Archive for the ‘Steampunk’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TOOL-“Some Days It’s Dark” (2007).

I recently learned that Tool performed this cover of a song from The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy live.

In the movie Bruce McCullough’s character Grivo’s band Death Lurks plays this very heavy song (written by Craig Northey and performed by Odds).  Lyrically it’s amusingly Dark

Some days it’s dark
Some days I work
I work alone
I walk aloooooooone.

Tool is considered to be one of the most intense metal bands out there with fans taking them very Seriously.  So the fact that they covered this song (in Toronto) is fantastic.

The cover is great (of course).  They get the sound of the original right on, especially when the big heavy part kicks in.  The only problem I would say is Maynard’s delivery.  It’s a little too deadpan,  I’d like it to be a but more over the top.  But maybe that wouldn’t be Maynard’s way.

You can hear it (no video) here.

There’s no word on if they also played “Happiness Pie.”

[READ: January 27, 2020] Extra Credit

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.  Whereas Early Registration was a good collection of early material, this collection is a bit more haphazard.

It collects some Christmas specials and some early “comic strips” from Allison.  Given this seeming completest nature of this collection, I can’t imagine that there’s another volume planned.

The first story is called “What Would Have Happened if Esther, Daisy and Susan Hadn’t Become Friends (and it was Christmas).”  It’s the 2016 Holiday issue drawn by Lissa Treiman.

We zoom in on DAY-ZEE on “the edge of the boundless sweep of space” as she zooms in one the title question.  [It’s important to read Early Registration first as this story references that story].

Esther didn’t help Daisy move in on that first day.  Esther was immediately grabbed by the popular girls.  They are sitting under a tree playing music on their phones which wakes up Susan who curses them out. (more…)

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steamiiSOUNDTRACK: MOON HOOCH-“Bari 3” (2014).

bari3Man, I love Moon Hooch–that loud crazy baritone sax and the other skronky sax.  But there’s also the great drumming.  And, in this song, there’s so many stops and starts, it’s amazing they can do so much with just 2 different types of instrument.

Just how many different things can one band do with two saxophones and a drummer?  Well, in the case of Moon Hooch, the answer seems to be limitless.  This song jumps and twists–it has a heavy loud section and a smooth groovy section, it even has a loud thunderous section.  Between Colin Stetson and Moon Hooch, the saxophone is definitely cool again.

And why not watch Moon Hooch play this song at a scenic rest stop on a Pennsylvania highway:

[READ: June 10, 2014] “Balfour and Meriwether in The Adventure of the Emperor’s Vengeance”

After having read the other two Balfour and Meriwether stories, it seemed only natural to track down the first of the stories.  And it happened to be collected in this Steampunk anthology.  I didn’t read anything else in the anthology even though I like steampunk, mostly because I didn’t have time.

This story opens, as the others do with Balfour and Meriwether sitting at home by the fire.  Then Lord Carmichael bursts in with news.  This means Balfour and Meriwhether know it is time to save Queen and country.

In this case, the crisis involves Napoleon and some old plundered Egyptian goods.  This proves to be a similar premise as Tales from the Clockwork Empire and I have no idea if Napoleon’s plundering of Egyptian artifacts led to any clockwork machinery for real or not–I may have to look that up.  But this story ups the ante by having a Jewish conspiracy as well.

The British museum has several Egyptian artifacts (taken from Napoleon’s army), but it is believed that Napoleon’s men included false items with the loot in order to discredit anyone who thinks that all of the items are real.  One such falsity was believed to be a sarcophagus.  Lord Abington (the anti-Semite) wants that sarcophagus opened while no one else around.  But when he opened it the others in the next room heard a scream, a thud and then silence.  Meriwther and Balfour speculate about what was in there–perhaps it was plague and the whole museum may need to be razed.  This freaks out Lord Carmichael, naturally. (more…)

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bm-cover-sm-225x300SOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Dull Lights [CST043] (2006).

dullI’ve talked about other Eric Chenaux discs before, and this one is similar to those–very mellow with Chenaux’s gentle voice running through some melodies.  The instruments include electric guitar, 12 string banjo, lap steel guitar, harmonica, electric banjo, portable sample keyboard and drums.

It’s never always clear to me what he’s signing about because his words are stretched out quite long and I’m often very distracted by the music that is accompanying the songs.

The first song “Skullsplitter” is in no way what you might be expecting from a song with that title.  There are cymbals, but no real drums, there’s a scratchy sound like a violin (although none are listed in the credits so perhaps it is samples) and what sounds like randomly plucked notes on a muted banjo.   The martial drums on track 2, “Worm and Gear” really help to coalesce the elements of this song  so you can really appreciate what Chenaux is doing here.  “I Can See It Now” has a woozy almost drunken feeling.  Chenaux has such a pretty voice that you want to lean in but the music seems so unusual.

Later in the disc, “Memories Are No Treasure” is catchy with a nice vocal melody, showing that Chenaux can write a more conventional song.  “White Dwarf White Sea” has a banjo line that has always reminded me of lines from “God Bless America”–in the middle of the riff, the banjo seems to play “from the mountains to the prairie.”   “Ronnie-May” has a very catchy county melody.  A pretty wild (genuinely wild) guitar solo, breathes crazy life into the record.  “However Wildly We Dream” concludes the record with that same kind of drunken feel (the drums are just insane).

I definitely didn’t enjoy this one as much as his other discs

[READ: April 7, 2014] Balfour and Meriwether in The Vampire of Kabul

This is a short story that I discovered because I enjoyed the (written later but not impacting this story in any way) novella that came out this year.

Abraham has written three stories about these two turn of the 20th century “detectives.”  They are like a supernatural Holmes & Watson (with a tad more violence).  In this story, which, again, is completely independent of the others, Meriwether & Balfour are sitting at home on a December night in 188- bored out of their minds.

Just as Meriwether says he wishes that something would break their malaise a ninja comes crashing through their giant window.  In a trice she has a gun at Balfour’s head. Meriwether is helpless to assist.  But they both recognize who it is almost immediately–Maria Feodorovan, the czarina of Russia and sworn enemy of Meriwether & Balfour.  As the dust clears, we learn what Maria is here for–she is daring to ask for help from our duo.

It appears that the Czar has gone mad.  But not from natural causes–someone or something attacked him.  There was “an ectoplasmic darkness” in the corners of the room and while he has recovered somewhat, it seems that his mind is no longer his own.  And, she explains based on overheard knowledge that the Queen of England is next.  As she says this, the police rush in to say that The Queen has been attacked. (more…)

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clockworkSOUNDTRACK: FEU THÉRÈSE-Ça Va Cogner [CST049] (2007).

feu2Bands change sounds from one album to another all the time, but few as radically as this one. From weirdo psychedelic band to French new wave pop band, from 6 minute instrumentals to 2 and 3 minute songs with vocals.

At times the album feels like Kraftwerk meets Serge Gainsbourg (which I know is an unfair reduction, but when your singer mostly talk/sings in a deep French voice, the comparison is apt.  And yet the album is fairly poppy and catchy as well.

“A Nos Amours” opens the disc with three minutes of synth happiness. It even has a section where the music drops out and the bass resumes its place.  Recall in their debut that at 4 minutes of each song something radically different happened.  Now the songs just end. “Visage Sous Nylon” features the more Kraftwerk sound—but it’s an almost organic Kraftwerk (which I know makes no sense but there it is). “Les Deserts des Azurs” has a kind of Tangerine Dream feel with washes of analog synths.

“Le Bruit du Pollen La Nuit” has a weird kind of synthy 70 s rock feel but the music almost drops out entirely (but not quite) while the vocals (in French) are spoken. It feels like it’s mocking and serious at the same time.  It’s also got a discoey chorus singing “You’re just a just a just a pretty boy!”

“Nada” has a synthy almost disco feel.  “Ça Va Cogner” is just over 5 minutes long and consists of various delicate swells of synths.  I kept waiting to hear The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” burst forth from the waves, until about half way in when it turns into a simple delicate melody and a children’s chorus. “Les Enfants” is a simple ditty with hummed lyrics.  It’s poppy and catchy as anything

“Ferrari en Feu Pt. 2” is a fast synth songs with slap bass. (Part 1 was on the debut and sounded nothing like this).  “La Nuit Est un Femme” is a slow synth track with a female backing vocals over a sung male lead. The end of the song adds some loud textures to this otherwise sweet song bringing in some really interesting tensions.  The disc ends with “Laisse Briller Tes Yeux Dans le Soleil,” a synthy instrumental that ends with cheesy charm.

This album is really wonderful–surprisingly catchy and dancey and yet exotic enough to not sound like anything else that (most) people are familiar with.  All of the Constellation albums are streaming on their site, but this one is especially worth checking out.

[READ: April 15, 2014] Tales from the Clockwork Empire Book 1

I was very intrigued by this book because of the steampunk nature and because I have a strange fascination with clockwork ideas–a technology that is precise and interesting yet which never really took off beyond clocks and small toys because other technologies were more powerful

I thought that the cover was kind of interesting with this gigantic metal head holding ball.  But on closer look the man in the ball was very poorly computer rendered and that should have been a tip off.  For all of the people in the book have this same unfinished-rendered look.  It looks a lot like storyboards of unfinished versions of Pixar films.  I mean, really cheesy and really unfinished and really unsettling. This is especially noticeable on the rendering of Napoleon Bonaparte in the “end credits” of the book.

I hate to harp on the graphics, but this is a graphic novel after all.  All of the non human elements looks fine, many look even better than fine, bordering on photo realistic.  But the humans all seem ugh, creepy and stiff and just dropped on top of these scenes.  It is terribly distracting and may even make the dialogue feel stiffer than it actually is.  Because the dialogue felt very stiff and mechanical as well.

It is the kind of story that seems historically accurate in the details and works very hard to let you know that it is accurate.  Indeed, in the end of the book Duerden goes to great lengths to show the accuracies in the writing.  But there’s so little flow in the dialogue that it seems like a lecture.  Basically the entire book feels like, not a first draft, but like the draft before the final draft.  Like the book is going to go back to have a final polish to make the dialogue breezier and make the pictures look better.

This is all a shame since I haven;t eve talked about the story yet. (more…)

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balfourSOUNDTRACK: SLINT-Spiderland (Remastered) (1991/2014).

slint2Slint is an overlooked band except by those who think they are really super important.  Slint played what would eventually be called post-rock before people called it that–they had spoken vocals and dark guitar, loud and quiet riffs and intense building sections (and on this album no songs under 5 minutes).  Some riffs were super catchy, indeed, many of the songs on Spiderland have super catchy sections, and yet there is something that resists you casually getting into them (probably those spoken lyrics).

I’ll even say that I tend to forget about them.  They get lumped in with other Steve Albini produced bands (Albini produced their first album, but not Spiderland, and since Albini’s band was Shellac, they are even close in the alphabet), but they don’t really sound like Albini’s output.  They’re much warmer and, dare I say ,emotional–the screamed vocals are incredibly passionate.  Plus, they only released one album before they broke up (this one was after the breakup), so their legacy is bigger than their output.

So I’m thrilled about this reissue if only so that it will give them a wider audience. And you can hear the entire two hour spectacle before it come out at NPR.

At the same time I didn’t notice a huge difference in the production.  It sounded great, but then I haven’t listened to it in a while so it’s hard to compare.  The deluxe package is a behemoth: the box comes with the album, outtakes and demos on 180 gram vinyl and on CD. It also includes a 104-page book with never-before-seen photos, lyrics, and a foreword by Will Oldham and Breadcrumb Trail, a 90-minute documentary about the making of Spiderland with interviews with the band, James Murphy, Steve Albini, David Yow, Ian MacKaye, Matt Sweeney and others.  Since it retails at about $150, I won’t be buying that.

slintI did listen to the whole thing and again was reminded of how great the album is.  The bonus material is, well, a little disappointing.  You get three more early versions of “Nosferatu Man,” one of which is an instrumental.  Two demo versions of “Washer” and “Good Morning, Captain” (one is an instrumental kind of goof).  There’s three versions of a song called “Pam” which didn’t make Spiderland, so that’s interesting.  Then there’s another outtake called “Glenn” and two post Spiderland songs called “Todd’s Song” and “Brian’s Song.”  They’re all good, but are in various stages of construction.

Perhaps the most interesting bonus track is the live (from Chicago 1989) version of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer.”  But I have to admit that vocally, they just can’t handle it.  The music sounds good, but the singer just never seems to be in tune, but nor is he talking it either.  It was a little disappointing (especially compared to Built to Spill’s live cover).

So if you are a die hard fan of this unheralded band, this is a worthy addition (especially for the book and movie).  Otherwise, enjoy the original, it’s a great album.

[READ: April 7, 2014] Balfour and Meriwether in The Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs

I was immediately attracted to the cover of this novella–two men in bowler hats and button down shirts wielding weapons in front of a spooky background.  What’s not to like?  Especially when the book is tiny (80 pages).  I grabbed it and brought it home to read.

That’s when I learned that Balfour and Meriwether appear in other books and that this was “the first novella-length work” about the pair.  Did that mean that there was a lengthy series and this is the first short piece about them?  Indeed, no.  There are two other stories about them which are both shorter (these first two stories have been collected in one book).  And according to Abraham, he has no plans to write more, but that doesn’t mean he won’t.

So this is a fun and surreal adventure story set in England in the 1880s.  It is taken from Meriwether’s Diary (written in 1920).  Meriwether acknowledges that God the Creator has made many beautiful things but He has also made some abominations that walk the Earth.

And that leads us into this story of subterranean creatures and British political dealings with them. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 2013] Warbound

warboundI loved Book I and Book II of The Grimnoir Chronicles immensely. The first was an amazing introduction to this new world and the second upped the scale and intensity to an amazing level (nearly destroying Washington D.C.).

And since the beginning of Book II picked up shortly after the events of Book II, it seemed pretty safe to assume that we would be heading into the giant conflict that was predicted at the end of Book II–fighting the creature that was coming to kill The Power.  For real context, read the other two reviews first (I mean, really), but for simple context, a sizable minority of the population has the gift of Magic.  This gift comes from The Power and it allows people to do all kinds of things–bend gravity, transport from one place to another, talk through animals, fade into walls, etc.

It has only been recently, through the work of our heroes, that people understood just how people got the power.  It came from The Power, a creature that gave humans magic and then fed off of them when they died.  It was a symbiotic relationship.  But of course people who did not have Power hated those with Power.  Even though the people with Power often use their power for good, there were of course people who didn’t.  Consequently all people with The Power were scapegoated.  This is all laid on a backdrop of alternate reality 1930s America, where the Nipponese are ascending and offer a very credible threat–especially since their Magicals are organized and brutal. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: July 27, 2013] Spellboundspellbound

I enjoyed Book I of The Grimnoir Chronicles immensely.  I wasn’t really sure what Correia could do to top it.  There’s the inevitable dread for sequels that everything has to be bigger bigger bigger with the cost to the heart of the story.  (That’s more true in movies, but books can suffer as well).

And indeed, Correia does go bigger, but he loses nothing.  Indeed, the higher stakes make this story all the more exciting without sacrificing the characters in any way.

As the story opens, we learn that it is a few months after the events of Book I.  The Grimnoir are dispersed somewhat, with things falling into a somewhat logical place.  Francis Stuyvesant is the head of United Blimp.  Faye and Francis are more or less dating and Heinrich is more or less his bodyguard. The other team members are up to assorted states of resting and recuperating.  And Jake Sullivan is lying low.

But no matter how low he thinks he is lying, he’s still very big.  And he is soon found by a woman named Hammer.  Of course, at first the story maintains the trappings of noir, with Hammer being a (beautiful) woman in distress.  Surprisingly, she is in distress at the library and she asks Jake for help (he is there studying magic and, well, lying low).  He tells her to ask the librarian.  But later when he is leaving, he sees her being robbed by some thugs.  He goes to rescue her (and easy job for a big guy like him), and Hammer uses her power to determine that he is indeed Heavy Jake Sullivan.  And he can still do what he can do.

Hammer wrangles him into a government facility where he accepts a phone call from the dead Chairman.  This whole section is lovingly described and far too cool to try to summarize.  So let’s just say that Alexander Graham Bell created a phone that could talk to the dead–but only if they wanted to talk to us.  The Chairman found the phone and, of all people, he wanted to speak to Jake.  (I’m skipping so much stuff here that it hurts me, but I don’t want to spoil the story or the humor). (more…)

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