Archive for the ‘Hope Larson’ Category


In the middle of this graphic novel, the main character Bina says she is listening to the Germs.  Her friend Darcy says “classic.” 

Germs were a seminal LA punk band.  They released one album before their singer Darby Crash killed himself.  Their guitarist Pat Smear has since played with Niravana, Foo Fighters and many other bands.  Belinda Carlisle (yes of the Go-Gos) was briefly their drummer (she went by Dottie Danger).  She was replaced by Don Bolles.  And their bassist Lorna Doom, was one of the first women in the punk scene.

This album is 38 minutes long but that’s with a 9 minute live improvised song tacked on at the end.  Otherwise these songs are short and fast.

“What We Do Is Secret” opens the album with a statement of purpose.  It’s less than a minute of fast drumming roared vocals and the title repeated twice.  “Communist Eyes” plays a standard punk melody in the verses and an even faster chorus.  Pat Smear plays around with some scratchy noises but it’s mostly just fast fast fast.   “Land Of Treason” also has a simple catchy melody in the verses.  Even though Crash’s vocals aren’t always clear, they are mixed very well so if you listened, you could probably make out most of the words.

“Richie Dagger’s Crime” is the first song where Smear’s guitars really stand out.  He plays lead riff and then in the middle of the song, it’s only Lorna Doom’s bass holding the melody together while Smear plays some leads through the verses.

“Strange Notes” has some ringing guitars notes and quick little improv solos that keep this pummeling song nicely off kilter.  “American Leather” is just over a minute and Don Bolles’ galloping drums pretty much never stop.

“Lexicon Devil” was the name of their first EP.  The verses have a fun Ramonesy beat verse that feels especially punk.  “Manimal” is a slower more menacing song with a nasty lead guitar line.  This song even takes a breath before launching into the faster part full of Darby Crash’s snarls.

“Our Way” is another slower, more mancing song with a the bass sounding more prominent over smears chords.  “We Must Bleed” has a really fast descending guitar melody that introduces the song and serves as the chorus. It also hangs around at the end of the song. The song is 2 and a half minutes in total but the end is one minute of the band racing through that four note melody, sometimes falling  apart a little but plugging on.

“Media Blitz” starts side two abruptly has an abrupt opening with vocals and a brief pause before the song takes off nonstop for a minute and a half.  There’s some samples from TV in the song

“The Other Newest One” This chorus features a four notes and a pause as Darby’s voice rings out over the brief silence: “you’re not the first / you’re not the last”

“Let’s Pretend” is a bit more staccato in the bassline in and reminds me of a conga from the cartoons.  Five notes and a thump.  Once again darby stops singing early to let he band jam out the riffs for another 40 seconds to the end.

“Dragon Lady” has a short drum solo from Bolles as the intro.  It leads to one of the poppier melodies on the album. Then “The Slave” ends the disc (sort of) with a one-minute rumbling that’s all bass and jagged chords on top.  When Darby stops singing briefly, Smear’s guitar bursts forth as if Crash was in the way. Then it abruptly ends.

The disc ends properly with “Shut Down” a 9-minute live song that I have read was typical of how they ended their shows.  Lorna Doom plays a simple, slow bluesy riff on the bass. The drums follow along and Pat Smear makes all kinds of lead noises –solos, feedback, crashing chords while Darby mumbles, screams and rants about wanting your soul and wanting control and being an Annihilation Man.

Who knows what the Germs would have done next, but with one album, their legacy is secure..

[READ: October 21, 2020] All Together Now

This is a follow up to Larson’s book All Summer Long.  That book was a fun story about friendship, distance and guitar playing.

As this story opens, Bina and Darcy have been practicing with their band Fast Fashion [which is basically what Depeche Mode means], but they decide they need a drummer.  They meet up with a boy in their calls called Enzo.  He’s a drummer and very robotic.  He’s very good and he likes their songs, so they agree to be a band. But he hates the name Fast Fashion, so they change it to The Candids.

After a few practices, Darcy and Enzo start dating.  Then Enzo starts making some suggestions for changing Bina’s songs.  And Darcy agrees with him.  Now Bina’s losing her best friend to a boy, just like she lost her previous best friend Austin to a girl.

Then Darcy texts her that the band is moving on without her (even though it was her band!).  This new band gets the best band name yet: AC/Darcy.  But that means that Darcy and Bina have basically broken up and are not speaking to each other. (more…)

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard clearly didn’t set out to top the charts. After the frenetic fun of 12 Bar Bruise, their follow up is this–a spoken word “Western” musical.  Stu Mackenzie says that after recording “Sam Cherry’s Last Shot” with Broderick Smith, he wanted to try a “multi-song, read-along, narrative based western musical” and Brod was keen to write a story and narrate it.

The music is impressively “Western.”   Right out of the gates, you feel the reverbed guitars and sound effects of gun shots.  Repeating motifs abound and there is an amazing amount of restraint.  Plus, the songs (which don’t really follow the story chapters) are quite different from each other (all within the same Western motif). “Year of Our Lord” builds some real suspense.  While “The Raid” adds some surf guitars.

You can also hear his parents’ dogs barking in “The Killing Ground” and his dad banging on a rusted saw blade, which you can hear in “The Raid.”

“Drum Run” is, indeed, very drum heavy with distant echoing harmonica.

And then there is the story.  A story of a man who is feared as a legend.

The bad white men call him the devil the Yavapai call him Eyes Like the Sky.

Miguel O’Brien was kidnapped from his white family when he was five years old.  He became a fearless Yavapai Apache warrior.

The American Civil had not encroached on Apache territory.  But ten years later, the Americans brought their war to Apache land.  They were

Led by a man holding a leather book with a cross stamped in the leather.  An evil man who did terrible  things to people in the name of a god that looked upon the man himself with revulsion

The music for this track is called “Evil Man” and between the Western riff and the backing “ahahas,” it’s got gunslinger all over it.

The Americans killed the Apache, but he was spared because of his blue eyes.  But once more family he loved had been killed–this time by Americans.

The god man thought he might be from the O’Brien family or maybe the Jebsen family.  So they named him Jebsen O’Brien but they called him “blue” because of his eyes and his expression.  A trapper taught him white man’s ways so that he could read and write and also learned to use a gun.

The god man was a truly evil man–“satisfying his goat lust with a Yavapei girl.”  Seeing this defilement, Blue swiftly killed him. Then he took guns, money and the defiled girl and fled from the Fort.  The two of them happened upon a scene of death–white men killing white men but disguised as Apache.

I’ll not spoil the ending but the final two songs are “Dust in the Wind” (not that one) and “Guns & Horses.”   “Dust in the Wind” is a stomping song that presages death–of many.  “Guns & Horses” ends the story–all too early in my opinion.  While Eyes Like the Sky’s story comes to a satisfying conclusion, I want to hear more.

With a cool soundtrack.

Incidentally, the soundtrack is far more grown up than the graphic novel.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Knife’s Edge

I didn’t realize that these two books made up the Four Points series (I didn’t know there was a series title until I looked this book up].  But it is nice to see that this book ends the story.  And it ends it very well.

This book opens with the explanation of what happened to Alex and Cleo’s father when he left them on their own.  He went off to do a (supposedly) simple job down at the docks.  But while he is aboard a ship he is attacked by Lucky Worley.  Turns out Worley knew that Mr Dodge had the pocket watch and pocket knife–the clues that will lead him to the treasure he wants so badly.  It also turns out that he doesn’t know about Alex and Cleo.  So he hijacks Mr Dodge and takes him aboard his ship.   We also learn that Dodge isn’t their father–which we knew from how young the babies were when he received them, but the kids didn’t.  He doesn’t know who their real father was.

Worley had caught word of them through their involvement in the Black Hook gang and he deduced that they had the map pieces.  So their lives were now in danger.  And that’s pretty much where book one began. (more…)

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Few band names are as much fun as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. With a name like that, the fact that they actually make good music is somehow amazing.

2018 was a quiet year for the band after they released five albums in 2017.  But they are now back with a new single and an upcoming tour.

“Cyboogie” is basically exactly what it sounds like it might be–a cyborg boogie.  It also features a classic trope of KGATLW songs–one word repeated over and over again (see: Rattlesnake).

This boogie is nearly 7 minutes long and features electronically processed vocals, prominent synth sounds and the occasional run up the musical scales at the end of each chorus.

It opens with the robotic voices chanting “boogie boogie boogie.”  Over a pulsing bass and 70s sounding keys, this very retro song starts.  There are lyrics in the verses, but they are so processed as to be almost inaudible (nice melody though).  They lead to the chorus: cyboogie, cyboogie, boogie boogie boogie boogie, cyboogie.  All with that undeniable beat.

The instrumental breaks are classic trippy 70s era instrumental breaks.  Including the one at 3 minutes where the music stops briefly and a new beat and sound style emerges (more boogie).  The third verse is so vocally processed I wasn’t even sure if there were words–but since the music has all boy dropped away it’s all you can hear.  But fear not it is melodically sound and makes the next chorus even more interesting.

The song ends with some more robotic voice reciting something (no guesses as to what).

[READ: January 31, 2019] Compass South

This story was written by Hope Larson but illustrated by Rebecca Mock (which is only odd because Larson herself is an excellent illustrator).

It opens in New York City, 1848.  A man named Dodge is seen going home when he is stopped by a large man in a cloak.  The cloaked man tells him that his beloved Hester is dead in Ireland.  But she wanted him to have…two babies:  Alexander and Cleopatra.

He vows to be there for them, but in Chapter One, it is twelve years later and the children are on their own.  As we zoom in on them, they are in the middle of robbing a house.  They are with the Black Hook gang and Alex is getting tested.  But Alex gets caught.  Cleo goes to save him, but Luther, the local head of the gang stops her and says if they rat on the gang, they are dead.

Next, the twins are talking to the police.  They have nothing to offer, so he gives them a deal–tell them about the Black Hook gang and they can go free.  Of course, they take the deal. But before Luther can go after them, he is contacted by the henchman of Felix Worley, famed pirate and captain of El Caleuche.  Seems he wants the twins, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TERRA LIGHTFOOT-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I know of Terra Lightfoot because she has done some (very minimal) work with Rheostatics.

Amazingly, she is not related to Gordon Lightfoot (how many people have this last name?).

Terra Lightfoot opened for Whitehorse (a double bill I would love to see).  She plays a half a dozen songs.  I thought she might be a sensitive folkie (again that Gordon connection), but it turns out that she rocks (and blues), has a powerful voice and plays a pretty wicked guitar as well.

Lightfoot is a great front woman–engaging and funny–and she has some great stories to tell about each of her songs.

“Stars over Dakota” just rocks out–big guitars, smashing drums (from Joel Haynes) and then settles into a swinging shuffle.  Lightfoot has a singular voice which I quite like.  I also like the little guitar riff she gives after the “gin martinis make dizzy” line.  She is joined mid-song by Melissa McClelland of Whitehorse who sings some amazing harmonies.  That’s two killer voices on one stage.

Drifter is a slower song, with a really lovely opening guitar melody.  She has been inspired in her career by her grandmother and her aunt who both played music.  Her grandmother recently died, but her aunt is still playing.

Introducing the next song “You Get High,” she says she has a special new guitar–a woman made it for me Ashley Leanne from Waterloo, she’s 26.  While Terra’s going to play this acoustic, she invites Daniel Lanois up on the stage.  “Can we get a spotlight on the man here?”  They can’t so he scooches over to her spotlight amid much chuckling.  Lanois plays a beautifully fluid electric guitar while she picks out a lively melody on the acoustic.

“Norma Gale” is about a famous musician from the 70 who played with Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash and went on a date with Conway Twitty (I guess he didn’t call her back).  While she was doing all these cool things, she was also raising a young son on her own.  So Terra wrote this song for her.  It starts as a pretty, slow ballad but builds nicely with the addition of keys (from Alan Zamatis).

“Hold You” rocks up again, and it’s got a cool call and response with a bass melody (from Maury LaFoy) rumbling along.  “Two Hearts” is a song she wrote in a couple of places in Europe when she was very much in love…. with a couple of people.   The song starts slowly but build to an intense climax with pounding drums and Terra on her knees rocking out,.

Having had a total mis-perception of Terra Lightfoot, this show blew me away and I want to hear more from her.

[READ: January 19, 2019] All Summer Long

This was a fun story about friendship, distance and guitar playing.

As the story open we see Austin and Bina getting ready for 7th grade summer vacation.  They have been friends since they were five years old and have spent all of the previous summers together.  They even created the Combined Summer Fun Index–a way to tally just how much fun they have each summer.

Last summer’s included:

  • Cats petted: 22
  • Went swimming: 51 times
  • $idewalk change: $1.18
  • Sneaked into R-Rated movies: 2 times

But this summer, Austin can’t participate.   He is going to soccer camp for a month.  A whole month.  Summer is ruined–for Bina at least. (more…)

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chigerSOUNDTRACK: KACEY MUSGRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #463 (August 20, 2015).

kaceyKacey Musgraves is probably the most country country singer that I really like.   She makes a lot of music that is really really country–the kind I typically dislike, and yet her lyrics are just so good that I can look past the country sound that I dislike so much (and even start to enjoy it).

I love that she plays with all of the country cliches—her backing band is decked out in matching sequined suits, there’s whoops, there’s a ton of slide guitar.  And yet her lyrics question convention (and have wonderful word play).

She plays five songs (so many more than most people!)

She’s super fun and chatty, making lots of jokes and introducing her band.  She also says she’s not going to leave, which is okay with the crowd.

“High Time” is a fairly conventional country song.  It’s not as funny as some of the others and it has a real slide guitar thing going on.

“Family Is Family” is the first song I’d heard by her and I loved the words then and I still love them.  They are funny without being novelty.

“Late To The Party” is a more traditional song.  It’s a sweet ballad.

“Pageant Material” is another funny song, mocking the conventions of pageantry and poise and beauty.

Bob asks for a suit (they light up!) and she says okay but we’ve never actually seen him in one….  We also learn that the bassist plays the spoons and the spoons that he uses are ones that he whittled himself.

On the day that Musgraves played, the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage across America mere hours earlier.  She played “Follow Your Arrow,” the most anthemic go-your-own-way jam on Musgraves’ 2013 debut album She says that her sister had called her earlier that day just ugly crying out of happiness.  Everyone gets into the song in the office.  It was a feel good moment of the year.

[READ: June 21, 2015] Chiggers

I’ve enjoyed Larson’s work in the past, and I was happy to read this book too.

It’s set at summer camp and while it deals with jealousy and other teenage problems, there is a supernatural element well, which is pretty cool.

Abby is excited to go back to summer camp.  She can’t wait to see her camp friend Rose and some of her other bunkmates from last year.

But this year Rose is a Cabin Assistant.  And while she is the CA for Abby’s cabin, it is also means that Rose is really busy with real things (and had less time for chatting).  Some of the other girls seem to have grown up too.  One has a boyfriend and she is getting her ears pierced (like the woman in the band Spite Storm).  She and her boyfriend are even going to start their own band Glittergloom.

Suddenly Abby doesn’t feel as cool as she did last year.  And she has trouble falling asleep at night.

Then it turns out that one of the girls in her dorm has to go home–and the rumor is that she got chiggers! (more…)

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acSOUNDTRACK: LOWER DENS-Tiny Desk Concert #84 (October 10 2010).

lowerLower Dens are a band from Baltimore who I’ve heard of but who I didn’t really know.  And after hearing this Tiny Desk, I immediately fell in love with their peculiar song structure and wonderfully expansive sound.

The set opens with “Two Cocks Waving Wildly At Each Other Across A Vast Open Space, A Dark Icy Tundra” which has a long (nearly 2 minutes) instrumental opening.  And then the song proper changes style completely.  It has great interplay of guitar and bass and gentle vocals.  And amazingly the song is only 4 minutes long, even with all that build up.

“I Get Nervous” is slower with waves of guitar washes.  It builds and ends quite suddenly.

Just before the third song, “Rosie” you can hear singer/guitarist Jana Hunter whisper “This is fun.”  She busts out an old beat up acoustic guitar on which she plays a slow 90 second guitar pattern before the chords kick in and then seconds later the vocals come along.  I love the soaring electric guitar over the top.  And again it is over before you suspect (the song is only 3 minutes).

The final song, “What Isn’t Nature” is moody and minor key.  It goes on for longer than the other songs and is just as good.

I have to check out more from this band who totally fell under my radar.

[READ: July 12, 2015] Who is AC?

I really like Hope Larson’s books and I especially like her drawing style.  So I was a little bummed to see that she didn’t draw this one.  Tintin Pantoja’s art style is very different and it was easy for me to forget this was a Larson story.  I liked Pantoja’s style but not as much as Larson’s–it’s just very different.

At the same time I didn’t really like this story that much.  There were some very cool elements but whether it was poorly explained by Larson or if the illustrations didn’t quite convey what was meant to be there, I’m not sure.

The book starts with Lin on a plane writing her zine, Rhea Ironheart.  She is flying to a new city and misses her friends already.  But mid-flight she receives a strange phone call from a number that is all binary.  She answers the phone and blacks out, but what could it mean? (more…)

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mercurySOUNDTRACK: MOBY & KELLI SCARR-Tiny Desk Concert #58 (May 4, 2010).

moby This is the first of a few Tiny Desk Concerts that break with the format we’ve come to know.

For unclear reasons, there is a video for only one song from this show.  Although there is a full audio feed in which you can hear all of the songs that Moby and Kelli play.  This video is also filmed at night, which is quite different from their usual mid-morning showcase.  It is very dark outside and in the studio, which is also unusual.

The song that they play is “Gone to Sleep,” a song they created for Project Song.  The premise behind Project Song is to write, record and complete a song in 48 hours.  As inspiration, they used the word Sunday and a picture of a man in the woods with clouds for a head (Moby describes him as a pedophile from another dimension).

It’s quite a good song with a really catchy, very Moby chorus.  And the dark video is interesting to watch.

There’s audio where you can learn a bit more about Project Song and how they created their song.  But there’s also audio from the rest of their set, which features covers and Moby originals all done on acoustic guitar.

They play a fun, surprisingly light version of “Ring of Fire” (with audience participation on “trumpet solo”).  Then the do Moby’s “Pale Horses” which is quite nice in this stripped down version.  Their next cover is “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”  They do an interesting take–it’s almost upbeat and folky, which is unusual.  He switches from “and the colored girls say” to “and everybody here says.”  He also tells a funny story about campaigning for John Kerry and playing that song and seeing Kerry’s wife act horrified and maybe a little turned on by the lyrics.

The final song is CSN&Y’s “Helpless.”  It’s a pretty, very different version from the original.  It’s a good set, especially for those who think of Moby as a more dancey artist.

[READ: June 21, 2015] Mercury

I really enjoyed this book by Hope Larson, one of my consistently favorite graphic novelists.

And this book may be one of her best.  The book drifts back and forth between two timelines in Nova Scotia.  The older timeline is 1859.  We meet the Fraser family living in a house on French hill.  They have just had a visitor, Asa Curry and he seems taken with their daughter Josey.

The modern timeline is set 150 years in the future.  The Fraser family until recently still lived on the property at French Hill.  A few years ago it burnt down and the survivors had to move.

The 1859 story has a black border while the contemporary story has a white one, it a subtle but very cool way of distinguishing the timelines. (more…)

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ellsmere SOUNDTRACK: PROBOT-Probot (2004).

probotAfter all of the Dave Grohl love I’ve been sending his way, Grohl went and fell off a stage and broke his leg.  But, he is so badass (and such a thoughtful musician), that he went to the hospital, got his leg fixed up and went back on stage to finish the set!  Holy cow.

This is amazing (and he must have incredible endorphins (or something else) to be able to do this (the video is long because it shows his re-arrival):

Grohl has always been very open about his love of heavy metal–and the liner notes here go into pretty good detail about he bands he grew up listening to.  He wanted to create a kind of tribute/dream lineup album of metal vocalists.  As far as I can tell he was sitting around and banging away riffs and every time he got one that he liked, he recorded it.  He eventually added bass and drums and made demo tapes out of them.  Then he contacted some of his favorite metal singers from when he was a kid and asked them to write lyrics and sing.

I assume that Grohl sent the demos that sounded most like the bands to the appropriate singer, because so many of them are spot on for the original bands.  The Venom song sounds completely like Venom (Cronos’ bass certainty helps) and it’s one of the best songs here.  I don’t know Sepultura that well, but the music fits perfectly with Cavalera’s style.  And this song is just fantastic.

The Lemmy song sounds unmistakably Motörhead, again possibly because Lemmy plays bass, but the riff is pure Motörhead.  It’s another great song and one that the Foo Fighters have played live.

The song with Mike Dean is very punk, very C.O.C.  It’s followed by another punk/metal song from D.R.I.  This song also matches perfectly with Brecht’s style of singing on the more metal side of D.R.I..

Lee Dorrian used to sing in a guttural cookie monster growl with Napalm Death, but in Cathedral, he turned to proper singing.  I don’t know Cathedral, but the main riff coupled with the twin guitar solo notes from Thayil make a great epic song, especially that mosh section in the middle (I didn’t think Cathedral did mosh but whatever), although at 6 minutes it does go on a bit.

I also don’t know Wino, so I don’t know if this is the kind of thing he sang on, although I do hear a bit of Saint Vitus vibe from it.  There’s a really long middle section which is interesting for the backwards guitar solo, and while it’s a little long, when it comes out of that, the heaviness is really great.

Tom Warrior is a fascinating guy with all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, so the weird industrial sound on top of the heavy bass is pretty interesting.  There’s no way Grohl could hope to emulate Voivod’s Piggy, so he doesn’t even try.  Rather than playing up to Voivod’s proggy style, he goes deeper to the heavier stuff.  And, perhaps it’s Snake’s voice, the bridge sounds very Voivod.  The chorus is more poppy than what Voivod might do, and yet it’s a great song.  Voivod’s Away also designed the album cover.

I loved Trouble when I was in high school, although I don’t really remember them that well now.  This songs sounds bit more classic rock than metal (and I recall Trouble being pretty heavy), and yet Wagner’s voice works very well with the style.  I just read that Trouble went through a more psychedelic period and the middle section ties in nicely with that, so maybe this is inspired by later period Trouble.

Grohl says he was excited to get King Diamond, and who wouldn’t be.  Kim Thayil is back to create a suitable Mercyful riff (although it could never live up to the classic Fate).  But the mid section’s doom riffs are right on.  The song showcases some of the King’s vocal acrobatics, although not quite as many as I could have used (there are some excellent high-pitched notes in there though).

There’s a bonus track at the end of the disc which features Jack Black doing a suitably funny but accurate metal tribute.

This is a really solid heavy record that lets some classic metal singers back on the scene.  There won’t be a second Probot record, but there may not need to be one anyhow.  I also like that he picked some slightly more obscure singers rather than the obvious Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson type of singers, even if they would have also been interesting).

  • “Centuries of Sin” (feat. Cronos of Venom)
  • “Red War” (feat. Max Cavalera of Sepultura)
  • “Shake Your Blood” (feat. Lemmy of Motörhead)
  • “Access Babylon” (feat. Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity)
  • “Silent Spring” (feat. Kurt Brecht of Dirty Rotten Imbeciles)
  • “Ice Cold Man” (feat. Lee Dorrian of Cathedral and Napalm Death, and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden)
  • “The Emerald Law” (feat. Wino)
  • “Big Sky” (feat. Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost)
  • “Dictatosaurus” (feat. Snake of Voivod)
  • “My Tortured Soul” (feat. Eric Wagner of Trouble)
  • “Sweet Dreams” (feat. King Diamond of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden)
  • “I Am the Warlock” (feat. Jack Black of Tenacious D)

[READ: February 13, 2015] The War at Ellsmere

I’ve enjoyed Hicks’ books in the past–both the ones she’s written and the one’s she’s simply illustrated.  In this book she does both which means you get big eyes and the dark hair.

As the book opens we meet Juniper, a girl who has just enrolled in Ellsmere Private School.   We meet the headmistress and learn the history of this beautiful school (established in 1810).  And then we find out that Juniper is there on a scholarship (merit based) and that Juniper is well aware that she will likely be there to “liven things up for the blue bloods.”

When Juniper meets her new roommate Cassie (who hears her talking to herself), Jun immediately goes on the defensive–until she sees that Cassie is actually quite a nice girl. (Nice, Jun, you just insulted Bambi).

But it’s during the orientation that we meet the real antagonist of the story–Emily, a pretty blonde girl who immediately insults Cassie and calls her “orphan.”  When Jun gets involved, it suggests that it will be an interesting year for all of them. (more…)

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cbtSOUNDTRACK: TORI AMOS-Abnormally Attracted to Sin (2009).

aatsIt’s been almost a decade since I was blown away by a Tori Amos album.  I feel like she has really been so engaged in the concept of her albums, that she has lost track of the tunes.  And while I don’t hate anything she’s done in the last few years, I was seriously getting to the point where I wasn’t sure it was worth getting her new releases.

But I was pleasantly surprised with Abnormally Attracted to Sin.  The opening track “Give” reaches back to some of the cool trip-hop stuff from from the choirgirl hotel.  And, the wild guitar work is such a welcome change.  It’s followed by “Welcome to England” which has a cool bass line that also makes me think of choirgirl era Tori (I saw her about three or four times on that tour).  “Strong Black Vine” is middle eastern tinged,  with a cool percussion-filled bridge.  But my favorite part is the dirty-sounding “baby” that opens the chorus.  The chorus also calls back to Boys for Pele era stuff where she used multiple backing vocals (from herself) in the choruses.

“Flavor” brings in some mellowness (and sounds like she was recorded in outer space).  “Not Dying Today” is definitely a silly song (and the one that mentions Neil) but the weirdo bassline is so catchy I am totally hooked by it (I’m also not sure if it says something about me or her that I thought the line was “Neil is thrilled he can say he’s Canadian” (when in fact he’s thrilled that he can say he’s mammalian (I’m not sure which is weirder)).  This also leads to a weird little spoken bit.  The whole thing feels very 80s to me.  But in a good way.

“Maybe California” is one of her piano songs.  When listening to it by itself, it’s quite enjoyable.  But I think it kind of slows the album down after those openers.  Tori has a lot of gorgeous piano ballads (“Northern Lad” still blows me away), and this one is good but not great.  “Curtain Call” is kind of a dud, but it has a great chorus.  And that’s what a lot of the rest of the album feels like for me.  Each song has one part that really hooks me, but it’s usually not a whole song that keeps me.

“Fire to Your Plain” is another bit of a dud.  The little keyboard hits don’t do this song any favors.  “Police Me” has cool guitars and weird sound effects and could have been a choirgirl B-side.  (Although, again, there’s a part after the chorus which is very cool).  And then comes “That Guy.”  I want to like this song so much.  The lyrics are fun, the sound is very torchy and music hall, but I just find it to be ultimately as nondescript as the title.

The title track has a great weird sci-fi keyboard sound, with cool guitars.  But this is yet another example of “Why does she pronounce words like this now?”  If you listen to her earlier records, she had a full command of the English language.  So, why does this song start out with her saying “Impeccable Pec-a-dell-o” (when we all know it is pecadillo).  And what on earth happened to the words in the chorus?  This is the title song.  Why does it sound like she’s singing “I’m marmalade. I trah yak toosee.”  Sure, once I realized it was the title track I could figure it out, but Jesus, woman, what happened to you? (That aside, the song is pretty cool, especially the quiet but bitchin guitars in the way back).  “500 Miles” is a cute song. I sort of don’t like it but the chorus is so frikkin catchy that I can’t turn it off.

The end of the disc feels kind of tacked on to me.   “Mary Jane” is a weird one.  It sounds like an extended version of “Mr Zebra” from Pele, (which I loved, but it was only a minute long), with all kinds of weird lyrics getting tossed around.  It does seem odd to hear her singing about pot, but whatever.  “Starling” sounds great but just never really catches me.  And “Fast Horse” starts out so great: the riff is very cool, but I don’t care for the direction of the chorus. (And the Maserati bit more or less kills the song off).  “Ophelia” has awesome potential of being one of those affecting piano songs, but rather than pulling out all the stops with a kick ass chorus, it just sort of wanders around (I wonder if I’d change my mind about this song if it weren’t so close to the end).  And the disc ends with “Lady in Blue.”  This is definitely one of the weirdest songs she’s ever done.  And I sort of love it.  The sounds she’s twisting out of her organ are insane.  It sounds like her speakers are at the bottom of a pool.  And the chord choices are unexpected.  She really stretches this weird sound for all its worth (including the most egregious of her pronunciations problems: “What es layuft is right.”  Really, Tori, emphasis is one thing, but it’s not cool to make the words wrong).  But anyhow, this undersea adventure stretches out for over 4 minutes, and I’m just about to throw the disc against the wall because it seems like it will never end, and I’m in some kind of trippy suffocating nightmare (in which you kind of like what’s happening at first and then you realize that the pillowcase they put over your head is really a plastic bag) but then she kicks in a solid piano riff and the song absolutely rocks out for the next three minutes.  It’s confident and infectious and ends the disc on a fantastic note.  If that early section were about 2 minutes shorter this would be one of my favorite Tori songs ever.  But I keep reaching that take-the-disc-out! moment before the greatness kicks in.)

My biggest problem with the disc is that (as with past discs) at 75 minutes  it’s just too damned long.  Again, I can’t pick a least favorite song because they all have parts that I really like, I would just like to put the cool parts together and get rid of twenty minutes of the blahs.

The other problem is that I really don’t know what Tori is singing about half the time.  When I first got into her, I was drawn by her lyrics, which were weird but also evocative.  I didn’t really know what she was singing about exactly back then, but I had a pretty good idea.  However, lately it’s just all weird abstractions and general concepts.

I know that I fell for Tori back when she was writing emotionally naked songs.  She was sexually honest and was a breath of fresh air in 1992.  And, sure I wish she would make albums like she did back then, but I know artists need to grow and expand.  And it would be frankly creepy to hear 2009 Tori, wife and mother, singing about guys who can’t make her come.  Right?  I mean, I found her “MILF” line on a recent album to be rather disturbing.  And, I also don’t think I want to hear about the highs and lows of motherhood and parenthood.  So, personal stories are out, I guess.  Alas.  I just hope she can get a little back down to earth (and not necessarily need to be so “wicked” all the time).

The final gripe relates back to what I said in the beginning.  This disc is littered with pictures of Tori in various costumes, evidently acting out scenes from her songs.  The bonus DVD is full of videos for each song.  But each video is basically just her in some outfit and wig wandering around in various places.  It’s a strangely egomaniacal video collection even for a musician.  But so yes, she clearly enjoys this role playing exercise that she’s been on since Strange Little Girls, but it seems like so much extra time is being spent on these “personas.”  I don’t care which personality wrote the sing, I just want it to be good.   And I just miss the old Tori.

I also don’t like to criticize people physically, but I feel like she also looks less pretty than she used to.  After watching 70some minutes of those videos of pretty much just her, I felt like she was too harsh or angular or, dare I say it, old looking.  And I only mention it because she seems so focused on presenting these characters with wigs and make up and the whole shebang, but I think she doesn’t look nearly as pretty as she when she was just Tori, piano player.

But that’s no way to end a music review.  Abnormally Attracted to Sin is certainly her best disc in a decade.  It’s got some great songs and some great sections of songs.  With a judicious editor and someone who can keep her on track when her words start drifting away from what they should properly sound like, (maybe it’s time to look for a producer other than her husband?) Tori could be well on her way to making another totally stellar album.

[READ: October 2009]  Comic Book Tattoo

Sarah gave me this book for Christmas and I’ve been reading it on and off for about 10 months now.  I finally finished the first read through and decided to give it a second go before writing about it.  It took so long not because I didn’t like it but because it is a very awkward book.  It is HUGE.  It is the size of a vinyl LP, but is as thick as about 15 of them.  And it’s heavy!  I had to store it under the bed so I wouldn’t kill myself on it.

What I’m getting at is utter value for money ($30 retail).

But what is it?  Okay, so it is a collection of comics that are “inspired” by Tori Amos songs.  But let’s be clear, these are NOT IN ANY WAY illustrations of the songs.  The stories that are created here have virtually nothing to do with the lyrics, in most cases.  They seem to be inspired by the titles and maybe (sometimes) the mood of the songs themselves.  In many cases, it’s hard to even see what the stories have to do with her at all.  And, I have to say, it makes the whole collection that much stronger.  Even if I love most of the songs that they draw in here, I wouldn’t want to “see” Tori’s songs.  Rather, taking them as a jumping off point lets the authors and artists use what inspired them and ignore the rest. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEAKERTHANS-Left and Leaving (2000).

The Weakerthans are an interesting band from Winnipeg. They were formed by the founding one of the members of Propagandhi, a fantastic, very political punk band. And it’s clear that even though the sound of the Weakerthans is very different, the tone is quite similar. John Samson writes wonderfully literate lyrics (these are not overtly political as in Propagandhi, but nor are they apolitical either).

I found out about these guys with Reunion Tour, (their most recent release) and I decided to fill in the back catalog. The single from this album, “Aside” features a faster style (more rocking, less introspective) than the rest of the album, and is consequently, my favorite song. The rest of the album slows down quite a bit. It’s a great chance to really listen to the lyrics, and get absorbed in the music. I often don’t have opportunities to do this, (especially when driving), so the record loses something for me. However, Samsons’ vocals are always clear, which allows you to catch a great line even if you’re not paying attention.

[READ: June 10, 2008] Gray Horses

This was a fantastic book. That’s all there is to say about it. (more…)

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