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ninthSOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mountain Reveries-The “Pretty Little Lightning Paw” E.P. [CST030] (2004).

lightpawAfter three albums, it was time to make an EP under yet another variant of the band’s name.  This is a fun release (which is interesting to say about a band who is typically quite serious).  What made this “fun” is that many of the band members switched instruments for this recording. Violinist Sophie Trudeau plays bass guitar.  Guitarist Ian Ilavsky, usually one of the band’s guitarists, plays drums.

Also when they finished recording, was complete, the EP was played on a boombox and re-recorded from that.  I can’t tell that it was recorded in this way, so who knows if that made any difference.

There are four songs, “More Action! Less Tears!” is the first.  It begins with Aimee shouting “Hello!  Hello!” and then messing up and laughing.  So she begins again, “The name of this song is More Action.  The name of this song is Less Tears.”  It sounds unlike anything that SMtZ have done so far.  The guitar that opens it is distorted and plays a fairly conventional riff while the violins play a suitable melody over the top.  The strings build and the songs oars.

“Microphones in the Trees” opens with a guitar melody that’s quickly joined by the same melody on upright bass.  Efrim begins singing (his voice is distorted and echoed and sounds almost more like an instrument than a voice, although you can hear the lyrics: “microphones in the trees, cameras in the sky.”  The choir starts singing along with him until about three minutes when a wash of noise over takes the song. This lasts for a few minutes and then fades, allowing the words to continue.  About half way into the song a rather shambolic chorus sings “we are the flood.”  The last two minutes or so are simply feedbacky noises wafting around.

“Pretty Little Lightning Paw”is the ten-minute title track.  It opens with bass notes and chimed notes.  The strings follow Efrim’s vocal lines (which sound ragged and quiet).  And then after a minute or so new strings come in, slightly unsettling sounding.  About three minutes in the 4 voice choir begins singing an alternate melody above Efrim’s repeated mantra.  The song continues in this vein for pretty much the rest of the song, only modifying at the end where the sounds and feedback resemble birdsong.

“There’s a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow” is 5 minutes long and is basically a solo song from Efrim.  He plays guitar, sings and plays “toybox.”  The melody is fairly simple and his voice sounds pretty good–not too shrill.  It may be the most conventional song that SMtZ has recorded.

While this EP doesn’t deviate drastically from the band’s normal sound, it is fun to see them mix things up a bit.   For this recording, the band was

  • Thierry Amar – violin, bass guitar, vocals, pianohandle
  • Ian Ilavsky – drums
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, organ, vocals, feedback, toybox
  • Jessica Moss – violin, vocals
  • Sophie Trudeau – bass guitar
  • [Beckie Foon is absent]

[READ: May 5, 2016] The Ninth Circle

Brendan and I went to college together.  In fact, I knew Brendan from his submissions to both the newspaper and the literary magazine.  He was a major talent back then (I still remember details from the story he submitted twenty some years ago) and continues to be one now.  He works in comics and has written for Flash Gordon, his own book Scatterbrain and something that I can’t wait to find a copy of: Charlie Sheen: Vatican Assassin Warlock.  Check out his output on Goodreads.

This is his first published novel, I believe. And I was hooked from the first chapter.

The story is about 16-year-old Dan.  His family is a disaster–his brother is obsessively mean to him, his father is an alcoholic, his mother is probably sleeping with someone else, and neither parent gives him the time of day.  For his 16th birthday they take him to the circus, even though he never said he wanted to go to the circus.  His brother promises to get revenge for having to go to this lame spectacle.

Dan’s not even sure that he’s going to like it, but he winds up being mesmerized from the moment he walks in.  The trickster tricks him, the freaks entice him (he finds the bearded lady especially enchanting) and the whole show is truly amazing.  Later that night, while lying in bed thinking about his crappy life, Dan decides to take action. Continue Reading »

breachSOUNDTRACK: THE SILVER MT. ZION ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND (WITH CHOIR)-“This Is Our Punk-Rock,” Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing, [CST027] (2003).

MtzionthisisourThis album is a pretty massive change for A Silver Mt Zion.  It both brings this band closer to their alter ego GYBE but also pushes them further away at the same time.  How?  Well, musically, this album sounds a lot more like GYBE–epic songs all over ten minutes with lots of strings and soaring moments.  But the big difference now is that every song has vocals (hence the new title of the band).  The line up has stayed the same although they have many guests for the choir.  The choir is referred to on the album as Thee Rusted Satellite Choir.

“Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom” opens the disc with someone counting of “1234… 12345678.”   And then a simple guitar and bass melody starts up.  The song sounds fairly conventional, in fact.  And then the choir kicks in.  Many many voices singing, “Ahhhh.”  And then a solo voice continues the “Ahhhs” in another pitch while the choir continues.   I love this whole introduction–the various keys the voices are in, how the bass voices start singing “fa fa fa la la so” and on and on in varying formats.  The choir (a bunch of friends and bandmates) sounds great–not perfect but perfect for this song.  This lasts for about 7 minutes before the choir fades and the rest of the song begins with a swelling of droning music.  Strings come in and the song stays quiet for a couple of minutes before the guitar riff from the beginning returns this time with string accompaniment instead of voices.   Around 12 minutes the strings change to something else–more grandiose music which sounds amazing.  About a minute later the drums begin and the song takes on a whole new style.  This more rocking sound continues until the end of the song.  It’s awesome.

“Babylon Was Built on Fire/StarsNoStars” opens with staccato echoed guitars (it also feels a bit like Pink Floyd).  There’s ambient washes of guitars that float around, but the whole things sounds very trippy (not a sound I associate with this band).  About six minutes in, Efrim begins singing.  This is the first time he’s sung quite so loudly and clearly.  His voice is anguished and a bit harsh, but it works pretty well with the violins and the cool bassline that walks throughout the song.  With about 4 minutes left, the music changes direction.  The guitar starts playing a single note, growing louder and louder as the strings surround the guitar and voice: “Citizens in their homes and missiles in their holes.”  Efrim (I assume) sings a round with himself as more and more lines of text fill the song.  Although his voice doesn’t sound radically different in each one, he does adjust volume and tone enough to make it sound pretty interesting.

“American Motor over Smoldered Field” is the shortest song on the disc at 12 minutes.  It begins with a simple acoustic guitar melody (quite pretty) and Efrim singing over it (I appreciate the different vocal styles in this song).  It’s really quite a compelling song as that guitar continues and the strings come in behind it.  Around four minutes in, the drums crash and the song takes off.  The strings change and the song becomes very intense–faster and louder.  This lasts about three minutes before a staccato guitar picks up and choral voices are heard way in the background.  The voices (all Efrim, I believe) build and build as the guitar maintains.  Around nine minutes the strings and guitars change and the song flows as a new vocal line joins in “this fence around your garden won’t keep the ice from falling.”

The final song, the 14 minute “Goodbye Desolate Railyard” also opens with acoustic guitar and Efrim’s vocals. The song (an elegy for a dying city) remain simple–acoustic guitar, simple violin and bass notes.   The song is repetitive, lulling the listener into as sense of contentment.  Although at around 5 minutes, the violins swell and become a little unpleasant–kind of harsh and a little staticky.  This continues for some 5 minutes until it is replaced by the rather close up sound of a freight train going slowly down a track.  After two minutes of this, the acoustic guitar returns with Efrim singing (in a very Neil Young kind of voice) “every body gets a little lost sometimes.”  The full choir joins in to sing these final words for a several rounds before fading out.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Breach Point

Steve and I are pals of Facebook.  If I may wax jealous for a minute, Steve has done everything that I’d ever wanted to do when I was younger–he’s been in a band (cuppa joe–they released several really good albums); he’s a graphic designer, something I always imagined being when I grew up; and now he has written a novel.  So, yes, basically I hate Steve.  Except that, of course, I don’t hate Steve.

I hate him even less because this book is not only really good, but it has brought back a part of my childhood that I had forgotten about.

When I (and anyone else who grew up in the New Jersey area in the 70s) was a kid, there were always commercials for Brigantine Castle in Brigantine NJ.  The commercials scared the hell out of me and I was always terrified to go to this place.  I knew it was down the shore but never exactly where.  And there were times when we drove to the shore and I was convinced we were going to the castle instead (totally false, Brigantine was way further north than any beach we would have gone to).  And then Brigantine Castle burned down.  Interestingly, after watching these commercials again coupled with The Haunted Mansion (another commercial played quite often), I learned that the Haunted Mansion was in Long Branch.  I never went to that Haunted House either, although I have since been to the convention center that now stands where the Haunted Mansion once stood before it burned down.

Yes, Both Brigantine castle and the Haunted Mansion burned down.  People know what happened in the Haunted Mansion fire, but the Brigantine Castle fire is shrouded in mystery.

This is all a long way to say that Steve has written a book that is based around this mystery.

Clara is a 16-year-old girl who travels to Breach Point for the summer.  She has gotten a job at an engineering firm and she is going to live with her Aunt Maureen.  When the book first opens, we see her on the bus, happy to get away from her mother and excited but nervous about gong to this place that she vaguely remembers. Continue Reading »

earnestSOUNDTRACK: THE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward (2001).

Born_into_Trouble_as_the_Sparks_Fly_UpwardNotice that the band’s name has gotten longer.  That could be because they have added three new members (which means they are slowly growing to be the size of GYBE anyway). In addition to Efrim, Thierry and Sophie, there is now Becky Foon on cello, Ian Ilavsky on guitar and organ and Jessica Moss on violin (all Constellation stalwarts).

The first song is the nine minute “Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling From the Sky!”  Echoed drum sounds slowly grow louder before a slow violin plays a mournful melody.  But with the new members, there is now a cello to accompany the violin, making this album sound even more classical.  Three minutes in, the piano takes over (and the strings slowly fade).  The piano is a bit prettier and more accomplished sounding (even if it has only been a year since the last album).  Despite the addition of all of the extra instruments, the song still veers pretty far from GYBE territory.  It feels very acoustic (what with the piano), and while the song is repetitive it never feels like it is epic or building towards something–it just grows bigger and more beautiful as more instruments enter the mix.

“This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird’s Fallen” opens with what sounds like bird noises, but may actually be a child.  The song is primarily echoed guitars which lay a foundation over which the violins and cellos play slow mournful notes.  The song grows as more instruments  play along, including some gentle percussion, and it all seems to end too soon.

“Built Then Burnt [Hurrah! Hurrah!]” is a spoken piece.  Efrim doesn’t recite the words–it sounds like a child (but may be a young woman).  The reading is dramatic and works very well with the slowly building strings that comprise the bulk of this song.

some lines:

Why are we all so alone here
All we need is a little more hope, a little more joy
All we need is a little more light, a little less weight, a little more freedom.
….
Good words, strong words, words that could’ve moved mountains
Words that no one ever said
We were all waiting to hear those words and no one ever said them
And the tactics never hatched
And the plans were never mapped
And we all learned not to believe
And strange lonesome monsters loafed through the hills wondering why
And it is best to never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever wonder why

As that song fades, the aggressive strings of “Take These Hands and Throw Them in the River” take over. This song features Efrim singing in full voice–the recognizable voice of SMtZ.  On this song his voice is processed and echoed and so the strange timbre of his voice doesn’t quite register because it sounds so…unusual anyway.  I really enjoy the way this song sounds so much bigger than the rest.  At around 4 minutes, while the song begins to build –both instrumentally and vocally, new strings bring more intensity until the whole thing just fades away to the sounds of actual birds which chirp for about 2 minutes.

“Could’ve Moved Mountains…”is eleven minutes long and shows incredible restraint, especially in the vocals.  It opens with slow bass notes.  The whispered spoken vocals return and the song is kind of ominous..  About three minutes in quiet harmony vocals accompany him and soon after, strings are added and continue to grow louder.  The instrumental section is quite pretty although still melancholy.  Around 8 minutes in, a guitar riff begins playing a similar melody to the strings. It plays for a bit and then the strings rejoin the song, playing a more hopeful melody.  The song ends with some kids talking and singing as the song melds into….

“Tho You Are Gone I Still Often Walk W/You”  This song opens with piano and cello, a sad intro indeed.  I like that after a minute the song jumps keys unexpectedly while keeping the rhythm otherwise the same.  The song doesn’t vary much from this simple piano and strings feel although it ebbs and flows in intensity.

“C’monCOMEON (Loose An Endless Longing)” breaks the melancholy of the previous son with a big buzzy electric guitar chord.  Strings eventually come in and the song builds and builds, complete with interesting percussion.  This song is probably the closest to a GYBE song with a dramatic build and very satisfying chord progressions.  When the fast bass notes kick in around 3 minutes it seems like the song is going to grow even faster, but instead, it fades away to some ringing chimes–what sounds like a giant echo chamber (a really neat effect).  That calm is broken by a series of horns playing one note at a time, louder and louder (this whole middle section reminds me of the middle of “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd–in fact I have found a number of comparisons to some of Floyd’s trippier moments on this and other albums).  And then the drums come crashing back in.  It’s a very different song that resumes–loud bass, lots of drums and everything mixed loud enough to distort the sound.

The final song is “The Triumph of Our Tired Eyes.”  It opens with guitar harmonics and Efrim’s disatnat voice.  It’s a pretty and delicate song, joined by strings and a genuinely pretty vocal melody: “There’s beauty in this land, but I don’t often feel it.”  And as the strings swell and swell, the voices sing the refrain: “musicians are cowards” over and over.  The song and disc end on a surprisingly quiet and beautiful note.

When the songs ends, there’s a few seconds of children singing lyrics to the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” melody although the words don’t fit like: “when we finally cross the barricade…”

I really like the way this album plays with the new style of music the band has embraced but also admits some of the strengths from pretty much everyone else’s other band.

[READ: April 4, 2016] The Importance of Being Earnest–The Graphic Novel

This play is one of the great plays in English literature.  Oscar Wilde is at his best, writing witticism upon witticism–each line is a funny rejoinder to the previous one and the wit is infectious.

The story is fairly simple, but he adds so many twists that it’s almost easy to get lost in the story.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that reading the play is a sure way to get lost in the deceptions.  And that’s why this graphic novel is so excellent.

I’ve always maintained that it is difficult to “read” a play, especially if there are dozens of characters.  The short, one act plays that I’ve been reading over the last years are fairly easy to follow, but when you have 20 named characters in three acts, it’s not always easy to keep people straight.  And that’s why to really appreciate Shakespeare you need to see it.  Well, this graphic novel effectively performs the play for us.  The dialogue is exact and there are no changes from the original (except for any stage directions, which are left out of the text, but are presumably addressed in the art).

What’s (intentionally) confusing about this play is that the two main characters are trying to deceive other people about their identity.  Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing are two gentlemen–well off, single, clever.  Algy talks about how he likes to go Bunburying.  Which means he has “invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down unto the country whenever I choose.  …If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinarily bad health, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you.”  This comes up because John has informed Algy that he “has always pretended to have a  younger brother of the name Ernest, who lives in the [city] and who gets into the most dreadful scrapes.”

They have lies in common: each man lies to a group about a phony other person whom they use as an excuse for bad behavior. (they are old friends as well, of course). Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: May 23, 2016] S.T.O.P.

stopIf you have a teen or pre-teen and you are concerned about how they will deal with bullying, sex, body issues or, heaven forbid, heroin, this performance is a must-see both for your child and you.  The performers are all high school students.  They wrote the pieces and they are intended for high school students (and middle school).  If you can’t see them yourself, contact your school or community group to arrange for them to do their show.  It is intense and really effective.

When the fifth grade completed the D.A.R.E. program at school, the ceremony included a piece by this group.  The piece was called “Jack & Jill” and it told the story of how an underage party led to the death of two teens.  There were a couple of moments of humor, but the message was intense and the acting was really good (they “rewound” the story and the actors did a great job of going backwards–including one boy who “fell up” the couch (he fell off it earlier).

After they were done, they said that the troupe would be doing their full hour-long show in May and that was open to anyone in 5th grade and older.  I was amazed that Clark wanted to go as it’s not really his thing.  And so we went.  He was bummed that only a couple of kids he knew showed up.  I was bummed at how few people showed up at all.   And so I wanted to post about the show to get the group some recognition because what they did was really powerful and I think should be seen by just about everyone.

When we arrived, the teacher in charge of the group Miranda DeStefano-Meene told us that the show would be uncensored and pretty intense.  The program says that the words on stage “may embarrass, hurt, offend, scare and anger you.  That is intentional.”  The second paragraph spoke of the heroin epidemic in our society which is bigger than any other drug epidemic in recorded history, which I did not know.

And so we sat back and watched this show.  Now, I happen to think that Clark may not have been exposed to a lot of what was going on in this play (which I’m grateful for).  So this show may have been really intense for him (I know I spent the whole show wondering what he thought).  After the show the only thing he said was that it made hm sad.  And we did talk a little about the messages, but he’s a tight-lipped kid, so I can only hope he’ll come back to me with more questions if they arise.

And what questions he must have.  For this show tackled so many problems facing teens.  Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: May 21, 2016] An Evening with Todd Rundgren

2016-05-21 22.05.52I was astonished to learn that I’ve gone most of my life not knowing that Todd Rundgren wrote “Hello, It’s Me” and “Bang the Drum All Day.”

How did I not know this?

Indeed it turns out I didn’t know much about Rundgren.  I knew he was in the band Utopia and that they played weird prog rock.  And I also thought he was kind of a control freak.  But I didn’t realize he had those huge hits (which might explain how he makes so many weird albums–and he has a lot of weird albums).

I don’t even know what made me get a ticket of this show.  I had recently been hearing a bit about him. I had looked him up on line or some reason (that’s how I knew he wrote those songs) and I recognized the photo to the right, an iconic photo from Something/Anything (which was used as the backdrop for the show).  When I saw that he was playing at McCarter, I decided it was time to check him out.  Now, I was going to see a show the night before and normally I don’t like to do two nights in a row, but since this show was so close by (and I knew I’d be home by eleven) I decided to go.  And I had a great time.

The blurb for this show started: “The classic rocker Todd Rundgren may be 67, but he shows no signs of slowing down.”  And that’s very true.

I managed to score a seat in Row J, which was so close to the man I could see him sweat (ew).  The only problem was the very tall man sitting in front of me (I should have asked him to switch seats with his tiny wife).

While I was waiting for the show to start, a woman sat down next to me with her husband and some friends.  She was super friendly (and a bit drunk) and we started talking.  She asked how big a fan I was of Todd.  And I had to admit that this was my first show.  She told me that she first saw Todd when she was 16 (or 19 who can remember) and has seen him every tour since then (she’s in her 50s).  She said he tours constantly and she will see him twice a year sometimes.

Normally I’m not much of a talker during a show, but I enjoyed having her next to me to occasionally guide me through what I was hearing.  Unlike the louts at the end of the row who were talking really loudly and making jokes throughout the show (and getting up to go to the bar every couple of songs).  They were big fans I could tell (they knew every song), but such disrespect I’ve never seen.

The lady (whose name I never got) told me that Todd makes a new playlist for each show and decides what he’s going to play an hour before he goes on.  That was pretty cool.  She told me a few other things that were interesting about him (he has a house that he built in Hawaii but he never goes there because he is always touring).  And that, amazingly, she’d never actually met him after all these years.

And then the lights dimmed and the band came out.  Followed by Todd.  And the crowd went berserk!  It was especially amusing because it was practically like a  Tom Jones show, with women throwing themselves at him (my seatmate remained remarkably composed).  These women (mostly) stood and applauded after each song, waved their arms and were so utterly into it, I was amazed. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: May 20, 2016] Explosions in the Sky

2016-05-20 21.43.53I’ve been a fan of EITS for years.  Their brand of epic instrumental has always been symphonic and grand–building up intensity and then, yes, exploding.

The band was inexplicably pretty late getting on stage (and then had to come out and fix their gear themselves).  As they came out on stage I realized that I had no idea what the band members looked like.

I was excited that I was able to get so close to the stage (the show was sold out).  And, I was pleased to realize that EITS was a no mosh pit kind of band, so things were fairly mellow so close to the stage.

The band’s set up was that there was one microphone placed kind of far to the stage (there’d be no singing tonight).  When the band came out guitarist Munaf Rayani (the only guy to talk) apologized for them being so late.   He then said they were Explosions in the Sky from Texas.  And until he said good night that was the only voice for 90 minutes (except for a half dozen of idiots standing nearby talking way too loud and taking selfies). Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: May 20, 2016] Disappears

2016-05-20 20.46.47 This was my first show at the relatively new Fillmore Philadelphia.  The venue is really nice.  There’s a balcony with bleacher seats and a very large floor area.  It’s also reasonably easy to get to (although kind of hard to leave–bottleneck city!).

I was there to see Explosions in the Sky, but I had given a listen to a few songs by this opening band and was certainly looking forward to seeing them.

I was intrigued that their sounds was described as a mix of shoegaze, krautrock and garage rock.  Three things which don’t really seem to go together.  The tracks I listened to were really rather dissonant, which I found interesting.  It also seems that each album is a little different, with the earlier stuff being a bit more garage-y.

I was also intrigued to read that Steve Shelley, drummer from Sonic Youth, played with them for an album and a couple of tours.  But he was not with them now, having been replaced by Noah Leger.  I’m not sure what Shelley did with the band, but Leger was really amazing to watch.  More on him later.

The rest of the band is Brian Case on guitar and lead vocals with second guitarist Jonathan Van Herik and bassist Damon Carruesco. Continue Reading »

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