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Archive for the ‘Esquire’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TRENT REZNOR & ATTICUS ROSS-“John Carpenter’s Halloween” (2017).

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 didn’t actually know this version of the Halloween theme song and I was pretty excited to be super creeped out.

It turns out that this version is decidedly less creepy than the original.  But then again, nothing can outdo the starkness of that original piano score.

This version takes a while to get going (about 45 seconds of buildup) before a little keyboard riff that sounds a lot like the “spooky” riff in The Brady Bunch in Hawaii episode pops up.  Then some original piano comes in along with building synths and what sounds like distorted voices growling in the background.  This lasts until almost 2 minutes.  And I have to say it’s creepier than the actual familiar melody.

When the plinking piano comes in, it’s a little muted and the synth chords are louder.  As the song progresses you can hear–whispered voices (?), distorted rumblings (?) a choir from hell (?).  It’s that background soundscape that is seriously creepy.

Around five minutes, the music drops out and there’s just echoing, clacking sounds and possibly breathing.  Yeah, that’s nicely spooky.

Then the main melody returns.  It builds and turns into a rock song–with a drumbeat and everything.  But it being a song is a lot less creepy than the original solo piano playing in the middle of a an abandoned asylum.

Don’t get me wrong, this has some serious creep appeal, but the original wins hands down.

[READ: October 24, 2019] “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats”

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.

Even Patton Oswalt agrees that many people might not finish (or even start) this story.  I had the misfortune of reading it during breakfast.

James Tiptree Jr. was the pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (her real name was not revealed until 1977! (she died in 1987).

As I was reading it, I had no idea this story was so old.  It seemed like a current take on animal rights and animal welfare.  Although I did think the conditions in the lab were worse than I believe they actually are now (but what do I know?) (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 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) and slowed down dramatically.  There’s also 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.

I feel foolish that I didn’t “get” this story right away.  When I see that it was originally published in The Ultimate Frankenstein, I guess the Blank Frank name would have been a bit more obviously Frankenstein’s monster.  I did figure it out before the end, but on a second read it was much clearer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JEALOUS OF THE BIRDS-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

I heard the band name Jealous of the Birds and I instantly formed an opinion of what they sounded like.

And this recording couldn’t be much further from what I imagined.

I assumed they would be bird-like and they are not at all.  This set rocks, it switches genres, it covers a lot of grown, but nothing at all bird-like.

Many artists live by the philosophy of creating the music that they want to exist in the world, but few do it in such a striking way as Jealous of the Birds. Northern Irish songwriter Naomi Hamilton has been making music under the moniker for a few years now, but each song we hear from Jealous of the Birds feels like a fresh new discovery — and anyone who was hearing the band for the first time today undoubtedly felt like they were experiencing something special.

Folks who attended last year’s NonCOMM music meeting may remember hearing a glimpse of the arresting single “Plastic Skeletons.” The song, which is not quite like anything else and not immediately accessible, is congruous with Hamilton breaking out of her local music scene in Northern Ireland and carving out an indescribable genre of her own. Since then, Jealous of the Birds has gone on to release two new EPs, The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep and Wisdom Teeth, which show the depth and range of Hamilton’s songwriting ability.

Driven by her love of language, Hamilton’s lyrics are intricate and poetic; musically, you can detect influences from Irish folk to psychedelic rock.

With her slicked back hair and laid-back demeanor, Hamilton makes it look easy, but her songs aren’t necessarily easy to listen to — hearing them once will only make you want to listen again and again to try to understand what the artist is getting at.

The first four songs are from their 2016 album Parma Violets.

Powder Junkie is a stomping, stop and start kind of song.  It’s bluesy but stops abruptly after just 2 and a half minutes.  It’s a great introduction to the band.  As is “Trouble in Bohemia,” a slower song with a folk feel. It showcases the softer side of the band, and is also quite short.

“Russian Doll” introduces a much more poppy sound to the band.  The chords are simple, but the highlight the clever lyrics

I took your compliments
I just struggled to believe
That I was worth loving
And you weren’t lying through your teeth
In truth, I’m a Russian doll
My egos shut inside
I painted them by hand
And I’ll never let them die

“Parma Violets” is slower and more acoustic-sounding.  It’s a ballad and a sad one a that:

Oh please
Don’t you swallow
Pills like parma violets
Again

I had to look up to discover that Parma Violets are a British violet-flavoured tablet confectionery manufactured by the Derbyshire company Swizzels Matlow.

The next two songs come from 2019’s Wisdom Teeth EP.  I like them both.  “Marrow” is a folk song, but “Blue Eyes” is a wonderfully weird rocking song.  It feels off-kilter with some unexpected lead guitar riffs at the end of each verse and some funky bass parts.

The final song, “Plastic Skeletons” comes from 2018’s The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.  It’s got a cool bass with some nifty guitar line to start the track.  The chorus is kind of staccato and lurching and quite a lot of fun.

These last two songs were my favorite of the set, and I’m glad to see they are the most recent songs. I like the direction they’re going.

[READ: May 15, 2019] “Peep Hall” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the previous one by him (written about 19 years apart) on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who necessarily don’t deserve it.

The narrator of this story, Hart Simpson, likes his privacy.  His phone is unlisted and the gate on his driveway locks behinds him.  When he sits on his porch, the neighbors can’t see him.  He works as a bartender at the local pub and is quite a visible person, but when it’s time off, he wants to be alone.  I mean, sure he hooks up once in a while, but otherwise he’s alone.

One afternoon, a woman came up his driveway.  She had been talking to his next-door neighbor (not his favorite person) in some kind of heated argument.  Then she came over to his porch. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÚNÍUS MEYVANT-NONCOMM 2019 Free at Noon (May 15, 2019).

Júníus Meyvant is the stage name of Icelandic singer Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson.  His band is a soulful Iceland six-piece with outstanding musicianship.

The set started off strong with “High Alert.”  A cool bassline and organ propel the song forward with accents from trumpet and Sigurmundsson’s soulful voice.

The second song, “Holidays” is much slower as it starts with a wavering keyboard and groovy bassline.  It’s just as soulful though–possibly more so, with nice horn accompaniments.

“Across the Borders” showcased a psychedelic-jam side of Júníus Meyvant, as well as the pianist’s skills.  After some powerful trumpet, the song settles down into a slow groove.  Midway through, the drummer plays a cool little fill and the band launches into a fast keyboard-filled jamming romp.

“Love Child” is a sweet, smooth love song with gentle horns guiding the melody.

“Ain’t Gonna Let You Drown” had a rich, gospel sound to it, it’s his new single. He slowed down the tempo for their last song “Thoughts of My Religion,” a personal ballad with a catchy chorus.

It’s a lovely set which you can listen to here (for some reasons Night Two’s shows are much much quieter on the player).

[READ: May 15, 2019] “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” 

I have read many many stories by Boyle and I like him quite a lot.  I like that he writes about so many different topics from so many different perspectives.  He is even unafraid to be sympathetic to people who don’t seem to deserve it.

It was somewhat unfortunate that I read this story and the next one by him (written about 19 years apart) by him on the same day because they were both rather creepy and voyeuristic and sympathetic to people who really don’t deserve it.

This story is about a woman who chooses to take a three day train ride rather than a three hour plane ride to Dallas.   It wasn’t long after the school shootings.  The shootings had happened at her daughter’s school although the daughter was unharmed.  This had nothing to do with her choice of taking the train, exactly, but she felt it would afford her some down time.

At morning breakfast she was seated across from a young man–Eric–about her daughter’s age.  They had a pleasant light conversation–first about state capitals and “sexy” cities  and the dangers of Splenda “its made from nuclear waste.”  He soon revealed that he went to the same school as her daughter  And just to complicate things.  He knew the shooter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A-Hi-Fi Serious (2002).

Many bands are hard to search for online.  A may have topped the roster of most unsearchable bands (they were named in 1993 way before Google was even a thought and when they would be at the front of record store racks).  A are also the alphabetically first CD I own.  So my collection literally goes from A to Z

A are a band from Suffolk England.   They formed in 1993, broke up in 2005 and have been sort of reuniting off and on every since.

Their second album A vs. Monkey Kong was well received and this, their third album had a solid single in “Nothing.”  I’m not sure how I heard of them (probably well reviewed in Q magazine back in 2002) so I grabbed this album.  This album comes with a Quicktime video!  When I learned about this band back in 2002, scads of information were not available about them.  So as I was looking them up I learned all kinds of things about them (like that they cite Rush as an influence).  And that this album name comes from the name of the hi-fi electronics store Alan Partridge buys a stereo from in the last episode of I’m Alan Partridge series 1.

This album is pretty punky/grungy.  Lead singer Jason Perry has a distinctive voice with some good power.

There are all kinds of hit-making elements in here.  Big crunching guitars coupled with soaring vocals dominate most of the songs, like “Nothing” and “Pacific Ocean.”   “The Distance” also revels in the grunge punk guitar sound with a totally metal guitar solo

Songs like “Something’s Going On” have a distinctly pop-punk bratty sound.  So does “Starbucks” with the line: “don’t wanna get a job at Starbucks”  The title track also works in this snarky, funny, catchy vein.

“Six O’Clock” mixes some cool electronics in the verses while the chorus is, once again, big and catchy.  “Going Down” has a much smoother sound with anything distinctive coming from his vocal delivery.

“Took It Away” does the quiet/loud verse thing very well.  Some deliberate glitching is a fun surprise too.  While “The Springs” introduces acoustic guitar and lots of oohs–a real flick-your-lighters kind of song.  “W.D.Y.C.A.I.” is also catchy with a sing along (woah oh) bridge and a super poppy chorus.

“Shut Yer Face” sounds like the quintessential grunge song–snarky lyrics, big grungy guitars, and a soaring chorus.  It even has vulgarish lyrics, record scratching and other samples!  And man is it catchy.  If this didn’t crack the States for them, nothing would.

[READ: April 15, 2019] “Djinn”

I was shocked to see that Esquire had published a story by Russell Banks in both March and June of 2000.  I was also shocked to see that a man gets shot in this one as well (that’s four of the first five stories in Esquire in 2000 in which someone is shot).

This is a story of a man who works in Hopewell, New Jersey.  They manufacture and sell women’s and children’s high end rubberized sandals.  The sandals were manufactured in Gbandeh, the second-largest city in the Democratic Republic of Katonga, a recently desocialized West African nation.

One of his jobs was to travel to Gbandeh and make the acquaintance of the local managers with hopes of facilitating communication.  And of course to make sure the Katongans could adapt the the fast paced technology in place. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAPEMAN-“Steak and Black Onions” (1988).

Rapeman was a project by Steve Albini named after a Japanese graphic novel character.  They put out one LP and one EP and were protested everywhere they went.

I wasn’t intending to use this song for this story.  As I was finishing this post I read that Carlson was accused of the sexual assault of a minor.  I didn’t want to associate the musician I initially had on this post (who I loved) with this asshat.

So, I am tying him to Rapeman.

Whether the band name is inherently good or bad is not the point.  I wanted something appropriate for the author.  If only the song had been called “T-Bone Steak and Potatoes.”

But then there’s the music, which is really good.  This song, as with most things Albini plays on, is full of sharp, piercing guitar stabs and ricocheting feedback.

The lyrics are pure meat-eating aggro:

Why don’t you snuff it, then?
You plant-eating pussy

Well I know that you wanna tell me what I’m…
What I’m eating, ah yeah
Shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Shut your mouth
I know what I want and I don’t like onions

And yet it’s surprisingly catchy–catchier than his work with say Big Black, anyway.

It is hard to listen to a band called Rapeman, which is a shame since the sounds that Albini generates are so extraordinary.

[READ: April 16, 2019] “At the Jim Bridger” 

I was reluctant to read this story because the title is so puzzling.  And then, as I read it, I was reluctant to finish it because I assumed i knew where it was going and didn’t want to read a story about homophobia.  But I read it all and it surprised me.

The man is named Donner (which seems too easy) he and a woman (not his wife, as the story keeps pointing out) have just pulled into the parking lot of the Jim Bridger Lodge.  He’d been talking about a steak and a cocktail at the Jim Bridger for days.  He talked a lot–more than anyone she’d ever met.  And his stories seemed so poetic.

He had taken the woman on his annual week long hike in the woods.  There was much talk and much sex and he had left beers in the river for when they returned and they were the best she’d ever had. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARY CLARK JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #841 (April 16, 2019).

WXPN has been playing “Pearl Cadillac” by Gary Clark Jr. and I quite liked it.  I knew of Gary as a blues guitarist.  But I didn’t really listen to too much by him–I don’t love blues music, generally.  But Gary adds a rocking and Prince-like atmosphere to his blues which elevates his music for me.

But “Pink Cadillac” is unlike the other two songs because he sings in a delicate falsetto (like Prince) whereas the other songs he sings quite gruffly.

The first song, “What About Us” surprised me.  First because he sang with such a deep voice (with a wonderful falsetto at the end) but also because I knew that Gary was supposed to be a great guitar player, but it was Eric Zapata who was playing all the slide guitar parts. The whole band builds the song nicely for the chorus.  They keys flesh things out nicely.

The middle has a cool funky part with great washes of keys and a funky bass sound from Johnny Bradley.

When the song ends, he says, “It’s a little bit warmer than I thought it would be.  But I feel sexy in this jacket so I’m gonna sweat thought it.  This is my life, people.”

Gary Clark Jr. had good reason to sweat. The blues-rock singer and guitarist opted to play his first-ever Tiny Desk concert — in front of a huge crowd that warmed the room considerably — while clad in a thick knit cap and heavy jacket.

I had heard that this new album, This Land, was quite political but he left the albums

more politically incendiary material for louder live shows.  Clark’s set leaned toward some of This Land‘s softer sentiments — “When I’m Gone” is about missing his family on the road, while “Pearl Cadillac” exudes gratitude for his mother’s sacrifices —

He dedicates “When I’m Gone” to his son.

He’d brought his young son on tour with him and had to contend with a traditional parenting dilemma: How do you bring your kid to the office and still get work done?

He says I’m trying to do the dad thing and brig them out here.  I’m tired, people.

“When I’m Gone” sounds like a traditional love song from the fifties with that simple bass line and stabs of guitar.  And it is a love song, only to his son, not a woman.  Clark’s gruff voice works perfectly.  Zapata plays the guitar licks between the first two verses.

He says “Pearl Cadillac” was written for his mother… who I’m gonna ask to babysit for me next time…  damn…”

Jon Deas starts on keys with simple snare and hi-hat from Johnny Radelat.  Gary gets to show off his guitar chops here.  I love the slightly distorted, slightly retro sound of his guitar as he plays all the licks throughout the song.  This song has a total Prince vibe and it works perfectly.

He sings the whole song in his gorgeous falsetto

I remember when I left home in that pearl Cadillac
I was searching for some kinda way to pay you back
For your love, your love, your love

He even handles a guitar solo flub with the ease of a parent who is overworked–a little grunt and then start again.

[READ: April 11, 2019] “The Wish”

One of the reasons I didn’t want to consider reading a lot of Esquire-published short stories is because I assumed they’d all be something like this one.

Full of death and misery and whatnot.  I mean the story starts “Kamon Gilbert woke up on the morning of the last day of his life at 6:19.”

Now, in fairness, this story isn’t about a manly man shot down in a blaze of glory.  Rather, it is a look at racism and violence and how a man’s life can change in an instant (a couple of times).  And as such it is a powerful and affecting story.  It’s still really dark though.

Kamon Gilbert is a black boy in high school school.  He is very smart and very successful.  He does well in his classes and has been selected as the lead in many of the school plays.

But none of the other kids like him: (more…)

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