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Archive for the ‘Stephen Marche’ Category

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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janfeb2016SOUNDTRACK: GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR!-“lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!” [CST012] (2000).

330px-LiftyrskinnyfistsSo far GYBE had released an album and an EP, so why not follow up with a double album/double CD.  This collection has either 4 songs with multiple parts or many many songs.  (The CD release suggests 4 songs–two per disc each over 20 minutes).

Although on the accompanying sheet, there’s a diagram in which Efrim has mapped out each of the four tracks and indicated where each part (with its own title) begins.

The first song “Storm” opens slowly.  Part one “Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, Like Antennas to Heaven…” has strings and simple, quiet guitar riff which build for about three minutes.  Then the guitars kick in and the song soars to majestic heights.  The guitar riff continues through this section and then horns add to the music to make it feel even bigger.  It’s an amazing start to a disc.

“Gathering Storm/Il Pleut à Mourir [+Clatters Like Worry]” slows things down as the last cymbal crashes fade and a violin remains the sole sound.  Then a new guitar riff begins, slow and sweet, once again with a kind of nod to “Amazing Grace” in the melody. Then the strings swell and take over.  When the bass line begins, it heralds the arrival of the drums and the song rocks along.  After a few minutes, the strings bring in the real tension of the storm.  The drums really come to the fore with lots of pounding and cymbal crashes.  The intensity begins to slow down until it thuds to silence.

     “‘Welcome to Barco AM/PM…’ [ L.A.X.; 5/14/00]”  opens with a staticky voice welcoming you to Barco and then lets you know not to associate with people washing windows or soliciting.  This track is about a minute before the piano begins indicating the start of the final part “Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way.”  Behind the piano are simple mournful chords, although the staticky voices continue until the end of the song.

Track two “Static” opens with “Terrible Canyons of Static.”  There are truck horns and train noises followed by ominous chords.   The noise and static continues through “Atomic Clock,” and the recording “at the tone 3 hours, 21 minutes according to universal time.”  This merges into “Chart #3” which contains a clear speaking preacher (who says ‘penetrate’ a lot) with a very sad violin melody.  A guitar starts playing a different melody which indicates the beginning of “World Police and Friendly Fire.”  A bass line takes over and is accompanied by a violin and guitar.  There’s tension in the music as it builds and builds.  But the drum beat means the start of a new violin melody complete with glockenspiel.  This staccato rhythms keep up for a time until it is replaced by a loud feedbacking guitar solo.  It’s followed by a fairly conventional section of drums and bass complimented with strings.  This section feels like it is building to something and it all coalesces in the cathartic crashing of the start of “[…+The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now]” (this particular release is outstanding as they really drag out the climax).  The riff for this is fast and heavy with more screaming guitar.  It only lasts for a minute or so, but it’s fantastic.  The rest of this section is primarily feedback and silence.  There’s some percussive sounds and moments of louder noises, but at over 5 minutes this section is a little too long.

Disc Two, track 3 “Sleep” has only three parts.  “Murray Ostril: ‘…They Don’t Sleep Anymore on the Beach…'” is a one-minute opening with a man (Murray?) talking about how Coney Island used to be so amazing.  “Monheim”  opens with some slow guitar and mournful strings playing over the top.  When the violin fades, a new guitar melody, more upbeat, begins.   The song stays pretty quiet until about 7 minutes in when the drums enter and an interesting guitar section continues to build in waves, but stays fairly mellow and upbeat.  Around 8 minutes the same motif grows to supersize.  And the wavery guitar? violin? that runs through this whole section grows louder and louder as the music swells and swells until a martial beat takes over and the melody is repeated (albeit much faster) which acts as an unexpected and satisfying conclusion to all that tension.  This section starts to deconstruct, leaving only a siren like guitar and lots of static which indicates the beginning of the third part, “Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III.”   Out of the noise comes a simple two note pattern.  The song grows more complex with as the rhythm is kept by a single chime.  When the drums kick in (all of a sudden) the song gains momentum.  And the cool bass line that propels the rest oft he song (complete with horns) is great.  At about 18 minutes the song quiets down with just the guitar and drums keeping things afloat for a bit until it settles down into a very pretty string melody.  Soon enough, the rest of the band kicks in and the song starts to build again.  But rather than reaching a huge crescendo, it begins to fade out, leaving just a hi-hat and some feedback to fill out the last minute.

“Antennas to Heaven” is the shortest piece at only 18 minutes.  It opens with “Moya Sings ‘Baby-O’…” which is (I assume) Mike Moya (who is not credited on the record, I don’t think) singing “Baby-O” and playing the acoustic guitar.  As that fades, waves of noise swell as the 58 seconds of “Edgyswingsetacid” rumbles through.  It is then replaced by the 47 seconds of “[Glockenspiel Duet Recorded on a Campsite In Rhinebeck, N.Y.]” which sounds otherworldly.  The final short section is “‘Attention…Mon Ami…Fa-Lala-Lala-La-La…’ [55-St. Laurent]”  which is one minute long and consists primarily of children chatting ion French.

The main body of this track is the nearly ten minute “She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field.”  It begins with gentle waves of music pulsing in and out.  After about 90 seconds of this, the song bursts into a rocking section–drums and electric guitar playing a propulsive beat.  This doesn’t last long though as the sound of wind howling takes over the song and an ominous almost metallic ticking sound rings out.  This resolves into a two note motif with strings.  It turns onto more of a song proper with all of the instruments supporting a pretty guitar solo.  As the song fades to just violins, “Deathkamp Drone” picks up with various unsettling washes of sounds.  The final section “[Antennas to Heaven…]”  is a strange screechy-sounding guitar solo that echoes through to the end.

This disc is very big and very long, but aside from a few moments where the noise or drones lingers a bit too long, there’s just so much going on that the music never gets dull.  It’s quite an achievement.

Godspeed You Black Emperor has had a few lineup changes over the years.  For this double LP, they added a new guitarist (and a lot of supporting musicians), they changed violinists and lost the french horn. 

  • Thierry Amar – bass guitar
  • David Bryant – electric guitar
  • Bruce Cawdron – drums
  • Aidan Girt – drums
  • Norsola Johnson – cello
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar
  • Mauro Pezzente – bass guitar
  • Roger Tellier-Craig – guitar [replaced Mike Moya]
  • Sophie Trudeau – violin

[READ: January 26, 2016] “The Shomer and the Boreal Owl”

I find that Stephen Marche likes to really push boundaries.  And I find that some of his stories I like and others I simply do not.

And this one I did not.

The whole premise is weirdly unsettling.  Ephraim wakes up one day and finds that he gets really turned on by wild animals. He gets an erection when he sees a deer running through the woods.  What the fuck?

We meet this man who has had many troubled events in his life–the death of his daughter, his divorce soon after, the loss of his job and livelihood.  And now this. (more…)

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2014-07SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Commonwealth [Diamond Side–Jay Ferguson] (2014).

 commonFor Sloan’s 11th album, the four members of the band each wrote the songs of a side.  I originally thought that they recorded all of the music alone, but that seems to be wrong–and would hardly be a Sloan album).  In conjunction with the album, each guy was given a suit of cards (and an actual deck was made as well).  While this doesn’t necessarily mean the album is very different from their others (it still sounds very Sloan), it seems to have given the guys a bit more room to experiment.

I’ve always had trouble telling whose songs are whose in Sloan, primarily because they all write such different songs all the time.  But also because their voices aren’t radically distinct.  According to Wikipedia, Ferguson’s more famous songs are: “I Hate My Generation” from the album Twice Removed, “The Lines You Amend” from One Chord to Another, “Who Taught You to Live Like That?” from the album Never Hear the End of It, and “Witch’s Wand” from Parallel Play.

Jay Ferguson has the more falsetto’s/delicate voice of the bunch.  He writes five songs that all works as kind of a suite.

“We’ve Come This Far,” opens the disc as a minute and a half piano intro.  It blends right into “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind” one of several super catchy songs on this record. The verses are gentle with an acoustic guitar playing along with Ferguson’s singing.  It’s a simple song with a great sing along chorus (and even a long Yeah- h- h ).   “Three Sisters” also starts with a piano (and reminds me of Twin Peaks theme in tone).  It is slower than the other songs, which suits Ferguson’s voice very well.  I enjoyed this lyrics which plays to the album art: “I Played a diamond where her heart should land. She recognized the tune but not the band.”  The mellow song has a cool buzzy guitar solo laid over the top.

And It jumps right into the much faster “Cleopatra” which is a simple (and again catchy) track with a boppy “talk to ya later” bridge. The piano and guitar solos are quiet affairs which play against the type of song and really showcase the Ferguson’s songwriting skills.  “Neither Here Not There” opens with, in sequence: a gentle organ, a quiet electric guitar riff and then a 12 string guitar  (not bad for 20 seconds). The song is barely 2 minutes long and is pretty ballad.

It’s a really pretty song cycle and shows of the kinds of songs that Sloan has been doing so well for so many years.

[READ: October 11, 2014] “Ultrasound”

The Walrus’ summer reading issue presents three stories and two poems in which: “The Walrus presents fresh takes on old crimes.”  Each story is about a crime of some kind, but seemed from an unexpected way.  I rather enjoyed the way the writers played around with the crime genre to make them something very different.  This story is about rape.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel kind of hit or miss about Stephen Marche’s short stories.  But I loved this one.

I was a little concerned at first because of the very cold and distant way it began: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing “of no interest to me” and 10 representing “of maximum interest to me,” the rapes in my neighbourhood rated a 2.3.”

It’s a cold way to open a story.  But the narrator is not finished with his detached tone.  Indeed, he looks at everything in this detached way–on scales of 1-10 or in percentages.  He shares the same outlook as the protagonist of American Psycho, but this story is not about a psycho, just about a person who is exceedingly rational.

And it is a love story too (sort of).  We learn that he dated Catherine Anne Doran and he rates his time with her at 9.3 out of 10.  But by the end of the story something changed.  It wasn’t how he felt about her, it as something intangible.  Thus we learn the problem with the narrator: “Despite this high level of personal significance, the measurable changes our relationship produced were negligible. The numbers were the same, but everything changed. This is what I fail to understand.” (more…)

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decwalrusSOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT Live at Newport Folk Festival July 28, 2012 (2012).

jacobs-folkfest-44I discovered First Aid Kit through NPR and I liked the two or three songs so much I bought their album, The Lion’s Roar.  And here’s a full set at Newport Folk Festival.

There’s three members of First Aid Kit, two sisters and a boy drummer all from Sweden.  I don’t know if coming from Sweden has any impact on their singing, but their voices are extraordinary  especially when they harmonize.  “Blue” is one of their great songs and it sounds amazing live.

They also do a stunning cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds & Rust,” and on their final track, “King of the World,” Conor Oberst gives a guest vocal (he’s on the album too).

Lyrically, the band is interesting too.  I love the premise of “Emmylou” and the phrasings in “The Lion’s Roar.”  In this show, they dedicate “Hard Believer” to Richard Dawkins, so the band are definitely not lightweights.

It’s a great set and a wonderful introduction to this compelling Swedish band.  I hope they get some more airplay in the States.  You can check it out here.

[READ: December 10, 2012] “Flesh and Numbers”

Stephen Marche publishes a lot of stories in The Walrus, and I find that I’m hit or miss about him.  And, indeed, I was even hit or miss about this story.  I feel that Marche is often trying to go for shock in his stories–and this one has two kinds of shock in it.

The first is that a husband pays his wife for a blow job.  (A bright red Canadian $50).  And later he starts paying her a $50 every time they have sex.  This all begins because she wants to buy a pair of boots that she deems too expensive.  The story kind of looks at the idea of prostitution and power roles in marriage, but only glancingly.

The story talks about their financial situation (they are both successful, although there is a marked discrepancy in who makes how much and how they divide up the bills).  But once this casual money-for-sex situation arises, she finds that she is enjoying the feeling of getting the money.  Indeed, since he always pays with a red 50, she stars getting mildly turned on whenever she sees them in her daily life.  They both find that they are having sex more and doing more interesting things in bed.  In fact, hen the new iPad comes out she offers anal sex as an option for more cash. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON World Cafe Live, September 5, 2005 (2005).

World Cafe love Richard Thompson.  And this set from 2005 seems to have RT playing more than they actually air.  I say that in part because I have no idea how the World Cafe shows work.  Do they just play three or four songs?  The sets where they play in the studio between interviews sure makes it seem that way.  But this set is clearly Richard being interviewed after a performance.  So who knows how many songs he played.

5 songs make this download.  Two of them come from his (then) new album Front Parlour Ballads (“Let It Blow” & “The Thames Side”).  There’s one “brand new” song, which doesn’t appear anywhere as far as I can tell called “Hots for the Smarts” which is one of RT’s great funny clever songs (the lyrics are all very smart things).

The final two songs are classics: “Hokey Pokey” (where’d he pull that one out of?) and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” (which always sounds great).

RT has hundreds of great songs, so it’s impossible to winnow down to a great set (especially one that’s just five songs long) but this set (which is just him solo) sounds really great and is worth hearing for any RT fan.

[READ:April 8, 2011] “Tom Cruise at Lake Vostok”

This is a very short story that I feel is hindered by the title.  Sure, the title is a major grabber, but it’s also a spoiler.

The story is set at the Vostok Station in Antarctica.  Scientists are doing an amazing amount of research in all manner of departments.  The protagonist is there to study Europa, Jupiter’s sixth moon; meanwhile, a Russian scientist is there to study under the ice (she has a cryobot and all kinds of cool things that burrow through the thick layer of ice).

There are many other scientists at the Station, but since it take a full month to reach Vostok by tractor train, many of them have nothing to do but wait for their ride back.  In the meantime, there is gossip about everyone there–especially the protagonist and the Russian woman who seem so antagonistic towards each other that everyone suspects they’re having an affair.

Then she uncovers an artifact that is so amazing she has to talk to someone about it.  So she calls him on his walkie-talkie.  And this is where the spoiler happens. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG-IRM (2009).

Charlotte Gainsbourg is Serge Gainsbourg’s daughter.  Segre is, of course, known for his risqué songs–although Charlotte doesn’t fall into that same camp.

This is her third album.  Her first was released when she was 13.  The second was recorded with the band Air.  This album was written by and recorded with Beck.  And it’s a fantastic forum for her wonderfully complex voice and also just a great album of varying styles and textures.

IRM is the French abbreviation for MRI (she had a life threatening accident and was subject to many MRI’s). In fact, track two, called “IRM” is an electronic workout with sounds not unlike what you might hear in an MRI.  But the album is very diverse, from whispering vocals to soaring altos.  She has some scary/creepy songs as well as some sultry tracks.  Gainsbourg is also an actress and I like to think that her skills in film have allowed her to inhabit so many characters in these songs.

“Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes” (written by Jean-Pierre Ferland) is the only cover on the disc, and man is it great.   Whether it’s the French lyrics, which add a cool Stereolab-ish feel to the proceedings or the outstanding keyboards which are creepy and alluring at the same time, I don’t know, but this song alone makes the disc worthwhile.

Luckily there’s a lot more great songs here, too.  “Heaven Can Wait” is a duet with Beck (although really, Beck takes the lead).  It sounds like a great Beck track with a stomping acoustic guitar feel.

“Me and Jane Doe” follows with a sound like it belongs on the Juno soundtrack.  It gives Gainsbourg a great opportunity to show of her vocal tricks, since she sings with a flatly American accent.  “Vanities” is a beautiful string-filled track which emphasizes Gainsborugh’s voice (and has a kind of Bjorkian symphonic sound to it().

“Trick Pony” is a heavy electronic dance track, bringing an amazing sonic change to the proceedings of the disc.  And “Greenwich Mean Time” is a nasty sounding song where Gainsbourg is not afraid a to sneer at the listener.

The disc ends with “Dandelion,” a kind of slow blues, “Voyage,” a tribal track  (sung in French) and “La Collectionneuse,” which is not sung in French, but which is a piano based song that kind of creeps along on the edge of sinister.  The end of the song has spoken French words at the end and it sounds not unlike an early Sinéad O’Connor song

It’s rare that you hear an album full of so much diversity which actually holds together so well.  Gainsbourg doesn’t have an amazing voice or a voice that makes you go “wow,” but what she has is a really good voice that she can manipulate to convey a lot of styles, and I think that may be more impressive than an eight-octave range.

[READ: November 4, 2010] “Lucy Hardin’s Missing Period”

It’s hard to talk about this story as a story because of the gimmick that is attached to it.  This is a choose your own adventure story, albeit for adults.  In the magazine itself, there are two paragraphs.  You have to continue the story online here.  The technology involved is superb (you can save your story so that when you come back you can pick up where you left off) and each time you click to go to a new section, it fills in right after the section where you were reading so that the finished story looks like a complete (printable) story.

I tried two different stories and it became obvious that there are hundreds of story segments to choose from.  I’m rather amazed at the author’s ability to create what appears to be so many different stories parts out of these few characters (although I suppose realistically there can only be a half a dozen or so outcomes, no?).  And yet for all of that, I didn’t find the story all that interesting.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GALAXIE 500-“Big Bang” (2006).

When I saw this band come up on CBC Radio 3, I thought, I didn’t know that Galaxie 500 were Canadian.  Well, they’re not.  At least the early 90’s band Galaxie 500 aren’t.  But THIS Galaxie 500 are from Montreal.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of bands with the same name.  It’s prettyinevitable as there’s only so many permutations of common words.  But “Galaxie 500?”  How could they not know there was another band with that name, especially as seminal an act as Galaxie 500 was?  So, what is their name?  A tribute?  I just don’t get it.

And so I was prepared to hate this band on principle. But then I heard the song.  It’s noisy, crazy, brash and ballsy.  It’s not exactly punk, it’s sort of a garage band with sound effects (in many places it sounds like the more raucous Sloan songs).

They also sing in French (which means they have more right to the spelling of Galaxie than the previous incarnation of the band).  Even though “Big Bang” comes from the top album Le Temps au Point Mort, I really enjoy this lower album cover more (and the songs from it (which you can hear on the band’s website) are also great.  As is the video (available there, too).

[READ: June 15, 2010] “A Few Acres of Snow”

This story starts out in reality and slowly shifts into a  more fanciful realm.  As it opens, a man arrives at a cabin. His intention is to write a book called One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Paintings To See Before You Die (I love the conceit of this, a sort of lazy man’s guide to touring the world).

He is isolated (which is what he wants), with no phone or contact with the outside word (or his family).  And then it starts snowing.  It snows harder and harder and plies up to his windows.  And then it goes higher still. (more…)

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