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SOUNDTRACK: THE CIVIL WARS-“Kingdom Come” (Field Recordings, November 8, 2012).

I discovered The Civil Wars after they had broken up.  Which is such a shame as they make such beautiful music.

They were Joy Williams and John Paul White and

the two [had] built a gentle, harmony-rich folk-pop sound in which warm chemistry more than counteracts the tension under the music’s surface. Though not a couple themselves — each is married, and Williams just had a baby — they convey many hallmarks of a loving union, particularly in the way she stares at him sweetly as they sing.

That staring is really uncanny–she seems so happy with him.  So it is amazing that at the time of this airing

Williams and White announced that they’ve canceled all of their tour dates in response to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” This, naturally, has fueled talk of a breakup — the assurance that “our sincere hope is to have new music for you in 2013” doesn’t specify whether that music would be made together or separately — which is a pretty crummy development

This Field Recording [The Civil Wars: A Song Of Loyalty, Before It’s Tested] was done in (presumably) happier times — during the Sasquatch! Music Festival in George, Wash.

The pair sing in a field of grapevines.  Just as John Paul arrives, the wind picks up incredibly, almost comically.

Amazingly, given the setting, this song sounds fantastic.  I love that you can hear whistling wind faintly (it might even be cooler if the wind was a bit louder).  But you can see the grapevines (and their hair) blow as the wind picks up.  But their voices and guitar sound perfect.

This song, like every song from The Civil Wars is wonderful.  Their voices are just magical together.  Even if there’s not a lot going on musically (it’s a single guitar although the melody is great), it’s the way they loop their voices together that is just out of this world.

I love them on record, and they sound even better here–White just lets his voice soar at one point and it’s fantastic.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Back the Way You Went”

I was really puzzled by this story.  I couldn’t tell if it was one story with three parts or three separate stories.  I hoped it was three separate stories because the three pieces don’t seem to go together at all.  But at the same time, the internal parts of each story isn’t entirely coherent either.

Garland
D and F take a woman with them on a weekend getaway.   The woman’s mother recently died.  They go to a honeycomb.  Bees stream through the streets and the night.  D and F are bees too.

But they aren’t, of course.  Because the next day they ride bikes (the woman never learned and is quite bad at it).

Years later she wonders “what it was like for D and F to be thugging her around.”  Thugging?

The next paragraph is a flashback and is a good one.  But each paragraph seems to be separated from each other.  The title appears in the body.

Mexico
In this part “they” go to visit Dad in a home.  He is  in a room with a man whose eyelids don’t close–doctors don’t want to touch them in case they stayed permanently closed.

One Sunday they were coming home from visiting Dad–it was no different from any other visit. but her insides had gone bleak and dangerous. She sat in the back of the taxi thinking about an art work she saw in Mexico

The title of this piece appears in this section as well.  And, again, I enjoyed the part about the art piece and I enjoyed the way her dad tells her this bon mot, but I don’t see how they connect

Trouble in Paradise
Her mother in law Verna is four feet nine.  She feels big and bestial hugging Verna.  Her own mother was also short, but otherwise unalike. She is unlike her own mother except that they both think she needs to shop for clothes because they don’t like the way she dresses.

Vera is telling stories about her best friend Mildred who died.

But the narrator is thinking back to drying dishes with her own mother.

And then the narrator snaps out of it and asks Verna a question about Mildred which she finds quite surprising.  The ending in which she mentions the filmmaker Lubitsch, is just as puzzling as all the rest f the story(ies).

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Phish Downloads 5.8.93 UNH Fieldhouse, Durham, NH (2007).

This concert was recorded on my birthday.  Although I wasn’t there (and wasn’t even really a fan at the time).  This is the last show of the tour, so they thank the crew and have a lot of fun with that.  This is a great 3 CD set because there’s a lot of strong bonus material at the end of disc 3.

The set opens with a rocking “Chalk Dust Torture” and segues into a really tight “GuelahPapyrus”—I love how they can start and stop in total synch.  There’s great harmonies on “Rift” and a perfect tempo-change into “Mound.”

Then comes a jamming 12 minute “Stash” with a lot of bass sections.  It segues into the delightfully bizarre “Kung” and then returns to “Stash” for another minute before switching to “Glide.”  “Glide” has more great harmonies with a very long pause (over a minute of silence, which gets the crowd excited) before ending the song. It’s followed by a great version of “My Friend, My Friend” that segues into a 13 minute Reba.”  Trey thanks the crew and everyone for the tour after which they play a very jazzy “Satin Doll.”

The first set ends with a blistering “Cavern.”

Set Two opens with a minute of “David Bowie” before Page turns it into a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” (including a Simpsons’ “D’oh”).  “David Bowie” returns with a 10 minute jam–no solos, just the band rocking–before mellowing out into a reggae version of “Have Mercy” by The Mighty Diamonds.   That two-minute slow down is followed by a scorching soloing conclusion to “David Bowie.”

They take a kind of break with “The Horse,” an acoustic guitar piece for Trey (It’s very pretty and one of the few times I’ve heard him play acoustic).  It turns into a great “Silent in the Morning.”  There’s a nearly 10 minute “It’s Ice” in which each player really stands out—Mike’s bass, Fish’s drums, Page’s keys—everyone is highlighted in this quirky staccato version which segues perfectly into a 16 minute “Squirming Coil.”

There’s a great jam in this song with a lengthy piano solo.  The ending is wildly erratic and weird (and I suppose is technically a “Big Ball Jam”) as they continue to jam for a few extra minutes before launching into “Mike’s Song.”  Like “Bowie,” “Mike’s Song” is broken up to include a bluesy cover of “Crossroads” with lots of piano soloing.  It segues back into the end of “Mike’s Song” which doesn’t really sound like an end to the song.  But it’s followed by a pretty “I am Hydrogen” which launches into a great, funky bass roaring “Weekapaug Groove.”

Towards the end of “Groove,” Page stars playing “Amazing Grace and as it softens up, the band sings a quiet a capaella version of the song.  And then the launches into a jamming version to end the set.

The encore is a loose “AC/DC Bag” for a nice end to the tour.

The Bonus songs include “Shaggy Dog” from the 5/8/93 soundcheck. It’s just guitar and voices with good harmonies.

“Tweezer” and “Tela” come from 5/6/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.  “Tweezer” is totally rocking and 19 minutes long.  There’s a bass-filled jam in the start and it gets dark and a little crazy in the middle.  It slows way down to just one drum and one bass note and then segues nicely into a very pretty “Tela.”

The final bonus track is a crazy 32 minute “You Enjoy Myself” from 5/5/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.   It features special guests Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit as well as the Dude of Life.  There’s a funky middle section of 3 to 5 note motifs repeated.  There’s a lengthy bass solo—just Mike.  It segues into a series of descending riffs until more percussion comes in and someone (Dude?) is talking (incomprehensibly) into the microphone.  Then comes bongos and horns.  I believe there’s even a vacuum solo.  The end of the song has a jazzy scat sing along with the guitar and some rally heavy drums at the end.

On many of the discs, the bonus material is sort of interesting to have but on this one, the “Twezer,” “Tela” and YEM” are outstanding in and of themselves.

Here’s a longer essay about this show by Kevin Shapiro.

[READ: May 8, 2017] The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories

It’s always weird to read posthumous stories, especially if you’ve been a fan of the author for years.  But like the previous collection Dragons at Crumbling Castle, this book collects stories from when Terry was a young lad (between 1966 and 1973) in the Children’s Circle of the Bucks Free Press. He says that they are as they were except that he tinkered here and there with a few details and added a few lines or notes, “just because I can.”

There are 13 stories in the book, and they explore variations on Pratchett’s themes like that the unfamiliar is not the enemy (necessarily) and that people can and often will be surprised by how others react to things.  He also has  a story idea that would blossom into the Carpet People stories later on.

“The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner” (1970)
This begins with a great premise: “Uncle Ron Swimble, the magician, enjoyed performing at parties. He did lots of simple tricks and the kids enjoyed him.  But when he went to his most recent party, things went awry.  But in a way that the kids loved: when his hat fell off, three rabbits jumped out.  And when he bent over a flock of pigeons flew out from under his coat.  The kids were delighted.  But Ron was the most surprised because he had no rabbits or birds in his act.  Every time he moved his hands something vanished or appeared.  It was crazy.  Then they figured out that Uncle Ron had knocked over Mrs Riley’s vacuum cleaner.  And as all the kids knew (but the adults didn’t seem to ) Mrs Riley was a witch.  The resolution to this story was really delightful. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Casbah, Hamilton, Ontario (November 6, 2004).

This was a Hamilton show between the 2004 Western Fall Nationals and the 10 night Fall Nationals at The Horseshoe Tavern the following week. The band attempted to play all of 2067 succeeding apart from “The Latest Attempt On Your Life” and “Try To Praise This Mutilated World.”

The recording opens with some wild jazz playing–rather incongruous opening music.  But it quickly fades and you hear the guys plucking away as their noodling solidifies into “Easy To Be With You.”  They seem to be having a lot of fun with the hoo ah hoo ah middle part–making it a bit more rocking, perhaps?

Martin: “This is for Yod’s sister.”  Mike: “And Daryl from Niagara Falls, Happy Birthday.”  Tim: “We couldn’t download the lyrics to ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ so we’re gonna do this one instead.  Mike: “All the teleprompter rentals were eaten up by the U.S. election.” Martin: “And Velvet Revolver are on tour.”  They play a  stompin “Record Body Count.”

So we have a new record out.  It’s called “twenty one twel–“.  It’s called 2067.  Tim: “It’s our 2,067th release.”  Martin: “We’re a very prolific band.  And we’re gonna attempt to do it top to bottom.”  Mike: “And you know what they say, there’s a fine line between flagship and guinea pig and you’re it.”

The first song is “Shack in the Cornfields.”  Martin introduces it: “This song had a large head. But Mike and I got down to it and made sure it was born.  In the corn.” It sounds good and has a really long percussion ending and then opens up into Dave’s quiet “Little Bird,” a song they have played a lot over the  last year.

Next up is “Marginalized,” which is a bit softer and less angry than some other versions.

Dave says, “We’re gonna do a song we just shot a video for.  We do a video every couple of years.  We got Frank Bonner to co-star in this video with Martin. It’s called The Tarleks and it’s about Herb Tarlke from WKRP in Cincinnati from the late 1970s and 1980s, the heyday of modern American sitcoms.  And one day it will be done and you will see it. But until then you just have to fantasize what it might look like.”  It’s a little slow an angular.  Like much of the show it feels either tentative or like they want the audience to be able to experience the songs fully.

“Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” has the opening stanza which they hadn’t been playing live.  This is slower than usual, I think–although it feels like a real ballad the way it builds.  There’s a buzzy wire as well, which I’m sure bugs the band.  “I Dig Music” is a little goofier and less rocking than other versions.  On the way after the middle section MPW plays the drum fill for Rush’s “Lakeside Park” but not quite right.  For “Here Comes the Image” Mike plays a playful almost bell-sounding keyboard solo–although it does cut out a few times during the lengthy solo at the end.

Dave notes: “The worst part of switching instruments is not knowing which beer is yours.”

Mike says, “This song [“Who Is This Man and Why Is He Laughing?”] has no words.  It’s drifting and mellow.  Next up is supposed to be “The Latest Attempt on Your Life” which they have played live before.  But you hear Martin say he doesn’t want to do it: “Let’s skip that one and do ‘Polar Bears.'”  Mike agrees, “If we were doing Dark Side of the Moon or something we’d stick to it but we’re going to deviate.”  It’s a spare but romping version of “Polar Bears” with some loud “hey hey ho hos.”

Dave: This next song is about yesterday’s football game that Tim wrote, uh, four weeks ago. Two days ago?  Friday night?  What day is it?  That was yesterday I was talking Tiger Cats.
Mike: “Making Pierogies.”  It’s a slow mellow song.  Very pretty, especially the guitar parts at the end

Next week is our 4th annual Fall Nationals at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto (corner of Queen and Spadina).  Ten nights in a row this year starting next… the coming Thursday.

Tim: Thanks to Wayne Omaha for playing tonight.  They’re selling their new album back there and if you wanna get their other one Can the Maps. Go For the Beauty, bug them, and they’ll sell it to ya.
Dave: I think those guys should tour prisons. I think it would be really good for the country.  As long as they’re on the right side of the bars.

They skip “Try to Praise This Mutilated World” and go into “P.I.N.”  They play the coda at the beginning and then the songs starts.  Martin sings his verse in a kind of flat deadpan and Dave says Martin Stop rapping and Martin seems to get annoyed or something–he starts singing crazy–more deadpan and then he screams a punky style and then redlines the volume with a scream on the mic–it’s a little disturbing.  They jump into a poppy “Mumbletypeg” and after the first line Dave says “That’s a lot of beer.”  It gets pretty wild by the end.  It segues into a dark “Stolen Car,” with Martin singing “Goodbye suburban motherfuck.”  The middle has a lengthy instrumental section with Tim getting to mess around on bass a bit.

After a relatively long encore break, the come back with “Pornography.”  “We wish that song wasn’t relevant; however, it is.”

Then there’s a slow “California Dreamline.” And they end with a long “Feed Yourself” with a really creepy section of Dave whispering all kinds of things like “me and you in his head.”  The song ends with some wild effects from someone–almost a minute of pinging sounds after which Dave says, Sorry.

[READ: February 21, 2017] Furry Logic

This book came across my desk at work (I’m still bummed that they changed the way we get books at work so I don’t see as many interesting ones as I used to).  It looked interesting, so I brought it home and read it over the weekend.

This is a pop-science book that looks at how animals use physics to their advantage:  “If you’re scared of physics, don;t worry, we’ve kept things simple.”  I enjoyed that the book states right up front that the authors are anthropomorphizing the animals because that makes for a much better story. Even though, in the end, they dismiss this idea.

Chapter 1 is called Heat: The Warm Up Chapter.  In which we learn about gender-swapping snakes, floppy skinned dogs, mosquitoes that wee blood, killer bees, hot-tailed squirrels, vipers that see heat and beetles that hear infrared.

The chapter looks at (using the research of others) how snakes in Manitoba keep warm by piling together in a big clumps.  But more interestingly, there are certain snakes which swap genders (temporarily).  Male snakes secrete female pheromones to attract males for body heat.  We learn that dogs shake the water off of them because the energy they expel from the vigorous shaking is actually far less than the energy they would have to use to keep warm if they were so wet.  The authors talk a lot about just how interesting it is to see their skin flip back and forth (this goes for all mammals since they all seem to shake in vaguely the same way. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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