Archive for the ‘Eric Chenaux’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JENNIFER CASTLE-Live at Massey Hall (November 23, 2017).

I didn’t think I knew Jennifer Castle, but I see that she has appeared as a guest singer on a whole bunch of records by artists that I know: Eric Chenaux, Bry Webb, Constantines and Fucked Up.

She has an unusual voice–soaring, delicate and whispery with a slight warble and yet you know she could belt out if she wanted to.

She starts the show saying Toronto has incredible beautiful old buildings and its rare these days to go inside one.  Inside Massey Hall it’s lit up to be another member of the band and to be part of the show.

I found the music to be incredibly spare–too spare in fact.  It is primarily piano and her vocals (with backing singers), but the piano (Jonathan Adjemian) is not a primary instrument, it is simply playing chords for her to sing over.  The sparseness was a little disconcerting.  But the backing vocalists (Victoria Cheeong and Isla Craig) are stellar–they really add a lot to the music and their voices soar in their own right.

But I think that sparseness allows her lyrics to really come through.  “Like a Gun” has the lyric “he was lik e gun [hah, from lovely backing vocalists] he was always going off.”

“Nature” has even better lyrics

Despite all my feelings of life parallel
Nature is happening without my goodwill
I called my friend up and she said it still
Happens to you even when you are ill

and ends with this interesting conceit

I lift my skirt for the economy

“Texas” is played on guitar with a very catchy “hoo hoo hoo hoo” clap-along.

I go down to Texas
To kiss my grandmother goodbye
She forgets things
But when I look her in the eye
I see my father
And he’s been gone so very long
In the name of time travel
Help him to hear to my little song

Jennifer plays electric guitar on “Truth is the Freshest Fruit” which changes the whole dynamic of her songs.  She plays guitar with piano accompaniment on “Sailing Away.”

She is the first person to mention the renovations Massey Hall is currently undergoing:

I know that Massey is going to go through a great big change but it feels good to play while the history is still on the paint.

The final song is absolutely wonderful.  She says she wrote “Please Take Me (I’m Broken)” because she knew they were coming to Massey and it celebrates the school of Greek mythology

The backing vocalists sing a verse by themselves and they sound great.  I love the chorus

Please take me cause something don’t seem right; something don’t compute.  I don’t belong here.
Please take me I’m broken;  I’ve woken up and I should be dreaming.
Please take me back to those other realms they seem much kinder on a dreamer like me.
I’ve always looked up to those ancient Greek stories.
I love the thrill of the scale; I like the the roll of the chorus.

A thoughtful and unique performer.

[READ: July 17, 2018] “Now More Than Ever”

I  feel like Zadie Smith’s recent stories have been exploring a new style for her, a more “in the present” kind of vibe.  This story has meta-elements and is very much an of the moment piece.  It seems to address current hot button issues and her own inability to fully wrap her head around them.

It begins: “There is an urge to be good. To be seen to be good. To be seen.  Also to be.”

This is what she told Mary.  She also told Mary that no one is called Marty these days.  “Could you get the hell out of here?”  So Mary left.  Then Scout came by–a great improvement.

Scout is active and alert on all platforms. She;s usually no later than the 300th person to see something.  The narrator was “the ten million two hundred and sixth person to see that thing.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

shadowSOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Skullsplitter [CST112] (2015).

chenAn album named Skullsplitter sounds like it should be really heavy and loud.  But if you know Chenaux, you know that that’s not his thing at all.  So what wins?

The traditional Chenaux wins.  At times light and beautiful and at times wobbly and disorienting, Skullsplitter sounds like many other Chenaux releases.  And you either like him or you don’t. His slow songs, vibratoed guitar and really delicate voice either win you or not.

“Have I Lost My Eyes?” has one of the most wobbly guitars I can thing of (even for him).  The slow electric guitar solo is pretty much perpetually played with wah-wah bar in motion.  After 90 second of this, Chenaux’s delicate tenor voice comes in and sings a melody that is not exactly suited to the music, but which doesn’t sound off, either.  Classic Chenaux.

Alternating with the vocal pieces are instrumentals.  Chenaux plays a lot of ringing and delicate solos and overdubs them.  And the instrumentation is pretty varied: Voice, electric guitar, un-amplified electric guitar, nylon-string guitar, speakers, melodica and electronics.  “The Pouget” is roughly two minutes long.  “My Romance” has a kind of warbling guitar solo over some mellotron.  “The Henri Favourite” is another 2 minute slow piece with a slow guitar solo played over some keyboards.  The last instrumental is quite different.  “La Vieux Favori” changes the tone with a bowed sound (although you can see there’s no violin listed–he must be bowing the guitar).  It doesn’t have the same smoothness as the other songs, although it is certainly interesting, especially near the end when it is just that bowed instrument with no accompaniment.

“Skullsplitter” is, as I said, a mellow song just like the others.  His voice is relaxing and calming and the music is also mellow with waves of keys.  I’ve never really tried to figures out the words to any of his songs before–he sings so slowly it’s kind of hard to follow the thoughts.  But the lyrics to this song are the cover art.  And seeing them printed, I still don’t know what they mean.

“Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming” is the most friendly song of the bunch–music and vocals meld perfectly, and Chenaux’s guitar sounds beautiful.  The 8-minute “Poor Time” has a jazzy feel as it unfurls slowly.  It intersperses his vocals with a delicate but wildly-wah-wahed solo.  The final track, “Summer & Time” ends the disc with some pretty acoustic guitars and Chenuaux’s delicately soaring voice.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Lighter Than My Shadow

I was looking on the shelves in the library for some books and I saw this book on the shelf next to them. I loved the title, Lighter Than My Shadow and when I pulled it off the shelf, I really liked the drawing style that Green employs.

I genuinely had no idea that this book was going to be about woman suffering from body issues and anorexia.  It all seems obvious, but i didn’t look that closely at first.  Such a topic could be really hard to read about, but I was also really surprised and delighted at how good the book was.

She covers her mental state in all capacities.  And she really demonstrates the way her body rebelled against herself.  In fact, this was the most compelling and complete look at anorexia that I have ever seen.

There is something about the way her drawings style–simple figures and even simpler backgrounds work perfectly in this story.  She is able to show herself getting thinner without resorting to shocking illustrations (well, there are one or two mildly shocking ones).  The most effective part of the book is the black scribble that hovers around her representing her interior self. (more…)

Read Full Post »

scarletSOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Guitar & Voice [CST088] (2012).

chenauxThis album is indeed just guitar & voice.  Chenaux is a performer who grows on me.  His music is incredibly slow and drawn out.  And I often find that his vocal melodies don’t always have much to do with the guitar parts he plays.  It feels like everything is improv.  And it’s unsettling at first.  As is the fact that half the songs are pretty ethereal songs with words and the other half is wild and chaotic guitar solos, in which the guitars sound like anything but guitars.

But when you actually listen to the lyrics (which aren’t always easy to follow, he sings them so languidly) they’re quite lovely.  Like, “With the clouds in the sky and the bags under my eyes I wrote your name a thousand times with an old flashlight last night.”  But the more notable thing is the guitar work.  In “Amazing Backgrounds,” he plays a simple, plucked acoustic guitar but the solo is a crazy electric guitar that is played backwards and sounds completely from outer space.  “Dull Lights (White or Grey)” is another beautiful piece with overdubbed guitars playing some great low bass sections while the other guitar plays pretty, high notes (an a cool wah wahed section too).

“Put in Music” sounds the most traditional–the vocal melody is pretty straightforward and his vocal actually has weight (it’s usually up in the ether somewhere).  And I think it works very well as a grounding for the album.  Although the guitar solo sounds like he’s playing more with the tuning pegs rather than bending the strings–it’s cool and disconcerting at the same time.  “However Wildly We Dream” is a very jazzy feeling song–upbeat finger plucking.  It’s the most conventional song and it really packs a wallop (a gentle, airy wallop but a wallop nonetheless).

The second track “Simple/Frontal” is an instrumental.  I assume it is all guitar but it sounds like slightly discordant violins playing against each other.  “Sliabh Aughty” is a nearly nine minute solo that sounds reversed and is a wild meandering piece (played over a constant drone).  It has an Irish feel, which makes sense as the Slieve Aughty (Irish: Sliabh Eachtaí) are a mountain range in the western part of Ireland.  “Le Nouveau Favori” is a short instrumental–two minutes with what sounds again like a bowed violin/drone.  And how can one not enjoy a piece called “Genitalia Domestique” another 2 minute droney instrumental. Chenaux definitely plays with sounds that don’t quite go together, often making an eerie collection of tunes.  Especially when they are compared against the pretty acoustic of the songs with words.

The final track is “Glitzing for Stephen Parkinson” and it continues with that weird bagpipe/organ drone that he pulls out of his guitar (I’d love to see him perform this stuff live–although how would he do the overdubs?)

The stuff takes a  few listens to get used to, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but the sounds he gets out of a guitar is truly amazing.

[READ: February 16, 2013] A Study in Scarlet

I mentioned recently that we have been watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes items.  So it seemed appropriate to read some of his stories as well.  I brought home a collection of the short stories not realizing that there were two novels written before the stories.  Sarah read the stories, but I held out for the debut novel.

The show Sherlock laid an amazing ground work for the books because the show (despite being set over 125 years after the books) is quite faithful to the stories.  Indeed, the way that Holmes and Watson meet is pretty much straight out of the book.  And, also indeed, the first episode took much of the story form this first book.  There were some very key changes to the story, ones that made the show very very different in the end, but the foundation is certainly there.  Interestingly, the way the murder is performed in the book (which we learn very very late in the story) proves to be the same methodology used in a different episode of Sherlock.  Two episodes from one book!

So in this book Watson opens it by giving a little backstory about himself and his quest to find cheap lodging in London (he’s back from the war in Afghanistan–a fascinating coincidence in terms of timeliness of wars) and he has blown through a lot of his stipend.  A mutual friend introduces Watson to Holmes and they agree to live together   I was a little concerned about the pace of the book at first, as it seemed like Watson was going to go into a lot about himself–but he doesn’t.  It’s a brief chapter that gets all the details out of the way.

Then we meet Holmes.  He explains his own eccentricities and how he is a consulting detective (Watson wondered why these people kept appearing and asking Hiolmes questions about who knew what).  And then finally we (the reader and Watson) are invited into a case.  A man was found murdered in a house.  There were no stab wounds, although there was blood.  The only other evidence was a word scratched in blood on the wall: Rache.

If you saw Sherlock this will sound familiar (except that the victim was a woman).  It deviates quite a bit from here (Rache is used in a very different way from the show, which I really liked), but Holmes recognizes the tobacco and is able to deduce a ton of things just from the surroundings.  He doesn’t tell the police right away, for fear that if the criminal knows the police know about him, he will flee).  And as the first half of the book draws to a close, the murderer is apprehended.

Imagine my surprise though when the next chapter opens up in the American Southwest.  All of a sudden the story has shifted utterly to a man and a girl trudging through the mountains,  lacking food and water and clearly near death   What?   (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Warm Weather with Ryan Driver [CST068] (2010).

I just checked my review of Chenaux’s previous album and it’s funny how similar it is to what I figured I’d write about this one: soporific, free-form, sweet, hard to get into at first but ultimately rewarding.  Chenaux must be the most mellow person ever.  His songs just sort of drift around without any real theme to guide them.  Sometimes the chord changes even seem arbitrary.  And Chenaux’s voice is so slow and gentle that it’s not always clear he’s even singing along with the music.  But the thing about all of this is that it sounds very pretty (so he must know what he’s doing).

It’s not even worth me doing any kind of song by song evaluation because they are all pretty much the same–slow guitar with occasional keyboards and backing vocals.  I find the disc maddening at times and yet at other times I find it achingly beautiful.  My favorite song, the one with the most compelling melody to me, is “Mynah Bird.”  I suppose it’s the most “obvious” song, very Nick Drake-like, but it’s a great way into this record.

The Ryan Driver of the title is a piano/synth/melodica player who contributes all of the accents to the record.

There are times when I adore this album.  In the right frame of mind, this is simply a gorgeous record.  But in the wrong frame of mind, this is just slow plodding dullsville.  Choose wisely–and you will be rewarded.

[READ: January 4, 2012] “Final Dispositions”

This is another story recommended to me by Karen Carlson (see all of her recommendations in the comments to this post).  Of this one she writes: “from her linked-story collection This Road Will Take Us Closer To the Moon, available online in The Sun, Feb. 2009. A little sentimental, but well done. Try it with S&G’s “Bookends” or Janis Ian’s “Hymn [as a soundtrack].”

I loved the way this story was set up.  It opens with a woman, Margaret, who seems off somehow: “I am the oldest sibling.  Always have been.  I thought the years might mute the effect of that, but nothing so far.”  Her siblings are deciding “what to do with her.”  And after they have their confab, they call her up and ask her questions based on what they decided.

Initially you feel angry on her part, that her family is so dismissive of her.  But it soon becomes clear that they feel she needs help.  Interestingly, since the story is from Margaret’s point of view and she is lucid, it’s hard to know exactly what is wrong with her.  She talks of depressive things and speaks very deadpan but then wonders why no one has a sense of humor.

There’s not a lot of plot in the story, but there’s an initial “subplot” point when Margaret’s sister (“Irene–I mean, Eileen…. I like it that I can never keep her name straight”–[I love this joke/telling remark.  It is such a smart encapsulation of a person who is forgetful but still with it]) sends her husband over to pick Margaret up.  Tom, her brother-in-law, was previously married and the beginning of the story focuses on that a bit–on Margaret’s prying into Tom’s past presumably to needle Eileen.  The narrator soon finds out Tom’s ex-wife’s name and plans a surprise for her sister. (more…)

Read Full Post »

coprseSOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Sloppy Ground [CST052] (2008).


It took several listens before I fully enjoyed this disc.  There’s something about Chenaux’s voice that is very calming, almost soporific.  And, since his general songwriting style is kind of ambient and almost formless–with no real choruses or even rhythms, the disc tends to get lost in the ether.  There’s also some unusual instrumentation (electric harp & guitarjo (!)) too, which continues the otherworldly feel of the disc.

What really hooked me into the disc though was the three “funk marches” that distinguish themselves from the rest of the disc.  “Have I Lost My Eyes” comes in like a raging gust of fresh air after the first three drifting tracks.  It’s got a strong melody and raw drums that propel this fantastic track.  “Boon Harp” & “Old Peculiar” have a similar strong vibe.  And they are really the anchors of this disc.

The rest of the album isn’t bad, I just find it hard to listen to in one lengthy sitting.  The opening three songs tend to drift a round a little too much.  But one at a time, these songs are pretty cool.

[READ: Last Week of September 2009] The Fifth Column & The Flexicon

These two pieces were part of the list of uncollected David Foster Wallace publications.  The difference with thee two pieces is that he plays a small role along with several other authors.  Both of these pieces are sort of a exquisite corpse idea. Although unlike a true exquisite corpse, (in which the author sees only a little of the end of the previous author’s work) it’s pretty clear that the authors had access to the entire work.  The quotes in bold are from The Howling Fantods.

For a delightful exquisite corpse piece that I authored see the untitled comic strip on my website.  About ten years ago I started an exquisite corpse comic strip and sent it to a number of people who all had a lot of fun continuing the story.  I have finally put it online at paulswalls.com/comic.  (See, artists, I told you I’d do something with the cartoons some day!) (more…)

Read Full Post »