Monday, March 30, 2009

The Eight of Spades

"It's much more fun to be full of hope than pessimism, any day of the week."
-- Lemmy; Spin magazine interview, April 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Neither Blind nor Random

À L'aveuglette
(Le Pop)
Breut wrote all the lyrics for this, her fourth album, and co-wrote most of the songs. That doesn't sound terribly impressive unless you know that the former back-up singer has built a respectable career in Europe as a vessel for other songwriters.

Perhaps the album title, which translates to blindly or at random speaks to the leap into the unknown she took by consciously leaving her comfort zone as a performer of existing songs so that she could create her own works. Whatever the meaning, L'aveuglette is good.

A galloping rhythm propels "Les Jeunes Pousses," one of several songs shaded by the spacious arrangements and arid, lonesome guitars of bands such as Calexico. (It's odd to think of a Frenchwoman emulating that Southwest-of-the-mind style, but Breut has collaborated with Calexico.) Her past work with Dominique A utilized similar styles, but without him on these recordings, the songs are less noisy and rock oriented.

Also, Breut's quiet alto has developed into a more mature instrument, separating her from easy comparisons to iconic French vocalists from the 1960s. She does maintain a seeming national tradition of draping every phrase with melancholy, though now Breut sounds more spectator than participant. The Typing Monkey must note that we understand just a few of the words she's singing, so if any of the vocal content is upbeat, she's still delivering it with a touch of sadness -- so French.

The nouvelle scène francais aims modern French pop toward the 21st century. Breut's giant step forward sounds and feels like she's the first one to actually reach that frontier. For all the desolation, she makes the trip worthwhile.

Reference material: Though more modern comparisons and contrasts surely exist, Françoiz Breut brings to mind an undamaged Marianne Faithful or a less manic Kristin Hersh.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Okay, He's Sensitive

Listen of
(Sonar Kollectiv)
At first listen, this reissue of soft pop from 1973 breezes past, light and sweet. Bryan's jazzy singer-songwriter exercises don't even merit the attention of re-release effort from a European label known mostly for electronic music, it would seem. But his story adds an intriguing layer to the proceedings, making the reissue a far more engaging idea.

Bryan, a Brazilian native whose real name is Sérgio Sá, might have cashed in on his nationality and pumped out some bossa nova or latched onto tropicalia and that would have been that. But instead he wrote and recorded a dozen AM-radio ready songs with the same smiling vibe of say, Johnny Nash and standing, unashamed, on the shoulders of beard-era Beatles, The Association and numerous California sunshine-pop acts.

His accented English and almost feminine voice makes these already delicate songs even more fragile. When he's happy ("Listen" "Feel Like I Feel") it's so in the moment, that cynicism and irony won't hold against him. And when Bryan's sad ("Why She Goes Away") he's just a daisy bending in the rain.

The obvious singer-songwriter tools of the period are all in place: soft drums, unhurried bass, acoustic guitars and a Fender Rhodes. Bryan adds string sections and frequently employs an oboe and French horn, all to good, wistful effect. His particular appeal grows with repeated plays, which leads this all to the main concern: Why didn't he hit big outside Brazil?

Listen of was clearly aiming for North American ears. "Feel Like I Feel" sounds an awful lot like Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" [released the same year -- ed.] and he's no fruitier than the other tender-hearted men who filled the airwaves during his time.

Maybe this time, Paul Bryan.

Reference material: Listeners unafraid to admit they enjoy The Association's "Never My Love" and know that owning an album with a cat on the cover does not compromise their authenticity can pursue Paul Bryan's Listen of with confidence.

The Results Are In*

  • 87% of all dogs surveyed enjoy sticking their heads out the window only when the car is in motion.
  • 10% enjoy sticking their heads out whether the car is in motion or parked
  • The remaining 3% were either undecided or did not understand the quetsion

*Margin of error +/- 1.8%

Friday, March 13, 2009

Eluding Fame Since 1984

A happy 25th anniversary to Girl Trouble, who've been bringing South Tacoma pride to audiences around the world the only way they know how: with hip-shaking beats, partial nudity and prizes for those who aren't so drunk that they can't catch a plastic toy hurled at them from the stage.

Tacoma is like the difficult girlfriend in a French new wave film -- she's alternately cold and distant or warm and flirty, beautiful in the right light, and sometimes she kind of smells funny. Oh, and the smoking. Who could convey her particular charms better than Girl Trouble? The video's not embeddable, so here's a link to "My Hometown."

And at no extra charge (and also because a YouTube link is easier than posting an MP3) here's a dull video of a spectacular song. I bet you thought The Banana Splits couldn't be any sexier. Well, you were wrong.

["My Hometown" courtesy Kathy C. Fennessy/BVMGrungeTV; "Gonna Find a Cave" courtesy dennisvanlith.]

The Monkey Reads: Pow! Wham! Ka-BOOM!

Who Can Save Us Now? -- Brand New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories
Edited by Owen King and John McNally
Illustrations by Chris Burnham
(Free Press)
The minor boom in superhero lit over the past couple years -- Soon I Will Be Invincible, Superpowers, et al. -- rolls along. This collection of shorts may be the ideal format for prose about characters generally more comfortable in the full-color panels of a comic book.

Will Clarkes' "The Pentacostal Home for Flying Children" and Scott Snyder's "The Thirteenth Egg" leave the biggest impression. Both stories have the stacked, portentous pacing necessary to allow the reader to completely suspend disbelief so far that every supernatural element, including a pack of flying juvenile delinquents and a living atom bomb, becomes thoroughly believable.

Elizabeth Crane's tale of a boy fixated on a real-life hero disappoints by doing little with a promising idea. And there's a batch of puzzling entries in the section called "A Shadowy Figure." The mercifully short "In Cretaceous Seas" is bitter for no apparent reason and despite being a good character sketch "Roe #5" never lifts off beyond cheap Twilight Zone tricks. "The Snipper" plays cute so much that the weighty moments stick out awkwardly.

The last two sections, "Behind the Mask" and "Super Ordinary" deliver the most consistent quality story-for-story. The authors of those shorts dig into the sticky normal things that happen to all of us, letting the superhuman abilities be the life-complicating annoyances they actually would be in reality.

Reference material: There's plenty of goodness in Who Will Save Us Now? to merit a recommendation. Reliable sources also suggest Soon I Will Be Invincible and Superfolks, which apparently did all of this a few years before the most recent attempts at meta-lit about men in capes and tights.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


New York Movie (1939) by Edward Hopper, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 40 1/8 in; The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image courtesy's Web Museum -- which hosts a good collection of Hopper's interiors, including higher-resolution images with a zoom-in feature.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the Sports Desk

The athletic endeavors that interest The Typing Monkey aren't covered by mainstream media. (For instance, the underground and possibly illegal Ultimate Sock'em Boppers Fighting League doesn't allow cameras of any kind at bouts.) So we understand your surprise that we're not only linking to a story from an outside media source, but that the story itself is sports-related.

In 2008, a farm-league pitcher named John C. Odom was traded for ten baseball bats. You read that correctly. His contract, and the implied value of Odom's skills, was estimated equal to ten wooden sticks. The story doesn't end there, and it doesn't end pretty. This AP wire story from The Seattle Times has all the sad, lurid details.