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Archive for the ‘Eddie Campbell’ Category

black-daimons SOUNDTRACK: LAST EX-Last Ex [CST107] (2014).

last-exOne 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. (more…)

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henrySOUNDTRACK: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA-Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything [CST099] (2014).

99Aside from the dance remix single of “Hang on to Each Other,” this is the latest Silver Mt. Zion record to be released.  For those keeping score, GYBE has released an album more recently than SMtZ.  This album is full of punk piss and vinegar (as if the title didn’t give it away).  It’s mostly represented by a heavily fuzzed out guitar that runs underneath nearly all of the songs.

The album begins with a child saying, “We live on the island of Montreal … and we make a lot of noise … because we love each other.”

This first song is called “Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)” and the music starts with scratching noisy guitars and everyone else playing a simple ascending and descending riff.  The vocals kick in right away and it feels like the whole group is singing along too–everyone is involved in this noisy song.  It works great.  Even when the song shifts to a more singable part it retains the intensity of the pacing.  Around 4 minutes we get a return to the chanted vocals that lead into a kind of hurricane of a solo section.  And when they come out of that the chorus sings the chanted title.  The biggest change comes at 6 and a half minutes when the whole song shifts and a slower, heavier and deeper guitar chord (unlike any they have played before–it feels unearthly) drives the remainder of the song.  As I’ve noted in other songs, I love when the choir sings by itself (the female singers in this case singing “pull me under”), and they all sound much more “professional” than the kind of loose choir they were a few albums ago.  This choir sings to the end of the song as the instruments all drop off leaving only voices.  It’s pretty fantastic.

“Austerity Blues” is 14 minutes long and opens with a flat sounding scratched acoustic guitar and sing along vocals.  While the scratching  guitar is going on a cool bass line begins.  Things quiet down which leads to a noisy one-note distorted guitar that adds a layer of noise to the melody line.  The song shifts to a louder section with scratchy violins and big pounding drums (David Payant has really added a lot to these songs with his powerful drumming).  Around 6 minutes in, a distorted echoing guitar plays a kind of Middle Eastern-sounding guitar solo.  When the solo settles down a new faster section begins–lots of drums and group singing.  By ten minutes, the song feels like it’s fading out as the music gets quieter.  But a new set of vocals resume more quietly this time, and they sing their melodies quietly until the end.

“Take Away These Early Grave Blues” opens with a girl with a very thick British accent wondering why “people think like that” as a noisy violin kicks in with a see-saw riff and shouted vocals.  This song sounds like a pretty standard SMtZ song with the big exception being the really noisy drums that dominate the track (Payant again).  At around 2 minutes, the music drops away leaving just a buzzy bass introducing a noisy drum and guitar solo.  When the vocals resume the music becomes a fast pounding drum fill and more distorted violins and guitars.  The song is intense and while only about 7 minutes long, it really packs a lot in.  It ends with a fast riff (that’s almost an Irish jig) followed by crashing drums and chanting lyrics: “Love each other that’s all.”

“Little Ones Run” is only two and half minutes long.  That’s unusual in itself for the band.  But even more unusual is that the song is like a lullaby.  It’s a quiet piano melody and lyrics sung by the female members of the band.  It hearkens back to their first albums which were all piano, but this is a much updated version of that early sound.

“What We Loved Was Not Enough” opens with quiet violins and deep bass notes.  The relative quiet is shattered by Efrim singing (this is the first instance on this album where his polarizing voice stands out–on the rest of the album it’s pretty well mixed in with everything else.  But I think he’s won us over by this time and we can accept it, especially since the musical melody is so pretty.  There’s also a lovely violin solo that runs through the middle of the song.  In fact, the whole song would be really quite pretty except for the distortion that permeates it–a noisy guitar underpins the whole thing.  But at 6 minutes, everything drops out except for the pretty violin and the vocals,  “And the day has come when we no longer feel.”  That refrain is picked up by the beautiful choir voices (they really sound great).  As they repeat this section, Efrim sings a harsh lead vocal (he sounds a bit like Larry Kirwan from Black 47).  There’s an instrumental section that scorches with noisy guitars for about a minute and then at 9 minutes the song returns to that beautiful chorus (with male voices added) and that delicate violin.  It goes on like this until the end.  It’s really lovely.

The final song “Rains Thru the Roof at Thee Grande Ballroom (For Capital Steez)” is also rather different for the band.  It is “introduced” by an interview (in English and translated into French) from an unnamed musician who is talking about how being in a band is more than a part time gig … it’s what you devote your life to.  When the music comes in it’s floor toms and an unsettling distorted and scratchy strings or keyboards or sampled voices and keyboard which slowly growing louder.  There’s stabs of piano and vocals which are far back in the mix.  The melody is nice but mournful and it continues for all of the four minutes.  [Capital Steez was a rapper from Brooklyn who committed suicide in 2012.  I honestly can’t tell what this song has to do with him].

I’m not sure which band we can expect to hear from next, but both GYBE and SMtZ have released really strong records in the last few years.

For this album, the lineup stays the same as on the previous album (and the band name has remained the same, too).

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] “Confessions of a Humorist”

I only found out about this story from reading The Fate of the Artist.  I have always vaguely liked O. Henry, but can’t say that I’ve read much by him.  I found this story to be simple and fairly obvious, although perhaps it was obvious because he introduced this style of storytelling to the world one hundred years ago.

The narrator is a bookkeeper in a hardware firm.  We learn a bit more about him and his family.  This line delighted me for some reason, “Naturally, we lived in a vine-covered cottage.”

On the occasion of the senior partner’s 50th birthday, he was selected to give a speech.  And it was a hit.  People laughed and suddenly his reputation as humorist was established. (more…)

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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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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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