After 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.
He runs across town to where the circus was. It has pulled up stakes. But just as he sighs in sadness, the Ringmaster appears. Dan says he wants to go with them and the ringmaster slides into a car as it is pulling away and invites Dan along.
When Dan wakes up the next day, the Ringmaster is still polite. He says that Dan’s family must be worried…the police are looking for him. Dan has second thoughts. But when the bearded lady smiles at him and he thinks of what is waiting him back home, he decides that he will stay. As the Ringmaster shows Dan around, he meets a few of the performers. Some of them are kind to him. Others are decidedly not. And when Charlie, the circus manager comes by, he freaks out that the boy is there. The Ringmaster says it’s not like they kidnapped him and he remembers another young boy whom they brought along many many years ago.
Each chapter is labelled a “Canto” and every few cantos we enter into a new, deeper circle. The first circle is called The Acrobat. By now Dan has met the bearded lady, Hairy Carrie (real name Dolores), and a few of the other members. But that first night, the Ringmaster invites him on a car ride. Dolores, the Ringmaster, and Dan drive out to meet a former clown with the circus. The is much drinking (not for Dan) and reminiscing–Dan is a more than a little unconformable by the whole thing. But things are about to get even stranger.
Circle Two is The Strong Man. In this circle Dan finds some information which Kane, The Strong Man clearly doesn’t want known (although surely the whole circus must know). Unfortunately, Kane walks in on Dan while he is snooping. Kane already didn’t like him and now he is furious with him. and a showdown looms.
Circle Three is The Fire Eater. Dan cautiously asks him if he can teach the fire eating trick. The Fire Eater begins to show him a little something called oakum which helps with the fire-breathing. The Fire Eater, like most of the other circus folk isn’t exactly nice, but he seems to want to help. It’s only later when Dan spies on him doing something pretty awful, that Dan realizes he may have yet another enemy at this circus.
Circle Four is The Clown. Pietro the lead clown is going to show Dan how to juggle. But he has a story to tell Dan as well. And when Peter, the owner of the whole circus comes to pay a visit, more tensions arise. This time between Pietro and Peter.
Circle Five is The Escape Artist. Mr Atlantis is a new act–he can do amazing things underwater. And he winds up becoming a pretty big attraction, making the circus some good money. He’s also nice to Dan, the first person to really be so. But like everyone else, Mr Atlantis has a secret. And Dan discovers this one too–a young lady who should be more discreet. But Mr Atlantis isn’t mad at Dan about it, he seems totally chill. But other people are mad at Mr Atlantis. And, it turns out, they are mad about the circus as well.
Circle Six is The Magician. Just to be clear, not every Circle is exclusively about the person named–a lot more goes on as the circus moves from town to town. In this circle, Pluto, the lead midget is standing with Kane. And they tell the Ringmaster in no uncertain terms to get rid of Dan. They even threaten that either Dan leaves or The Ringmaster will leave. And that’s when Dan finally meets the magician who comes their rescue. The Magician then shows him more things behind the scenes and off site which relate to the circus. And which Dan probably didn’t want to know.
Circle Seven is The Bearded Lady. Dan finally gets to sit and talk to this woman who had charmed him without ever really talking to him. And she tells him her long story (while he keeps blurting out that he loves her).
Circle Eight is The Fat Lady. In this circle Dan meets some local kids from the town in Alabama where they have pitched the tent. They are in Alabama (he is now hundreds of miles away from his home in Boston). Dan tries to hit on the local girl, thinking she’ll be impressed by his carny knowledge. But she has other things on her mind…and so does her brother.
And it’s in this circle that things start to come together–things we never could have imagined. He talks to The Tattooed Man, The Lion Tamer (who doesn’t like him) and finally to Peter Alpe, the owner, who doesn’t seem to like anyone.
The tension has been built wonderfully–there’s a ton of confusion but so much intrigue. What the hell is going on in this circus, and are these people more than what they seem?
But it’s in Canto Nine that the story lost me a bit. It suddenly turned very gory (I wont reveal where or why). And while the story was leading to a dramatic confrontation, I genuinely never expected it to go this way or to get quite so dark.
This is more an instance of me thinking I was getting one thing and winding up with something else. The violence is not unprecedented and is certainly foreshadowed, but from the rest of the book I didn’t expect the end to be so explicit.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book. There’s something so engrossing about the way that Deneen has written this book. Dan is a great lead character–shy and timid but not afraid to stand up for himself. And the language that Deneen uses is really sparkling and electric. As I said, I was sucked in by the first chapter alone.
I wasn’t entirely sure what age group this book was aimed at. It seemed like a perfect YA book, although the ending seemed to make it a bit more adult (not that teens can’t handle gore, of course). If you can handle some blood and guts, then this book is totally for you. If you’re turned off by it, I don’t know that I can recommend reading it since well, it had a lot of it. However, the first eight circles are intriguing enough to warrant anyone testing to see if they want to dive into the finale.
I’m really looking forward to whatever Brendan does next. I’ve even got my copy of Daredevil on my computer to read.