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Archive for May, 2016

fateart SOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA-Kollaps Tradixionales [CST063] (2010).

kollaspThis album was released as a CD and as double 10″ vinyl.  Each “side” is about 15 minutes long.  And, interestingly, each side has a kind of theme, I guess.  It also includes the shortest song the band has recorded.

“There Is a Light” is one of my favorite songs they’ve done.  The guitar and strings play off each other perfectly and the song ebbs and flows very nicely.  Efrim sounds pretty drunk in his vocals, which gives the whole thing a shambolic quality that contrasts nicely with the elegance of the music.  Of all of their songs, I think this one really captures the intensity that these band can generate with the swelling strings and pounding drums.  At 6 minutes, the whole thing slows to a halt but is then resumed with a new, even more interesting section.  Over reverbed guitars, a series of horns and backing vocals singing “la las” flesh out the lead vocals.  I really enjoy the way the strings swirl around the vocals only pausing to let the words “One Step Two step” come out in staccato vocals.  But the main strings riff that follows these verses is so pretty, I could listen too just that.  This all ends around 9 minutes, when the final part begins with slow guitar and horns.  The vocals come in singing the title “there is a light.”  It starts quiet but soon enough the full choir of voices joins in as the music swells.  After a few round of verses, the song ends with the female choir singing, “Tell me there is a light.”

The second “side” is the “metal bird” side.  It stars with “I Built Myself a Metal Bird” which opens with rocking guitar chords and fast drums–the most overtly rock song they’ve done so far.  The vocals are screamed and staccato.  Things never really let up for the whole six minutes–there’s a concurrent violin solo while the lyrics are sung.  The second half of the song changes things a bit–with more dramatic strings playing.  In the last thirty seconds the tone changes a bit and things do mellow out for the conclusion.  That leads into the second bird song

“I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds” is quite different from the first.  It opens with slow electric guitars and quiet strings.  There’s noisy guitars and other strange atmospheric sounds for the first three and a half minutes when it finally settles into an uptempo string song with more great violin riffs.  At fiver minutes (of 6) the bowed bass takes over the main line and the accompanying strings help to move things along.  There’s only about 30 seconds left when the vocals come in and they are nearly drowned out by the music.

The third side is the “Kollpas” side with three songs.

For “Kollapz Tradixional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag)” the piano comes back with quiet chords and gentle strings accompanying quiet vocals. .  The song stays quiet as different instruments come to the fore.  At around 5 minutes (of 6 in total) a guitar solo winds its way to the end of the song.

After this there is a 1 and half-minute song “Collapse Traditional (For Darling).”  It’s a gentle ballad played on strings with layered vocals.

“Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos)” opens with pizzicato strings and a fuzzy meandering guitar.  About 2 minutes in, the loud chords strike and the drums kick in with a fairly complex rhythm.  About half way in, one guitars start playing in each speaker and the vocals begin.  Two voices begin singing against each other keeping an interesting rhythm with their staccato phrasing and the thumping drums,.  The last two minutes feature a guitar solo and vocals following a similar pattern as the guitar.

The final side has one 14 minute song “‘Piphany Rambler.”  The song begins with distant guitars and plucked strings.  The vocals are quiet, nearly whispered.  A refrain of “don’t sleep” surfaces from the quiet.  At around 5 minutes the guitars and strings grow louder and the song properly starts.  But even this section is fairly slow, as if preparing to build up to something else.   It’s the strings and their insistent three note melody that really unites the song.  About midway through things slow down even further (with some cool retro organs sounds amidst the strings).  And the song turns into a very catchy string filled section with the vocals working very nicely with the melody.  This section grows louder and more raucous as it heads to the conclusion.

SMtZ has made many diverse styles of albums over the years, and this combination of rocking songs and delicate strings is probably my favorite.  For this one, the lineup has shrunk to a five piece of

Thierry Amar: Upright bass, electric bass, plucked piano, vocals
Efrim Menuck: Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mellotron, vocals
Jessica Moss: Violin, plucked piano, vocals
Sophie Trudeau: Violin, plucked piano, vocals
and David Payant has taken over for Eric Craven on drums, organ, piano and vocals

[READ: March 15, 2016] The Fate of the Artist

I didn’t love Eddie Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency, and that was manly been because of the art.  That didn’t really bode well for this story.

But Campbell does an incredible thing with this book.  He mixes text and many different kinds of pictures–including comic strips and photographs, to create a fascinating story of his own disappearance.

The story begins “One day the artist wakes up with the disquieting feeling that it has all gone wrong….  It is difficult to obtain sympathy for this condition.”

And then the Artist disappears and all that is left is a picture.  “Most people would leave a note.” “Yes, well he left a picture.” (more…)

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silence THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-13 Blues for Thirteen Moons [CST051] (2008).

330px-13_Blues_for_Thirteen_MoonsThis album opens with 12 tracks of a kind of feedbacking noise.  The total time for this is about a minute before track 13 begins.  And this album feels very different from the more acoustic Horses.  Whereas Horses felt acoustic and organic, this album is noisy and raucous and very electric.  After the 12 brief tracks there are four lengthy ones that comprise the album.

“1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound” starts with scratched notes and pizzicato strings.  The choir quietly begins singing the title “one million died to make this sound.”  Their voices grow louder and then at about 3 minutes in there’s a great bowed riff that introduces the more rocking section–a guitar “solo” and drums as that bass riff continues.  About mid way through the song it takes on a real rocking feel–the guitars rock out and the steady beat keeps up.  The song feels sloppy and intense–like they couldn’t wait to get this out.  I would describe the song as fun (except that it’s pretty bleak).  Efrim’s voice sounds a bit like Johnny Rotten or some other British punk) on this song and the punk style suits it well.  I really love the way the violin-swells make the riffs even bigger until about 9 minutes when the song shifts dramatically again and it feels like a Crazy Horse jam–big, sloppy, noisy guitars.  The song reaches a sort of natural stopping point as the music all fades away and the voices resume–I love the choir of voices at the end of the song (although perhaps Efrim’s voice could be a tad quieter?  Efrim’s voice seems to be a polarizing thing for fans of this band.  I’m even polarized about it on different songs–sometimes I think it’s too much, but other times I think it works well.

“13 Blues for Thirteen Moons” is 16 minutes long.  It begins with thumping drums and bass before Efrim’s voice comes chanting in.  The song is noisy and chaotic–lots of drums and cymbals and then the backing vocals start a call and response with the lead vocals.  The song continues in the same vein–with a refrain of “I Just Want Some Action” but then around 5 minutes a big distorted guitar plays a kind of concluding riff before a quieter guitar begins a new section with some quiet picking.  And its in this section that the album title is sung.  This quiet guitar section goes on for quite a while with Efrim shouting various parts–and then second voice joins him.  It’s unusual that the band will play the same riff through so much of a song, but it’s a good riff.  The whole band picks up the riff as it grows louder and more rocking.  The final two minutes are filled with feedback and quiet guitars with Efrim shouting syllable after syllable until it feedbacks to an end.  It’s a pretty intense song.

“Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues” opens in a much quieter way with slow revered guitars.  The vocals are also slow and accompanied by a lone cello.  But after a minute and a half chaos erupts in the song–feedback squalls and wild guitars accompanied by chaotic drumming make the song sound like it is tripping over itself , but it soon resolves to a quiet part like the intro–this time with two singers.  The song builds again, with the chaotic drums fighting for dominance over the string section.  But they both cede again to the quieter vocals once more.  The band then acts in concert building the song and allowing the vocals to continue.  And after a musical interlude, the vocals begin again over a quiet organ.  And this next section builds as strings accompany the louder vocals and the drum gets a pounding martial beat.  The final section, which appears to be the “Engine Broke Blues” is a repeated refrain of “Building Trainwrecks in the Setting Sun.”

The final song “BlindBlindBlind” also opens quietly, with a simple guitar motif.  As the vocals continue, a ringing guitar and a feedbacking guitar join the song (each in a different ear).  And then a violin adds to the melody.  About 4 minutes in, the melody shifts to an organ heavy section with the lead vocal followed by backing vocals.  A pizzicato section begins next.  What’s interesting is that the vocal melody hasn’t really changed this whole time (in this song Efrim again sounds a bit like a British punk rocker).  At around 7 minutes, the song turns towards the end, with strings and drums.  This end bit is my favorite part on the record, not only for the melody, but for the excellent backing chanting.  The backing vocal melody is very cool in itself–I love when they add the high notes–repeating the refrain “Some hearts are true” over and over.  A guitar solo interrupts the proceedings for a bit and then they resume singing all the way to the end.  It’s a very cathartic conclusion.

For this album, the lineup stayed the same although Eric Craven replaced Scott Levine Gilmore on drums.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post about this album.  It’s pretty brief and mostly talks about the singing.

[READ: March 1, 2016] The Silence of Our Friends

This was the final First Second book that I had in a huge stack that I took out from the library.  I had been putting this book off because I was nervous about reading it.  Nothing pretty is going to happen in a Civil Rights book and I had to prepare myself for it.  Obviously, the era is staggeringly important–even more so today with the kind of political rhetoric being shouted around.  That’s not why i didn’t want to read it.  I was afraid about how ugly this book might get.

But in fact, this book doesn’t go in that direction at all.  It is a factual story and while it looks at racism, it also shines a light of hope on race relations. It’s another excellent graphic novel from First Second [#10yearsof01].

What I did not know is that this story is based on actual events–the author’s father was a journalist in Texas during a serious Civil Rights confrontation.  And his father was able to help offset a travesty of justice.  He risked his career and even his own safety to do the right thing.

Set in Houston in 1968, we see some kids playing army in the yard.  This is also during Vietnam, so that’s probably not a very uncommon sight.  When the kids go inside, their mom is watching the Saigon execution on TV.  She is horrified and begins crying. The talk that night is of the atrocities of war. (more…)

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alieeenSOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA-Hang On to Each Other EP [CST105] (2014).

Hang_on_to_each_otherI try to go in sequence with a band’s records.  But this release is, inexplicably, a dance remix Ep of a song from the album Horses in the Sky.  The original is basically an a capella song with a harmonium.  Efrim sings the main melody and the chorus sings the repeated refrains.

It’s pretty cool and the spareness of it really resonates.  About four minutes (of 6 and a half), the refrain switches to “any fucking thing you love.”  Then about 5 minutes in he switches to “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” while the chorus starts singing, “Any fucking thing you love.”

This EP features vocals by Ariel Engle of AroarA, and virtually nothing of the original song except the words.

The first side “Any Fucking Thing You Love” is 11 minutes long and is as promised, a dance remix.  And it is a serious, get your butt on the dance floor remix.  No irony, no winking, just butt shaking.

It opens with roars and a boat (ocean liner) whistle and then some dance drums.   Then there’s what sounds like lions roars, a middle-eastern-sounding instrument and screams.  Then the female vocals come in singing “Hang On To Each Other.”   The majority of the song is an instrumental dance section with washes of keyboards and drums.  There’s roaring noises as the beat keeps up the pace.  About 9 minutes in she starts chanting “Any fucking thing you love” and the song continues to dance on until the feedback sounds at the end.

Side two is “Birds Toss Precious Flowers” which opens with that same boat whistle.   Some skittery keyboards come in and out and then a big bass drum starts keeping the beat.  It doesn’t start getting dancey until after about 90 seconds.  That’s when the vocals come in—echoey and very cool.  About four minutes in the music cuts away and it’s just the thudding bass drum and vocals, then the song picks up again  At around 7 minutes the “birds fly” part kicks in.  The song turns really dancey with a vocal solo   The last two minutes are more or less the keyboard winding going through a very slow reverb pedal.

Of the two, I like the second one better as there’s more interesting things going on, but I have to assume that the first is a better club song.

[READ: February 15, 2016] A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Lewis Trondheim found this book while on vacation.  It is the first collection of extraterrestrial comic strips every discovered.  And Trondheim convinced First Second to publish it [#10yearsof01].

A.L.I.E.E.E.N. stands for Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties.  (The book was originally published in France with the title A.L.I.E.E.N.)

The book is adorable, with cute and cuddly aliens creatures on a fascinating world.  There’s a blue four-legged guy and a yellow two-legged guy with a long tail and they are frolicking amidst butterfly-looking creatures.  The aliens only speak in alien tongue (I wonder if the characters can be translated or if it is just gibberish).  Then on page two, the blue guy runs into a tree and has both his eyes poked out in pools of blood.

WHAT?! (more…)

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leotardSOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Horses in the Sky [CST033] (2005).

This album is described as 330px-Horses_in_the_Sky_album_cover “6 busted ‘waltzes’ for world wars 4 thru 6” … the “first song’s about war and drug addiction, fourth song’s about kanada, and the rest of it is all love songs.”

This album proves to be their folkiest and most organic sounding album.  The songs are mostly pretty mellow, including one that was recorded at a campfire.

“God Bless Our Dead Marines” opens the disc.  It’s 12 minutes long and begins “They put angels in the electric chair, the electric chair.”  The melody is pretty catchy and the accompanying minimal strings accentuate the song nicely.  About 90 seconds into the song, the drums come in and the song takes on a rumbling field.  The vocals are repeated a lot, and Efrim’s voice is placed nicely in the mix.  The middle of song takes on a kind of shanty quality with lots of clapping and a loud electric guitar.  Around 3:30 the song stops and a new melody comes in, primarily on bowed bass.  The sound of this section is spare but very cool.  The piano returns (this is one of the first songs in a while to rely so heavily on piano) and a new melody (including the title of the song) is sung (again, a very catchy folk-song kind of melody) with occasional guitar chords.   The lyrics are also pretty straightforward and poetic.  While in no way suggesting this song could have been popular, it is certainly approachable and fairly conventional (even at 11 minutes).  At 9 minutes the song is stripped of all music except piano.  And several rounds of voices begin singing “when the world is sick, can no one be well, but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.”  When the third set of voices (these are bass) come in, it really sounds great.

“Mountains Made of Steam” opens with guitar harmonics and a contrasting simple guitar melody.  The vocals come in about 90 seconds in.  The song is also surprisingly stripped down.  The voices and bass grow a little louder at around 3 minutes, but not in a building and building kind of way.  After a few rounds of “Ya di da di di’s,” the instrumental section swells.  It is loud and soaring but not big the way GYBE is.   The low resounding bowed bass in this song is really fantastic–it’s very big and round and really satisfying

“Horses in the Sky” opens with acoustic guitars and Efrim singing quietly.  It sounds like a very traditional folk song.  There’s a second voice singing harmony (just about everyone is listed as doing vocals).  The lyrics sum up the tone of the song, “Schools look like prisons and our prisons look like malls / Downtown just a sick parade where no one cares at all.”  This is one of the few songs from the band that doesn’t really change over the course of the whole song (some keyboards are added, but it is otherwise pretty much just guitar and voice).

“Teddy Roosevelt’s Guns” starts with echoed guitars and strings and the vocals: “Kanada oh Kanada I ain’t never been your son.”  Strings slowly fill out the melody as more voices start singing that above refrain and Efrim’s indictments mount.  This continues with some swirling strings until about 7 minutes when the drums start pounding out three note blast.  When the vocals come back in, they are the harshest on the album, both from the lead and backing vocals.

“Hang on to Each Other” was recorded “next to a campfire by the river” … “at Garfield’s fire pit.”  You can hear the fire crackling as the song begins.  There’s some simple “ba dum da da dum” vocals before a harmonium grows louder.  Aside from that instrument, it’s otherwise almost entirely a capella with various voices singing different parts, primarily “hang on to each other,” “any fucking thing you love” and “birds toss precious flowers from the murky skies above” in various rounds and harmonies.  It’s really quite a moving song.

“Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)”  is 13 minutes long.  The song opens with slow strings.  A voice, which follows  a piano melody, sings the “freedom has come and gone” part.  The song feels fuller than the rest of the album with strings and bass filing the background.   The instrumental part is the biggest and most dramatic on the record with swelling strings and occasional guitars ringing out until 4 minutes in when everything drops out except for one violin and a bass and a new vocal melody.  But soon enough a buzzy electric guitar comes in to add more drama to this song.  And then it quiets down again, with staccato guitar and strings getting softer and softer until it fades out entirely for a few seconds.  And then a new guitar line begins.  It is replaced by single piano notes and wild (but quiet) feedback.  Efrim sings over as the feedback builds louder and louder until the screeching end.

This is definitely one of my favorite overall SMtZ albums.  Even if it is quieter and less diverse than other ones, the melodies and song structures are really solid.

The band is back up to seven people for this recording with all of the former players playing but with Scott Levine Gilmore on drums.

  • Thierry Amar – contrabass, glasses, harmonica, voice
  • Becky Foon – cello, voice
  • Ian Ilavsky – guitar, harmonium, voice
  • Scott Levine Gilmore – drums, percussion, guitar, mandolin, voice
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, voice
  • Jessica Moss – violin, piano, glasses, voice
  • Sophie Trudeau – violin, trumpet, glasses, voice

[READ: May 3, 2016] The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard

Eddie Campbell wrote The Black Diamond Detective Agency which I enjoyed, and The Fate of The Artist, which I enjoyed even more.  Both were pretty unusual–lots of different things going on.  Well, this book has even more stuff going on in it.

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from this.  I assumed it would be a biography of Jules Léotard, the daredevil acrobat who developed the art of trapeze, popularized the one-piece item that bears his name and was the inspiration for the song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

But in this book that Jules Léotard dies on page 12.  Upon his deathbed, with no will written, his worldly possession (a fake mustache) is bequeathed to his nephew, Etienne.  So Etienne puts on the mustache and flies to Paris (in a hot air balloon, of course) to join Leotard’s troupe of circus performers.  When he finds out that they have eaten most of the animals because they were starving, his plans change somewhat.

And so this book is all about Etienne pretending to be the (possibly reincarnated) amazing Léotard and the fascinating adventures he gets up to. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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earnestSOUNDTRACK: THE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA & TRA-LA-LA BAND-Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward [CST018] (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). (more…)

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