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Archive for the ‘Circus’ Category

moomin9SOUNDTRACK: LILY & MADELEINE-Tiny Desk Concert #330 (January 7, 2014).

lilmadLily & Madeleine are a duo (surprise!).  But for a real surprise, they are sisters and at the time of the recording Lily was 16 and Madeleine was 18.  They sing beautiful folkie rock with fantastic harmonies.

That’s Lily on guitar and Madeleine on keys (and higher harmonies).

They play threes songs.  The first one, “Devil We Know” is amazing.  Their harmonies start off the song and it’s a beauty.  It’s an uptempo song that has a gorgeous verse.

“Paradise” features each sister singing an individual verse before the other chimes in with a harmony.  And while their individual voices are nice, when they harmonize it’s really something.

“You Got Out” sounds like a folk song from long ago–with the chord structure and harmony “ooohs.”

The duo is really great and they have just released a new record this year.

[READ: March 19, 2016] Moomin Volume 9

Moomin Book 9 and every subsequent book is made entirely of strips written and drawn by Lars Jansson.  These stories originally ran in the Evening News, London 1960-1975.  I have more or less caught up with the Moomin series at this point.  Book Ten has been released but my library does not have it yet.

This book tends to veer away from the Moomin family a little bit.  Of course they are still present, they just aren’t always the focus, as you might be able to tell by the chapter titles:  “Damsel in Distress” “Fuddle and Married Life” “Sniff’s Sports Shop” “Mymble’s Diamonds.”

(more…)

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moomin8SOUNDTRACK: VAN-ANH VANESSA VO-Tiny Desk Concert #329 (January 4, 2014).

voOne of the things I love about the Tiny Desk Concerts is that they expose listeners to artists that we’d never encounter anywhere else.  As a person who loves rock, there’s no way I’d encounter this artist who plays traditional Vietnamese music.  Even though I think she;s amazing, I’d have no exposure to her otherwise.  So this is a wonderful treat–even more so to see her play in such a small space.

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo is a Vietnamese born musician living in America.  Typically the field of Vietnamese traditional music is dominated by men, but she fought to learn and here she demonstrates her skill on three very different instruments.

The first song “Three-Mountain Pass” is played on the Hang.  The Hang is like a steel drum with different sounds at all of the flattened indentations.  There’s also a tone in the middle which resonates nicely.   It is played with the fingers rather than mallets.  It’s a cool instrument to be sure.  For this song she also sings a Vietnamese song that is very breathy.

For the second song, she has taken Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3 and arranged it for dan Bau, the traditional 9th century Vietnamese monocord. The instrument (“invented by beggers on the street”) has a single string, but by bending it with a kind of whammy bar made from a water buffalo horn.  Despite having one string the bar allows her to go 5 steps up and 1 and a n half octaves down.  She plays a backing track of a while playing the main melody line on the dan Bau.  Watching her play this one string and get ting so many interesting sounds out of it is very cool.

“Go Hunting” is an original composition played on the dan T’rung, a bamboo xylophone from Vietnam’s south highlands. This instrument, which looks a bit like a skeleton, is struck with double-headed mallets.  She says on the album she has a taiko drum, but there is no drum here.  But she doesn’t need it as the song begins slowly but grows faster and faster with the crowd offering some extra percussion.  She plays some amazingly fast melodies as the song reaches its climax.

[READ: March 19, 2016] Moomin Volume 8

Moomin Book 8 and every subsequent book is made entirely of strips written and drawn by Lars Jansson.  These stories originally ran in the Evening News, London 1960-1975.

The story is much more reflective of Lars now.  His art is slightly different is subtle ways, but you can see him using his sown style rather than trying to exactly mimic Tove’s.

The chapters are “Moomin Family Robinson,” “Artists in Moominvalley,” “Sniff’s Holiday Camp” and “The Inspector Nephew” (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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ninthSOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mountain Reveries-The “Pretty Little Lightning Paw” E.P. [CST030] (2004).

lightpawAfter three albums, it was time to make an EP under yet another variant of the band’s name.  This is a fun release (which is interesting to say about a band who is typically quite serious).  What made this “fun” is that many of the band members switched instruments for this recording. Violinist Sophie Trudeau plays bass guitar.  Guitarist Ian Ilavsky, usually one of the band’s guitarists, plays drums.

Also when they finished recording, was complete, the EP was played on a boombox and re-recorded from that.  I can’t tell that it was recorded in this way, so who knows if that made any difference.

There are four songs, “More Action! Less Tears!” is the first.  It begins with Aimee shouting “Hello!  Hello!” and then messing up and laughing.  So she begins again, “The name of this song is More Action.  The name of this song is Less Tears.”  It sounds unlike anything that SMtZ have done so far.  The guitar that opens it is distorted and plays a fairly conventional riff while the violins play a suitable melody over the top.  The strings build and the songs oars.

“Microphones in the Trees” opens with a guitar melody that’s quickly joined by the same melody on upright bass.  Efrim begins singing (his voice is distorted and echoed and sounds almost more like an instrument than a voice, although you can hear the lyrics: “microphones in the trees, cameras in the sky.”  The choir starts singing along with him until about three minutes when a wash of noise over takes the song. This lasts for a few minutes and then fades, allowing the words to continue.  About half way into the song a rather shambolic chorus sings “we are the flood.”  The last two minutes or so are simply feedbacky noises wafting around.

“Pretty Little Lightning Paw”is the ten-minute title track.  It opens with bass notes and chimed notes.  The strings follow Efrim’s vocal lines (which sound ragged and quiet).  And then after a minute or so new strings come in, slightly unsettling sounding.  About three minutes in the 4 voice choir begins singing an alternate melody above Efrim’s repeated mantra.  The song continues in this vein for pretty much the rest of the song, only modifying at the end where the sounds and feedback resemble birdsong.

“There’s a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow” is 5 minutes long and is basically a solo song from Efrim.  He plays guitar, sings and plays “toybox.”  The melody is fairly simple and his voice sounds pretty good–not too shrill.  It may be the most conventional song that SMtZ has recorded.

While this EP doesn’t deviate drastically from the band’s normal sound, it is fun to see them mix things up a bit.   For this recording, the band was

  • Thierry Amar – violin, bass guitar, vocals, pianohandle
  • Ian Ilavsky – drums
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, organ, vocals, feedback, toybox
  • Jessica Moss – violin, vocals
  • Sophie Trudeau – bass guitar
  • [Beckie Foon is absent]

[READ: May 5, 2016] The Ninth Circle

Brendan and I went to college together.  In fact, I knew Brendan from his submissions to both the newspaper and the literary magazine.  He was a major talent back then (I still remember details from the story he submitted twenty some years ago) and continues to be one now.  He works in comics and has written for Flash Gordon, his own book Scatterbrain and something that I can’t wait to find a copy of: Charlie Sheen: Vatican Assassin Warlock.  Check out his output on Goodreads.

This is his first published novel, I believe. And I was hooked from the first chapter.

The story is about 16-year-old Dan.  His family is a disaster–his brother is obsessively mean to him, his father is an alcoholic, his mother is probably sleeping with someone else, and neither parent gives him the time of day.  For his 16th birthday they take him to the circus, even though he never said he wanted to go to the circus.  His brother promises to get revenge for having to go to this lame spectacle.

Dan’s not even sure that he’s going to like it, but he winds up being mesmerized from the moment he walks in.  The trickster tricks him, the freaks entice him (he finds the bearded lady especially enchanting) and the whole show is truly amazing.  Later that night, while lying in bed thinking about his crappy life, Dan decides to take action. (more…)

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cst053webmoomin7SOUNDTRACK: THE DEAD SCIENCE-“Throne of Blood (The Jump Off) 7” single [CST053] (2008).

This was a tour only 7″ that Constellation picked up before releasing The Dead Science’s Villianaire album.  There are two songs, “Throne of Blood (The Jump Off),” which is the lead song from the Villainaire and “The Duel of Iron Mike” which is unavailable elsewhere.

“Throne of Blood (The Jump Off)” opens with some lovely harp playing before the eccentric vocal styles of The Dead Science take over.  Everything about this song is unexpected–the weird staccato guitars, the crazy falsetto, wavery vocals.  The song seems totally random until you hear all of the intention in it all where it all gels at the chorus. I love the part where the backing vocal comes in and sings “Villainiare Ice Grillianiare” (or whatever the heck it says).

“The Duel Of Iron Mike” (not to be confused with the Wu Tang Clan track which is what you’ll find if you look up the song n YouTube), opens with an interesting riff.  There’s that low bass and that falsetto vocal that you either love or hate.

The chorus is almost catchy–it’s a little too minor key to be catchy but it’s very intriguing because it’s not quite what you expect and after one or two listens, you can’t stop playing it.  The end section with the two layers of falsetto vocals is weird and very cool, too.  The Dead Science are a unique band.  I wish they’d put out more music.

[READ: February 12, 2015] Moomin Volume 7

Moomin Book 7 and every subsequent book is made entirely of strips written and drawn by Lars Jansson.  These stories originally ran in the Evening News, London 1960-1975.

These four stories continue with the themes that Tove wrote about.  And Lars’ drawings look very much like Tove’s as well.  I have noticed a few things that look different–sometimes he does the eyes differently, and certain angles don’t look quite right.  But otherwise, it’s a pretty seamless transition.  Oh I aslo noticed that in this book, he has begun signing his name much bigger in each strip.

The chapters are “Moomin the Colonist” “Moomin and the Scouts” “Moomin and the Farm” “Moomin and the Goldfields”

(more…)

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6SOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead [CST010] (2000).

330px-DmstgoodbyeenemyAfter their debut album, Do Make Say Think made this second album which sonically fits together perfectly and really explores instrumental post-rock.  Most of the songs were recorded in a barn giving it a very big sound (complete with insects chirping).  While there were horns in the debut, they seem to be punched up a bit more on this record, and they really seem to help the record rock more.

“When Day Chokes the Night” song is 6 minutes long and I love the way the opening is a simple guitar melody slowly picked and strummed for 3 or so minutes. Then at 3:30 there’s a noisy “drum solo” that sets you up for the second half of the song which introduces wailing saxophone and it all really rocks out.

“Minmin” is 8 minutes long.  It opens slower but adds a steadily propulsive bass and drum pattern. Around 5 minutes the drums become martial and a new rhythm and bass pattern enters as the song gets bigger.  The riff is a solid rock riff and there’s some interesting feedback behind it.  It’s some of a classic construct of a slow building song that shifts gears midway through.

“The Landlord is Dead” (at a brief 5 and a half minutes). opens with a similar echoing riff, this one is more catchy than the others. Some horns fill out the background.  The song builds properly to a screaming guitar soloing wild ending.  It’s easily my favorite song on the record.

“The Apartment Song” is slower, with echoing guitars and a more trippy feel.  I love the way the really noisy guitars blast out for 8 notes and then recede again.  It’s the first of two songs under four minutes

“All of This is True” starts out with a noisy drum beat, open chords and a distant horn.   This song slowly builds for about two minutes before pausing entirely and then resuming as something else—more slow horns layering on each other the horns drift away and guitars take over again.  There’s something of a dancey beat on the drums all along.  The song ends with crowd noises and someone shouting “Merry Christmas Everybody” before seguing into “Bruce E Kinesis.”  “Kinesis” opens with a heavy bass line and insistent drum beat before the interesting guitar counterpoint plays over the riff.  For the first time, really, a keyboard riff takes over  It feels slightly sinister.  This song has a kind of claustrophobic feel, but with a kind of funky drum all the way through.  At only 3:40 this song feels compact and efficient, and as something of a lead in to the 12 minute album closer “Goodbye Enemy Airship”

The final takes a while to get where it’s going.  After some introductory drumming there’s plenty of one-note guitar and horns which keep growing louder and more insistent for the first 4 minutes.  It turns into a very bright guitar melody–bouncy and fun.  (This is one of the two songs not recorded in the barn).  It develops a distinctly jazzy feel.   The song gets bigger with some great bass chords alongside the repeating riff on the guitar.  At around 9 minutes the song morphs into the third part of this exploration of similar riffs and textures. This one is a bit trippier. The disc ends with some mildly dissonant keyboard notes as the guitar echoes to halt.

While I do enjoy their debut, this album feel like a giant stride forward in terms of composition and cohesion.

[READ: February 3, 2015] Moomin Volume 6

Moomin Book 6 is composed entirely of strips written and drawn by Lars Jansson.  Lars was 12 years younger than Tove.  He was a writer, translator and gold-miner (!).  He wrote his first novel at fifteen and then proceeded to write 8 more.  Lars translated the earlier strips into English as Tove wrote them in Swedish.  Tove’s contract was to expire in 1959, so he began teaching himself how to draw Moomins (Tove didn’t know).  Tove’s creative fatigue set in and so Lars wrote his first comic in 1956 and by 1960, he was ready to take over.  The newspaper syndicate approved the switch and so these final strips all belong to him.  He created Moomin for fifteen years–twice as long as Tove worked on it.  These stories originally ran in the Evening News, London 1960-1975.

I love that they must have agreed that each strip would open with a big Moomin behind as well.

The chapters are “Moomin’s Lamp” “Moomin and the Railway and “Moominpappa and the Spies” “Moomin and the Circus”

(more…)

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escapoSOUNDTRACK: GIRL BAND-France 98 (2012).

france98France 98 is the final piece of music available on Girl Band’s bandcamp site (every thing else is sold out and not streaming).  I assume the other songs will be on their properly released EP later this year.  (And from what I hear, their sets at SXSW were killer).

While their debut single was a noisy alternative rock and roll song, France 98 really ups the ante of buzzsaw guitar noise (that they seem to do even more on more recent tracks).

“You’re A Dog” has a dizzying riff that opens the song and only lets up for occasional forays into a more piercing noise.  The bridge (it’s not the chorus I don’t think because that seems to be at the end), is similarly dizzying with the vocals blending into the swirling guitars.  “Busy at Maths” actually slows things down with some fairly pretty guitar notes before the more conventional alt rock kicks in.  After the chaos of the first song it’s nice to bring it down ta bit with this sound.  “That Snake Conor Cusack” is one of my favorite songs by Girl Band, the bass is interesting and the riff is really full and kind of catchy.  I do find the part in the middle where he repeats “I finish dead last” over and over to be unsettling, but it’s still a cool song.  It ends with some scorching noise

And “side two” picks up with more noise.  The title song is a 75 second blast of 4/4 hardcore.  When all the instruments kick in it’s even noisier.  “Second One” brings a more reasonable beat to the proceedings.  It also has one of the more complex bass patterns.  It’s has a cool opening and is a fairly conventional song with lots of scratchy guitar noises.  And at nearly 6 minutes it’s really quite long for them.  “Handswaps” is a slow, menacing song that plays with feedback and effects over a slow bass line.  The blasts of guitar noise are pretty shocking when the rip out from the noise.

I’m really curious to hear what Girl band does next.  I’d like to see them live, but I fear more my ears.

[READ: March 19, 2015] Escapo

As far as I can tell this story was originally published in 1999.  This volume has the story in color and adds some new material as well.

I’ve been a little iffy on Paul Pope.  His visual  style is unsettling to me.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just not something I would go out of my way to seek out.  But I saw this book at work, and I pretty much always grab new graphic novels at work, and with Pope’s name on it, I figured it was worth a look.

And it is.  It’s an interesting book filled with Pope’s dark and slightly askew visuals.  It tells the story of Escapo, the circus’ master escape artist.  And as such, Pope’s visual work quite well in this circus setting.

There are a couple of short stories in the book.  In the first, Escapo is in love with the Magnificent Aerobella, the tightrope walker.  She is very pretty (Pope does draw pretty, but to my eye there is still something odd about the pretty woman–the scratches or the shadows or something.  Escapo is distracted by her–which can be deadly in his line of work. (more…)

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