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[LISTENED TO: October 15, 2013] Whales on Stilts

whalesWhen this book came out it was hugely popular in my library.  I was very curious about the title–it’s crazy, right?  But I had no real sense of what the book was about (I wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be funny or a drama–it was on every reading list of that year but who knew why).  Well, had I ever looked at the book carefully I would have known it was a comedy and I would have realized that it was exactly the kind of comedy that I love.

This book is part one in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.  I believe the series shares characters, but I’m not sure if it is necessary to read them in order (we’ll find out when we listen to Book 2 next week).  Of course there are more than three characters in this book, but the three main characters are: Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut! and star of his own adventure series; Katie Mulligan, star of her own horror books series Horror Hollow; and Lily Gefelty, a girl who is friends with both of them.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrator describes Lily as being remarkably unremarkable.  She hides behind her bangs, doesn’t want to be the center of attention and is grateful that her two superfriends have known her for longer than they have been famous.  And what is doubly wonderful is that Lily is the catalyst for solving the major crisis that is about to hit her town.  In fact, Lily is the first one to even suspect that anything is awry. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: October 15, 2014] The Understudy

understudyI feel like we haven’t been attending as much live theater this year (this year was more about concerts), but I was happy that McCarter was showing this comedy (they just showed Antony & Cleopatra which I just was never quite in the mood for).  I got good seats and off we went.

I didn’t realize this was a preview performance (and what exactly that means I’m not sure–we saw a preview performance of Spamalot on Broadway and it was wonderful).  With our programs was a survey of things we liked/didn’t like or suggestions we might have about the show.  I though the show was wonderful and wouldn’t change anything.

The premise of the play is fantastic, especially if you like plays about the theater and acting.  The story is that one of the lead actors and his understudy are going to have a rehearsal of their upcoming play.  There are only three characters: the lead, the understudy and the stage manager.  Any behind the scenes type of story is bound to be funny, and so this was.  But what elevated this story to levels beyond a simple behind the scenes comedy was that the play the the actors are rehearsing for is a recently uncovered play written by Franz Kafka called The Man Who Disappeared.

The play is looking to be a huge success (Broadway loves Kafka!) especially since it stars two movie stars (there’s jokes about movie stars being on Broadway).  The main lead of the Kafka play is never seen, but we learn that he makes $20 million per picture.  The second lead is Jake–his recent film made $68 million in the first weekend and he is considered a major draw.  The understudy is Harry, a down on his luck artiste who is really happy to just get paid, even if he will likely never go on.  The third character is Roxanne.  She is the stage manager and she has a very compelling back story that is slowly revealed.

The fourth “character” is Laura. We never see Laura, but she is in charge of the lights and set during this rehearsal.  She is apparently high and is constantly causing trouble–missing light cues, bringing down incorrect sets.  For a nonexistent person, she is a highlight of the show. Continue Reading »

june2014SOUNDTRACK: BATTLES-Glass Drop (2011).

220px-BattlesGlossDropI didn’t know anything about Battles before I heard the single, “Ice Cream.”  Battles are an experimental band comprised of the guitarist from Don Caballero (one of my favorite post-rock bands) and the drummer from Helmet.   And they write music that is very angular, with lots of stops and starts and direction changes.  There’s some story about their first album (which I have not heard) having a singer who left just before the recording of this album.  And the remaining trio’s solution was to have outside singers sing on certain songs.  And it all works very well.

The majority of the album is instrumental though.  And the songs feature a very distinctive sound that I feel is close to a steel drum, but which I know is actually a keyboard–but that echoing sound is so drumlike, that when the drummer’s pounding is added, the whole album feels like a percussive explosion.

“Africastle” opens the disc with ringing guitars and a melody that uses those steel drum sounds.  After about 2 minutes of slow intro, when the ferocious drums kick in, the song rockets to life in a frenzy of activity and counterpoints.  It’s really quite something.

“Ice Cream” is the song that introduced me to this album.  The guitars are modified to once again a steel drum sound, but the melody and rhythm are so fast staccato that it removes any sense of steel drum especially when the notes are clearly electronic. This song features vocals (no idea what they are saying) by Matias Aguayo.  They compliment the sound of the music.  Despite all the overlapping disparate elements the song winds up being strangely catchy. The way the chaos ends with a simple Dum duh duh dum dum… is very cool.

“Futura” continues in that staccato style but it features an aggressively catchy melody.  “Inchworm” has a fun almost reggae feel amid the staccato noises.  “Wall Street” brings the drums to the fore again as it propels the jumpy melody along.  “My Machines” has a guest vocal from Gary Numan. I have never liked Gary Numan (I need to never hear “Cars” again) but his voice (he actually sings…sort of) works well with this cacophony.

“Dominican Fade” adds some heavier bass and wild percussion notes to this 2 minute track. It even has hand claps and cowbells at the end.  “Sweetie and Shag,” has vocals from  Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino.  She adds a whole new element to the album with her high pitched yet breathy vocals.  A definite highlight.

“Toddler” is a 1 minute sng that feels like a transition into the manic and bouncy “Rolls Bayce” (which Dave Konopka describes as almost wholly an experiment).

“White Electric” start slow with some echoed notes. Then a martial beat keeps time as the notes seems to swirl around. The song builds and builds with more layers until it crashes apart at around 5 minutes.  At which point the song slowly rebuilds itself into a pretty coda.

The final song sounds like a reggae singer but it is actually Yamataka Eye from The Boredoms.  Konopka says that Eye sent vocals and told them to do whatever they wanted with the track.  The band thought “he was speaking Japanese, but he’s just making up his own stuff and he’s repeating stuff that he’s making up.”  The backing noises sound like a whale song.

Despite the weirdness of the album, there’s a lot of poppiness to it, and I think it is a great release.  It also is a great headphones release, if you like that sort of thing.  I need to check out their debut as well.

[READ: October 15, 2014] “Who Will Water the Wallflowers?”

I don’t quite know what to make of this story.  It seemed to me to be full of individual incidents that were all wiped away by the flood that is mentioned in the very first line.

I enjoyed the details of the story quite a lot.  In it, the girl (unnamed) looks after her neighbor’s cat Cha-Cha while Ms Feliz is away.  Cha-Cha is a a Turkish angora, a delicate breed.  And there is an interesting description of the cat after he has gotten wet in the rain.  Sometime the girl sleeps at Ms Feliz’ house (her mom doesn’t mind since they live across the street).

The girl finds sanctuary in Ms Feliz’s house.  Except for Mr Bradley.  Mr Bradley is an enigmatic neighbor–he seems to be home all the time, dressed in work clothes and slippers. It is clear that the girl is uncomfortable around him, but he seems to always be around.  He seems pleasant enough.  He sees her almost every day and always asks “learning something?” to which she doesn’t know what to say.  She tries to avoid him by looking for Cha-Cha, but he doesn’t leave (and Cha-Cha doesn’t show up).  She tells him that she watched a film about geysers .

He replies, “I know a joke about geysers….it probably wouldn’t be appropriate.” Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Spade Side--Andrew Scott] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

The final side of Commonwealth is by drummer Andrew Scott.  Scott has written three singles for Sloan over the years: “500 Up”, “People of the Sky”, and “I’ve Gotta Try.”  But for this album, he has created a 17 minute and 49 second epic called “Forty-Eight Portraits.” This makes it seem like it could be 48 small songs which it isn’t.  But it also isn’t one long song exactly.  There are, by my count 15 sections–although there could be more or fewer depending on how you break it up.

So my demarcations:

  1. The song opens with a dog barking.  There’s complex percussion and a smattering of piano seemingly searching for a melody.
  2. At 3 minutes the first real song proper starts.  We’ll call it “You say you’re going with me.” There’s acoustic guitars and a bouncy melody.  It’s a great song with a neat guitar riff that overlays around 4 minutes in.  But
  3. At 4:23 the song changes dramatically.  It grinds to a slow pensive section, call it the “Don’t ask for a second chance.”  But it doesn’t last long,
  4. At 5:16, the next part jumps in, it’s a bit faster and feels like it could be an extension of the previous section.  Call it the “Do the things I do” section.  It speeds up
  5. At 5:41, to a similar style as the “first song.”  It has a sing along starting “How Does It Feel?”  It’s got one verse before a time signature change and instrumental break.
  6. At 6:40 the next section comes in.  Aggressive guitars and spoken word lyrics “There’s something happening here.”  It also has one of the few uses of the word “fucking” in a Sloan song.
  7. At 7:25 it shifts to a falsetto style and higher pitched guitars.  It’s vaguely Beach Boys-like for a verse “Do you think she loves you?” until
  8. At 7:48 it’s back to a reprise of the “How does it feel” section.
  9. At 8:15 it shifts to a new slow piano section.  This feels like the most fully realized song section of the epic.  “I can’t believe you never told me the truth.”   It leads into a big chorus sounding section (two lines) around 8:40 (“What it is us unsustainable”).  There’s even a repeat of this “verse” and  “chorus” as well.
  10. At 10:26 a new guitar section is introduced.  It works as a transition “You said you’re coming with me.” It morphs
  11. At 10:52 into a very cool slowed down section “I asked for a proper glass.”  And then
  12. At 11:22 the song again returns to the “How did it feel” section.
  13. At 12 minutes the song transitions with a “ba ba ba” and horns which move into the “Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping away” section.  The song feels like it might end at 13 minutes as the last notes seem to ring out.  But
  14. At 13:21, the song rebuilds again with the “inside a cloud” section.  This feels like the final section of the song is built around a similar construct. It’s a guitar riff that introduces a children’s chorus at around the 14 minute mark.  There’s a slow guitar solo and pizzicato strings that keep this section from being to easy, but that guitar riff and children’s section reunite the end which concludes with the spoken “W.W.L.R.D.?” (which I assume the L.R. refers to Lou Reed).
  15. At 16 minutes, the chaos of the beginning returns with a dog bark, but the concluding riff is strong and seems to really draw out the end.

I really haven’t listened to the lyrics that carefully to know exactly what’s going on, but I really enjoy the “choruses.”  While a 17 minute song is not everyone’s cup of tea, there are so many parts and so many interesting and catchy sections, that it feels like a whole collection of short songs rather than one long song.  It’s a cool experiment and one that I find myself singling out as I try to parse it a bit more.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Part of the Main” and “Watching the Cop Show in Bed”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  These were two poems.

I’ve don’t normally review the poetry in The Walrus, but since I had four sides and only three stories it seemed worthwhile to throw the two poems in as well 9especially since the finally song was so unusual).

The first one “Part of the Main” is written with wonderfully evocative language as it talks about something so base.

The first stanza talks about the inevitability of the tide, of life.  With beautiful language like: “the contours of the and effaced by the saintly patience of the tide.”  But the second stanza shifts gears.  In it, the narrator says that you can show him dire things on the television: “bloated bellies…bomb blasts” and he will weep and clench his fists “but otherwise do nothing.”  It is sadly an uncomfortably relatable attitude. Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Shamrock Side--Patrick Pentland] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.

According to the CBC website, Patrick Pentland is responsible for some of the band’s biggest hit songs, including “The Good in Everyone,” “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” and “Money City Maniacs.”

Pentland only wrote four songs for his side.  And none of them are especially long.  Overall his songs are heavier fuzzier and rockier.

“13 (Under a Bad Sign)” is a heavy rocker at only two minutes.  Even though it’s the same length as Murphy’s also heavy “Get Out” it just rocks a lot harder.  It also opens with a bass–one of the few songs on the album that does so.  It’s a big loud rocking riff.  “Take It Easy” is even noisier.  The guitars feedback as the bass propels along.  It’s a simple song, with a simple heavy chord structure, and it has a simple catchy chorus.  Good rocking Sloan.

“What’s Inside” slows things down a bit—it has a familiar bass line and swirling guitars.  There’s lots of echo on this song, especially in the chorus which seems almost shoegazey.  It’s probably my least favorite song on the album because of the way it kind of meanders–it rather slows the momentum of the disc.  But his final song, “Keep Swinging (Downtown)” totally redeems it, with a super catchy classic rock sound classic.  It has a great got sing along chorus.  This could easily be a huge single and a live concert favorite.  It’s 3 and a half minutes, but nearly the last minute is an extended outro with a great pretty acoustic guitar riff.

For only four songs, Pentland makes a huge statement.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Brute”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about murder.

Of the three stories I liked this story the least.  Not because it from the point of view of a dog–that part I liked.  In fact I enjoyed a lot of details in the story–like that there was a character named Grassy Noel, that the narrator believes all golden labs have a Scottish accent and that the narrator speaks as if he is not a dog.

First we learn about Big Cy’s (the narrator) history.  He used to hang around the bus station grubbing for food.

Then he witnessed a Lab rescue a baby and saw that dog praised and held high.  He wants to know:

Who is better. The dog who is … naturally good or the one who struggles to be good. Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Heart Side--Chris Murphy] (2014).

commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.  According to Wikipedia, Murphy has written several Sloan songs that have been released as singles, including “Underwhelmed” from the album Smeared, “Coax Me” from Twice Removed, “G Turns to D” from One Chord to Another, “She Says What She Means” from Navy Blues, “The Other Man” from Pretty Together, and “The Rest of My Life” from Action Pact.

 Murphy, like Ferguson writes some really catchy songs here.  They are no connected like Ferguson’s though, and they feel more like discrete songs.  “Carried Away” is another amazingly catchy song that I get stuck in my head for hours.  The song opens with a full sound including strings. The verses are slow. But the chorus just kicks in catchy and easy to sing along with this great line: “She carried on buit she got carried away…”

“So Far So Good” is a slow piano ballad. The chorus swells in a big classic-rock-with-piano way and is also catchy.  “Get Out” is a short rocker, under 2 minutes.  It comes in, rocks hard and gets out. “Misty’s Beside Herself” is another song with an infectious chorus.  It’s a slow ballad, but with a big powerful chorus full of harmonies. It’s really pretty. “You Don’t Need Excuses to Be Good” has rawer guitar sound and sounds a bit more like older Sloan. Although it’s not as catchy as the other songs, there’s something about the sound (how different it is from the other songs) that really makes it stand out (that guitar solo s pretty great too).

Like Ferguson, Murphy knows how to write great catchy songs, and these five songs really showcase his strengths as a writer.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Care and Feeding of the Amish”

The Walrus‘ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about kidnapping.

I’ve enjoyed Kuitenbouwer’s peculiar vantage point in a number of stories before.  Since this was a “crime” story I was curious about what this title could possibly have to do with a crime.  And then it’s laid out–a bunch of kids in a Montessori class (who are camping out in the woods) are lying in await for an Amish buggy to come by.  (While waiting for the ambush one of them farts, which really sets the tone for the story: “The fart hovered at nose level as the nostalgic clop of horses sounded and a decision became necessary”).

And then the decision is made.  Becky ran out into the street with a stick which made the buggy driver stop.  While Becky was asking him how many Amish it took to change a light bulb, the rest of her class snuck behind the buggy and grabbed the buggy’s little boy occupant.  She then frightened the horses and the buggy took off–with the driver unaware of the kidnapping. Continue Reading »

2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Diamond Side--Jay Ferguson] (2014).

 commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.  According to Wikipedia, Ferguson’s more famous songs are: “I Hate My Generation” from the album Twice Removed, “The Lines You Amend” from One Chord to Another, “Who Taught You to Live Like That?” from the album Never Hear the End of It, and “Witch’s Wand” from Parallel Play.

Jay Ferguson has the more falsetto’s/delicate voice of the bunch.  He writes five songs that all works as kind of a suite.

“We’ve Come This Far,” opens the disc as a minute and a half piano intro.  It blends right into “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind” one of several super catchy songs on this record. The verses are gentle with an acoustic guitar playing along with Ferguson’s singing.  It’s a simple song with a great sing along chorus (and even a long Yeah- h- h ).   “Three Sisters” also starts with a piano (and reminds me of Twin Peaks theme in tone).  It is slower than the other songs, which suits Ferguson’s voice very well.  I enjoyed this lyrics which plays to the album art: “I Played a diamond where her heart should land. She recognized the tune but not the band.”  The mellow song has a cool buzzy guitar solo laid over the top.

And It jumps right into the much faster “Cleopatra” which is a simple (and again catchy) track with a boppy “talk to ya later” bridge. The piano and guitar solos are quiet affairs which play against the type of song and really showcase the Ferguson’s songwriting skills.  “Neither Here Not There” opens with, in sequence: a gentle organ, a quiet electric guitar riff and then a 12 string guitar  (not bad for 20 seconds). The song is barely 2 minutes long and is pretty ballad.

It’s a really pretty song cycle and shows of the kinds of songs that Sloan has been doing so well for so many years.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Ultrasound”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about rape.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel kind of hit or miss about Stephen Marche’s short stories.  But I loved this one.

I was a little concerned at first because of the very cold and distant way it began: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing “of no interest to me” and 10 representing “of maximum interest to me,” the rapes in my neighbourhood rated a 2.3.”

It’s a cold way to open a story.  But the narrator is not finished with his detached tone.  Indeed, he looks at everything in this detached way–on scales of 1-10 or in percentages.  He shares the same outlook as the protagonist of American Psycho, but this story is not about a psycho, just about a person who is exceedingly rational.

And it is a love story too (sort of).  We learn that he dated Catherine Anne Doran and he rates his time with her at 9.3 out of 10.  But by the end of the story something changed.  It wasn’t how he felt about her, it as something intangible.  Thus we learn the problem with the narrator: “Despite this high level of personal significance, the measurable changes our relationship produced were negligible. The numbers were the same, but everything changed. This is what I fail to understand.” Continue Reading »

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