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Archive for the ‘Stereolab’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IVY-“Beautiful” (1995).

Ivy was a trio consisting of Andy Chase and Adam Schlesinger.  They wrote beautiful gentle indie pop songs.  But what set them apart was singer Dominique Durand.  Dominique was from Paris, living in New York and studying English.  She sings in a delightfully accented style (not unlike Laetitia Sadler of Stereolab).

The band released five albums over about fifteen years and their sound morphed in different ways, although it never strayed from the blue print of gentle, catchy echoing melodies.

“Beautiful” was the song that introduced me to the band.  It’s a bit faster than some of their later songs, with a fast drum beat and some (relatively) loud guitar chords.

The chorus, with some ripping guitars over Durand’s gently soaring “Don’t you look beautiful,” so exemplifies the late 90s for me, that it should be locked in a time capsule.

And it’s all over in two and a half minutes.

Fascinatingly, this article from Variety lists seven of Ivy’s “best” songs and “Beautiful” is not one of them.  Shows what they know.

[READ: April 1, 2020] “Love Letter”

This is a tremendously political short story written as a letter.

The letter is written on February 22, 202_

It is from a grandfather to his grandson Robbie.  Robbie wrote an email but the grandfather is hand writing back (not sure emailing is the best move).

He uses initials so as not to cause any more trouble for G., M., or J. (good folks, all, we very much enjoyed meeting them).

Believe me, I am as disgusted as you are with all this.

He believes that “they” think that M. “should” have let someone in authority know about G. “since being here is a privilege and not a right.”  And what of J?  Even if J is a citizen, they may say she forfeited certain rights by declining to report G & M. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 29, 2019] Philly Music Fest

For those counting, this makes four concerts in four nights, which is frankly insane (and thanks to my poor wife who tolerates such excesses).

But the whole reason I wanted to go this evening was to see Man Man (more in their own post).

But, in fact, the entire Philly Music Fest was pretty fantastic.  I would have certainly gone to three of the four nights if I could have.  This little festival is a testament to the amazing music that Philadelphia is producing, and they didn’t even include two of my favorite Philly bands, Mannequin Pussy and Control Top.

The first night I actually didn’t know any of the bands.

  • Wednesday 9/25 at Milkboy (a venue I haven’t been to yet)
  • Secret American
  • Sixteen Jackies
  • Ceramic Animal

The second night was an amazing line up! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 26, 2019] Stereolab

I can still remember going into Ralph’s Record City (R.I.P.) in Scranton and buying a used copy of Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements based on a friend’s recommendation.  I remember thinking that the title made it sound a lot like a stereo test record.  I also remember not understanding the image on the cover as a phonograph needle for quite a while.

I also remember really liking it.

And that started my long time appreciation of Stereolab.   My friend Lar was always updating me about the latest release or re-release or re-issue (which even happened recently with the new reissues of the band’s back catalog).

I started to drift away from them a bit with their last couple of records, and then they more or less broke up.

Nevertheless, it was pretty exciting to hear that they were reuniting for a new tour (and returning to Philadelphia 11 years after their last show in the city.

I really had no idea what to expect, but I grabbed tickets immediately and they quickly sold out. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 26, 2019] Bitchin Bajas

I was super excited to see that Stereolab was touring again for the first time in over a decade.  I wondered who they would have open for them.

I never imagined it would be a band called Bitchin Bajas, of whom I had never heard.

The band is a three-piece and is a side-project of Cooper Crane from the band Cave (who I also don’t know).

With a name like Bitchin Bajas, I assumed they’d be a kind of desert punk band, but boy was I wrong about that.

When I walked in, the stage was set with three keyboards.  The band came out rather quietly with little fanfare and sat down. (more…)

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815SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-New Album (2011).

In 2011, Boris released three albums at roughly the same time.  The three albums are linked because they share tracks (usually very different versions, sometimes radically different).  And, of course, the CD and LP feature different versions of several tracks (but none seem to have a different cover).

New Album shares the songs “Hope,” “Party Boy” and “Spoon” with Attention Please. 
New Album shares the tracks “Jackson Head” and “Tu, La La” with Heavy Rocks.
Heavy Rocks
shares the tracks “Aileron” with Attention Please, although it is radically different.

Sargent House CD (Total length: 50:10).  Interestingly, this American release is longer than the other two.  It is quite poppy with some heavier elements.  There’s a lot of songs that could even be considered dancey (!).

“Flare” 5:04 opens with sirens blaring and a gentle electronic introduction a song bursts forth that feels like total J-pop.  A little heavy (in parts) but this is really dancey.  There’s a great Wata solo in the middle and a rather heavy ending.  The percussion throughout is very mechanical sounding like ea car engine sputtering.  It’s a remarkable sound for Boris.

“Hope” 3:43 is a poppy / shoegazey song sung by Wata. It’s synthy (with trippy synth sound effects  throughout).  It’s slick and catchy.  The version of Attention Please is a more organic, with strings instead of electronics.

“Party Boy” 3:48 opens with a synthy riff and thumping bass drums.  It is the catchiest thing they’re released with a really poppy chorus and interesting swirling synths around the vocals.  There’s even a harp in the middle of the song.  The version on Attention Please is much heavier with a buzzy bass guitar and almost no synths.

“Luna” 8:29 has fast electronic drums and processed Wata backing vocals.  It is super techno sounding.  The middle section is an instrumental with electronics that sound very Eastern (sped up, but that kind of scale).  It’s followed by some heavy guitars and pounding drums.  A ripping staccato guitar solo follows.  There’s even a few moments that sound like Sigur Rós.  Why the song “Black Original” didn’t make this album but is on the Japanese versions is a mystery to me.

“Spoon” 4:29 Opening with single keyboard notes over a pounding drums and distorted guitars, this song sung by Wata is fluid and catchy.  It’s the most shoegazey thing they’ve done so far.  There’s a total Stereolab vibe in this song.  The ending features a series of intense ascending chords.  The version on Attention Please has no synths, just shoegaze guitars.

“Pardon?” 6:00 The song opens with woozy electronic but soon changes to very gentle guitars and an almost jazzy bassline.  The whispered vocals are downright soothing.  There’s a trippy almost delicate guitar solo that runs through until the end.

“Jackson Head” 3:11 This is the most punk song on the record, but it’s electronic punk with very dark synths.  The lyrics are shouted with a repeated chant of “Jackson Head.”  The solo sounds like single, distorted snyth notes under the pulsing of the rhythm.  The version on Heavy Rocks is less synth menace, although it does sprinkle trippy synths throughout the song.

“Les Paul Custom ’86” 4:10 A whispered vocal over a thumping potential dance beat.  When Wata takes over vocals the song changes style, but only slightly.  Distant synths enter the song and try to install a melody on it, but it seems to be fighting everything else.  Wata’s spoken “echo” echos around your heads in a cool swirl (if you wear headphones).

“Tu, La La” 4:15 “Tu La La” has the best riff of any Boris song, It is fast and catchy and really interesting.  This version has strings that kind of overwhelm the greatness of the riff. (I prefer the version on Heavy Rocks)  The end of this version has an intense buildup of staccato strings.

“Looprider” 7:01 is a quiet song with a slow bassline and interesting guitar lines.   The last minute or so is fast synths, building and building with a siren effect that echoes the start of the album.

This is a pretty unexpected release from the band who created Heavy Rocks and Amplifier Worship, but I think it’s a great addition to their catalog.

For comparison sake:

Daymare LP Total length:       45:40

  1. “フレア (Vinyl Version)” (“Flare”; features introduction quoting the end of “Looprider”) 5:02
  2. “希望 -Hope-” 3:40
  3. “Party Boy (Vinyl Version)” 3:43
  4. “Black Original (Vinyl Version)” 4:33
  5. “Pardon?” 5:54
  6. “Spoon” 4:23
  7. “ジャクソンヘッド” (“Jackson Head”) 3:09
  8. “黒っぽいギター (Vinyl Version)” (“Dark Guitar”; English title “Les Paul Custom ’86”) 4:06
  9. “Tu, la la” 4:11
  10. “Looprider (Vinyl Version)” 6:59

Tearbridge CD Total length:       45:39

  1. “Party Boy” 3:49
  2. “希望 -Hope-” 3:43
  3. “フレア” (“Flare”) 4:21
  4. “Black Original” 4:27
  5. “Pardon?” 5:59
  6. “Spoon” 4:28
  7. “ジャクソンヘッド” (“Jackson Head”) 3:12
  8. “黒っぽいギター” (“Dark Guitar”; English title “Les Paul Custom ’86”) 4:09
  9. “Tu, la la” 4:15
  10. “Looprider” 7:13

[READ: February 5, 2016] “Fall River”

This was the 2015 New Yorker fiction issue.  It featured several stories and several one-page essays from writers I like.  The subject this time was “Time Travel.”

For this essay McGuane travels back to 1955 to his grandmother’s house in Fall River section of Boston.

He says there is little compassion between the duchies of this town.  The Irish Catholics dominate every neighborhood, with each having its own church.  But eventually Irish Catholic men like his uncles started showing interest in the Italian, French Canadian and Jewish girls–going so far as to marry some of them.

He wants to go back there to 1955 when there were half as many people and each town had its own personality.  The ragman is known as “the sheeny” and he imagines that the sheeny is a soon-to-be-famous sculptor.  He brings up a lot of other single incidents, like the “Portagee” boy who came to exact revenge on the author;s brother for breaking his arm.  Or how Emeril Lagasse comes from “up the Flint.”  There’s Cockney immigrants Down Almy Street who are known as “jicks” (a one-size-fits-all Irish insult). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LATETIA SADLER–“There’s a Price to Pay for Freedom (And It Isn’t Security)” (2012).

What a treat to see Latetia Sadler as the song of the day from The Current (Minnesota Public Radio).  Latetia Sadler is the voice of Stereolab.  She has a new album coming out called Silencio and this is the first single.

It’s hard to say whether or not the song “sounds” like Stereolab, because Stereolab sounds different all the time.  But this is definitely not your bubbly Stereolab.

The song opens with some dreamy slow synths which morph into some dreamy guitars.   There’s no vocals for over a minute (which makes it seem like it might be an instrumental.  When Latetia’s voice comes in (backed by a deep male voice (very un-Stereolab) the music pulls back almost entirely and Latetia’s peculiarly inflected words [ree-uh-li-TEE] come to the fore.  It’s hard to believe that such a dreamy song would be about what the title suggests it’s about.  But how about this for a stinging (if oblique) final line: “Happy to identify with a reflection in merchandise.”

I prefer Stereolab’s bubblier music to their more dreamy, languid songs.  This one is nice, and because of her voice, it’s intriguing.  But I’d need a beat more oomph to want to get a whole record.

[READ: July 6, 2012] “An Abduction”

Tessa Hadley is rapidly turning into one of my favorite authors.  I only know her from reading New Yorker stories and I really must expand beyond these glossy pages.

This story was really fantastic.  I loved how the title has one meaning–the obvious meaning, which is even stated in the story–at the beginning, but by the end, the meaning changes to something else.

And what a great opening to a story: “June Allsop was abducted when she was fifteen, and nobody noticed.”  Shocking!  Then Hadley contextualizes this oversight: “This happened a long time ago, in Surrey, in the nineteen-sixties, when parents were more careless.”  Hmm.

So Jane was home from boarding school–her older brother was studying for college, her younger sister was not yet in boarding school and still had friends locally.  So, yes, Jane was bored.  She tried her best to have fun, but was really stumped.  When her father drove down the driveway past her and she accidentally hit his car with the ball from her Jokari set (paddle ball), the only fun she was having was destroyed.  Her father drove off in a huff.

Driving past him on the road was a two-seater convertible with the top down and three long-haired boys driving.  Her dad scowled at them, but paid them no mind.  Which is a shame as they are the abductors of young Jane. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLINIC-Funf (2007).

I received this disc when it was donated to our library.  Clinic is an art-punk band from Liverpool.  This is a collection of B-Sides (that’s an unusual place to start when you’ve never heard a band before). As such, it’s hard to tell if this is what the band sounds like or if these are crazy experiments (because the songs are pretty crazy).  Even if they are experiments, they’ve got me very interested in hearing what the rest of their stuff sounds like.  And since these songs are all over the map I’m still not sure what their albums may sound like.

There are twelve songs on the record: only three are over 3 minutes long, the rest are just over 2 minutes (with a couple under 2 minutes).  This whole collection is under half an hour.  And yet it feels like they take you all over the place, music-wise.  The collection covers from 1999-2007, but they’re not in chronological order, so you can’t even tell if any of this is a progression in musical styles or just a bunch of experiments.  The willful obscurity is quite exciting.

“The Majestic” is a grand, building monstrosity.  It is full of pomp, which is immediately deflated by the slightly off-key organ.  “Nicht” is a 180 degree turn—a blistering hardcore song. It’s played very fast and yet it is not sloppy (and it’s 90 seconds long).  “Christmas” flips the sound again, with a delicate, slow song about, yes, Christmas.  “The Castle” has a lot of organ sounds, which reminds me of early weirder Who songs and even Stereolab.  “You Can’t Hurt You Anymore” is an instrumental (with cowbell!).  “Dissolution” has a distorted guitar and tribal drums.  It breaks after a few riffs to showcase some bizarre distorted spoken words.

Speaking of lyrics.  A lyric sheet is included which is very helpful because the lyrics are utter nonsense: “Pork pie had to know uncle now you can elope” “Diktat no fat fun eyebrow shhhh for the one and the one with horrors”  “Cheat the bored, cheat thee sup at the toast.”  I suspect they are just making sounds while they play and then figuring out what the words might be later.

“Magic Boots” returns to that punk sound with distorted guitar solos at the front (and distorted vocals in the back).  “The Scythe” has a kind of western guitar feel (simple, but interesting).  “Lee Shan” is the slowest song on the disc (spoken/chanting vocals are low in the mix).  “J.O.” is a slow keyboard song.  “Circle I” is another blistering noisy punk song. The collection ends with “Golden Rectangle” which is a slowish surf-sounding song, but with keyboards.

It amazes me that this band has so many full length records out.  They must have a cult following, even though I’d never heard of them before.  I’d really like to check out what their main releases sound like.

[READ: March 11, 2012] “A Rooting Interest”

Hot on the heels of Jonathan Fraznen saying he hates Twitter, I get to read how much he loves Edith Wharton.

It’s no secret that Franzen is a curmudgeon–he is an emotional guy who believes in authenticity; there is absolutely no surprise that he would hate Twitter.  And, while I think Twitter is good for some things, he is absolutely correct when he says, “Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis.”  [Actually I’m not sure that that simile is apt, but I get the point.]

He may be a little overstepping with the rest: “Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”  I think there is some fun to be had yakking about ourselves, but the point is well taken.

It also seems quite appropriate for this article in The New Yorker in which he lauds a writer who wrote almost one hundred years ago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEREOLAB-Chemical Chords (2008).

You never really know what you’re going to get with Stereolab. Well, that’s not entirely true, you know you’re going to get some unusual sounding loungey keyboard songs with lyrics that are either in French or in highly accented English.  But beyond that each Stereolab album tends to go in its own direction.

Chemical Chords creates its own poppy bouncy bliss, making it one of their most approachable albums.  “Neon Beanbag” even features the chorus: “there’s nothing to be sad about” over a set of the bounciest keyboard riffs around.  “Three Women” has a brisk pace and some bright horns.   “One Finger Symphony” has a minor key and as lightly sinister tone (but it’s only 2 minutes long).

The title track has some cool echoed vocals and a wonderful break in the song that allows a sweet little string section to sneak through.  “The Ecstatic Static” is another pulsing song that seems alive somehow and “Valley Hi!” is a short darker piece with cool sound effects.

“Silver Sands” is a wonderfully bubbly pop song–the kind that Stereolab does so well, with vocals that seem like they might belong to another song.  “Pop Molecule” is a great minor key instrumental, which is a nice introduction to the super pop of “Self Portrait with ‘Electric Brain'” another bubbly song with a cool break in it.  “Nous Vous Demandons Pardon” opens with a martial beat before it settles down into a groovy song with French lyrics.

“Daisy Click Clack” shows off Stereolab’s totally unexpected lyrics:  “Snap snap snap snap with your fingers/Off beat on time make it linger/Enriching the rhythm/Do away with skepticism/Come and join the hymn, tap/Sensing the symbiotic force.”  From nonsense to the sublime in just a few short lines.

The final song “Vortial Phonotheque” reminds me of “I am the Walrus” in the music, but the gentle lyrics change the tone completely.  It’s a wonderful disc full of all of the bright sounds Stereolab does so well.  This would be their second to last disc before they went on a hiatus.

[READ: February 28, 2012] “How I Met My Daughter”

Two baby stories in a row!

Those following closely think that I was done with Max Barry last week.  But there was one final piece for me to read.  Technically this doesn’t make the last post wrong because although this story was on his website, it was also published in a magazine called The Bulletin.

If I thought that last week’s “Cement” story was dark, it’s nothing compared to this one!  Barry, while a somewhat violent writer (his last book was all about surgical procedures), is usually quite funny as well.  But this story eschews all humor for a walk through the dark side of man’s nature.

It opens with this incredibly dark couple of sentences:

They dragged this bloody, howling thing from my wife’s abdomen, its limbs twitching and clawing, its face like an angry pumpkin, and asked me, “Do you want to take a photo?”

Yes. I want to take a photo, so I can look back on the end of my life.

This story explores the feeling that men apparently have when their baby is born–jealousy at the lack of attention they will now receive.  I didn’t experience this at all and frankly it seems like a fictional thing to me, because I don’t know of any men who felt real jealousy of their babies.  But it makes for an interesting story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:THEM CROOKED VULTURES-Live on Austin City Limits, Feb 13, 2010 (2010).

This set from Them Crooked Vultures is outstanding. I really like the album, but in a live setting these three (technically 4) guys are on fire.  They extend the songs a bit but are always tight as a drum.  Josh Homme is a great front man, even if he’s not that animated.  He shares guitar duties with Alain Johannes who is not on the album, but who gets some great sounds out of his guitar.

Dave Grohl is in his drum-pounding glory back there.  Man, he hits the drums hard.  And he seems to be really enjoying himself .

 And the biggest surprise (sort of, but not really) is John Paul Jones.  He fits in perfectly with the two younguns, and he really shows them how it’s done.  His bass work is phenomenal: fast, furious and accurate to a fault.  He also plays keyboards, an LED pulsing 12-(at least) string bass and a fascinating purple electric slide guitar contraption on “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I”.   Matt Rosoff from cnet explains this guitar here:

It looked like some sort of slide guitar with an electronic screen. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I did a little digging and found out from a March interview in Bass Player that it’s a custom-made axe created by Hugh Manson, who has been Jones’ tech for some time and who owns a renowned guitar shop in England. It’s essentially laid out like a lap slide guitar, modified so Jones can sling it over his shoulder and carry it around on stage, and with two extra bass strings at the bottom.

So what about that rectangular screen? According to a forum post on the EMG pickups site, it’s a MIDI controller that Jones can use to trigger stage lights. I imagine it could also be used to trigger various effects, similar to the modified Korg Kaoss controller that Manson built into a guitar for Muse’s Matt Bellamy.

If you’re already a fan of the band, you really need to check out this live show; they are amazing.  And if you’re not a fan, you will be after this show.  This is how I first heard  them and I was blown away.

You can watch the show online on PBS.

[READ: July 27, 2011] Five Dials Number 20

I didn’t expect to get caught up to Five Dials issues so quickly (has it really been 20 weeks already?).  This is the most recently releases issue!  They aren’t getting published as often as I expected.  Which is fine.  But the funny thing with this issue is that there were several printing errors in the initial run of this issue.  I don’t know if this has happened before, but it seemed so noticeable to me, that I had to wonder how it slipped by everyone.  The most obvious was that the front page had many ƒƒƒƒ characters (these were also evident in the Word Cloud later on).  There’s a word missing from the fiction “the thin cold stillness you got [  ] this part of the country” and there’s a crazy typo in the Fiction story later on. The errors have now been fixed.  But, the letter to the editor (and this has not been fixed) promises us a picture which isn’t there. “Here’s a photo of Doni at the reading – he did a brilliant job.”  I’ll assume they were partying too hard at the Port Eliot Festival to make sure  the issue was launch-ready

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Cable Street and General Interests
There were some serious race riots on Cable Street back in 1936.  Indeed,the head of the British Union of Fascists, Mosley, and his aggressive supporters were turned back by a noisy crowd (Irish women throwing fishy potatoes at them).  The rest of the magazine he says is general Interest, an anachronistic term from the 20th century before all magazines had to specialize in something.  I mentioned in my introduction that there was a photo error here.  Doni Gewirtzman performed a reading at the launch of Five Dials 19.  They couldn’t out the picture there, so they added it here.  Perhaps in Issue 21? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CIBO MATTO-“Sugar Water” (1996).

We have been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  In episode one of season two the (then) hip band Cibo Matto appeared, playing “live” at the Bronze.  It was the first time they had a “real” band on the show.  In season one there was an occasional live band, Sprung Monkey (they were in the first episode pretty prominently) but Cibo Matto were the first “national” band–with a hit single or two–to be on the show (and look, there’s Sean Lennon in a dress!).  The song works pretty well here for the atmospherics and moodiness.

I really liked Cibo Matto when they came out.  Sure, they were kind of a novelty, (two Japanese singers with an Italian band name who sung a bunch about food) but then the late 90s were all about novelty.  Of course, even within the realm of the alt rock 90s, a song called “Know Your Chicken” was pretty unusual (noisy and weird) .  “Sugar Water” on the other hand, is a moody piece.  It’s slow with delicate keyboards and a (very mildly) spooky verse.  But the overall feel is a kind of “space age” one for notes and tones.  It also has a kind of Stereolab-vibe (especially in the la las).   It’s a catchy song and I enjoyed hearing it again after all thee years.

Not to mention the video is suitably curious.

[READ: April 8, 2011] “Goo Book”

This is a strangely sentimental story for one that starts out with the sentence: “It was fucking hot.”  In fact, the story is strangely sentimental for a story about a gangster’s apprentice (and one which has so much cursing!).

The protagonist is a young man who is a petty thief.  Mostly he steals from tourists (I was pleased that when he took he thought was a wallet but which turned out to be a notebook, he then gave the book to a kid to make sure the tourist got it back–stealing money is one thing but returning the notebook showed a decency that I approved of).

But he also worked for Mishazzo as his driver. (And I have to admit that perhaps the one flaw of the story is that I couldn’t follow the timeline at all).  Mishazzo is a gentleman who owns a lot of businesses.  And the driver was told explicitly that he didn’t know anything.  At all.  He just drove.  And the driver was fine with that.  He asked no questions.  And the driving was fine–usually to one of Mishazzo’s coffee shops for an undetermined  length of time.  So he started carrying a bottle with him in case he had to pee (he wasn’t allowed to leave the car), and started smoking like a fiend.  But the money was good, and he honestly didn’t know what Mishazzo was up to (he assumed it wasn’t good, but he also assumed it wasn’t that bad either). (more…)

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