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Archive for the ‘Trains’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-University of Calgary (September 5, 1992).

This set is also them opening for Barenaked Ladies, just following the release of Whale Music.  It comes four months after the previous show online and I love that the set is almost entirely different.

It opens with a slightly cut off “PROD.”  I can’t believe they’d open with that.  AS they pummel along, the song pauses and the band starts whispering “what are they gonna do?  I don’t know.”  Then they romp on.

Bidini says they have three records out.  The first you can’t get, the second is called Melville and this is “Record Body Count.”

They’d been playing “Soul Glue” for a long time, this one sounds full and confident.  Then they introduce “King of the Past,” as “a song about looking for Louis Reil’s grave site. You know who he is, right?  Canada’s first and foremost anarchist.”  It’s a gorgeous version.

When it’s over they announce “Timothy W. Vesely has picked up the accordion!”  (Earlier Dave said that anyone who could guess Tim’s middle name would in a free T-shirt). They play a fun if silly version of “Whats Going On.”

“Legal Age Life” is a fun folky romp.  They get very goofy at the end with everyone making funny sounds and then Clark shouting “everyone grunt like a seal.”  Bidini asks “Is Preston Manning in the audience tonight?”  Clark: “No fuckin way.”  Near the end of the song they throw in the fine line “Eagleson ripped off Bobby Orr!”

Martin almost seems to sneak in “Triangles on the Wall.”  This is a more upbeat and echoey version than the other live shows have.  The end rocks out with some big drums.

As they preapre the final song, Bidini says, “We’re going to play one more song and then we are going to leave like sprites into the woods.”  He asks if anyone knows “Horses” and if they wanna “sing Holy Mackinaws with us?”  But they need more than 1–we need at least 3.  The three “imposters” are named Skippy and His Gang of Fine Pert Gentlemen.  They are told to behave until the chorus or “I’ll get Steve Page to sic ya.”

Then, back to the audience he says, “This is a song about Peter Pocklington and what a fucking asshole he is.”  [Pocklington is perhaps best known as the owner of the Oilers and as the man who traded the rights to hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings].  The fans aren’t very vocal during the shouting, but the band sounds fanasttsic.  Just a raging set.  It segues into a blistering version of “Rock Death America.”

Not saying that they upstaged BNL at all, but that would be a hard opener to follow.

[READ: January 17, 2017] “The Quiet Car”

This is the story of a writer who had been granted a temporary teaching job at a prestigious University.  I don’t exactly know Oates’ history with Princeton, so I don’t know if she was ever in the same position as the character of this story, but I was secretly pleased when she mentioned the Institute of Advanced Study, so that it was obvious that the prestigious University was indeed Princeton.

But the story starts many years after he has left the University.  R— is standing on a train platform.  The story begins with this excellent observation: “nowhere are we so exposed, so vulnerable, as on an elevated platform at a suburban train depot.”

While R– is standing on the platform waiting for the train to New York City he notices that someone is unmistakably looking at him.  He has been recognized before–there’s a small subset of the population who really likes his books. And, in what is a wonderful detail that tells you a lot about this man: “if the stranger is reasonably attractive, whether female or male, of some possible interest to R—, he may smile and acknowledge the recognition.”

This detail proves important because as he gets on the train he begins to think about the stranger–he believes he recognized her face. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DESSA-Tiny Desk Concert #325 (December 9, 2013).

I had never heard of Dessa before.  Evidently she is a rapper, singer, poet and songwriter and is part of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree.  As versatile as she is, Dessa faced down a string of challenges in getting to the Tiny Desk. Near the tail-end of a tour — during which thousands of dollars’ worth of her band’s gear was stolen — her voice started to give out as she battled a bad cold. (Keep an eye out for her expression of relief at the completion of “The Man I Knew” in this set.) And, of course, Dessa and her band had to come up with ways to perform three songs from Parts of Speech in such a way that the drums and guitars wouldn’t drown out the unamplified voices of herself and singer Aby Wolf.

I wouldn’t have known she was sick at all, as her voice is pretty powerful.  She raps the first song, “Fighting Fish” (I love that it references Zeno’s Arrow)  I like the grooves of the music and the simple guitar licks.   But it sounds amazing when Wolf starts singing.  Wolf has a great voice.  For the second verse, Dessa speaks more than raps—if only they could both make better use of the mic.

For the second song, “The Man I Knew,” the two sing a duet quite lovely.  And I like the way they each seem to highlight the end of each others’ lines with a harmony note.  I can’t help but think that Aby steals the how a bit.  The guitar and bass have simple but delightful riffs.  And the middle part with the counterpoint is very cool

I like the guitar sounds of “The Lamb,” and Dessa’s voice is great on this one.

Her lyrics are somewhat aggressive but really spot on: “You’ve got a way with words / you got away with murder” and “They can sew your hands together but they can’t make you pray.”

I am curious to see what her full band sounds like because this stripped down version is really good.

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Vladivostock Station”

This story opened my eyes to something I was unaware of.  The narrator’s father was a Korean refugee from the second world war. After the war his father settled in Russia and had children with a local woman.  Evidently this was quite common, although I’d never heard this before.  So the narrator is half-Korean with a Russian name.  I’s never heard of such a thing.

But that’s not the point of the story at all.  Rather, it is the story about Misha and his old friend Kostya.  They have known each other for ages.  Kostya worked at Misha’s father’s hotel for many years, but the two lost touch.  In the meantime, Misha had become an employee of the railroad –he repaired the insides of older trains. (more…)

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80SOUNDTRACK: LAWRENCE BROWNLEE-Tiny Desk Concert #308 (October 5, 2013).

Sometimes it makes sense tome when I don’t know a Tiny Desk Concert performer.  Lawrence Brownlee is an opera singer and therefore way outside of my comfort zone.  So what do we know about Brownlee?

These days, Lawrence Brownlee spends most of his time on the stages of the world’s great opera houses. That’s where you’ll find him singing Rossini and Donizetti. His supple, strong, high-flying voice can negotiate the tightest hairpin turns with grace and elegance; that, and his ability to command the stage as an actor, has won Brownlee the praise of critics worldwide.

But as much as he excels at opera, there’s a special place in Brownlee’s heart for African-American spirituals. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Brownlee sang gospel music in church, and now he’s returning to that tradition by releasing a new album, Spiritual Sketches — and singing selections from it here in the NPR Music offices.

Brownlee bases much of his operatic success on his sturdy church-music grounding. “I would say that the flexibility I have with my voice is in large part because I sang gospel in church,” Brownlee told NPR in 2007. “It’s a lot of improvisational singing with a lot of riffs or runs.”

The spirituals might be well-known, but through Brownlee’s voice, they shine in new, occasionally jazz-inflected arrangements by Damien Sneed. “There Is a Balm in Gilead” floats in a newly contemplative mood with the addition of a few blue notes and chromatic touches, while the spunky piano line Justina Lee plays in “Come By Here” seems inspired by great stride players like James P. Johnson.

But the heart and soul of this concert is “All Night, All Day,” a performance that swells with a potent combination of tenderness and operatic horsepower. The song speaks of a protective band of angels — angels that Brownlee told the audience are watching over his 3-year-old son Caleb, who’s just been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.

“It’s called ‘All Night, All Day,’ but I’ve renamed it ‘Caleb’s Song,'” Brownlee says. The soulful vocalisms with which Brownlee closes the song are gorgeous and tinged with anguish.

I don’t have much more to add–that was a thorough blurb.  His voice is indeed amazing.  But equally surprising is how gentle his speaking voice is–if you heard him speak before singing, you’d be leaning in to hear him talk and then he would blow you away with his singing voice.

A couple things about the pianist: He tells us that this was the first time that Justina Lee had seen the music for these songs (she plays it wonderfully).  But also that the piano sounds rather flat and spare compared to the fullness of his voice.  Was this a microphone problem?  It was just kind of strange.

But otherwise, this was a beautiful set.

[READ: August 20 2016] Around the World in 80 Days

I have never read Around the World in 80 Days.  I really enjoy Verne’s stories, I’ve just never read the novels.  So when I saw this adaptation, it seemed like an interesting place to start.

I don’t know how complicated the original story is but this adaptation makes the story seem fairly simple (except for the intentional complications, of course).

So the play starts with an introduction to Phileas Fogg–an insanely punctual man. We watch him do the same routine three days in a row.  Each day he leaves his house, plays whist (wins) and then returns home. On the third day, however, he has to fire his valet because the tea is not at the required 97 degrees.

He still goes to play whist of course but he is stopped by a man named Passepartout who wishes to be his new valet.  Passepartout has worked for exhausting/questionable people in past and he is looking forward to working for someone as calm and regular as Fogg. (more…)

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varmintsSOUNDTRACK: HANGEDUP & TONY CONRAD-Transit of Venus [091] (2016).

conradHangedUp & Tony Conrad have the third of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set. From the Constellation site: Transit Of Venus documents this fertile collaboration and includes some enormous slabs of drone rock alongside more decomposed pieces and gorgeously gritty string duos.  [[The performers] recently plunged back into the archives and started shaping an album from the various 2-track and live-mixed [improvisations and] multi-track source material.

“Flying Fast n Furious” has clattering percussion and squeaky violins.  There’s some fast drumming and violin playing in the middle with a great wobbly low bass around.   About 4 minutes in the sounds are almost otherworldly/underwatery.  “Transit Of Venus” has the return of that low wobbly bass—big round fat bass notes that just seem to linger as the drums clatter away.  The sawing violin is a little less interesting than I’d like, however.  “Principles” features a buzzy violin that scratches over the interesting drum pattern.  After a minute or so some strange sounds percolate under the drone.  The sounds are mechanical, organic, (balloons?) digital—unclear.  It’s 8 minutes long and there’s a few moments when the big bass notes come in that are very cool.  In the last minute or so a new violin solo comes out of the din but it doesn’t alter the tone of the song all that much

“Bright Arc Of Light” is 4 minutes of slow bowed and plucked violins.  It’s quite minimal.  “Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer ” is 11 minutes long and it starts with multi layered violins.  It sounds a bit like The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” and after 2 minute the slow drums come in.  Once the drums enter, the song stays mostly the same—sawing violins and a steady drums with some other occasional percussion.  It’s very droney.  Around 6 minutes things change slightly and the song becomes more insistent.  It continues like this for most of the rest of the song and then ends with some solo violins.  The final track is “Panorama From Maxwell Montes” which opens with some dissonant scratchy violins.  The drums come in and start playing an intersection complex rhythm making this a good album closer.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: November 1, 2016] Varmints

I really enjoyed the drawing style in this book.  The main characters were cute and cartoony and yet the backgrounds were reasonably realistic looking.  It really conveyed the setting (the old west, I guess) effectively.

However, I had a huge problem with the story.  The book felt like it was part 2, but to the best of my knowledge it isn’t.  There just seemed to be huge gaps in the story that were never filled in.  Not to mention, this is supposed to be a children’s story, but we find out (very late in the story) that the childrens’ mother was killed in cold blood–more or less on a whim.  It’s a shocking piece of violence which I suppose little kids can handle but, woah, what the hell, dude?

The story begins with Opie and Ned in a saloon.  They are young kids, Opie is Ned’s older sister–a joke is made about Opie being a weird name for a girl, but sadly, nothing more comes of that.  Opie is holding her own in a game of cards but Ned is bored and keeps interrupting the game as annoying little brother will do.

Ned says he wants a hat, and since no one will give him one, he climbs a mountain of a man (he’s so tall we can’t see his face and he is wearing a full-sized bear as a cloak of some sort) and takes the hat off of him.  Chaos ensues, the hat flies off (and gets two holes in it) and the kids wind up stealing the giant man’s horse and taking off. (more…)

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gus makingSOUNDTRACK: MAKING MOVIES-Tiny Desk Concert #403 (November 8, 2014).

Making Movies is a multifaceted band.  The lead singer/guitarist (Enrique Chi) and bassist (Diego) are brothers from Panama who grew up in Kansas City.

In addition to these two, the band has a keyboardist who also plays the bongos, as well as a drummer/percussionist who busts out a guitar at the end.

Enrique, upon explain the band’s origins says “Our music is all messed up.  Sometimes it comes out in English, sometimes in Spanish.”  The rhythms are from Panama but are mixed in with the keyboardist’s Mexican heritage.  They even have some interesting instruments like the tiny acoustic bass guitar a Panamanian guitar and a donkey jawbone.

“Pendulum Swing” has a cool guitar riff (chords played very high on the neck, giving a distinctive alt 90s feel).  The vocals even do some simple “oh ohs.”  Enrique’s voice sounds strangely familiar (but I can’t figure out why and I know he’s not someone I’ve heard before because he also sings in Spanish).  I love that the keyboardist plays the bongos during the verses and then adds textures to the chorus.

“Cuna De Vida” starts with some more high-pitched guitars and looped voices before some dancey rhythms are added from the bongos and drums.  Enrique mostly plays very high chords on the guitar and there’s more “Oh oh ohs.”  The song is sung entirely in Spanish and sounds very different from the other two (but still with that alt 90s feel).  By the end of the song there are bongos, drums and cowbells as the song builds. It’s fun to her the chorus sung in Spanish as it ramps up at the end.

“Chase Your Tail” opens with looping high notes on the guitar.  It sounds much more alt rock–except that the drummer is playing the donkey jawbone and cowbells.  The song is really catchy and fun.  When it seems like the song is over, the drummer grabs his guitar and Enrique plays the tiny Panamanian guitar.  They play a very fast rhythm and he sings in Spanish with fun loping bass notes (and great Mexican style oh oh backing vocals).  And when you think it’s all over, the drummer steps up on the zapateado board and does a rhythmic tap dance.

Making Movies was putting out their debut album at this time.  I hope they had success with it.  I’d like to hear more.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Gus and His Gang

I’m fascinated by First Second’s relationship with French artists. It seems like half of their early releases were originally published in French.  And this one is no exception.

What’s also funny is that the French artists seems to have a very distinctive style.  Even if they don’t look alike, there’s something very “French” about the way they draw.  I did consider that this book might have been drawn by Joann Sfar, but it was all done by Blain,  And like many of those other book this was translated by Alexis Siegel.

This book has 13 chapters, although they may also be independent stories.  I’m unclear about that. In fact I’m unclear about a lot of this story.  Like why does Gus, the lead character have a nose that would be about 18 inches long?

It’s funny and makes him instantly recognizable, but it’s such a weird idea.  And why does the titular Gus disappear about half way though never to return?  Is this an excerpt?  Is it only part one?  The colophon is very uninformative. (more…)

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sicocSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Music Inspired by the Group of 7 (1995).

go7albumIn music there’s always a… key in which the composition is set…  In painting there’s a mother color that goes through all–it holds the painting together…you might call it the signature of the painting.

And thus opens the Rheostatics Group of 7 record.  I had always been vaguely dismissive of the album because it is mostly instrumental and, while good, I just didn’t listen to it that much.  After seeing it live it’s time for a reappraisal.

The disc opens with “One” a lovely minute-long piano introduction.  It’s followed by “Two” which has a series of piano and guitar trills as they set a bucolic mood. Then the drums kick in.  This song starts slowly with some plucked strings (and a sample from Queen Elizabeth).  What I love about this piece is that after the trills, the song seems to build to a very cool cello riff (provided by drummer Don Kerr).  Then there’s a vocal section (of bah bahs) which was really highlighted when they played it live.

The first highlight of this record for me is “Three,” which is known as the Boxcar song.  Someone shouts “All aboard” as the chugging begins and the cello and drums keep an excellent rhythm with Martin’s amazing guitar melody.  “Five” is another waltz with, to my ears, a vaguely Parisian sound.  Martin sings a few verses (and a chorus of “blue hysteria”).  It’s a lovely, delicate piece.

“Six” is a longer piece which centers around a slowly swirling guitar and cellos motif.  It ends with some noisy moments and more rainfall.  Until a noir sounding coda creeps up with piano and upright bass,.

Then comes “Seven” a cello based version of the awesome song “Northern Wish.”  I prefer the original because it is so much more intense, but this quieter version is really interesting and subtle.  “Nine” starts slowly with some gentle acoustic guitars.  But it builds and grows more intense (it has the subtitle “Biplanes and bombs”).  As the song progresses (around 3 minutes) Tielli’s guitar comes in and the backing notes grow a little darker.  The last 15 second are sheer noise and chaos (live they stretched this section out for a while, and it was very cool to see Hugh Marsh makes a lot of noise with his violin).

“Ten” uses some nontraditional instruments including what I assume is a didgeridoo and all kinds of samples.  On stage Tim and Kevin were swinging those tubes that whistle to make the noises).

Eleven is a reprise of track one, Kevin’s Waltz, with the vocals sung by Kevin Hearn.

I have really come to appreciate this album a lot more.  It doesn’t have any of my favorite songs on it, but it is a really amusing collection fo songs.

[READ: August 20, 2015] The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson

I have had this book for a number of years.  I’m not even sure where I got it (in hardback no less).  I know that I purchased it because of the Rheostatics, because I had never heard of the Group of Seven before the band made their record inspired by them.  Since I was going to see the paintings live, I decided to read up about the Group a bit more (I liked the paintings a lot, I just hadn’t read much).

Sadly, the Art Gallery of Ontario wasn’t open for viewing when we went to the concert (which makes sense as it was at night) and we didn’t have another opportunity to go to AGO.  Fortunately, we also went to Casa Loma which had a room full of Go7 paintings, so I was delighted to see some of these up close.  (They may have been prints, it was unclear, but it was cool seeing them).

So the Group of Seven were (initially) seven Canadian painters who joined together to create uniquely Canadian works of art from 1920 to 1933.  Their art was meant to celebrate their country which they felt was under-represented in art.  They planned to not follow conventional European styles of painting and often made striking scenes of nature.  They are largely known for their landscapes, although they also painted portraits and other works.

The Group of 7 originally originally consisted of (links are to Wikipedia bios): Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1974), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969). Later, A. J. Casson (1898–1992) was invited to join in 1926; Edwin Holgate (1892–1977) became a member in 1930; and LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) joined in 1932.

Two artists commonly associated with the group are Tom Thomson (1877–1917) and Emily Carr (1871–1945). (more…)

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