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Archive for the ‘Utopia’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I was supposed to see The Districts play at Union Transfer on March 12.  COVID-19 had just found its way into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I was being very cautious so I decided to skip the show.  It was a safe decision, but one that I now regret as it would have been a pretty great final show of the year.

Last year I went to one night of the Philly Music Fest and it was terrific.  This year, the Philly Music Fest was all virtual.  The live shows were played at Ardmore Music Hall and there were some prerecorded shows as well.

If this were a show I could have attended (apparently, some “golden tickets” were given out to a few people, but I have no idea how), the two live bands are exactly who I would have wanted to see.  The Districts opened for Japanese Breakfast.  And in the live stream, Arnetta Johnson & Sunny played before The Districts and Zeek Burse played in between them.

So here was my chance to see The Districts playing live.  I’m actually not sure if I would have gone had I gotten a golden ticket (I have read that 25 people were in the place including the band).  When they played Union Transfer, they played 26 songs in what must have been quite a long show.  For this show, they only had about 45 minutes.  So they played 10 songs from their last two albums and a new song.

They opened with “My Only Ghost,” which opens the new album.  It’s a quiet song with a nifty bassline and a lot of atmospheric keys.  It’s an unusual song for them, with a lot of gentle falsetto singer.  But it works as a good opener.

Up next was “Nighttime Girls,” a 2018 single that I didn’t know.  It rocks with echoing whammy bar guitar chords.  The band really started having fun with this song.  When the song ended a slow drum beat thumped as they prepped for the next song.  They thanked everyone for coming out and talked about how excited they were to play live again.  a

Then they launched into “Fat Kiddo” from Popular Manipulations.

The camera came up behind them to show that there was a video monitor in front of them where they could see the people watching online.  After shouting out to a few people, they started the ripping “Sidecar” with the really fun “hoo hoo hoo” singalong part.

After some more chatting with more of the “zoomers” and acknowledging the few people in the audience whom they cannot see, they play the wonderful new “Hey Jo.”  It was great to hear this live.

As the band tuned up there were samples of tweeting birds and a slow rumble of bass and drums.  Singer Rob Grote says, “someone’s putting on quite the show on zoom,” before jumping into a great sounding “If Before I Wake.”  The band sounds really tight as they jump between the quiet verses and the loud ones.

Then one of them looks at the screen and says “hey that’s my apartment!  that’s my girlfriend.”  She says “you guys are great. Love you!” It’s nice they unmuted her for that.  They play the moody “And the Horses All Go Swimming” (which they did not play at UT) and there’s some wild soloing at the end.  I think the band would have been bouncing around if there was an audience, but they are pretty animated.

Up next was the slow whistling opening of “4th of July.”  It was followed by the faster “Salt” complete with gang vocals during the chorus.

The set was nearing the end and they played their fantastic new song “Cheap Regrets.”  This is one of my favorite songs of the year.  I love that it’s totally retro sounding but not retro at all.  It’s got a great bassline and keys.  They rocked this out to a roaring ending.

They ended the show with a new song that is quiet and pretty with a flute-like keyboard and mellow guitar.  There’s some great changes in the song and some really cool guitar parts.  It might be called “Do It Over.”

And that was it.  Was it as good as being at a live show?  Not really.  But it was still petty great seeing them play live and have a good time.

My Only Ghost [¥]
Nighttime Girls [single]
Fat Kiddo [¶]
Sidecar [¥]
Hey Jo [¥]
If Before I Wake [¶]
And the Horses All Go Swimming [¥]
4th of July [¥]
Salt [¶]
Cheap Regrets [¥]
Do It Over [new]

¥ = You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020)
¶ Popular Manipulations (2017)

[READ: September 24, 2020] Light Ahead for the Negro (an excerpt)

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that this is an early example of Afrofuturism and of utopianism.  It follows in the tradition of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward in imagining a future society that has changed for the better due to a vastly different political climate.  As with most such vision, Johnson’s world manages to be both too optimistic and too pessimistic.

In his 2006, news outlets no longer produce racist content, yet there are only 11,000 Bloack doctors…. The main characters’ conversations about “now and then” are in reality, a survey of cutting edge political thought on issues of major concern to Black citizens of 1904: voting disenfranchisement, lynchings, reconstruction, employment, poverty, education and more.

Johnson was a practicing attorney when he wrote this and he later became the first African American to be elected to the New York State legislature in 1917.

The book opens in 1906 with the narrator flying in a dirigible to the South.  He is planing to help the Negroes in the South adjust to their new citizenship.  But the dirigible hits bad weather and he is lifted up into the atmosphere only to come back to earth in the year 2006.  (more…)

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julySOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS–Live from SXSW 2013, playing all of Yoshimi battles the Pink robots.

yoshimiThe day before their main set, which featured songs from their newest album, The Flaming Lips did a surprise set in which they decided to play Yoshimi in its entirety–something they had never done before.

Indeed, there are a few songs from the album that they say they have never played live before.

They have an hour to do the deed.  But, Wayne being Wayne, he can’t stop talking between songs long enough for them to actually complete the album and they are left without playing the final track.  (I haven’t heard of that happening to other bands).

The set sounds pretty good.  It is quite different from the album in that the live unit plays all kinds of interesting sounds effects and updated keyboards and whatnot, it alters things in small and large ways although it doesn’t make it sound completely unlike the album.

Wayne’s voice is not as great as it used to be and he can’t hit all the notes anymore, which is a little disappointing (and may explain why the newer albums are not quite so soaring).  But they are clearly enjoying themselves, as is the audience.

The only bad thing about this set (you can stream the video at NPR) is that the volume is very low.  It sounds good, but is a little too quiet to be fully enjoyable.  And, of course, you don’t get to hear “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia).”  Although you do get to hear how they came up with the title “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell.”

[READ: July 11, 2013] “Blood Spore”

This was a Folio in the center of the July issue of Harper’s.  The Folio is a lengthy article that’s printed on a different type of paper.  The Harper’s Folios are usually quite good.  And so was this one.

This essay is about the life and death of Steven Pollock.  Pollock was into mushroom.  Really into them.  He believed that they held cures to many different ailments and he set about trying to prove it.  He had a fully functioning lab and he did extensive tests on the different types of mushrooms and spores that he collected.  (Some of the tests simply included ingesting them, but he also used scientific methods).  He ordered manure and other kinds of bases and then he set about growing and testing different genus of mushrooms.

True, he was also interested in their psychedelic powers, but he believed they could do much more.

In order to make money he sold paraphernalia in High Times.  He was very successful (his company name and color ad in the magazine was quite a hit and he made an astonishing amount on the quasi legal market).  Most of his money went back into research.  He believed that when he made $2 million, he could get a proper lab.

The whole article was really interesting—seeing what Pollock did, seeing how some of the mushrooms he cultivated lasted throughout the years and how he managed to get some to spread (by getting spores in various materials in time for a Hurricane to blow them all across the South).  Pollock’s personal favorite mushroom, which he described as being the most amazing trip he’d had, was on the verge of extinction.  And he died believing that it was no more.  Fortunately somehow made it to Amsterdam where now it is a very common (and very popular) strain of the fungus.

Shame he was murdered under mysterious circumstances and the author began researching this article because he received a tape that someone claimed showed who was guilty of his death. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-Live at KEXP January 30, 2008 (2008).

Nada Surf is criminally underrated and shamefully treated as a one-hit wonder for a song that sounds nothing like the rest of their work.

This four song set at KEXP features four acoustic renditions of songs from their wonderful  album Lucky.  The songs are stripped down, but the harmonies are all there.  The only song that really suffers in this format is “See These Bones,” which is a little less spirited than the recorded version (although the harmonies stand out even better).

They are also funny guys and very personable, as the interview shows.  This set is definitely worth downloading.  You can get it here.

[READ: October 6, 2012] Timequake

Timequake is Kurt Vonnegut’s last novel.  It is very much unlike any of his other novels because it is actually more of a fictional memoir than a novel.

There are two main characters in the book–Vonnegut himself and Kilgore Trout.  Vonnegut talks about his life a lot–and if you know anything about Vonnegut’s life, you know that the details in the novel are accurate.  At the same time, he talks about Trout’s life, specifically the end of his life and how he went from being a destitute bum to a celebrated and oft-quoted author.

And then there’s the matter of the timequake.  In 2001, there was the first timequake.  The world stopped expanding and moving forward and instead flashed back to 1991, where everyone picked up exactly where they were on that date in 1991, and relived every detail of their lives in exactly the same way.  Only this time they knew what was going to happen.  So every person lived on autopilot through every day for the next ten years–all the good and all the band (like the man who spent several years in prison and had to relive those years all over again).  Even the dead were resurrected and relived their days.

It’s an interesting concept and yet in the end it’s really not that interesting of a topic.  In the Prologue, Vonnegut says that he had originally written Timequake (which version he calls Timequake One) with that very premise, and that Vonnegut himself made a cameo. And yet I can see that it wouldn’t really have worked as a very good novel–unless he made up ideas for what happened to everyone and we the readers lived them for the first time– or something.

But so he bailed on that novel, but he certainly left parts of it intact for this one.  And rather than a cameo, Vonnegut features largely in this one. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  PUBLIC ENEMY-Live at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Convention Hall, October 2, 2011 (2011).

NPR was cool enough to record and provide as a download most of the shows at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Asbury Park, NJ.  (Portishead wouldn’t allow their show to be recorded, sadly).  But Public Enemy was a welcome surprise!
This tour is in celebration of the anniversary of Fear of a Black Planet.  And they play most of Fear and a lot of other things too (with almost nothing from their 2000 era CDs.

I can remember back in the early days of rap that it was hard to imagine what a rap show would be like live since they didn’t play instruments and much of the music was sampled.  Well, PE has musicians on stage and they have DJ Lord filling in for Terminator X behind the turntables (big shoes to fill, but done largely well–especially his fun “solo” in which he samples The White Stripes and Nirvana–although he should have mixed in Portishead, no?).  And mostly they have the personalities of Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

I suspect that this show would be a bit more fun to watch than it is to listen to–Flavor Flav’s antics don’t always translate well without his visuals.    Like when he asks the audience if that can all say “Ho” (which he eventually holds for 33 seconds!), it seems like a delay tactic in audio, but is probably fun to witness.

What’s especially cool about the show is that PE play so many songs, including small snippets of songs as segues to other ones (like the seventy second version of “Anti-Nigger Machine” that intros “Burn Hollywood Burn” which is practically hardcore) or the minute and a half of “He Got Game” that follows “Night of the Living Baseheads.”  I like that they even threw in some skits from the record like “Meet the G That Killed Me” and “Incident at 66.6FM.”

But of course the real joy is the full length songs, “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” “911 is a Joke,” and of course “Bring the Noise” and “Fight the Power.”

Some of the improv sections don’t work all that well, the guitar solo in “Power to the People” leaves something to be desired (Khari Wynn maybe a legend, but he;s no Vernon Reid),  although the  “Jungle Boogie” riff is cool.   But the improv with guest drummer Denis Davis was pretty bad ass.  Flavor Flav hopped on the drums and was quite good for “Timebomb.”  We also got to meet Flav’s daughter Jasmine.  And Professor Griff was there too.

It’s also interesting that they keep saying they have no time left in the set (Portishead is next) but they play for at least 30 minutes after this.  Including a wonderful “By the Time I Get to Arizona and the set ending “Fight the Power.”

Chuck D has still got it and Flav is just as crazy and fun as ever (even if his screams and yos seems out of tune from time to time).  Of course, Flav has to get the last word in by raging  on for six and a half minutes  at the end (and about six-minutes in the beginning as well where he gave himself props about his reality show.

It’s a really good set–a little distorted from time to time, but really solid.  Here’s a link to the downloadable show.

[READ: October 2, 2012] Hocus Pocus

This book may have put me over the edge in terms of Vonnegut exhaustion.  I bought this book some time in 1992, but I never read it. It’s been in my house for twenty years and it was about time I read it.

But as I’ve been noticing, each Vonnegut book has been getting darker and more misanthropic.  And this one is no exception.  The construction of the book follows Vonnegut’s cut and paste style but it feels even more shuffled and indirect than usual (more on that later).  In many of Vonnegut’s books, the “climax” occurs somewhere in the middle and he fills in the details later.  For this one, the climax came around h.and I wouldn’t have felt like I missed anything.

In this book, the main character, Eugene Debs Hartke  is a Vietnam vet (usually his protagonists are military men, and Vonnegut has criticized Vietnam a lot, but this is the first time he’s had a Vietnam vet as protagonist).  He married his wife and had a wonderful family until he learned that his mother in law had a disease that made her crazy–but it only kicked in later in life, after he married her daughter.  And that his wife has the same disease–so by the middle of the story both of the women in his life are crazy “hags.”  And, like in his other stories, his children hate him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD-Live on KEXP, March 12, 2009 (2009).

Back in 2009, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead had been hit by a truck.  Really.  Evidently no one was hurt too bad, but they did have to cancel a show in Salt Lake City. 

Nevertheless, they managed to get to KEXP to play a four song set from their latest album The Century of Self.  The opener “The Giant’s Causeway” is full of bombast and noise  and has a surprisingly catchy melody in the middle.  It merges into “The Far Pavillion” (just like on the album) which sounds like pretty typical Trail of Dead–rocking and yet melodic, with some good screaming parts.

“Luna Park” is something of a surprise to me as it’s a piano-based ballad (which I suppose Trail of Dead plays, but which I don’t associate with them).   “Bells of Creation” also opens with a piano, but it quickly grows very loud.  It’s a cool song with lots of depth.

I had actually stopped listening to Trail of Dead after Worlds Apart (and album I liked, but I guess the band fell off my radar) so it’s nice to hear they’ve still got it.  At least as of three years ago.

[READ: September 17, 2012] Galápagos

Each of these 1980’s era Vonnegut books gets darker than the last.  In this one the entire human race is wiped out (except for a few people who spawn what eventually becomes of the human race in a million years).  For indeed, this book is set one million years in the future and it is written by a person who was there, one million years in the past when the human race destroyed itself.  It’s not till very late in the book that we learn who the narrator is and, hilariously, what his relationship is to the Vonnegut canon.

In typically Vonnegut fashion, the story is told in that spiral style in which he tells you a bit of something and then circles back to it again later and comes back again later until finally 200 or so pages into the book you get all the details of what is happening.  Interspersed with the respawning f the human race (and flippers) is the story of the Adam and Eve and Eve and Eve and Eve and Eve who created the human race–how they got to be together, what their lives were like before and what contribution they made to humanity, such as it is now.

In another bizarre and fascinating twist, every character who is going to die in the near future gets a star next to his name so that the reader knows that that person is going to die.  We get a lot of things like ★Andrew MacIntosh for many pages until the character finally dies.  And pretty much everybody does die.  Well, obviously if it is set a million years in the future, but aside from that part, only a few of the characters survive.

So here’s how these few people managed to create a new human race in the Galápagos Islands.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE-“Even If You Knew” (2012).

Lars from NPR’s All Things Considered picked this as his summer music preview song.  I don’t know a thing about Six Organs of Admittance, but their discussion of this song makes it seem like this is atypical for the band (which has a massive output).  Evidently they’re usually more droney sounding. But man, this song is pummeling and wonderful.

It’s seven minutes long and opens with a simple, plodding heavy bass riff.  The vocals are kind of whispered and strained.  But then comes the guitar solo–a raging piece of distortion that complements the bass.  And that’s just the first three minutes.

The second half of the song features a quieter section–the bass is quieter, while the guitar noodles around and the vocals play over the rhythm.  The song slowly builds again, and by the last minute or so there’s another fierce guitar solo. Until the song is exhausted by the final distorted notes.

This is some beautiful noise.  And, no I have no idea what the band’s name means.

[READ: June 27, 2012] Deadeye Dick

Deadeye Dick is the last Vonnegut book that I was completely unfamiliar with.  I had no idea what it would be about.  So I didn’t realize until very late in the book, and then I looked online and confirmed that this book is set in the same location as Breakfast of Champions, Midland City, Ohio.  Indeed, some of the same characters appear in this book as appeared in that book.  But more about that later.

Vonnegut is not known for his happy books.  Misanthropy is pretty rampant in his pages.  But this book is one of his bleakest books yet.  The story concerns the Waltz family–Rudy (the protagonist) and his brother Felix are the only children of Otto and Emma Waltz.  Pretty early in the story we learn that Rudy is a double murderer.  Yipes!

As with most Vonnegut stories, this one is told in a convoluted and non-linear fashion.  He foreshadows (and really just casually mentions) a lot of crazy things that are going to happen in the book.  Like the fact that Midland City is going to be devastated by a neutron bomb.  In fact, his preface (like with many of his prefaces) tells us a lot about what’s in the book and who the characters are based on and the fact that there is a neutron bomb (but the reality of a neutron bomb is different from what he says).  There is something about knowing this information ahead of time that impacts the way you read the story.  Whether you think maybe he’s not telling the truth about what will happen (can the narrator really be a double murderer?) or maybe somehow the foreshadowing makes it even worse when it actually happens–the revelations are perhaps more deliberate.  But the style–a recursive style in which he says what happens and then he goes back and fills in the details, makes the events that much more powerful.

The funny thing about this story is that a lot happens to the characters in the beginning of the story and then not too much happens to them after that.  But that early stuff is pretty exciting and it has an impact all the way through. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FEELIES-Only Life (1988).

The Feelies were based out of Haledon, NJ, a town not more than fifteen minutes from my house.  I’ve always felt this weird association to them.  One day a coworker drove me past one of the band members’ houses when I worked in North Haledon (in retrospect this was probably bullshit).

It was this album that introduced me to them.  Prior to the internet, it wasn’t always easy to find out how many albums a band had out, so I assumed this was their first.  I’d assumed that we were close in age and that I could have run into them at any local club or hangout.  Well, it turned out that this was their third and their first came out in 1980.  When I was 11.  So, clearly  there is absolutely no way we were peers.

Somehow, when I first heard The Feelies, I had not been exposed to The Velvet Underground (what?).  So, when I heard them, it didn’t occur to me to say, “Hey that guy sounds just like Lou Reed.”  And he does.  Almost uncannily so on “It’s Only Life”.

But hey, get past that and you’ve got a really great jangly alterna-pop record from the late 80s.   While R.E.M. is sort of the master of the jangly pop song, there’s no real comparison here (okay, actually “Deep Fascination” could be mistaken for R.E.M. until the vocals kick in).  The biggest difference is tempo. The Feelies just kind of meander along at a calm and relaxed pace.  Not slow enough to be, god forbid, dull, but not exactly peppy either.

One thing I like about the band is that the bass and drums are always out in front.  The bass, in particular seems to really propel the songs (especially “Too Much”) which provides a great rhythmic feels and allows the guitars ample room to roam.

And the guitars do roam.  There are two guitars and they share soloing duties.  This soloing bit is rather a departure for college radio bands in the late 80s.  So, it definitely set them apart (as did the fact that there are like 30 words in each song).

The gorgeously simple yet very compelling “Higher Ground” is certainly a high point for the disc.  As is their cover of the Velvet’s “What Goes On.”

When I was a DJ in college, I randomly selected “Away” to play during a show (the first Feelies song I’d heard).  Even after twenty-one years it’s still as fresh and interesting.  It’s also rather different from the rest of the album.  It’s uptempo for one thing.  But it also starts with a cool slow guitar opening.  The song builds faster and faster and has a great sing along chorus.   The drums also sound wonderfully abrasive.  It’s really a great song and a great introduction to an underappreciated band.

[READ: November 22, 2009] Intermere

Following hot on the heels of Symzonia, I received Intermere through Inter Library Loan.  Intermere is even shorter (at 150 pages)!

What I liked about the story is that it removes all pretense as to the setting up of and the getting to the inner earth location.  As the story opens, our narrator, Giles Anderton, is pretty much immediately in massive trouble.  The boat he is on is about to sink and he is soon plunged headlong into the ocean.  (What an exciting opening!)

When he wakes up a short time later, he is on an island and is warmly greeted by a group of very short but very beautiful (ie, very pale) people. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATE BUSH-The Red Shoes (1993).

The Red Shoes is something of a disappointment. While I enjoyed The Sensual World, it was definitely moving in a more adult contemporary vein.  The Red Shoes proceeds even further in this direction.  Since Kate is getting older, it makes sense that her music would change as well.

But there are some really fun tracks on here as well.  And Kate’s initial experiments with world music (the Bulgarian Choir) has really expanded into a more global palette (the island feel of “Eat the Music,” for instance).

The first four songs of the disc are really great.  They show an amazing diversity.  The first single “Rubberband Girl” is quite fun and bouncey.  It has a rather silly middle section where she makes rubberband-like sounds.   “And So is Love” sounds like classic Kate, with some wonderful vocals.  “Eat the Music” is a crazy, up beat horn fueled island track (with wonderfully suggestive lyrics).  And  “Moments of Pleasure” is a delightfully romantic song.

However, beginning with “Song of Salomon” with its awkward chorus of “don’t want no bullshit, just want your sexuality” the album trails off a little bit.  The rest of the songs feel kind of hurried and unspecific; there’s nothing really grabby about them.  They’re not bad, but they’re not all that memorable.  In fact, “Constellation of the Heart” is one of those rare aspects of a Kate disc: a song that sounds really dated.

The one exception to this decline is “Top of the City,” a really nice ballad that features some classic Kate vocals.

Of the remainder, “Big Stripey Lie” has some cool sound effects and lots of weirdness floating around it (and I do quite like it) although it’s really not as substantial as her previous experimental pieces.

Probably the most controversial song on the disc is “Why Should I Love You?” a duet with Prince.  While the main chorus is pretty cool (and uncannily Prince-like) the rest of the track sounds (again) very dated.  The track also features the great comedian Lenny Henry on vocals.  However, since Henry is responsible for what may be the worst sitcom theme song ever in the history of music (it may actually make you want to not watch the rather funny Chef, it is so awful) his inclusion isn’t really all that wonderful.  The disc ends with “You’re the One” a weird (in a good way) track that features The Bulgarian Chorus again.  They seem to do a great job of keeping Kate’s songs focused, so the disc ends on a high note.

This disc is pretty soundly dismissed by even diehard Kate fans.  And it is definitely her least satisfying overall. But if you look deeper into the disc, there are some unfairly overlooked gems.

[READ: November 20, 2009] Symzonia

After reading Etidorhpa, I started looking around at other Hollow Earth books.  And thankfully, someone has done most of the work already. So, for an absurdly long list of Hollow Earth books, check out this link.  I was delighted to see that so many of them are quite short!

When I saw this book, and realized that it was about the world mentioned in “Symmes Hole” (from McSweeney‘s) and that it was very likely written by Symmes himself (there is still debate, but it is convincing that he wrote it) I decided to check it out.

Sadly, this book was considerably duller than Etidorhpa.  It was 250 pages and the first 100 were details of his journey to the South Pole.  Which would be fine except that since the author is a sailor he gives excruciating details about not only sailing, but even shipbuilding (including how smart he was for making the ship as strong as he did,) and the directions of the wind and speculation about longitude and all that great seafaring stuff.  That’s not my thing, so I found it rather tedious. (more…)

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