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Archive for the ‘Carson Ellis’ Category

[ATTENDED: July 27, 2019] Colin Meloy

Colin Meloy was at Newport Folk Festival to read his new book The Golden Thread: A Song for Pete Seeger.  It was announced shortly before the Festival and S and I were super excited to see him.  He was in the kids tent and did a reading in between two bands that played on the main stage.

He came in and chatted with us and then read the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHILLING THRILLING SOUNDS OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1964).

The cover during Phish’s 2014 concert was of this album.

Apparently many people grew up with this record.  I personally didn’t know it, but if you read the comments (don’t read the comments!) on any YouTube clip of the album you will see how popular it is.

Wikipedia describes it as  intended for “older children, teenagers, and adults” released by Disneyland Records (now known as Walt Disney Records). The album was mainly composed of sound effects that had been collected by the sound effects department of Walt Disney Studios. The album was released in several different forms. The album was first released in 1964 in a white sleeve, with a second release in 1973 with an orange sleeve. In both versions, the first side contained 10 stories narrated by Laura Olsher, complete with sound effects. The second side contained 10 sound effects meant for others to create their own stories.

Despite the title, most of the cuts had nothing to do with haunted houses or witches or ghostly spirits. Featured were such situations as an ocean liner hitting rocks, an idiotic lumberjack, a man crossing an unsafe bridge, someone lighting a stick of dynamite and a spaceship landing on Mars. Also, there are tracks with several examples of cats, dogs and birds (similar to “The Birds”) becoming enraged for some reason, as well as a skit about Chinese water torture. In addition, some of the screams were taken directly from the scene where Miss Havisham catches fire in the 1946 David Lean film Great Expectations.

The full track listing is

  • “The Haunted House” 3:00
  • “The Very Long Fuse” 1:28
  • “The Dogs” 1:13
  • “Timber” 1:45
  • “Your Pet Cat” 0:49
  • “Shipwreck” 1:39
  • “The Unsafe Bridge” 1:21
  • “Chinese Water Torture” 2:02
  • “The Birds” 0:46
  • “The Martian Monsters” 1:41
  • “Screams and Groans” 0:57
  • “Thunder, Lightning and Rain” 2:01
  • “Cat Fight” 0:37
  • “Dogs” 0:48
  • “A Collection Of Creaks” 1:54
  • “Fuses and Explosions” 1:11
  • “A Collection Of Crashes” 0:45
  • “Birds” 0:33
  • “Drips and Splashes” 1:18
  • “Things In Space” 0:53

Nothing is especially scary–although maybe for a kid, as many adults claim to have been really frightened by it.  Everything is quite over the top, especially the screams and cat howls and dog snarling.  Even the stories are a little silly, although having them in the second person is pretty genius.

But things like “one night as you lie in your lonely room in your stone hut on the moors…”  (What?).  And the Martian one.  Just keeping with continuity: if “you,” meaning me, went on the trip, then I couldn’t hear the crunching as it ate me.  Or the silly voice saying “I wonder what that was.”

And the less said about the horribly racist Chinese Water Torture the better.  I mean, the opening is bad enough: “The ancient Chinese were a very clever race” but the end of the song is really awful.  But if we can look past that, the rest of the record has fun with sound effects and is generally pretty enjoyable.

During the John Congleton interview, he also talks about this album and says (at 40:28) “the speakers are 180 degrees out of phase to make it sound extremely stereophonic.”  He says now as an engineer it is totally painful to listen to.  Bob says it sounds like it comes from the back of your head.

[READ: October 15, 2017] Half-Minute Horrors.

The premise of this book (edited by Susan Rich) is simple: how scared can you get in 30 seconds?  To me, the answer is actually not very.  I guess for me fear builds over time.  It’s hard to get genuinely frightened over something that just suddenly happens (unless it is just trying to frighten you quickly, of course).

Having said that, I enjoyed this book a lot (look at the list of authors!).  I liked the arbitrary goal of writing a scary story in a paragraph or two (or more).  And some of them were really quite creepy.

I was originally going to point out which ones I felt were the most creepy, but there are so many stories, I kind of lost track.  So instead, here’s a rundown and a brief summary. (more…)

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imperiumSOUNDTRACK: PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO-Tiny Desk Concert #407 (November 24, 2014).

benatarI never liked Pat Benatar.  Back in the day she was all over MTV (and even in Fast Time at Ridgemont High) and I just didn’t like her.  I’m not sure why, although I was particularly bitter about “Hell is for Children” (being a child myself).  Of course, I still know all of her singles really well.

But I haven’t thought about her in probably a decade.  And then  around 2014 that she was playing with Neil Giraldo in some kind of acoustic tour.  I recognized his name but didn’t know they were married or anything like that.

And so here they are doing a Tiny Desk Concert–all acoustic–with him playing guitar and contributing backing vocals.  Over the decades, Benatar’s voice has changed a bit–she sounds gruffer and it really suits her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKQUASI Live at SXSW, March 8, 2010

I really enjoyed a few Quasi albums back around the turn of the century, and then I kind of forgot about them.  But this set is really great.  The always excellent Janet Weiss on drums and harmonies and the wonderful Sam Coombs on guitar and vocals. Around the time of this album, American Gong, they added Joanna Bolme on bass which really fills out their sound.  The first song, “Repulsion,” rocks harder than any of their older stuff (which was more keyboard based).  Indeed this album was apparently much rockinger than any of their earlier releases–I must check it out.

This set was recorded during SXSW  from the Gibson Showroom in Austin.  They play five songs in about 20 minutes.  “Never Coming Back Again” has a far more country feel (especially the backing vocals which have a real twang.  The lengthy instrumental section of “Black Dogs and Bubbles” is great–especially check out Weiss’ drumming.  “Little White Horse” is a shambolic rave of a song–fun and noisy.

The set ends with the inspiring Rise Up, a short stomper that encourages you to, yes rise up.  Weiss and Coombs both have other bands that they play in, so Quasi never seems like a full-time project.  But that seems to make their music all the better.  Listen here.

[READ: November 1, 2011] Under Wildwood

I enjoyed Wildwood, but I wasn’t blown away by it.  So I admit I wasn’t totally excited to read this one (especially since I had some other books lined up).  But Sarah managed to get it from the library (I guess it was not as a big a deal as I assumed it would be?) and I decided to give it a go.

I found it a little slow at first, but after about 40 pages, the book totally took off and I was fully engrossed.  Whether it was because there was less exposition since this was a sequel or because the story itself was more exciting, I couldn’t put the book down.  And, more importantly, the book did not feel like its 550 pages were excessive.  He really filled up every page with story.

But I was a little concerned because part of the story is set in an orphanage–a setting rife for cliché.  But Meloy has some great ideas and although he does use the orphanage as a scary setting (and employs some clichés from all orphanages) he transcends the conceit with some great characters and some evil owners who use demerits to completely move the story along outside of the orphanage–a great plot idea.

But let’s back up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DECEMBERISTS-Tiny Desk Concert #135 (June 20, 2011).

NPR has loved the Decemberists for years, so it’s no surprise that they made it to Bob Boilen’s office for a Tiny Desk concert.  And yet they are probably one of the biggest bands to appear at the Tiny Desk, so I was quite excited to hear this show.  They play 3 songs, all from The King is Dead: “Down by the Water” (naturally), “Rox in the Box” and “The June Hymn.”

Colin is in good chatty form (after almost getting hit in the face by a violin bow) and makes a very funny comment about thinking that everyone would be working while they played.  He also—I think a first in Tiny Desk history—screws up a song (“The June Hymn”) and has to restart the whole thing—it’s a very minor flub, only noticeable if you listen a few times, but he noticed and clearly felt bad (and didn’t curse either).

The songs sound great even if they’re not radically different from the recorded version (the harmonica solos are the big “improv” moments).  And this set confirms what a solid bunch of songs The King is Dead is.

[READ: July 7, 2011] Wildwood

I had this book signed by Colin and Carson at BEA.  I was so psyched to see that they were signing there, that I got up super early, took the bus into Manhattan and got to the convention center before it opened (I thought they were signing at 7:30, but it was actually 8:30). Of course, I didn’t see the fine print that said I needed a ticket to meet the author and illustrator.  In fact, I didn’t even realize that people were holding tickets until I was next on line. I asked the nice BEA worker if I could still go.   She said they wouldn’t sign a book, but that I could say hello.

I told Colin and Carson that I loved their stuff and I gushed over them like a little fanboy (even mentioned having a Tarkus album) and they gave me a copy of the book anyway (signed by them both).  How cool!

So this book is an older children’s book (I would say on a level of The Mysterious Benedict Society–which the book reminded me of because Carson did the illustrations for that series as well, although the books are nothing alike in content).

I have always loved Colin’s lyrics (yeah, he signed my book, we’re on a first name basis now). They are fantastical and fantastic, and he has a great vocabulary, pulling out obscure words for rhymes.  There’s a generally accepted tenet in writing that poetry is more powerful than prose because poems are typically honed with perfect word choices, whereas prose tends to be a bit lazier because there’s so many more words to play with (ideally, prose should also be finely honed, but it’s much more noticable in poetry).  And so given this, I guess it’s no surprise that Wildwood is not as impactful as Colin’s songs.  There are couplets from Decemberists songs that run through my head all the time, but there weren’t any great phrases in the book that really stuck with me.  Of course, at 540 pages you wouldn’t expect too many phrases to jump out at you (images and scenes and chracters yes, but phrases, no).

All of this is a long way of saying that I really enjoyed the story, but I wasn’t blown away by the language of the book.

The story follows Prue McKeel, a young girl who is pretty ordinary.  She lives in Portland (the Wildwood of the title is in Oregon, not New Jersey, which isn’t surprising since they’re from Oregon, but a Jersey kid can hope), goes to school and has a pretty happy home life.  Her mom and dad are nice (I love that her parents are suffused with all the trappings of hippie Oregon–it’s like Portlandia in print!) and her baby brother, Mac, is pretty okay too.  The image that will stick with me is of Prue taking her brother for a bike ride: she transports him through the most peculiar (and reckless and dangerous) way I can imagine–she attaches a Radio Flyer wagon to her bike and plops him in the wagon.  I just have to ask–how did he not fall out??

The story immediately announces itself as fantastical when a murder of crows swoops down out of the sky and grabs Mac from the ground and flies away with him.  Now, Prue was supposed to be watching Mac, so although it’s not her fault a bunch of birds grabbed Mac and flew away with him, it is her fault, you know?  So Prue hops on her bike and follows the birds through the city (a very exciting scene of reckless bike riding).  She skids to a halt when she sees them fly into The Impassable Wilderness. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Other Truths [CST062] (2009).

I’ve always enjoyed Do Make Say Think’s CDs.  They play instrumentals that are always intriguing and which never get dull.

But this CD far exceeds anything they have done so far (and  they’ve done some great work).   There are only four tracks, and they range from 8 to 12 minutes long.  Each track is named for a word in the band’s name: Do, Make, Say, Think.  And each one is a fully realized mini epic.

“Do” sounds like a gorgeous Mogwai track.  While “Make” has wonderfully diverse elements: a cool percussion midsection and a horn-fueled end section that works perfectly with the maniacal drumming.  “Say” is another Mogwai-like exploration, although it is nicely complemented by horns.  It also ends with a slow jazzy section that works in context but is somewhat unexpected. Finally, “Think” closes the disc with a delightful denouement.  It’s the slowest (and shortest) track, and it shows that even slowing down their instrumentals doesn’t make them dull.

It’s a fantastic record from start to finish.  This is hands down my favorite Constellation release in quite some time.

[READ: December 2009 – January 13, 2010] McSweeney’s #33.

The ever-evolving McSweeney’s has set out to do the unlikely: they printed Issue #33 as a Sunday Newspaper.  It is called The San Francisco Panorama and, indeed, it is just like a huge Sunday newspaper. It has real news in (it is meant to be current as of December 7, 2009).  As well as a Sports section, a magazine section and even comics!

[DIGRESSION] I stopped reading newspapers quite some time ago.  I worked for one in college and have long been aware that the news is just something to fill the space between ads.  I do like newspapers in theory, and certainly hope they don’t all go away but print issues are a dying breed.  When I think about the waste that accompanies a newspaper, I’m horrified.  Sarah and I even did a Sunday New York Times subscription for a while, but there were half a dozen sections that we would simply discard unopened.  And, realistically that’s understandable.  Given how long it took me  to read all of the Panorama, if you actually tried to read the whole Sunday paper, you’d be finished the following Sunday (or even two Sundays later).

Their lofty goal here was to show what print journalism can still do. And with that I concur heartily.  Even if I don’t read the newspaper, the newspapers as entities are worth saving.  Because it is pretty much only print journalism that finds real, honest to God, worthy news stories.  TV news is a joke.  There is virtually nothing of value on network TV.  Fox News is beyond a joke.  CNBC is sad (although Rachel Maddow is awesome!) and even CNN, the originator of all of this 24 hour news nonsense still can’t fill their airtime with non-sensationalized news.

Obviously, there are some decent internet sites, but for the most part they don’t have the budget to support real news investigation.  You either get sensationalized crap like Drudge or rebroadcasts of real news.

So, print is the last bastion of news.  And you can see that in journalistic pieces in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Walrus, Prospect and, yes, in newspapers.

But enough.  What about THIS newspaper?  Oh and unlike other McSweeney’s reviews I’ve done, there is NO WAY that I am writing a thorough comment on everything in here.  There’s just way too much.  Plus, there are many sections that are just news blurbs.  Larger articles and familiar authors will be addressed, however.  [UPDATE: January 18]: If, however, like Alia Malek below, you bring it to my attention that I’ve left you out (or gotten something wrong!) drop me a line, and I’ll correct things.

There is in fact a Panorama Information Pamphlet which answers a lot of basic questions, like why, how and how often (just this once, they promise!). There’s also a Numbers section which details the size, scope and cost of making this (it shows that with an initial start up, anyone could make a newspaper if they talked enough about what the readers were interested in). (more…)

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benedictSOUNDTRACK: WOLF PARADE-At Mount Zoomer (2008).

zoomerThis album made many best of lists of 2008.  It is considered a side project of both Spencer Krug (of Sunset Rubdown) and Dan Boeckner (of Handsome Furs).  I’d not heard of either band, but I was very intrigued by this disc and I’m so glad I got it.

Every track has something outstanding about it, be it a cool guitar break (“Soldier’s Grin”)  or a cool keyboard break (“Language City”–which builds to a rollicking climax).  While “Bang Your Drum” has multiple parts, each one weird and wonderful.

“California Dreamer” has  wonderfully sinister soundtrack, with a great rocking chorus. And it’s followed by a surprisingly upbeat “The Grey Estates” (keyboard pop at its best).

The albums ends with the epic “Kissing the Beehive”: a ten minute track with several parts to it.  The first seven minutes just fly by, and then the song breaks down into a quieter feel.

It seems rare that an album comes out of nowhere to me (even if the album didn’t come out of nowhere for people who loved their first release (which I also have not heard) or the two main songwriter’s OTHER projects, but I’m very glad I found this one.  Its frenetic pacing and overall quality made it one of my favorite releases of 2008.

[READ: March 9, 2009] The Mysterious Benedict Society

While you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, you can certainly check it out because of it. I saw this book on our shelves and brought it home calling it The Decemberists’ book.  It was only later on that I realized that the cover (and interior) art is by Carson Ellis, who is, indeed, the primary artist for the Decemberists.

The second selling point was the blurb on the back cover: “Are You a Gifted Child Looking for Special Opportunities?”  How can you not say, “Why, yes, I think I am.” This blurb appears in the book in a newspaper and is the catalyst for the young children (orphans and runaways mostly) who will show up for the challenging test that comprises the beginning of the book. (more…)

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