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Archive for the ‘Concept Albums’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-Live at Massey Hall (July 10, 2014).

Baia Bulat is an adorable singer.  She plays autoharp and ukulele and seems incredibly upbeat.  She also has a soaring, delightful voice.

About Massey Hall she says, “It’s not a stadium or a club, it feels huge and intimate ta the same time.”

She opens with “Run” in which she plays the autoharp (and you can actually hear it amid the other instruments).

Next up is a new song “Five, Four” with Basia on guitar with a cool almost sinister bass line.

For “Wires,” she stays on guitar.  This song is almost aggressively upbeat and is much more upbeat.  It also has a fun middle section in which she sings an Ooooh melody  (like a solo) into a microphone with a distortion that makes it sound a bit like a kazoo. Its super catchy.  She even takes that microphone and walks around, ultimately hopping of the stage and sitting in the front row (and the guy next to her of course pulls out his phone) to continue with the oohs.

“Tall Tall Shadow” is a slow moodier song with a great big chorus. They leave the stage and come back (I’m surprised they left in the whole encore scene).

When they comeback she says, “We’re on a curfew so we’re going to try to not get in trouble.”  For an encore it’s her and two other women.  One is playing a small 8-string ukulele as they sing “Before I Knew.”

When it’s over she asks, Am I allowed to sneak one more in?  Try not to get kicked out of Massey Hall!  She gets out the ukulele and plays that wonderful melody of “It Can’t Be You.”  Then she walks away from the mic and sings her heart out.  You can’t always hear her that clearly, but you can hear her hitting the soaring notes.

It’s funny that she worries about curfew and then sings a rather long song.

But it’s a great collection of songs and a beautiful set.

[READ: March 15, 2018] Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

I really enjoyed Kristin Cronn-Mills’ book Ugly Fake which was kind of novel/graphic novel hybrid.  This is one of her earlier stories and it is all novel.  It is about music and teen angst and high school.

And it’s about a girl named Elizabeth who is in fact a boy and wants to be known as Gabe.  He has recently revealed this to his parents and his best friend, Paige.  Paige has been nothing but supportive.  His parents are a little more mixed about it.  And of course he hasn’t told anyone at school.  But since he dresses gender-neutral he has always been made fun of a school–where they know that he is Elizabeth.  He is somewhat surprised that the boys make fun of him more than the girls–calling him he-she-it.  Undoubtedly they are threatened by his looks.

But he is a senior, and school is almost over.  He can certainly cope until it’s time to move away to the city.

In the mean time, he has a DJ gig that is the best thing ever. (more…)

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fakeSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 3 Mississippi Moonchile [CST110] (2015).

cst110cover_258x242I felt like the first Coin Coin disc was way too long, so imagine my surprise to discover that the whole Coin Coin series is planned as a 12 chapter collection!

Unlike the previous 2 chapters, this album was created entirely by Roberts.  She is credited with playing saxophone, Korg Monotron and a 1900s upright piano.  But like the others, the tracks bleed into each other and seem to end indiscriminately.

This disc also quotes from The Star Spangled Banner, Beautiful Dreamer, The Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Lift Every Voice and Sing and All the Pretty Horses.  As well as samples from Malcolm X and a field recording of a travel through Mississippi, Louisiana Tennessee and NYC.

The first song, “All is Written” is 10 minutes long.  She sings quietly and starkly (voice breaking) while spoken words overlap behind her voice (and the saxophone and drones).  Her singing is at times pained and strained—aching with the truth of her words.  As “The Good Book” begins, the spoken word continues but the main sound is an industrial throbbing.  Near the end, a new metallic sound comes screeching in and then resolves into a kind of drone while angelic voices takes over for song three, “Clothed to the Land, Worn by the Sea” which is more pleasant.

“Dreamer of Dreams” resumes some spoken word and synth noises while two overlapping tracks of sax solos play.  “Always Say Your Name” has some more drones and a wild sax solo.  “Nema Nema Nema” experiments with analog synth noises while she sings a pretty melody with other voices circulating behind her.  “A Single Man o’War” has a high pitched drone. which is accompanied by several three note chants.

“As Years Roll By” is spoken words, with drone and church bells.   And lots of “Amens.”  “This Land is Yours” has lots of voices speaking and overlapping.  It ends with someone singing “come away with me come away,” which segues into “Come Away” with a noisy background and spoken voices talking about Zanzibar.  Then there is a keening, pained voice singing the middle. “JP” is a speech about he slave trade.

Although this album is difficult, it is more manageable than her other releases in this series.  But manageability clearly isn’t her plan, she is making a statement and it is exciting and frightening to listen to.

[READ: August 10, 2016] Original Fake

You should never judge a book by its cover.  But I really liked the cover of this book a lot.  And the title was intriguing, so I grabbed it off the new book shelf.

And what a great, fun story it was.

The book opens with Frankie sneaking into his school at 6:30 AM.  No one else is there except maybe the janitor.  He is sneaking into the school to do a small amount of vandalism. But the vandalism is not your typical vandalism.  On the school hallway is a mural that is currently being painted.  Frankie is an artist but he was not asked to paint the mural (no one really knows he does art).  The mural is a of a lake and farm fields and all that.  And he has decided to tag the mural.  He has painted a water-skiing abominable snowman giving the hang loose sign in the corner of the lake.  “He’s maybe six inches tall, and I kind of put him close to a rock so he’d blend in, but if you get close, its pretty obvious he doesn’t belong. He’s completely amazing.”

Amid the telling of the scene is a drawing of Frankie painting the snowman–this book is full of illustrations by Johnson.  Most of the illustrations complement the story but a couple actually tell the story, too. (more…)

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coin2 hiddenSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 2 Mississippi Moonchile [CST098] (2013).

The first chapter of this series was a sprawling disc of free-form jazz and spoken word.  It was interesting and strange with a powerful message (not always elegantly delivered).  It felt too long, but I think it was done live which would make it more understandable as a long presentation.

Chapter 2 is quite different.  It is much shorter, but it has 18 tracks that flow seamlessly (and often without apparent logic) into each other.  Most of the songs are quite short as well.

“invocation” is a sultry jazz number (Matana Roberts plays saxophone).  There’s also piano, trumpet, double bass and drums.  One thing that I didn’t like about the first chapter was Robert’s “poetry slam” deliver of her spoken words.  This album more or less erases that all together with the inclusion of Jeremiah Abiah on “operatic tenor vocals.”  I don’t know what he’s saying (if anything) most of the time, but his voice soars above the jazzy din.

“humility draws down blue” starts in the middle of a trumpet solo and lasts for a minute and a half.  “all nations” is only 8 seconds long and seems to coincide with a vocal line from Abiah.  “twelve sighed” settles things down some.

The first real change comes with “river ruby dues,” which opens with a gentle piano motif, and Abiah’s vocals.  Roberts’ sax solo plays throughout.  There are somewhat recognizable motifs played throughout the album.  I was sure I heard parts of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“amma jerusalem school” also opens with a new melody–a four note sax line–without a doubt the prettiest melody of the disc.  About mid-way through the song, Roberts begins speaking/reciting.  There’s a lot going on in her saga.  When that ends, more instrumentals continue and “responsory” has a lovely falsetto singing section.

This half of the album has been fairly conventional jazz: rather pretty with some nice melodies—far more conventional than Chapter 1.

Although by “the labor of their lips,” things have become a bit more avant-garde.  But even that doesn’t last too long and by “was the sacred day,” a pretty melody has resumed and more spoken word comes in, this time in stream of consciousness.  It’s a story of childhood with some happy and some sad details including: “they didn’t like black people at the hospital. you could use a room but no nurses would attend to you.” and the story of a woman getting whipped for not saying ‘sir.’   Interspersed through this tale is a sung line “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free.”

‘woman red racked’ features Robert’s singing voice—pretty and pained—with some nice, deep backing voices accompanying.  Interestingly, this vocal part ends with them singing “Amen,” but the song is not over… a sax solo emerges from this and plays a kind of wild section with Abiah’s vocals until the end.

“thanks be you” is a spoken piece, a story told to a child about the past “there are some things I just can’t tell you about” which references a lot of childhood songs.  It ends with the repeated refrain “Mississippi is a beautiful place.”

This disc is only 48 minutes and it feels just about the right length,  “benediction” ends the disc with a quietly sung song with another singer accompanying her: their voices sound great together.

As with the first one, the narrative is a little unclear.  The main thrust of the story is obvious and effective, but it would be hard to diagram the story.  Nonetheless, her use of jazz and traditional sources (“red ruby dues,” “woman red racked” and “benediction” are based on traditional American folk songs), make for an evocative look into slavery from the point of view of one family.

[READ: March 20. 2016] Hidden

Having recently read the Resistance trilogy I am much more aware of France’s role in WWII.  But that could never have prepared me for this children’s book about the Holocaust.  (written by Loïc Dauvillier, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel with illustrations by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo).

The book opens on a little girl.  She wakes up in bed and hears her grandmother crying.  When she asks what’s wrong her grandmother tells her about the “nightmare she was having.”

And that nightmare is her story as a young Jewish girl in occupied France and how her life was brutally upended.  This is all told with fairly cute little characters with oversized heads.

I’ve never heard this story from the point of view of a child before.  Her grandmother was a little girl going to school.  She and her friends did everything that you’d expect little kids to do and the story starts out very sweetly.  Then one day she comes home and her father says that they must all be sheriffs–wear the yellow star on their lapel.  Once they stray doing that, she is effectively shunned.  But she has no idea why–why does everyone hate the sheriff? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (1987).

This record was created by Trey Anastasio as his senior project at Goddard College.  The thesis included an essay piece and this collection of songs (recorded by Phish) relating this epic tale from the band’s fictional land of Gamehendge.  It was never officially released, but since Phish is so free with the tape trading, it is pretty widely available online (heck, even Wikipedia has a link to the Lossless SHN download of the album).

This release is legendary in the band’s history because they have played all of the songs from this album many times in their live shows (some much more than others, of course).  And while they have more or less played the Gamehendge saga a few times in concert, I’d always wondered what the original story was all about (many songs have since been added to the saga as it grew larger).

So here in all its tape-hissy glory is the original.  My first thought is that I guess it was hard to get good sound recording equipment in 1987 (or else this is a multi-generational copy—the “white cassette” from a year earlier sounds better).  And there seems to be a few flubs in the narration (which could be from copying).  I actually surprised he didn’t use a more authoritarian voice for the narration.

For fans, this is fun to hear because of that narration.  Live, the narration varies all the time, not always explaining what is going on the same way (some live narrations are far better and much more interesting).  But here you get it straight from the source.  The narration is accompanied by rather pretty instrumental music (which varies depending on who he is speaking about).  But for those of us who know all of these songs, the biggest surprise is finding out that “AC/DC Bag,” “The Sloth,” and “Possum” were part of the story (or maybe the biggest surprise is learning from the narration what the hell an AC/DC bag is (a robotic, mechanized hangman, of course).

The story is pretty interesting (Wilson and the Helping Friendly Book and all that), although by the end it loses itself a bit.  And I’m not really sure that “The Sloth” and “Possum” fit into the story at all.   But hey, he was a college senior when he wrote it, one can forgive a little sophomoric nonsense, right?

[READ: June 11, 2012] “The Republic of Empathy”

This is the first fiction I’ve read of the sci-fi issue.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be sci-fi, because it’s not really, at least not in terms of genre (I’d say sci-fi fans would object to the designation of sci-fi for this).  But it is futuristic and neat.  I especially enjoyed the humor and the construction of the story—Lipsyte is usually good for both of these.

It begins with William.  Williams is married to Peg.  Peg wants to have a second child as a gift for their first child (who has just grown out of the new baby smell).  William thinks this is crazy, but Peg says it’s a dealbreaker.  The next day William, who works for a flip-flop company, smokes a joint with an ex-cop friend, Gregory on the roof of their building.  On the roof across from them, they see two men fighting. And then one falls of the roof—splat.

Gregory says he’s seen this before but that William will be traumatized.  And he is in his dreams, but he’s even more traumatized when he dreams that his wife is pregnant and they already have two kids.  Oh, and that the neighbors, the Lockhorns, masturbate each other in the living room with the windows open.

Section two is from Danny’s point of view.  Danny is Gregory’s son.  Every few weeks Gregory is dating a new, younger lady.  This one is only a few years older than Danny.  It’s gross (and Danny feels like a bad YA narrator as he relates the story).  This is all before (I assume) Gregory comes out of the closet.  Because William knows that he’s gay in the above scene. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres [CST079] (2011).

This is an abrasive album.  Not only does it has some massively skronking free-jazz, but it is also aggressively political, dealing with slavery and race.   So, if the heart-rendered screams of Roberts don’t make you uncomfortable, the description of a woman on the auction block will do it.

I listened to this album a number of times and kept thinking that it would probably work much better live than on record.  Lo and behold, if I’d read the liner notes more closely I would have known that it was performed live.   (The final song has an introduction and cheers at the end, but none of the rest of the album indicates that it’s live).

I like free improv jazz (when I’m in the mood of course) and I also like noise jazz (John Zorn mostly).  So I’m not averse to a lot of the genre.  But there was something odd about this recording to me.  And this is where that whole “live” recording comes into play.  This music felt like it was being performed for an audience.  I don’t know what the difference is, but it’s one I heard.  I can imagine images going along with the show.   And because of that, I feel like I was missing a crucial element.

The liner notes don’t explain anything about the show itself, nor how this person apparently named Coin Coin relates to her (it seems vaguely autobiographical, but I’d love to know more).

There are moments of rather conventional beauty on this recording.  The song that contains the “Bid ‘Em In” section is a great singalong (of course, when you realize what you’re singing about, you’re horrified).  And there are some other sections where Robert’s voice melds perfectly with her band and with Gitanjali Jain’s backing vocals.

The final song is a very moving song written for her mother.

The only thing I really don’t like about the album is Roberts’ poetry-slam-type singing.  I have complained before about this type of sing-song delivery, which just irks me.  I can see that there are times on the album where it works, but for the most part it feels arbitrary (as it always seems to me).  And when you have crazy improv jazz you need something to hold it down.  The poetry slam lyrics don’t do that.

This is not for everybody, but it is certainly a powerful album.

[READ: January 16, 2012] Vicky Swanky is a Beauty

McSweeney’s has gotten me to like a lot of things that I never thought I would–a cooking magazine, a sports magazine, long out of print unheard of titles.  But they simply cannot get me to like flash fiction.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Deb Olin Unfurth is quite a master of the genre.  But man, I just cannot get into Williams’ short short stories.

The majority of these stories are two pages long.  This means 12 lines on the first page and anywhere from a quarter to a full-page on the second.  But there are also some stories that end after one page (12 lines).  So here’s the little drinking game I invited.  Since Williams’ stories end so arbitrarily, try to guess which ones end after those first twelve lines and which ones continue on to the next page (it’s not really a fair game because some stories end in ten lines or so, but you get the idea).

Take “Cockeyed” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SWORD-Warp Riders (2010).

I have heard some great things about this disc from The Sword–that it was old school metal who usually sang about swords (duh) and sorcery but were warping into the future on this disc.  I put the disc on and was blown away by the opening track, the instrumental “Acheron/Unearthing The Orb.”  It sounds very 80s metal: heavy guitars, and great riffs coupled with tremendous solos.  The second song opens just as strong but then something weird happened.  I hated the lead singer’s voice (my discussion of their previous disc came to the same conclusion).  It doesn’t do ANYTHING that 80s metal should do–it’s neither growling nor yelly nor operatic.  In fact, once the vocals kick in, the song takes on a distinctly non-metal feel.  More specifically, it feels like heavy classic rock from the 70s.  The guitars are still heavy as anything, but the melody and vocals change things.

I really didn’t like the album all of a sudden, until I listened a few times and accepted that this blend actually worked.  Once I acknowledged that it wasn’t what I thought it would be, I wasn’t disappointed by it anymore, and I was able to really enjoy it.  “Tres Brujas” has a simply wonderful sing along chorus that I can’t get out of my head.  And it continues in this vein–heavy riffs (the guitars on “The Chromancer 1: Hubris” and “The Chromancer II: Nemesis” (love the names!) are really heavy) and surprisingly catchy choruses. 

The biggest surprise comes with the song “Night City” which sounds like, well, like Thin Lizzy.  The macho riffs, the swagger, the lyrics, it’s all Lynott.  And once I realized that, I really understood what The Sword was all about, and the disc has been in heavy rotation ever since.  I don’t mean to say that I had to analyze the disc to “get” it, but once it all clicked, it clicked really well.

[READ: December 13, 2011] “The Pharmacist from Jena”

This is my first story from Michael Dahlie and I have to say that I was hooked from the start. 

The story is set in 1912, when the narrator was sent from his home in Stockholm to Winslow, Indiana.  He was sent to work with his uncle as a pharmacist’s assistant. 

It’s in the second paragraph, after the exposition, that things take off: “My uncle was a passionate lover of cocaine and had situated himself in such a way that he supplied nearly all the nearby interested parties.”  He was also renowned as a great “voluptuary and eroticist.”

There is a real plot, which gets established late in the story, but in the beginning, the story is all about the narrator’s adjustment to this life.  How his aunt seemed to believe he was a girl and decorated the room accordingly.  How his uncle had a fight with a bear (long story) in that very girl-themed room (long story) and how the room was soon, no longer girl-themed.

One thing I really liked about the story was the narration.  Like: “At the time I was living in Winslow, it was fashionable for wives of wealthy men to suffer from mental disorders.”

His uncle experimented with shock therapy, but he mostly used it for erotic experimentation.  The end of the shock experiments occurred when a local husband found out what the good doctor was doing (from the burns that his wife received at the doctors hands).  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Music from The Elder (1981).

Kiss lost me on this one.  I had been a faithful fan for several years, even putting up with all of the haters in fifth grade.  But once I heard that Kiss was releasing an “opera,” well the heck with that noise.

Now, granted, I had no idea it was a rock opera or that Tommy was a rock opera.  I heard the word “opera” (thanks newspaper review that my grandmother showed me) and said, Nope.  Of course, I wasn’t the only one who said Nope.  This record tanked.  It tanked so bad that the band almost went bankrupt.

But the album wasn’t just an album.  It was mean to be a film (there’s even film dialogue on the record!) and Chris Makepeace (Woody the Wabbit from Meatballs) was meant to star in it–I love that the film credit info is left on the record packaging).  What could this film have been like….if only it were made!

At some point I decided to buy the LP (Who even knows where I found it on vinyl) and I was surprised by how much I liked it.  In fact, I find it much more preferable to Dynasty and Unmasked.  It’s less pop oriented, and some of the tracks rock harder than anything since Love Gun.  True, there’s weird pretensions on it, but even those are just experiments.

This album also features Eric Carr on his first Kiss record (what a strange place for such a heavy rocking drummer to start).

So yes the album does open with horns and fanfare (like an opera perhaps?), but the first song, “Just a Boy” is a gentle ballad sung by Paul.  It’s certainly wimpy, but I rather like it (as I’ve said many times, I love Paul and his swelling choruses).  And there’s some nice guitar work from Ace here.

“Odyssey” has strings and strings galore.  It’s a pompous swelling song that harkens to Destroyer, yet goes in a very very very different direction.  As a fan of epic pretentious music, I rather like it, but as a Kiss song it’s a disaster.  Of course, I have always enjoyed the jokey “Once upon….not yet” line.

“Only You” is Gene’s first foray on this album.  And I will state categorically that this period was not good for gene’s songwriting.  His songs are really quite dull and boring (when you think of the crazy, complicated bass lines and things he was throwing on songs just a few years back, dull songs like this are a shock).  What’s also a shock is that this song is a kind of gritty guitar song, again, much less wimpy than anything on Unmasked–fickle fans turned on the band without having heard the songs–sure they weren’t good songs, but they weren’t disco either.

“Under the Rose” is the exception to gene’s malaise.  It begins softly with Gene’s whispered vocals not unlike “Man of 1,00 Faces” but the chorus is heavy and chanted, foreshadowing what they would do on Creatures of the Night (although Creatures was heavier and faster).  The riff is also pretty solid, too.

“Dark Light” is Ace’s contribution to the disc.  It has a pretty heavy opening riff as well.  And the verse reminds me a lot of the kind of verse Ace has been writing for a while–simple chords with lots of words.  The solo is pretty much literally a solo–very little in the way of backing music while Ace wails away. Shame it’s not a very interesting solo.

“A World Without Heroes” is a very gentle ballad by Gene.  There’s a great commercial for this album in which you get to watch Gene sing this song.

The crazy thing of course is that he’s in demon make up.  If this were Kiss without makeup no one would think it was weird, but I mean, look at him, why is he singing songs like this?  It is once again an impressive display of Gene’s range though.  Nice guitar solo, too.

“The Oath” is actually one of my favorite Kiss songs, no irony intended.  I used to laugh at the lyrics, which yes are silly (but this is Kiss, come on).  True, it’s an odd mix of really heavy guitars and pretentious falsettos (along with a bizarre keyboard/swirly third part).  But there’s a bitching guitar solo and as I said, the guitars sound great.  And Paul manages all of those different parts very well.  It’s vastly underrated and worth checking out (especially if you like unexpectedly weird music).

“Mr. Blackwell” feels like a song from a movie.  It tells a bit of a story of a bad guy.  The music is incredibly minimalist (one note bass bits and very sparse guitars during the bridge and chorus).  Lyrically it’s dreadful–“You’re not well/Mr. Blackwell/Why don’t you go to hell”, but at least Gene sounds like a demon delivering it.  The solo is an amazing bit of noise though.

“Escape from the Island” is another high point on the record.  It’s an instrumental, it’s fast and it’s heavy.  And it’s got another great solo from Ace–it’s funny that Ace was dissatisfied with the direction of Kiss at this time because he gets to really show off on this disc.

“I” is another solid anthem from Kiss.  It ends the album in an upbeat way and if it weren’t on this dismissed album it would be on any Kiss anthems collection.  Paul and Gene both take turns singing and the chorus is chantworthy and fist pumpable.  They should release it on a new album.  They’re so into it in the recording that Paul even shouts “you feel it too, don’t you?”

There’s an interesting review of this album at Popdose.  The bad thing is that the site has links to lots of MP3 demos from the album, but they’re all broken links.  I’d like to hear those.

[READ: October 30, 2011] “Homecoming, with Turtle”

This is an amusing piece of non-fiction from Junot Díaz.  I’m grouping it with the Oscar Wao stories because it actually bears an impact on them.  It’s about a visit that Junot took eleven years ago (from 2004) back to his homeland of the Dominican Republic.

He hadn’t been there  in nearly twenty years and he decided to go with his girlfriend.  Of course, like Yunior in the novel, Junot cheated on his girlfriend before their trip and one of her friends told her.  This put some tension on their trip (and one even wonders why he persuaded her to go along after that).

Their trip began with a week volunteering in the DR for a kind of Doctors without Borders (but for Dentists)–they assisted dentists with extracting thousands of teeth.  It’s a strange thing to do and a strange (but generous) way to start a vacation, but the exhaustion and camaraderie at least kept them from killing each other. (more…)

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