One 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.
Here’s First Second’s summary of the book:
The private investigators of The Black Diamond Detective Agency are on a hunt to find out who’s responsible for a fatal train explosion in Lebanon, Missouri. Their number one suspect is John Hardin, a small-town farmer whose name is written all over the boxes of nitroglycerin found at the scene. In an effort to clear his name, Hardin — who’s also looking for his missing wife — searches for the real culprits using a particularly clever tactic, one that could throw everyone for a major loop.
The story opens on September 23, 1899, “the night before everything went wrong.” Jack and Jules are talking. There’s a Dear Frank letter being tossed in the garbage and Jules is saying that she (someone else) is not coming back.
Death is everywhere.
On the day it all went wrong there is a horrific train explosion right in the center of town. There were a lot of people out there waiting for the train–and they ware all killed. What they were doing there is kind of a mystery, although one that is solved–a falsely inspires protest that went awry.
As detectives come to investigate they find a box of nitroglycerin with John Hardin’s name on it. Now, the initial confusion came for me because John is Jack is Jackie. And the fact that he wears glasses but then looses them and then wears someone else’s.
Despite the death and mayhem, there’s a lot of humor in the book. I loved that one of the detectives says “your names on the goddamn nitro boxes” and to the right is an arrow that says “the goddamn boxes.” Hardin is captured but soon escapes because the bars were just placed against the window, which is also pretty funny.
And then comes the secret service. They are mad that the detectives are there but reluctantly grateful for their help. More detectives come along, including Carl, a man who doesn’t speak but who is great at getting the job done.
Later as Hardin is seen growing out his beard, he sees the Wanted poster with his face on it (a boxed arrow points to it and says “the crap poster” because it looks nothing like him.
Turns out that Jules has fled the scene. It also turns out that the detectives think the nitro was planted there after the bomb went off–Hardin was framed. But why?
In one of the murkier story lines, the detectives call upon Sadie, a woman who is apparently in an institution (is she an orphan or insane?) to draw a picture of the suspect. Sadie is a great artist (are they shocked because she is a woman or is insane?). They determine that she should be able to work her magic if she talks to the survivors. And soon enough she gets a much better picture of Hardin.
One thing that confused me in the story is that Hardin changes his name and appearance (grows a beard, loses the glasses) to join the investigation (the people who are actually looking for him!). It’s not an unusual plot device, but he now looks very different with no identifiable markings, so I wasn’t sure if he was someone else. He is now Collins and he claims to now Hardin (which he does). But Campbell’s painting style is water color and impressionist so it makes it unclear (seriously 4th time through I was able to really piece it together) about who was who. It’s not saying that Campbell is bad–his faces are amazing–it’s just deliberately confusing even for the careful reader.
Collins says that the bomber is really Jackie Harte of the 12th Street gang. He claims to have been in Harte’s gang when he was little and knows all about him.
There is a huge showdown at a train station and that’s where thing gets really really confusing as members of the gang show up–people are shooting guns everywhere and everyone looks more or less the same–mustaches, fedoras, overcoats. People are killed–it’s a very violent book.
And then things starts to come clearer–maybe. It turns out that Hardin (the suspect) stole Detective Larkin’s badge and gun and was pretending to be a detective.
And that’s when we learn that Hardin is doing all of this to find Jules–the woman in the beginning.
Just as the story starts to settle down, a whole new entity enters the story–the plot to make counterfeit money. One where the eagle looks like a donkey when turned upside down. And there’s a whole story about people feeding counterfeit bills into a town to create chaos and potentially undermine the entire United States.
Throughout the story there are these two guys who provide a kind of comic relief bemoaning the future. As the story ends these two guys sort of recap the whole tale and talk about how they hardly believe it. They bemoan a romance that fails and ponder one that succeed. And then they bemoan electric taxis, flying buggies (this refers to an explosion in a mine where the railroad car is projected out of the mine). They conclude: “It’s all moving too fast for me, Bob.” You’re a nineteenth century man, Billy.” The book ends with these two walking in on musicians playing The Great Crush Collision March by Scott Joplin and bemoaning the state of modern music.
They all toast, “Up yours, modern times.”
Overall the pacing of the story is spectacular, I just wish the story were a little clearer..There’s a lot going on and even trying to recap by going through the book I found it confusing. With recognizable actors I think this would make for a really enjoyable film. As such it makes for an enjoyable but confusing book.
But I love that entire design of the book, which is simply genius. The cover and font on front and back covers are all period. And even the final pages include “The First Second catalog of fine books,” with olde-looking sketches and borders for the other books in their collection.
There’s even a video trailer for the book, which is pretty cool: