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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-“The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” (1994).

 Crash Test Dummies are mostly known for Brad Roberts’ deep voice.   But for this song Roberts only says the opening “Let’s begin” while the main verses are sung by Ellen Reid.  Reid has an amazing voice and was often underutilized by the band.

Musically, the song is pretty similar to the original–guitars and harmonica and the like.  The choruses are a little bigger because Roberts contributes his bass vocals to Reid’s lead.

It is still catchy as all get out.

For the final verse, they bring the music down and focus on Reid’s vocals.  The big difference comes with the “awful lot like me” line.  Where XTC plays a big guitar chord, CTD has more of a keyboard buildup.  It still works though.

It’s a really solid cover.

Hooray!

[READ: October 31, 2019] “Dead Man’s Hate”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This is a bonus story printed on the inside of The Ghost Box.

There’s no context, no biography, not even a year (I had to look that up).  So this poem stands on its own.

It is written in rhyming couplets with an easy meter and is quite easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTONIO CORA-“The Cellar” (from The Blair Witch Project) (1999).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

I was getting bored of the Esquire list so I found this fun little tidbit of spookiness.

The Blair Witch Project was a low budget, DIY-looking movie.  The soundtrack is a compilation with songs on it (Josh Blair’s Witch Mix), but this track is from the actual movie soundtrack.  I couldn’t exactly tell if there was a release of the actual movie soundtrack, but the last track on the disc is similar to a video I found online for the “end credits theme.”

Excluding the intro, which has 30 seconds of dialogue from the film (“Heather’s Apology”), this track is a five-minute DIY, nightmarish ambient score.

It is largely quiet with rattling, echoing sounds.  An online thread (therefore of dubious truth) says that the score was made with the sound of sticks breaking and being thrown into a culvert (or some such) then slowed down dramatically.

There’s some kind of droning sound throughout (maybe a synth, but who knows).  It seems to slowly percolate while things scrape and bang.  There’s a few louder noises that really stand out, but there’s no momentum or narrative to the soundtrack.  It’s just a sort of endless low grade scare.

Don’t listen at bedtime.

[READ: October 27, 2019] “Last Call for the Sons of Shock”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This story was the most genuinely scary and horrifying in the box because it was the most real.

It was powerful, painful and horrible.  But it was written so well, I couldn’t look away. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Halloween on the Barbary Coast” (1992).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Clearly this Esquire list is not meant to be scary or Halloween-appropriate songs.  Many of them might have a Halloween-type word in the title or chorus, but since they are songs you might want to listen to all year, the’re not really holiday specific.

There are songs that have Halloween in the title, like this one.  Although this song really has nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween.  Nor is it scary in any way.  It’s just weird trippy, pre-radio-friendly Flaming Lips.

Wayne Coyne’s voice is high and the main guitar riff is fluid and kind of catchy.  After a minute, the song shifts to a kind of acoustic stomping song.

The lyric does include the line “boy you still got shit for brains/it’s Halloween on the coast again.”  Of course it also references a Christmas tree, so I guess it could be a Christmas song too?

There’s a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to the middle portion of the song, but mostly it’s just a fun, shambolic Lips song.

[READ: October 24, 2019] “Sredni Vashtar”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This has been quite possibly my favorite story in any of the Ghost Boxes.

Saki is the pen name of British author Hector Hugh Munro.  I could not get over that this story was written in 1912, as it was timeless and darkly amusing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAMONES-“Pet Sematary” (1977).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

Ramones are the least punk punk band ever.  Sure they are essential to the history of American punk, but they were basically playing fast rock n roll songs. They were awesome sure, but compared to the viciousness of British punk, Ramones were just guys in leather jackets singing harmonies.

By the time they released “Pet Sematary” in 1989 they were more of a pop metal band.  This song is stupidly catchy.

It’s got a complex (for them) opening guitar riff and quickly moves into power chords.

The chorus (with all kinds of backing vocals) is one of the poppiest things around.  If it weren’t for the lyrics

I don’t want to be buried in a pet cemetery
I don’t want to live my life again

it could easily be a radio friendly pop hit (and I think it was anyhow).

This song actually works very well for Halloween, even if it isn’t particularly scary, because of the lyrics.

Under the arc of a weather stain boards
Ancient goblins, and warlords
Come out the ground, not making a sound
The smell of death is all around

The moon is full, the air is still
All of the sudden I feel a chill.

I never realized that the song was literally about the book/movie.  I knew it was for the movie but the lyrics reference Victor the main character, which I never knew).

I suppose if you were a fan of the first four Ramones album and then never heard another song until this one, you might find it frightening how far they’d traveled from their origins.

[READ: October 22, 2019] “A Defense of Werewolves”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This story was first published in 1948 and wow, did I dislike this.   The first time I read it.

It’s pretty short so I read it twice.  This story is written like a treatise.  It is high language and rousing, I guess.  But honestly it really has nothing to do with werewolves and is actually more about the fantasy genre and keeping it safe from “the querulous, muttering voices of the plain.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #901 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE-DREAM-Tiny Desk Concert #885 (August 30, 2019).

I had never heard of The-Dream and couldn’t imagine why the name was hyphenated.  Turns out The-Dream is an R&B singer with a kind of gentle falsetto (not too high, but higher than expected).  The blurb says: “The-Dream delivered his lyrics with that signature high-pitched whisper, just shy of a falsetto..”

He’s also written hits

for the likes of Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”).

and apparently he is a big deal.

R&B hasn’t sounded the same since The-Dream changed the game. Maybe growing up off Bankhead on Atlanta’s west side gifted him with a hip-hop swag native to the soil. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that he preceded the current era of melodic, sing-songy rappers who disregard traditional lyricism for raw, heart-rending delivery.

All three songs here are about getting into the bedroom as one might guess from the title of his album: Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3.

The first song “Bedroom” (calling all bodies to the bedroom) is soft and steamy.  It’s also got some humor

All ladies read before 11
So you got all day to get your mother-n’ nails done
I know you soak that thing ’round 7
And it’s already 4, go get your mother-n’ hair done
Ooh, you look so sexy
Come and bless me

[I found out later that these lyrics are cleaned up for Tiny Desk].

There’s gentle horns from DeAndre Shaifer and Theljon Allen (trumpet) and Elijah Jamal Balbed (saxophone) and a smooth bass line from Justin Raines.

He is also amusing at the end of the song:

“It’s kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out,” The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR.

“Back In Love” has more simple echoing synths (from Carlos McKinney) and spare drums (from Larone “Skeeter” McMillian) and with some clever rhyming:

I miss that body in the hallway
I used to meet that body in the foyer
If you were right here, we’d have to skip the foreplay

and

I was mad at you, you was mad at me
C’est la vie, arrivederci
Still, all I loved was you

“I Luv Your Girl” is a less of a sexy song and more of a stealing-your-shawtie kind of song.

I hate the adenoidal “ahhhhh.” that apparently indicate sex, but the lyrics are pretty funny nonetheless.  Actually in looking at the actual lyrics I see that he has really made himself more PG-13 than X-Rated on these songs.

And she runnin’ Fingers through her hair, tryin ta call her over there but she like, Na Na Na Na!
She drop it down to the floor, I’m sayin shorty you should go, and she like Na Na Na Na!

Those na na’s are an amusingly safe version of the actual lyrics.  And after listening to the actual song, I found even the original to be kind of funny-while he’s stealing your woman.

As with a lot of R&B I prefer the Tiny Desk version because it’s much less produced.  Of course I still don’t know why there’s a hyphen in his name.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

This is a dark story (very Joyce Carol Oates) about the environment and how you can no longer flee to the country to get away from pollution–or worse.

It begins enigmatically with

“This matter of the mask for instance.”

Luce sometimes wears the mask–a half mask, green gauze mask–but never outside of the home.  She wore it any time the wind “smelled funny,” “smelled wrong.”  Especially from the industrial cities to the South.

She removes it if Andrew comes home. When he sees her he claims she is “catastrophizing” (Is that even a word?). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #892 (September 20, 2019).

It used to be that no one was invited back to play a Tiny Desk Concert.  The rules have been relaxed somewhat as of late (I would have thought that maybe they’d wait until 1000 shows).

The blurb explains why they (she) was invited back though.

Luz Elena Mendoza has such a far-reaching creative spirit that it’s almost impossible to confine her to a single musical identity. Which is why she’s one of just a handful of artists who’ve been invited back to the Tiny Desk to offer a revised musical vision.

Y La Bamba was on back in 2011 and they played a more acoustic style of music–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  For this show, lead Bamba, Luz Elena Mendoza looks quite different.  In 2011, her hair was black and long, here it is silver and short–the neck tattoo is the same, though.

When she was here last with the band Y La Bamba, it was a vocal-heavy, folk outfit. The band’s sound has always been about vocals and her music has become even more so over the years.

Back in May, Y La Bamba played Non-Comm and Mendoza was pretty confrontational.  She is less so here, allowing the music to speak for her.

And the music is quite different.  It’s almost all in Spanish this time.  There’s a second guitarist (Ryan Oxford), a bass (Zachary Teran), and a drummer (Miguel Jimenez-Cruz).  She also has two backing singers, Julia Mendiolea who also plays keyboard and Isabeau Waia’u Walker.

I knew that Y La Bamba was the project of Mendoza, but i didn’t realize she did everything herself:

Y La Bamba’s albums are meticulously crafted sonic treats with her vocals layered like a choir made with a single voice. But in our offices, she called on vocalist Isabeau Waia’u Walker to replicate their distinct sound.

There’s a great variety of styles in this Tiny Desk.

“Paloma Negra” (“Black Pigeon”) [also played at Non-Comm] benefits from the voices of the entire band in a high-energy mediation on rhythm and voice.

It’s got a groovy, funky bassline and some cool echoing guitars.  There’s a tension in the verses that is totally relieved in the super catchy chorus.

This song segues into “Rios Sueltos” which is a kind of rap–but sung.  It’s bouncy and catchy but I sense is probably not a happy song, despite the catchy “hey ey ey heys” in the middle.

The song ends with a rumbling from Mendoza’s guitar as she starts up “Bruja de Brujas” [also played at Non-Comm].

There is a bruja energy and spirit to their performance, and not in the negative connotation that is the Spanish word for “witch.” In Luz Elena Mendoza’s hands a brujeria spirit is all about conjuring the kind of magic that took place on this video.

The song opens with a cool bass line and a somewhat menacing feel.  It starts quietly, but when all three vocalists sing together it’s really lovely.

At the end of the song she sinks to the ground to play with her effects as the song fades out with trippy sounds.   She jokes, “And aliens came down.:

Then she realizes, “we forgot to do one more.  Sorry the aliens did come down… and took my brain.”

The final song is the fantastic “Cuatro Crazy” [also played at Non-Comm].  It is sweet and pretty and has echoing guitars and a vocal style not unlike a Cocteau Twins song.  It even ends with a lot of “dah dah dah dahs.”

I really enjoy their music quite a lot and should really look into their stuff more.

[READ: October 6, 2019] “Abandoning a Cat”

This essay is, indeed, about abandoning a cat.  The cat story has a happy ending (although another one might not).  But mostly the essay is about how mundane events trigger memories of our parents.

He says that when he was little, his family had an older cat and they needed to get rid of it.  “Getting rid of cats back then was a common occurrence, not something that anyone would criticize you for.  The idea of neutering cats never crossed anyone’s mind.”

His father took the bike and he sat on the back with the cat in a box.  They rode to the beach about 2 km from their house, put the box down, and headed back.

When they returned home, they opened the door and there was the cat “greeting us with a friendly meow, its tail standing tall.”  His father’s expression of blank amazement “changed to one of admiration and, finally, to an expression of relief.  And the cat went back to being out pet.” (more…)

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