Archive for Reviewing Stand

Far from downtown

Cover art, Petula Clark From Now On 2016Next month, Petula Clark will be 84 years old. Now forget that number. She’s touring the UK to support a new album, which might be her sixtieth; I lost count a long time ago.

And From Now On, I have to admit, is a title that somewhat reminds me of the corporate-finance term “forward-looking information”; looking backward is not on the agenda. The lead single, “Sacrifice My Heart,” is pure British synthpop, almost Tears for Fears-y, and if maybe they’ve tweaked her voice a little bit here and there, you might not care.

The program on offer is mostly Clark originals, with several shrewdly chosen covers: a minimalist “Blackbird” that McCartney surely approves, a quavery but sincere “While You See a Chance” (yes, the Steve Winwood song), and a version of “Fever” that I think owes just as much to the McCoys’ 1965 garage-rock version as it does to Peggy Lee’s drum-and-bass opus. The title song speaks strongly to me: everything that happened before you and me, well, that doesn’t count. (Looking backward is not on the agenda.) And fond as I am of Pet’s French recordings, I was delighted to hear “Pour être aimée de toi,” a song she’s sung in concert in recent years, her own melody with words by Charles Aznavour, spare and unadorned and intimate in the way of the French. The closer, “Happiness,” is Petula on piano, one verse in English, one in French. “That sweet and fleeting feeling / We all need to know / Is waiting here inside us.” If only … but never mind. We’ll save that for her next collection.


Good bone structure

In Our Bones by Against the Current cover artAfter three independently released EPs, the upstate-New York trio Against the Current signed to a sort-of-major label, Fueled By Ramen, distributed by the Atlantic Group. I’d reviewed the Infinity EP favorably, and I’d been following Chrissy Costanza’s Twitter feed, which is an intriguing mix of post-adolescent annoyance and road-inflicted world-weariness, so the band’s first full-length album, In Our Bones, was inevitably going to be on my must-buy list, especially considering what I’d said about Infinity:

In American Bandstand parlance, I’d give it an 88: it’s got plenty of beat, it’s highly danceable, and the songs aren’t instantly forgettable.

I’ll happily bump up In Our Bones to 90 or so: any of these twelve tracks could serve as an object lesson in Earworm Production, melding Pat Benatar-level ferocity with lyrical twists worthy of Taylor Swift. The consistency is startling: no song here is shorter than 2:59 or longer than 3:44, and every one of them incorporates a serious hook. (Okay, maybe “Demons,” the closer, is not quite so hook-y.) I think I might have wanted a little more guitar in some of the final mixes, and the way “Roses” sneaks up on you is cruel: it sounds so much like your Standard Break-Up Song, until you find out that it isn’t.

“Running With the Wild Things” was the lead single:

In Our Bones found its way to #2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, though progress up the 200, the all-inclusive chart, has been slow: last I looked it was perched at #181. Then again, ATC started out as a YouTube fave — 1.2 million subscribers — and toured the world before ever releasing this album, so I imagine they’re fairly happy, if maybe a little tired.

Comments (5)

Back from Clarksville

Good Times! by the MonkeesIn 1966, if you’d told me there would be a new Monkees album in 2016, I’d have gone into Full Guffaw; yeah, this band, to the extent it really was a band, may hang around for a while, but no way they’ll even be remembered half a century from now, let alone in the studio cutting new material, and hey, Don Kirshner will be — what, a hundred and thirty?

Shows you what I knew then. (Hey, I was thirteen. Gimme a break.) The three surviving Monkees — Davy Jones died in 2012 at sixty-six — with the able assistance of ace producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), have reunited for a twelve-track popfest that ranks as the second best Monkees waxing ever, right after whichever Greatest Hits compilation you have. As always, there’s first-class outside material, plus contributions from the band themselves; the voices are a bit deeper than they were 50 years ago, but the singing is every bit as good. Do they play their own instruments? Depends on the track. On the closer, “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time),” Micky Dolenz sings and plays drums; Schlesinger takes care of bass and piano, and genius guitarist and occasional Schlesinger associate Mike Viola does the six-string thing. One track here has sort of appeared before: “Love to Love,” a Neil Diamond (!) number sung by Davy, recorded for the Headquarters sessions but struck from the track list before release. It surfaced as a bonus track in a 2007 reissue; this version adds backing vocals from Peter Tork and Micky.

Perhaps the most Sixties track here is “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” a Carole King/Gerry Goffin number made famous by the Byrds, recorded in 1968 and given fresh Tork vocals here. The least? Maybe “I Know What I Know,” written and sung by Mike Nesmith, a piano-driven piece that would have fit in well with Nez’ First National Band material.

If you’ve been a fan all these years, congratulations: you’ve just been justified. And besides, Don Kirshner’s long gone.

(In case the FTC asks: I bought this.)

Comments (3)

Not sophomoric

Cover art Meghan Trainor Thank YouMeghan Trainor’s Title album ran up such amazing numbers — exactly eight albums in the entire world outsold it in 2015 — that I was prepared for a major letdown with her second effort, Thank You. The story goes that Epic Records bossman L. A. Reid was not overly impressed with the album as it was presented to him, dismissing it as “an album of Nice Meghan,” prompting M-Train to go dash off a badass anthem with serious attitude. “No” was a hit, reaching #3, and at least some of the concerns were allayed.

The late-Fifties doo-wop feel of Title has been ruthlessly excised, replaced in most cases by R&B beats: “Watch Me Do” invokes, musically and lyrically, the spirit of James Brown, and “No” out-Britneys Britney. The slow acoustic songs don’t quite fare so well, except for “Kindly Call Me Down,” a visit to Adeleville that tugs at the heartstrings with the strength of a meathook. Sophomore slump? Maybe, to some extent. “Champagne Problems,” to be sure, isn’t a patch on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Boy Problems.” But when something goofily upbeat like “Dance Like Yo Daddy” comes along, you get moving so quickly that you forget what a nifty lyricist Trainor really is. (“Simon says, go touch your nose / Meghan says, touch your toes / But like, I still can’t touch my toes.”) So long as the next album is not a double-length live set, I’ll keep on paying attention.


Someone to depend on

Cover art for Santana IVThe first three Santana albums, two of which were titled Santana — for clarity, one of them is known commonly as Santana III — constituted an amazing body of work, much of which remains essential to the Classic Rock format today, four and a half decades after the fact. The blending of hard-rock tropes with Latin rhythms, with Carlos Santana’s guitar dancing on top, made for a remarkably satisfying musical experience, and I still pull out these records — particularly the second, Abraxas — on a regular basis.

So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that that original Santana lineup would be issuing a new album, with the unsubtle title Santana IV. I turned in a preorder with dizzying speed, and waited to see what what would happen.

And now that it’s happened? Well, it’s pretty much as billed: a worthy continuation of the sounds Santana made famous. At various points in this 75-minute showcase, you’ll hear echoes of the things you heard before; Carlos still plays an amazingly liquid guitar, and the reconstituted band has forgotten none of the tricks it deployed way back when. (The only missing player from the Golden Era is percussionist José “Chepito” Areas.) What Santana IV doesn’t do is take you to places you’ve never been before: if you’re familiar with the band, you’ll know what’s going on every step of the way. This wasn’t the case with, say, Abraxas, where the improbable fusion of British blues to Hungarian jazz — in a single track! — not only pushed your Good Listening button but actually jacked up your sense of wonder.

So you’ve been here before. If this was one of your favorite vacation spots, welcome back: things are just the way you remember them. (Ronald Isley contributes a couple of hypersmooth lead vocals.) If you missed this band the first time around, this is almost as good an introduction as the original Santana albums. But if you weren’t that crazy about them before, this is not going to be your giant step into the fandom — though you may like the lead single, “Anywhere You Want to Go”, which encapsulates much of what’s going on.

Disclosure: Purchased at retail.

Comments (4)

The opposite of unplugged

Two years ago, Sabrina Lentini decided to crowdsource a new EP:

I released my first independent EP “No Price For Love” in 2012. It has a very stripped down, intimate sound — just me and my guitar.

This time, I want to breathe even more life into my songs. I’m ready to be “AMPLIFIED!” I’m so excited to add amazing musicians, producers, and creativity. I have so many songs that I’ve written since the last EP, and I just cannot wait to share them with you all! I’m asking you all to please help me with this new project of mine. I need your help every step of the way.

Cover art for second EP by Sabrina LentiniShe asked for $7500, and raised a little more than that in 60 days. Those of us who actually signed up as backers — I’d bought that first EP and liked it enough to keep following her around — were (mostly) patient. But the five new tracks showed up this week, and I’m here to tell you it was worth the wait.

Sabrina is seventeen now, and her voice is ever so slightly lower; the songs, however, are just as catchy as ever, to the extent that I can’t pick an actual favorite. The songs hewing most closely to the Nashville-lite style she’d been honing are the opener, “Amplified,” and the closer, “Boy Next Door,” which sound kind of like bonus tracks from an early Taylor Swift album. But between those two, there’s pure pop for now people, somewhere on the continuum between Colbie Caillat and Skeeter Davis. The arrangements are clean and uncluttered, and the vocals, however many tracks she feels like taking at any given moment, sound utterly sweet. “Duo,” track two — it would have to be, wouldn’t it? — is the song I’d pick for a single, were she so inclined. And Miranda Lambert needs to cover “Bullseye,” pronto.

Comments (1)

Trailers for sale or rent

There are apparently two rules for the music in a motion-picture trailer: make it sound as rousing as possible, and if you can make it sound like Carl Orff’s O Fortuna, so much the better.

Cover art for Illusions by Thomas BergersenMusic for trailers, it appears, is a whole ‘nother industry from music for film soundtracks, mostly because the score will likely not be completed until after post-production, and by then two, maybe three, trailers will be circulating. There exists a market for this stuff besides Hollywood, and after being swept off my feet by one particular track, composed by Thomas Bergersen for his Two Steps From Hell production-music house, I decided I’d try out a full album of the stuff. In retrospect, I probably should have thought this through a little longer. Eighty minutes of trailer music, perforce, is going to sound like eighty minutes of trailers, less the stentorian voice that says “In a world where…”

Still, Illusions is fascinating because of those limitations: in a couple of minutes, the composer has to create something that will make you want to see whatever film is being promoted. And Bergersen knows his craft: he picks the musical textures, the vocal bits, the heavily echoed percussion, from a crammed-to-the-top bag of tricks, and if once in a while you hear something you think you’ve heard before, well, that, too, is part of the craft. (“Age of Gods” is the obligatory O Fortuna variation.) I’m not sure you want to drive to Dallas with these nineteen tracks as accompaniment: you’ll likely have aggravated your hypertension long before you reach the Red River. But as proof of concept — Two Steps from Hell offers a 37-track version to producers, to show you they mean business — it’s remarkably successful.

Comments (1)

Beyond vision

By any reasonable reckoning, Invisible Sister, the Disney Channel original movie that debuted last Friday, should not have worked at all: they licensed the title of a book and didn’t use any of it; the setup is pure adolescent angst; the “science” is hokey at best; and you wouldn’t believe how many dei can be plucked from a single machina.

Still, I had to watch it, the Invisible Girl having occupied a place in the wackier section of my brain ever since I failed to see one at the age of seven. And I wasn’t that hopeful: younger sister Cleo, desperate to come up with a new science project after being told half a dozen classmates were already doing the same thing, is forced into a rush job, on a night when older sister Molly is partying hearty with her friends — while the parental units are away. How contrived is this? Short version: Cleo’s experiment, complete with test tubes full of mysterious substances, fails spectacularly, and quite inadvertently, Molly comes into contact with some quantity of a random mixture.

Molly and Cleo, kinda sorta

The next morning, of course, is Pure Chaos, and Molly, who has classes to attend (her grades are only so-so), social obligations to fulfill, and a lacrosse match in the afternoon, prevails upon Cleo to do something unheard of anywhere outside YA novels: “Be me. Just for today.” It’s Halloween, she’ll be in costume; nobody will ever know. Cleo, your standard-issue Girl Genius, doesn’t believe a word of this, but Molly is nothing if not persuasive.

What sells this, I think, is not so much the plot, which gets thinner and less plausible the farther it goes, or the special effects, which are good enough without being spectacular, but the fact that the sisters’ mutual resentment is utterly believable to anyone who’s ever had a sibling, and stars Paris Berelc and Rowan Blanchard play it for all it’s worth. (Cleo, I think, got the worst of it, simply by having to sit in on her sister’s life.) And by the time they’d had it out with one another once and for all — late at night in a New Orleans cemetery, of all places — they’d won me over. And minor details that would normally have provoked snark — if this is supposed to be New Orleans, it’s the whitest New Orleans that’s ever existed — ceased to matter at that point.

This being a Disney film, everyone lives happily ever after, except for whoever has to clean up the set afterwards. And really, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Yes, it’s tweenage material, polished to a high commercial gloss; but I’ve never been too proud to read YA stories, and I’m not going to start now.

Comments (4)

Call her whenever

E-MO-TION by Carly Rae JepsenIt was absolutely inevitable that I’d buy this album: the very first single, the hyperenergetic “I Really Like You,” would have knocked my socks off, had I had socks on at the time, and the second, the evocative “Run Away With Me,” was enough to get me to pony up for the iTunes Store preorder. Besides, Carly has a certain, um, visual appeal. (Who gave her legs like that? Said she could keep them?) Even if E-MO-TION were more of the same writ five times over, I knew I had to have it, preferably in Apple’s proffered Deluxe Edition with three bonus tracks.

It’s not more of the same, except in the broadest of senses: the worldview here is consistently that of a young woman with stars in her eyes and hearts and flowers on her mind. (By no coincidence, this is very much my own mindset: my inner nine-year-old girl could easily grow up to be someone like this.) It doesn’t at all hurt that Jepsen sounds about ten years younger than the 29 she is. And while there are no fewer than twenty-two producers listed here, normally a sure ticket to Disasterville, somehow E-MO-TION sounds like it was recorded in a couple of marathon sessions over a weekend or two, instead of in dozens of places over a year and a half. As Taylor Swift did with 1989, Jepsen has adopted a 1980s pop sensibility for the duration; while Swift is the sharper lyricist, Jepsen crafts better melodies, perhaps more important to that Eighties vibe. And even the two songs into which Jepsen presumably had the least input — “Making the Most of the Night,” a collaboration with Sia, and “LA Hallucinations,” written with Jepsen’s Vancouver neighbor Zachary Gray of the Zolas, still sound like pure Carly Rae. (“Boy Problems” — and isn’t that the purest girl-group title you ever heard? — brings in both Sia and her producer Greg Kurstin, neither of whom overwhelm the proceedings.)

And I must give some space here to Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz, who notices a phenomenon in the musical press:

E-MO-TION, led by the singles “I Really Like You” and “Run Away With Me,” is so good that many are already deeming it the Pop Album of the Year, and because none of its tracks have remotely taken off at Top 40 radio (which would lead one to believe that the album is not going to be a massive seller upon its release), those same people are anointing CRJ the Underrated Pop Artist of The Moment.

Top 40 radio, of course, lacks video. “Run Away With Me,” which did even not register on Billboard’s Hot 100, has over five million YouTube views. Remember what I said about visual appeal? And while I’m not in a position to judge whether Carly Rae Jepsen is indeed underrated, I’ll happily deem this the Pop Album of the Year, at least for the first two-thirds of the year.

Comments off

Recordings received

I’ve snagged these three albums from iTunes in the past couple of months, and it’s about time I told you about them.

The So Flows Sessions by Patrick O'HearnPatrick O’Hearn: The So Flows Sessions (2006)

In 2001, Patrick O’Hearn released an album called So Flows the Current. This was the first time O’Hearn had put out an album by himself, without a label backing him; it was quiet, meditative, and impeccably produced. At least seventeen tracks were recorded, nine of which made it to the album. Five years later, eight more tracks surfaced as The So Flows Sessions, and it deserves better, I think, than to be dismissed as just outtakes from its predecessor; it’s subtle without being boring, quiet without being mere background music. O’Hearn has been a fixture in so-called “new-age” radio ever since I discovered the existence of “new-age” radio, and it still amazes me that he got there by way of Frank Zappa and Missing Persons.


A Posteriori by EnigmaEnigma: A Posteriori (2006)

You remember Enigma. In 1990, Michael Cretu and a small band of collaborators released MCMXC a.D., which produced the mighty hit single “Sadeness (Part I),” a dance number overlaid with Gregorian chant destined for the middle of the Top Ten. A Posteriori — “After the fact” — is the sixth Enigma album; while echoes of the earlier work resound here and there, the tone is decidedly different: less thump, more techno, and references that suggest a galactic disaster in the making. Two singles were released: “Hello and Welcome,” which was remixed before the album appeared, and “Goodbye Milky Way,” which more or less gives away the game.


Dark Matter by SPC ECOSPC ECO: Dark Matter (2015)

SPC ECO — pronounced, I am told, “space echo” — really ought to be characterized as darkwave, this being their second album with “dark” in the title; but they’re a bit too downtempo, and there’s somehow enough murk in the mix to suggest both the flow of dreampop and the golden days of shoegaze. It helps that Dean Garcia plays every instrument in the book and a few only in the appendix, and Rose Berlin (Dean’s daughter) makes wonderfully ethereal vocal noises, though in the first couple of tracks she seems a bit overly processed. No singles have yet been released, though either “Playing Games” or “I Won’t Be Heard” would seem to have stand-alone potential. But to be honest, nothing here is quite so dreamy/sprightly as this track from their previous album.

Comments off

Mean Equestria girls

When the first Equestria Girls feature arrived last year, I noted that “I’ve already seen Mean Girls.” Nothing in that frothy little film, however, prepares you for the blackened hearts and overwrought costumes of the Dazzlings, whose origin is not from around Canterlot High, but from an Equestrian adaptation of Greek mythology, and whose song can turn anyone’s soul to the Dark Side.

Inasmuch as they didn’t have to spend half the running time explaining things, Rainbow Rocks is a far better film than its predecessor, and while there is the usual wagonload of sight gags and unexpected cameos and fanservice, there’s a nicely unfolded plot (so to speak) paced with precision, and packed with more (and better!) songs. But the best thing here, I think, is the redemption of Sunset Shimmer, once a villain, still working on being accepted as a friend; Sunset is the one character in the humanized-pony universe that is proving to have staying power. (Flash Sentry, maybe not so much.) If they’re going to keep turning out EqG stories at this level and on this budget — apparently Rainbow Rocks was distributed on Blu-ray disk — Hasbro and DHX will have pulled off a remarkable double play with a single set of characters.

We got only the one showing in town; it sold out some time before last night. (I’d ordered an online ticket on Wednesday.) About 10 percent of the crowd was doing some level of cosplay. And everyone duly hung around through all the credits, as they should have. There is, of course, a hashtag: #Ready2RainbowRock.

Comments (1)

Get it while it’s last

Brook Benton, dealing with a man with a long cigar in “Hit Record,” in 1962: “Well, he made me sign the paper for twenty years.” And Benton wasn’t kidding: Rick Nelson’s contract with Decca, starting in 1963, was originally for twenty years, though MCA, successor to Decca, dropped him after thirteen.

Mandatory Fun by Weird Al YankovicI mention this because “Weird Al” Yankovic signed a record contract in 1982 which only just now, 32 years later, has been completed. This does not mean he’s through with recording, but Mandatory Fun may be the last full-length Al album ever: the man’s at his best with topical material, and it’s hard to be topical with two or three years between album releases. So the coming scarcity of Yankovic long-players would be reason enough to snap it up, I think; fortunately, there’s enough good stuff here to justify your ten-buck outlay (or your eighteen-buck outlay for the vinyl version, which comes out next month).

Yankovic’s promotional campaign was unusual: no single, but eight videos to be released over the first week of release, each of which was put together with a Web partner because Sony wasn’t about to fork over a ton of money for someone who hadn’t put out an album in three years and who had had only one Top Ten single ever (“White & Nerdy,” 2006, which made #9). Everybody loved “Word Crimes,” a reworking of Robin Thicke’s utterly awful “Blurred Lines,” partly because of the brilliant kinetic-typography video, partly because everyone loves to play the More Grammatical Than Thou card, but mostly, I think, because the rewrite was so much better than the original. And “Foil,” a parody of Lorde’s “Royals” with aluminum at its heart, was downright weird, which never hurts.

Deserving of more note: “Mission Statement,” which is what Crosby, Stills and Nash, with or without Young, would sound like if they were present-day buzzword-driven corporate consultants, and “First World Problems,” a Pixies sendup with Al doing his best (and not at all bad) Black Francis and Amanda Palmer in the role of Kim Deal. The polka medley, as always, is delightful, with wholly unexpected transitions and no bleep in “Thrift Shop.” And you won’t miss much by ripping just the first 11 songs: the 12th, “Jackson Park Express,” is a pretty acoustical tune, à la early-Seventies Cat Stevens, over which is laid a genuinely creepy boy-meets-girl story that takes nine minutes to go nowhere.

Note: put this out as a download, just for this weekend, for $5.99. If you find Mandatory Fun compelling and don’t object to the sheer intangibility of downloads, you’ll find it more so at four dollars off.

Comments (6)

A very large number indeed

Infinity by Against the CurrentThe reason I know of this band is because I pay way more attention than average — the average for people aged 60-up, anyway — to current pop and indie stuff, and one of the regular readers, having long noted this tendency of mine, pointed me towards girl singer Chrissy Costanza, who fronted a band out of Poughkeepsie, New York called Against the Current, which at the time included a relative of his. Costanza proved to be a worthy (and prolific!) Twitter read, and when they announced an EP to be released today, I hung out beside the iTunes Store with Amex in hand.

It was a wise move. The five tracks of Infinity have a freshness to them, the sort that manages to elude most of the stuff on the radio, and Costanza has enough of a voice to eschew most of the usual processing. “Infinity,” the single, and “Another You (Another Way)” are the stronger tracks, but there’s not a dud in the bunch. In American Bandstand parlance, I’d give it an 88: it’s got plenty of beat, it’s highly danceable, and the songs aren’t instantly forgettable. I have no idea how many of you listen to this kind of thing, but if you do, I’m happy to recommend it. (If you’d like a preview, there’s a lyric video of “Infinity” that’s gotten over 200,000 views this month.)

Comments (2)

Or perhaps a young lion

Diversity by Emily BearThe following things you need to know about Diversity by Emily Bear:

  • This is her sixth album, though her first on a major label (Concord Jazz);
  • All thirteen tracks are her own compositions;
  • She turned twelve at the end of August.

While a lot of her YouTubage shows her in front of orchestras, she’s fronting a traditional jazz trio here, with Carlitos del Puerto on bass and Francisco Mela on drums. Zuill Bailey drops in for cello parts on four tracks. And it’s a very traditional sound indeed; you could imagine this fifty years ago on Verve with Creed Taylor at the board. It’s not, however, particularly diverse. Not that I mind; I could listen to this stuff for hours on end. Quincy Jones, Bear’s producer and mentor, has provided a particularly lovely acoustic aesthetic. Oddly, the weakest number here might be “Q,” her tribute to the master, which never really gets off the ground. Favorite track? Perhaps the leadoff, “Northern Lights,” which does an admirable job of setting the stage for what’s to come. And I admit to cracking several smiles at “Salsa Americana,” which opens up wildly like an old Tito Puente record and then suddenly heads downtown.

You can hear all thirteen of these tracks (via Soundcloud) on; I decided I wanted a copy for my shelf, and bought the CD.

Comments off

Just a few pony songs

As Twilight Sparkle might say, I wasn’t prepared for this:

Songs of Friendship and MagicHasbro, seeing a need — and perhaps noting the enormous number of mediocre YouTube episode dubs — has put out, at least on iTunes and Google Play, an eleven-track album of arguably the best tunes from the first two years of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The most obvious omission, I think, is the Cutie Mark Crusaders Song from “The Show Stoppers,” but then it was never intended to be, um, good. Ingram, of course, is the logical person to plug this thing, since he wrote them all, and iTunes lists him as the artist on all tracks. (Which reminds me: whom do we have to proposition to get a collection of William Anderson’s background music?)

The iTunes package ($9.99) contains one of Apple’s Digital Booklets — it’s a PDF, no big deal — with a list of who’s singing what and all the words. (Except for “BBBFF,” which got lost in the shuffle; its page in the Booklet contains the opening of “This Day Aria,” which admittedly is a pretty long song.) If you’ve ever wanted to sing along with Flim and Flam’s ode to the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, now’s your chance. (At the time I grabbed this album, Flim and Flam were dead last on the iTunes popularity chart, with “Smile” and “Winter Wrap Up” grabbing all the single buys. I can’t explain it either.)

Of course, I love all this stuff unreservedly, “Love Is In Bloom” most of all.

Comments off

Still your best friend

Yours truly, from earlier this month:

I’m not entirely sure what The Last Thing I Ever Expected might be, but there’s at least a reasonable chance that it might be a solo album from a former member of the Shaggs.

Ready! Get! Go!So here’s Dot Wiggin, now somewhere in her sixties, still doing what she did in front of her sisters four and a half decades ago: singing intensely personal, fiercely melodic, idiosyncratic songs that don’t match up to any genre you’ve ever heard of. There is much to learn here, starting with a refutation of this Citation Needed remark in the Shaggs article at Wikipedia:

Reportedly, during the recording sessions the band would occasionally stop playing, claiming one of them had made a mistake and that they needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers to wonder how the girls could tell when a mistake had been made.

Jesse Krakow, who organized the project, produced the recording and wrote the liner notes, is here to tell us otherwise:

I got a package in the mail containing Dot’s handwritten charts to “Your Best Friend”, “My Pal Foot Foot”, “Philosophy Of The World”, and the lyrics to “Banana Bike” and “The Fella With A Happy Heart”. And there they were. The long, non-repeating melody lines, the choppy rhythms, the odd pauses, the unpredictable instrumental breaks, the playful lyrics, the inimitable way that the lyrics, melody, and chords were stapled together. They were all written out. Which was shocking. For all of their supposed ineptitude, The Shaggs (specifically Dot) wrote all their songs down in traditional musical notation. In fact, Dot told us that whenever they performed they always had the sheet music onstage. So to all of those musical experts who love The Shaggs because “they didn’t know what they’re doing”, guess what? They did!

The material here is all Dot with occasional contributions by Krakow, except for “Wiggin Out,” a goofy surf-styled chant assembled by Krakow, and “The End of the World,” which you know from several thousand cover versions already. Apparently it’s Dot’s Favorite Song Ever. There are two tracks bearing the title “Speed Limit,” the first a new Dot song about the Need for Speed, the second (officially titled “Speed Limit 2”) a 1970 song the Shaggs never recorded, turned here into some weird desiccated blues that suggests the need maybe isn’t so important after all. (Dot, we are told, drives very fast.) “Banana Bike,” Dot’s tribute to sister Helen, might be the obvious single here, but the track I keep coming back to is “Eh,” a tribute to diffidence and the avoidance of same, despite its title containing no Canadian content whatsoever.

Why this is on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, I don’t know. I don’t really care. But I thank him for turning it loose onto a world that needs the Shaggs’ philosophy more than ever.

Comments (1)


Cover of Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch NailsOn the basis of Hesitation Marks, the first Nine Inch Nails album since 2008, I conclude that Trent Reznor has decided melody might actually be slightly more important than noise, a decision possibly based on the prodigious success of his soundtrack work with Atticus Ross. Nothing here actually hurts my ears on the level of, say, the crescendo near the end of “Hurt.” And let’s face it, “Various Methods of Escape” is the definitive NIN song title, in which Reznor sounds just as desiccated as he did around The Downward Spiral, accompanied by this-side-of-glitch backing and some genuinely creepy guitar work by Adrian Belew. “I cannot trust myself / I gotta let go,” indeed.

The track that reminds me most of “classic” NIN, oddly, is “Copy of A,” which spills out of the 50-second opening thrash “The Eater of Dreams” with a pounding Depeche-Mode-at-78-rpm rhythm pattern and a reminder that “Everything I have said has come before.”

The least typical track here has to be “Everything,” for lack of a better description “Pop Industrial.” It’s downright upbeat: “I survived everything,” Reznor sings at the beginning. But the repetitions of “I am home/I am free” and such toward the end seem less and less convincing with every bar, until the whole thing grinds to a halt. Maybe this is Reznor’s attempt to deal with the unfamiliar concept of life not sucking.

And if that isn’t, surely this is: Hesitation Marks came out on Columbia Records. Columbia, fercrissake. This is not exactly like Anthony Bourdain showing up at Arby’s, but it’s close.

(Review copy ordered from at the standard price. Different editions may have different cover art.)

Comments off

Standing tall-ish

I admit up front that seeing My Little Pony: Equestria Girls was not a priority with me: I didn’t make the trek to Stillwater, the only place in the state where it actually played theatrically, and while I’d pre-ordered the DVD, which arrived last Tuesday, I didn’t watch it until the following Sunday. (Let it be said that this dawdling tactic is not at all unprecedented.) And besides, the basic premise and I did not get along: if I wanted to watch a cartoon about teenage girls, I’d go hunt up reruns of Daria or something.

That said, I must admit, the deponification of ponies went far better than I’d anticipated. I could argue that all these girls — and all but a couple of the boys — looked like they weren’t getting much for lunch, a cafeteria scene to the contrary notwithstanding, and besides, I’ve already seen Mean Girls; but for the most part, the story holds up, the characterizations make sense, and the songs, in MLP:FiM fashion, are ridiculously catchy, even the one I’d vowed to hate. (That would be, um, this one.) My inner 9-year-old girl pronounced herself pleased, though I was put off by a Bonus Item on the DVD in which some Hasbro suit in an Original Penguin shirt declared that they could just as easily do, say, My Little Flounder.

Ultimately, I have to say what I said on Twitter when I’d finished watching it:

It’s like coming home and finding someone painted the house: it looks wonderful, but it’s not something I wanted done.

Season Four, with actual ponies, starts in November. This will have to do for now.

Comments (6)

Third time’s the charm, and then some

Volume 3 by She & HimThe fourth album by She & Him is called Volume 3, a title which perhaps is curious for its use of the digit instead of spelling out the number as they did in two previous albums, not including the obligatory Christmas album, which I bought but did not review, inasmuch as it didn’t really fit into whatever grand scheme Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward were planning, except of course for (what else could it be?) World Domination.

Based on the evidence of Volume 3, I’m ready to hand over the premises. The eleven ZD originals here show serious growth in her songwriting chops, plus a certain amount of unexpected faithfulness to one of my own guiding principles: love is composed of the magical and the mundane, not necessarily in equal quantities. As an object lesson, see track eight, “Together,” arguably ZD’s drippiest bit of romantic tomfoolery since the tearful “Sentimental Heart” on Volume One, which somehow remains grounded: she (mostly) keeps the quaver out of her voice, and not even the shimmering strings that come in during the instrumental break (nice touch, Mister Ward, sir) can drag it over to the weepy end of the scale.

As always, S&H have selected some unexpected covers: Blondie’s “Sunday Girl,” a track from Parallel Lines which was never released Stateside as a single; “Baby,” the B-side of Ellie Greenwich’s demo-turned-single “You Don’t Know”; and the early-Fifties torch song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” mostly remembered today as a mid-Sixties soul single by Mel Carter. Deschanel’s reading of “Hold Me” is heavy on the torch.

And as always, Ward’s production is simultaneously impeccable and unobtrusive, and his instrumental work is always appropriate. (He also sings a bit, mostly on “Baby.”) Nicely, he cuts off the strings-and-choir reprise of “I Could Have Been Your Girl” at the close, right before you begin to wonder why it’s there in the first place.

I admit to speculating a bit as to whether any of these songs were intended to recall ZD’s recent split from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Maybe a little: “I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left” (from “Turn to White”) sounds ever so slightly accusative. But that’s about it: if there’s sadness here, and there is, it’s a generic, and possibly more universal, sadness. And that, too, is a component of love, though determining whether it’s part of the magic or part of the mundane is way above my pay grade.

(Previously discussed: Volume One; Volume Two. Reviewed from my own purchased copy.)

Comments off

Downtown once more

The introduction to last fall’s “Pet Project”:

It occurs to me that I ought to do something for Petula Clark, who turns 80 (!) next month. Despite being ten years older than everybody else in the British Invasion, she sold a whole lot of records here in the States, starting with “Downtown” in 1964, though she’d been recording for at least a decade before that. So between now and the 15th of November, I’ll be tossing in the occasional Petula classic for your dancing and dining pleasure.

Cover art for Lost In You by Petula ClarkAnd now Petula has done something for us: a new album! Lost In You, due out in Britain on the 25th of this month, is the first I’ve heard from her since she turned up on the Saw Doctors’ 2011 remake of “Downtown.” The first track, “Cut Copy Me,” has already been announced as a single: heavily synthed and Auto-Tuned, it comes off, to me anyway, as something less than wonderful, although the Guardian says that “Lana Del Rey would no doubt trade her David Lynch box set to have written [it].” In fact, since it’s the leadoff track, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing is a feeble whimper augmented by electronic fudge factors.

Until you get to the second track, the title song, and you realize that the game plan was to pay obeisance to the marketing department early on and get it out of the way. From this point on, it’s the sound of a woman who has been there, done that, and isn’t jaded about any of it. The covers of “Imagine” and “Love Me Tender” are okay, maybe a little better than that, but the real revelation is her reinvention of “Crazy.” Yes, the Gnarls Barkley tune. And if Petula’s singing isn’t quite as all-over-the-staff as Cee Lo Green’s, it’s every bit as soulful.

Inevitably, there is a version of “Downtown,” but it’s a radical revision: instead of bouncy 4/4, it’s a languid, dreamy waltz. On its own terms, it’s nearly as startling as Lesley Gore’s 2005 reworking of “You Don’t Own Me” into a torch song.

We won’t be getting this album Stateside until April, but assuming you can’t wait and you don’t want to deal with, you can have the entire album streamed in your general direction, courtesy of the Guardian music blog. I’ve already turned in my preorder for the CD.

Comments (1)

You better shop around

Motown #1'sAmazon’s MP3 store was giving this package of ostensible Motown #1 hits away for next to nothing, and while there wasn’t anything here I actually needed, I figured I had to download it to see what’s in it. And I can recommend it to those who don’t already have these tracks stuffed into their music players — but not to anyone else, really.

Everything here is in stereo, which is nice; however, nothing has been remixed, which means you get the same old worn-to-a-frazzle masters that Motown has been slapping haphazardly onto CDs for a generation, complete with weird ideas of separation, audible tape slap, and in the case of “Heat Wave,” a peculiar edit that differs substantially from the 45 you remember: an extended instrumental break and an early fade (right on top of “Don’t pass up this chance / This time it’s true romance”). The Sixties material, I think, should have been presented in mono. The Seventies stuff, starting around “What’s Going On,” is decidedly better but no revelation. And the last actual #1 here is “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men, from 1994; the gratuitous addition of a 2004 Michael McDonald cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which never made the Billboard Hot 100, remains a mystery to me, unless Berry Gordy was wanting to throw a few extra cents to Valerie Simpson and the late Nickolas Ashford. And the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell version of “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” credited in the tags only to Gaye, is a better tribute to Nick and Val anyway.

Speaking of tag curiosities, five of these tracks are listed with genre R&B, the rest with Pop. Then again, with prices like this — I paid less than $2 — you have to figure that Motown didn’t go out of its way to spend any money on the presentation.

Comments (1)

The voice of experience

Cover art for Cedar + Gold by Tristan PrettymanMy introduction to Tristan Prettyman was the wonderful 2008 single “Madly,” which tucked a near-Alanis-level diatribe into bouncy California pop with actual power chords on the piano, fercrissake. In the wake of the moderate-to-marginal success of that tune and the Hello…x album whence it came, she got engaged to, then was disengaged from, Jason Mraz; had a dollop of polyps scythed off her vocal cords; and wondered if maybe she was in the wrong damn business altogether. (She did, after all, start off as a model, and she does have the looks.)

I am here to tell you that her career choice was indeed wise: Cedar + Gold, released yesterday, is a stunner. The single, “My Oh My,” is the closest thing to an earworm on the premises, but what’s going to bring you back for more is raw, naked emotion: just the title of “I Was Gonna Marry You” gives away the game. “Glass Jar” points the finger: “You gave up on us / You got the whole world watching and everyone’s attention / You turned your head and you never even mentioned us.” And lest you become gloomy, there’s something called “The Rebound,” a hilarious account of a pickup at Trader Joe’s. (“I lost my number / Can I have yours?”) Taylor Swift wishes she wrote songs this strong.

(Reviewed from the iTunes version, which includes one bonus track.)

Comments (1)

Aural timelessness

The composer/musician known as BT has been, if not on my radar, not far below it: Trini, a few years back, showed me “Somnambulist” and his remix of the Doors’ “Break On Through,” and Glenn Reynolds, I seem to remember, was happy to recommend the early (mid-Nineties) single “The Moment of Truth,” back when the label still read “Brian Transeau.” I later hunted down his “The Rose of Jericho” single, but hadn’t yet found a compelling reason to grab a whole album’s worth.

Then last night, Octavia of Operation VR, a band I’ve mentioned here once or twice, sent this into the tweetstream: “Tonight, I am clearing my head from some stress with ‪#ThisBinaryUniverse‬ by @BT as well as his two new albums.”

If The Stars Are Eternal Then So Are You And I by BTI allowed that I’d somewhat lost track of BT, and she filled me in on his later releases. Mostly because of its title, I betook myself to iTunes and picked up If The Stars Are Eternal So Are You And I. (I am, in case you hadn’t noticed, a sucker for that kind of outer-space — or, for that matter, that kind of romantic — metaphor.) It is wholly unlike old-school BT. That little stutter edit he invented is in evidence here and there, but If The Stars… is slightly tilted toward the ambient edge of electronica; BT’s Web site describes it as “a post study to BT’s critically acclaimed 2006 IDM/Classical masterpiece This Binary Universe,” which of course goes onto the want list. (IDM, for the unlettered, yours truly included, apparently means “Intelligent Dance Music.”) There are seven tracks, though they flow into one another so well that separating them seems like an exercise in brutality. Best example: “Hikari,” synth yielding to guitar and piano, followed by “Our Dark Garden,” a simple guitar figure underlying a river of glistening, undulating sounds and, starting about halfway through, a repeated vocal figure. It all slowly fades away, and then drops you into “The Gathering Darkness,” which takes its sweet time getting to danceability. It’s so lovely you won’t care.

Incidentally, another BT album was released more or less simultaneously with this one: Morceau Subrosa (“Undercover Piece”?), which is one long track running 46 minutes or so. If it’s anything like this, it’s a must. Then again, if it’s nothing like this, and apparently it’s not, it’s probably still a must.

Comments off

Meanwhile on the A-list

Tanni Haas, Ph.D., author of Making It in the Political Blogosphere: The World’s Top Political Bloggers Share the Secrets to Success (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2011), was kind enough to send a review copy this way, and I admit that it took me a while to get around to it, on the basis that if I wanted to know what bloggers think, I could presumably read blogs. Then again, as Dr. Haas points out in the Introduction:

Studies have found that political blog readers consider such blogs more trustworthy sources of information than they do any other mainstream news media, including online and offline newspapers, television, and radio. Political blogs are considered more trustworthy because they provide access to a broader spectrum of issues than is available in the mainstream news media; cover those issues in greater depth, with more independence and points of view; and present them in a manner that’s more understandable and relevant to readers.

And this reflects my own experience: I buy the local newspaper because it’s, well, local, but for national coverage, I’ll hit several blogs and monitor my tweetstream.

“Several,” of course, is not by any means a lot. Dr. Haas says there are 1.3 million blogs classifiable as “political.” (I don’t consider this a political blog: maybe 10 to 15 percent of the posts here have some sort of political orientation.) In the book, twenty name-brand political bloggers are interviewed — six or seven pages each — and now and then there’s something that looks suspiciously like wisdom. For instance, Haas quotes Thomas Lifson of The American Thinker:

Many people write material in order to demonstrate how much they know, or to put forth a point of view they feel strongly about. But they sometimes forget who the reader is, and what the reader needs to know… So the one piece of advice I’d give people is to look at their material through the eyes of the reader who doesn’t know you, who doesn’t care who you are, and who needs to be given a reason to read the next sentence of your posting and continue all the way through.

I am reasonably certain that no one will accuse me of trying to show off how much I know.

The principles of Making It in the Political Blogosphere can occasionally be extended to blogs on other topics; the “tribalism” of poliblogging referred to by Kevin Drum, for instance, likely exists in every other subject with more than a handful of bloggers. I’m thinking, therefore, that the book may also be of interest to people who can’t stand the thought of writing about politics, and there are, I suspect, many more of them.

(Here’s the obligatory Amazon link. The book can be had in trade paperback for $15 or Kindle-ized for $9.99. Being as how I’m in a generous mood, I’ll send a PDF to the first five people who ask nicely.)

Comments (8)

Aorta play this on the radio

Songs from the Heart by Dr SmithAbout a week ago, I posted something on a message board to the effect that I had more or less adjusted myself to buying music via download, at least for acts with a national or worldwide following — but for local bands, I’d try to find a CD if possible.

About a week before that, at the suggestion of one of the Gazette scribes, I gave a listen to “The Time Is Right” by Dr. Smith. It was somehow light yet sludgy, and it ground on for nearly eight minutes. Halfway through, I resolved to find more of this, and shortly thereafter I wound up on the band’s Facebook page, which pointed me to a download location. They also were offering “Physical CDs,” which I found amusing, with the notation “when manufactured,” so evidently I got one from the first batch. (As further evidence of same, Gracenote had nothing on it, so I typed in all that stuff myself. You can thank me later.) Besides, there’s no way I was going to pass up an album whose first track is called “Zombie Bitches Kicking People’s Ass.”

I’m still trying to find some sort of shorthand to explain Dr. Smith. The current formula seems to be Toadies minus “rural”: they’re capable of being just as creepy, but you don’t sense banjos playing in the background. At least three tracks from Songs from the Heart (a title I really should swipe sometime) have been YouTubed, if you’re curious. And is this band named for the jerkface stowaway in Lost in Space? Silly me, I didn’t ask.

Comments off

Beyond the stacks

Under normal circumstances, you couldn’t pay me to read a contemporary vampire novel. (Well, you could, I suppose: write for rates.) I’m not quite certain how I stumbled across Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches (New York: Viking, 2011); maybe it called to me from across the room.

Diana Bishop would know the feeling. While doing research on the ancient art of alchemy in the Bodleian Library, one of the manuscripts she requests seems to be trying to get her attention. Being a witch, and the last of a long line of witches at that, she recognized that there had been an enchantment attached to the document; being very much uncomfortable with being a witch in the first place, she returned it to the stacks after a cursory examination, and tried to forget about it. She had no idea that Oxford fellow Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist, also had an interest in the manuscript, although she did immediately read him as a vampire.

From this point, you can predict exactly one plot complication: the romance between Diana and Matthew. (O Twilight, where is thy sting?) In terms of being totally star-crossed, these lovers are right up there with those Veronese teenagers of old. (Vampires and witches are mortal enemies, after all, and they don’t get along that well with daemons either.) What makes Discovery work for me is the fact that with both of them trying to figure out the secrets of that old manuscript, there’s an enormous amount of historical background. (Dr Harkness, as it happens, is professor of history at USC, and knows this stuff cold.) There are a few exasperating moments, of course, mostly having to do with Clairmont’s utter gorgeousness: as is de rigueur in contemporary vampire tales, he’s a walking, talking Rolls-Royce Phantom, because it would never, ever do for our heroine to fall for some workaday Vlad the Impala. But this is forgivable: even the minor characters are carefully sketched out, and if some loose ends aren’t quite tied up at the end, well, there are two more novels to follow.

The author, sensing film potential here, is polling readers for possible leads. (For what it’s worth, I voted for Claire Danes and Alexander Skarsgård. Make of that what you will.) Would I see a film of A Discovery of Witches? Almost certainly, though I shudder when I contemplate what would have to be left out to make it fit into 130 minutes or so. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye out for Shadow of Night, the second volume, which is due next year.

(Before you ask: I borrowed the review copy from the library last weekend. I’ll buy my own soon enough.)

Comments (3)

Is this her moment?

Already eight digits’ worth of YouTube views on this, the new Rebecca Black single:

Points for catchiness, of course, and I find her sheer exuberance charming. And bonus props to whoever thought it was a good idea to borrow the synth splash from the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Always On My Mind.” But a few things seem off. The chorus is as insanely repetitive as you’d hope, but the verses seem awkwardly constructed: I get the impression that they wrote this to match her perceived range, and then discovered that they were off by a third. And the verse about “haters” is just superfluous: if you’re going to demonstrate your superiority to such, the only effective techniques are either (1) to ignore them altogether or (2) to go full Cee Lo Green on them. (If you saw this latter phrase at The Atlantic, well, that was me.)

In short, while I think it’s a worthy effort — and I’ve already anted up my buck-twenty-nine (!) at iTunes — I don’t think this is quite the vehicle to take her to two-hit wonder status. “Friday,” for all its Hyphenated-American cheese, was damned near iconic; “My Moment” is merely pretty.

Addendum: Rebekah Brooks’ version of “Friday”:

(Seen at Adfreak. Hat tip: Nancy Friedman.)

Comments (4)

Assignment: out there

We open with a paragraph that’s actually about halfway through:

«In any bar, in fact in any civilized establishment, in this volume of the void,» the barkeep said, punctuating the phrase with the thunk of another pitcher on the polished wood, «a being may call out the word “beer” in the Trade language, accompanied by the appropriate number of digits or other appendages, and depend upon being served appropriately. How is it that your people cannot achieve this minimal accomplishment?»

Passages like this are the strength of Ric Locke’s Temporary Duty, an ebook that seems to start out wanting to be a rollicking space opera, but won’t settle for the cardboard characters that usually inhabit that genre. Life among the lower ranks, as those of us who served terrestrial duty can tell you, may indeed put you at the mercy of forces you cannot control, but it doesn’t make you the sort of disposable individual that, for instance, Star Trek condemned to brief existence inside red shirts.

However, it’s not all thrills either:

The waves made wave sounds, the beach smelled like a beach, and the sun shone. If it hadn’t been for the red and yellow trees along the backshore they could have been somewhere around Mayport. “God damn space,” Todd complained. “Oughta be bug-eyed monsters ‘n all that.”

You want B.E.M.s, though, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. What Locke has put together here is a detailed look at how several different species approach the task of getting along, whether those in command want to or not. And then over the P.A.: “Make ready for unfriendly visitors.” Turns out, “cooperate or die” makes a pretty good incentive. And the scariest creature of them all, who shows up near the very end — never mind, I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me: scary.

And you know, a rollicking space opera is nothing to sneer at, even especially if you’re not quite sure exactly when it began to rollick. There’s really no obvious opening for a sequel, but I have to hope Locke returns to this universe once more.

(Amazon link to Kindle version. Reviewed from PDF copy.)

Comments (2)

Songs without words (the follow-up)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned an upcoming three-CD set, to contain every single instrumental track that made the Billboard charts in 1960. That set has now crossed my threshold, and here’s what you need to know.

Complete Pop Instrumental Hits of the Sixties 1960Said Billboard charts contained 100 songs, plus a handful “bubbling under”; more than a dozen of these 81 recordings never made it out of the 90s, and one of them — “Beachcomber,” a jazzy little piano tune (with strings attached) by Bobby Darin — peaked at #100. It is therefore reasonable to assume that you haven’t heard all of these. I hadn’t. I did, however, notice that two tracks are switched on the first disc: “Summer Set” (Monty Kelly) and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (Ernie Fields). Then again, surely you’d recognize that Choo Choo. (Gracenote, feeding Winamp the titles, has it correct.)

Your next question, perhaps, is “Do I know any of these?” Well, yes. The Ventures’ first hit, a version of Johnny Smith’s “Walk — Don’t Run” that made #2, is here, as is Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date” (also #2), and the biggest record of the year, Percy Faith’s take on Max Steiner’s theme from A Summer Place, which sat at Number One for nine whole weeks. Some lower charters have had great influence, most notably Duane Eddy’s version of Henry Mancini’s theme for Peter Gunn, which you’ll instantly recall long before the third measure.

There was still in 1960 a tendency for cover versions to appear almost simultaneously with originals, so there are, for instance, two versions of “Smokie Part II” (Bill Black’s original, Bill Doggett’s remake — “Part I” never charted), two versions of “La Montana” (which, with English lyrics, became “If She Should Come to You”), and three versions of “Midnight Lace,” the theme from a Doris Day film. (None of the “Lace” versions made it past #84, even Ray Conniff’s, which spilled into a Part 2 on the B-side; interestingly, they sound nothing alike except for that melody line.)

As it turns out, seventy-one instrumentals charted in 1960, so to fill out that third disc, there are ten bonus tracks: late-1959 items, or things which might have too many words to be considered instrumentals — for instance, Al Brown’s “The Madison,” a song about a dance which requires the steps to be called off in sequence. Then again, Ray Bryant’s “Madison Time” is here, and it’s not banished to the back of disc three either.

The sound, breathed upon by the wizards of Eric Records, is generally quite good: most of these tracks are very clean, and none of them sound particularly overcleaned.

I suspect this set will appeal mostly to completists, which explains why I have it in its first month of release. The compilers plan a volume for each decade of the 1960s: next year’s 1961 set, which might fit on two discs — I’m counting 52 tracks that would qualify — should have nifty stuff like “Wonderland by Night,” “Calcutta” and “Apache” (Jørgen Ingmann’s imported-from-Denmark take, not the Shadows’ rowdier English version). About this time next year I expect to be reporting on it.

(Complete track list.)

Comments off

Bar sinister

According to legend, some Microsoft employees who’d reached the point when their stock options could be exercised supposedly wore a button reading “FYIFV,” the last three letters meaning “I’m Fully Vested.”

Brian J. Noggle’s John Donnelly’s Gold (Brookline, MO: Jeracor Group, 2011) is the story of four employees at a St. Louis Internet startup who were unceremoniously squeezed out of the company before they’d reached that presumably-happy status, and who were sufficiently irritated by this action to vow revenge upon the newly-arrived Chief Executive Officer.

Fortunately, John Donnelly had an ego bigger than his CEO salary: he’d gone so far as to buy a bar of gold bullion and train a webcam on it 24/7, the better to illustrate the corporate website. Which suggested a plan of action to this quartet of ex-employees: as a substitute for the vast sums they felt they were due, they would swipe the gold bar right out from under John Donnelly’s nose. There was, of course, one minor detail: tech types generally don’t have a lot of experience with breaking and entering, except to the extent that it involves passwords and databases. Still, this is a realm where you learn by doing, and so they developed a plan.

This really should not have worked as a novel: technical descriptions tend toward the mundane, and most of the techies I know are decidedly short on drama. What makes this worth your time is Noggle’s attention to detail: J. Random Noob will appreciate the extra exposition, and your local expert will nod, “Yeah, that’s exactly the way I’d do that. If I were going to do that, which of course I’m not.” There might be a hair too much geographical exposition — by the time you’re finished you should be able to hire on as a cab driver in St. Louis County — but no matter about that. The plot is more than sufficiently twisty; I’m pleased to report that I did not even come close to predicting the way it ended. And if the dialogue meanders a bit, hey, that’s the way these people talk. I’ve heard them, and so have you.

This isn’t quite, say, the Elmore Leonard version of WarGames. It is, however, an entertaining mosaic of gigabytes and grifters, and you should read it. Unless, of course, you’re John Donnelly.

(Review copy purchased from publisher.)

Comments (7)