For the past several years, NPR has been one of my favorite resources for new music. They feature a new song every day, they play first listens of new albums, they have downloadable concerts and much more. And every year their best albums picks invariably feature and album or two that I hadn’t heard of which prove to be amazing.
But this first half of the year’s album picks are really kind of disappointing. It’s a diverse mix (Leonard Cohen, Sharon van Etten, Bobby Womack, fun., some rappers I don’t know, a little classical, Spiritualized). I’m not saying these choices are bad, I actually haven’t heard most of them. But there was nothing that made me jump up and say, how did I miss that?
But then there was this cut from Pallbearer. It’s a dirgey death metal song, slow and heavy. Lately I’ve enjoyed death metal but I’ve been disappointed by the vocalists. Pallbearer has a guy who can sing and whose voice rings through the sludge. And there is sludge–some of the notes sound like the guitar is completely de-tuned. But what’s cool about the recording is that it doesn’t sound sloppy or mushy–you can hear the sludginess in all its clarity. The guitar solo is interesting too. It also soars above the sludge, but it’s not a shredding solo, it’s melodic and quite pretty.
I’ll check out more from Pallbearer. I’m always excited to see NPR promoting death metal. It’s as good juxtaposition as the parts of this song itself.
You can see the NPR choices here.
[READ: June 10, 2012] Ghostopolis
Sarah gave me this book after reading it quickly and raving about it (this after our friend Megan gave it to her and raved about it). And I read it quickly and will rave about it now too.
The book opens with an airplane that is having engine trouble. The airplane, it turns out, is being flown by a little boy name Garth Hale. Because it’s a toy plane (the reveal is great). He’s being gross (barf bags everywhere) until his mother can’t take it anymore. But she has reason to be gentle with him. She has just found out that her son’s disease is incurable.
Meanwhile Frank Gallows is a special agent whose job is to send ghosts back to the afterlife. He has a cool handcuff-like device that he has to attach to the ghosts’ arms or legs. He then pushes a button and poof, back they go. His first assignment today is to get Benedict Arnold (who plays a big role later on) out of the world. Then he goes after a horse–a skeletal nightmare horse–which is overpowers for him. As it floats through a wall, Frank manages to shackle its legs and poof. Only after the poof does he realize that the horse was on top of a little boy. A boy named Garth Hale. Frank is in big trouble.
Garth lands in the afterlife with the horse. Garth freaks out and takes off, and the horse easily keeps up as if it’s a game. And soon, after careful consideration, Garth learns to trust the horse… and calls him “Skinny.” And they explore the landscape together.
Frank, meanwhile, goes to visit his old flame Claire. Claire is super-pissed at Frank because he broke with her in a very uncool way. But when he explains what happened she agrees to help. Why? Because Claire is a ghost living in the real world and she has a machine that can take them to the Underworld.
While Garth is traipsing around, he runs into his grandfather. His mother has talked about him–how they had a huge fight (over earrings) and never spoke again. And when he died she was full of sadness. The thing is that when Garth meets his grandfather, the grandfather is Garth’s age (there’s no physical-based time in the afterlife).
His grandfather explains how things are in the underworld–there’s a guy named Mister Baugner who more or less controls everything. And he’s a scary guy. He has bugs as spies and he has created ghettos in the underworld where different faction live. He also spread rumors so the factions constantly fight each other. The factions include: The Spectre from the South, the Will-o’-the-Wisp Queen, the Mummy Pharoah, the Duke of Goblins, The Bone King from the North (who rather looks like Santa), the Zombie Lord and the King of the Boogeymen (who is picking his nose).
There is a wonderful sequence in which Garth brings skinny to the Bone King. It was his horse but he couldn’t ride him. When he sees that Garth can, that changes everything. (It’s amazing how emotive TenNapel makes a skeletal horse). The Bone King takes them to a hidden location, where secrets are revealed and explanations provided. But before anything can be solved, Vaugner discovers them.
There is a battle at the end of the book in which many people and ghost take part and stakes grow greater. And most of the main characters have a moment where we see happens to them and how they change. It’s very cool. We even find out what the deal with Vaugner is–I did not see that coming!
The end is amazingly touching–especially for a book with a ghost horse and farting goblins. And the touching parts just keep coming!
This is a pretty intense book, and I’m not entirely sure what age it’s for. There’s a bunch of fart jokes (there’s the nose picking above) and the way that Garth fights Vaugner is very funny indeed (it involves a joke about poo). There’s even a funny joke at the expense of Glendale, CA. And yet, it’s all about death and violence and an incurable illness. The library we got it from has it as a kids book, although another has placed it in YA.
Regardless of your age, this is a really great story. The art is very dark (as befits the underworld) with lots of black backgrounds. The characters are appealing-looking in a gritty sort of way (Vaugner is really crazy looking of course). It’s not exactly my style by I enjoyed it quite a bit. Although the book is quite large, it’s a pretty fast read. This of course, makes me a little sad because I can imagine just how much work went into making a book that can be read in an hour or so. But, that’s what rereading is for–I’m sure there lots of cool details to pick up on in second read.
See Sarah’s review here.