Archive for the ‘Tom Angleberger’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.


So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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hauntThis song is the theme to Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  I’ve been to the Haunted Mansion perhaps a dozen times and I recognized a line from it (when the ghosts appear next to you in the ride), but I can’t say I ever paid attention or even thought about to this song before.

It was brought to my attention by John Congleton during his excellent interview with Bob and Robin on NPR.  The whole interview was outstanding–I learned so much from him–but I wanted to focus on this song because he raves about it (and because it is Halloween).  And because I absolutely wanted to type the name Thurl Ravenscroft.

  He loves the vocals by Thurl (who was also the singer of The Grinch songs) and the bizarre chord progression: Am, B, Am, B♭, Am, F, Am, F7, Am, E7, Am.  And about the song, he says:

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.

So yes, it’s a goofy song, and if you don’t pay too much attention to it, it’s just a not very scary ghost song, but there’s a lot going on (hand it to Disney for being really into their production values).  Like this note from Wikipedia: “the organist actually played the song backwards to achieve the discord that the composer intended.”

Not bad for a song you only hear if you go on a ride.

[READ: October 19, 2014] Poop Fountain!

I have enjoyed just about everything that Tom Angleberger has written (interestingly, he is famous for his origami Yoda series, which I actually like less than his other books).  This book was actually his first book published.  But he published it under the name Sam Riddleburger and it was called The Qwikpick Adventure Society.  It has clearly been republished since he is now famous.

I brought the book home for Clark but he said he didn’t really like the way it was written (it is typed with handwritten comments).  I actually found it very easy to read and thought it was a super fast read–two hours at most.

So the book starts with a note from Tom Angleberger in which he says that before he wrote books he was a reporter and one of the stories he wrote was about a sewage plant in Crickenburg, Virginia (which is not a real town).  His original article was about how the local sewage plant was getting over-burdened by all the new residents and so it would need to be enlarged.  He went to interview the manager and man did it stink.

He says that many years later a guy called him up to say that he had found a bunch of papers (including his article) in a Qwikpick gas station.  And that’s how he came across this first person account of an adventure to the same sewage plant.

He then tells readers that this was in 2000, before kids had cell phones or the internet, when kids basically just did stuff outside.  And that is how the Qwikpick Adventures Society’s trip to see the Fountain of Poop came about–thre bored kids looking for something to do. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2014] Horton Halfpott

hortonLast summer we listened to Angleberger’s book Fake Mustache, which was one of my favorite audio books ever (until the League of Princes series).  In fact we just re-listened to fake Mustache and enjoyed it even more the second time! I was pretty excited to listen to Horton Halfpott as well because it has two subtitles.  Since we had a long drive ahead of us, it seemed the ideal time to bust out Horton.

And while I did enjoy the book by the end (quite a lot in fact), I found it a little slow going in the beginning.  This book was narrated by Ron Keith, who is British.  There is nothing weird about that because the book is set in Britain.  It is just such a stark change from Fake Mustache (which was so very American) that I think it took a while for us to adjust to the rather stiff and formal (but funny) reading that this book had (compared to the wild and crazy reading of Mustache).  Since the book is a kind of spoof on Dickensian class stories, the narration makes perfect sense.

This entire adventure begins on the day that M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset (the narrator apologizes for even talking about an old lady’s underwear, but it is crucial to the story):

There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.

M’Lady Luggertuck usually wears her corset very very tight, and she acts like she has on a very very tight corset–there is no happiness to be found in Smugwick manor. But on the day that she asks her maid to loosen the corset a little bit, a kind of shock wave floods through the castle, which seems to encourage everyone to loosen up just a bit.

Everyone, that is except for Horton’s superior, Miss Neversly.  Miss Neversly is a mean mean woman, always ready to hit someone (especially Horton) over the head with a wooden spoon (ouch), always ready to doubt someone, always looking for and never receiving praise from M’Lady Luggertuck.

Horton, by the way is a kitchen boy.  He is not a bad boy at all, just an unlucky boy in a bad situation (see, the set up is very Dickensian, and Angleberger thanks Dickens in his acknowledgments).  Horton’s best friend is a stable boy named Bump. They are also friends with the other stable boys Blight and Blemish.  And the story is certainly sympathetic to these poor lower class individuals. (more…)

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yodaSOUNDTRACK: PINBACK-“Fortress” (2004).

pinbackMy friend Jay just introduced me to this band.  I’m surprised I didn’t know them since they have been on Touch & Go Records and now Temporary Residence, two labels that I like.

He didn’t suggest any particular songs to start with, but this was the first one that came up with a search.

Over a simple guitar line a quiet voice sings near-whispered lines.  The bridge moves up an octave or so, but keeps the gentle sway of the song.  The chorus adds an angular dimension to the vocals but doesn’t change the gentle guitar melody–it’s an interesting example of contrasts working well together.

It’s a very pretty song and what I like about it is that based on just this one song, their other songs could go in any direction from here–more angular, more mellow, even heavier.  I’m looking forward to hearing more from them.

[READ: September 29, 2013] The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Clark brought home the second book in this series (Darth Paper Strikes Back) and seemed to enjoy it.  I didn’t really know anything about the series so I decided to check it out, especially since we enjoyed Angleberger’s other books so very much.

This is a fairly simple story of some kids in 6th grade.  Tommy is a sort of uncool kid.  He’s shy and has no luck with girls.  He’s not picked on (I liked that this story never got really nasty), but he’s certainly not a cool kid or a jock.  He’s the perfect underdog character.  For this book, he is assembling a case file about Origami Yoda.

Origami Yoda was created by Dwight.  Dwight is a weird kid.  We hear from his neighbor that she used to see him digging holes in his back yard and then sitting in them for hours.  Dwight doesn’t seem to care about much–he wears crazy clothes, doesn’t do great in school and, weirdest of all, he wears an origami Yoda puppet on his finger.  Seemingly all the time (possibly even in the bathroom).

But the thing is that people have been asking Yoda questions and he (well Dwight, with the worst imitation of Yoda ever) answers them.  And, weirder still, the advice seems to be very good.  Which is especially weird because Dwight is not very smart and doesn’t seem to follow any of the advice that Yoda gives to others.  So what gives? (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: end of August 2013] Fake Mustache

fake mustacheI had seen the cover of this book in the library almost every time I went in.  I loved it but I wasn’t sure if the book was too old for the kids (it’s rated 8 and up, but it turns out there’s nothing too intense that my 5 year old didn’t love it too (she didn’t get it all, but she liked it).  Angleberger is best known for the Origami Yoda series–I haven’t read it and frankly without knowing anything about it, the entire concept of the series baffles me.  But I enjoyed this book so much that I may have to dive into the folded paper series too.

This audio book was read by Jonathan Todd Ross and Jessica Almasy.  And while I liked Almasy, I really enjoyed Ross’s two sections–there was something about is style that really appealed to me.

This is the simple (albeit complicated) story of a boy whose friend buys a fake mustache.  In the town of Hairsprinkle, young Caspar lives with his parents who believe in wholesomeness—in other words, they don’t have a TV.  Nor do they believe in an allowance—material goods are not so good.  But every year Caspar’s aunt gives him a couple hundred dollars to by something frivolous.  And this year, Caspar has his sites set on a man-about-town suit.  Not just any cheap suit, but a very nice tailored, man-about-town suit (this phrase, repeated throughout the beginning of the book cracked me up.  I’m sure my kids didn’t know what it meant but it made me laugh every time it was used).  After buying the suit, he went to the Heidelberg Novelty Store to buy the Heidelberg Handlebar #7—a glorious fake mustache which is made from real human mustache hair (ew).  With suit and mustache, Caspar looked like a short man-about-town.  And the citizens of Hairsprinkle were impressed

The main character and narrator of the story is Lenny Flemm, Jr.  Lenny is something of a loser and his only real friend is Caspar.  Turns out that he himself is responsible for giving Caspar the extra ten dollars that he needed to get that mustache (they had raised the price).  When Lenny goes shopping with Caspar, he is excited not to buy a suit or a mustache but to buy a sticky grabber hand (for $1).  The lady at the desk, Sven, is hilarious (and Ross’ voice for her is dynamite).

That night a bank is robbed—by a short man in a man-about-town suit.  And the next day Caspar gives Lenny his money back, with a lot of interest.  Then another bank is robbed.  And then another.  The next time Lenny visits Caspar’s room, there are stacks of gold bars against the wall. Lenny decides to call the police, but they don’t believe him—Caspar is a boy, they are looking for a man.  But now that Caspar knows that Lenny is onto him, he tries to make trouble for Lenny.

But before Lenny can prepare for this, there is a new player in town—Fako Mustacho—a man who plans to save the town, the country, the world, from itself.  Fako Musatcho is a short man with a glorious mustache and a suit—not a man-about-town suit, mind you, but a different kind of suit.  And it seems that whenever Fako speaks, people automatically listen–including the mayor who agrees to step down because she can’t catch the bank robber.  Except for Lenny who seems to be the only one who can see that Fako is really Caspar.  So, what is a kid with no friends supposed to do?

Call for help from Jodie O’Rodeo, of course.  Jodie is the star of the now cancelled kids show The Jodie O’Rodeo Showdeo. On the show she sang and did trick riding stunts.  Turns out that she can really do them (the stunts, not the singing) and she also knows that Fako Mustacho is a kid wearing a mustache.  By the middle of the book, when Part 2 opens, we hear Jodie’s side of things (in the audio book this is where Jessica Almasy takes over).  Interestingly Jodie and Lenny meet because Lenny is dressed like Jodie O’Rodeo (long story).  Lenny always thought she was cute (and was embarrassed to say so) but the show has been off the air for a few years and Jodie is really cute now.  And she still has her horse, Soymilk.  And she wants to help Lenny save the world! (And she thinks Lenny is cute, even though it’s weird because he is dressed like her).

Once the two begin working together, hijinx ensue and the story gets very exciting indeed.  Whereas Lenny is a man of words, Jodie is all about action, and there is a ton of it (most of it very funny indeed).  By the time they free themselves from Fako Mustacho’s henchmen, Fako has the whole world hypnotized and, since it is an election year, he has them all hypnotized to vote for him as the President of the Unites States.  It’s going to take nerves of steel, great horsemanship and perhaps a sticky grabber hand to stop the plans that are afoot (including the other plan to assassinate Fako should he become president—don’t forget, he is only Caspar in a fake mustache).

This story was so funny.  It is riddled with absurdities and hilarious asides.  The situations are preposterously simple and yet also dangerous.  All throughout there were wonderful jokes, hilariously silly set ups (they fall into a vat of oozing slime) and preposterously funny foolishness—who doesn’t love when no one can see the bad guy but one kid?

I enjoyed this book so much I insisted that the kids only listen to it when I was in the car.  And it did not disappoint.

As I said earlier I loved Ross’ reading.  He was very very funny (and reminded me at times of John Hodgman’s deadpan delivery–absurdity always works best in deadpan).  And his pronunciation of Fako Mustacho made me laugh every single time.   Jessica Almasy’s reading was also really good (I don’t want to give the wrong impression).  It’s just very different—Jodie’s story is more exciting than Lenny’s while it is still funny, it’s not as absurdly funny as Lenny’s (although Almasy does a great job with the different character voices as well).

Here’s trailer for the book (ha).  I feel compelled to point out that the “its” in the trailer should have an apostrophe, but at least they didn’t put one in where it didn’t belong, which is so much more common.  I also didn’t realize the book had illustrations (that’s the trouble with audio books).


I am sold on Angleberger and am not only preparing to read the Origami Yoda books, but I can’t wait to get the audio for Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.  The fact that it also has a crazy subtitle means I like it already.

Incidentally, Angleberger has also written under the pseudonym Sam Riddleberger and I hear that his The Qwikpick Adventure Society is quite enjoyable too.

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