of Maine

Alias and Sexy Books: Work Links

– Alias, storied Anticon producer and one of the nicer guys around, has a strong new album, Resurgam, out this week. I review it in this week’s Phoenix.

– I also wrote this fairly silly article about “five books to read (or pretend you’re reading)” to land your first college mate. It’s kind of dumb and snarky, but that’s sort of the point.

– I was also just thinking about how Michelle Obama looked pretty hot on Tuesday night at the DNC. Can’t find a picture, but that’s probably for the best. And, via Gawker, coverage of how the Convention is destroying MSNBC. (This makes it a significant bummer that their online video feed is just the convention proper and none of this bonkers commentary.)

– More big praise for the new Walkmen album. Still probably gonna write about that soon.

– And the latest in the Onion A.V. Club’s awesome “New Cult Canon” series – which is pretty loosely defined, because most of these films are movie buff movies and not much more – about Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom. (Do yourself a favor and read the piece on Showgirls. Hilarious.)


more Nico Muhly, and Final Fantasy
August 27, 2008, 10:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Good morning reading and listening: Carl Wilson, lead music critic of Toronto’s Globe & Mail and author of the much-discussed book about Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love album (which yielded one of the better articles I’ve written so far), has a new post on his blog about Nico Muhly. It’s more informative than mine, and the post contains a new song by Final Fantasy, a/k/a Arcade Fire’s violinist Owen Pallett. Delve with me.

Grizzly Bear at Boston’s MFA, 8/14
Photo by Tim Bugbee, for the Boston Phoenix

Photo by Tim Bugbee, for the Boston Phoenix

In the four times I’ve seen Grizzly Bear in the past 18 months or so, neither their set list nor their songs have changed a lot. But a sense that the band continues to grow, improve, and enjoy their rapidly elevating status remains. The band got a night off from a recent stint opening for Radiohead to play in the courtyard of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts two weeks ago. Clocking in at a little over an hour, it was the longest and perhaps the best set I’ve seen the band play. (The surroundings, all brick walls and ivy, certainly helped.)

The one fairly valid qualm one could levy about a Grizzly Bear show is that a lot of their songs sound the same, which would be problematic if they weren’t all so complicated (and not to mention, if the band sounded much like anyone else). My favorite Bear, Christopher Bear (seriously), is a drummer of immaculate technique, mostly styled on subtle jazz technique but also tapping cymbals with his hand and (if my friend is to be believed) using a delay pedal to create special effects. Chris Taylor, as ever, is everywhere at once, laying effects on his guitar (and others that he’s not playing), planting background vocal loops and clarinet lines. Ed Droste is a giant, lanky and awkward, with the choir boy voice and hard to identify instruments. And Daniel Rossen’s got the glorious baritone guitar and the voice you probably like better that Droste’s more technically impressive pipes.

The MFA show found most of their Yellow House material in peak form (I’m especially fond of what they do with the album’s highlight, “On a Neck, On a Spit,” beginning with a new intro that renders the song unrecognizable before its careening climax). Tracks from the Friend EP (which has some dispensable remixes, but too many essential originals to ignore) were more hit or miss. Their cover of the Crystals’ subversive pop song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” has grown tired – the bassy guitar lines pop up often in better songs – but “Little Brother (Electric)” continues to be a galvanizing rocker.

The band played at least four new songs, one which I don’t recognize, one which is too plodding and repetitive (bad video/audio from All Points West here), and two other golden cuts you may have heard before. “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others” are the best indicators of the sound of Grizzly Bear’s forthcoming “pop” album, simple, familiar tracks elevated by killer vocal harmonies (best in the business, for my money). I always get a chuckle out of Rossen’s bridge on “While You Wait…”: “I’ll ask you kindly to make your way.” Almost goofy, but he pulls it off, and the band’s confident enough in the song (and their web-friendly audience, I suppose) that it’s already an ideal set closer. You can download nice recordings of those two songs from Gorilla vs. Bear.

Openers Violens, featuring members of Lansing Dreiden… meh. I can see why the band chose them – Smiths-y emotional new-wave pop/rock – but they were about as generic as that descriptor.

– Elsewhere, Gawker’s got a heart-felt and intersting post about Harper’s, the magazine I most encourage you to subscribe to (both because it’s big and cheap – about $15 bucks a year for monthly issues – and because it’s super liberal without being dumb, which is rare IMO). Follow the link to the “Moby Duck” article, one of the more memorable pieces I’ve read in there since subscribing.

Best Albums of 2008 (so far)
August 26, 2008, 9:15 am
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews

Good morning. I’m a little wonked out on Claritin and, now that I ran out of that, Benadryl, so it’s a list day. These are the notable albums I’ve heard thus far this year, which I’ve wrangled together for list-making purposes later in the year. I’ll continue to update it and maybe amend some of the candidates with comments and alert you of any important changes. If there’s anything you want me to weigh in on or want to know more about, give a shout. Barring more debilitating sneezing fits, back to regular programming tomorrow.

On the list (definite top 10 contenders):
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
M83, Saturdays = Youth
No Age, Nouns
Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
Women, Women

Need more time (albums I haven’t really processed yet):
Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Fuck Buttons, Street Horrrsing
The Hospitals, Hairdryer Piece
Invincible, Shapeshifters
James Blackshaw, Litany of Echoes
Kingdom Shore, …and all the dogs to shark
The Mae Shi, HLLLYH
The Music Tapes, For Clouds and Tornadoes
Oneida, Preteen Weaponry
Paavoharju, Laulu Laakson Kukista
Ponytail, Ice Cream Spiritual
Portishead, Third
Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
Studio, Yearbook 2
The Walkmen, You & Me
White Denim, Workout Holiday

On the bubble (albums that could use a few extra listens, are are pretty damned good, but likely won’t make the cut):
Alina Simone, Everyone Is Calling Out to Me, Beware
Beach House, Devotion
Black Mountain, In the Future
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lie Down in the Light
The Constantines, Kensington Heights
Dan Friel, Ghost Town
The Dodos, Visiter
Islands, Arm’s Way
Los Campesinos!, Hold on Now, Youngster
Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
Shearwater, Rook
Subtle, ExitingARM
Sun Kil Moon, April
The Tallest Man on Earth, Shallow Graves
Thomas Function, Celebration
Why?, Alopecia

Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
August 25, 2008, 8:53 am
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Nico Muhly is 27 years old, and is already a sought-after and increasingly hip modern classical musician. His day job, as of February at least, is as a sort of technical assistant in Phillip Glass’s studio. A recent New Yorker profile portrays him much like one would a modern teenager: he chats on the web while he composes, finds inspiration in Youtube videos and more arcane tchotchkes. He comes off as a voracious and almost indiscriminate consumer of information, a habit he has a bad habit of contextualizing. (He seems more genial in this much shorter interview, so perhaps it was a framing issue.)

His new album, Mothertongue, is in a way a pretty literal take on what seems to be his personality. It’s comprised of three very different suites. The first, the four-track “Mothertongue,” is dominated by a glittering widescreen composition and a soprano vocalist reciting a rapid-fire series of numbers and words that overlap and collide at random. It’s overwhelming in a strange way, easy to dismiss but you’d rather try and dig a little deeper (where you find little but more chaos). Three-part “Wonders” is all bloated horns, classical organ, and a new, more sober voice reciting (I think) an old travel narrative. For the wayward indie fan, it’s “The Only Tune” suite that will suck you in, if you can make it that far. Sam Amidon sings the story of a girl drowning after her sister pushes her into a river, and a man who drags her out of the water and turns her body into a fiddle. A gruesome story given the ache of tragedy, the story is the most explicit rendering of the album’s theme of journeying. “Mothertongue” is a wandering through chaos, “Wonders” through the past, and “The Only Tune” through our bodies and into something else. (Amidon practically births the suite, beginning the story over and over again, adding one word at a time to great effect.)

Ultimately, it’s satisfying that Mothertongue begins with its most “difficult” song and ends with its most pleasant. It’s harder to look at Muhly’s compositions as overstuffed or pretentious when they come to such an evocative, lovely end.

I’ll hopefully have more to say about Muhly soon. Apparently his website offers loads of mp3s of his other works, and there are a couple of other indie/modern classical albums I’ve been meaning to spend more time with (Kingdom Shore’s …and all the dogs to shark and Max Richter’s 24 Postcards in Full Color), so be on the lookout.

Four Friday Links

– This month’s issue of the Atlantic asks some big questions. About termites. Do their tummies hold the key to new alternative energy sources? Can the desires of a stomach override those of a brain?? The mind boggles. Some pretty good campaign coverage in the issue too.

– I’ve been considering writing a bit about the new Walkmen album, You & Me, which I like an awful lot. It’s a huge step up from the lazy travelogue of A Hundred Miles Off, and a nice compromise of that album’s generous instrumentation and the band’s earlier intensity. This Pitchfork review may oversell the album a bit, but otherwise nails it.

– At the halfway point of this week’s New Yorker, George Packer writes an exhaustive, absorbing, informative, superlative article about Burma/Myanmar. (Anthony Lane’s take on the first week of the Olympics, meanwhile, is just as boring and unfunny as everything else I’ve read about the events in Beijing.)

– The New York Times reviews a Vivian Girls show! At a DIY venue in Brooklyn! And likes them a lot! I haven’t yet mentioned how great their album is. In due time.

Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital
August 22, 2008, 1:45 pm
Filed under: Words | Tags: , , ,

Depressing, frustrating, dazzlingly imaginative, and intensely confrontational in equal measure, Chris Adiran’s The Children Hospital is one meaty read. It’s an apocalyptic novel – one night, a proverbial great flood arrives, leaving the world buried in seven miles of water while the titular hospital remains afloat – and tackles the issues that come with it in surprising ways. The Children’s Hospital deals in gore, illness, miracles, spirituality, imminent doom, social experimentation, and random quirk, resulting in a style that’s something between a prototype of magical realism and a horror story. The hospital, seemingly controlled by a “preserving angel” (who, confusingly for a while, narrates the novel), mutates to fit its inhabitants’ needs. Food and necessities can be replicated by machine, rooms expand and contract, warped children near death and are healed by supernatural encounters.

Much of the challenge of finishing the 600+ page book comes from the way Adrian is unafraid to pose hope, despair, and inevitability in unwavering confrontations. You get the feeling that its author, both a doctor and a divinity student, is constantly burdened by those battles. The Children’s Hospital is powerful and audacious enough to put you through the same wringer.

My colleague at the Boston Phoenix interviewed Adrian about the novel last year, which resulted in this essential, emotional article. And my Chris Adrian experience has just begun: I’ll be reading his first book, Gob’s Grief, and his brand new collection of short stories, A Better Angel, in the coming days as I get cracking on this contest.

I’ve read a whole lot more this week; work permitting, some links coming later in the day. There will be termites.