Sunday, July 25, 2010

Heavy Rotation #11

My music listening was fairly scattered through the early part of the summer and included a fair amount of shuffle mode both on iTunes and my iPod. Over the last few weeks, however, a few albums have been played repeatedly and it's time to talk about them.

The Afghan Whigs/1965 - This album represents another in a long line of groups that I missed out on the first time around. I'd heard about The Afghan Whigs, of course, but I don't think I really ever heard any of their stuff. Thanks to eMusic, I took the plunge with this album late last year. It didn't sink in immediately and I forgot about it until recently...and now I can't get enough of it. It's slinky and sexy and creepy and stylish and Greg Dulli is one of a kind. Once I've had my fill of this one, I'll be delving into some more - should I go Congregation or Gentlemen next?

Band of Horses/Infinite Arms - So, for this band the backlash came with album #3 and not the sophomore release. I think people just decided it was time to turn on Ben Bridwell, maybe because the rest of the band is different from the first 2 albums or maybe it's just not as majestic-sounding as those albums were. I read a lot of mediocre reviews and I'm not sure why. Yes, I did take a few listens to for the album to fully sink in but once it did, I was hooked. This is melodic folk-pop in the finest sense. Kudos to those few critics brave enough to avoid the rock critic playbook on this one.

Pernice Brothers/Goodbye, Killer - This is the new album and it is packed full of great pop and country-inflected songs. As always, Joe Pernice writes with a wonderful melodic sense and a way with words that can be depressing and beautiful at the same time. So good.

Bruce Springsteen/Born To Run - A recent purchase and viewing of his new DVD, London Calling, had me grabbing this classic album from 1975 (the remastered version from a few years back) and playing it for the thousandth and one time. "Thunder Road" is my favorite song ever and songs like "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," "She's The One," and the title track sound great blasting on my car stereo with the windows down on my way to and from class.

Superchunk/Indoor Living - I came late to the Superchunk party and am very excited that I get to buy one of their albums upon release, as I can in Sept. with the upcoming Majesty Shredding. I spent some time on my Blip account posting older songs of theirs that I mostly don't own and decided it was time to devote some listening time to this album. I grabbed it from eMusic a while back and mostly ignored it but I won't make that mistake anymore. Mac McCaughan is someone I have a lot of respect for as an artist and businessman (as one of the heads of Merge Records, my favorite indie label). Again, once I exhaust this album, I'm going back for more.

Sunday Shuffle #188

I've got a lot of things to do today, so we'll just jump right into the music.

1. Crackin' Up/King Khan And The Shrines (3)
2. Big Star/Haley Bonar (2)
3. Newark Wilder/Pavement (1)
4. Friends/Dinosaur Jr. (1)
5. By My Car/My Morning Jacket (2)
6. The Legionnaire's Lament/The Decemberists (1)
7. No You're Not/Spoon (3)
8. Denver/Clem Snide (8)
9. Boy With (100) Hands/Crooked Fingers (2)
10. Prizefighter/Eels (1)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #187

It was a busy week this past week and it will be another one this week, so I may just be in one of those Sunday Shuffle and little else periods for a little bit. I have only 2 weeks left of my class and quite a bit to do as well, so August might be the time to start posting more. We'll see, though, since I'd like to write about some things. In the meantime, let's get to today's ten...

1. You & Me, MF/The Drams (2)
2. Paul Burch's Rattlesnake Daddy Blues/Paul Burch (1)
3. The Grand Duchess of San Francisco/American Music Club (1)
4. I'll Still Be True/Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (6)
5. I Wanna Thank You/Sloan (2)
6. Give It Time/The Mynabirds (5)
7. There's A Reason/A.A. Bondy (1)
8. Even Heroes Have To Die/Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (8)
9. Hard Rain/Shout Out Louds (1)
10. Modern Diet/The Redwalls (2)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #186

We're already at the All-Star Break (after today, anyway). The White Sox have a 7 game winning streak going not too long after they won 11 in a row. If they win today and the Tigers lose, they'll be in first place at the break. Hope that can happen...

1. Pablo And Andrea/Yo La Tengo (2)
2. January Wedding/The Avett Brothers (3)
3. Funny Little Frog/Belle and Sebastian (2)
4. Bottom of the World/Tom Waits (1)
5. Same Kooks/The Hold Steady (3)
6. Learned to Surf/Superchunk (3)
7. Elouise/Say Hi (3)
8. Zurich Is Stained/Pavement (1)
9. Tears For Affairs/Camera Obscura (3)
10. Velvet Guitar/Alejandro Escovedo (2)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Let's Go to the Video

I've never been a big gamer. Part of it was that I never had a video game console growing up. I did have friends with them, of course, and spent a lot of time playing Atari at their houses. At college, I had friends with game systems as well, so I got more exposure. Years ago my wife and I bought a Super Nintendo and kept it for a while but eventually gave it to some nephews because we felt a little embarrassed about it. We our son was old enough, we bought a Nintendo Game Cube and enjoyed playing. My son has become a real gamer and has a wall of systems in his room. I play from time to time but not as much as I tell myself I want to. I'm just more wired into other forms of entertainment, I guess, and playing video games detracts from time spent with those.

Over the past few days, I've been reading Tom Bissell's new book, Extra Lives. In it, he makes a case for video games as an art form and why they matter. He talks about problems inherent with narrative and ways that some games have tried to work around that issue. He talks to people who spend their time thinking about games and designing games. He writes about the games that have captured his interest and time in such a way that makes me want to track all those games down and start playing.

It is a very interesting book and worth a read even if you aren't a hardcore gamer like me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Great Visit

I remember reading reviews of Jennifer Egan's Look At Me back in the early part of the decade and thinking that the book sounded interesting. I never did get around to picking it up and don't remember seeing Egan's name again, though I probably should have based on what I'm now learning about her novel The Keep. All of this is prelude to talking about her new novel, A Visit From the Good Squad, which I recently read.

The first chapter introduces us to Sasha, who is out on a date and trying not to succumb to her kleptomaniac tendencies. She is smart and funny and damaged. This chapter hooks you in immediately. None of the rest of the novel is told from her point-of-view and it works wonderfully.

This book continues a trend I've been noticing in fiction lately - that of the mosaic novel. It's not quite a series of linked short stories that make up a novel but instead chapters giving us different character viewpoints that all have links to one another. Yeah, the distinction isn't a big one. Recent example of this approach include Let the World Spin by Colum McCann (which I loved) and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (which I read and enjoyed well enough earlier this year).

Throughout the course of the book we learn about Sasha's former boss, Bennie Salazar and his friends from high school. We meet Bennie's mentor in the music business and Bennie's wife and son. We see Sasha's uncle in Naples "searching" for Sasha and Sasha's college best friend who comes to a tragic end. These are all in different time periods. Near the end of the book there is a 50 page plus section that is a Power Point presentation. It is set in the near future and the Power Point is written by Sasha's 12 year-old daughter about her family. Amazingly, this section is just as effective as the rest written in straight prose and renders insight in a new way. Bravo.

The novel isn't just tied together through Sasha either. We have a similarity of themes - ideas of how structure informs personality, questions of identity, the passage of time, the quest for meaning. I'm just scratching the surface here too. A closer re-read would yield a much more in-depth analysis.

I really liked this book and I can't recommend it enough. I will definitely be delving into the rest of Egan's work as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #185

Today is the 4th of July and the 1st anniversary of this iteration of the blog. So, let's celebrate!

1. Maggie Mae/The Beatles (1)
2. Agony of Laffitte/Spoon (1)
3. Lover Like You/The Avett Brothers (2)
4. Give And Be Taken/Crooked Fingers (1)
5. Fourth World War/Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (3)
6. It's Not the End of the World/Sloan (2)
7. Easily Aroused/Portastatic (2)
8. You Threw A Spark/Crooked Fingers (1)
9. No Need To Cry/British Sea Power (1)
10. Walking To Do/Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (2)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Truths About True Blood

I resisted. When the HBO adaptation of the Charlaine Harris was announced, I shrugged. I hadn't read the books and didn't much care about another vampire series. Alan Ball was announced as the creative force behind the series and that didn't suck me in either - while I enjoyed early seasons of Six Feet Under, it got so damn depressing that I gave up on it. So, no True Blood for me, no sir.

And yet...

I kept hearing positive things about the show and I tried to see if I could catch up before Season 2 through HBO On Demand. I couldn't sustain my interest or maybe I just knew I wouldn't get to all the episodes before they disappeared. So I was out. Again.

And yet...

I still heard good things about the show and when I knew Season 3 was coming up, I checked On Demand and saw both seasons sitting there. Let's try it, I decided. This time I was in to stay.

The show is creepy, sexy, gory, funny, and just a great time. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger as well, just willing you to come back for more. To be honest, I don't know how I'll be able to watch it as it airs (though I'm still behind on Season 3, which is a few episodes in). I'm sure I'll find a way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

More Stories

I love reading short stories. For many years I kept track of how many stories I read and it was usually over 200 a year. Not a bad total when you factor in the novels and comic books read during each year as well. As fans of short stories know, anthologies are a good way to discover new writers to follow and to find new stories from old favorites. When I heard that Neil Gaiman, one of my very favorites, and Al Sarrantonio were editing a new collection of stories called, well, Stories, I was ready to read it.

Most of the writers in Stories are high-profile and well-known - your Joyce Carol Oates and Lawrence Block and Jeffrey Deaver and Walter Mosely. The ones who aren't well-known to everyone are usually well-known in their genre, Michael Swanwick and Jeffrey Ford, for instance. It's a star-studded cast, for sure. Like all anthologies, though, there are stories to love and stories to not love so much.

Roddy Doyle starts off the collection with "Blood," which is a perfect opener. His normal 41 year-old man starts craving blood and doesn't know why. The story tracks what he does and how he deals with his feelings about that fact. At the end, he has to admit it to his wife and it's a great scene to close out the story. I've never read any Doyle other than random stories in anthologies like this one and I'll have to remedy that fact.

The collection also ends very well with Joe Hill's "The Devil on the Staircase." Not only is it a chilling tale of murder and hell but it plays with typography- most paragraphs resemble the titular staircase as the main traverses up and down the 800 plus stairs on the mountain where he lives. I love that type of play in literature when it's integral to the story.

I also want to mention "A Life In Fictions" by Kat Howard. Who is Kat Howard, you ask? Well, she's the throw-in amongst all the big names - this is her first published story. Let me tell you, she more than holds her own. It's a very short story about a woman who keeps getting written into fiction by the writer who loves her. It's a smart idea and it plays out perfectly. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work.

I could go on and on about each story I loved but instead I'll quickly mention a few more. Jeffrey Ford turns in a creepy and melancholy romance in "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Lawrence Block delivers a sensationally skin-crawling "Catch and Release," making your opinion of the main character change over the course of it. Stewart O'Nan delivers a quiet yet powerful tale of a woman searching for a dead girl she has no connection with in "Land of the Lost." Michael Swanwick plays with the idea of fiction and what it means for the characters contained within that fiction in "Goblin Lake." Finally, Kurt Andersen's "Human Intelligence" takes the old SF idea of aliens observing the planet out for a pleasing whirl.

Obviously, there were stories I didn't like but I'd rather not dwell on those. Instead, I'd like to savor the storytelling on display in this worthwhile collection.