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Archive for the ‘The Shins’ Category

[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHOLIDAYS RULE (2012).

This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AND SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

IRMA THOMAS WITH PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-“May Ev’ry Day be Christmas”
This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

HEARTLESS BASTARDS-“Blue Christmas”
I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-Tiny Desk Concert #639 (July 24, 2017).

Although this is billed as The Shins, it is actually James Mercer solo (although really The Shins are more or less Mercer’s solo gig anyway).

Mercer plays three songs with just his voice and acoustic guitar: two new tracks and one that reached back to 2003 from the album Chutes Too Narrow.

The first two are slow and very folky–I don’t know the new album yet.

“Mildenhall” has a country flare and is something of an autobiography.  “I thought my flattop was so new wave until it melted away.”  The chorus is nice: A kid in class passed me a tape a later chorus reveals: “a band called Jesus and Mary Chain.”     Started playing his dads guitar and that’s how we get to where we are now.”  I love the unexpected ending chord.

“The Fear” is a delicate, simple song that fits perfectly with his voice.  It’s also quite sad.

“Young Pilgrims” is the recognizable song from Chutes to Narrow (the song even mentions that phrase).  It doesn’t sound that different in this stripped down format–there’ some missing extra guitars bit other wise the acoustic format fits it well. The biggest difference is that he seems to be singing in lower register here.

In fact none of the songs sounded like him exactly and I think that’s why– he usually sings in more of a kind of higher pitch, so it’s interesting to hear it slower and lower.

[READ: June 29, 2017] “The Mustache in 2010”

I really enjoyed the story.  I loved the strange way it was constructed and that even though it didn’t seem to start as a story, it certainly was one.

It begins

Social historians will record that in the early twenty-first century, the fashion for a clean-shaven face lost its dominance in metropolitan North American Bourgeoisie society.

After some lengthy discussion about the merits of various facial hair construction ,we meet Alex, a youngish (36 is youngish in New York City) businessman.  He availed himself of this trend by shaving only every third Monday.  His growth was dense and black.

One morning he realizes that he had left large sideburns, which amused him.  Thereafter he “subtracted facial hair so as to create an amusing residue.”  He never wore the stylized looks outside, they were private jokes for him and his wife.  Although there was always a scream of horror because he would sneak up on her.

This all l leads to some more details about Alex.  He was Québécois living in New York.  His English was fine but “fell just short of the level required for wittiness.”  This left him with an unjustly wooden personality.  So his wife was always looking for nonverbal diversion for him. (more…)

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18SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-“It’s Okay, Try Again” (2009).

mia“Sometime you win, sometimes you lose.  But it’s okay, you try it again.”

A simple idea that no kid will ever believe in no matter how many times he or she hears this song.  Nevertheless, the song is poppy and fun, it’s pure Shins and it is infectious.

The song also feels a lot longer than 2 minutes.  They have really packed a lot into their choruses and verses (and middle third).

Yo Gabba Gabba has been excellent at getting great bands to play simple quickie songs for their records (and shows).

[READ: May 16, 2014] Happy Birthday, Babymouse

It’s hard for me to believe that it took 18 books before Babymouse had a birthday!  I got a chuckle out of the fact that in the book it acknowledges that we don’t even know how old she is [and that they break the fourth wall, too].

As the book opens, Babymouse imagines a full-on Times Square countdown for her birthday.  But that only makes sense because every other birthday that she has had in recent years was a disaster (no idea what season it’s supposed to be in since the disasters span just about everything you can imagine).

But this year she is planning something epic–she sends out a mailbox-filling pile of invitations (including to people in the Squish series–nice cross platform mixing there).  Everyone gets invited except for the gnomes–“they’re too troublesome.”  Of course then comes the dreadful information–Felicia Furrypaws is having her party on the same exact day.  And it promises to be everything Babymouse dreamed her party would be. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES MERCER-Live on KEXP, February 10, 2012 (2012).

James Mercer came to KEXP to play a few songs solo with his acoustic guitar (the set is billed as The Shins, but it’s only Mercer).  DJ Cheryl Waters talks to him about what he’s been up to in the last five years since the previous Shins record (they don’t discuss that the rest of the band is basically gone).  She asks him about working with Danger Mouse and his foray into acting.  But mostly this set is about the music.

Mercer’s voice sounds great and the songs sound wonderful in this acoustic setting.  He explains the origins of the title Port of Morrow (it’s a real place).  He plays “Australia” from Wincing the Night Away and “September” “Simple Song” and “It’s Only Life” from Port of Morrow.

While I prefer the full album versions, this acoustic setting is quite nice and shows what great songs they are as well as how strong Mercer’s voice is (and that he was really the driving force behind The Shins all along)..

[READ: October 31, 2012] Calamity Jack

And they did.  Two years later.  This book is a kind of sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge as well as Jack’s backstory before he met Rapunzel.

Jack was a petty thief. He and the pixie Pru (who loves hats) began with small scams (apples and whatnot), and slowly built up to larger ones.  In their defense they initially only tried to rob people who “deserved” it, but they were caught on more than one occasion and Jack’s mother had had enough of him.

Then Jack happens upon a score that he can’t pass up.  And he does it (without telling Pru about it).  Jack climbs into the tower of the evil giant Blunderboar.  Blunderboar is an industrial bigwig with a Jabberwock as a guard of his gigantic tower.  As with Rapunzel’s Revenge, the setting is a mix of fairy tale and contemporary real world(ish).  Blunderboar has a lot of money (including a media empire) and he is responsible for all of the troubles in Jack’s village of Shyport.

But the problem is that the beanstalk (there is a beanstalk, but there’s no cow, there’s magic beans and a pawn shop) destroys his mother’s bakery.  And she realizes that he is responsible.  Jack flees the town both because of his mother and because of the giant (who is understandably incensed). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SHINS-“Plenty is Never Enough” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

The Shins have taken this song and completely turned it into a Shins song.

It is bouncy and poppy with some nice tempo changes.  It could easily fit onto any Shins album.

The original (I’d never heard of Tenement Halls) is very similar to The Shins’ version.  The big difference is that it doesn’t have The Shins’ vocals and musical sensibilities.  The original feels kind of flat, the highs just aren’t as high.  But it serves as a good stepping off point for the cover.

[READ: March 30, 2012] “Chapter Two”

This story is about A.A.  But, amusingly, Hil is tired of telling her own stories at A.A., so she starts telling the story of her fifty-something alcoholic neighbor (with the wonderful name of), Bergeron Love (the story is set in Houston).

Interestingly, no one at A.A. complains that she is talking about someone else (in fact the blind guy just seems to smile politely).  This is just as well because Bergeron’s story is pretty funny.  Bergeron arrives at Hil’s door, stark naked and invites herself in.  This is not atypical for Bergeron who crashes neighborhood parties and plays ridiculous pranks.  But not everything she does is funny: she also reports overgrown lawns and loose dogs.

Hil lives with her son and a roommate, Janine.  Janine is a very fat woman (see my diatribe about fat characters yesterday).  But Janine is not the victim or the pity-case in this story (well, maybe a little).  Hil figures Janine must eat all day to be as big as she is, but she has never seen her eat.  But then Hil’s son, Jeremy, a shy teenager enjoys playing video games with Janine more than going out with his peers (and more than being with his mom, I believe). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROKEN BELLS-Broken Bells (2010).

When I first played this disc I was really disappointed by it.  I’ve grown to expect crazy magic from Danger Mouse, and I assumed that this collaboration with James Mercer of The Shins would be crazy awesome.  But it seemed very mellow to me.  Mellow in a way that just kind of sat there.  So I put it aside for a while.

Then I listened to it again a little later and I found that I really liked it this time.  In fact, it rapidly grew into one of my favorite releases of 2010.

The disc is a wonderfully paced mixture of acoustic guitars, interesting keyboard sounds and, often, downright bizarre electronic choices (subtle, yet bizarre).  The weird sounds that open the disc, a kind of backwards keyboard, are disorienting but also very catchy.  And the song itself is instantly familiar.  It’s followed by “Vaporize” a simple acoustic number that bursts out with some great organ and (very) distorted drums.  It also features a fascinating horn solo!

“Your Head is on Fire” settles things down a bit with a mellow track which, after some cool introduction, sounds like a  pretty typical sounding Shins track (ie, very nice indeed–and more on this in a moment).

“The Ghost Inside” feels like a ubiquitous single.  I’m not sure if it is or if it’s just so catchy (with dancey bits and hand claps and a great falsetto) that it should be everywhere.  “Sailing to Nowhere” reminds me, I think, of Air.  And the great weird drums/cymbals that punctuate each verse are weird and cool.

One of the best songs is “Mongrel Heart” it opens with a western-inspired sound, but quickly shifts to a quiet verse.  The bridge picks up the electronics to add a sinister air (and all of this is accompanied by nice backing vocals, too).  But it’s the mid section of the song that’s really a surprise: it suddenly breaks into a Western movie soundtrack (ala Morricone) with a lone trumpet playing a melancholy solo.  And this surprise is, paradoxically, somewhat typical of the disc: lots of songs have quirky surprises in them, which is pretty cool.

Having said all this, there are a few tracks where it feels like the two aren’t so much collaborating as just playing with each other.  And that may have been my initial disappointment.  I was expecting a great work from a combined powerhouse, and I think what we get is two artists writing great stuff while seemingly respecting each other too much to step on each others toes.

There is another Broken Bells disc in the works.  And I have to assume that they’ll feel more comfortable with each other and simply knock our socks off next time.  But in the meantime we have this really wonderful disc to enjoy.

[READ: October 21, 2010] The Broom of the System

It dawned on me sometime last summer that I had never read DFW’s first novel.  I bought it not long after reading Infinite Jest and then for some reason, never read it.  And by around this time I had a not very convincing reason for not reading it.  DFW seemed to dismiss his “earlier work” as not very good.  I now assume that he’s referring to his pre-Broom writings, but I was a little nervous that maybe this book was just not very good.

Well I need not have worried.

It’s hard not to talk about this book in the context of his other books, but I’m going to try.  Broom is set in the (then) future of 1990.  But the past of the book is not the same past that we inhabited.  While the world that we know is not radically different, there is one huge difference in the United States: the Great Ohio Desert.  The scene in which the desert comes about (in 1972) is one of the many outstanding set pieces of the book, so I’ll refrain from revealing the details of it.  Suffice it to say that the desert is important for many reasons in the book, and its origin is fascinating and rather funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AVI BUFFALO-“What’s In It For” (2010).

I received an email from Amazon telling me that their top 50 CDs of the year (so far) were online.  The second disc was by Avi Buffalo.  I’d never heard of Avi Buffalo, but they were on Sub Pop, so that’s a good sign.

I was going to listen to a sample, but saw that they had a video for “What’s In It For” on the Avi Buffalo page.

Avi himself looks about 12, which is disconcerting.  But his voice is really angelic (he sounds like one of those high voiced singer like from The Shins or Band of Horses or, indeed like Grant Lee Phillips) In fact, this song could be a B0H outtake.   And as such, that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure just how original the band is, and I’m also not sure if they are tagging onto this high-voiced folkie bandwagon (he doesn’t have a beard at least, so that’s a relief; of course, he may not be old enough to grow one).

A sampling of the rest of the songs shows more diversity than the “single?” indicates.  And, indeed, this looks like a great, quirky summer release.

[READ: July 20, 2010] “The Last Stand of Free Town”

Even though I read all the articles in The Believer, I don’t often talk about them, mostly because they are non-fiction, and I don’t tend to talk about non-fiction articles for whatever reason.

But anyhow, I’m mentioning this because it ties pretty directly to the Insurgent Summer story Letters of Insurgents that I and others are reading.

This article is about the pacifist commune that has existed in Christianshavn (part of Copenhagen, Denmark) since 1971:

That year, a group of squatters overtook an abandoned army base east of Prinsessegade, barricaded the roads, outlawed cars and guns, and created a self-ruling micro-nation in the heart of Copenhagen. They called the eighty-five-acre district Christiania Free Town, drew up a constitution, printed their own currency, banished property ownership, legalized marijuana, and essentially seceded from Denmark. The traditionally liberal Danish government allowed the settlement at first, dubbing Christiania a “social experiment.” Then it spent the next three decades trying to reclaim the area. Thirty-nine years and a dozen eviction notices later, the nine hundred residents of Free Town represent one of the longest-lasting social experiments in modern history.

Note that Christiania was founded in 1971 and Letters is from 1976, so something must have been in the air. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE present: Dark Night of the Soul (2010).

Seems like most things that Danger Mouse touches involve lawsuits.  I’m not entirely sure why this disc had such a hard time seeing the light of day.  But it is due for a proper release in July.  Although by now, surely everyone has obtained a copy of the music, so why would anyone give EMI any money for the disc (since they hid it away in the first place).

The name that is not listed above is David Lynch, who is an important contributor to the project.  He creates all the visuals (and the visuals in the book that was the original release format).  He also contributed vocals to two tracks on the CD.  (His vocals are weird and spacey, just like him…and if you remember his voice from Twin Peaks, just imagine Gordon singing (but with lots of effects).

The rest of the disc is jam packed with interesting singers: Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips), Gruff Rhys (from Super Furry Animals), Jason Lytle (from Grandaddy) on my two favorite tracks, Julian Casablancas (from The Strokes), Black Francis, Iggy Pop, James Mercer (from The Shins), Nina Persson (from The Cardigans), Suzanne Vega, and Vic Chesnutt.

I’m not sure if Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous wrote the music already knowing who the singers were going to be, but musically the tracks work very well.  And yet, despite the different sounds by the different singers, the overall tone and mood of the disc is very consistent: processed and scratchy, melodies hidden deep under noises and effects.   Even the more “upbeat” songs (James Mercer, Nina Persson) are dark meanderings.

It took me a few listens before I really saw how good this album was.  On the surface, it’s a samey sounding disc.  But once you dig beneath, there’s some really great melodies, and it’s fascinating how well the songs stay unified yet reflect the individual singers.

EMI is going to have to pull out all the stops to make it a worthy purchase for those of us who have already found the disc.  Since The Lynch book was way overpriced for my purchase, (and they surely won’t include it with this CD), they need to include at least a few dozen Lynch photos (and more).  And with a list price of  $19 (NINETEEN!) and an Amazon price of $15, the disc should clean your house and improve your wireless connection too.

[READ: June 1, 2010] Bloom County Vol. 1

Boy, did I ever love Bloom County.  Back in high school I had more drawings of Opus and crew in my locker than anything else.  (I used to reproduce the cartoons by hand, I was never one of those “cut out of the paper” people.)  And so, there are tons of punch lines that I still remember twenty-five years later.

And yet, despite my fondness for the cartoon (and the fact that I owned (and read many times)) all of the collected books, I was amazed at how much of the early strips I had no memory of, at all.  True, some of the really early ones are here for the first time in collected form (according to an interview there are hundreds of comics in collected form for the first time in these volumes).   But those early 1980 comics…wha? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2005 Music Issue CD (2005).

The second annual Believer CD ups the ante from the first by featuring all previously unreleased songs. And, just to put more of a twist on things, the artists were asked to do covers of songs that they have been listening to lately. There was only one song that I knew the original of (The Constantines’ track), so I can’t say a thing about how well the covers were covered.

This becomes something of a fun rarities mix CD. As with the previous one, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in the musicians, but given the target audience of The Believer, it all seems to make sense.

We get The Decemberists (actually Colin Meloy solo) covering Joanna Newsom (who I don’t know but whose song I liked quite a bit). The most interesting track to me was by a band called CocoRosie who I’m totally unfamiliar with. The song is recorded as if it they were using a 19th century recording machine. It sounds so far away and yet it feels modern at the same time. I have no idea what they normally sound like, but I’m certainly intrigued.

There’s a few parings that are practically predestined: The Mountain Goats cover The Silver Jews, The Shins cover The Postal Service and Devandra Banhart covers Antony & the Johnsons. There’s also a track from Wolf Parade, a band I have recently gotten into. Only two bands perform and are covered on the disc: Ida and The Constantines.

It’s an interesting assortment of songs. As with any cover, it’s hard to know if you would like the original artist or if you just enjoy the new artist’s’ interpretation. But a song like “Surprise, AZ” by Richard Buckner is so well written that I don’t think it matters what Cynthia G. Mason’s cover sounds like (which is quite good).

The disc is largely folky/alt-rock, but once again, it’s a good distillation of the genre, and a very enjoyable collection.  The track listing is available here.

[READ: December 10, 2009] “Kawabata”

This story had the (in my estimation) fascinating attribute of reading as if it were written a long time ago. The writing was very formal. It also centered around a man and a woman who meet at a bed and breakfast and do little more than walk around town. Since no real clues as to the time it is set are ever given, I could imagine them dressed in nearly turn of the (20th) century garb.

A few things do dispel this fantasy: the use of the word “tits” for one, and the fact that no married woman would have been seen out with a widower while her husband was away. But despite that, I enjoyed the formality of the story. (more…)

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