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Archive for the ‘Tindersticks’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-NonCOMM Free at Noon (May 16, 2019).

The National are an interesting band.  They tend to write songs that feel ponderous–sometimes slow and, with Matt Berninger’s deep voice, very intense.  And yet their lyrics can sometimes be inscrutable [“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”] and they have done cover songs for Bob’s Burgers on more than one occasion (“Bad Things Happen in the Bathroom”).

So this concert is a bit of a revelation because of how poppy and almost dancey some of these songs are.  Berninger’s voice is nowhere near as deep as I imagined (his speaking voice is deeper than his singing voice) and the songs have a lot of variety to them.

Perhaps it’s the new album, I am Easy to Find.

Expanded to a ten-piece band, The National showcased ten of the album’s sixteen tracks, demonstrating the beauty and strength of the project. Vocalist Matt Berninger led the group’s vast array of instruments and vocalists, and kept everything from sounding overwhelming. The resulting set was a glorious display of emotion and expansive sound.

They opened with “You Had Your Soul With You”,  The track shows their musical horizons starting to expand. Vocalists Kate Stables (This Is The Kit) and Pauline de Lassus (Mina Tindle), joined Berninger on stage, adding a new dimension to the band’s sound. They sung throughout the show, representing the inclusion of female voices and perspectives across the record.

Like many of their songs, it is pretty and invites you to lean in to listen to the lyrics.

Berninger introduced the next song “Oblivions” by emphasizing the “s” “There’s a bunch of them. They keep coming.  Together.”  This song sounded very different, with a synthy, almost dancey vibe.

Stables and de Lassus opened “The Pull of You” before Berninger joined them.  This song has some interesting drum work as many of them do. Midway through, Berninger has a spoken word section that makes it sound like Tindersticks.

He tells us that his wife wrote “Hey Rosy.” He deadpans, “I thought it was about me.”  There’s a quiet piano intro and I love the very-The National delivery of the chorus “Hey Ro / zee I  / think I know just what the / feeling is.”

“Quiet Light” is a gentle, shuffling song.  The warm horn solos that closed the track were a wonderful touch.

Aaron Dessner spoke before they played the tender “I Am Easy To Find” and dedicated it to his friend, Adia Victoria, who played the same stage yesterday and was watching the set from the balcony.

The song is a duet of female and male vocals.  I love the fast delivery of this chorus as well.  Once again, very The National: “there’s a million little battles that I’m never gonna win / anyway.”

The band contrasted the solemness of these tracks with the brightness of “Where Is Her Head.”

Berninger says, “Mike Mills wrote the lyrics to this one… well, most of them… so he gets all of the publishing.  So now you know whey were doing it.”

Sung mostly by Stables and de Lassus, the track replaced the grey aura that filled the room with glittering oranges and pinks.

The song features a quiet looping of the lyrics as Berninger sings solo vocal runs over their chorus.

“Rylan” continued the upbeat-streak. The song, which declared that “everyone loves a quiet child,” showed The National playing with their volume. Towards the end they repeatedly built up their sound, only to swiftly quiet it.

Easy To Find‘s closing track, “Light Years,” was the simplest and most moving they played. With its heartbreaking lyrics and one of the saddest basslines ever played, the track left the crowd awestruck.

It opens with a gentle piano and Berninger’s deeper, quieter vocals. When the women sang back up with him, it was really lovely.

They could have stopped there, with tears quietly building in everyone’s eyes, but they continued with “Not In Kansas.”

Berninger says. We have one more song. This one’s 25 minutes long.  It was.  Then Mike Mills made it like  6 minutes long.  Whatever.  He was in charge.  Everything that’s bad about the record we always blame on Mike and we take credit for all the good stuff.” He paused “there’s some good stuff.”

It has a lovely quiet guitar intro.

While its lyrics focused on the craziness plaguing the world, the track felt small and insular. In closing with it, The National went out with a polite wave, rather than with a bang.

My friend Armando told me that The National puts on some of the best shows he’s ever been to.  I hope to see them some day.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

I did not like the narrator of this story at all.  She is hiding behind so much. In fairness, she has a lot to get over, but she closes herself off so much that she’s hard for people to get to know (and also hard for a reader to like).

Dina is at Yale orientation.  She does not have to do the trust fall because she “shouldn’t have to fit into any white, patriarchal systems.”

In the next game she had to say what inanimate object she wanted to be.  She said “revolver,” which got her put on psychiatric watch for the entire year and a solo room.

She also saw a therapist whom she wasn’t interested in talking to but who seemed to see right through her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LINIKER E OS CARAMELOWS-Tiny Desk Concert #800 (October 29, 2018).

I listened to this Tiny Desk Concert for a few minutes before watching it and when I clicked over to it, I was quite surprised to see Liniker, whose voice is quite deep, look so feminine.  It was also confusing because as I clicked over one of the backing singers was singing in quite a high register so I honestly wasn’t sure who was who.

I also love that the NPR doesn’t address this at all.

Watching this performance is to witness a spell being cast, note-by-note. Liniker e os Caramelows (Liniker and the Caramelows) are from Brazil but steeped in the tradition of soul from here in the U.S. They started their turn behind the desk with the ballad “Calmô,” a testament to the power of slow songs dripping with soulful emotion. It was a bold statement of just who they are as a band and what they stand for.

As for Liniker’s look, the second paragraph uses the feminine pronoun (although Liniker’s [Google-translated] Wikipedia page uses a male pronoun, saying Liniker:

began to invest in an androgynous visual identity. As an artist, his vision began to mix turban, skirt, lipstick and mustache in his musical performances that incorporate scenic elements into his voice “sometimes hoarse and grave, sometimes clean and sharp, which forms a Brazilian black music, but stuffed with pop elements “, according to O Tempo.

The Tiny Desk blurb is certainly more current and more reliable:

Lead vocalist Liniker Barros has obviously done her share of listening to soul singers and she effortlessly slides from lower registers to an emotional falsetto.

They play three songs which cover a lot of styles and sounds.  “Calmô” is a  light jazzy number with some gentle guitar pieces and twinkly keys.  The percussion is notable for the shakers and drums, giving it a cool Brazilian feel.

It’s also fun to listen to Liniker speak.  He sings in Portuguese, although his English is excellent, except for some of those fun words like “percoosion” and “fell-ix” (referring to Felix Contreras).

You have to go back to the co-mingling of jazz and Brazilian music in the late 1950s to appreciate the affinity our two countries have had for each other musically.

“Tua” is a great song that  sounds like it could be a Tindersticks song–jazzy and noir, except that Liniker voice ventures high instead of low like the Tindersticks.  The second half of the song adds a great 70s keyboard riff to and some “ohh ah ahs” (and a deep sax solo).  It s a fun example of

Brazilian funk … complete with a mid-song, church-revival breakdown, featuring tenor sax.

It’s hard to pick a favorite song although “Remonta” the final song might be it.  It covers multiple genres in its five minutes and Liniker is smiling throughout.  The band moves:

from ballad to a reggae bridge, eventually exploding into a majestic African-based Candomblé rhythmic finish.

The end is a great with lots of percussion, great 70 keys, and a robust, but not wild, fuzzy guitar solo.  The band’s joy at the end is infectious.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “My Fanon Project”.

This is an excerpt from his Wideman’s novel Fanon.  In this excerpt he is writing to Frantz Fanon, who fought for Algerian independence and then died in 1961.  This project has been on his mind for over forty years, since he read The Wretched of the Earth. [That part is all real].

After reading this book he wanted to be like you, Fanon, a writer committed to telling the truth amid racism and oppression.  He couldn’t live up to that so the project shifted to writing about disappointment with “myself and my country.”  He had published many books over the years hoping to at least never dishonor Fanon.

Then he changed the project, instead of living Fanon’s life maybe he could write it

Okay, so far so good. (more…)

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castle SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Waiting Room (2016).

tinderstIt had been four years since the previous Tindersticks album.  And this one was not released on Constellation Records, but rather on Lucky Dog.  Whether or not that had anything to do with the sound of this record I don’t know, but I really like this album a lot.

“Follow Me” is a slow broody melancholy instrumental with a high accordion playing a lovely melody.  It’s completely evocative.  “Second Chance Man” has a kind of unsettling vibrato on Staples’ voice.  But the melody (sparsely played initially on keyboards) is really catchy.  The rest of the band fleshes out the sound after a verse and chorus.  I love that it builds in the middle and then again at the end with horns lifting the gloom off the song.  “Were We Once Lovers” has a thumping bass line and an uptempo feel as Staples’ sings in a kind of falsetto.  I love the way all of the parts form together in the chorus that’s introduced by a simple but effective guitar: “How can I care if it’s the caring that’s killing me.”

“Help Yourself” opens with some soulful horn blasts and Staples’ whispered vocals.  The bass keeps the song going as occasional horn blasts accent this strangely catchy song.  Staples also sings in an uncharacteristically angsty style in this song, which is strangely unsettling as well.  I love the way the song keeps circling round and then almost surprising the chorus when it comes back.

Whenever Tindersticks use a female guest vocalist, they really seem to step up their game.  “Hey Lucinda” is an incredibly catchy song, starting with simple bells and an accordion playing a great melody.   When Staples’ deep voice is balanced by the exotic voice of Lhasa, it makes for a great pairing.  It’s unusual for a catchy song to be so spare, but the simple accordion accents really hold the song together before it takes off near the end.

“This fear of Emptiness” is another gentle instrumental with bass and acoustic guitar accompanied by accordion sections (sometimes dissonant near the end).  “How He Entered” is another spare song with mostly bass and keys and an occasionally scratching sound as an ascent.  But it’s still a very catchy melody.

“The Waiting Room” has that same echo on his voice as he slowly sings over a keyboard melody.  His anguished singing of “don’t let me suffer” totally makes the song.  “Planting Holes” is a short delicate instrumental with a sweet but melancholy keyboard riff running through it.

Perhaps the most dynamic song on the disc is “We Are Dreamers!”  It’s the angriest song I can think of from Tindersticks, with rumbling keyboards and tribal beats as Staples sings bursts of vocals.  But it’s when Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth adds her voice that the song turns really aggressive.  They sing the chorus “This is not us/ We are dreamers!”  And as Beth takes over the chorus, shifting pitch and intensity, Staples is commenting including lines like “You can rob us/ You can trick us/ Peer over our shoulders and steal our ideas”

The final song is “Like Only Lovers Can.”  The delicate and pretty keyboards belie the sadness in the lyrics: “We can only hurt each other the way lovers can.”  The quiet keyboards end the disc.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Castle Waiting Volume 2

I loved Castle Waiting.   And I couldn’t wait to read Volume II.

And I loved it even more.  Linda Medley is such an engaging storyteller.  Her characters feel utterly real and funny and charming.  I could read more and more and more from her.  Which is why I am so bummed that the series ends here (with rumors that she is doing more).

This volume is a bit more playful.  The characters are well-established and settling into their lives at the castle.

As in the previous volume, there are a lot of flashbacks to Jain’s childhood.

But there’s also a lot of wonderfully meandering stories in the present. The man who looks like a horse (literally) has injured his hoof, so he is hobbling around and is not as useful as he might be (and is cranky about it).

But the main story centers around the arrival of two dwarves, I mean hammerlings–only racists would say dwarves.  They are the relatives of Henry, the quiet blacksmith (who is actually human, but was adopted by the dwarves).  Henry is super excited to see them (as excited as his monosyllabic grunts allow him to be).  Actually, we finally learn why he is so standoffish and quiet most of the time.

They are here for a very specific an(and embarrassing) purpose.  They need women’s clothes for the human who works with them back home.

Their presence enlivens everyone in the Castle. They are fun and interesting–enjoying hard work and being very playful. It is with their help that the Castle dwellers do some remodeling, find a booby trap and even learn how to play nine pin bowling.  The older women who still live in the castle take some bets about who will win–with much merriment.  I love that there a whole chapter about them bowling.

There’s a subplot about Jain’s son Pindar being a leshie–a species we learn a bit about, although we also learn that they are extinct.  This plot line is never concluded properly, though.

We also finally learn about Doctor and his crazy mask (it was a sort of gas mask for the plague).  They are all worried about his sanity, especially when he starts walking around wishing everyone a happy Yule (the Christmas stocking subplot is outstanding).

Speaking of Jain, she has decided to move into the Castle (where there is indeed a ghost).  But her kindness appeases the ghost somewhat.  Especially when she teaches Simon to read (I love the scene where he learns to read and then sits at the table reading instead of eating–just like in my house).

There’s a hilarious thread about a very stubborn goat (whom Simon can outsmart).  And a multi-chapter thread about Sister trying to get a cross for Jain’s room.  We finally get to the bottom of the house sprites (they are adorable when we finally find out what they want).  Finishhtory!  Finit!  Reetoomee.

I am so attached to these characters, that I need to hear more about them.

As in the previous book,Medley’s art is simply gorgeous.  She does realism like no one I know and her characters have an awesome blend of realism and hyper-realism that makes them so enjoyable to look at (and unbelievably detailed as well).

There have been a number of graphic novels that I have gotten completely attached to, but none like this.  It was so bittersweet to finish this, knowing there’d be no more–but holding out hope for a surprise some day.

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castlewaitingSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Something Rain [CST086] (2012).

tinders This was Tindertsicks third and final full length album for Constellation.  It has some noisy elements–especially the distorted guitar–that feel different from their other releases.  Although overall I find the album a bit too slow and drawn out.

The first song on this disc, “Chocolate” is quite unlike other songs by the band.  It is a 9 minute slow song with a spoken word story delivered by by keyboard player David Boulter.  The music sets a nice tone for this story of living in a squalid bedsit and heading into town.  As the song picks up momentum, the guitar lines and the rest of the band add more atmosphere.  In the story, he goes to the bar to play some pool and picks up a woman–a regular.  By six minutes, the whole band, including horns is playing and the song is louder and more noisy while the story continues.  For the final two and a half minutes the band drops out and the denouement reveals a secret.  It’s a cool story, well delivered.

“Show Me Everything” opens with some slow bass and a buzzy electric guitar as the backing voice sings “show me…”  And, after ten minutes on the disc, we finally hear Stuart Staples’ iconic voice sounding deep and whiskery as lawyers.  I love the songs with the female backing vocals like this one.  “This Fire of Autumn” is a faster song with a throbbing bass line and catchy chorus (with more backing vocalists).  The addition of the vibes makes this a great Tindersticks song.

“A Night so Still” slows things down almost to whisper with the gentle keyboard riff under Staples’ languid delivery.  “Slippin’ Shoes” is a bit more upbeat and the horns come in right at the front of the song.  I love the way the bridge seems almost sinister and slick before resolving into a bright chorus.  “Medicine” is another slow song with multiple layers of guitars and slow horns and strings.

“Frozen” opens with slow horns that sounds like feedback, almost.  When the fast bassline and almost discoey drums come in, it’s kind of surprise, but a nice pick me up from the previous slower songs.  Staples is singing quickly over himself–the echoes of his voices catching up to his new lines. And the scratchy guitars and jazzy horns make a nice moody soundtrack of him pleading “If I could just hold you, hold you.”

“Come Inside” is  7 minute song with a simple keyboard riff that floats over the slow beat.  There’s a long slow jazzy outro–too long frankly.  The final song is the 2 minute “Goodbye Joe.”  Its all tinkling bells and a shuffling bass, a pleasant instrumental to end the disc.

While Tindertsicks albums tend to be kind of slow, this one has a few too many extended slow parts and not enough of Staples’ magical crooning or the more dramatic sounds that the band does so well.  I’m not sure why their next album was not put out by Constellation, ether.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Castle Waiting 1

I have been aware of Castle Waiting for a long time.  I believe I have even picked up an individual book at the comic book shop (of course I never read it because I wanted to start from the beginning).

So this book collects Chapters 1-19 (plus an epilogue).

I was instantly hooked by Medley’s outstanding drawings–so believable and realistic while exaggerated enough to make them all unique characters.  Not to mention the fact that there are humans and human hybrid creatures (and no one bats an eye).  And then top it off with the incredibly creative first chapter.

The story opens with a king and queen having a baby.  Actually they couldn’t have a baby so they employed a local witch for assistance.  The nice witch gives them good advice but when the town’s evil witch hears of this betrayal she plans to curse the baby.  And thus on the girls’ fifteenth birthday, the evil witch says she will prick her finger on a needle and die.  This should sound vaguely familiar to fans of fairy tales   But Medley puts a twist on things immediately by removing all needles form the castle and hiring a creature named Rumpelstiltskin to do all of their work off site.  Rumpelstiltskin has been cut in half and stitched together so when the creature asks for the Queen’s child in payment, the King yells at him and says he knows what kind of trouble that leads to.

The good witch is able to deflect the curse somewhat to make her sleep for 100 years (that should also sound familiar) rather than dying.  So, when the girl’s fifteenth birthday arrives, the bad witch comes and brings a needle to set the plan in motion.  The princess falls asleep–the whole castle falls asleep and, in a neat twist, the bad witch is killed.

And then Medley has a ton of fun with the story.  When the prince comes to wake up the princess, they run off an get married.  And there’s a hilarious multiple paneled spread of the rest of the castle sanding there, mouths agape.  As the scene ends, we see three older women telling a man with a bird’s head that that all happened along long time ago.  And the castle has been a refuge ever since. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_12_14Chast.inddSOUNDTRACK: TIMBER TIMBRE-Tiny Desk Concert #355 (May 10, 2014).

timberI wanted to like this band because I think their name is very clever. But I just don’t enjoy this kind of slow song.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have even given this a chance, but since I have embraced the Tindertsicks, I have a lot more patience from this kind of music, but I just can’t get into this—it’s way too slow and meandering for me.  They play three songs, “Hot Dreams,” “Run From Me,” and “Grand Canyon.”  The second song “Run For Your Life” has a mellow Elvis vibe (I don’t like Elvis either), and when they break into the staccato guitar chords it sounds like Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared” (Nope, don’t like Orbison either).  I do like the way it builds but it’s not enough to sell the song for me.  And when you get to the lyrics, I’ll just say that the world did not need another song in which the singer calmly says “Run from me, darlin’, you better run for your life.”

[READ: June 4, 2014] “The Fugitive”

I really loved this story by Ulitskaya (which was translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich).  What I liked about it was that there wasn’t a lot of plot exactly, because it centered on the mind of the “fugitive” who is an artist in Communist Russia and is persecuted for his drawings.

As the story opens, the police have come to his house and question his wife.  They are there for Boris Ivanovich (yes, there is a problem for me with compound Russian names, but I found this was pretty easy to get through after a few pages) because he has made some drawings that put Communism in a bad light (letters made of bologna that spelled out “Glory to the Communist Party” with a price tag of 2 rub. 20 kop.

Once the police leave (he presents a document that gives him temporary safety), he flees Moscow to the distant village of Danilovy Gorki–a tiny settlement of five houses.  He stays with his friend and fellow artist Nikolai.  The country life is a novelty as he does all of the things that country folk do.  And he feels largely safe because he is far enough away from prying eyes.  He doesn’t even write to his wife for fear of giving himself away.  This also means that he can have wild sex with a woman who is visiting for the holidays–Anastasia (“She’s so educated.  But such a slut!”).  Eventually he tells his friend that he loves this life because it is so anti-Soviet, but the friend replies that it is not anti-Soviet, simply a-Soviet.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAMBCHOP- “2B2” (2012).

I don’t have much exposure to Lambchop.  I know of  them mostly as a slow, country-type band.  And that’s why I haven’t listened to them much.  So I picked one song from their latest album, Mr. M, to talk about (because they are associated with Five Dials, see below).

And, indeed, they are slow.  I wouldn’t say country so much as roots, maybe, traditional folk or something.  It’s certainly slow.  This song reminds me in someways of Tindersticks, although a very stripped down Tindertsicks.  Of course, what I like about Tindertsicks is that they are not stripped down.  So this song kind of leaves me a little flat.  I like it, but I’ve already got music that’s like this ti listen to.

I’ll bet though, that it would make great background music to an engaging story (see below).  I wonder what song they chose to remix.  It’s be crazy if I picked it.

[READ: May 3, 2012] Five Dials 23

Five Dials 23 was recently released with quite little fanfare.  That may be because it is like an appetizer for the soon to be released Issue 24 which promises to be very large.

Five Dials 23 contains only one piece (and an Letter from the Editor).  The piece is by Javier Marías, whom I’ve read and enjoyed and have put on my list of authors to explore more.

CRAIG TAYLOR-“On That Fiction Feeling and Lambchop”

Craig Taylor’s introduction wonderfully encapsulates why I prefer to read fiction to non-fiction.  I have friends who say they only like to read non-fiction because at least they’re learning something (or some variant of that).  And while it’s compelling to argue that you learn stuff from fiction too, it’s not always easy to prove.  So Taylor’s Letter from the Editor is where I can point people in the future:

I remember it happened when I read part of Runaway by Alice Munro, specifically the three linked short stories ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’. I remember the names of the North London streets I was compelled to walk – from Messina Avenue to Woodchurch Road to Greencroft Gardens – just to free myself from the sensation that had blossomed within me after I set down the book. During that walk, the neighbourhood seemed raw and responsive. I was unsettled, but in the best possible way; I was in the midst of experiencing the kind of sadness that can only be induced by fiction, which is more potent sadness than most. Also in this jumble of sensation brought on by Munro was a vow to live better, to somehow dodge the mistakes of her characters. There was a bit of a ‘what the hell am I doing with my life?’; a bit of a ‘pay attention to the details’; a bit of an ‘appreciate life more’. In short, the great inner churning that comes at the end of a few extraordinary pieces of fiction.

The details aren’t relevant, it’s the overall mood and idea that he conjures that is.  Although he mentioned Munro, he begins to talk about The Leopard by Tomasi di Lampedusa.  How this debut (and only) novel has left a strong impact not only on him and many more who have read it but also on Marías.  And that that it was Marías’ essay is about: The Leopard.

The second half of his introduction talks about the next issue and that a 10″ vinyl album will be released with it.  It will feature a double A side with author Hollis Hampton-Jones reading from her novel Comes the Night, while backed by Lambchop.  The other side features a remix of a song by Lambchop from their Mr. M album.  The end of the Letter from the Editot is given over to Hampton-Jones and her remembrance of the recording session.  (It’s very cool).

EMILY ROBERTSON and TUCKER NICHOLS drew the cool pictures of leopards.

JAVIER MARÍAS-“Hating The Leopard

This essay, translated by Margaret Jull Costa,talks about the novel The Leopard and how as a novelist, Marías hates it, even though as a reader, he loves it.

I love the surprising way he opens this: There is no such thing as the indispensable author or novel.”  Because even if the best novelist in the world never wrote, the world woul dnot be different.  I also love this insight, which I actually used recently when talking about Ulysses to someone (yes, I’m that guy) that books which “aspired to being ‘modern’ or ‘original’… leads inevitably to an early senescence or, as others might say, they become ‘dated.’  …. They can sometimes seem slightly old-fashioned or, if you prefer, dated, precisely because they were so innovative, bold, confident, original and ambitious.”  But he quickly points out that The Leopard does not fall into this dated category.

Before explaining why The Leopard has stayed with him, he gives some basic background about its publication and near lack of publication.  Indeed, Tomasi di Lampedusa (how do you say that last name?) died before it was published (but not before receiving several rejection letters).  What’s especially surprising is why he wrote the novel in the first place: “the relative late success of his cousin, the poet Lucio Piccolo…led Lampedusa to make the following comment in a letter: ‘Being absolutely certain that I was no more of a fool than he, I sat down at my desk and wrote a novel.'”  Nothing inspires like jealousy!  He also wrote because he was a solitary person.  He was married, but he seems to spend a lot of time alone.  He wanted the book published but not at the expense of his heirs (that’s nice).

Marías talks a bit about why he finds the book so extraordinary (although he says that so much has been written about the novel that he is reluctant to add more).  But one thing that impressed upon him was how the book is about preparing for death, but how, “Death stalks the book not in any insistent way, but tenuously, respectfully, modestly, almost as part of life and not necessarily the most important part either.”  As far as hating the book, Marías feels that perhaps some novelists have earned the right to hate it.

I always enjoy Five Dials.  I can only hope that my posting about it here can get more people to check it out.  Now to see why my library doesn’t have a  copy of The Leopard.

For ease of searching I include: Javier Marias.

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SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS: Falling Down a Mountain [CST065] (2010).

Another Tindersticks album comes out from Constellation!  This one features a bit more dissonance than I’m used to hearing from them.  Not crazy noisy dissonance, just sprinkles of it that make the album feel slightly askew: horns that are abrasive, strings that are foreboding and even Stuart Staples usually mellow singing is filled with vibrato (!) at times.

The opening song is an unusual track: a six and a half minute mostly instrumental which ends with some repeated chanting/singing of the title.   Given that this is the Tindertsicks, a band which at this point is possibly known more for its soundtrack work than anything else, it’s not all that surprising to hear an instrumental from them, but there’s something about the structure of the song that sounds different for them–it’s a slow builder with lots of horns. It’s really cool.

“Keep You Beautiful” is a slow, quiet number.  A beautiful showcase of that side of Tindersticks–harmonies and melodies aplenty.  “Harmony Around My Table” is a beautiful shuffling song which sounds like classic Tindersticks.  The twist is that Stuart kind of vamps around the end of the song.  It’s a catchy number with lovely backing vocals and some cool lyrics ( “I found a penny, I picked it up / The other day I had some luck / That was two weeks last Tuesday / Since then there’s been a sliding feeling.” ).

“Peanuts” is a sweet duet with the elusive Mary Margaret O’Hara it has some very sweet lyrics: “You say you love peanuts / I don’t care that much / I know you love peanuts / And I love you / So I love peanuts too.”

“She Rode Me Down” is the best song on the album and one of their best songs in a long time. It features some great mariachi style rhythms (handclaps, castanets, a flute) and wonderful brass section.  There’s also a nifty bass string (viola?) that adds an unexpected melody line.   There’s also the fun to sing bridge: “she rode me, she rode me, she rode me.”

“Hubbards Hill” is an actual instrumental.  It reminds me a bit of an acoustic Air song, all moody and tense.  “Black Smoke” has some creepy violins and Staples’ slightly askew vocals–he seems to be really straining, and it ends up with a wavery vibrato.  “Factory Girls” is a slow, delicate piano song.  It’s similar to some of their older songs, but it seems even more quiet than usual.  The final track, “Piano Music” is a great instrumental.  It’s slow and melancholy with some wonderful piano sprinklings throughout.

Again it’s hard to be surprised by anything Tindersticks do, their output is so varied, but this disc has some real surprises to it.  It’s not unusual for Tindersticks to create instrumentals (they do all those films scores after all, but I kind of associate the band with Staples’ voice.  That there are almost three instrumentals here is unexpected.  It feels like a transitional record, as if perhaps their next one will totally kick ass.   But at the same time, this one is really good too.

[READ: August 1, 2011] “Above and Below”

This story was surprisingly long.  It just seemed to keep going and going.  And that was fine, except that the story was basically about a girl who seemed to fall hard on her luck and then find some kind of circumstance that picked her back up again. And then up and down and then up and down.  Dumb luck seemed to keep her from hitting rock bottom.

So anyway, the main character (unnamed as far as I recall) was until recently a TA in Florida.  When she lost her job, and her funding, she decided to say “the hell with it all.”  She took the last few items she had, piled into her station wagon and took off.  She called her mom and told her not to worry, that she’d call again when she got settled.  Of course, her mom is kind of spacey and unresponsive and the narrator hates her stepdad, so the actually calling part may not really have been that high a priority.

First, she stays in her car until she eventually shoved off by the police.  She finds a new beach and a hotel with a gym where she can shower.  She basically has no intention of doing anything.  She should hit rock bottom but then the first of the unreasonable coincidences occurs: “She was baking on the beach when a leaf slid up over her stomach.  She caught idly at it, and found that it wasn’t a leaf at all but a five-dollar bill.”  Really?  A five dollar bill?  We should all that happen to us.  My suspicions were immediately raised by that detail, although I let it pass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTINDERSTICKS-Claire Denis Film Scores 1996-2009: White Material [CST077] (2009).

White Material is the most recent soundtrack that the Tindersticks created for Claire Denis.  It was recorded between their “reunion” album The Hungry Saw and their latest album Falling Down a Mountain.

This is a very moody soundtrack.  The guitars set a brisk but desperate-sounding pace.  There are feedback squalls that echo for even more tension.  The feedback could be any number of things as well: squeaky machines, industrial noise, or simply disconcerting sounds.

There is a repeated motif throughout the score that morphs and blends with the tone.  The overall feel of the soundtrack is unified but it never sounds like you’re listening to the same few notes repeated (which is actually what it is, the songs use a very limited palette).

For such a limited palette of music, they really manage to give a diverse picture of the movie.  The way “Andre’s Death” builds, using those same few notes and feedback is truly amazing.  The tension that has been building throughout the score really comes to a head in those 2 minutes.  Contrarily, the flute that plays over those same notes in “Children’s Theme 2” is a haunting exploration of the theme.

This soundtrack isn’t as industrial/weird as L’intrus, but it is probably more intense and spooky.  It’s amazing how evocative these guys are.

[READ: June 22, 2011] Merit Badges

Sarah brought this book home, but she didn’t read it.  It sounded pretty good (I mean it won the 2009 AWP Award for the Novel), so I decided to give it a go.

The book seemed strange to me in the way it was set up: it seemed to have a very specific structure but it didn’t always follow it exactly. So, there are four main protagonists who write chapters of the book.  But they don’t each get a turn, in fact one, Barbara doesn’t really have much to say until much later when her story becomes very compelling.  It also advanced over the years with no real explanation of pacing or even of when a new narrator has jumped ahead several years.

I assumed this was going to be a story of four people looking back on their high school years.  But indeed, it’s about four people looking back on their whole lives, as they grow together, drift apart, come back into each others lives and then disappear again.  In that way, it was also a bit hard to get my bearings.  It was also hard for me to keep all of the characters straight.  Because even though there are four narrators there are many many more kids introduced in the beginning of the story.

Each chapter opens by stating who the narrator is.  The first few narrators are Chimes Sanborn (Prologue), Quint (Woodwork), Slow Slocum (Cooking), Chimes (Drafting), Barb Carimona (Music), Quint (Mammals), Quint (Crime Prevention) etc.  So it’s not consistent.

But also, as you can see, all of the chapter titles are named after Merit badges (which I liked quite a bit).  The subtitle describes what you have to do to achieve the badge (and the chapter does indeed kind of work within that stricture).

So far so good, but we’re also introduced to ancillary characters who appear quite often: Dickie Burpee, Pooch Labrador, Smash Sarnia, and a psychopath named Tulep.  With all of the nicknames and rotating narrators, I admit to losing track of who was who, which I fear lessened the impact of some of the events.

Of course, that’s all structural.  And while I felt like I probably missed out on moments of impact, the overall storyline was not hard to follow.  And, indeed, complaints aside, the story was pretty intriguing.  It is set in the (fictional) small suburb of Minnisapa, Minnesota.  It feels very true to me (having lived in a small town, myself) as do the choices (bad and good) that the kids make. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-35 Rhums (2008).

This is a charming and very French sounding soundtrack. A delightful melody runs throughout the disc (which totals just over 25 minutes).

When Sarah first heard it, she said, “What’s this French music you’re listening to?”  And indeed, it is very French-sounding. There are very simple instruments: melodica, acoustic guitars, piano.  And that melodica is a prominent sound–giving it a sense of intrigue as well as a sense of solitude (the melodica can sound so yearning).  But it’s not all melodica and intrigue; for instance, there’s some delicate xylophone on “Night Time Apartments.”

There are also several snippets from the movie online.  Here’s one clip (with Tindersticks score underneath):

Of the new soundtracks releases this one is my favorite.  And it’s one that I could see listening to for fun.

[READ: June 16, 2011] “The Rules of Engagement”

This is the final story in The Walrus‘ Summer Reading issue.  As I mentioned, the intro states: “We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists–and played by the rules.”  Alexi Zenther was given rules by Sarah Selecky (which I posted below).

I really enjoyed this story, despite the immoral behavior.  Susan and her friends from high school (it’s ten years after high school now) are enjoying a foreign vacation for a week.  The first thing we see is a man seducing Susan.  They call him “Fork” because after a few hours of flirting, he asked, “And now we fork?”  Amusingly, for someone who made a living seducing women, he was bad in bed.

The other women also meet and bed these professional gigilos.  After sex, one of them simply walked over to the woman’s wallet and took money when he was ready to leave.  She notes that he took “probably less than I would have given him if he had asked.”

The women are in various stages of relationships, one woman is divorced, another is serially monogamous and a third is married (that’s the immoral part).

There’s a wonderful diversion in the story that flashes back to Susan’s grandfather Bert.  Bert had a U-pick apple stand and the girls worked there for many summers.  There’s an especially tender moment in which Susan and Bert are wandering the island and they see a wild horse.  And the scene fills Susan (and the reader) with a sense of wonder at her grandfather. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Claire Denis Film Scores 1996-2009: L’Intrus [CST077] (2004).

This score comes from Claire Denis’ 2004 film L’Intrus.  The soundtrack was done by Stuart Staples.  In the booklet he talks about how conventional scoring just didn’t seem appropriate for the film, so he chose this rather noise-filled style.

It is a noisy, menacing work (L’Intrus means The Intruder, so that makes sense).  The sounds are clanky and squeaking, creating an ominous atmosphere.

But what’s most interesting about the score is that despite this limited collection of sounds, he creates a musical work out of it that is interesting to listen to on its own.  The track “Horse Dreams” is full of discordant notes and screeches.  While “The Black Mountain” features a solo horn over the noises.  It’s not easy listening, but it is certainly evocative.

This score is also very short about 25 minutes or so).  The movie is 130 minutes.  I wonder what other sounds are in the film?

[READ: June 15 2011] “Madame Poirer’s Dog”

This is the second story in The Walrus’ Summer Reading issue.  As I mentioned, the intro states: “We asked five celebrated writers to devise five guidelines for composing a short story or poem. They all traded lists–and played by the rules.”  Kathleen Winter was given rules by Alexi Zenther (which I posted below).

I didn’t enjoy this story all that much.  More specifically, I enjoyed the story within the story, but the full, proper story was a little too indistinct to me: It felt kind of all over the place.  In some ways this is appropriate as the story is set in an old folks’ home.  The titular dog comes into play throughout the story and the hard and fast facts of the dog’s tale give some grounding to the story.

The dog’s story is told in a just-the-facts, not-the-details style.  And the dog’s story is a funny story.  It involves a chastity belt (for the dog), and another dog’s skill at the belt’s removal.  But  the funniest part came at the end when the narrator criticized her son’s wife because she would be the kind of person who would ask for details “that no one cares to remember: what exactly does it look like, a chastity belt for digs, and of what material is such a thing made?”

The bookend parts that surrounded the story just kind of fade from my memory.

The five rules from Alexi Zenther: (more…)

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