Archive for the ‘The Beautiful South’ Category

animalSOUNDTRACK: THE BOTH-Tiny Desk Concert #346 (April 7, 2014).

bothThe Both is a mini-supergroup of sorts featuring Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.  I don’t know too much about Ted Leo, but I do know a lot about Aimee Mann.  I was curious to hear what these two sounded like together (this Tiny Desk was recorded before their album was released and was one of their first public performances together).

They play four songs, and I feel like they sound very much like Aimee Mann songs.  I never thought of Aimee Mann as having a terribly distinctive voice, but I guess she does.  And her voice and melody lines over these simple songs sounds very much like her own.  Since I don’t know much about Ted Leo, I don’t know exactly what he adds to the songwriting.  His voice is good (he can hit some high notes) and his guitar playing is minimal but very effective.

“You Can’t Help Me Now” sounds a lot like an Aimee Mann song, so it’s nice to hear Ted come in on the second verse, to change it up a bit.  “Milwaukee” sounds a lot like a Beautiful South song to me–the way the verses are sung and the way the chorus comes in, there’s just something that sounds very much like the way Paul Heaton writes songs (this is a good thing).  “No Sir” is a rather different song from the others.  It  features some great echoey guitars to open and has a loud ringing guitar solo.  The verses still sound like Aimee Man (that has to be unavoidable), but the choruses change things up.

“The Gambler” sounds like a jointly written song.  It’s a bit more raucous and highlights both of their strengths.  Overall, the music isn’t the most exciting but I’m not really sure what else would have come out of this pairing.  Obviously, if you like Aimee Mann, you’ll like The Both.

What’s most interesting to me is seeing Aimee Mann play–she is so causal (she barely changes expression and hardly opens her mouth when she sings) and she stands up so straight and calm.  Check it out here.

[READ: June 26, 2014] Animal Crackers

I’ve mentioned Gene Luen Yang’s books before–I’m very fond of him.  So I was thrilled to see a new book by him.  Except that this isn’t new, my library just happened to get it now. This book was published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2010, but these stories are much older than that.  In fact, the back of the book has a note from Gene in which he explains that the first chapter of this book was actually the first story he ever created.

And what a story it is.

The book is actually three interlocking stories.  Two longer stories: “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks” and “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order.”  And a brief interlude called “Sammy the Baker and the M.A.C.”  You know they are interlocking because Gordon appears in the Loyola story (and because they both stick cable TV cables up their nose at some point), and because Sammy appears in the Gordon story.

In the first story Gordon is a bully.  He and his buddy Devon find the King of the Geeks each year in school and “crown” him (with super glue and old underpants).  They think this is very funny and plan to do some more devious things to him later that day.  Of course, when Miles, King of the Geeks gets home, his mother is very upset (naturally) and plans to call the police.  But the only thing that he cares about is his father.  Whose only comment is to wonder how he wound up with such a sissy son.

Gordon wakes up in the middle of the night with a pain in his nose.  It turns out to be a space alien (the aliens learned that humans use so little of their brains that they can store data in our brains for use later).  The only way that Gordon can help with this problem is by sticking the coaxial cable in his nose.  Which he does.  And the little alien dude explains what he has to do.  Which is, of course to go to the King of the Geeks (whose brain they are also using) to find the instructions for how to evict the spaceship.  But as they try to exchange the proper information, Gordon gets all of the Geek King’s memories.  And suddenly he feels really bad about what happened. (more…)

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About five years ago I mentioned all of The Beautiful South records in one post.  But I didn’t really talk about them all that much.

This comes from one of my favorite Beautiful South records–I like all the songs equally, but I often have this song in my head.  And the reason I picked it right now is because Paul Heaton sings about a bunch of things each one ending with “either you are simply beautiful or I am simply dumb.”

And these are: “It doesn’t take a mathematician to add a simple sum”; “It doesn’t take a labrador to show a blind man sun”; and this one: “It doesn’t take Robert The Bruce to see the web you’ve spun.”

I had no idea who Robert the Bruce was and I never bothered to look it up.  And yet, as you will see below in the post, Robert the Bruce is mentioned in JR!  I was flabbergasted.  And this song immediately popped into my head.

And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s a pretty piano ballad with a seemingly negative chorus (dumb, dumb, dumb) despite its positive message.  There’s also a beautiful ending: “The sun, the sky, the moon, the stars/Jupiter, Neptune and Mars/All these things I clearly see/It don’t take a telescope for you to love me.”  The songs ends with Jacqui Abbot’s lovely echo of this stanza.

The Beautiful South were a great band, they broke up a few years ago.  Paul Heaton has a number of solo albums out but they’re not available in the states, so…

[READ: Week of August 6, 2012] JR Week 8

This week’s read finds us primarily in the apartment.  We see bast return home and fool around with Rhoda before he goes off on his trip to the funeral.  We see Gibbs come in and try (in vain) to get work done.  We actually get to see Gibbs’ magnum opus (or parts of it), and we see him fall off the high that he felt with Emily.

There’s a lot of funny stuff in this week’s read.  It seems like the darker the story gets, the more childish jokes Gaddis throws in there.  Seeing Gibbs unable to work on his manuscript because of all of the (real and fake) distractions is simultaneously hilarious and spot on.  And also, the plotlines are really revving up now.  JR Corp is starting to see some pushback on their deals, and a number of outsiders are starting to get angry.  There’s bound to be a collapse of some sort soon.  I’m also starting to think that with all of the ellipses in the book that it will end with a dot dot dot.

As we resume, Davidoff and Bast are still talking.  Davidoff tells Bast “Don’t worry about” something [Thanks to Simon for pointing out this expression–I recognized that Davidoff always says “brush fires,” but not the don’t worry about it].  He is concerned that Bast’s hearing aid isn’t turned up (ha), but that the Boss [JR] wants Bast’s signature on any expenditures over $2,000 (It was originally $200, but Davidoff said Bast would get writer’s cramp).  He explains the title change in the magazine from Her to She–passive to active readership–will cost $14,000.  There’s also $27,000 for a new logo.  And the logos are awesomely cheesy–hard to believe they paid $27,000 for them.  They revolve around the dollar sign, with the least offensive one making a J and R out of the top and bottom of the S–the others have a snake, or breasts or thumbing your nose or even someone behind bars.  They pick the least offensive one that says Just Rite in a dollar sign (“something patriotic about the dollar sign”).  They’re going to put them on half a million matchbooks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA CANTRELL-“Cowboy on the Moon” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

I only know Laura Cantrell because she sang “The Guitar” with They Might Be Giants.  The original of “Cowboy on the Moon” is by Lambchop, who I also don’t really know.

Lambchop’s version is very country-sounding and the singer has a deepish voice.  Laura Cantrell has a beautiful voice and sings this song quite faithfully.  The strange thing is that her version reminds me so much of The Beautiful South’s “Don’t Marry Her” (although the original doesn’t…must be Cantrell’s voice).

It’s an enjoyable song (about watching the first space landing), even if it is a little too country for my tastes.  Once again, I like the cover version better.

[READ: April 1, 2012] “Old Masters”

Lucky Peach is a magazine about food.  And chefs.  And recipes.  And, apparently fiction.  Like most McSweeney’s publications, there can usually be found a piece of fiction inside it somewhere.  In this issue it is “Old Masters.”

Strangely, Bernhard does not get a bio in the back of the magazine–this is almost unheard of in McSweeney’sland.  Equally as strange is how much I did not like this fiction.

It’s frankly hard to even know what to do with this fiction, and it’s hard to know why it was included in this magazine.  It is not about food at all.  It is about art.  Tangentially.

What it is really is a rant.  A repetitive rant.  A repetitive rant that seems to build in anger.  A repetitive rant that seems to build in anger until it just stops.  A repetitive rant that seems to build in anger until it just stops, but which stops in a location that one might not have expected from the opening. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BELLE & SEBASTIAN-Write About Love (2010).

I’ve enjoyed Belle and Sebastian’s music since their debut album all those years ago.  For some reason I didn’t get into this album as much as previous releases.  In part it’s because the band has morphed quite a lot from what they used to do.  It’s true that I have really enjoyed their more rocking songs on their more recent albums, and this one is full of them.  It’s also true that a band needs to evolve, but somehow this album just never really gripped me.  I think it’s because the album takes so long to start.  The fade in is like 20 seconds!  But I’ve listened again with renewed interest recently and I’m changing my mind a bit about it.  There are plenty of great songs on this disc. 

“I Didn’t See It Coming” is a classic B&S song (after that awful delay).  It’s a wonderful duet with Sarah Martin (this is how to do a duet, guys–the ending is fantastic!).  “Come on Sister” is one of the great faster B&S songs.  The “gotta have a little FAITH” line is great and then the unexpected shift into the third part of the sing is just stunning.  I also love “Calculating Bimbo” first because who would every have thought there’d be a song with that title but also because Murdoch sings it so wonderfully.  I generally don’t like slow music, but there’s something about slow B&S song that I find myself leaning in instead of tuning out.

“I Want the World to Stop” is another wonderful “rocker.”  It’s a fast paced little ditty with great backing vocals (and it always makes me go “two, three, four” before the chorus kicks in–always the sign of a great song).

“Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” slows things down really far.  Possibly too far for me. It’s a duet and it reminds me just a little too much of a Beautiful South duet (not a particular song, just their style).  And I have to say that The Beautiful South would have done it better.  After looking at the liner notes I realized that Norah Jones is the duettist here.  I like that Jones has been providing her services across a wide spectrum of music (Foo Fighters, OutKast etc) but I really just don’t have anything good to say about her.  The melody is nice though.  I also didn’t realize that the sing came out on Norah’s disc before the B&S disc.

The album quickly redeems itself with “Write About Love,” a great keyboard fueled rocker (with backing vocals from Carey Mulligan who I don’t know, but who nails the song “I haaate my job”).  “I’m Not Living in the Real World” has lots more keyboards and oooh vocals (it reminds me of a Who songs from Sell Out) and it’s sung by Stevie. 

From the there, the disc kind of slows down.  “The Ghost of Rockschool” is the least memorable song on the disc for me (although the horn section is nice).  “Read the Blessed Pages” is so quiet (even for B&S) that it kind of gets lost on the disc.  (The instrumental break is pretty though).  “I Can See Your Future” opens with a catchy horn blast that kind of wakes you from the slumber of the previous song.  “Sunday’s Pretty Icons” opens with a cool guitar riff, but it’s not all that memorable either.   While these last few songs are fine, they’re not as strong as the beginning of the album.  They kind of meld together. 

So I guess what I’m saying is that the first half of the disc is great and the second half is okay.  The  good songs are worth it though.  I’ll stop being so hard on the disc.

[READ: January 5, 2012] Machine Man

Don’t worry if you’re suffering from Barry blog overload, this post is about Barry’s new novel, which I just finished.

I have enjoyed Barry’s previous novels quite a lot.  They typically deal with corporate skewering and this book is no exception.  Except that the corporate skewering takes a back seat to the major sci-fi elements of the story.  Before I mention the story itself, I wanted to mention the origin of the story.  In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, Barry explains that his fans had been nudging him to write something.  And while he had been doing projects, he hadn’t written a book in a while.  So he decided to write the book online.  He wrote a few hundred words a day and posted them online.  And then he sat back and waited for the comments to come in.

He talks about how he’s basically showing everyone his rough draft of a story and letting people tear it apart.  But he found that his fans were supportive and even offered ideas (which he then callously stole, muhahaha).  And so the story online is actually rather different from what appeared as the final draft.  (No, I’m not going to read the online version, but you can.  It’s available here).

Anyhow, as the story opens, Dr Charlie Neumann (I just got the bad pun of that name, shame on him and shame on me for not seeing it sooner) loses his phone.  He feels totally cut off without his phone.  The scene seems a little over the top (he checks his car while wearing only a towel) but it shows how technologically dependent he (and we) feel most of the time.  This kind of mild slapstick scene resolves itself in a shockingly brutal way.  When Dr Neumann gets to his office (he’s an engineer at Better Future) he finally sees where he left his phone.  Unfortunately, he has already started an industrial vice and he’s distracted by his phone long enough to have his leg crushed by said vice.

When he wakes up in the hospital, he is surrounded by people trying to help him–nurses, doctors, therapists, but he’s really just distraught about the loss of his leg.  And then he sees Lola Banks, who is bringing him a pile of artificial legs.  Lola is quite possibly the first woman who Charlie has ever spoken to who seems in any way empathetic to him (Charlie is, admittedly a pretty cold and cerebral individual). She shows him some prosthetics which he’s not too thrilled by.  But when Lola reveals that Better Future is paying for top of the line stuff for him, she shows him the highest end of the high end legs.  And Charlie falls in love (with Lola and the legs). 

Lola Banks proves to be an interesting person.  Not ony does she not recoil from Charlie and his handicap (it is her job), but she seems to almost admire Charlie for seeing the beauty in the prostheses.  Lola proves to be the kind of woman who falls for certain kinds of men, but with Charlie it’s different.  Really, it is.  Shut up, it is.

Although Charlie does see the beauty in the prostheses, he can’t help but see how they can be improved (he is an engineer after all).  And so, he sets out to make the artificial legs not just replacements but better than their human counterpart.  Better Future is on board with helping Charlie recover (which is quite nice, and somewhat unexpected coming from corporation hater Barry), but we see that Better Future knows what it has with Charlie–a single-minded, focused engineer. A man who only wants things to be more efficient.  So when Charlie starts outfitting the prosthetics with motors (and considers putting in wifi) the company is kind of impressed.  And so is Charlie.  The leg is heavy and a little unwieldy, and it’s not very pretty (it has hooves), but it sure works. 

The problem, as Charlie sees it, is that his intact leg is holding back his new invention.  How can he fully test the artificial legs if his human leg is less than the prosthetic? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BBC Sessions (various).

Many many bands that I like have recorded tracks for the BBC.  And after several sessions, they tend to get released as BBC Live or BBC Sessions discs.  In the last few years, I’ve gotten discs from the Cocteau Twins, Tindersticks, The Beautiful South, Belle and Sebastian and Therapy?  One of the first ones I’d every gotten was The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow.

I’ve always loved these releases.  The recordings are “live,” even though they’re not in front of an audience.  For the most part they don’t vary greatly from the originals (that’s not always the case, mind you, but most of the time it’s true.)

What makes these releases so great is that by the time the bands do these recordings for the BBC, the original album has been out a while and the band has toured a bit.  So, they know the song backwards at this point, and they usually record a version that’s faithful to the original but a little more playful.  I always thought that the Hatful of Hollow versions of songs were better than the originals.  It was many years before I understood why there were two “official” releases of the same songs.

There are so many BBC recordings out there (this is an incomplete list).  If you like a British band, chances are they recorded some sessions.  And I don’t know if the BBC is hard pressed for money or what, but they seem to be releasing them by the handful lately.  The biggest problem of course is that most of them are not available in the States (at least for a reasonable price).  And that’s a drag.  So find them used and enjoy!

[READ: May 19, 2010] Girl with Curious Hair

This is DFW’s first collection of short stories.  I clearly bought this copy soon after finishing Infinite Jest.  I was delighted to find as a bookmark an old stub from a sub shop that I used to go to all the time when I worked in Cambridge, Ma.  I wonder if that sub shop is still open.  It was in Brighton, was more or less on my way to work, had a predominance of Irish products and had delicious subs that were almost cheaper than buying the stuff yourself.  I had checked off a few stories in the table of contents (most of the shorter ones) but that stub brought back more memories than the stories did.  I didn’t even recognize the ones that I had apparently read.

And the stories are pretty memorable.  So I wonder if I didn’t read them at all.

The first story is “Little Expressionless Animals” (or, the Jeopardy! story).  In fact, if I may back up, the whole collection is really rife with pop culture, especially television references.  In David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself , DFW states matter-of-factly that he has an obsession with TV and pop culture, so this shouldn’t be surprising.  But for me it was disconcerting to have the pop culture not incidental or as a set dressing, but absolutely central to the stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Philadelphia Radio Stations (circa 1990 and 2010)

There’s a Dead Milkmen song called “The Big Sleazy” in which the chorus is

“I hate MMR I hate YSP/You know that classic rock/Does not interest me.”

I’ve always been amused by the song, especially when I travel to Philly and hear these stations.  That song is from 1990, so 20 years later I’m not sure what the band would think of their new playlists.

But one thing I never really noticed before is the middle verse which is about one of my favorite Philly stations WXPN.  The verse is:

I hate what they’ve done to XPN
Those folk Nazis ruined my favorite station
I hate what they’ve done to XPN
If you hear it now it’s just a pale imitation.

Now, I have no idea what XPN was like before, but, yea, I can see that he folk Nazis are in charge.  Of course, I rather like that.  However, XPN also plays a bunch of artists who are broader than the folk label, so I wonder if they have changed even more since 1990.

History is fascinating, innit?

[READ: April 3, 2010] Trinity

Collins Gibson is a patron at our library.  He has been working on this book for a few years now.  The first time I looked at a bit of it, it was a novel.  I hadn’t seen him for a while and now he has brought the book back as a screenplay.

I didn’t read enough of the original novel to know whether this works better as a novel or a screenplay, but given the very visual nature of the story, it seems like screenplay fits the story better. And so, since Collins is a good guy, I’m going to do my part to get the word out about the story. (more…)

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I reviewed all of the Beautiful South records a few posts back. This one had not been released in the US at the time, and as far as I can tell has yet to be. But I ordered the import and here it is. Reviewing this is somewhat irrelevant as the Beautiful South have officially disbanded. It’s quite a pity as this album shows no sign of creative drop off. In fact, this album is one of their best.

The variety of styles in songs is really impressive. And each song contains the trademarks of The Beautiful South: incredibly poppy/happy sounding songs with good verses and catchy choruses combined with acerbic lyrics about relationships breaking up, and, interestingly, inanimate objects.

Some songs: “Manchester” is such a wonderfully winning song, with the great line, “if rain made England great it made Manchester yet greater.” All along, with such a great catchy chorus…. Even a bleak song like “When Romance is Dead” comes out beautifully in a striking duet. And speaking of duets, there’s a new female voice added to TBS on this record. Alison Wheeler is number three. I guess the bitterness of Heaton’s lyrics are hard to take sometimes. Wheeler does a great job. She has a strong voice and maintains a continuation of style to the previous women:

Paul Heaton, the singer and de facto leader, released a solo album a few years back under the name Biscuit Boy, and it was much the same, if slightly more dancey. Story is that he’s got a new solo album coming out in July, and I’ll bet its pretty great too.

[READ: April 2008] Superbad.

I ordered this book from McSweeney’s and, as you’ve heard before, I didn’t know much about it. I did know it was not related to the movie of the same name, however. In fact, here’s a pretty funny letter from Greenman to Seth Rogen about the name Superbad. (more…)

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company.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH-Welcome to the Beautiful South (1989) & Choke (1990) & 0898 (1992) & Miaow (1994) & Blue is the Colour (1996) & Quench (1998) & Painting It Red (2000) & Goldiggas Headnodders and Pholk Songs (2004).

welcome.jpgWhen the Housemartins broke up and The Beautiful South sprang into existence, I was working at our college radio station. I received a Beautiful South poster of the debut album, Welcome to the Beautiful South, and I remember hanging it on the hallway bulletin board of our dorm. It stayed up there an unreasonably long time for a public bulletin board Maybe everyone liked the picture of the women with the gun in her mouth. But really, that’s all I knew about them for a pretty long time. Then sometime around Blue is the Colour, I started paying attention to them and really started to like them. I was also amazed to hear that Carry On Up the Charts, their greatest hits record was one of the best selling records in England at the time. choke.jpgSo, I thought I would have to check them out more fully.

What is interesting about them is how, for a band that does not seem like a “hits” kind of band, they have a huge number of great singles.  So, how best to describe them? They’re a sort of mellow rock band, with jazzy leanings, occasional lounge lizards stylings, and occasional rocking songs. But their selling point for me is Paul Heaton’s lyrics (and voice, of course). (more…)

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