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Review: Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables March 29, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Another Netgalley review in exchange for free read.

Though a lot of the books in the 33 1/3 series just tell the story of the album on the front cover, many don’t, instead presenting fact or fiction inspired in some way by the album. So I should point out that anyone looking for detailed information about this album — differences between the different versions, stories behind all the songs, recording info, etc — won’t find a lot of that here.

This book is more about San Francisco city politics in the late 1970s, the romanticization of punk as a revolutionary force, the genius of Jello Biafra and the band’s combining shock tactic lyrics with humour and actual political points.

It’s certainly educational in its San Francisco urban history (a lot of the stuff about the punk scene is familiar from other sources), but Foley’s partisan take on things sometimes leads him to overdo it. Even when I agree with him, which is often, it feels like he’s preaching to the converted rather than making a cogent argument.

This book won’t do much for readers interested in Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables as a musical recording. It’s more for those who want to believe in punk as a politically important and meaningful cultural moment. I’ve been one of those people, though I doubt I still have the paper I wrote on the subject at university. Ultimately, though, as much as I enjoy this album and as much as I still love a lot of old and new punk rock, it’s still an album never heard or heard of by the vast majority of people I know, then or now. It might be better to make a case for the political and cultural importance of the band and the album by looking at those who’ve been influenced or inspired by it. I also would have liked to learn more about the band members, and what happened to them since this album.

Not entirely my thing, but in 2015 it’s almost refreshing to see this kind of idealistic punk ranting. Makes for a bit of contrast with the cynical, sarcastic tone of the Dead Kennedys’ songs themselves.


Review: Devo’s Freedom of Choice March 28, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Review written in exchange for a Netgalley advance e-read.

I still remember the day in 1980 when I bought Devo’s Freedom of Choice album. They were one of my favourite bands at the time, and this was a definite breakthrough album for them. The success of “Whip It” took everyone, including Devo, by surprise. (For what it’s worth, my favourite songs on this album are the title track and two others, “Gates of Steel” and “Snowball.”)

Evie Nagy’s book on Freedom of Choice is a solid look back at the point where everything changed for Devo. As 33 1/3 books go, this is one of the more straightforward ones, built on research and interviews with a lot of the key players, looking at the album’s creation and its place in Devo’s career, It’s a good read, and Nagy gets Devo’s mix of nerdishness, humour, and serious political intent. Unlike a few books in this series that keep an extremely tight focus on the album at hand (or go spiraling off in unexpected directions), this one provides history on the band, leading up to and following on from Freedom of Choice.

1980 was a strange time. New wave had caught on enough, and Devo had trimmed out some of its experimentalism enough, that the band that was too weird for a lot of people a year before was suddenly just weird enough to be a cool, fun party music band, like the B-52s. But the Reagan era was about to start, and Devo struggled with being expected to produce another hit record while also wanting to wanting to push their messages to an audience that seemed to miss the point entirely.

Nagy does a solid job bringing together new quotes from Devo members, others involved with the album, other people from Devo’s circle over the years, and other musicians as well as bits from contemporary articles to tell a story that’s well worth reading for anyone interested alternative music or 1980s pop culture.

Review: The Fade Out Volume One by Ed Brubaker March 28, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
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Another Netgalley review: free advance ecopy in exchange for a review.

I’ve been meaning to give Ed Brubaker a try for a long time. I like noir. I just haven’t read a lot of it in comic format.

And The Fade Out is classic Hollywood noir in the vein of 1940s novels and movies like Steve Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming and more recent takes like James Ellroy’s LA Quartet (kicking off with a reference to Joseph Moncure March’s The Wild Party). This is the start of a series that I’m definitely going to follow.

What we get here are the first four issues of Brubaker’s comic about murder, the Red Scare, and the Hollywood studio system in the 1940s. Nothing much is resolved by the end of this volume. To the contrary — new questions are being raised, and the scope of the story opens up. If the goal is to make you want to see what comes next, it certainly worked for me.

The story is definitely a modern, not contemporary, take on noir. The language and sexual content wouldn’t have come close to getting through the Hays Office. Readers who miss 1940s and ’50s noir movies but don’t like more explicit modern takes on noir might not care for this, but then they probably don’t read comics anyway. Speaking of comics, the art here is quite good, clear and capturing the look and feel of the era quite well.

It’s hard to say much more, given that this is only the beginning of what may be a long and complex story. But it’s a very strong beginning.

And now… a random diversion March 24, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, Music.
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A few online hangouts I’ve frequented over the years have a thread for people to post a series of random musical selections chosen by itunes or some other music player on shuffle. I’ve always loved Winamp but running it on Windows 8 has been less than optimal. So, with 8.1 and a bit of compatibility troubleshooting, I’m on my second version of winamp today. And I’m going to play the random music game because it’s fun and because there are almost 50,000 songs to choose from and it’s always interesting to see if any patterns or oddities arise.

  1. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”
  2. Blue Daisy, “Rick Ross”
  3. Wire, “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel”
  4. Cocteau Twins, “Pepper-Tree”
  5. Nosaj Thing, “Fog (Jamie xx Remix)”
  6. Nile, “I Whisper in the Ear of the Dead”
  7. Ella Fitzgerald, “Blue Moon”
  8. The Trysting Tree, “Chapter 3: A Middle Class Tragedy”
  9. Mekons, “Country”
  10. Brian Eno, “Aragon”

Hmm… nothing too obscure there. Sometimes stuff comes up that I just don’t remember at all. More importantly, this version of Winamp didn’t crash.

Review: The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle March 13, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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Another free Netgalley advance read!

I read a lot of stories and novels that draw on the concepts and entities created in HP Lovecraft’s fiction. More to the point, I’ve read some of William Meikle’s short fiction in anthologies, though I can’t remember at the moment what I thought of them. But when this popped up on Netgalley I thought I’d give it a shot.

The title’s an obvious tipoff that this is something Lovecraftian, referencing The Dunwich Horror, and the info on the author’s site and publisher DarkFuse’s site doesn’t shy away from the Lovecraft connection, but it isn’t the kind of cliched list of Necronomicon knockoffs and Cthulhu companions that still pop up from time to time. The simplest description would be that it’s a cross between Stephen King’s The Mist and Lovecraft stories like The Colour Out of Space and From Beyond. It pulls off those different approaches by alternating between chapters set in the present day involving a small Newfoundland town hit by a blizzard and a mysterious phenomenon with chapters set decades earlier showing how that phenomenon was brought into being.

Meikle’s website gives the impression that he’s happy to be thought of as a pulp fiction kind of guy, and while it’s true that this book is more entertainment than art, it’s pretty good entertainment. The Newfoundland modern day chapters paint a believable picture of hard working guys in a small town getting a beating from the elements; the flashback chapters have a noticeably different narrative voice. As the book builds, the focus moves from dread and suspense to more action and all-out horror.

Meikle does a good job of presenting classic King-style horror and Lovecraftian cosmic horror without once mentioning the Necronomicon or Cthulhu or any of the other usual trappings. He’s not doing anything as unexpected as mixing Lovecraft with the Beat Generation, like Nick Mamatas did a few years ago, either, but so what. Sometimes you want a rollicking good yarn that keeps you turning the pages, and this book definitely delivered that experience. If I’d bought this I’d’ve figured my money was well spent, and I’ll be paying more attention in future when I come across Meikle’s name again.