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)