19893 SOUNDTRACK: TEDDY ABRAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #491 (November 30, 2015).

teddyTeddy Abrams is a young piano player (he was 28 in 2015) and he was recently made conductor of the Louisville Orchestra.  Here’s some fun details from the Tiny Desk blurb:

For his first week on the job in Louisville, Abrams played jazz piano in the streets and took his orchestra players into nightclubs and African-American churches. PBS made a web series on his first season.  Earlier this year, he put two first symphonies on the same program — Brahms’ First and a debut symphony by Sebastian Chang, a composer still in his 20s — just to gauge audience reaction. Abrams filled the hall by giving out free tickets to first-time symphonygoers. He was happy to hear that many of them liked the new piece best, saying they appreciated hearing the composer introduce it onstage.

Abrams plays three pieces.  Two originals and one from Beethoven.  The first, “Big Band,” [from the blurb: swirls with jazz history. Hints of Thelonious Monk fly by, along with tips of the hat to the stride style from the early 20th century] is a fun and fast piece with Abrams playing fun and bouncy rhythms and very fast solo runs.  It’s infectious.

Abrams decided to begin the opening movement of Beethoven: Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109, I. Vivace, ma non troppo with a short improvisation, noting that the great composer was known for riffing at the piano for hours on end and was often getting into improvisation battles.  At he end, he says that we shouldn’t have been able to tell where the improv ended and the song properly began (although fans of the song could probably tell).  By the end of his life Beethoven was experimenting and some of his later stuff is pretty out there and modern.  That may be true if you know classical music, but it just sounded pretty to me.

He ends the set with a bluesy number, “The Long Goodbye,” [from the blurb: describing it as a slow ballad halfway between “My Funny Valentine” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”].  It is indeed a wonderful conglomeration of jazzy melodies.  A lovely and fun piece that is familiar but new at the same time.

[READ: July 26, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984

As 1983 opens, Schroeder finally goes on the attack against Lucy “I have resolved not to be so serious..I’m going to try to laugh more” and then he pulls the piano out from under her and laughs like crazy.

For the past few books there have been a lot of jokes with Schroeder’s musical staves like Snoopy crawling through them.  Most have invoked Woodstock interacting with them.  As Schulz tends to do he will go on tears were he makes similar jokes every day for a week and then drops the joke for a while.  There’s also been some strips with Woodstock singing .  In one of my favorite, he is singing and the rain comes and actually washes the notes away from the stave. Even funnier is in Nov 1984 whee the rain comes and makes the notes droop really low.

For Valentine’s Day this year, Linus did not send Sally a card and she is very upset. Charlie says he should punch Linus in the nose.  But he says instead that Linus should just walk into his fist.  Charlie holds out his fist but Lucy walks into it instead.  That’s pretty funny.

More abuse for Lucy comes from Linus.  he gets a small bit of revenge by using Snoopy as a strange catapult and launching a snowball at her.

In the summer of 1983 while Snoopy is on a hike with the troops, the birds Bill and Harriet run off and get married and they stay in Point Lobos. Continue Reading »

secretSOUNDTRACK: CLUES-Endless Forever 7″ [CST064] (2009).

  cluesClues was a band who played rock songs that fused a lot of different styles–often within one song.  They released one album which was fantastic and then basically went on hiatus (that was six years ago).  This 7″ was a tour artifact that Constellation has made available.

It has two songs–a band-made remix of one song from the album and a demo of another album track..

“Ledmonton (Endless Forever Version)” is an unusual but fun song with lots of different sections.  All of them sound unrelated to each other and yet each part is quite catchy and it works wonderfully as a whole.  This remix doesn’t change the song all that much.  It makes it a little softer and fuzzier.  “You Have My Eyes Now (Demonstration Version)” feels like a demo compared to the final version, but it’s really full sounding–just not as full as the album.

This release is more for completists of the band or, since they put out one album and disbanded, any fan of their recorded output might just enjoy this.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Secret Coders

Beloved artist/author Gene Luen Yang came back in 2015 with a new series called Secret Coders.

There is a kind of introductory section that implies the whole story is a lot more meta than it might at first seem–but it is not resolved yet so it’s hard to be sure of that.

The story opens on middle-schooler Hopper.  She is very unhappy to have moved to this new town and a new school.  In addition to missing everyone back home, the sh cool is decidedly weirdo.  There are birds with four eyes, the groundskeeper’s doors are locked and the custodian Mr Bee is really mean.   Plus the whole place looks haunted and there are huge numbers painted all over the buildings (but not in any actual order).

Hopper is pretty abrasive. In fact I’d say she’s downright unlikable–I find her rather offputting, myself.  Of course, she’s also unhappy and the first people that she meets make fun of her (and throw pudding at her), so she is quite snippy with people.  But she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, which is cool.  When she learns who threw the pudding at her, she fights back–not realizing that the guy is a huge basketball player.  But he doesn’t fight her.  Rather, he chooses to walk away. Continue Reading »

black-daimons SOUNDTRACK: LAST EX-Last Ex [CST107] (2014).

last-exOne of the things I love about Constellation Records is that you often never know what you’re getting.  They used to very specifically release a certain kind of music, but they’re now just releasing interesting and exciting music.  But also, a band name can’t really tell you what to expect from this label.

So who knows what a band like Last Ex will sound like.  And how cool that their first few songs on this are so good.

The disc’s sides are split into Side X and Side XX.

“Hotel Blues” opens with some scattered drums and chords.  It has  vaguely early-Pink Floyd feel to it.  But around a minute in, the synths pick up a repetitive melody and the bass and drums kick in to give it a very Can or Kraftwerk vibe.  The song is fairly straightforward, but there are sprinklings of notes—sometimes slightly off and vibrated that add some very cool textures to this pulsing track. It’s really groovy and fun.  But it’s “Girl Seizure” that I find so strangely compelling.  Again, over simple repetitive drum and bass, the guitar (or keyboards) play warbling notes that are unsettling and yet enticing.  The song quiets to almost nothing and then resumes in much the same way—and you welcome that weird warble and its of Moog feeling.  At just under 3 minutes its just the right length.

“Flûte magique” slows things down with some simple arpeggios.  There’s not a lot to the song, but it is wonderfully soothing as the bass notes tick away and then the guitar notes rise higher and higher.  The song picks up speed as it goes along and leads to a middle section that’s almost stiffly funky, if that’s possible.  The ending gets a little louder as it thuds to a conclusion.

“It’s Not Chris” opens with some static and strange noises and some soaring keyboards.  About a minute and a half in a strange staccato organ melody comes in with a violin sound doing a kind of solo over the top.  It’s all a little strange but it drops out in the middle to a kind of sinister pulsing, and when the melody resumes, it seems strangely comfortable again.  The end of the song has some high-pitched violin notes that sound almost like a theremin.

“Resurrection Drive” is mostly drums and echoed surf guitar chords. After a minute or so some strings are added to the mix.  It’s only 2 minutes long but it introduces some interesting tension.

Side XX has a quieter feel overall.  “Nell’s Theme” opens with acoustic guitars playing a simple, pretty four-note melody.  The song slowly grows more complex as a violin is added to the song. With about 30 seconds remaining, everything drops away save for a mournful violin.

Thudding bass and picked notes echo through “Trop tard.”  It has a slow, spacey feel (like mid-period Pink Floyd).  A guitar is added and it speeds up some but still sounds of the era and then settles back down to a languid pace.  “Cape Fear” is less than 2 minutes of swirling outer space sounding synths—a creepy, lonely feeling.

“Cité d’or” has more slow pulsing rhythms and more echoing surf guitars and the whole thing feels rather tension filled.  Some squealing  feedback intersperses the surf guitar.   “Hotel Blues Returns” for 1:43.  It’s primarily the drumming pattern of “Hotel Blues” with some swirling synth noises (it’s good for headphones).  “Hotel Kiss” ends the disc with sirens and then a slow thudding drum and more noir guitars.  This could be used in a Twin Peaks scene.

So this album is an interesting mix of rocking songs with unsettling noises and mellower songs with cool synth effects.  It’s a great find.

[READ: September 24, 2016] The Black Diamond Detective Agency

I read this book a while ago, but I never posted about it.  And that gave me the opportunity to re-read it and, frankly, to enjoy it more.

This is the third book by Eddie Campbell that I have read.  I have found his stories to be complicated and hard to follow on first read.  They really demand a second and even a third read.  Part of it is that he writes complicated and somewhat intentionally convoluted narratives.  And part is because of his drawing style.

I love the cover of this book, how it is set up to look like an Old West placard: ORPHANS! MAYHEM! TERROR!  “In This the most recent offering from The First Second Quality line of Books.  An epic take of a newly industrialized America as revealed in words and pictures by the inimitable Mr Eddie Campbell.  Based upon  the manuscript of a Kinematographic play by Mr C. Gaby Mitchell.”

And its this last part that I missed when I first read it–that it was based on a screenplay.  And this book does resemble a screenplay.  However, I noted that in my other posts about Campbell that I’ve said of this book: I liked and didn’t like this book.  Well, which is it?

The story is incredibly complicated–with double and triple crosses.  And the visuals call for mistaken identity and hidden identity as well as new characters who all look vaguely the same–like pale photographs of turn of the century urban gangsters. But the story is really interesting. So I liked it, although I think I’d like to see it more as a film. Continue Reading »

orcsSOUNDTRACK: AVEC LE SOLEIL DE SA BOUCHE-Zubberdust! [CST106] (2014).

cst106cover_258x242Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche (With the sun out of his mouth–no translation for Zubberdust) is the creation of former Fly Pan Am bassist Jean-Sebastien Truchy.  With this album he has created a fascinating hybrid of near Krautrock repetitions with some King Crimson guitar lines and time signatures.  And interesting sung almost operatic male vocals.  Technically the disc has four songs, but songs 1 and 3 are extended suites broken into chapters.

“Face à l’instant” (Face Now parts I-IV) is the first suite.  This disc opens like Ministry–with an aggressive, fast, pounding guitar riff for 8 bars, a sharp pause and continuation of same.  After four measures of that, a quirky quiet instrumental takes over and at about a minute the heavy guitars return. Part 2 of the song starts with a funky, slightly off-kilter sounding guitar line and whistling.   About a minute into this secretion the song shifts to a quiet sequence of overlapping riffs and sounds.  About 5 minutes in, the voices start singing in wordless chants–it’s strangely catchy and slightly militaristic at the same time.  The song builds with voices until it climaxes with a stop.  Then a complex drumming pattern begins Part 3. The guitars lines resume and there are several vocals sections (I assume singing in French) that add a lot of tension to the song.  Midway through this part the song stops and that aggressive introductory guitar pummeling resumes, this time changing keys and not letting up.  New sounds and super heavy drumming are added as this brings part three to a climax.  Part 4 returns to quieter playing (and sounds a bit like Fly Pan Am in the way the guitar line as intersect.  The final section continues with the vocals and rhythms of the other three and then ends with some dramatic keyboard chords playing us out.

“Super pastiche fantastique” (Super fantastic pastiche) is the other suite.  It opens with some complex drumming and then several sequences of notes–guitar and synth that meld nicely.  Part 1 is just 3 minutes and by the end some electronic noises start overtaking the melodies.   Part 2 opens with the same melody but the electronics have been replaced by a wah-wahed guitar and more synth lines.  The song is complex and repetitive, with the only non-repeating part being the singer’s voice (no idea what he’s even saying).  The second half of part 2 (which is 7 minutes in total) ends with some sung vocals (not unlike David Byrne).  Part 3 is a 90 second interlude of very quick tinkling strings that are overwhelmed by noise and static and thudding drums.  The end of the track seems to be building up to part 4 which picks up the momentum into a great instrumental motif–intertwining guitars and electronics all with a cool bass line underneath.  After 2 and a half minutes the  song drops to drums and a funky guitar line with all kind of noises and static and voices working as transition to the cool bass line that comes in around 3 minutes.  As the song careens towards the end, the pace picks up and you can hear some intense screaming of vocals way in the distance.  The song cleans up and plays that great fast riff right up until the end when it abruptly ceases.

Tracks 2 and 4 are weird pastiches of sound. “Déja hier…” (Already yesterday…) is a four-minute song.  Interesting music plays very quietly in the background before it gets overwritten by conversation and static.  You can occasionally hear the song being played behind the noise, but it’s mostly just a weird kind of muffled noise.  “À partir de dorénavant” (From now) is similar.  You can hear a distant muddy drum and what sounds like la dinner party–tons of conversations going on at once.  It seems like the disc is going to end with 3 minutes of this, but a keyboard melody begins to slowly overtake the din.

The last minute or so is this interesting sci-f sounding synth line with warbling effects and an interesting, mellow bass.  Although it’s nowhere near as complicated as the rest of the album, it’s a cool way to end and almost feels like a segue into something else.

This album has a whole lot of styles and genres blended together into a (mostly) very cool mix of sounds.  I like it a lot, although I’ll probably skips tracks 2 and 4 most of the time.

[READ: June 15, 2016] Orcs: Forged for War

This book was a little hard to learn about because Stan Nicholls has written several novels in the Orcs series.  So when you look up his books you get a confusing list of the series and other things.  This book is not part of the series, but it is part of the overall Orcs arc. It comes just before the First Blood Trilogy.

In the intro, Nicholls tells us lot more about his whole Orcs oeuvre.  He points out that unlike Tolkien (whom he loved) his Orcs are not mindless brutes. In fact, in his books, the orcs are the heroes and the humans are the ones who have along and messed things up.  He says that anyone unfamiliar with his orcs books should have no trouble following this book.

And that is true to a degree.  One thing that it behooves an author/artist to do is to make sure that everyone understands who all of the characters/races are in his/her book.  He does give a brief summary in the intro, but that doesn’t really help because there’s no visual guide.

Humans are divided into two camps.  The Manifold (Manis) pursue ancient pagan ways.  The Unity (Unis) are monotheistic.  They are both fanatics but the Unis have more bigotry and demagoguery.

This book opens with the Unis fighting the Manis.  And then the Orcs enter the fray but it’s not always clear whose side the Orcs on, if any. Regardless of which side they are on, they are willing to fight and kill whomever (there is much much bloodhsed and a shocking amount of vulgarity in the book). Continue Reading »

clowns SOUNDTRACK: LE FLY PAN AM: N’écoutez pas [CST031] (2004).

flypanam31N’écoutez pas (Do Not Listen) was the third and final full length album from Constellation’s Fly Pan Am (or in this case Le Fly Pan Am).  There are several short tracks on the disc as well as two 11 minutes songs

“Brûlez suivant, suivante!” (Burn Next, Next!) Opens the disc and hints that it’s going to be a standard rock album—4×4 drums and a dense buzzy electric guitar.  And even when the song proper starts, there’s chanted worded in French and some noisy guitar—its very far from the bass and funky glitchy stuff of previous albums.  The song has very conventional element—a drum break where one might clap along and what sounds like people singing lalalalalala, but all under a veneer of noise and decay that makes it anything but poppy.  There’s a deep voice speaking insistently in French and way in the background a person screaming.  So, really it’s rather unconventional, but within a relatively “normal” framework.  “Ex éleveurs de renards argentés” (Ex breeders silver foxes) is the noise of completely detuned guitars getting plucked and strummed for 30 seconds until a piano plays a chord and all else stops.  It seems like a song will begin but, no, more noises—industrial waves and cars honking takes over.  And then a cacophony of voices begins talking all over each other (including a couple in English).  It’s all over after about 2 minutes.

“Autant zig-zag” (As much zig-zag) is a totally apt name for this song.  This is the first 11 minute track.  After a minute or so introduction, the song comes in with a propulsive bass (not funky at all like the last album) and the song feels like it’s ready to rock.  And it does.  It keeps up this rhythm for a bit and then shifts to a new part with wordless vocals.  There’s even a call and response section with sung words and ooh ooohs as response.  The song shifts to a kind of pummeling section that continues for several minutes until the end.  It contains pretty much everything the band does.  “Buvez nos larmes de métal” (Drink our metal tears) is a noise collage with dramatic movie soundtrack type music played behind the static and distant voices and noises.

“Pas à pas step until” (Step by Step until) has a commanding one, two, three, pause, four, riff going on that is at once catchy and noisy.  The song proper comes in with whispered singing and a wild bass line.  Alexandre St-Onge contributes his wonderful chaos to this song which has some really catchy backing vocals in it

“…” opens side two with what sounds like a voice repeating Fly Pan Am over an over amidst the sound of someone else chewing.  It segues into “Très très ‘retro'” “Very Very ‘Retro’” is the other 11 minute song.  It has two guests, Dominique Petrin on vocals and Tim Heck on electronics.  The song opens with a high-pitched bass and some great counterpoint rhythms.   There’s more hidden vocals throughout the song  Around three minutes in, the bass gets funky.  This runs on for several minutes with some interesting sound effects thrown in until there’s a loud pop and silence.   And then another pop and organ music takes over.  At about 9 minute the song resumes the funky bass line. Again, the band has crammed a lot of stuff into this song.

“Vos rêves revers” (Your dreams setback) has a nice bass sound with some ringing guitar notes.  There’s whispered vocals that sing a melody of sorts.  It’s a fairly conventional song—catchy and bouncy with vocals and everything (true they are whispered and hushed vocals but they do follow a melody line).  At about 4 minutes (of 6), the songs crashes unto itself with the drums and the guitars seeming to fall apart

“Ce sale désir éfilé qui sortant de ma bouche” (This dirty tapered desire coming out of my mouth) has a deep echoing drum kick which keeps a beat.  In the distant background a keening voice kind of follows the melody.  The disc ends with “Le faux pas aimer vous souhaite d’être follement ami” (The false not love you madly want to be friend).  It’s a one minute song with sliding guitars and rock drums which propel this to as close to punk as the band has gotten.  There’s chanting and excitement and fun and then the whole song unravels after about 40 seconds at the end with a sloppy piano denouement.

And that was it from this avant-garde band. The members went on to make lots of other music, Jonathan Parant went on to form Feu Thérèse. Felix Morel has played drums with all kind of interesting bands including Et Sans.  Roger Tellier-Craig has been in Et Sans and Set Fire to Flames among others.  And Jean-Sebastian Truchy has played in several bands including Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche.

[READ: February 6, 2016] City of Clowns

In the afterword to this book, Alarcón explains how it as written.  He lived in Lima, Peru for a year, teaching.  But while he was there, he had writer’s block.  So he moved to a farmhouse in the middle of America–pure solitude.  And there he wrote the story “City of Clowns” (which I read back in 2013 in the New Yorker) in English.  Sheila Alvarado talked to him about turning the book into a graphic novel.  And so it was completed (after much labor, he says) in a slightly condensed Spanish edition to be released in Spain.  And then, eventually, it was translated into English again, from the Spanish graphic novel.

Since the story really doesn’t change from the short story version, I’m going to put my original comments here:

It opens with Oscarcito going to the hospital because his father died the night before.  He finds his mother mopping floors because his father’s bill was unpaid.  And in that very first paragraph, she introduces her son to Carmela—the woman whom his father left them for.  She was mopping the floor with Oscarcito’s  mother.  He is confused and enraged by this.

His half brothers are also there.  He had never met them before, preferring to stay away from his father’s other life.  But he saw them in front of him and clearly saw that they were related to him.  But the most galling thing was that although he was the oldest of all the children, they were clearly the chosen children—after all, his father stayed with them.

Then we learn about his father’s life.  He was born in Cerro de Pasco and moved to Lima when his young family was still young.  He worked hard in semi-legitimate businesses and then brought his family to the city.  Young Oscarcito, age 8, loved it.  But his mother hated missing her family in Cerro de Pasco.  And now they were living with his father who was practically a stranger. His father worked hard and succeeded, but he was rarely home.

Between flashbacks to his father’s story we see that Oscarcito is now a reporter for the local newspaper and he has been asked to write about the clowns that are prevalent around the city.  Oscarcito is on a bus when a clown approaches.  The clown is pelted by water balloons but still manages to climb aboard the bus and peddle his wares—gaining a few coins for his “act.”  Oscarcito is not interested in the subject and puts it off.

So he travels to his mother’s house to see how she is doing, but a neighbor there tells him she has been living with Carmela since his father got sick.  His mother was embarrassed by this and asked the neighbor not to say anything to him.

His mother had been a cleaning lady since they moved to Lima.  She worked for the Azcártes, a wealthy local family who treated her very well and treated Oscarcito practically like their own son.  Oscar was even sent to a nice school where he was welcomed until they realized where he was from.  Gangs would steal anything from anyone, and were called Piranhas.  And that became Oscar’s nickname at school.  And soon he was made fun of by just about everyone, but especially by one boy.

A flashback then shows that Oscarcito went to work with his father doing construction on a few occasions—they worked very hard on expansions of people’s houses—working hard and working well and making good improvements.  But all the while, they were waiting patiently until they could rob them of all of their fine things.

So when he found his father was working for the father of the boy who made fun of him, he wanted in, and he stole the boy’s suit.

Finally, after putting off his article for ages, Oscarcito meets and interviews a clown.  And that clown tells him how he started and invites him along.  And Oscarcito does.  He finds that he likes the anonymity of the job.

All of the threads come to a head as the story reaches its close—where Oscar will confront his mother and deal with his newfound joy at being a clown.

The ending was very powerful and I enjoyed this story immensely.

There are few details from the original story that have been changed (and I amended my comments accordingly).

There is also an extra scene added of him dating a girl named Carla who walked on stilts.  There’s an erotic moment which is really interesting and which brings a whole new level of fascination to Oscar’s clown life.

Obviously the biggest change is Alvarado’s illustrations.  She does an excellent job recreating these scenes much as I imagined them.  I really  enjoyed the way she worked within the mens’ professions–putting words on bricks as his father was laying them, hanging papers up to dry with text on them, and using excellent distinctions of black and white to show the different settings in Oscar’s life.

The biggest change I think is the depiction of Oscar in his clown suit.  It’s nothing like I imagined and is all the better for it.  Alarcón says that now this is “its true and definitive form” of the book, and I imagine that this is what I will think of when I think of the story.

For ease of searching, I include: Daniel Alarcon.


sloan[ATTENDED: October 15, 2016] Sloan

Back in the early 1990s, I heard Sloan’s “Underwhelmed,” and I loved it.  Such a great song that is still rocking and clever over 20 years later.  Sloan has a tumultuous few years after that, appearing to break up but not, getting signed and then dropped and then settling down and putting out some amazing music over the next 20 or so years which few people outside of Canada heard.

They have released eleven albums and I think that each one gets better and better.  Sloan is touring the 20th Anniversary of One Chord to Another.  There are some great songs on it, although it’s wasn’t my favorite album.  But the point is I have never seen Sloan.  In all the years I’ve been a fan, we’ve never been in the same place at the same time.  So even though I had been to a show the night before and this would make six concerts in twelve days (!), I bought tickets to see one of my favorite underground bands.

Since I knew they were playing all of OCTA, I listened to it a lot before hand and now, after seeing it live, I do like it even more than before. (But seriously if they do a 20th anniversary tour of Between the Bridges in three years…. you couldn’t keep me from that stage).

I’d never been to Underground Arts before.  It is indeed underground.  And it is indeed quite small (about 500 people max).

I arrived pretty early (start time was supposed to be 9:15, but they didn’t go on until 9:30–divas!).  But that meant that I was able to score a spot right behind the guy leaning on the stage.  As they say in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: so close I could scare the band. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: October 14, 2016] Squeeze

2016-10-14-22-01-21Squeeze’s 1982 Greatest Hits album 45s and Under is my favorite Greatest Hits record of all time.  And yet, I don’t actually own any other Squeeze records.

But over the last year or so my friend Amy has been posting pictures of all the Squeeze and Squeeze-related shows she’s been going to.  And I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  So when they announced they were playing The Keswick Theatre (which I’d never been to before, but which I knew was an intimate venue), I snatched up tickets.

And as their T-Shirt says (see bottom) I’d forgotten how much I like Squeeze. Continue Reading »

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