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Archive for the ‘Fairy Tales’ Category

   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOMBINO-Tiny Desk Concert #301 (September 7, 2013).

So who or what is Bombino you, like me, are probably asking.  Well:

Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a Tuareg guitarist, born in Niger.  There’s something alluring and charming about Bombino, whose childlike face belies his fierce, hypnotic guitar playing. The familiarity in his music stems from the blues, a common thread between American music and Africa for obvious reasons. Bombino grew up on the music of Jimi Hendrix, whose sound keeps getting sent back and forth from America to Africa and back again.

Bombino plays three songs.  They’re all pretty lengthy with a lot of guitar playing.  But none are instrumental.  However, I certainly have no idea what he’s singing.  In addition to Bombino, there; a rhythm guitarist, a bassist and two drummers–one playing a djembe I believe and one playing that drum that you thump with your fist–I can’t find the name of it.

  • “Tamiditine” has a Western sounding melody
  • “Her Tenere” opens with a lengthy guitar solo–and o course his guitar has that distinctive tinny guitar sound  This one is really catchy.  I assume he is singing real words, but it just sounds like “deh deh deh.”
  • “Imuhar” feels a bit more Nigerian, than Western–it’s interesting to hear the distinction in scales there.  Overall this has a long jamming quality to it.

Before listening to the Tiny Desk Concerts, I’d never listened to music like this and I’m grateful for the exposure to it.

[READ: January 24, 2017 ] Snow White

Matt Phelan continues to make great graphic novels.  This one is an adaptation of Snow White.  I assumed it would be a fairly straightforward telling of the fairy tale, but Phelan changes the setting of the story and makes the whole thing far more “real,” which is a neat trick.

Phelan has moved the setting of the story from the forest to the glamour of 1920s Manhattan.  It is just before the Depression and the city is hopping!  Bright lights, (for a black and white book anyway), dancing and money everywhere.

And amid this, a young girl is born.  Samantha White is a few years old in 1918.  As she runs through central park her mother calls to her: Samantha…Snow!  The girl responds to this name, but as she turns around, her mother cough up blood into a handkerchief (virtually the only color in the book). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-Tiny Desk Concert #279 (June 10, 2013).

I rather like The National and yet I haven’t spent much time really listening to them.  This Tiny Desk Concert really shows them off well.  It is extremely winning and enjoyable.

I enjoyed this part of the introduction:

we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.

Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments.  It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song.  This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part.  The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together.  It’s a wonderfully full song.

“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars.  They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here.  This song is a bit more mellow.  In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.

The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals.  But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone).  And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.

Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.

Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore.  The blurb notes that the band:

even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.

Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk.  Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.

Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.

The full band sings and it sounds terrific.  I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic.  And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”

The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.

[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers

Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers.  And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.

The story opens with a bright white city in the distance.  In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses.  And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze.  And in this Maze live the poor.  Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze.  And then there’s a man with a beard.  The man finds a baby in an alley.  The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.

The scene jumps to eleven years later.  The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden.  He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him.  People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees. (more…)

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 socks kronosSOUNDTRACK: KRONOS QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #322 (November 25, 2013).

2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet.  I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.”  And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.

I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).

Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).

They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky.  In other words, typical Kronos.

For more info:

The musicians —  David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.

Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.

“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”

I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members.  There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest.  The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads.  But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques.  In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.

Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes.  The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and  half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.

“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola.  “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.”  It is slow and moody and beautiful.

Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.

“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”

There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound.  While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together.  In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.

I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.

[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks

I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books.  And this just adds another layer of confusion.  This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007.  The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well.   But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.

The book also leaves some of the strips out.  It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip.  Weird.

So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).

I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.

And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)

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castle SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Waiting Room (2016).

tinderstIt had been four years since the previous Tindersticks album.  And this one was not released on Constellation Records, but rather on Lucky Dog.  Whether or not that had anything to do with the sound of this record I don’t know, but I really like this album a lot.

“Follow Me” is a slow broody melancholy instrumental with a high accordion playing a lovely melody.  It’s completely evocative.  “Second Chance Man” has a kind of unsettling vibrato on Staples’ voice.  But the melody (sparsely played initially on keyboards) is really catchy.  The rest of the band fleshes out the sound after a verse and chorus.  I love that it builds in the middle and then again at the end with horns lifting the gloom off the song.  “Were We Once Lovers” has a thumping bass line and an uptempo feel as Staples’ sings in a kind of falsetto.  I love the way all of the parts form together in the chorus that’s introduced by a simple but effective guitar: “How can I care if it’s the caring that’s killing me.”

“Help Yourself” opens with some soulful horn blasts and Staples’ whispered vocals.  The bass keeps the song going as occasional horn blasts accent this strangely catchy song.  Staples also sings in an uncharacteristically angsty style in this song, which is strangely unsettling as well.  I love the way the song keeps circling round and then almost surprising the chorus when it comes back.

Whenever Tindersticks use a female guest vocalist, they really seem to step up their game.  “Hey Lucinda” is an incredibly catchy song, starting with simple bells and an accordion playing a great melody.   When Staples’ deep voice is balanced by the exotic voice of Lhasa, it makes for a great pairing.  It’s unusual for a catchy song to be so spare, but the simple accordion accents really hold the song together before it takes off near the end.

“This fear of Emptiness” is another gentle instrumental with bass and acoustic guitar accompanied by accordion sections (sometimes dissonant near the end).  “How He Entered” is another spare song with mostly bass and keys and an occasionally scratching sound as an ascent.  But it’s still a very catchy melody.

“The Waiting Room” has that same echo on his voice as he slowly sings over a keyboard melody.  His anguished singing of “don’t let me suffer” totally makes the song.  “Planting Holes” is a short delicate instrumental with a sweet but melancholy keyboard riff running through it.

Perhaps the most dynamic song on the disc is “We Are Dreamers!”  It’s the angriest song I can think of from Tindersticks, with rumbling keyboards and tribal beats as Staples sings bursts of vocals.  But it’s when Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth adds her voice that the song turns really aggressive.  They sing the chorus “This is not us/ We are dreamers!”  And as Beth takes over the chorus, shifting pitch and intensity, Staples is commenting including lines like “You can rob us/ You can trick us/ Peer over our shoulders and steal our ideas”

The final song is “Like Only Lovers Can.”  The delicate and pretty keyboards belie the sadness in the lyrics: “We can only hurt each other the way lovers can.”  The quiet keyboards end the disc.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Castle Waiting Volume 2

I loved Castle Waiting.   And I couldn’t wait to read Volume II.

And I loved it even more.  Linda Medley is such an engaging storyteller.  Her characters feel utterly real and funny and charming.  I could read more and more and more from her.  Which is why I am so bummed that the series ends here (with rumors that she is doing more).

This volume is a bit more playful.  The characters are well-established and settling into their lives at the castle.

As in the previous volume, there are a lot of flashbacks to Jain’s childhood.

But there’s also a lot of wonderfully meandering stories in the present. The man who looks like a horse (literally) has injured his hoof, so he is hobbling around and is not as useful as he might be (and is cranky about it).

But the main story centers around the arrival of two dwarves, I mean hammerlings–only racists would say dwarves.  They are the relatives of Henry, the quiet blacksmith (who is actually human, but was adopted by the dwarves).  Henry is super excited to see them (as excited as his monosyllabic grunts allow him to be).  Actually, we finally learn why he is so standoffish and quiet most of the time.

They are here for a very specific an(and embarrassing) purpose.  They need women’s clothes for the human who works with them back home.

Their presence enlivens everyone in the Castle. They are fun and interesting–enjoying hard work and being very playful. It is with their help that the Castle dwellers do some remodeling, find a booby trap and even learn how to play nine pin bowling.  The older women who still live in the castle take some bets about who will win–with much merriment.  I love that there a whole chapter about them bowling.

There’s a subplot about Jain’s son Pindar being a leshie–a species we learn a bit about, although we also learn that they are extinct.  This plot line is never concluded properly, though.

We also finally learn about Doctor and his crazy mask (it was a sort of gas mask for the plague).  They are all worried about his sanity, especially when he starts walking around wishing everyone a happy Yule (the Christmas stocking subplot is outstanding).

Speaking of Jain, she has decided to move into the Castle (where there is indeed a ghost).  But her kindness appeases the ghost somewhat.  Especially when she teaches Simon to read (I love the scene where he learns to read and then sits at the table reading instead of eating–just like in my house).

There’s a hilarious thread about a very stubborn goat (whom Simon can outsmart).  And a multi-chapter thread about Sister trying to get a cross for Jain’s room.  We finally get to the bottom of the house sprites (they are adorable when we finally find out what they want).  Finishhtory!  Finit!  Reetoomee.

I am so attached to these characters, that I need to hear more about them.

As in the previous book,Medley’s art is simply gorgeous.  She does realism like no one I know and her characters have an awesome blend of realism and hyper-realism that makes them so enjoyable to look at (and unbelievably detailed as well).

There have been a number of graphic novels that I have gotten completely attached to, but none like this.  It was so bittersweet to finish this, knowing there’d be no more–but holding out hope for a surprise some day.

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castlewaitingSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Something Rain [CST086] (2012).

tinders This was Tindertsicks third and final full length album for Constellation.  It has some noisy elements–especially the distorted guitar–that feel different from their other releases.  Although overall I find the album a bit too slow and drawn out.

The first song on this disc, “Chocolate” is quite unlike other songs by the band.  It is a 9 minute slow song with a spoken word story delivered by by keyboard player David Boulter.  The music sets a nice tone for this story of living in a squalid bedsit and heading into town.  As the song picks up momentum, the guitar lines and the rest of the band add more atmosphere.  In the story, he goes to the bar to play some pool and picks up a woman–a regular.  By six minutes, the whole band, including horns is playing and the song is louder and more noisy while the story continues.  For the final two and a half minutes the band drops out and the denouement reveals a secret.  It’s a cool story, well delivered.

“Show Me Everything” opens with some slow bass and a buzzy electric guitar as the backing voice sings “show me…”  And, after ten minutes on the disc, we finally hear Stuart Staples’ iconic voice sounding deep and whiskery as lawyers.  I love the songs with the female backing vocals like this one.  “This Fire of Autumn” is a faster song with a throbbing bass line and catchy chorus (with more backing vocalists).  The addition of the vibes makes this a great Tindersticks song.

“A Night so Still” slows things down almost to whisper with the gentle keyboard riff under Staples’ languid delivery.  “Slippin’ Shoes” is a bit more upbeat and the horns come in right at the front of the song.  I love the way the bridge seems almost sinister and slick before resolving into a bright chorus.  “Medicine” is another slow song with multiple layers of guitars and slow horns and strings.

“Frozen” opens with slow horns that sounds like feedback, almost.  When the fast bassline and almost discoey drums come in, it’s kind of surprise, but a nice pick me up from the previous slower songs.  Staples is singing quickly over himself–the echoes of his voices catching up to his new lines. And the scratchy guitars and jazzy horns make a nice moody soundtrack of him pleading “If I could just hold you, hold you.”

“Come Inside” is  7 minute song with a simple keyboard riff that floats over the slow beat.  There’s a long slow jazzy outro–too long frankly.  The final song is the 2 minute “Goodbye Joe.”  Its all tinkling bells and a shuffling bass, a pleasant instrumental to end the disc.

While Tindertsicks albums tend to be kind of slow, this one has a few too many extended slow parts and not enough of Staples’ magical crooning or the more dramatic sounds that the band does so well.  I’m not sure why their next album was not put out by Constellation, ether.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Castle Waiting 1

I have been aware of Castle Waiting for a long time.  I believe I have even picked up an individual book at the comic book shop (of course I never read it because I wanted to start from the beginning).

So this book collects Chapters 1-19 (plus an epilogue).

I was instantly hooked by Medley’s outstanding drawings–so believable and realistic while exaggerated enough to make them all unique characters.  Not to mention the fact that there are humans and human hybrid creatures (and no one bats an eye).  And then top it off with the incredibly creative first chapter.

The story opens with a king and queen having a baby.  Actually they couldn’t have a baby so they employed a local witch for assistance.  The nice witch gives them good advice but when the town’s evil witch hears of this betrayal she plans to curse the baby.  And thus on the girls’ fifteenth birthday, the evil witch says she will prick her finger on a needle and die.  This should sound vaguely familiar to fans of fairy tales   But Medley puts a twist on things immediately by removing all needles form the castle and hiring a creature named Rumpelstiltskin to do all of their work off site.  Rumpelstiltskin has been cut in half and stitched together so when the creature asks for the Queen’s child in payment, the King yells at him and says he knows what kind of trouble that leads to.

The good witch is able to deflect the curse somewhat to make her sleep for 100 years (that should also sound familiar) rather than dying.  So, when the girl’s fifteenth birthday arrives, the bad witch comes and brings a needle to set the plan in motion.  The princess falls asleep–the whole castle falls asleep and, in a neat twist, the bad witch is killed.

And then Medley has a ton of fun with the story.  When the prince comes to wake up the princess, they run off an get married.  And there’s a hilarious multiple paneled spread of the rest of the castle sanding there, mouths agape.  As the scene ends, we see three older women telling a man with a bird’s head that that all happened along long time ago.  And the castle has been a refuge ever since. (more…)

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