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Archive for the ‘Lemony Snicket’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHILLING THRILLING SOUNDS OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1964).

The cover during Phish’s 2014 concert was of this album.

Apparently many people grew up with this record.  I personally didn’t know it, but if you read the comments (don’t read the comments!) on any YouTube clip of the album you will see how popular it is.

Wikipedia describes it as  intended for “older children, teenagers, and adults” released by Disneyland Records (now known as Walt Disney Records). The album was mainly composed of sound effects that had been collected by the sound effects department of Walt Disney Studios. The album was released in several different forms. The album was first released in 1964 in a white sleeve, with a second release in 1973 with an orange sleeve. In both versions, the first side contained 10 stories narrated by Laura Olsher, complete with sound effects. The second side contained 10 sound effects meant for others to create their own stories.

Despite the title, most of the cuts had nothing to do with haunted houses or witches or ghostly spirits. Featured were such situations as an ocean liner hitting rocks, an idiotic lumberjack, a man crossing an unsafe bridge, someone lighting a stick of dynamite and a spaceship landing on Mars. Also, there are tracks with several examples of cats, dogs and birds (similar to “The Birds”) becoming enraged for some reason, as well as a skit about Chinese water torture. In addition, some of the screams were taken directly from the scene where Miss Havisham catches fire in the 1946 David Lean film Great Expectations.

The full track listing is

  • “The Haunted House” 3:00
  • “The Very Long Fuse” 1:28
  • “The Dogs” 1:13
  • “Timber” 1:45
  • “Your Pet Cat” 0:49
  • “Shipwreck” 1:39
  • “The Unsafe Bridge” 1:21
  • “Chinese Water Torture” 2:02
  • “The Birds” 0:46
  • “The Martian Monsters” 1:41
  • “Screams and Groans” 0:57
  • “Thunder, Lightning and Rain” 2:01
  • “Cat Fight” 0:37
  • “Dogs” 0:48
  • “A Collection Of Creaks” 1:54
  • “Fuses and Explosions” 1:11
  • “A Collection Of Crashes” 0:45
  • “Birds” 0:33
  • “Drips and Splashes” 1:18
  • “Things In Space” 0:53

Nothing is especially scary–although maybe for a kid, as many adults claim to have been really frightened by it.  Everything is quite over the top, especially the screams and cat howls and dog snarling.  Even the stories are a little silly, although having them in the second person is pretty genius.

But things like “one night as you lie in your lonely room in your stone hut on the moors…”  (What?).  And the Martian one.  Just keeping with continuity: if “you,” meaning me, went on the trip, then I couldn’t hear the crunching as it ate me.  Or the silly voice saying “I wonder what that was.”

And the less said about the horribly racist Chinese Water Torture the better.  I mean, the opening is bad enough: “The ancient Chinese were a very clever race” but the end of the song is really awful.  But if we can look past that, the rest of the record has fun with sound effects and is generally pretty enjoyable.

During the John Congleton interview, he also talks about this album and says (at 40:28) “the speakers are 180 degrees out of phase to make it sound extremely stereophonic.”  He says now as an engineer it is totally painful to listen to.  Bob says it sounds like it comes from the back of your head.

[READ: October 15, 2017] Half-Minute Horrors.

The premise of this book (edited by Susan Rich) is simple: how scared can you get in 30 seconds?  To me, the answer is actually not very.  I guess for me fear builds over time.  It’s hard to get genuinely frightened over something that just suddenly happens (unless it is just trying to frighten you quickly, of course).

Having said that, I enjoyed this book a lot (look at the list of authors!).  I liked the arbitrary goal of writing a scary story in a paragraph or two (or more).  And some of them were really quite creepy.

I was originally going to point out which ones I felt were the most creepy, but there are so many stories, I kind of lost track.  So instead, here’s a rundown and a brief summary. (more…)

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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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1989 SOUNDTRACK: THE SUFFERS-Tiny Desk Concert #482 (October 27, 2015).

suffersThe Suffers are a ten piece soul band fronted by the charismatic Kam Franklin.  I loved how at the start of this show each band member counted down 1-10 while Kam stood on the desk to sing.

“Giver” is a slow R&B type song with lots of lengthy horn solos.

“Midtown” has a funky sound with a cool bass line.  I though that song started to get interesting towards the end but then they stopped it.

“Gwan” is my favorite of the three because it is more uptempo and fun and allows the band (including Kam) to really rock out.

Everything about The Suffers is right on–the horns sound great, the band is tight, Kam’s voice is string and powerful.  But I just don;’t like this kind of music at all.  And I don’t really need to hear The Suffers again (although that last song is pretty good.

[READ: September 10, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1989-1990

I had said that the previous book felt a little lightweight compared to previous years.  This book actually continued in that somewhat unsatisfying vein.  For point of reference, when I jot down strips that I really like, I usually fill two or three small pages of paper.  This book had only one page and a little over flow.

But, it also had one of the most exiting and emotionally satisfying sequences as 1990 drew to a close.

Schulz has also been having fun with the new fewer-panel style. It’s mostly three panels but he experiments with 2 panels and even one panel.  He seems to enjoy playing with the space afforded with one panel–its interesting to see.

The year starts off with an ugly dog contest and the introduction of yet another of Snoopy’s brothers, this one named Olaf.  Olaf is very ugly and wears a sack. When he takes it off he reveals himself to be a squat round version of snoopy with buck teeth or a tongue hanging out of his mouth.  In June of 1989 we actually see Snoopy’s Dad on Father’s Day. He looks like snoopy but with a big mustache (white), small glasses, and a cap.

Starting in the previous book and continuing through now, we often see Sally responding to things on the TV.  Most of them are pretty funny.  Later, Sally says that her school play is going to be Hansel and Grateful.

Marcie still has mixed feeling for Charles and tells Patty to throw a bean ball at him, but then takes it back.  In the summer of 1989 Patty goes to summer school and Marcie teases her that she (Marcie) and Charles area at camp togetehr.  Patty gets very jealous.

In July 1981 in a one panel; the kids are on line to buy tickets to the movie sand one of them says “Those two guys on TV hated it.”

Snoopy has another good food comment this year: “Do you want a cookie with nuts or a cookie with raisins?” “Neither, I prefer plain cookies.  I don’t like food in my food.”  But speaking of cookies, there are about 100 strips where the punchline is something about Snoopy eating cookies.  It gets a little out of hand.  There were always the jokes about the chocolate chip cookies calling him but soon all of the punchlines start to do with cookies.

Franklin is still talking about his grandpa with Charlie Brown.   And Pig-Pen returns for a little while.

In July of 1989 an “old friend” calls Charlie Brown.  She insists on coming over and says she hasn’t seem hm for a long time.  She seems to have red hair (but is not the red-haired girl) an upon seeing them, runs up to Snoopy, calls him Charlie Brown and takes him away.  She looks at Charlie and asks “who are you.”  She feeds Snoopy sundaes until he is nearly sick.

Over the summer Patty and Marcie are supposed to read four books, but Marcie reads an extra one: The Little Prince.  Patty says it’s so short what’s he big deal?  Marcie read it in French.

In August 1989 in the kids are lined up for autographs   $30 for Joe DiMaggio, $25 for Ted Williams.  Steve Garvey is $9 and Maury Wills is $5.  Charlie gets Joe Shlabotnick’s and the guys gives Charlie a dollar.  Joe Garagiola continues to pop up in the strip.  Charlie tells Schroeder he can have a career as a catcher and then after you retire you can go on TV like Joe Garagiola and Lucy says Who?

1989’s football gag has Lucy telling Charlie to think of the regrets he’ll have if he never risks anything.

Starting in 1989 and continuing for a few years it seems, Charlie has become very close to Snoopy–a relationship that was never really there before.  There’s a lot of pictures of Snoopy on Charlie’s lap (very cutely drawn, I must say.  It more or less starts in October with Charlie saying “All I seem to want to do lately is sit around holding my dog on my lap.”  This leads to Charlie quitting school and devoting his entire life to making Snoopy happy.  They eat a lot of food until Snoopy gets sick and he concludes ” I think I happied him to the vet.”  Charlie concludes that he was sorry making him happy didn’t work out and Snoopy replied “I was already happy.”

There’s also a  resurgence of the blanket battle between Linus and Snoopy which I always liked.

POP CULTURE: Lucy is listening to the radio and says she missed the ball because Michael Jackson hit a high note.  Later in the month Linus thinks to videotape the Great Pumpkin (although we never see him do it).  In August 1990, Snoopy calls himself “Joe Bungee” and in November, Snoopy is riding Rollerblades and then later Sally asks for them from Snoopy Claus.

In January 1989 Patty is watching her hero Donna Adamek bowl.

I really enjoy the wordless joke of the street sign pointing up and then a curve down.  One of the Woodstock birds stands on top of the sign, the other two where the arrow points.  Snoopy s says, “You’re right we should have had a picture of that.”

A lot of the Mother’s Day panels for the last few years have been about Woodstock trying to give a card to him mom, but in 1990 Charlie lets his mom pitch for Mother’s Day which is very sweet

For summer camp Sally refuses to go.  When Charlie describes on the phone that there will be canoeing, swimming, rock climbing, tennis hiking, soccer he turns to Sally  to sally and their Granma just signed up.

As I mentioned earlier, this book wasn’t that exciting for me.  I never really got into any of the story lines. Until summer camp of 1990 when things suddenly became awesome.  Charlie takes Snoopy to camp, which is kind of fun.  But then unexpectedly, on July 23, Charlie talks to a cute girl.  He says he always gets nervous around pretty girls.  But she says he shouldn’t be: pretty girls are human too.   Her name is Peggy Jean and he is so in love that he calls himself Brownie Charles, which she thinks is adorable.  She really likes him!  She even holds the ball for him to kick.  But he is so conditioned that he doubts her sincerity which just gets her mad.

But before camp is over, she tells him he’s the nicest boy she’s ever met and then she kisses him!  And a few weeks later when Charlie can’t figure out why she hasn’t written, it’s because Sally has been throwing out all the letters that came to Brownie Charles–if only he’d been waiting at the mailbox!

I also enjoyed the joke in August of 1990 where snoopy sells a raffle ticket and it say s “You don’t win anything but you’ll have the pleasure of owning your very own raffle tickets…  be the first on your block to start a collection.”

In Sept 1990 Pig Pen decides to run for class president.  Someone shouts that he has no dignity so he puts on a stove pipe hat.  Nobody votes for him anyhow.

And then in October, we get some real insight into Marcie.  She comes over to say that her parents are driving her crazy.  They want her to be perfect and get straight A’s.  Shes cracking up.  It’s a pretty intense moment for Peanuts.  And Charlie is in way over his head.  Marcie falls asleep at Charlie’s house.  When she wakes up she says “I don’t want to go home… can I stay here? If I go home I have to be perfect….  Sally shouts from the other room, “If she doesn’t want to be perfect she’s come to the right place!”  The sequence ends sadly open-ended with Marcie saying she’s going home so she can get straight A’s “just so I can go to some college they’ve already picked out for me.”  And Sally says “and end up marrying some nerd.”

In Dec 1990 Charlie goes to buy Peggy Jean some nice gloves. But they cost $25.  He sells all of his stuff to buy them for her only to find out that her parents just bought her gloves.    Sadly he gave them to Snoopy instead.

The book ends with one of the saddest Christmas strips ever.  It’s just Spike sitting alone with mistletoe stuck to a cactus and him saying “Rats.”

Apropos of this, the intro was written by Lemony Snicket.  Rather than raving about the strip, Snicket revels in how dark it is  He quotes all of the darkest lines in the book and says how odd it is that these sentences are found in the section marked Comics.

And then Snicket summarizes the strip:

The hero of this melodrama is a balding grammar school student paralyzed by fear and self-loathing.  Sadly, the psychiatrist he chooses is also a child, who not only offers him nothing but cruelty and scorn…One would be tempted to label her as the villain of this ongoing tale of terror, if she didn’t share the same unhappy hopelessness as her helpless patient.

Then there’s her young brother who shuffles around town clutching ragged bedclothes and trying to dissolve one of his own fingers in his mouth.  It’s no wonder the psychiatrist has fallen into a cycle of romantic obsession and violent argument with a temperamental musician.

Our hero, in the meantime, is not far from obsessive complication: two women compete for his attention, all the while maintaining a tense “friendship: with one another despite the fact that one of them, out of stupidity or malice, mistakes the gender of the other.

Even the neighborhood dog, who by all rights should remain clueless of the goings-on, is ravaged by the local madness.  When not talking to a bird who utters nothing but apostrophes, he fantasizes that he is fighting in one of the world’s mist horrific conflicts.

I am fascinated by the endless ghastly tale of these poor youngsters.

Make no mistake, Lemony Snicket is a huge fan.

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atwq3SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974).

Tales_from_Topographic_Oceans_(Yes_album)After the huge success of Fragile and Close to the Edge (with its 18 minute suite), what could Yes do next?  Well first they would release a triple live album, which I’ll get to later.  And then?  Why they would release a double album with only 4 songs on it!  That’s right 4 songs each around 20 minutes long!  And it would be ponderous and pretentious and it would be reviled by everyone!

The album shipped gold (because their previous records were so popular) and then sales plummeted.  The album is much maligned and, frankly, deservedly so.  Now, I love me a good prog rock epic.  So, four 20 minutes songs is pretty heavenly for me.  But man, these songs just don’t really have any oomph.

My CD’s recording quality is a little poor, but I don’t know if the original is too.  The whole album feels warm and soft and a little muffled.  You can barely hear Anderson’s vocals (which I believe is a good thing as the lyrics are a bunch of mystical jiggery pokery).  But despite the hatred for the album, it’s not really bad.  It’s just kind of dull.

Overall, there is a Yes vibe…and Yes were good songwriters–it’s not like they suddenly weren’t anymore.  There are plenty of really interesting sections in the various songs.  It just sounds like they have soft gauze between them.  Or more accurately, it sounds like you get to hear some interesting song sections and then the song is overtaken by another song that is mostly just mellow ambient music.

Without suggesting in any way that this album influenced anyone, contemporary artists are no longer afraid to make songs that are super long (see jam bands) or songs that are just swells of keyboards (see ambient musicians).  Yes just happened to put them all in the same song–way before anyone else did.

The album is very warm and soft—rather unlike the last couple of Yes albums which were sharp and harsh.  There are washes of keyboards and guitars and Anderson’s echoing voice. But what you’ll notice is that I haven’t really mentioned Chris Squire.  He’s barely on the album at all, and when he is, it’s usually to provide very simple bass notes–bass notes that anyone could play–it’s such a waste!  And while Alan White is no Bill Bruford (who was off rocking with King Crimson then), he’s also barely there.  In fact, Rick Wakeman himself is barely there–the king of elaborate classical riffs is mostly playing single notes at a time.  According to Wikipedia,

Wakeman took a dislike to the album’s concept and structure from the beginning. He made only minimal musical contributions to the recording, and often spent time drinking at the studio bar and playing darts. [During the recording session] he played the piano and synthesiser on the Black Sabbath track “Sabbra Cadabra”.

Evidently Anderson wanted a pastoral feeling in the studio

According to Squire, Brian Lane, the band’s manager, proceeded to decorate the studio like a farmyard to make Anderson “happy”.  Wakeman described the studio, “There were white picket fences … All the keyboards and amplifiers were placed on stacks of hay.” At the time of recording, heavy metal group Black Sabbath were producing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the studio next door.  Ozzy Osbourne recalled that placed in the Yes studio was a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn to give the room an “earthy” feel. Anderson recalled that he expressed a wish to record the album in a forest at night, “When I suggested that, they all said, ‘Jon, get a life!'”

So we have an earthy pastoral album.  But what about the four sides?  Steve Howe describes it:

“Side one was the commercial or easy-listening side of Topographic Oceans, side two was a much lighter, folky side of Yes, side three was electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity, and side four was us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie.”

Despite Wakeman’s complaints, he did have some nice thing to say about it.  he said that there are

“very nice musical moments in Topographic Oceans, but because of the […] format of how records used to be we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double […] so we padded it out and the padding is awful […] but there are some beautiful solos like “Nous sommes du soleil” […] one of the most beautiful melodies […] and deserved to be developed even more perhaps.”

And if Rick Wakeman says an album is padded, you can just imagine what the rest of the world thought!

The lyrics (and mood) are based on Jon Anderson’s vision of four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively named the shastras, based on a footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  So if I read this correctly–he wrote 80 minutes of music based ona  footnote!

The four songs are

“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” [which Howe says is the commercial or easy-listening side] builds slowly and eventually adds vocals.  And then come the drums and a decent keyboard riff.  There’s some noodling on the keyboards.  The riff is catchy but not immediate (which might be the subtitle for the album).  At nearly 4 minutes a faster section kicks in and there’s a catchy vocal part, which seems like where Anderson might normally soar but he holds back.  The “must have waited all our lives for this moment moment moment” is catchy, but again I can’t help but feel it would have been much more dramatic sounding on an earlier record.  At 7 minutes there’s a nice jump to something more dramatic—good drums, but the bass is mixed very low (poor Squire).  There’s some good soloing and such but it is short lived and things mellow out again.  It resolves into a new riff at 9 minutes, but resumes that feeling of washes and noodling guitars.  At 11 minutes there’s an elaborate piano section and the song picks up some tempo and drama. Especially when the bass kicks in around 12 minutes.  The most exciting part happens around 17 minutes when the whole band comes to life and adds a full sound, including a good solo from Wakeman.  And while this doesn’t last, it recycles some previous sections which are nice to hear.

Track 2 “The Remembering (High the Memory)” [which Howe described as the much lighter, folky side of Yes] has a slow, pretty guitar opening with more harmony vocals.  The whole first opening section is like this—layers of voices and keys. Then come some keyboard swells and more vocals.  Some bass is added around 6 minutes. And then around 8 minutes the tone shifts and there is a lengthy slow keyboard solo that reminds me of the solo in Rush’ “Jacob’s Ladder” (released 6 years later).  At around 9 minutes there’s a more breezy upbeat section with a cool riff.  At 10:40 a new section comes in with some great bass lines and guitars and an interesting vocal part. It could easily have been the structure for a great Yes song (vocals are singing “relayer” which of course is their next album’s title). But this is all too brief (it thankfully returns again) and then it’s back to the gentle keyboards.  At 12 minutes there’s a new medieval type section with some great guitar work.  When the “relayer” part returns around 13 minutes there’s a whole section that is great fun.  And even though it doesn’t keep up, the song feels rejuvenated. By around 17 minutes there some interesting soloing going on and then the band resumes to bring it to the end (with a reprise of an early section). And the final section is quite lovely.

Track 3 “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)” [Howe: electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity] is probably the most interesting.  It opens with some clashing cymbals and then a fairly complex percussion section and mildly dissonant guitar riff.  There’s even some staccato bass line. The vocals come in around 4:30 and the song shifts to a less aggressive sound, but the big bass continues throughout the beginning of the song until a fast riff emerges around 6 minutes. But more unusual Yes-type riffage resume briefly before segueing into the next part with lots of percussion.  While the staccato bass and drums continues, Howe solos away.  Then around 12 :30 the whole things shifts to a pretty, slow acoustic section with a classical guitar and vocals.  This entire end section sounds like it could easily have been its own song and it is quite lovely.  Howe’s acoustic work is great and there’s even a lengthy solo.

Track 4 “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” [Howe: us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie] is also quite good.  It’s probably the most fully Yes track of the four, with many sections of “full band” material.  There’s a noodly guitar intro switching to an interesting dramatic minor key movement.  There’s a pretty, if simple, riff (done by guitar and voice) that is quite lovely.  Around 4:30 the guitar solo brings in a riff from a previous Yes song. By 7 minutes, the song settles into a fairly conventional sounding Yes song (with actual bass and drums and…sitar!).   Around 11 there’s a bit of Wakeman soloing (he did show up for some of the album after all) and then some wild guitar and bass work.   The crazy percussion resumes and there’s a wild keyboard solo on top of it. The end of the guitar solo even has a bit of “Born Free” in it.

I hadn’t listened to this record in probably 25 years.  And so I listened to it 4 times in the last few days.  And I have to say that I thought it was bloated and awful at first, but it slowly grew on me.  I found some really interesting sections and some very cool riffs.  If these pieces could have been truncated into individual songs they would be quite good.  The biggest problem for me is that so much of it is so slow and mellow–like it’s building up to a big climax which never arrives.  On previous albums, Yes had made quite a show of being insane musicians, and that just isn’t here.

So even though I have come around on these songs, they certainly aren’t my favorites.  But if you’re at all interested in Yes, there’s some gems hidden away in these monstrosities (just don’t think too much about what Anderson is talking about).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  The band stayed together after Close to the Edge, but this was too much for Wakeman who left after the recording:

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: June 20, 2015] Shouldn’t You Be in School?

I am finding this series to be ever more and more confounding.  And I know that is its intent, but it is still a challenge.  Whenever anyone asks a question someone else replies that it is the wrong question.  But they never say what the right question should be (deliberately confusing!).  There are also so many threads and confusing characters, that if Snicket didn’t make the story funny and strangely compelling, it would be incredibly frustrating.

In this story, Hangfire, having been thwarted in his previous endeavor to capture children (for what end we do not know) is back with a new plan to capture children.  Also, the mysterious (and presumably wicked, but who can be sure) Ellington Feint has returned as well to help or hinder as she sees fit.

The other characters are back too, of course: Moxie is back taking notes, Jake Hix is cooking delicious foods at Hungry’s (in fact there are even some recipes that sound pretty yummy–Snicket himself makes a passable tandoori chicken).  S. Theodora is still his mentor (and the pictures by Seth of her are hilarious).  Late in the book Pip and Squeak show up.  And naturally the policemen and their bratty son Stewie are there too.  And we are still wondering what in the heck is going on with the bombinating beast.

There’s also some new characters, like Kellar Haines, a young boy who when we first meet him is typing up something in the offices of the Department of Education (with posters all over the walls that say Learn! Learning is Fun, etc).  And his mother is also becoming quite chummy with S. Theodora.

The danger in this book is fire.  Building after building is being burnt down.  The Stain’d Secondary School is engulfed.  Even the library is at risk!  And that’s when S. Theodora solves the crime!  She gets the library Dashiell Qwerty arrested for setting the fires.  And even though it is quickly determined that he did not do it (a building was burnt down while he was in custody), that doesn’t stop S. Theodora and her new friend Sharon Haines (in matching yellow nails) from partying.  It also doesn’t stop Qwerty from being taken to prison.

This story is a bit darker than the other ones (which were admittedly pretty dark).  Every kid is being drugged with laudanum which makes you sleepy.  We’re unclear exactly what they are being drugged for, but Snicket has a plan to stop it.  Snicket himself winds up getting beaten up–pretty badly–from Stew and others.

And for the first time, S. Theodora is kind to Snicket (more or less) and apologizes for her behavior (sort of).

By the end of the book a plan is hatched, a bunch of people join the V.F.D. (as seen in A Series of Unfortunate Events) and someone is taken to jail. There’s even a mysterious beast who is living in the fire pond.

As in previous books there is ample definition building–either from people saying they don’t know what a word means so that it can be defined or from Snicket himself simply defining a word.  As in “my brother and I played an inane game” “inane is a word which here means that my brother and I would pretend we couldn’t hear each other very well while we were talking.”  This game actually sounds fun:

What do you think of the weather this morning?
Feather? I’m not wearing a feather this morning.  This is just a hat.
Just a cat? Why would you wear a cat on your head?
A Bat in your bed etc etc.

The artwork by Seth is once again fantastic and noirish.

And the end of the book has a fragmentary plot “a great number of people working together, but they plotted together in such a way that nobody knew exactly what the other people were doing”  And finally we learn what the right question is, but it’s the unsatisfying: “Can we save this town?”  We’ll have to find out in the concluding book 4.

You can also check out the website for some fun.

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13SOUNDTRACK: JACK BLACK-The Goodbye Song (2009).

jbI love that Jack Black is a terribly terribly profane man, and yet he has also made a huge career out of doing kids shows and movies.  True Tenacious D are practically child men anyhow, but to think that the guy who sang some of those really dirty songs is also Kung Fu Panda?  Or the sweet guy saying goodbye to everyone in Yo Gabba Gabba land?

This song is, like most Yo Gabba Gabba songs, incredibly simple and repetitive (it’s mostly chorus singing goodbye) but each verse has one of the characters from the show singing a simple verse and JB saying something in return.

There’s nothing especially great about this song (you want it more for the visuals), it’s just always fun to hear Jack be funny and silly–and to rock out at the end.

[READ: May 9, 2014] File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

I knew that his book was coming out and I was pretty sure it was Book 3 in the All the Wrong Questions series because, well, because it came out during the series and it was illustrated by Seth.  But it is not part of the series at all.  Well, that’s not true.  It is sort of part of the series.

It is set in Stain’d by the Sea.  Lemony Snicket is there with his mentor S. Theodora and all of the characters we have met so far in the series are here as well.  But this is a series of unfortunate incidents in which Lemony Snicket helps to solve some crimes or, if not crimes, at least possible crimes.  Thing of it as a short story interlude from All the Wrong Questions.  And yet, even though that seems dismissive, it is a great and fun read.

So despite being a little disappointed that this wasn’t the next book in the series (I’m quite hooked) I really enjoyed these short “cases.”  It also turns out that the “bonus” story that came in the Barnes & Noble edition of Book 2 is one of these incidents.  I didn’t enjoy it that much as a “bonus” story, but I found it far more enjoyable this time in the context of Snicket trying to figure things out here. (more…)

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when di dSOUNDTRACK: BECK-Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010).

220px-Scott_Pilgrim_soundtrackI somehow missed Beck’s next album, Modern Guilt.  Whether I was bummed about not loving The Information or that Iwas just out of the loop, I’m surprised I wasn’t all over this collaboration with Danger Mouse.  But I plan to give it a closer listen soon.

After that, Beck wrote several songs for Sex Bob-Omb, the band in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

In a confusing annotation, he wrote 4 songs that Sex Bob-Omb play on the soundtrack.  Three of those songs, Beck also performs on the deluxe version of the album.  Beck also recorded two versions of a song that he wrote for the soundtrack.  And, according to Spin, there are four more unreleased tracks that you can listen to on their site.

I’m only going to mention the officially released tracks here.

“We Are Sex Bob-Omb” is a great punky fuzzed out rock song (as all four turn out to be).  It has a very Stooges feel and at only 2 minutes (including the intro) it’s quite the punk anthem.  Beck doesn’t do a version of this one.

“Threshold” is a punk blast (less than 2 minutes).  Beck’s version is fuzzed out with all kinds of interesting noises swirling around.  The chorus is very traditional punk (ie. surprisingly catchy).  The Sex Bob-Omb version is very close to the original.  It’s actually a little cleaner (you can understand most of the lyrics), but I think all of the noises are the same, so maybe its the same music with different vocals?  Well, according to the movie Wiki, the actors played the music, but of the three it’s the closest musically to the original.  There’s also an 8-bit version of the song which sounds like a warped video game playing along to the melody.  It’s created by Brian LeBarton.

“Garbage Truck” is a big dumb slow track.  In Beck’s version, there’s more fuzzed out guitars and it sounds more 70s rock than punk.  There’s big drums and dumb lyrics.  It’s great.  The Sex Bob-Omb version sounds quite different in the recording.  It’s a wee bit slower, and once again the vocals are much cleaner, but the music is wonderfully fuzzed out again.

“Summertime” is the same style of song–fuzzy and simple (Beck must have had fun writing these).  This one is the longest of the songs, at just over 2 minutes. Beck’s voice is once again super distorted.  The Sex Bob-Omb version feels slower, but maybe that’s just because the vocals are so much cleaner.

Although I thought I’d enjoy the Sex Bob-Omb versions more, I side with the Beck versions on all of them.  None of the songs are great, but they’re not supposed to be (Sex Bob-Omb isn’t meant to be a great band).  But they are a lot of fun, especially if you like garage punk.

There are two versions of “Ramona” on the disc.  The acoustic one is just a minute long and is Beck strumming and singing the word “Ramona” a few times.  It sets the stage for the full version which has strings and actual lyrics.  It’s a pretty song, reminiscent of the string style of Sea Change.

So this is an interesting collection of songs for Beck fans.  And, in fact, the entire soundtrack is quite good.

[READ: March 16, 2014] When Did You Last See Her?

I enjoyed Book 2 in this series a lot more than I remember enjoying Book 1.  And it was great to get back into the fun writing style of Lemony Snicket novels.

The first book left us with the quest for the Bombinating Beast sculpture which, as the story ended, was taken by Ellington Feint, a girl who Snicket was just starting to like.  The first book was full of (intentionally) confusing writing in which Snicket knows that the things he did were wrong, and things like the true nature of what happened were written in a weird way.

There was some of that in this book, but the focus was more on the story than the weirdness of Snicket’s situation (which I’m still not entirely clear on).  Without dwelling on book 1 too much, suffice it to say that Lemony Snicket is an apprentice to the terrible mentor S. Theodora (we still don’t know what the S. stands for).  We also don’t even exactly know what they do, in other words what his he apprentice-ing in?  He claims it’s not detective work.

Despite the disappointment of losing the Beast statue, there is a new problem in Stain’d by the Sea, which Snicket and S. have not left yet.  It turns out a girl, heir to the Knight fortune, has gone missing.  Cleo Knight, budding chemist, and girl with a plan to save the dying town of Stain’d by the Sea was last seen leaving town in her indestructible car, the famous Dilemma.  And yet, she was also seen (by the proprietor of Partial Foods (ha!)) leaving in a taxicab.  When Snicket and S. Theodora investigate the house, they find that the Knight parents are being sedated by a Dr. Flammarion–who seems very suspicious.

(more…)

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topsySOUNDTRACK: BECK-Mellow Gold (1994).

mellowAnd then “Loser” happened and because of this preposterous song, over a million people have purchased a very peculiar album.  After listening to Soulmanure and One Foot, you can really see that Mellow Gold is a sort of greatest hits, or perhaps a most-commercial-potential collection from that period.  What’s especially strange about the album is that it includes scenes from the photo shoot for Soulmanure in the booklet.  I have also learned that “Loser” was done as something of a one-off, a goof that Beck threw together on the day of the recording–while the lyrics sure seem like it, the music is pretty spectacular–that slide guitar is instantly memorable.

The album does some very interesting things with stereo recording, which I never really noticed until I was listening with one earphone in–it rather changes the song, and that one channel may have more of the out of tune guitar noises too.

“Pay No Mind” has some crazy lyrics, although they do work, and, frankly, it’s a great acoustic folk song.  The noises and weirdness in the song make it more fun, but the melody is great on its own.  I can’t tell if his voice is slowed down or not, but the harmonica sounds great and raw.  “Fuckin’ with My Head” has a great garage rock sound (with more harmonica, this time distorted beyond all reason).  The verses are noisy but the chorus is so delicate.  “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997” has a guitar which sounds decidedly out if tune.  It is probably the most anti-folk song on a major label album.

“Soul Suckin Jerk” has a cool funky bass line over a crazy noisy beat and weird effects.  It is also super catchy despite the crazy out of tune guitars and excessive feedback.  “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)” opens with a fight (“c’mon motherfucker”).  Despite the chaos and vulgarity, it’s a very catchy song–the downward melody of “Shit kicking, speed taking, truck driving neighbor downstairs” is hard to resist.  That song is followed by one that opens with, of course, a music box and is called “Sweet Sunshine.”  It is the most distorted and unpleasant song on the album–as far from catchy as you can get and yet it still sounds completely Beck.

“Beercan” is a surprisingly awesome single tucked at the bottom of the album (even if it does have ear-splitting feedback in the middle. “Steal My Body Home” slows things down incredibly, a technique Beck would use a lot over the years–making a song sound very different by spacing it out more.  Especially when the solo comes in and there’s more out of tune guitars and a kazoo.

“Nightmare Hippie Girl” is a funny folk song (the lyrics are great), and again the melody is catchy and boppy.  It’s followed by one of my favorite songs on the album “Mutherfucker” which is a noisy piece of nonsense with the screeched chorus “Everyone’s out to get you motherfucker”.  It would get annoying really fast, but at 2 minutes, it’s an amusing and kind of fun to sing along to.  The album ends with “Blackhole” a slow and somewhat epic (5 minutes) acoustic song.  It feels big and the melodies evoke an epic song.  It’s quite pretty.  Naturally, there’s an obligatory piece of nonsense as a “bonus” track (apparently titled “Analog Odyssey”).  It’s just a minute or so of noise and is not worth mentioning).

Although this album is much more polished than the other to (the production is very clean which really lets all those weird elements stand out) it still shows Beck as a weird, freakish musician–extremely talented with a great ear for melody but someone who is not afraid to be loud and noisy just for the heck of it.  Mellow Gold is still an interesting listen twenty years later.

[READ: March 1, 2014] Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy came as a separate book with my copy of Lemony Snicket’s 29 Myths.  It was originally an insert in McSweeney’s 40.  At the time I said this:

This is an inserted graphic novel.  It has very simple illustrations, which I liked, although I didn’t really follow the story at all.

Since it is now its own entity, I’ll give it a bit more.

The book has a drawing per page.  Most pages have one word or  a few words.  Like “Nighttime” and “Some Are Awake” and “Size is Uncertain.”  The story invites us to see the people who are awake making potions to turn things into other things. (more…)

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29mythsSOUNDTRACK: BECK-One Foot in the Grave (1994).

beckoneIt’s pretty well established that Beck’s Mellow Gold came out before One Foot in the Grave, although the recordings for Grave may have been earlier.  This is Beck’s other indie label release that came out just as he was selling millions with DGC (One Foot in the Grave is another one that has barely sold 100,000 copies).

I have the earlier release with 16 songs, but it has since been re-released with 16 bonus tracks.  The album was recorded with Calvin Johnson at his Dub Narcotic studios.

In contrast to the chaos of Soulmanure, this album is a lot more focused on Beck’s anti-folks style.  And while there are some silly freakouts, the disc is largely a straightforward indie folk release.  The disc even opens with a traditional track.  And he has another song that sounds traditional (with slide guitar) but isn’t.

Sometimes the guitars are out of tune or overly twangy, but the songs are all serious and real, not noisy freakouts or nonsensical whaling.  That’s not to say there’s aren’t a few silly songs. “Cyanide Breath Mint” is certainly weird  and “Ziploc Bag” is a cacophonous blues song.

But this album is more consistent.  Calvin Johnson sings vocals on the album with him (I don’t actually know which voice is his as there are a number of people credited with vocals).  There’s a deep voice doing backing vocals on some tracks and there even a duet, on “Forcefield” in which Beck does not do lead vocals.

Probably the best song is “Asshole” which has a good melody and has lyrics that are somewhat surprising given the title: “She’ll do anything to make you feel like an asshole.”

It’s tough to say that the album is a precursor to Sea Change, because it is so lo-fi and under-produced and because the lyrics are more absurdist/funny, but the vibe is strong enough to make Sea Change a possibility rather than something that came out of left field.

[READ: March 1, 2014] 29 Myths of the Swinster Pharmacy

In continuing with the McSweeney’s McMullen’s children’s books series, this one is yet another weird book that my kids didn’t really like.  I enjoyed it, but felt that the ending lacked somewhat.

Lemony Snicket books are often peculiar, and it seems like he’s really pushing the levels of what counts as a story with some of his books.

I love the conceit of the story–these two kids just don’t understand what is up with this building–what do they sell? And in trying to learn more about it, they have come up with all of these notions.  Some of them are funny, some are absurd, some are serious, some are even true.  But there’s no real sense of completion at the end, which is kind of a bummer. (more…)

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snicketSOUNDTRACK: HEYWOOD BANKS-“Toast” (1995).

toastI found this song when I was reading an article about Chris Christie.  Someone said he’s toast after his recent scandal.  And someone else posted this video.  Evidently it is taken from a morning radio show (ew), but the song is funny despite the morning nimrods laughing along.

I prefer the audio quality of the radio version, but I like this live version better (the dark toast intolerant joke is very funny (it’s new to this version)–as is the punchline to the Eifel Tower verse).

The excitement that he brings to this nonsense is wonderful.

[READ: September 20, 2013] Who Could That Be at This Hour?

I have a few books lingering around from last year that I have yet to write about.  This is one of them.  I’m not sure how a book gets neglected in my writing.  Usually I feel like I need to devote some time to it and I feel like I don’t have enough time at the moment.  And then it gets pushed back and back until months have gone by and then I wind up writing a half-assed review anyhow.

Alas.

So this begins a new series from Lemony Snicket.  It is a prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it is a very early prequel.  The main character is a thirteen year old Lemony Snicket who has just finished school and is on his way to a certain destination when all of his plans are thwarted.  And the way the opening is written is confusing and funny at the same time.  Like, “You’ll see her soon enough in any case, I thought, incorrectly.”  Or that he is given a note from a stranger which says to go out the bathroom window.  When he gets into the bathroom he finds a small package: “It was a folding ladder.  I knew it was there.  I’d put it there myself.”  Young Snicket is sitting with his parents–they insist he drink his tea while he waits for the train.  But while he is waiting, a woman breezes into the station and drops a note in his lap.

The mysterious letter writer turns out to be S. Theodora Markson.  She is to be Snicket’s chaperone.  Snicket uses the “a word which here means…” trick from the Unfortunate books but there’s a funny twist

“I’m contrite, I said, a word which here means–”
“You already said you were sorry,” S. Theodora Markson said.  “Don’t repeat yourself.  It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant and people have heard it before.” (more…)

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lumpSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Clouds Taste Metallic (1995).

cloudsClouds Taste Metallic is a clear precursor to later Lips albums.  The opener “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” even sounds like it could come from Soft Bulletin (in fact it sounds more than a bit like “The Sparks That Bled”). Wayne’s high voice is finally finding its range nicely.  The chord progression is also great. The only thing that makes it sounding off the wall is the fuzzed out guitar solo (and the tubular bells, of course).    “Psychiatric Explorations of the Fetus with Needles” returns to the fuzzy rock of old.  On “Placebo Headwound” the acoustic guitar is back but it is buttressed by the wonderfully full bass sound that the Lips have started using (and will continue to use on the next few discs).  “This Here Giraffe” is one of my favorite early songs: a loping bassline over a cute and catchy chorus (“This here giraffe…laughs”).

“Brainville” is probably their nicest ballad to date.  It has a sweet feeling and a goofy chorus.  “Guy Who Got a Headache and Accidentally Saves the World” is yet another great alternapop song.  “When You Smile” could also come right from Bulletin.

“Kim’s Watermelon Gun” is a fast and fun rocker.  The next two tracks “They Punctured My Yolk” (later sampled by the Beastie Boys on To the 5 Boroughs, and “Lightning Strikes the Postman” are instantly classic fast alternapop songs.

“Christmas at the Zoo” is another pop gem like “Giraffe”; what is it about their poppy animal songs?   Despite its message “Evil Will Prevail” is another seemingly happy poppy song.  And the last song “Bad Days” is listed as (Aurally Excited Version) although it doesn’t sound any different from the rest of the disc but it sure sounds good.

The major labels have been very good to the Lips, sonically.  And the Lips are about to repay them by releasing the most ridiculous album ever….

[READ: January 26, 2009] The Lump of Coal

In what seems to be a new tradition, Lemony Snicket has written another holiday book.  Unlike The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, this book is not published by McSweeney’s and it features art by Brett Helquist (the artist from A Series of Unfortunate Events).

Also unlike pretty much everything else he’s done, this book is actually sweet and heartwarming. There’s nothing sinister about the book at all. (more…)

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