Saturday, September 22, 2012

Music For Morons 30: Equinox Creep

00:00 Ciccone Youth - Macbeth 
04:50 Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica (with Limpe Fuchs) [Matmos Edit] 
07:50 Nosaj Thing ft. Kazu Makino - Eclipse/Blue 
11:17 Senking - Painbug In My Eye 
14:23 R.H.Y. Yau - Lick Him When You Are Dead 
18:30 Loops Haunt - Eagles Fated Pilars 
21:21 completion

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Music For Morons 29: Long Solstice

00:00 The The - Electric Moonlight 
02:20 Walter Schnaffs - I Am Germany 
05:13 Sonic Youth - (She's In A) Bad Mood 
10:28 Black Dice - Pigs 
13:50 Amon Tobin - Lost & Found 
16:30 DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Summertime (Reprise) 
18:28 completion

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Morrissey Albums Rated & In Praise Of Southpaw Grammar

I surprised myself with how highly I rated Southpaw Grammar. I've always liked the album, but listening to it with a critical ear with the idea of attaching a number to it gave me a new appreciation for it. It excels as a complete piece, the only Morrissey album for which I'm tempted to break out the cliche "greater than the sum of its parts." All Moz albums have great moments, but a lot of them are terribly uneven. Southpaw Grammar also stands out in striking me as his least personal work. He barely uses the first person lyrically, and the subjects of the songs sound to me like fictional creations, fitting for a literary dude like Moz. I wish he'd do more "story" songs and fewer about his own pathos. Another unique element of Southpaw Grammar is the musicians being allowed to breath and flex their chops. Mozzaball has usually had enjoyable backing bands and composers, but the music is also generally secondary to Morrissey's personality, lyrics and vocals. Not so on Southpaw Grammar, on which music and voice work together as equal partners (sort of like they did in The Smiths). Taken in the context of his solo career, it's a very weird album. It's also a surprisingly great one.

(While listening to all this Morrissey, I put my favorite songs in this Spotify playlist.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Jailbird

Jailbird (1976)

Ugh. I may have reached Vonnegut overload after reading his biography and first eight novels in short order. I had to force myself to get through Jailbird. I honestly cannot tell how much of the struggle was the fault of a poor book or just my head space not being compatible with it. If I pick it up again in a few years, maybe it would strike me as worthy of Vonnegut's catalog. It took me close to three months to finish it, and there would be long periods where I didn't pick it up, and I had a hard time remembering what had already occurred. Now that I've finished it, the story remains murky. There are themes of labor vs. ownership, communism vs. capitalism, the Watergate scandal, the idealism of youth...but little sticks with me. There were a few lines and passages in the book that resonated, and were enough to make the slog worth it in the end. But I'll be taking a little break before diving in to finish the last five Vonnegut novels.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Slapstick

Slapstick (1976)

The man who wrote in 1959 (through a character) that "a purpose of a human to love whoever is around to be loved" writes in the intro to Slapstick that love "does not seem important to me." Vonnegut was mired in a prolonged separation and divorce at this point in his life, so perhaps it is not surprising his opinion of love had degraded. He also says that Slapstick is "the closest I will come to writing an autobiography." It does not read anything like an autobiography to me. Perhaps the most personal element is the relationship of the main character Wilbur Swain and his sister Eliza. When they were together, they were brilliant and happy, and when separated, mediocre and melancholy. I wondered if Vonnegut felt that way about his own sister (who had been dead for 18 years when Slapstick was published).

The most interesting part of the book is the creation of a government program to end loneliness in America. Every citizen is issued a new middle name, with resulting groups of around 10,000 persons who share a middle name and are now family. As the parent of two young children, I could get behind the idea of having lots of family caretakers around to share the child-rearing duties as portrayed in the book. In addition to fleshing out this social experiment, the book also features the collapse of the US government and ensuing wars between states. Though there is little science-fiction to be found in Slapstick, it still reads as one of his most inventive/imaginative.

This is the hardest book to rate so far for me...Anywhere between 6.5-9.0 really, but I'll go with 7.8/10.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vonnegut Kindle Dude

Rec'd: Carrie Brownstein on WTF Podcast

Been on a real Sleater-Kinney/Wild Flag/Portlandia kick, and amazement abounds at the radicality of Ms Carrie Brownstein. That amazement is fortified, strengthened, and reinforced after listening to this delightful conversation between Ms Brownstein and Marc Maron on his WTF podcast. This is somehow the first time I've ever listened to WTF in spite of Maron having tons of interesting guests before. I'll be checking more out after hearing what an engaging conversationalist Maron is.

WTF Episode 267 - Carrie Brownstein

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Breakfast Of Champions

Breakfast Of Champions (1973)

If I recall correctly from Vonnegut biography And So It Goes, Vonnegut struggled mightily with this follow up to his masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five, going through endless versions and rewrites. Vonnegut acknowledges as much when he introduces a dog at the end of the book and mentions that it had a major role in an earlier version. This struggle comes through in the reading, and not in a good way. Much like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, this book has flashes of brilliance but fails to come together in the whole.

Free will is a theme, with Vonnegut equating humans to machines throughout the book, suggesting we have no choice how we behave and react but are at the mercy of our chemicals. The two protagonists are Dwayne Hoover who has "bad chemicals" and sci-fi author Kilgore Trout who is travelling to Hoover's hometown for an arts festival. We are told early on that once he arrives, Hoover will read one of Trout's stories and it will cause him to go on a violent rampage. The fateful meeting finally arrives after a too-long lead up. Vonnegut inserts himself as a character watching the climax unfold and even interacts with Trout, telling him he is "setting him free," along with all the other characters Vonnegut has used up to this point in his career, meaning he won't be using them in any more stories. (Vonnegut didn't stay true to that promise.) The weird climax is worth the uneven trip to get there, but this is not Vonnegut at his best. You still get lots of Vonnegut doodles and inspired moments like this:
There is no order in the world around us, we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead. It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The The—Moonbug

I've been marinating in Moonbug, the new soundtrack from The The, for several days now. Having not seen the film, I can only review the music on its own terms, which is not ideal since the music was composed primarily to go with images. The movie is a documentary by Nichola Bruce which follows photographer Steve Pyke as he takes portraits of the astronauts who have walked on the moon. NASA footage from the moon missions is also included. Bruce writes in the 76 page book that houses the CD that the movie is "a study of a photographer working" but also "about memory, in different layers...both experienced and imagined."

Not surprisingly, the music is spacey, but not in any cliche style that term may evoke. No noodling theremins here. Things begin with an enjoyable drums and guitar instrumental. Only when the second track starts with a JFK sample do we start floating in space. A guitar line makes a welcome reappearance on the fourth track, which leads into the strongest piece on Moonbug, "Electric Moonlight." Here some eerie, reverbed percussion is at the forefront, giving some much needed weight to the otherwise airy album. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn't live up to the strong first third. There is little in the way of  structure or percussion from here on out, with lots of minimal, electronic whooshing and floating around filling out the album. Matt Johnson makes excellent soundscapes dating way back to his first forays into music such as on the arresting album Burning Blue Soul and on up to his current soundtrack work on Tony and Moonbug. And the soundscapes of Moonbug are indeed enjoyable while you are listening to them. But they are so weightless that they leave little impression after the fact. Johnson of course had to fit the sounds to serve the images, but from a purely musical standpoint, I wish there was more in the vein of "Electric Moonlight" and less of the unsubstantial sound vapors that make up much of Moonbug.

Still, it is a The The release, so you can expect a rewarding listen, plus Johnson has spared no expense in packaging the disc in a hardback book that features Pyke's astronaut portraits, some stills from the film, and an interesting conversation between Pyke and Johnson.


Moonbug Trailer from moonbug the film on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Music For Morons 28: Premature Equinox

I started a podcast called Music For Morons way back in 2005 or 2006 and updated it fairly frequently for awhile. New episodes have been few and far between for the last four years or so, but I have a new one up now for your listening pleasure. It is super short but features several great tracks if you like electronic music.

00:00 Mount Kimbie - Ruby
02:13 Mouse On Mars - Wienuss
04:15 Deerhoof - The Merry Barracks
07:40 Justice Yeldham - 300104 Hamburg
08:50 Nosaj Thing - 1685/Bach
10:44 Mount Kimbie - Blind Night Errand
13:33 Reggie Watts - Gnome Sayin'?
13:58 Loops Haunt - Rubber Sun Grenade
18:59 end

New The The: Moonbug Soundtrack

With no advance warning, a new The The album is available for purchase. Following the 2010 release of the Tony soundtrack comes the soundtrack to Moonbug accompanied by an 80 page hardback book/CD case. It is spendy for us Yanks: with international shipping, it comes to $37. But as a The The completist, my order is already in.

Update: You can find my review of the album here.

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

After a string of three great books (The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night and Cat's Cradle), Vonnegut faltered a bit with God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It has fantastic moments, but does not come together as a particularly effective whole. The story meanders through settings and characters which are rarely developed to satisfaction. The main character, Eliot Rosewater, is an exception, and the book is at its best when it stays with him. Rosewater is the inheritor of a vast fortune, and becomes an eccentric benefactor to the poor and decrepit of a county in Indiana. Vonnegut's alter-ego, science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout, makes his first appearance. Vonnegut attempts to address socialism vs. free enterprise and unconditional love, but the story doesn't hold together enough for the message to be especially powerful.

Like I say though, there are moments of brilliance mixed into the hodge podge story, such as this quintessentially Vonnegut passage:

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies:
"God damn it, you've got to be kind."


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle (1963)

Guh. My brain is left mushy trying to say anything partially intelligent in response to genius. Cat's Cradle is an ambitious, biting commentary on  science gone too far and especially religion. A scientist creates a doomsday substance, just because he's curious if it can be done, with no regard for the implications. The best part is the invention of the religion Bokononism, the tenets of which make up a lot of the book. Vonnegut dreams up new vocabulary as part of the religion. Some highlights:

  • karass: group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will
  • granfalloon: a false karass, ie., a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist
  • foma: harmless untruths
All of Bokononism is made up of foma. As it is written in the Books of Bokonon, "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." I especially like the idea of a granfalloon, exemplified in the book by a character extremely proud of her home state of Indiana. So much harm in this world could be avoided if arbitrarily related groups didn't feel their granfalloons (race, gender, nationality, religion, etc.) were superior to others. Read this book.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Mother Night

Mother Night (1961)

Vonnegut tackles Nazism and World War II (in which he was a POW) obliquely here, as opposed to the more personal account to come in Slaughterhouse Five. This book is written as a first person memoir by the fictional Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who claims to have been an American spy posing as an infamous Nazi propagandist during the war. Campbell is a chilling character, unsure himself exactly which side he was serving, and not seeming to care a great deal either way. He lost his wife in the war and with her his entire reason to live. All sorts of uncomfortable existential issues are raised, with no satisfactory answers, and no happy ending. It is a wonderful but dark book, mercifully short.

In an introduction added to the book after its initial release, Vonnegut writes, "This is the only story of mine whose moral I know...We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be...There's another clear moral to this tale...When you're dead, you're dead. And yet another moral...Make love when you can. It's good for you."

And from Campbell's memoir:
I had hoped (as a propagandist) to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate. So many people wanted to believe me!
Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: The Sirens of Titan

The Sirens of Titan (1959)

Seven years after his good but not great debut novel, Vonnegut leaps into singular brilliance with The Sirens of Titan. It is couched in sci-fi, but clearly addresses the big questions of life in the here and now on Earth; fate, luck, religion, humanity's purpose. Our hero, Malachi Constant, goes from being a fabulously wealthy Hollywood playboy to a brainwashed member of a Martian army to trapped on Mercury, back to Earth, and finally to Saturn's moon Titan. At the end of it all, he says he has figured out that, "a purpose of a human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." Somewhere in the middle a new religion is formed on Earth: The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Vonnegut's famed humanism comes into play: "Take care of the people, and God Almighty will take care of Himself." The settings and characters sprawl, but somehow the book reads razor sharp.

I don't know why I'm writing these little reviews. I obviously have no book reviewing chops. But I'm glad I'm re-reading Vonnegut. He's flipping my wig all over again.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Newish The The

Any new activity from Matt Johnson/The The is cause for celebration in these parts, and a rare morsel has dropped from the heavens in the form of a new version of "GIANT," the classic tune from The The's essential 1983 album Soul Mining. (I've been trying and failing to come up with any better album-ending song.) DJ Food released an instrumental cover of "GIANT" in 2009, and now Matt Johnson has added a new vocal take for a version appearing on DJ Food's just released album The Search Engine:

DJ Food - GIANT feat. Matt Johnson

These are the first new vocals from Johnson in a decade. I enjoy the new version muchly. Johnson's vocals at fifty-ish years are surer than they were back in 1983, and DJ Food's backing track adds a cool twist. The haunting chant that closes out the original version is less effectual on Food's version though.

Coinciding with this is a new episode of Radio Cineola, Johnson's online radio broadcasts. The 15 minute show features a different version of "GIANT" by DJ Food, the spaced-out "Lunar Mix." After an interview with DJ Food, and an advertisement to "occupy your mind," listeners are treated to the radically different "Lunar Version" of the 2000 The The song "Shrunken Man." Appropriately, this is also a spacey ambient version.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Vonnegut In Retrospect: Player Piano

I recently read And So It Goes, the new biography of Kurt Vonnegut. The book is impeccably researched and written, and the biggest flaw is no fault of the author's: Vonnegut does not come off as likable as you would hope. Vonnegut repeatedly urged the reader to extend common courtesy, build community, and, "God damn it, you've got to be kind!" It is mildly disappointing to read that he was often unsuccessful in practicing as much when it came to his associates, wives and children.

However, that does not have to take anything away from his life's work. And So It Goes's greatest strength might be adding context to Vonnegut's writingwhat he was experiencing and intending with his novels. It has been roughly a decade since I was first introduced to Vonnegut by my sister-in-law (thanks Renae!) and tore through his novels in short order. I do not remember them well individually, more as one crush of the best novels I've read. And So It Goes has inspired me to go back and re-read them in chronological order and see if they are as wonderful for me as a 32 year old as they were at 20. I'll write a few thoughts here on each as I read through them. Novel the first:

Player Piano (1952)

A cautionary tale of what the future could look like if humanity yields too much of the labor force and decision-making to automation. Vonnegut had recently left his job in public relations for General Electric before writing Player Piano, where he had seen the cutting edge of mechanized progress. For Player Piano he developed this fleshed out near-future world in which America has yielded much of its dignity to machinery. It is an enjoyable read, and still relevant, even if conventional compared to Vonnegut's subsequent work.

Representational quote:
"What have you got against machines?" said Buck.
"They're slaves."
"Well, what the heck," said Buck. "I mean, they aren't people. They don't suffer. They don't mind working."
"No. But they compete with people."
"That's a pretty good thing, isn't itconsidering what a sloppy job most people do of anything?"
"Anybody that competes with slaves becomes a slave."

Non-representational quote that I just liked:
The band...smashed and heaved at the tune as though in a holy war against silence. It was impossible even to be cordial to oneself in the midst of the uproar.
Does it make any sense to give novels a rating? What the heck. I'll give Player Piano a 6.8/10. 

Gang Of Four—At Home He's A Tourist