with this short story.

In this story, a man and a woman are measuring his room to fit her chest of drawers.  They discuss how there is measuring in Figaro and she begins to sing some of it.  She says that she sang in school and he thinks about what that might have been like.

He is making room for her to move in. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: January 24, 2020] Art d’Ecco [rescheduled from November 10, 2019, replaced Mattiel]

2020-01-24 20.43.21_previewArt d’Ecco is a band from Vancouver.  Well, technically, Art d’Ecco is the singer and it is his band.  Either way it is a fantastic name which perfectly encapsulates the look of he and style of dandies from the Pacific Northwest playing excellent garage glam.

I didn’t realize that there were going to be two opening acts.  So when The Retinas finished I assumed that Temples were coming out next.  (I also assumed I’d be getting home really early if the headliners were going on at 9:15).

I was surprised when Art d’Ecco came out because, while I didn’t exactly know what Temples looked like, I was fairly certain they weren’t a glammy band.  Plus, what happened to the singer’s big curly hair?

I was happy to discover that this wasn’t Temples because I didn’t think I could have been that off in my expectations.  But I was even happier to discover this new (to me) band who were fantastic. (more…)

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2013_05_13_p139SOUNDTRACK: ELEANOR FRIEDBERG-“Stare at the Sun” (2013).

efI don’t know Eleanor Friedberg, who is part of the Fiery Furnaces.  This song is fast and bright.  It’s a pretty standard rock song with bright guitars, and there is definitely folk feel to it.

The real selling point of the song is Friedberg’s voice.  She sounds a bit like a 60’s-era male with a high voice (indeed, she reminds me a little of Russel Mael from Sparks).  Maybe I’ll think of her as a mix of Kirsty MacColl and Sparks.

I like this song.  It’s not amazing, but it has a real bouncy summer feel.  An enjoyable romp that bears repeated listens.

[READ: May 21, 2013] “Art Appreciation”

I read this story in two parts.  And when I finished the first part (about four pages in–the paragraph that ended “and he kissed her there for the first time”), I thought it was a delightful story.  A sweet story of young romance.  True, the main character is a bit of a douche: “Henry Taylor had always known he would have money one day, and this confidence was vindicated when his mother won the lottery.”  But I thought that maybe Eleanor, Ellie, would somehow make him a better person.  And that sweet kiss seemed like a wonderful start.

The year is 1961, the place is Australia (it took me a little time to figure that out).  Henry is a gambler–but a mostly winning gambler–he goes to the dog tracks on Friday nights, the horses on Saturday.  But Henry, who is 28,  is also a working man–a mid-level employee at an insurance firm.  And even after his mother won the lottery he didn’t quit his job (it was of course douchey to assume that his mother would somehow give him the money but that’s what he thought).  Despite his confidence about the money, he also didn’t want to show off about it.

Ellie had recently started working in Henry’s office. She was very attractive and he thought that “now that he had money, he would marry her” (geez, he gets douchier by the minute).  Soon enough he has asked her out.  And she happily accepts.  Ellie is 20.

Finally one Sunday Henry’s mother says that she is moving to Victoria with her sister and giving him the house–she wants to see him settled.  He imagined selling the house and buying something closer to the city.

That night he visited Kath.  Kath is his un-serious girlfriend.  He tells her that their fun is over, that he is dating Ellie now so this will be their last fling.  He also has the douchiness to tell her that he has won the lottery.

Soon we learn what the title refers to, Ellie goes to art appreciation classes on Friday nights.  She asks Henry to walk her to class, which he does.  Henry stays for this one and doesn’t like it.  He sits with another bloke who asks if he was dragged there, too.  But she is so excited by the class, art is her passion.  They have a nice dinner together and they kiss for the first time.

And I thought that was nice.

But there’s more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FANFARLO-“Replicate” (2011).

This is the final Fall Music song I’m going to mention.  “Replicate” was Robin Hilton’s song of choice for the fall, and I can see what he liked about it–there’s a lot of unusual sounds going on (in many ways it reminds me of Sparks or maybe sort of early Depeche Mode, although no one in the discussion mentioned them).  It opens with a series of staccato string notes over a repeated lyrics (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The strings build and build, but they stop before any major climax; they are replaced by a fast, kind of spazzing keyboard melody with more repeated vocals, (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The staccato notes come back and both sounds build to another near-climax.

Until the chorus comes in with its supremely catchy but very cold “oohs”.   Even the end builds but does not quite achieve the climax one would expect, although it is still satisfying.

It’s a very clinical song, cold and detached (the instrumental break has wood blocks that sound like a woodpecker banging a tree on a winter’s day).  But the vocals are so warm, that they disarm the song of its coldness even if the chorus is “Will it replicate inside our bodies now?”   At first I really didn’t like the song, but after a couple of listens, I really heard what Robin Hilton enjoyed.  And I would like to hear more from them.

The video is pretty neat too:

[READ: September 19, 2011] “Animal Art”

This article was probably the most “academic” and “scientific” of them all five of the JSTOR articles I read.  And by that, I mean, that it was researched and tested and full of abbreviations and as a result it reads very dry.  Which is a shame (well, actually it’s not a shame, the scientific requirements are essential for there to be an academic article published)–what it needs is a cool popular version to lighten it up a bit (and it needs better pictures as well).

The article looks at the bowers of the bowerbird.  The bowerbird is a family of 20 species of bird found in New Guinea and Australia.  Bowerbirds are noted and named for the bowers that the males construct to win a mate (see photo at right).  What’s interesting is that the different species of bowerbird construct similar nests but do things quite differently (some “glue” the sticks of their nest together with either spittle or insect secretions while others weave their sticks together).  But they are all very particular about the nests they build:

When I shifted the position of a decoration, the bower owner either restored it to the original position or else discarded it in the forest.  Decorations changed from day to day as birds replaced wilting flowers and rotting fruit with fresh ones.

The articles sets out to discover whether the traits that the male bowerbird develop in their nests are inherited or are learned.  Diamond believes that they are learned because birds that are not very far apart use different techniques, but immature birds are often seen observing the adult birds to presumably learn from them.  The nests are built by the males, but, similarly, the immature females go with the adult females to inspect the nests, thereby learning what traits to most look for in a nest.

But what seems to have inspired this paper was the bowerbirds’ proclivity for choosing colors to decorate their nests: most use flowers and mosses from the surrounding area, arranging them in beautiful colors.  What Diamond did was to take colored poker chips (a series of uniform shape, size and texture) with varying colors to see if the bowerbird would choose based on color (his scientific conclusion is that it’s really impossible to tell because who knows what other variables are at play, but his more satisfying conclusion.  is that the birds decorate by color.

So, Diamond put the poker chips in front of their bower (on the moss “mat” that looks like a welcome mat).  And with one group of birds:

Within 10-30 minutes [three birds] picked up all chips regardless of color and discarded the in the forest.

While for a different group of birds, they quickly discarded any white chips (and one bird discarded the yellow chips as well).  There was a marked preference for colors in this order: Blue>purple>orange>red>lavender>yellow>white.  While these birds not only embraced the chips and used them for their decorations, other birds stole chips from their rival makes’ nests:

When I placed three chips of each color at bower W6, bird W5 stole within 3hr all blue, orange and purple chips, two red chips and no yellow, lavender or white.

(Poor W6 bird–he really has nothing).  But the study shows that the birds hate the white chips!  He even created a chart that showed that most of the birds kept 100% 0f the blue chips, and most of the purple chips while dismissing almost entirely the yellow chips; none of them kept any white ones.  (One bird in the study seemed to be quite a pig–this is the one who stole from W6–he kept far more than the other birds, including 100 % of orange an 66% of yellow–i wonder if the females thought he was a gaudy show off?)

Incidentally, this study was done in 1986, so it does not account for the more recent discovery that bowerbirds will basically use any old crap to build their nests, provided it is colorful.  Many people find this sad, but the birds don’t seem to mind.   In the article, the author says that one of the birds came up to his colleague, stood on his shoe, and tried to steal the blue docks that he was wearing.  Here’s a picture of a bowerbird with a whole bunch of blue clothespins.

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SOUNDTRACK: SPARKS-“Good Morning” (From the Basement) (2008).

I’ve enjoyed Sparks for a long time.  But I never got around to getting the album that this song comes from (Exotic Creatures from the Deep–which has two wonderful song titles: “Lighten Up, Morrissey” and “I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall for All The Crap In This Song.” 

“Good Morning” was the first single from the album.  It features a very bouncy keyboard opening which reminds me of Strangeways-era Smiths.  And then Russel Mael’s crazy falsetto comes pounding in on top of the whole thing. 

Visually, Sparks are fascinating because Ron Mael looks exactly the same as he has since day one: slicked back hair, thick glasses and a crazy little moustache.  This band is doubly fascinating because the two guitarists and bassist all have shoulder length hair and are wearing T-shirts with the new album cover on them.  In fact, the bassist and one guitarist look like they could be twins (the other guitarist is wearing a hat, so he messes with the identical-ness).  It’s an amusing scene to see.

This is a strange song, it’s catchy in its repetitiveness, but it’s got a cool bridge that breaks up the song into different parts (and the backing guys hit the high falsetto notes perfectly–I think I would have assumed they were women!).  This seems like a strange choice for a single and I can see wh it wasn’t a big hit.  (Most Sparks songs are kind of strange, so who knows which of their songs will catch on).  Of course, I don’t know the rest of the album so I don’t know if there was a more likely choice.  Nevertheless, I may have to investiagate this disc a bit more.

[READ: August 31, 2011] “My Chivalric Fiasco”

This is the second Saunders piece in a couple of weeks in two different publications (this seems to happen to him a lot–do I smell a new book coming out?).  This is one another of Saunders’ more corporate-mocking pieces.  He plays around with name brands and has a lot of trademarked and capitalized words.

But it starts off very unlike that whole realm. It seems to be set at a Ren Faire or some such thing.  On TorchLightNight the narrator sees Martha running through the woods saying, that guy is my boss.  Don Murray comes out of the woods after her, and it clear that something has gone on between them.  When Ted, the narrator, asks them what’s going on, they admit to a “voluntary” fling.  Then Don tells Ted that he has been promoted out of Janitorial; he is now a Pacing Guard.

The next day, Ted is given some KnightLyfe, a pill that helps him with medieval improv.  Until the pill kicks in, Ted is horrible in his role, but once it does, he (and the story) switch into a  kind of crazy Ren Faire “Olde” English: “Quoth Don Murray with a glassome wink, Ted you know what you and me should do sometime?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Sparks-Sparks (1972).

I first got into Sparks when I was working at Tower Records in Paramus, NJ. My coworker Tommy used to play Sparks’ then current album Plagiarism (an album of covers of their own songs!) and it was so weird and intriguing, that I bought it for myself. Since then I have been collecting their back catalog, which isn’t easy as many haven’t been released here.

So what do they sound like? Well, the singer Russel Mael has an astonishing falsetto. Making Rush’s Geddy Lee seem quite butch. Mael leads the band to crazy vocal extremes, making even a normal sounding song seem quite bizarre (This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us, for instance). Russel’s brother Ron (known for his Chaplin/Hitler mustache is quite an accomplished pianist, and his sense of songwriting is, while unusual, certainly great. They were quite popular in the UK and Europe, so most people assume they are a Euro band but they hail from UCLA and thereabouts.

So, this album is their debut (when they were called Halfnelson). It was produced by Todd Rundgren (!) and is a bit more rock than their later new wave/disco hits. (And judging from the album cover photos, you can see that at the very least they’re trying to look like rock and rollers (all long hair and open shirts–even if Ron looks like Zappa). And so, this album pretty well lays the ground work for the Sparks of the future: weird, operatic and unexpected.

There are two songs that still make it onto “Greatest Hits” compilations: “(No More) Mr. Mice Guys” (in no way related to the Alice Cooper song, and “Wonder Girl.” Each one displays the signature style of future Sparks classics, but it still has a weird 1970s rock feel to it. It’s a pretty wacky beginning, but really it only hints at the fun to come.

[READ: Winter 2006] Nothing’s Sacred.

Like with Kate Clinton’s book, I found Lewis Black’s book while I was weeding the essay section of our library. I had no idea that Black had written a book, and since I love his rants on The Daily Show, I figured I’d give it a read.

My first surprise was that this was a memoir, not a collection of jokes. (more…)

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