Music review: 5 Quick Picks from Beth

By , June 15, 2009

holdsteadyBoys and Girls in America
By The Hold Steady, 2006

Blender magazine said of The Hold Steady that they “sound like the best bar band in the world,” and I would have to agree.

whenthesungoesdownWhen The Sun Goes Down
By Langhorne Slim, 2005

This rambunctious, foot-stomping album has been cannily described as “punk-grass.” Perfect for a bad-mood day and essential listening for fans of the Avett Brothers.

emotionalismcoverEmotionalism
By Avett Brothers, 2007

5 stars

This is my favorite album of 2007, hands down. It’s completely addictive.

jennylewisrabbitfurcoatRabbit Fur Coat
By Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, 2006

5 stars

Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley shows off her gorgeous voice on some twangier tunes.

askingforflowersAsking For Flowers
By Kathleen Edwards, 2008

Kathleen Edwards’ lyrics tell stories of flawed characters with sympathy, and her voice brings to mind a gentler Lucinda Williams.

- Beth

Music review: 4 Quick Picks

By , June 15, 2009

battlesmirroredMirrored
by Battles, 2007

4 Stars, Ben

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manitoba-up_in_flames_album_coverUp In Flames
By Caribou, 2006

4 Stars, Ben

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madeofbricksjpgMade of Bricks
By Kate Nash

She’s British, she’s cheeky, she’s awesome!

5 stars, Kyle

mia_kalaKala
by M.I.A., 2007

Guaranteed to make you dance.

- Alexandra

Music review: Bang On A Can – Lost Objects

By , June 15, 2009

lostobjectsLost Objects
By Bang On A Can

4 stars

What would a collaboration between an avant-garde compositional collective, a purist Baroque chamber ensemble, and one the world’s most famous DJs sound like? It sounds awesome to me. I’m speaking now of Bang on Can’s Lost Objects. Bang on a Can are a collective of composer-performers conceived by Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang. Bang on a Can & friends have reinterpreted much of the forward thinking classical and popular canon, on record or on stage during their eponymous Bang on a Can festival. For Lost Objects they recruited Deborah Artman to write a libretto concerning all things lost. Each section features a different lost item: lost socks, lost species, lost modes of communication (e.g., extinct languages, passenger pigeons and Morse code), lost children, and the loss of animal sacrifice in religious rituals. Vocal duties are performed by the RIAS Chamber Choir, one Berlin’s most highly regarded troupes. Bang on a Can enlisted Baroque ensemble Concerto Koln to provide instrumentation. Concerto Koln only use period specific instruments with are tuned to a lower pitch but provide a wider array of timbres. Rounding out this motley crue are the members of Bang on a Can & friends who play the accoutrements of popular music: drums, electric guitars, and keyboards. Between thematic sections DJ Spooky provides remixes of the tracks you’ve just heard. The results are minimalist, but not academic. Big clear melodies soar, and simple militaristic percussion drives it all home. What really makes Lost Objects are the rock touches: the staccato guitar and the short length of pieces. The brevity of the entire composition saves it from the doldrums where most oratorios go to die, and short length of individual sections suits Bang on Can’s minimalist approach. The melodic statements do not lose their energy or crumble under the emotional weight of libretto. Lost Objects is a rare example of postmodern art music which is listenable and emotionally engaging without pandering to folkisms.

- Bryan

Book review: The Voyage of the Short Serpent

By , June 15, 2009

The Voyage of the Short Serpent
By Du Bucheron, Bernard; Velmans, Hester

This strange novella is not for the weak of heart. Set during the darkest of the dark ages, Voyage of the Short Serpent follows a Norwegian Bishop sent to the frozen wastes Greenland to reestablish Christianity (not to mention reinstate a tithe) on a colony which may or may not still exist. Equal parts historical realism and black comedy, Boucheron reveals the structural hypocrisy of the medieval church by mimicking the writing style of period. There are a lot of lists of polar horrors, many of which are laugh out loud funny. Considering Boucheron presents a dead on historical snapshot of medieval Scandinavia, flawlessly apes the literary diction of the era, and still manages to sustain a streak of rich satire throughout, it is no wonder the French Academy awarded Voyage of the Short Serpent its Grand Prix in 2004.

- Bryan

Book review: Good Times, Bad Boys

By , June 15, 2009

Good Times, Bad Boys
By Murray, Melanie

Looking for more chick lit? If not, read no further… Good Times, Bad Boys tells the story of Echo Brennan, a music journalist who lives with her depressed musician boyfriend Matt,who currently has a terrible case of writer’s block. (This is Music City, so I know there are girls out there who can relate!) Echo breaks it off with Matt, and manages to snag the interview that will get her the cover story. Things seem to be going great, but Echo can’t get over the fact that Matt is now dating a groupie. He has even finished an album of new material, inspired by the break-up. This book has a great cast of supporting characters, and one scene in particular will have you laughing so hard it hurts.

- Crystal

Book review: Slipknot

By , June 15, 2009

Slipknot
By Greenlaw, Linda

Greenlaw, one of my favorite “nautical authors” – writer of the excellent nonfiction The Hungry Ocean and The Lobster Chronicles, turns to the mystery novel genre here. But don’t fret – she sets it in Maine with many familiar trappings and terms.

This is a breezy, funny book filled with colorful characters and her trademark witty and droll observations. You’ll get to work alongside Jane Bunker, the frugal transplanted Miami detective now employed as a marine inspector in the usually quiet town of Green Haven. Her clashes and encounters spiral into a real convoluted mystery. Go Jane!

Promising debut fiction work which may become a series of sorts. I enjoyed it.

- Phil

Book review: L.A. Outlaws

By , June 15, 2009

L.A. Outlaws
By Parker, T. Jefferson

I first discovered T. Jefferson Parker because he had won more than one Edgar Award for his mysteries. So far, all I’ve read have been utterly satisfying. He creates a strong sense of place, usually somewhere in California, and he delves into his characters’ psyches and emotions, which naturally enriches the storyline. L.A. Outlaws (2008) features a female masked bandit who adores stealing cars and robbing fast food joints, and whose alter-ego is a public school history teacher and mother, Suzanne Jones. Her bandit persona (she also donates generously to charities) intrigues the public, the media, and also a young L.A.P.D. cop who gets more involved with her than he should while trying to simultaneously unmask her and protect her. If you like well-written mysteries, try this author!

- Julie

Book review: Home to Harmony

By , June 15, 2009

Home to Harmony
By Gulley, Philip

This is the first book in the well-known “Harmony” series, a group of books about life in the quaint fictional town of Harmony, Indiana, complete with small town characteristics reminiscent of Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon.” Quirky behavior abounds as we follow Sam Gardner, pastor of the Harmony Friends Church (Quaker) and his interactions with parishioners and other townspeople. Gulley spins many poignant, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, tales that are often touching and reveal much about this little town and its eccentricities. Having read all of this series, it is my view that this is the best of the lot. Some of the later ones get bogged down in Gulley’s social and political views. This one avoids all that. also written some entertaining non-fiction works such as Front Porch Tales that are worth a look.

- Ric

Book review: The Long Dry

By , June 15, 2009

The Long Dry
By Jones, Cynan

The Long Dry is an accurate rendering of the intrinsic beauty and mysticism country life. There is tragedy, but all life is tragic whether of the urban or rural variety. The rural Welsh setting just makes me like this book more. Following one day in the life of a coastal family farm, we learn the joys, secrets and conflicting motivations of each family member. Jones keenly subverts Welsh mystical stereotypes by letting the chronologically disjunctive central tragedy reverberate through the present tense of the characters, creating an atmosphere of intense sadness which borders on piety. There are no wizards and faeries but there is pain and a stoic resolution which substitutes for understanding.

- Bryan

Book review: Freezer Burn

By , June 15, 2009

Freezer Burn
By Lansdale, Joe R.

Joe Lansdale’s writing has been described as “10-alarm chili-pretty strong stuff.” Freezer Burn is no exception, so watch out, faint of heart! East Texas loser Bill Roberts is hiding the fact his mother’s corpse is rotting away so he can keep getting her Social Security checks. When he and a couple of friends decide to rob a fireworks stand, tragedy occurs. Bill ends up joining a traveling freak show, a perfect place to lay low from the authorities. The freak show cast of characters includes African-American Siamese twins, the bearded lady, a dogman, the ringleader who has a third hand growing out of his chest, and his blonde bombshell wife, whose freakiness is of a lustful nature… But when the freak show rolls into town, the biggest attraction is always the frozen man, who seems to cast a mysterious spell over all who see him. . Freezer Burn is essentially a southern gothic comic Shakespeare-style tragedy, which is a combination that only master storyteller Joe Lansdale can pull off. Read it with a tall glass of water handy (remember the chili description-it’s no joke!)

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