Archive for the ‘Maile Meloy’ Category


Back in college, I took a class in classical musical called (I thought cleverly) From Bach to Rock.  It was a survey course of all things classical and beyond.  It was surprisingly hard if you took it seriously.  I got a great appreciation for classical music from it, without question.

My friend and I joked about how the rock section was little more than the teacher (a nun) talking about rock in the last half of the last class and saying something like rock music is all about people vomiting on stage.  The most memorable moment was when this friend, who I barely knew at the time, quoted George Michael’s “I want Your Sex” to her and she asked if those lyrics should apply to her as well.  The details are fuzzy but that moment and the amused awkwardness that followed is imprinted on my mind.

As was my other Friend Eric’s choice for a project.  We were tasked with using one or two pieces of music to create a commercial of sorts.  The only one I remember was Eric’s.  I don’t even remember my own.  I know I tried to be pretentious by using some obscure music to convey whatever.   But Eric went straight for the obvious and it was awesome.  He used some kind of drudging music in the beginning as he walked into his “room” stumbling over everything.  Dropping books and muttering “I need my milk. I need my milk.”  (His family were dairy farmers).  When he finally found his red carton and put it to his lips, the Hallelujah Chorus burst forth and he drank greedily from his carton.  It was bizarre and awesome.

Much like only remembering one or two things from class, really the only thing that people remember from Handel’s Messiah is the Hallelujah Chorus and, amazingly, it doesn’t even come at the end.  There’s at least nine more pieces to go before the end of it (two of which are over 7 minutes long!)  And there’s a whole lot before it, too.

I also didn’t realize that Handel wrote the opera in English.

Handel’s reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech.

Instead, Jennens’s text is an extended reflection on Jesus as the Messiah called Christ. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.

Our recording features conductor John Alldis with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir and was produced by Bully Ray Hearn.  It features an interesting note.:

The intention of this version made in 1979 was to be “more friendly  to the “man in the pew” by using a choral conductor and modern orchestration.  There was no attempt to be authentic or ‘purist.’

As you can see by the summary above, the whole album is technically not a Christmas album.  It’s more like Parts 1 and 2 should be played now (culminating in the Hallelujah chorus) and Part III should be saved for Easter.

[READ: December 25, 2018] “The Age of Doubt”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I love Maile Meloy’s writing, so I was super excited to read this.  It was great and a wonderful end to the calendar.

This is a sweet Christmas-themed story about parents, Santa Claus and belief. (more…)

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after-room SOUNDTRACK: NICOLA BENEDETTI-Tiny Desk Concert #274 (May 6, 2013).

nicolaNicola Benedetti is a Scottish violinist who has had a storied career already.

Benedetti was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin starting at age 10, and won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award a decade ago.  She plays a 1717 Gariel Strad. (It’s worth some $10 million.)

The first piece she plays was instantly recognizable–where had I heard it before?  Ah yes, the mournful and harrowing music from Schindler’s List.  [Williams: Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’].  She plays it perfectly, of course.  It’s evocative and instantly brings back scenes from the film.  And then apologizes for it being a bit of  sombre start.

 Then she plays a piece by Bach–he wrote six sonata and partitas trying to emulate many instruments at once.  This one is Bach: “Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin in D Minor.”  She says she’s not playing the whole thing because it’s 16 minutes long.  But she plays the first third which is also recognizable.  Once again, it sounds beautiful.  The blurb speaks of “the way she makes room for silence in Bach’s Chaconne before tearing deep into its dense warp and weft.”  And it is indeed enchanting.

[READ: May 30, 2016] The After-Room

This is the final book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies that are so popular?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set in 1955.  (Sarah and I were commenting on how this era of history is an unusual one for stories to be set and how that’s a nice change).  Janie and Benjamin are safely back in Michigan after the deadly exploits of the previous book.

Benjamin’s father was killed at the end of the previous book and Janie’s parents have agreed to take care of him–so he is living with them.  Janie’s father is quite suspicious of a romance between the two of them and he has every right to be.  Janie is certainly in love and Benjamin probably is too, but he has other things on his mind right now.

I had planned to read this book when it came out, but I was involved with a very big book when it came out.  But I was at the library with nothing to do so I grabbed this and started reading it and I was hooked immediately.  In fact, I found this book so good, so fast paced and exciting that I put down my other reading and just flew through this. (more…)

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devotionSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Upstairs Cabaret, Victoria, BC (October 26, 2004).

upThis is the final show of 2004 that I’ll be doing.  (The Rheostaticslive site recently add ten shows in a row from a run in Toronto, but I’ll be coming back to that another time).

This show is the first show in Victoria for about three years for the band.  And they do not disappoint.  Although, much like the previous show, there are massive technical problems during the recording.  The recorder (Lucky) says that his DAT recorder turned into a brick that night so he had to borrow a friend’s MP3 recorder, which was low on batteries.  It’s unclear how much of the show he missed (and did he really run out to the car during the show to retrieve the machine?).  He mentions being blown away by “Marginalized” and “The Tarleks” (neither one appears here) and that the batteries run out during “Satan is the Whistler” which he says was amazing.

Nevertheless, the show is great and the sound quality (aside from a few weird moments (in an early song for a few minutes you can only hear drums)) is superb.

They dedicate “Power Ballad” to the Buttless Chaps and sing “I wish I was a buttless chap.”

“Legal Age Life” has BC native Mark Atkinson as a guest.  They tell him to come up and rock out–he’s been doing too much of that acoustic stuff.

It’s also the first time we’ve heard the new song “Shack in the Cornfields.”  They have some fun in the middle of the song by making a “hick” joke about Captain Kirk and a variation of his name “Shat’n’er”  It’s vulgar.  I have to say that the 9 minutes of “Shack” coupled with the 8 minutes of “Here Comes the Image” is some pretty mellow chilled out Rheos.  I might have been a little bored since these are both new songs.  They say that “Mike” plays the keyboards.  And that they will have to start calling him “the Wiz.”  He says he would like a cape.  (I’m not sure if this is MPW or someone else).

Then Morgan from The Buttless Chaps comes out (they toured with the Rheos on the entire West Coast) to add some trippiness to the end of a great “Stolen Car.”

Theree’s a quiet rendition of “Little Bird” and then, when Dave is unready they play a bunch of nonsense called “Tarzan Boy in China” which is pretty hilarious.  “Mumbletypeg” is great with some “I Fought the Law” thrown in.  And then we get just the beginning of “Satan is the Whistler” which has a new intro section.  Before the song someone the audience coordinates with others to shout “Lordy” and Dave seems very confused: “What does that mean?  Why would you shout that?”  “Are you Christians?”  It is unresolved as the batteries have died.

[READ: June 13, 2015] Devotion: A Rat Story

This book is tiny!  It’s only 11 cm high.  I’m not really sure why publishers release books like this.  Sure it’s cool looking, but….  So it’s 100 pages, but it’s really just a short story and can be read in no time at all.

But that’s not my concern.  I enjoyed stuffing it in my pocket while I carried it around with me this weekend.

Meloy has written a pretty broad variety of books over her career from realistic family stories to fantasy teen stories.  To this group she adds this story which is a bit of a realistic psychological thriller (with some grossness included).

The story is about Eleanor.  She had a baby without the father’s assistance (her parents are supportive, but smothering and wanted her to sue the father… among other options).  But rather, she ignored the father and raised the baby in her parents’ house.

Now, four years later, Eleanor is ready to move out of her parents’ house with her daughter Hattie. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_23_14Booth.inddSOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF-If I Had a Hi-Fi (2010).

nadaI have enjoyed Nada Surf more with each album.  But for some reason, I never bothered checking out this covers album.  Which is my loss.  Covers albums fall into all different categories–bands that try to ape the original exactly, bands that mess around with the original, and band who take the songs and make them their own.  In this case Nada Surf takes all of these songs and makes them sound just like Nada Surf songs.  Sometimes, they make them sound unlike the original and give them specific Nada Surfisms.

I didn’t know all of the songs on this record.  In fact, I knew very few of them (which is a pretty unusual way to run a  covers record, no?  This falls into the “introduce your fans to songs you love category).

I knew “Enjoy the Silence” (Depeche Mode) which is incredibly different.  Obviously, the original is synthy, but while Nada Surf keep it dark, they add a bit of jangly chords and change the way some of the verses end (the way they do “and forgettable” is so intriguing).  Even the ba bas at the end transform the whole nature of the song.  “Love Goes On!” (The Go-Betweens) is a song I knew a little and Nada Surf sounds an awful lot like the original (but I like the way they make the chorus even bigger).   “Love and Anger” (Kate Bush) is similar to the original but with that Nada Surf twist.  It’s not big and epic and Matthew Caws doesn’t try to hit her notes (he does have a high voice though), but it’s a gorgeous rendition.  “Question” (Moody Blues) is probably the most famous song on the disc.  Nada Surf rocks the song pretty hard.  The pick up the tempo, but slow it down just right for the slow part.  It’s quite faithful, without being in any way proggy.

The rest of the songs I didn’t know.  And some of the bands I’ve never heard of (!).  “Electrocution” (Bill Fox) opens the records and while I don’t know if it’s any different, it could be a great original jangly pop song from Nada Surf.   “Janine” (Arthur Russell) is only a minute long. It’s a pretty, delicate acoustic guitar song.  “You Were So Warm” (Dwight Twilley).  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a Dwight Twilley song, so I have no idea how this compares, but I like the way the last long of “Janine” is the chorus to this song.  I rather assume the original is not as poppy as this (but I don’t know Twilley, so why do I think that?–Turns out I was entirely wrong, the original sounds an awful lot like this version).

“The Agony of Laffitte” (Spoon).  I know Spoon, but not this song.  I can imagine how Spoon performed it, and I imagine that Nada Surf have smoothed the song out and made it prettier and slightly less dramatic.  “Bye Bye Beauté” (Coralie Clément) is sung in French. I’ve never heard of the original performer.  I don’t know how the original sounds, but this could easily be a Nada Surf song (they have done songs in French before) and the harmonies are beautiful.  Speaking of French, the also do “Evolución” (Mercromina) in French (“ev-oh-loo-see-own” is much more fun to sing than “ev-oh-loo-shun”).  This song starts out slow with a cello stating the melody.  It then turns into a dark acoustic guitar song, minor key and tension-filled.  Vocals don’t come in until a minute and a half in (the song is 5 minutes).  I’m not sure what the song is about, but even the catchy chorus is kinda dark.

“Bright Side” (Soft Pack).  Soft Pack is another band I’ve never heard of.  This song is a fun almost punk track–fast and catchy with simple lyrics a fun chorus (and ahhh backing vocals).  The disc ends with “I Remembered What I Was Going to Say” (The Silly Pillows) another band I’ve never heard of.  It is played on prepared piano in a waltz style.  Perhaps unexpectedly, it has no words.  It’s a nice capper to the album

Incidentally, the cover is a wonder line drawing that is fun to stare at and the liner notes (which would be much much easier to read on vinyl) are just jam packed with information about the original artists.

[READ: September 18, 2012] “Madame Lazarus”

Another story with a dog.  This one begins in a rather amusing manner.  An older gay man has just received a small terrier as a present from his younger lover, James.  The narrator is worried about his boyfriend staying around (he is so young and beautiful, while the narrator, who has just retired, is getting older and older).  The narrator doesn’t like the dog, but decides it will be one more thing to tie him to the James, so he decides to keep her.  He names her Cordelia.

The story is set in Paris, and the older man walks the dog around the city.  But mostly he thinks about his age and his past.  He says that anyone his age is amazed that he survived the Nazis much less lived to be an old man. He also thinks of his ex-wife, Simone, whom he meets for lunch from time to time.

The story seems like a sweet story of age and love, lost love, but love nonetheless.  But then the flashback introduces some darker moments. (more…)

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bomarsSOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-“Ný batterí” (2000).

nyThe single opens with “Rafmagnið búið” a kind of brass introductory piece.  There’s lots of horns building slowly, growing louder but not really playing a melody.  By the end of five minutes, it segues into “Ný batterí” which opens with horns as well.  Then the bass comes in, a slow, deep rumble of simple melody.  After 4 and a  half minutes, the drums are a powerful counterpoint to the sweet melody.

“Bíum bíum bambaló” is a slow piece (aren’t they all) that is mostly percussion.  Apparently it is an Icelandic lullaby.  The final track, “Dánarfregnir og jarðarfarir” was a theme used for death announcements on Icelandic radio.  I love the way it builds from a simple melody into a full rock band version and then back again.  It’s very dramatic.

Both tracks were used in the film Angels of the Universe (and appear on the soundtrack).

That certainly makes this single less interesting than the first one (although I’m not sure that the soundtrack was readily available at the time).

[READ: December 1, 2013] Breakfast on Mars

This is a collection of 38 essays (and an introduction by Margaret Cho).  It also includes an introduction geared toward teachers–an appeal that essays do not need to be dull or, worse yet, scary.  The editors encourage teachers to share these essays with students so they get a feel for what it’s like to write compelling personal nonfiction.  The introduction proper gives a brief history of the essay and then talks about the kind of fun and funny (and serious) essays that are included here.

This was a largely fun and largely interesting collection of essays.  When I grabbed it from the library I didn’t realize it was essays (I was intrigued by the title and then looked at the author list and immediately brought it home).  I know it says essays on the cover, but I chose to ignore that apparently.  When Sarah saw the authors (she knows more of them than I do) she had to read it first.  This proved to be a great counterpoint to the very large novel that I was reading at the same time.

The essays each take on different topics.  And what I liked was that before each essay, they include the question that inspired the essay.  I have included the questions here. (more…)

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apprenticesSOUNDTRACK: EBONY BONES-“I See I Say” (2013).

ebonyI don’t really know what to imagine about this album from this one song.

The song opens with a skittery sampled vocal chant of “I See I Say” bouncing around.  It has a vaguely Indian sound to it (and reminds me of Ofra Haza).

After a bout a minute the voices slow to a halt which made me think something new was afoot.  But no, the voices start again, with more layers of keyboards and what is more or less a lead vocal keening away.

Then there are some actual sung words (and people chanting I See I Say), making the song sound fuller and fuller.

At first it didn’t really sound like a song so much as an introduction to something, but after a few listens, I can hear that there’s a lot more going on than I realized.   I just can’t imagine what the rest of the album will sound like.

[READ: June 30, 2013] The Apprentices

This is the second book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set two years after the action of the first book.  The kids are 16 now and have not seen each other since. (The book helpfully fills in the things that we have all forgotten since we read the first book, like that Benjamin’s father gave Janie and everyone a forgetting potion so that they would stay out of danger).

Now Janie is back in America, attending a private school (on a scholarship) while her parents are back making movies.  I would have loved to see more of Janie’s school, believe it or not, but the little we do see if enough to set the action in motion.  Janie, a very smart girl and a whiz at math, is accused of cheating by her roommate and (sort of) friend.  The friend is jealous of Janie because her dad keeps talking about how smart Janie is (and consequently how un-smart his own daughter is).

Obviously Janie is upset, but she is more upset because she has been working on an experiment in the chemistry lab.  She has been trying to remove the salt from salt water.  She has been getting memories of her time with Benjamin and one of the things she remembered was the desalinator.  She has been piecing together the formula and has just had a breakthrough.  But what will happen to her stuff (which is actually the school’s stuff?)

Benjamin has also been sending Janie cryptic messages.  She finally realizes that there is a code in which he is letting her know where he is.  It turns out Benjamin and his father are in the jungle saving people. Benjamin’s father has been using his apothecary skills to create some healing potions that are saving lives in the war-torn jungle.  But their mission is secret and Benjamin’s father doesn’t know that Benjamin is communicating with her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFOALS-Live on KEXP, May 30, 2008 (2008).

I really like Foals’ debut album, Antidotes and this short concert is all about that album.  They play four songs from the record and a fifth intro-type song called “XXXXX.”  The band sounds great, playing their complex rhythms perfectly.

“The French Open,” “Heavy Water” “Red Socks Pugie,” and “Electric Bloom” all sound remarkably similar to the record (not exactly, but amazingly close given the technical nature of the record).  The one distinguishing feature of this show is that the backing vocals are a little more prominent.  This actually gives the songs a slightly more ghostly sound.  Of course the angular math-rock of the album is still present in all of these cool songs.  The band is not very talkative, which is fine, since the music is what matters.

It’s interesting that the band says they prefer recording and creating to playing live.  They sound great live but you can definitely hear the joy they had in creating the record. The live session is here 

[READ: November 21, 2012] “Demeter”

Here’s another wonderful story from Maile Meloy.  In continuing with her excellent streak of simple stories about families (especially mothers and daughters), we have “Demeter” (I never know how to say that name).

This story differs from many of her other stories for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on.  It feels lighter somehow, although it’s not exactly a happy story.  Perhaps it’s that it seems so concerned with the weather and the elements, rather than the routines of the characters?  Whatever the case, the story is very much about the characters, specifically Demeter, a middle-aged mother of a thirteen year old daughter.

When Demeter and her husband divorced, she decided that the best custody arrangement would be that each parent received custody of Perry Mason (their nickname for their daughter because of her hard stare as a baby) for six months at a time.  On this particular day, Demeter is dropping off Perry Mason at her father’s for the next half a year. (more…)

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