Friday, February 29, 2008

Music Library: Al Green, Al Tuck, Albert Ayler, Albert King, Alejandro Escovedo

Al Green - Compact Command Performances: 14 Greatest Hits. It's the Reverend Al Green. It's fantastic. I should have more from the man than these 14 songs.

Al Tuck and No Action - "One Day The Warner" and "Buddah". Relaxed, slightly sarcastic acoustic-y stuff somewhere between Dan Hicks and M. Ward. I think they're from a mix I got from an online friend. I like the first song better than the second.

Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity. Yeah, that's brilliant.

Albert Ayler - Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Sessions. Damn.

Albert King - "Killing Floor". I'm not a big fan of the blues. One Albert King song is all I need. He sounds like you think he sounds. You've heard it before.

Alejandro Escovedo - Thirteen Years. Escovedo's an odd duck. He's often lumped in with the alt-country/No Depression guys, but his work seems best when channeling John Cale's chamber-folk albums of the 70s and worst when he lets loose the aw-shucks country-blues guitar. I'll pick up next time with a few more Escovedo albums.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Music Library: Aimee Mann, Akron/Family

I wonder how long I can keep up this review of my music library?

Today's albums are:

Aimee Mann - Magnolia Soundtrack. I like the movie, a little because and a little despite its eccentricities. I only have three songs from the soundtrack. And two are ok, but not great. "Save Me" is extraordinary, although I wonder if my affection for it is augmented by the movie.

Aimee Mann - Bachelor No. 2. Oh, now I'm a little confused. I only have a few songs from this one, too, and both were a gift from a friend. But the first one that comes up is "Wise Up," which is another track from Magnolia that I think is touching and extraordinary. The other two tracks are only ok. And "You Do" cuts out about halfway through (note to self: delete).

Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm. A whole lotta rootsy Counting Crows-ish yawn. I guess I'd probably appreciate the lyrics if I got to know them, but the music is so pedestrian, especially compared to the great tracks from Magnolia with their lush production perfectly in service to the soaring songs. I'm going to let this one go, too, I think.

Aimee Mann - One More Drifter In The Snow. Eh, I bought this from eMusic for Xmas 2006. There's some goodness there, but mostly it's the wrong atmosphere for now. I hadn't considered holiday music when I started this, so I'm going to skip it. If I'm still doing this at the end of the year, I'll come back.

Akron/Family - Akron/Family. Oh, I love this. This is the first album, which is quietly unhinged. Each album grows progressively more so.

Akron/Family - Meek Warrior. Take the wonder and poignancy of the first and add in a healthy dose of Ornette Coleman-style deconstruction. This one's a bit schizophrenic, though. The elements are all there, but the execution is too angular. On the next one, they curve through chaos like an ouroboros. On this one, they zig-zag.

Akron/Family - Love Is Simple. This was my favorite album of 2007. It still is.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Music Library: Acid Mothers Temple, Adam Ant, Adverts, Aerosmith, Aesop Rock

Picking up on the music library review from yesterday:

Acid Mothers Temple - Starless and Bible Black Sabbath. Yeah, that's just too heavy for work. I love AMT, but man, it's hard to focus on anything else while you've got a full-on sonic assault over your headphones.

Adam Ant - "Goody Two Shoes". I think this is from a mix CD exchange from a few years ago. Great song! As you probably know, assuming that you aren't accessing the Internet from under a rock.

The Adverts - Peel Session, April 25, 1977. I'm not a big fan of listening to recorded live rock music, generally. Unless the band has a virtuoso musician or two, they're typically far more interesting in the studio than on stage. In the studio, bands can bring out textures in the songs that often translate to flat bashing. That said, Peel Sessions are the exception. Something about playing for John Peel seems to bring out the best in bands, and the tracks on this session - "Quickstep," "Gary Gilmore's Eyes," "One Chord Wonders," "Newboys," and "Bored Teenagers" - actually provide a new way of hearing each of the songs. This may also be because The Adverts are awesome.

The Adverts - Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts. I did mention that the Adverts are awesome, right? This remains true. This is the version with bonus live tracks, which are muddy and lacking in nuance enough to lead me to reiterate how great the Peel Sessions were.

The Adverts - Punk Singles Collection. Many of these songs are on Crossing The Red Sea. The rest sound like everything that indie rock became in the 1990s, and they were recorded in 1978.

Aerosmith - Toys In The Attic. This is big dumb rock. "Toys In The Attic" and "Sweet Emotion" are great songs. "You See Me Crying" is utterly awful, the first song so far (and that includes ABBA!) that I could not finish.

Aesop Rock - Labor Days. That's better. Hip-hop for indie rock nerds.

Aesop Rock - "Fast Cars". This is the only track I have from the Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives EP. Killer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Music Library: A.C. Newman, ABBA, Abd Al Malik, Abigail Washburn, Able Tasmans, AC/DC, Brahms, Aceyalone, Acid Mothers Temple

Inspired by Chris Roberson and the guy at the Onion's AV Club, both of whom are ahead of me in doing this, I thought I should listen to everything in my iTunes library. 250 Gigs, 140-odd days, 47,000+ songs. There has to be some real crap in that, right? So I started yesterday with A.C. Newman, aka Carl Newman, aka "that guy in the New Pornographers". I'm up to AC/DC. Here's a recap so far:

A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder. Delightful, if a bit melancholy, power-pop.

ABBA - Gold. I can't believe I listened to the whole thing. 19 tracks? I can understand having about three of these. "Dancing Queen"? Yes. "Fernando"? Maybe. "Thank You For The Music"? Um, not so sure.

Abd Al Malik - Gibraltar. French Muslim rapper. I speak nary a word of French, but I understand that he's a Sufi questioning his faith after the events of September 11, 2001. Heavy! Except I can't understand anything.

Abigail Washburn - Song of the Traveling Daughter. 'Sokay. The first song is pretty dull, but the songs and arrangements get better the less hoedown-y they are.

Able Tasmans - The Shape of Dolls. New Zealand guitar pop. Some of the tracks are just wonderful examples of the Flying Nun (that's the foremost NZ guitar pop label, if you don't know) sound, all revved-up guitars and jangling Feelies rhythms, but a few tracks have amped up the portentiousness to an unsafe level.

AC/DC - High Voltage. You've heard AC/DC? Well, this is that. It's great, even though a little goes a long way.

AC/DC - Highway To Hell. Funny, I thought I had a little more Bon Scott-era AC/DC. High Voltage was the 2nd of those, and this is the 7th and last. Remember when I said that this (AC/DC) is that (AC/DC)? This is still that, possibly the best of that.

AC/DC - Back In Black. Still that, even with a new singer. Beginning of the end, really, because this is where the double entendres started regressing to the later single entendres. God, I can't believe I listened to three AC/DC albums in a row. I feel like I just drank a whole case of really cheap beer.

Academy of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble - Brahms: String Sextets Nos. 1 and 2. This is the exact opposite of AC/DC. There is nothing that is less AC/DC. Good as a palette cleanser, but my ear for classical music is not so refined that I hear much besides ambient pleasantries.

Aceyalone - Grade A. I only have three tracks off this one. But it's killer hip-hop and a great turnaround after an hour or so of Brahms.

Acid Mothers Temple - In C. First they do the craziest version of Terry Riley's "In C" ever recorded, somehow both breaking the minimalist rules of the piece and exemplifying them in the same step. Then they perform a wacked-out extemporaneous piece inspired by "In C" that they call "In E." Then, for the CD version, they throw on another one, the wild drone "In D." At the end of it, I am exhausted and ready to give up on music and sound for the day or week. And then my iPod serves me more.

Acid Mothers Temple - Electric Heavyland. Oh, man. Was that, like, only in my head? Or was it in your head and I, like, heard it through the aethernet? Who's driving this crazy train? What drains a crazed tie? Why dry cranes trace live goose? My brain is melting!

Acid Mothers Temple - Starless and Bible Black Sabbath. Oh, god. I'm trying to function here. I just can't do it. I'll have to come back to this tomorrow.

Book 6/50: Swordfishtrombones by David Smay

David Smay's a friend of mine. Let's get that out of the way. I like the guy a lot, and he (and 33 1/3 author Kim Cooper) gave me a break when they accepted my contributions to Lost In The Grooves, their encyclopedia of musical also-rans.

So I'm relieved that I can write that Swordfishtrombones is incredibly well-written and one of the most entertaining 33 1/3 books I've read. Smay wrestles with the inscrutable persona of Tom Waits, which on this album was in flux between the Beat crooner of the 70s and the rickety bone sharpener of the 80s and later, and like Jacob and his angel, Smay's victory is both unlikely and entertaining (Jacob, as you may remember, touched the angel in the hollow of his thigh, thus winning the fight with his bad touch). My favorite things about the book are the transformations of the lines that seem like tossed-off jokes at the beginning of the book (such as how Tom Waits wears plows for feet). Smay works his literary magic and by the end of the book, Smay's flights of fiction and fancy have incorporated this jokes in a way that replaces their funny incongruity with touching resonance. Along the way, Smay explains just why the persona transition was important and how it led to such later works of utter brilliance as Rain Dogs and Bone Machine and Mule Variations. I don't want to ruin it for you, but it's a hell of a lot of fun for Waits fans and fans of good prose alike.

Book 5/50: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Eh, I was close to the end, so I figured I'd finish the series off sooner rather than later. Not too much to say about this one. I liked how a goodly chunk of the book had almost no forward propulsion in the plot because the characters were trapped in the frustrating boredom of hiding out for their lives. I liked the central choice Harry was facing, although I wish Rowling had found a way to help him (and the readers, natch) understand without a neverending trip to mystical Exposition Land with Dumbledore, who apparently became an Exposition Fairy in the afterlife. I had to go back and re-read the final pages again because it was hard to figure out what exactly had happened when I finished. And now I've forgotten again.

Anyway, it will be fun to see what my kids think about all this when they get old enough to read the stories.

Book 4/50: Daydream Nation by Matthew Stearns

I've been reading a lot of 33 1/3 books recently. Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation is one of my favorite albums, going back to my teenage years. This book combines interviews with members of SY with a read on the lyrics and music. As a guitarist, I sort of wish Stearns had gone further by describing the wacky tunings and crazy guitar punishment Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo dish out. I liked how he tied SY back to the No Wave "movement" of the late 70s and then to Rhys Chatham's and Glenn Branca's subsequent noise-minimalism compositions. Ultimately, though, I love Daydream Nation for its mystery and unknowable nature, and I don't think that Stearns - or anyone, really - could tease out all the elements of strangeness on the album. Good effort, though, definitely, and a fun read for Sonic Youth fans. And it inspired me to listen to Daydream Nation quite a lot over the last few weeks, so yay for that.

Slate's Wire Club gets worse and worse (WARNING: If you're not caught up, there's a spoiler below. I don't know if I can protect you forever, but I'm trying for now). I don't know how Jeff Greenberg does it. He seems to understand the show even less when he actually likes an episode. And David Plotz, whose Blogging the Bible series was one of last year's sleeper delights, seems only marginally more aware of what's going on in this series. It's like reading 6th graders on Moby-Dick. They've put names to the major characters, but seem baffled anything on-screen requiring a subtle read.

Consider Jeff Greenberg's question about what's presumably Omar's final scene in the show:

One more question, suggested to us by our maximum leader: What was the point of seeing Omar laid out in the morgue, victimized one final time, in this instance by a city bureaucrat? If it was to prove the point that the city doesn't work, well, I think the point has been made. Or was it just to allow the audience to mourn? Or get a fleeting glimpse of Omar's groin?

Wow. I get where a casual observation of the show might confuse a viewer about what happened in the morgue, which was this: The medical examiner opened Omar's bodybag just around the head. Then the medical examiner opened the next one, revealing the head of an older white man. The medical examiner looked at the ID card for the white guy and read that it was for Omar, a black man (DOB listed as 1960, so obviously the system has bad info on Omar, who was born in the early to mid 70s). Smiling a little at the mistake, the medical examiner switches the cards, which will ensure that Omar is buried under his own name. There's a naked, overweight, Black body in the background throughout this scene. Any fleeting glimpses at groins would be at this unnamed and unknown prop. So, a casual viewer might misunderstand what happened there. But seriously? If you're a columnist writing about a show for a major national magazine, watch the fucking thing twice. And do it carefully, not while you're thinking about how you're going to justify your support for Bush's invasion of Iran or something. Fucking lazy-ass jackhole. (As you may read in comments, Anonymous calls me out on resorting to lazy profanity when my point is better made without it. But I'm nothing without my warts and all, so I'm both striking it and leaving it readable. Anyway, sorry for calling names. "Lazy" was probably strong enough.)

Here's another stellar insight:

You haven't convinced me on Carcetti—I believe the man still wants to do good, which is why he's so interesting as a character, in a way that his predecessor in office wasn't. But you've half-convinced me on Marlo. I see your point—Marlo needs to be left standing in order to make a very important point about the futility of the drug war, among other things. And if The Wire doesn't give Bunk a victory, then I'm canceling HBO. Unless The Wire has become just irretrievably dark, I can't imagine a situation in which Chris escapes Bunk's DNA evidence, and since there's no escape, there's little chance Chris will overthrow Marlo before Bunk closes in. Of course, Chris could knock off Marlo and then Bunk could knock off Chris, but then it's a happy ending, and I don't imagine we'll be having one of those. Of course, if McNulty is allowed to die in a pool of his own vomit, or if Lester accidentally overdoses on dollhouse glue, or Bubbles becomes a heartless schmuck, then I suppose the show could safely kill off Marlo without anyone accusing David Simon of staging a cheap morality play.

I don't get how Greenberg could be so simple-minded. Doesn't it seem exactly the point of Carcetti that his belief in what he says is complete and total and lasts only as long as he is saying these things? Greenberg's a reporter covering politics in Washington DC, right? Is the inability to understand this basic fact about successful politicians a prerequisite for that job? And let's go on. Greenberg says that Marlo needs to be left standing to prove a point about the drug war and then goes on to speculate about a power struggle between Partlow and Marlo and how to get to a happy ending, basically involving the deaths of major characters where Greenberg's little internal morality-ometer has flipped in recent episodes. Then he suggests that if these things happen, David Simon is NOT staging a "cheap morality play." I get that he's being sarcastic about how he feels about the show, but that final judgment isn't sarcastic, but practically a demand that Simon's Baltimore be a cheap morality play where the good guys are punished when they stray from the straight and narrow.

Which, in my opinion, misses the entire point of the fucking show, let alone any artform of the last, say, 200 years that requires the audience to consider ambiguity. When I started off reading the Wire Club, I thought it unforgiveable that these gasbags who clearly don't think much of the show get paid to bullshit in public about their limited understanding. Now I sorta think Greenberg in particular has shown that he doesn't have the critical thinking necessary to perform his primary job as a political reporter and commenter. Maybe he would be better as a TV reporter, covering fictions without a hint of ambiguity. He could be one of those inexplicable writers who write glowing tributes to "Two and A Half Men" and reflect fondly on "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

After getting over the flu, I had a sinus infection for another week. So February has not been a big post month for me. I have several books to review, and I want to mention some recent movie viewings, too. All coming to this blog when I have time! In the meantime, I wrote about artists influenced by Richard Thompson at the Shoot Out The Lights blog.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I've had the flu for the last week, five days & six nights of aching, chilly, fevery, snotty misery.
The upside is that I slept approximately 70% of it. The downside was being awake occasionally.

Anyway, I have several books to review, but I'm not up to it yet. In the meantime, you should read Leonard's dispatches from the Conservative Political Action Conference because he is braver than you or I and his tolerance for bullshit is profound.

The Beast Is Red

Chapter 1: An American God

Chapter 2: Invisible Asia

Chapter 3: You Shan't Go Home Again

Chapter 4: In a Mad Frenzy, Stinging Themselves to Eternal Death

Chapter 5: Soy un Perdidor

Chapter 6: She Don't Like, She Don't Like, She Don't Like...McCain

Chapter 7: Holding a Shard of Mirror Up to Nature's Throat

Chapter 8: Twice Presented Him a Kingly Crown

Chapter 9: Brought Me to Darkness, But Not Into Light

Chapter 10: The Sugar and the Shit

Chapter 11: Pestilence Goes for the Big Laff

Chapter 12: Show Us Your Twits

Chapter 13: Getaway

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