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Archive for the ‘Cancer as plot device’ Category

june2015SOUNDTRACK: THE ARCS-Tiny Desk Concert #504 (January 25, 2016).

arcsOkay so the Tiny Desk folks make a pretty big deal out of this being their 500th show and I am stating that it is their 503rd show.  I have to guess that they post some shows out of order because I have counted twice and gotten the same number.  So we will choose to disagree with our numbering system, but I will also agree that this was their 500th episode because, why would they lie?

The Arcs are a band that I wished I liked more.  Everyone seems to enjoy them, but I really don’t.  Of course, I don’t like The Black Keys either, so this is no surprise, really.  Nevertheless, Dan Auerbach, who is in both bands, has a great voice and writes some interestign songs, I just don’t care for his arrangements–the very soulfulness that attracts fans, I guess.

They are accompanied by three members of  the Mariachi band Flor de Toloache, who did a Tiny Desk Concert a few weeks earlier (although I’m guessing it was the same day, hint hint).  They play a great accompaniment–sometimes all of them play, sometimes just one, and they add interesting elements to the songs.  They also sing backing vocals.

The band plays three songs from their album.  “Pistol made of Bones” which I like in this version (I don’t know the original, I don’t think).  I especially like the way the horn and violin play along with the melody and give it a very Mexican feel.  It removes some of the soul that I don’t really like about the songs.

The other two songs are the two singles from the album and I find that I like them less (I guess I’m a deep cuts kinda guy).

“Stay in My Corner” is a fine song.  I like the guitar lines and the way he sings it.  It’s just not my thing.  I really enjoy the backing vocals by drummer Homer Steinweiss, who has this hilarious style of tapping out these beats while leaning (practically asleep) on the drum machine–totally low key.

I really enjoy Auerbach’s singing delivery in “Outta My Mind.”  I just wish the song would do more.  I want it to be…something else.

So the 500th (ish) episode was probably a lot more fun in the Offices than it was for me.  Although I enjoyed the confetti cannons.

But congratulations anyway!  Here’s to 500 more–but take a break for a few weeks so i can play catch up, okay?

[READ: January 4, 2016] “Interesting Facts”

I hadn’t been reading all that many short stories at the time that I read this because I had been focusing on graphic novels and books.  So jumping back into the short stories at Harper’s has been a real treat.  And I really enjoyed this one.

Although I’m always leery of stories that center around a main character with cancer, I thought the way this was done was clever and interesting and it absolutely drew me in to the story.  Plus it was funny (at least at the beginning).

I loved the way it started: “Interesting fact: Toucan cereal bedspread to my plunge and deliver.”  It doesn’t even fully make sense by the end of the story but an essential part does and I enjoyed the way it was presented like this.

The story is told from the point of view of * a woman who developed breast cancer a few years back.  She says that “I’m going to discuss the breasts of every woman who crosses my path.”  And indeed she does. (more…)

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  uberSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Casbah, Hamilton, ON (November 12, 2005).

casbahThis is the first show of their’s that I’ve heard open with a kind of jazzy instrumental.  MPW is playing a jazzy beat on drums and Martin seems to be noodling on mellow chords (or is that Tim?).

And then they kick into a mellow version of “Bad Time to Be Poor” which I feel doesn’t sound quite right.  It may be the recording levels (the quality is crystal clear), but it feels very sharp and not very relaxed.

For “Aliens,” Martin forgot the words a bit.  And when he starts “The Tarleks” Dave interrupts after the first line to say that Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati) emailed him and said that he’s on an internet soap opera now.  Then they start talking about Green Day (who Martin describes as “chicken little punk”–the sky is falling but I’m drinking bottled water.  But he is mostly upset because instead of holding up lighters people are holding up their fucking cell phones.

Once again the “Song of the Garden” is punky–fast and fun.  They also have a ton of fun with “Four Little Songs.”  Ford Pier is playing keys again, and his contribution is an old song called “Nanaimo.”  He had asked if they should do “Mustang Sally” and Dave said that if they play that it will automatically be the worst gig ever.  And they throw in the (I believe intentionally) worst rendition of “Smoke on the Water” I’ve ever heard.  Later on, Martin throws in the riff from “Hey Hey My My” into “Feed Yourself” and as that song ends he starts singing the Neil Young song, but he’s got the words all wrong too.  It’s pretty funny, especially when he sings “It’s better to burn out than it is to fuck up.”

“Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” has a lengthy intro about Billy Joe Rent–I have to wonder if this and the middle part of “Feed Yourself” about the dead body are impromptu things Dave makes up and then maybe sticks with.

“Satan is the Whistler” i sloppy but good.  Until they get to the fast section which totally falls apart.  Then they count off 1,2 ,3 4 and speed through it much better.

Martin talks about his CBC movie Black Widow, which I’d love to see.  Is it available for viewing anywhere?

Paul McLeod (his band Hibakusha opened, I believe) sings a great version of “Jesus was Once a Teenager Too.”  They follow it with a great version of “Stolen Car” (with some amazing backing vocals in the “marijuana” section.

In the previous show, “Try to Praise his Mutilated World” was amazing, but this one falls a little flat I’m afraid.  But it is all made up for by the hilarious synth “Record Body Count, Now!” done to the tune of “Everybody Dance Now.”

As the show comes to an end they play “Legal Age Life” and someone shouts “Take it, Ford,” and he seems stunned and then plays an incredibly lame (again, I believe intentionally) solo.

It’s a sloppy but fun show and comes up to their multi-night run at the Horseshoe.

[READ: September 10, 2015] “The Last Cut”

This is a very short story and an emotionally draining one at that.

The premise is fairly simple.  Eric, a hairdresser, is happily cutting his new client’s hair.  She is pretty and is willing to try a dramatic new cut, which he believes will really accentuate her looks.  He is mid-way through the cut when he gets a phone call.

It is Mrs. Swenson.  She is Renee’s client, but Renee is out for a couple of days.  Mrs. Swenson says that she needs to have her hair cut tonight.  And then there’s this dramatic line: “His throat and eyes ached. His chest, too. He wished he had found a way to say no to Mrs. Swenson.” (more…)

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how you dieSOUNDTRACK: DIARRHEA PLANET-“Lite Dream” Live on KEXP (2014).

dpHow to pass up a band with a name like this?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Who would even want to say their name?

The name conjures images, no, let’s not go there.  The name conjures music that is just abrasive and rude–ten second punks songs.  But in reality, their music is pretty traditional old school heavy metal.  They have 4 lead guitarists after all! (There’s 6 guys in the band altogether, surprisingly, there’s no women).   One of the lead guitarists even plays with his teeth (for a few seconds).

This song is about heavy metal, although I’m not sure what about it.  There’s some big riffs, solos galore.  There’s even a classic 80s style dual lead guitar solo.  There’s big loud drums.  There’s feedback.  It’s everything you think of as heavy metal, with a seeming wink and nod thrown in.

This is basically a goofy feel good band, playing fast heavy metal.  Shame about the band name, though, really.

Watch it all here.

[READ: spring and summer 2014] This is How You Die

It is quite disconcerting to open a Christmas present from your wife and have the first thing you see be the words “This is How You Die.”  To then look at her confusedly and try to interpret the look of excited delight on her face as she wonders why you’re not excited.  Then she explains that it is a sequel to the interesting collection Machine of Death that you both had read several years ago (but which I evidently never posted about).  Sighs of relief and then Christmas can proceed with more merriment.

So over the course of the new year I read these stories and I enjoyed most of them quite a lot.

The premise of the book is that there is a Machine of Death.  This machine states how you will die, but it does not give you a time, place or real definition of what it means by hope you will die.  Statements seem obvious but may in fact be different in some twisted way.  As it says on the back of the book, OLD AGE could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by an elderly bedridden man in a botched home invasion.  The book revels in the irony that you can know how it’s going to happen , but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The way the machine works is that you insert your finger, it takes a blood sample and gives you a card with the way you die printed on it.  No matter how many times you do it you will get the same result.  These are the guidelines, and each author made a story with just that set up.

Pretty cool right?  The first collection was really great.  And so is this collection, done by writers and cartoonists that I had never heard of before.  There are 34 stories and 12 comic strips (it’s a hefty collection).  Because each story is basically about how a person dies, I had to think about how best to review the book–without giving away any twists.  So I think the title and a very brief plot will have to suffice.

There’s even a funny promo video for the book (at the end of the post). (more…)

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flinchSOUNDTRACK: HAUSCHKA-“Improvisation,” “Random Gifts” and “Mt. Hood” in the NPR studios (2010).

hausckaHauschka is German composer Volker Bertelmann and he plays the prepared piano.  What that means is that he places things on and in the piano to alter the sound of it.  (Nothing he does creates any permanent damage).

Mostly he creates percussive sounds with things like bottle caps,Tic Tac boxes and skewers.  And while it sounds simple, it is really quite ingenious.

This Vimeo link shows him talking to Guy Raz at NPR about the random materials that Raz has given him and then demonstrating how they change the sound of things.  Then he plays the “Random Gifts.”

The Youtube Video below shows another improv piece from the same day using different items.

This Vimeo link to him playing “Mt. Hood” shows off his use of ping pong balls.

All of his songs are fairly simple and fairly slow, primarily because the preparations add resonances and percussion that would overwhelm if he played faster.  Thus his pieces are often moody and reflective

Hauschka has a new album out as of this month called Abandoned City.  Every track on the new CD is named after a city that has been abandoned, that is vacant.  And his spare oftentimes eerie music goes very well with that theme.

There’s lots more videos of him on YouTube which are worth checking out.

[READ: June 23, 2014] Flinch

I was grabbed by the cover of this graphic novel.  The book is so short that I was really surprised to see that it was actually a collection of short stories.  As you can tell from the subtitle, this work is going to be dark and more than a little creepy.  And it is.  And while there are some similar visual styles, it’s interesting to see just how different these 13 stories can be.  Most of the stories use very few words, relying instead on the power of the visuals.  And it works pretty well.

I didn’t think any of them were especially creepy or dark, although the first one is kinda gross.  I enjoyed them for what they were, short stories that revel in the darker side of life.  I hadn’t heard of most of the artists.  The only one I knew was Shaun Tan. (more…)

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familiesSOUNDTRACK: MARIA TAYLOR-Tiny Desk Concert #19 (June 29, 2009).

mariaI’d never heard of Maria Taylor before this Tiny Desk Concert.  She was part of the duo Azure Ray (who I also don’t know).  Then she went solo and as of this recording has released three albums.

Taylor has a pleasant voice (she reminds me of a number of different Lilith Fair singers, although I can’t pinpoint who specifically), but it’s not especially remarkable.  The first song “Ladyluck” I found to be nice.  The second song “Time Lapse Lifeline” fared better–the guitar melody was a little stronger, and the harmonies really helped.

The final track, “Clean Getaway” is another pretty gentle ballad (the two guitars really help add texture to all of these songs).  Although even the end seemed to just stop without actually ending.

I didn’t find Maria Taylor to be terribly memorable.  However, the Tiny Desk setting seems to be the best way to hear Taylor as her voice is well suited for an intimate location.

[READ: January 17, 2014] All Families Are Psychotic

I saw recently that Douglas Coupland had a new book coming out in 2014.  And I also knew that I had three of his older novels to re-read, so I decided to make this the Winter of Douglas Coupland and read all three of those books before his new one came out.  Then I got to work and saw his new book on top of a pile of newly delivered titles.  Sigh.

Well, there was still no reason I couldn’t read the other three in a row, possibly even before anyone wanted his new book.  So, off I went.  And indeed, I finished this book on our little vacation.  And even though I’m fairly certain I’ve read it before (it came out just before or after 9/11/01, gasp) I didn’t remember a thing about it.

This book has a title that I’m mixed about.  It’s a great sentence, but I’m not sure it’s a great title.  And although someone speaks the title in the book, it doesn’t really explain the book very well.

In fact it’s pretty hard to explain the book quickly. (more…)

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terrySOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Phobos (1997).

phobosIt’s tempting to say that Phobos is a carbon copy of Negatron, but that’s not true.  While the line up is the same, and the overall tone is very similar—very heavy, aggressive music—there are subtle differences.  The first is that the album sounds vaguely more electronic, as if they were really flirting with industrial after the experiment with Jim Thirwell on the last album.  E-Force’s vocals, while still abrasive and screamed have a lot of processing on them which makes them far more interesting and actually quite a bit more understandable.  There’s also a lot of weird electronic effects that link the album and make it feel more “spacey.”

And while there are different sections of songs and parts that are actually quiet, this i still a difficult album–the vocals especially are exceedingly harsh and will turn off people who like the instrumental sections.  I hate to sound like the band’s declining popular are all down to E-Force, but he is the weakest link in the band at this point.  Whats weird about thee two E-Force era albums is that although they are very very heavy with several weird parts per song, the basic structure of them is very conventional.  So instead of sounding proggy and weird, they sound more like a bludgeoning metal band.  Which didn’t really work for them.  Indeed, the band intended to if not call it quits at least take a hiatus after this album.

Phobos opens with “Catalepsy I” an introductory song—noises and whatnot.  And indeed, these electronic noises link all of the songs of the record, with different sounds in between the tracks (like the way “Bacteria” opens with spacey effects and electronic drum noises for 35 seconds).  But the first proper song “Rise,” has an opening guitar riff that is quite normal—dark, but normal.  It’s true that the heaviness of the chugging section is heavier than most (like earlier Voivod), but it’s still not that strange. Until the verses come in.  And here’s where E-Force’s vocals are a little different—more processed and robotic sounding.  It actually works a lot better.  And in the middle of the song while the heaviness is ongoing, that opening normal guitar riff comes back.  Rather conventionally.

“Mercury” has a more typical Voivod guitar riff although the pounding heavy chords are still quite heavy.  There’s more of the distorted vocals and weird chords for the bridge.  It also begins a series of increasingly longer songs.  This one is nearly 6 minutes.  While “Phobos” is nearly 7.  It also has an interesting echoing staccato guitar riff with E-Force’s vocals very distorted (like Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy).  The bridge is a crazy noisy monstrosity and yet the middle section is very simple:  loud chords  delivered at a slow pace with interesting effects and fiddly guitar solo noises.  “Bacteria” reaches over 8 minutes long.  But it is unlike any of their earlier prog songs.  It has an interesting echoing guitar opening and a bunch of staggered parts.  But once the song’s major chords start up it sounds probably most like the previous album except for the lengthy instrumental/psychedelic section starting at around 5 minutes.

The album slows down somewhat with the 1:48 “Temps Mort” a short instrumental with what sounds alike an accordion. It’s a weird little time out (which is what the title means), and I like it a lot.

“The Tower” has an underwater kind of feel to it amidst the bludgeoning guitars.  The middle and the end have some very cool heavy trippy/spacey metal which is so radically different from the heavy Voivod chords that make up the proper song.  Indeed the very end is a minute of mellow spacey guitars.  “Quantum” is a pretty straight ahead (for Voivod) metal song with echoed vocals that take some of th edge off (until he screams the chorus).  There’s another cool instrumental section. In fact, the whole album has great instrumental sections, it’s kind of a shame the vocals are so offputting (although at the end of this song they are so distorted and computerized that they sound very cool)

“Neutrino” opens with those big loud slow ringing chords of noise before the simple but creepy solo riff comes in.  It’s 6 minutes long and has another interesting guitar line amid the noise.  It takes 3 minutes (of 7) before the vocals come in and the song gets much darker.  “Forlorn” is the closest thing to a hit on the album.  The chorus is really easy to sing along to.  And the verses are actually pretty straightforward.  It’s very very heavy and isn’t going to make the radio anywhere, but it’s still catchy.  The album proper ends with “Catalepsy II,” more swirling noises that sound like the beginning.

There are two bonus tracks on the CD.  “M-Body” was written by Jason Newsted and is the most industrial mechanized/voiced songs on the album.  It’s certainly out of place, although it does hint at what is to come on their next album.  “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a cover of the King Crimson song.  They’d done Pink Floyd and King Crimson fits pretty nicely.  As with the Floyd covers this one is very heavy.  Piggy gets the guitars right.  But as with the rest of the album, E-Force’s vocals just don’t work. Whereas Snake’s weird pronunciations accented the covers in a cool way, E-Force just seems to be forcing his way through the track (the fact that he puts 3 syllables in “century” is pretty unforgivable.  Overall the song is pretty great, although I’m not so sure about the guitar solo which sounds like Piggy doesn’t really know what to do.

And that’s the end of this Voivod lineup.  Two albums and a lot of lost fans.

[READ: September 20, 2013] Terry

I have known about this book for a pretty long time.  I was never really that interested in reading it because, while I don’t know all that much about Terry Fox, I felt like I knew enough about him to not bother with a full bio.

For those who don’t know (basically anyone from the U.S.), Terry Fox was a young man who developed cancer at the age of 19 in 1977. and had his leg amputated.  To draw attention to cancer research he decided to run (yes run) across Canada on the Trans Canada Highway.  He had a prosthetic leg, he practiced running every day (he was already a natural athlete) and he decided that in 1980 he would run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (he even had a bottle of water from the Atlantic that he wanted to pour into the Pacific).  His plan was to run between 26 miles a day.  Yes, run a marathon every day.  He called it the Marathon of Hope.

When he started out, the media coverage was nothing but as he progressed and his friend (who drove the van alongside him) started making media attention, Terry’s cause became more well known.  And by the time he made it to Ontario, he was a huge personality—making TV appearances, talking to anyone and, most importantly, making a ton of money for cancer research. (more…)

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xmasSOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Live from Mountain Stage (Jan 19, 1995).

barenakedladiesThis is wonderful show from 1995 (it was recorded on Super Bowl Sunday, which explains the football jokes…including the Baltimore football team that played in the CFL for literally one year). Having seen BNL recently (and enjoyed them), I forgot how much more bouncey and fun their earlier shows were (as their earlier songs were in general more bouncey and fun).  This show is also interesting because Andy Creeggan is still in the band.  Andy is Tim (bass) Creeggan’s brother.  And I have to wonder if he is doing some of the great harmonies (especially on “Alternative Girlfriend,” which I’ve never heard anywhere else).

I love each of the four songs they play here: “Life in a Nutshell,” “Jane” (a song where their harmonies are absolutely wonderful).  “Great Provider” slows things down but allows for Tim’s great bass work.  The set ends with one of my favorite songs “Alternative Girlfriend.”  They disingenuously announce that they will be playing the Mountain Stage theme song and I think everyone is a little bummed that they didn’t.  But I was just as happy to hear “Alternative Girlfriend and this is where those great unexpected harmonies come in.  They even throw in a smidgen of “My Sharona” for fun.

I’ll be seeing BNL again in a month.  After seeing them this summer, I wanted to tell them to dig deep into their catalog for some of their middle albums tracks (like the ones here).  Since most people who see them are die hards, we’d all love some of these older tracks!

Enjoy the set here.  Sadly, you only get to see Steven Page’s glorious mustache in this photo.

[READ: August 24, 2013] Not Just for Christmas

In addition to writing a lot of novels, Roddy Doyle has written a number of smaller books.  Like this one.  This was actually written for The Open Door series which is a series of six books by different authors that are designed to help adult readers who have trouble reading.  The stories are meant to be short, engaging and relatively easy to read.

I wasn’t conscious of this story being easy to read, but it is certainly simple.  It is 77 pages with big print and probably counts more like a short story, although I think it gets classified as a novella.

Simplicity aside, the story is a very good one.  Danny and Jimmy Murphy are brothers.  But they haven’t seen each other in twenty years.    When they were younger, they were inseparable and, although they were a year apart, people assumed they were twins.  We see a few instances from their childhood where they finished each others’ sentences and had a kind of psychic connection. (more…)

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