Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #3: Unearthed

the gateway album.

In 1988, Australian band The Church broke onto the US charts in a big way with the moody, ethereal single "Under the Milky Way". I loved loved loved it and after buying the accompanying album Starfish I started digging into the band's back catalog. Not only were they prolific as a band, but there were solo projects available by the lead singer and songwriter Steve Kilbey as well as lead guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.

Cover art color scheme prepares you for something unusual

Oddly enough, I became much bigger fans of the two solo records I bought than any Church album in my collection. I don't listen to Willson-Piper's Art Attack as much now as i did then (which was quite a bit- it's excellent), but the Kilbey record Unearthed became one of my favorite records of all time, and is still in heavy rotation at the Word Player home 20 years later.

Originally released in 1986, Unearthed is a classic example of a "bedroom record": it feels like it was made in a bedroom and it's best listened to in bedroom conditions. When I was a bachelor, I fell asleep almost every night with headphones on or music playing low on the stereo, and this album has taken me into the dream world hundreds of times.

"Otherworldly" is a good place to start, adjective-wise. The album is both stylistically diverse and thematically cohesive. Sometimes it feels like Renaissance psychedelia, then on to proto-electronica, and even dream sequence soundtrack music from a lost science fiction film.

Weaving dissolving patterns
Forming our uncertain terms
Passing into history
Going to the worms
I'll wait for you forever
In my house all white with dust
Falling into lonely hours
Let the engines rust


Makes me think of The Martian Chronicles...

He has the look of a shaman about him, no?

Kilbey's lyrics are vague, emotional and surreal, and even the instrumental tracks seem to communicate something palpable beyond simple mood. This is music to get lost to for sure.

It's hard sometimes to identify favorite songs on a favorite album, but in terms of "which songs have made it onto the most mixtapes" there are two clear-cut winners.

The first is "Tyrant", a pulsating, droning ode that seems to be saying more than it says (which, I know, isn't saying much).

Undignified, uncivilized, but always worth a thrill
There's never been a world that didn't end
Unquantified, uncategorized, until we pay the bill
Never ever borrow what you lend

The other track's name says it all, in a way. "My Birthday, the Moon Festival". It's simultaneously absurd and beautiful. What more can you ask for?

My birthday, the moon festival
My life in the sea of tears

My holiday, a misadventure
My soul, a short career
Like a lizard the road crawls forward
Into regions unexplored
By their boats the Mayans stirred
Gold and silver soon flow aboard
My birthday, the moon festival
My legs a wisp of ghost
My clothing, cotton under paper
My shoes, a sharpened post
My birthday, the moon festival

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dog Ears #14: On Writing

I'd planned to take a break from Dog Ear-ing for a while, and had skipped the last book I read (Chip Kidd's The Learners- good, but not great). The next book on my stack was Stephen King's nonfiction On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, a book I'd picked from an assortment of giveaways in the basement of AB and UM over the holidays. When I began I wasn't planning on Dog Ear-ing it either, but there were just too many plums I couldn't resist picking... et voila.

It's always a pleasure when Mr. King leads you down into the cellar

Including On Writing I've now read 22 books written by King, far and away the largest number by any one author. In scanning his chronological bibliography, I also realized that I hadn't read any King since 1997's Wizard and Glass, the fourth installment of the frustratingly ambitious Dark Tower series. I'm not sure why I stopped reading King for so long, but my best guess is that he was just so damn prolific that I stopped trying to keep up and, kind of like a favorite band you veer away from after years of faithful devotion, I realized that I needed a break.

Even though On Writing is nonfiction, it's written in King's instantly recognizable voice, and I realized how much I'd missed it after such a long break. The book's more or less broken up into three sections- King's own personal history and evolution as a writer, his advice on how to manage the art and craft of writing itself, and finally a harrowing chapter on his near-fatal encounter with a


Above, I stopped writing mid-sentence when Mrs. Word Player walked in the door. We decided to go out and grab some lunch, so I walked away from the computer and this post. What I had been about to write was that King, as a pedestrian, was struck by a car in a horrible accident near his home in the middle of writing On Writing, and didn't finish it for months.

In true, eerie King fashion, we got in the car to drive to lunch today and got in a car accident in an intersection not far from our home. We were both shaken up but uninjured and the other driver (also uninjured) was clearly at fault. As I was driving the rental car home after dropping our car off to get fixed the weird synchronicity struck me, and oddly made me feel a little better about the whole thing. At least no one had to be evacuated by helicopter for emergency surgery...

Fortunately, the other driver didn't hiss "Thinner!" at me while exchanging insurance information

That said, I'm a touch freaked out.

Anyway, here are some of the best Dog Ears from On Writing.

p37 "Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."

p163 "... stories are found things, like fossils in the ground. ... Stories aren't souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible."

p249 logrolling: |ˈlôgˌrōli ng; ˈläg-|
1 informal the practice of exchanging favors, esp. in politics by reciprocal voting for each other's proposed legislation. [ORIGIN: from the phrase you roll my log and I'll roll yours.]
2 a sport in which two contestants stand on a floating log and try to knock each other off by spinning it with their feet.

The boy that launched a million nightmares

Well, it seems that after I cut a few DE's that didn't seem as compelling as I thought they were laying in bed, this installment is a little thin. Let's insert the two DE's I couldn't resist making in The Learners to beef the piece up, yes?

p160 "'Lars once said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and everyone else.'"

p175. "Miss Preech: 'Your five o'clock is here. The respondent to the shoe ad. A Mr. Harshbarger.'
'Send him up.' Tip rubbed his hands listlessly. 'Oh, I'm just filled with antisappointment.'
'Antisappointment. Anticipation colliding head-on with the certainty of its own doom."

I think we've all experienced our fair share of antisappointment, yes?

One final note- tomorrow is the one year anniversary of this blog. Feel free to take the day off from work and celebrate with me. To borrow once more from Stephen King, thank you Faithful Reader.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bend Me, Shape Me #2: 1999

It's difficult to remember now, in 2008, how far away the year 1999 seemed in 1982 when Prince released his breakthrough album 1999. Believe me, for a 12 year-old thinking about what the world would be like when he was 29, 1999 felt like a million years away (kind of like it does now in the rearview mirror).

"Can U take me 4 a ride?"

Fortunately for me, Prince hadn't yet gained notoriety for his explicit lyrics and I was allowed to own and play 1999 at such a tender age (though after one listen I made very sure never to play it when grown-ups were around). I was turned on to the record by a pivotal radio station in my musical evolution: WBLZ 103.5 in Cincinnati. WBLZ was a dance-oriented urban station that played a lot of the electrified post-disco/pre-hip hop funk (Roger's "In the Mix" and Art of Noise's "Beat Box" were two staples) that was hot in those days, and Prince was the belle of the ball.

I feel like the entire summer of 1983 was devoted to listening to 1999 while playing marathon ping-pong "tournaments" and ColecoVision Zaxxon and Donkey Kong in the basement of my friend CS's house. My insatiable thirst for funk was born and, thanks to Prince's dirty mind, my adolescent curiosity about sex was ramped up, oh, about 11,000%.

Prince could even make chain mail gloves look sexy

Look here Martian, I'm not sayin' this just 2 be nasty
I sincerely wanna fuck the taste outta your mouth
Can U relate?

Actually, Prince, I couldn't relate, but lyrics like this from "Let's Pretend We're Married" sure did get the blood boiling (and, frankly, scared me). That said, the music on 1999 was even more compelling than his lyrics (and that's saying a lot). Released only one month after "A Broken Frame" on October 27, 1982, 1999 took two of that album's primary instruments- synthesizers and drum machines- and used them in polar opposite fashion. Prince took electronic music and made it feel visceral and organic and alive (as opposed to the clinical, glacial sounds of early Depeche Mode). I just discovered today that Prince was heavily influenced by BLADE RUNNER while recording 1999, and the connection makes perfect sense: both masterpieces are obsessed with the blurring of the line between man and machine.

remember how hard it was to fly through those gaps in the wall?

"Automatic" and "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" are my two favorite tracks on the album, and both of them felt like they were exploring alternate universe male/female relationships.

U ask me if I'll kiss u
It's automatic
And if u cry, me cry, boo hoo
That's automatic 2, ooh

As amazing a musician as Prince is, it's still weird that his signature sound (to me, anyway) is the drum machine hand-clap found all over this record, but it also makes sense too. Listening to 1999 then was so exciting and so confusing and so infectious, and the album holds up like a champ today. I'd wager that any deejay who dropped "D.M.S.R." in a club on a sweaty Saturday night would see the dancefloor jump. Not for nostalgic reasons either- it's a timeless booty-shaker for the Prince fan and the uninitiated alike.

**If you're new to the site, the goal of the Bend Me, Shape Me series can be found here.**