Archive for the ‘Chris Andrews’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIGRAN HAMASYAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #110 (November 11, 2020).

I have never heard of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan.  I really enjoyed his solo pieces here and am somewhat surprised to read that he often plays with others.

The first piece,

“Road Song,” features a melody Hamasyan wrote in 2008, but recorded with a quintet on his imaginative 2013 album, Shadow Theater. He frequently plays a solo version of it live, but had never played it alone in a studio until now.

It starts quietly.  Then he begins whistling (!) which makes it even more haunting.  At around 4 minutes his  left hand rhythm remains slow and steady while his right hand flies all around the keyboard.  It’s wonderful.

That’s followed by “Our Film,” from Hamasyan’s latest and most enterprising release, The Call Within. This performance mirrors the intensity and sentimentality of the album version, but here it’s more intimate and fanciful.

It also has pretty, haunting melody (with more whistling).   It picks up the pace in the middle and gets almost frenetic (around 11 and a half minutes into the video) before settling down again.  It’s amazing how it all holds together with the more staid left hand.

The last tune, “A Fable,” is the title track of his 2011 solo album, which was inspired by 13th century Armenian writer Vardan Aygektsi.

This piece is flowing and a bit more upbeat.  He really gets into it and starts grunting at one point.

Hamasyan is a jazz pianist, but his foundation comes from Armenian folk music.  Perhaps that’s why i like this so much–it is very jazzy, but is grounded in traditional melodies.

[READ: November 30, 2020] “Ema, The Captive”

This is one of Aira’s earlier (and longer) stories.

I’m fascinated that his earlier stories seem to be grounded much more in reality–blood and gore–rather than fantastical ideas.  Although calling this story grounded in reality is a bit far fetched as well.

This is the story of Ema (at one point in the book it is mistyped as Emma) a woman who goes from being a concubine to running a successful business.  The story (translated by Chris Andrews) is broken into several smaller anecdotes as Ema’s life progresses.

But it starts out with no mention of Ema at all.

Indeed, the opening chapter is revolting. A wagon train carrying prisoners is heading across the Argentinian desert (set in the nineteenth century). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“History Never Repeats” (1995).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

I was not aware of this recording at all.  It is, indeed, the Split Enz song.  It was recording during a Pearl Jam show on March 24, 1995 in Auckland, New Zealand.   It must be during a quiet middle section, because it’s just Eddie with Neil Finn & Tim Finn live at the Mount Smart Stadium.

It is a bare-bones version with just voices and one electric guitar.  Neil Finn plays guitar and sings the first verse.  Eddie takes the second verse.  Tim Finn sings the third verse.  All three share  backing vocals and the chorus.

It’s a rare treat to hear an old recording like this, especially one of a song they’ve not played since.

[READ: December 13, 2019] “The Infinite”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I really like César Aira’s stories.  He’s a fascinating guy and insanely prolific.

He has written nearly a hundred books.  Most of his novels are quite short, so I’ve never really thought of him as writing actual short stories.  This one comes from his collection The Musical Brain: And Other Stories which was translated by Chris Andrews.

The unnamed narrator says that as a kid he played some extremely strange games.  I love this line, “They sound made up when I explain them, and I did, in fact, make them up myself.” (more…)

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CV1_TNY_08_11_14Mattotti.indd SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991).

cheeseHere they come, here comes the bastards again.  Sailing the Seas of Cheese was the band’s major label debut, and they were given a lot of freedom to do whatever they wanted.  Which they did.

The first two songs sort of ease you into the chaos that is “Sgt Baker” a noisy stomp that mocks the military. It’s followed by “American life” a relatively quiet song that is rather sad.  Although I like Ler’s solo at the end (which is rather conventional for him).

But the album really takes of with “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver”, Primus’ first real hit.  Which is amazing in and of itself given how weird a song it is and how noisy (and moshy) the middle section is.  Fun drumming opens “Eleven,” a rocking song done in 11/4 time–count it, its crazy!  I just love the lunacy of “Is It Luck?”–the bass is fast and so bizarre while Ler’s guitars are playing one simple dissonant note for much of the song.  “You wanna get lucky little boy?”

“Grandad’s Little Ditty” is basically Les singing in the shower (and one of the few songs I know of which use the word “flatus”).  It leads into the new recording of “Tommy the Cat.”  This time the role of Tommy is played by Tom Waits, which make a slot of sense.  The Primus book has a funny story about Waits singing this (he sent them a version without having heard the song and he sang it through a megaphone).  The bass in the middle of the song is just incredible.

“Sathington Waltz” continues the adventure of Sathington Willoughby, although this is a scattered instrumental with banjos and loud drums (and lots of guests).  “Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers” is a stomping song with a great riff.  I never knew exactly what it was about (not that its hard to figure out), but the book explains exactly who Les was talking about.

“Fish On” is a 7 minute song (most of the songs on this record are shorter than on Frizzle Fry) with a lengthy intro and outro.  The disc ends with “Los Bastardos” a reprise of the opening bastard music with some samples from The Young Ones and all kinds of friends playing along.  It’s a really fun record with some absolutely classic songs on it.

Shut up you bastards!

[READ: January 5, 2015] “Picasso”

The ever prolific César Aira had a new short story in The New Yorker (he usually writes novella length pieces, but this appears to be an actual short story (3 pages)) which is a little different.

In the story, the narrator says he was in the Picasso museum enjoying the artwork when a genie came out of his bottle of Miracle Milk and offered him a choice: Would he rather have a Picasso or be Picasso.  I enjoyed this twist on the typical three-wishes genie (he even mention how most people are prepared to ask for more wishes), and that this was totally unexpected.

To me, the answer was obvious from the start, Picasso was a pretty unhappy guy, why would I want to be him?  Of court, as the narrator goes through the options, he says that if you were Picasso you would automatically have all the Picassos.  Plus, he says that he himself has a pretty unhappy life, so Picasso would be a step up.

The narrator reviews Picasso’s life and output, but ultimately he decides that owning a Picasso would give him the financial security to allow himself to write his novels.

As soon as he thinks that, a painting appears on the table in front of him.  It is clearly a Picasso.  He spends the next few paragraphs describing the painting and then comes upon a “meaning” for it.  It’s an interesting look at a Spanish fable or joke.  The fable involves a queen who is lame and her servants who want to tell her without actually telling her.  The punchline of the joke comes down to “Su Majestad, escoja” which translates as “Your Majesty, choose” or if the last word is broken up (into es coja) “Your Majesty is lame.”  It’s a pretty elaborate painting or what amounts to a joke (and I have no idea if this is a real painting or not).

As the story comes to an end, the final paragraph introduces a whole new aspect of the story which was hilarious and unepxetced.  It was a great twist.  I do have to wonder if this is part of a bigger story because although it feels complete, I could easily see him following this character further.

This was translated by Chris Andrews.

For ease of searching I include: Cesar Aira

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shantySOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Mrs. Robinson’s, Kitchener, Ontario (December 20, 1997).


What’s most fascinating about these Rheostatics live shows is coming across venues that have no internet presence.  I can’t find a photo or anything of Mrs Robinson’s in Kitchener.  Did it even exist?  Who knows?

The quality of this show is very good although the overall volume is too low. There are also complaints from Dave about his monitor not working.  It doesn’t impact the sound for us, but I guess he couldn’t hear very well.  The intro of “Michael Jackson” is all messed up, but they play on through it.  Then they actually take a pause for an unspecified length of time to fix it (but still do a show that’s over 2 hours long).

Martin and Dave are very chatty for this show.  The intro is quite long, with some good banter including a discussion of the weird table in front of the stage which people can use for stage diving or go go dancing.  Martin explains the origins of “Junction Foil Ball” (about a guy who makes a ball out of the tin foil in cigarette packs.  They make a joke about Don the drummer being from Kirkwood Lake which is where Alan Thicke is from.  And a joke about Polkaroo.

They also introduce Tim Mech (their guitar tech) whose band PEEP-SHOW was one of the winners of Musician magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band Competition” in 1997.  He takes a long solo in “Claire.”

This was their last show of 1997, so this wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

[READ: March 3, 2014] Shantytown

This has been my favorite Aira book so far (and I’m now caught up to his English language releases).  The plot was simple and interesting, and the fantastical elements really worked with the story instead of overshadowing it (which his stories sometimes allow, but which isn’t really a criticism per se, just a point of fact).

This story begins with Maxi, a kind-hearted, but not terribly smart or sensible young man.  He is unemployed, did not finish any real schooling and doesn’t have a lot to do.  He has been going to the gym daily, so he is very strong. And he has recently begun helping the garbage scavengers.

These scavengers are people who live in the Shantytown nearby.  It is a collection of houses, most very tiny and quickly constructed, where the poorest people live.  And many of these people collect and either sell or use rich people’s garbage.  They come up every night before a garbage pick up and root through the streets for anything they can use.  And Maxi has begun helping them shift their carts  Since he is so strong, he finds that none of the their carts are very heavy.  And although he has never spoken to any of them and they have not spoken to him, he decided to start helping them and now he gets great satisfaction in carrying their stuff.

The shantytown is an unsavory place where drugs are sold and not too long ago a young girl was murdered.  Recently a policeman, Agent Cabezas has been trying to get to the bottom of this whole drug thing.  The drug of choice is proxidine which makes things clearer. Even Cabezas himself takes it (even though it is illegal).  But there has been a lot of suspicious activity with a man dressed as a pastor who might be a dealer.  And then there’s Maxi who is suddenly hanging around the shantytown.  And, quite frankly, Cabezas has decided that he’s tired of being a good cop.  He is ready to take what is his. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIONA APPLE-“Every Single Night” (2012).

Many things have been said about Fiona Apple, and I’ll not repeat them here.  I will say, however, that she has put out some of the most consistently interesting music over the years.  From her introspective pop to her lavishly orchestrated pop, to the two mixes of her last album (one official, the other leaked), I’ve enjoyed all of it.

This is her first song in some seven years.  And it doesn’t skimp on what makes Fiona Fiona.  Specifically, it really showcases her voice.  And that’s because it is practically a capella.  The music is very spare–simple instrumentation (which sounds like a music box) and it more or less simply keeps the pace for Fiona’s voice (which sounds more full and powerful than ever) which creates the wonderful melody.  This may sound like a weird comparison, but I actually hear a bit of Eddie Vedder in her voice, too.

It’s a haunting song and the arrangement is curiously cool.

And I’ll share it here (well, actually I won’t share it, I’ll give you the link because it doesn’t want to embed):


[READ: April 18, 2012] Varamo

Varamo is the most recently translated of César Aira’s hundred or so books.  It was written in 2002 and translated by Chris Andrews.  So far it is my favorite of the Aira books I’ve read.

It’s a fairly simple premise, although like most of Aira’s books, the premise isn’t exactly followed from start to finish.  And like his other books, there are fun avenues of detours.  But unlike his other books, it is a remarkably consistent story.  Except of course, that even though the book is set on the day that Varamo writes his famous poem, we never even get to see him entering his house to do so.


Well, I’m going to quote from the beginning because it really summarizes the “plot” of the story: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: UNDER BYEN-“Samme Stof Som Stof” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

Under Byen is a Danish band and has only one song on Viva Piñata.

I had originally written a review under the impression that it was different song (the CD and even iTunes confuses this song with “Kiss ME” by Uncut.  And you can see my initial impression below).  Now, knowing that this band is not singing in English changes a lot about my perception of what the sounds actually are.

This is one of the few remixes on the disc where I listened to the original first (to make sure I had the right song).  The original is an interesting mix of peculiar instruments and some cool soundscapes.  This remix chops it up into pieces and puts it back together.  It’s an interesting twist on the song but man, the original is so much better.

[Here’s my original thoughts, when I read a bit about the song when I thought it was by the band Uncut and I thought that it was not a remix.  And I saw that they were described as a poppy fuzzy band.

this song comes from one of their official releases.  “Kiss Me” is not a remix but it sure sounds like one.  It is kind of warped and the sounds feel manipulated in crazy ways. The vocals are mostly moans and noises. But it has a catchy beat and some interesting sounds. This is a weird song, and I’m not sure how it fits in with the rest of the album.  I do kind of like it, but I wouldn’t hunt them down for more.

Of course, now that I know it’s supposed to sound like that, I change my tune completely. And I will hunt down some other songs for comparison.

[READ: March 23, 2012] An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

This is the third novel from Aira that New Directions has released (translated wonderfully by Chris Andrews). It’s the first one they published and the first one of his that I had heard of.  I actually heard of it long before I knew of Aira because the Preface is by Roberto Bolaño.  And if you do a search for Bolaño, this title always comes up.

And so now I finally got to read this mythical essay.  Sadly, it turns out to be an essay called, “The Incredible César Aira” which was recently published (2011) in Between Parentheses–bad timing for me.  It also has nothing to do with this novel specifically

But on to the novel itself.

This short book is about the German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas.  Little did I know that he was real.  He was a landscape painter (a profession which became obsolete with the invention of cameras) and he was very well-regarded.   Twice during his career he went to the Americas to paint the land.  On his second journey (from 1831-1847) he went to Mexico, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina, which resulted in thousands of paintings.

The opening of the book is rather philosophical (and a little dry).  But after about ten pages, the book picks up with the titular episode.  Rugendas and a German painter named Robert Krause set off in 1837 from Chile.  They got on well.  Rugendas was far superior technically and Krause, although also quite talented, was always respectful.  Rugendas had sold prints and books and his Picturesque Voyage through Brazil was printed on wallpaper and China. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOU SAY PARTY! WE SAY DIE!-“Monster (RAC Remix)” and “Like I Give a Care (Octopus Project Remix)” from Viva Piñata! (2008).

Viva Piñata is a free CD compilation that I received I think when I ordered a Tokyo Police Cub CD.  It celebrates “5 years of ass-whippin’ at Paper Bag Records.”  It came out in 2008, so presumably, Paper Bag Records has now been whippin’ ass for 9 years.

You Say Party! We Day Die! (that’s a name that seems to be trying too hard) is from British Columbia, Canada and they seem to be a noisy keyboard band.  “Monster” is a keyboard-heavy poppy song.  Of course, since this is a remix I have no idea what the original sounds like.  The lead singer has a cool deep voice (a more poppy Kim Gordon, perhaps?).  But this song is dominated by the propulsive synths.

“Like I Give a Care” has a remix that is even more intense, overeffected, noisy and chaotic with a great propulsive bass.  It also seems like most of the song has been stripped, leaving just a chorus repeated.  As a remix it works fine.

I’ve often complained about remixes–if I like a song, why would I want to hear a remix of it?  This is the opposite.  I’ve never heard the song before and the remix is kind of fun. I’m intrigued to hear what they actually sound like.

[READ: March 22, 2012] “I Can’t Read”

Another month, another excerpt from a new posthumous Bolaño release.  This latest book is called The Secret of Evil which Harper’s says will be out this month (we’ll see about that).  The Secret of Evil is evidently a collection of unfinished pieces that Bolaño was working on when he died.

This particular story certainly seems finished, so who knows what the rest of the book will be like.

I am particularly fond of this kind of story from Bolaño–it reads like nonfiction (and maybe it is).  It seems to be a true account from his life (written in first person and about his family)–it’s a personal, relaxed style in which he muses about things and events.  It is also set during his first trip back to Chile since leaving in 1974 (a subject he mines quite well).

This one starts with the line: “This is a story about four people.”  The first two people he talks about are his son Lautaro and a new friend that his son made named Pascual.  Lautaro was eight and Pascual was four, but since Lautaro was desperate for someone to play with, he overlooked the age difference and made a holiday friend. (more…)

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I have really gotten into My Morning Jacket with their last couple of albums.  I know that they are quite different from their earlier releases, so I’m not quite as surprised by the diversity that’s on them.  With each release, they keep exploring new territory, although it’s all held together nicely by Jim James’ (or Yim Yames’) amazing voice.

The first half of the disc is much more wild than the second half, with longer songs, and more unusual textures.  The second half slows things down and feels almost, but not quite, acoustic.

“Victory Dance” is a slinky song and a cool intro to the disc.  It’s quickly followed by “Circuital,” a 7 minute long epic with two distinct parts.  The first is a kind of quiet echoey introduction, but when the guitars roar in at around 2:30, it turns into a big anthemy song…very ctahcy

“The Day is Coming” opens like a 70s AM radio song, with lots of da da das.  It’s a mellow song, the kind of song the MMJ flesh out with wonderful vocals so it never gets dull.

“Wonderful” is a simply beautiful song.  A gentle ballad about feeling wonderful.  I just found out that this song was originally intended for The Muppet Movie.  It would have been perfect.  Of course, the band are on the soundtrack doing a cover, so I guess that’s kinda close.

“Outta My System” is another catchy little number, also reminiscent of 70s AM radio, although it’s all about doing bad things as a youth and getting them out of your system.  Musically it would also work very well for the Muppets, but I suspect lyrically it might be a bit outré for the movie (granted I haven’t actually seen it so I can’t say for sure).

All the recent MMJ albums have one crazy track and on this one it’s “Holdin’ on to Black Metal.”  So the title is pretty unexpected but it’s nowhere near as unexpected as the content of the song.  It is complete with a children’s chorus and what sounds like horns, although I suspect they are keyboards.  It’s full of blasts of sound and woah woah ohs.  It’s crazy.  I love it.  Much like I love the crazy song, “Highly Suspicious”  from the previous album.  And I just found out that this song is more or less a cover (although with different words of “E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai” by Kwan Jai & Kwan Jit Sriprajan from the album Siamese Soul: Thai Spectacular 1960s-80s Volume 2.  More on that tomorrow.

  After that bizarre track, the album really settles down into an easy groove.  “First Light is a pretty traditional, simple song.  It also has lots of horns.  “You Wanna Freak Out” is also unexpected for the title, as it’s a pretty straightforward rocker. “Slow Slow Tune” doesn not belie its title.  It has a kind of 70s Pink Floyd feel and continues the more mellow second half od the disc.  The disc ends with “Movin’ Away” a slow, piano ballad.

  Although the album has a very comfortable, familiar feel, MMJ have little tricks (great soaring guitars and, again, James’ voice) to make it rise above the ordinary.  It’s great disc that warrants multiple listens.

[READ: January 28, 2012] How I Became a Nun

I didn’t love Aira’s Ghosts because it was too ephemeral for me (as befitting a book called Ghosts, right?).  How I Became a Nun is the exact opposite: a terrifically visceral story that is straightforward and easy to follow, except for perhaps two things.

The first thing is something that’s mentioned on the back of the book (so I’m not threatening a spoiler here).  The main character is named César.  Whenever someone talks to him, they address him as César or boy or him.  And yet, the whole book is written from the point of view of young César, and César describes himself as a girl.  In the fourth paragraph, the narrator states, “I was a devoted daughter.”  And yet, shortly thereafter, another character says about the narrator, “Is it my fault if the boy didn’t like it?”

This goes on throughout the story–not a lot–but enough to keep it in your mind.

The second thing is the ending.  Which I don’t want to spoil.

So what is this wonderfully titled story about?  Well, six-year old César begins, “My story, the story of ‘how I became a nun’ began very early in my life.”  The opening chapter tells the story of César’s first experience with ice-cream.

It is a wonderful chapter, with César’s father promising the wondrous delights of ice cream and taking them both out for a cone.  César’s father enjoys his cone very much, but César, although instantly in love with the pink strawberry color is instantly disgusted by the taste. He even retches a little bit. (more…)

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