Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
So in an effort to chew all our cabbage at once, we present an all "What Did We Miss?" themed entry of Club MySpace. There will be at least one more of these before the year is over, three if we can manage it. So laugh an point as you scroll through, we'll ignore you and revel in the discoveries we've made as we played catch up with the year that was.
Sweet relief. A New York band that's not trying to be something "other" and instead succeeds brilliantly at being a rock band. A quartet of young men playing rough-edged pop that is unapologetically fun and catchy.
This New Jersey trio will draw comparisons to The Shins, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's the vocals primarily. But their pure pop (guitars, bass, drums, cheap-plastic keyboards) excavates pleasant memories of The Housemartins and The Connells -- lovely.
Helmed by two Norwegian DJs, this collective's work has been around for several years, only recently compiled into a two-disc set from the Smalltown Supersound label. They craft psychedelic murals of electronics, percussion and the odd divergence into guitar territory. It's an ideal headphone voyage for fans of KLF, The Orb and similar fare.
Crazy, messed-up melodies sung in a nearly disengaged alto. It's like two 78 rpm records found in an antique store, playing simultaneously. Some folks presume electronic music from Germany is weird crap for art students and this is why. If Niobe doesn't tickle your brain, you are one of those presumptuous folk. We'll listen for you.
Likewise, French electronic musicians take a lot of abuse for crafting club-oriented disco for coke-whiffing snobs. With that in mind, this duo makes strange electronic pop with good no-wave bass and guitar. Would it sound good pumping from the soundsystem of a sweaty discotheque? Mais, oui.
We can't possibly keep up with techno. Nobody can. But when the form is handled this well, The Typing Monkey pays attention. The cold, disorienting sounds match nicely to the horror theme Voodeux uses -- mood, not sound effects. An American duo flexing solid genre muscles on both sides of the equation.
That voice! Hymn-like, methodical pop from a UK quartet that understands dynamics should be rendered in shades of gray, not strictly black and white.
Drums of Death
If this special edition of Club MySpace had a "Get Drinks" section, Drums of Death would be in it. We include the skull-faced electroclash/hip-hop fellow because we want to make sure you understand he's not a high-concept comedy record, even though you'd be forgiven for thinking the "Got Yr Thing" video was a Lonely Island/SNL digital short.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Need to see the preview of the Mexican vampire movie The Genie of Darkness? Crave some vintage concert footage of Venom? Done and done. At FotV Dr. Beldinstein posts educational films, forgotten cartoons, punk videos, schlock horror films and clips that defy easy classification.
He finds them so that you don't have to waste time looking for entertainment you didn't know you needed. We suggest you click on over there post haste.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Hymns in the Key of 666
Recasting heavy metal songs as crisp modern folk with chalky female vocals isn't ironic or post-anything. The two genres share much thematic content. After all, if you're going to write a song about a train and you're not a Mississippi Delta blues singer, then chances are you're a folkie, or Saxon.
The Swedish trio chose smartly for at least half of their 10-song LP. Two compositions from Iron Maiden -- "The Trooper" and "Run to the Hills," both tales of brutal combat and the futility of war -- work so well in folk form that the line between original and cover version blurs. And the previously mentioned Saxon tune about the mail-carrying train ("Princess of the Night") reveals its nostalgic core once the amplification and denim are removed.
Musically, Key of 666 holds up for a good stretch. The rococo soloing of metal translates nicely into simplified, plucked acoustic guitars and icy piano. Peeling away the pummeling rhythms also exposes the blues and rock structures at the core of early metal and the new wave of British heavy metal.
One of the trio's biggest surprises comes from the face-value reading of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going to Take It." Though it never reaches the level of coal-miner union fight song, it does make you realize what a crafty songsmith Dee Snider is. And they put light raga decorations on AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," giving a fine impression of '60s hippy noodlings in Eastern divinity.
The inclusion of Europe's "Rock the Night" is puzzling to American ears. Also, Hellsongs should have known not to touch the overexposed/over-covered "Paranoid." Really, with such a bounty of Black Sabbath material to plunder, why that one?*
Reference material: It's difficult to learn of Hellsong's premise/gimmick and not think of the French duo Nouvelle Vague. That's okay, because Hellsongs likely has the same shelf-life. Who knows what folk-metal enthusiasts think of Hellsongs, but heshers who love classic metal might check out Hymns in the Key of 666, now that it's finally available in the U.S.
*At the time of this posting, Hellsongs' MySpace includes their version of "Warpigs" and it's vastly superior to their bland take on "Paranoid."
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Information Supernatural Highway
Soon after Teajay put Ghost in a Jar up for auction on eBay, unusually high bids were submitted and quickly withdrawn by new and experienced eBay users alike. By the time the sale ended more than 80 bids had been retracted or canceled. One bid was retracted because Teajay's approval rating as an eBay seller was too high. Retracting a bid because the seller's feedback summary is too good is akin to refusing food because it looks too fresh.
Two days after bidding commenced Teajay began posting almost daily to assure the audience that Ghost in a Jar was not a hoax. He also clarified that the other items referencing Ghost in a Jar were in no way related to his sale.
Ghost in a Jar had attracted so much attention that many seized the opportunity to capitalize on the phenomenon and make a profit -- like t-shirt sales at an execution. Dozens of items that parodied, mocked, paid homage to or simply stood on the shoulders of Ghost in a Jar were put up for sale.
Highlights of this generally humorous batch included:
~ A collar and leash for training your Ghost in a Jar
~ Movie rights to the story
~ Legal representation for Ghost in a Jar
~ A Fonzie tote bag to carry the jar
One listing offered a homeless ghost looking for a jar. The picture featured a white tissue decorated with a sad face, wrapped around what was probably a lollipop.
"Jar in a Ghost" (not Ghost in a Jar, the seller promised) boasted its own origin story and pictures of the titular phantom: a translucent figure named Herbert, who bore a striking resemblance to Thomas Edison. Floating in Herbert's shimmering white torso was a jar that appeared to contain okra or possibly pickles.
News of the Ghost in a Jar sale travelled fast around the Web via blogs, e-mail and a few news Websites. [Remember this was 2003, when RSS feeds were new and social networking had barely passed from Friendster to MySpace, not to mention that cell phones and other mobile devices in the U.S. were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today. -- ed.] And then it all came crashing down at the end of the auction cycle.
Less than 30 minutes before bidding closed on June 5, a buyer going by the handle "gary_the_gimp_horn" bid $50,922.00 (USD). He retracted this bid with less than five minutes remaining before eBay could legally force "gary" to pay in full.
The sale of Ghost in a Jar was nullified by eBay management and nearly every Ghost in a Jar-inspired item was likewise removed from the virtual shelf. Some who followed the bid history for Ghost in a Jar say the price reached as high as $999 million.
One disappointed participant and eager observer goes by the eBay user name Midnightdread. His Ghost in a Jar-motivated auction item was Gary_the_gimp_horn's Ghost in a Ghost Jar. To clarify, Midnight dread was selling the ghost of the final Ghost in a Jar bidder, in a ghost jar. The starting bid was $6.66.
Midnightdread described what the highest bidder would receive: "A ghost in a ghost jar, shipped flat with heavy cardboard protection, just like my instructions said … I might have included the Casper poster too."
The Casper poster to which he refers is a Haight-Ashbury psychedelic-style advertisement for a wrap party held for Industrial Light & Magic employees to celebrate the completion of the special effects for the 1995 film adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost -- a collector's item of unknown value.
But Midnightdread had the sell the poster on its own. Site managers at eBay canceled his Ghost in a Ghost Jar listing along with a swath of others. EBay informed him via e-mail that his auction did "not appear to be consistent with eBay guidelines."
Midnightdread sent a reply to formally protest the cancellation. His four-paragraph missive addressed issues of free speech and artistic expression. He pointed out than an item as potentially dubious as the original Ghost in a Jar went unnoticed despite the high number of inflated and retracted bids. He further argued that eBay was squashing an entertaining and ultimately harmless moment in Web history.
"They had a spontaneous, genuine happening going on," said Midnightdread. "Like true party poopers [eBay] killed almost all of it. Their response was an overreaction magnified by ten."
That eBay turned on the lights and told everyone to go home is no surprise. In the modified free market the auction site provides, there was nothing in place to stop joe_stoner_dork from placing a bid on Ghost in a Jar, with no intention of paying it, and accidentally winning. Teajay, the thoughtless bidder, and eBay would then be left to fight it out, possibly in court. No jar, regardless of the contents, is worth that kind of trouble to eBay.
Teajay was not interested in responding to questions posed for this article. An inquiry e-mail to eBay's "more info" address netted no reply either. Numerous questions are left unaddressed.
What would Teajay have considered a reasonable price for Ghost in a Jar? Since the incident, does eBay monitor transactions on the site more closely? If a legitimate buyer had paid in full, what would become of Ghost in a Jar? Would the Black Thing follow the jar to its new home and become a potentially dangerous pest for its new possessor? That is, can a curse be transferred from one person to another simply by selling the cursed item? Or would The Black Thing remain with Teajay, focusing its anger on the one who disturbed its burial site?
Update: For about a year after the Ghost in a Jar/eBay fiasco, Teajay was a minor celebrity on the Web and was even interviewed by a couple talk-radio programs dedicated to paranormal topics. He maintained a blog for a few months in an attempt to prove the legitimacy of Ghost in a Jar. Helpful commentors suggested that The Black Thing, and the method of containment, indicated that Teajay had incurred the wrath of an ill-tempered Djinn, a supernatural creature particular to Islamic mythology. The Website Ghostinajar.com has archived all of the pictures Teajay originally posted on eBay.
Back to Part I
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Ghost and the Machine
By Kris Kendall
"'You don't believe in me,' observed the Ghost."
-- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
"I do believe in spooks."
-- Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion; The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)
Just before 6 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, May 26, 2003 a seller going by the handle teajay101 (Teajay), offered a strange and unassuming item for sale on the online auction site eBay.
The object was a jar of indeterminate age with a cork lid and wire fastener. It's the type of canning container found at any number of garage sales or antique shops. This particular jar appeared to be painted on the inside -- red and black. On the exterior surface there were several symbols in a crudely swabbed white paint. The item was nothing to merit much attention. Except for the fact that Teajay claimed the jar contained a supernatural spirit.
"Ghost in a Jar," as the item was titled, boasted a starting bid of $99.00. The sale was to go on until June 5, 2003 at which time, per eBay rules and guidelines, the highest bidder would be legally obligated to pay the quoted price and Teajay would deliver the goods in person or via United Parcel Service.
"With it," Teajay wrote in the text that accompanied his original sale post, "I am sure you will be getting the 'Black Thing' also."
It seems that Teajay, upon discovering the jar near a cemetery "back in the early 1980's" broke another painted jar he discovered along with the Ghost in a Jar. This act apparently incurred the wrath of an uneasy ghost -- The Black Thing -- that had troubled and disturbed Teajay ever since.
With the purchase of this hand-decorated jar, the highest bidder, doubter or believer, would also likely take over the burden of a curse to some unknown degree. But like all curses or pacts with the Devil, at least those rendered in popular fiction, the supernatural entity quickly gained the upper hand in this transaction.
What happened in the days following the initial offering of Ghost in a Jar should have been anticipated by eBay's staff. Like an angry genie unleashed, the sale of Ghost in a Jar was almost instantly beyond control.
In the original posting along with the caveat "No Joke Serious Inquiries Only" [sic] Teajay offered a brief history of the Ghost in a Jar and how he came into possession of it.
The story is this: While metal detecting alone in an undisclosed location near an old cemetery and what may have been the foundation of a church, Teajay found a wooden box buried in the soil near the building's foundation. After digging it up and opening the box, he discovered the two jars and "an old journal." Teajay accidentally dropped one of the jars.
It broke and the contents included a candle and a "black mist." Teajay took the other jar and the journal home, leaving the broken jar where it had shattered. (The fate of the box is unknown as it was not mentioned again.) Before leaving, Teajay also took some photos. One includes what appears to a woman and a man standing at either end of a gravesite. They are vaporous and stare directly into the camera's unflinching eye.
Teajay wrote that at home he read the journal, which was scary enough to make "the hair on the back of [his] head stand up!" The pages crumbled and that night he woke to the terrible sensation of The Black Thing pushing on his chest. Teajay "struggled … and managed to somehow escape its clutches."
The Black Thing has attacked Teajay twice since then, although the jar -- always nearby -- remains unopened. Friends who have visited him have seen a "black shadowy thing" slip by in the periphery.
A friend of Teajay's advised him to rid himself of The Black Thing by giving the jar away. Enter eBay. For the winning bid, Teajay promised the jar, the photos from the day he discovered it, a more complete account of his experiences with the jar, a recollection of the text from the journal, and with any luck, "the 'Black Thing' also."
Read Part II
Monday, October 26, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
One of these discoveries very much worth mentioning here is Distincly Jamaican Sounds, a music blog that posts some nifty singles and mixes of mostly reggae and dub. Since 2006, DJS blogger John (aka ReggaeXX) has been posting Halloween- and horror-themed mixes of Jamaican music every October.
Ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub frequently reference horror characters in their titles, if not in their lyrical content. And the party friendly sounds of vintage Jamaican music makes it an ideal soundtrack for a Halloween celebration, as we mentioned last year.
We're already downloading the generous amount of tunes posted for 2009 and will start digging our way through past years as well. (In 2007 he included a mix of garage rock, lounge and vintage r&b too, in case the sounds of Kingston aren't your thing. Isn't that nice?)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
That's why we tune in every year to "The Roadhouse" on KEXP FM. It's an American blues & roots music show that airs Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m., Pacific Time.
On the Wednesday just before Halloween, "Roadhouse" DJ Greg Vandy usually fills his three hour show with all manner of murder ballads, blues numbers about pacts with the Devil, hillbilly songs about dead lovers and probably a fair selection of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and other early r&b and rock & roll shouters who dabbled in the dark arts.
Don't live within the station's broadcast range? You can dial it up via the Web and for two weeks after the show airs, you can listen to an archived podcast of the program. We haven't contacted Vandy, but tune in on Oct 28 and the chance of spooky satisfaction is high.
Various shows on WFMU pull out lots of good Halloween- and horror-themed music too, and we'd be reprehensible boors if we didn't also mention Dr. Demento.
If all else fails, The Monster Club hosts hundreds of old time radio dramas in the horror, mystery, supernatural and suspense genres. (You'll need to subscribe to get the download password, but it's otherwise free.)
Monday, October 19, 2009
At least that's his claim. We've leaned against his office door during these lunches and it's apparent that he's just as often watching Night of the Living Dead or listening to his battered copy of Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. [And drinking? -- ed.]
So the rest of us have recently turned to the DVD collection of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? for cheap lunchtime thrills. This collection is the first two seasons of the Scooby-Doo cartoon, from 1969 and '70.
Before celebrity guests, before Scooby-Dum, Scooby-Dee, or that awful Scrappy and all the later permutations of Scooby and the Mystery Inc. gang, there was Where Are You? -- perfect 22-minute mysteries that closely emulate the Victorian-era fiction that married the detective story with the supernatural tale.
Somewhere in the clause after that em-dash above is a graduate thesis. And we're making the new intern Marie take copious notes as we watch. The early Scooby-Doo plots fill the first act with ghost scares until power of reason gradually takes over the second and third act. And yes, there's plenty of absurd slapstick aimed at the children who tuned in.
Don't think Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? deserves to be taken so seriously? Jay Allman, the man behind Toon Zone agrees with us. And for several years has maintained the Website The Scooby-Doo Case Files. He's got plot summaries, a monsters index, a food index (including a worthwhile essay about the motivations of the Mystery Inc. gang), and tons of other fun info and media related to the early years of Scooby-Doo's television history.
Grab a a Scooby Snack and dig in.
[All images courtesy of The Scooby-Doo Case Files.]
Friday, October 16, 2009
(New York Review Books Classics)
Even if the reader has previously encountered some of these 12 supernatural tales, the collection is well worth a look. The late Edward Gorey -- an illustrator, writer and critic with a gift for the comically macabre -- selected well when he assembled this line-up of short stories.
Most of the stories come from the Victorian era, a boom time for horror writing in England and the United States, as the Industrial Age was steamrolling magic and wonder out of day-to-day existence. Consequently, a good number of the authors pit logic and reason against events that defy any sort of explanation or scientific confinement -- a horror fiction trope that still has plenty of tread left on it.
Gorey's good choices include some literary giants. Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker offer, respectively, "The Body-Snatcher" and "The Judge's House." And Charles Dickens surprises everyone with his perfectly readable and uncharacteristically efficient "The Signalman."
But it's the lesser-known writers, some of them icons to fans of Victorian horror, that deliver some of the best scares in Looking Glass. Algernon Blackwood's "The Empty House" is the rare haunted house yarn that hits all the expected notes without feeling clichéd.
L.P. Hartley's "A Visitor from Down Under" uses flashbacks and meticulous pacing to set up a genuinely creepy tale of revenge from beyond the grave. And W.W. Jacobs' frequently imitated and referenced "The Monkey's Paw" should compel the reader to seek out more of his bleak but comical work.
And if you've seen the excellent Jacques Tourneur film Night of the Demon, then you're already familiar with the story it's based on, "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James. The film is good, the story is excellent and closes this collection on the highest note possible. Can a torn up piece of parchment terrify? Yes. Yes it can.
Reference material: If 100-year-old horror writing is new to you, there's no better place to start than The Haunted Looking Glass. J. Sheridan LeFanu isn't included here, but the Irish writer is a pre-Victorian horror superstar and worth your attention. And Dover Thrift Editions offer numerous cheap collections of classic horror writing.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Seriously, they're doing the Lord's work over there.
Here he stitches together scenes from horror-themed cartoons (a Silly Symphony and perhaps a Merrie Melody?) to accompany Cris Kevin's "Haunted House." Enjoy.
Fun fact: Cris Kevin is actually rockabilly and country singer/guitarist Warren Miller, who has a pretty interesting history.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Not content with words and pictures, Smith hosts Negative Pleasure 2, a tumblr image blog with even more pics, links, and none of that pesky text that gets in the way.
His Oct. 12 posts on Tumblr focus on occult/satanic images from various films. Bonus points if you recognize the movies from which he harvested. Our new intern, Marie, declared that she felt she should go to church after looking at those pics. Which means Mr. Smith's blog is a rousing success.
Prior October posts are a bounty of horror comic shots to tease, torment and delight your eyeballs. Visit both his blogs and destroy the remainder of your afternoon.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Riley, an American poet who touched on all the important poetic themes -- childhood, death, love and weird bits of folklore -- frequently wrote in Indiana dialect which, when read aloud makes the reader sound like a Scottish hillbilly.
One of the best examples of Riley's dialect writing is also his most famous poem, "Little Orphant Annie." It just so happens that the poem is seasonally appropriate, telling the story of a strange servant girl who tells the children terrifying tales of the monsters that will steal them away if they don't behave. (Yes, the character is also the inspiration for both the comic-strip heroine and the rag doll Raggedy Ann. Nice one, James.)
Get your Hoosier scares on by reading the full text here. And if you haven't already, raise a glass to James Whitcomb Riley. Scumps!
[Some students of poetry can't handle Riley's folksy style, and generally think he's a lesser poet when compared to his peers. Hogwash. Even his "bad" poems are worth a look, including the often maligned but in fact, quite funny, "The Smitten Purist."]
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Music for Zombies: Grave Music for Brave People
The Phantom of the Organ/The Vampyre at the Harpsichord
If a well-intentioned adult played Music for Zombies at a children's Halloween party today, kids likely wouldn't respond to its vintage radio-drama sound. They might laugh and ask if they can watch Hostel 2 instead, or simply wonder why minor chords on a theater pipe organ are supposed to induce shivers. [Also: If that Frisbee lands in my yard again, it's mine. -- ed.] We call those kids chumps.
Verne Langdon -- a hidden treasure of mid-20th century Hollywood -- plays piano, calliope, and Hammond and pipe organs on these nine tracks he composed. The music is bookended by the sound of a crypt door opening and closing.
"Zombie Sonata" taps a Beethoven vein, if Ludwig had been listening to broadcasts of Inner Sanctum, and ends with a man's agonized screams. "Flowers of Evil" is all classic pipe-organ moodiness, and a guaranteed way to end a bad first date. The three part "Zombie Suite" feels a little too lush, but you do get a calliope-mad recording of Langdon's "Carnival of Souls" -- a tune he liked so much he recorded it on nearly every keyboard available to him at various points in his career.
Barely cresting the 30-minute mark, Zombies is just long enough to get you through a dramatic reading of W.W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw. (Hint: Program the tracks so "Tombs Egyptian" syncs up with Sergeant Major Morris' visit.)
Now, if you want to send the kids crying into mom's apron, Langdon's double-shot The Phantom of the Organ/The Vampyre at the Harpsichord will do.
Phantom has Langdon helming a genuine theater pipe organ, extracting the iciest chords he can. Really, there's not much more to it than that. The listener's appreciation for pipe organ and being serenaded by a disfigured obsessive who lives in the sewers below the Paris opera house will dictate how much you get from this disc. ("Sound Trip through the Catacombs" has some nice sound effects, including sicko giggling and terrified ingénue screams.)
Likewise, Vampyre features Langdon going solo on the harpsichord. It starts out at a dirge pace, and even drifts into a pleasant, almost Bach-like place for "Eternal Life Suite." "Carnival of Souls" appears again, far spookier on the plucked strings of the harpsichord, followed by the short, dizzying "Flight of the Vampyre." If Daniel Ash of Bauhaus didn't learn some of his guitar vamps from this album, then we're returning our black nail polish.
This music will at least scare the kids by virtue of the fact that you own it. Point your speakers out the windows on the big night, turn out the lights and dramatically decrease the odds of having to give away any candy.
Reference materials: If you like the incidental music from old horror shows on television and radio, or have a jones for odd organ LPs found at thrift stores, these records will make you quite happy.
Bonus fun fact: Phantom and Vampyre were played for years in haunted-house attractions at various theme parks in Southern California, and all three of these albums were originally available to order from the back pages of Famous Monsters magazine. FM founder/editor Forrest J. Ackerman wrote the hilariously purple liner notes for Phantom and Vampyre. Read them aloud and you'll sound like a villain from the Batman TV series:
"That doomed avatar of evil, brother-in-blood ... the Count: Draculon!"
Monday, October 5, 2009
Monster-themed pinball machines is the theme for the week of Oct 4. Per Aeron Aelfry, the monster brain behind the site, you can expect "monsters, aliens, robots and mythological abominations that infested the pinball machines of the past!" It starts with a "devils and demons" collection that's surprisingly filthy and violent.
But let's be clear on the following:
You got that?
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Black cats, skeletons and jack-o-lanterns -- faces frozen in manic grins -- dance and conduct creepy business that sometimes involves anthropomorphic candy and vegetables. If you have the cash to spare, Kirscht sells prints and originals. Otherwise, point your peepers at his Website, Shiverbones.com and his Flickr photostream.
[Kirscht has plenty of non-Halloween work and his morbid comics are funny too.]
Thursday, October 1, 2009
To start off, it is paramount that we share with you the existence of Halloween Magazine. If a print version ever existed, we would have a subscription. But that it's there on the Web, all year round, makes our hearts grow three sizes. Poke around the site and find all manner of stuff related to the holiday.
Now before we push this pumpkin down the hill, let's take a moment to catch our breath and enjoy this old jazz reel of jump-blues king Louis Jordan performing "Let the Good Times Roll." (The audio is slightly off, but who cares.)
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Those who are prepared for it: This challenge can only be a good time. Consider it an exercise in chance, discovery and a way to return a tiny bit of wonder to the act of listening to the radio.
But first, we are required to say:
Corporate radio sucks. Media leviathans own multiple stations in single markets and continue to drain both the local personality and musical diversity from these stations in the belief that they know what listeners want to hear, niche-programming music into blank-eyed predictability.
Conversely, technology has enabled consumers to program deeply personalized playlists of music they can take wherever they want, without annoying commercial interruptions or a disc jockey who pretends that his job is a non-stop party. MP3 players and cloud-storage music services have made the act of listening to music on the radio the technological equivalent of shaving with a straight-razor sharpened on a leather strap.
If you've read this far, we won't rehash any sad statistics regarding media consolidation and the shrinking pool of songs from which radio programming draws, because the point of all this typing is to praise radio.
That's right, we love radio and we're not afraid to admit it.
It's easy to tune in to talk or news radio and leave it on all day at work, or while doing chores around the house. Some passively listen to a single music station because it's easy to do so. There's comfort in tuning in a classic rock station while you clean the gutters, or some other unsavory but necessary labor.
But hopping from station to station -- particularly easy with a car radio -- forces the listener into activity, and consequently makes the radio experience significantly more fun. Even in the dullest radio market a few well-chosen stops on the dial can provide a reasonably good driving soundtrack.
So here's the challenge: Reprogram a few of the presets on your car radio. Sure, pick whatever stations you may voluntarily listen to, but toss in a few that trade in genres you might not think of immediately. Don't pick stations you hate, though. This is a game, not torture.
Now, the next time you have to drive for more than 20 minutes, turn on the radio and find a song you like on any of the stations. Listen to it and if you don't like the next song, change to another station on the presets until you find something agreeable.
But don't ever stay on any one station for more than three songs. You'll surprise yourself by what you settle on, and if you plug in some off-the-path stations, the whole thing can feel like listening to somebody else's iPod set to shuffle.
Just do it. Seriously, it's fun. To prove it here are some recent results from a Typing Monkey staff field trip:
~ Classic rock
~ Classical music
~ An "oldies" station that spans from *Your Hit Parade material on up through unnecessary modern versions of jazz standards by the likes of Rod Stewart
~ A well-funded "indie" music station
~ "World music" station
~ Two urban contemporary/R&B/hip-hop stations
~ A "JACK FM" channel
~ Pop and rock hits of the '70s and '80s
Here's what we heard, starting at 9 p.m. [Brackets] indicate the songs we skipped, or missed due to the three-song limit. An asterisk* indicates songs we heard only part of.
Jack Jones -- "Wives and Lovers"
Barbara Lewis -- "Baby I'm Yours"
Tymes -- "Wonderful! Wonderful!"
[Carley Simon - "Nobody Does It Better"]
Breakestra -- "Lowdown Stank"*
[Brother Ali -- "The Preacher"]
REM -- "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)"*
Boston -- "More Than a Feeling"
The Cure -- "Close to Me"
[The Police -- "Synchronicty II"]
Steve Miller Band -- "Jungle Love"*
Led Zeppelin -- "Celebration Day" (Zeptember!)
The Wailing Souls -- "Kingdom Rise & Kingdom Fall" (12" Mix)*
The next day we tried it again at 1 p.m. and netted nothing worth hearing. Really, a total wash-out. Nobody needs to hear "Gypsy" or "Magic Carpet Ride" ever again radio. We can play those songs in our heads if we feel the need.
And lately the "urban" stations seem stuck on a permanent loop of passionless, Auto-tuned "soul" jams about getting drunk and engaging in casual sex. There's better urban contemporary material out there, we've heard it.
Three days later, we took a chance on a morning drive. If you want to hear music, statistically, this has to be the worst time of the day to listen to the radio.
After minutes of fruitless searching we settled on the last dramatic bars of Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor, a decent transition into The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" then Queen's "We Will Rock You" (didn't stay for "We Are the Champions"). Switching again we landed on Charles Mingus' "Better Get Hit in Your Soul" (a revelation) and Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine Blues." That was enough to get us to our destination and now we know it's time to check out Mingus Ah Uhm.
You have the rules. Give it a try. And if you live in a barren radio wasteland, try it anyway. You never know what you might end up with after exploring the dial.
Car radio image courtesy of Antique Automobile Radio, Inc.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
As enjoyable as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was, years of crap fantasy films, manic fan rapture and the work of George Lucas put a screen between our eyes and those films. At best LotR reminds us that Jackson did right by Tolkien, at worst the trilogy prompts us in our more cynical moods to describe it as the over-inflated story of two guys trying to return some jewelry.
Either way, the LotR films inspired no repeat viewings. Whereas any of the sword & sandals flicks featuring Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animated creatures keeps us returning despite the fact that the target demographic was 7-to-14-year old boys.
Nostalgia plays a large role in that, for sure. But something about The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts taps into the pure joy of watching mythical archetypes clobber each other with weapons, magic and their fists.
Kung-fu movies can deliver the same thrills, but for anybody who sank their brain deep into Greek and Norse mythology or non-superhero adventure comics, there's no substitute for the battle-hardened brute of the Western world diving headfirst into the red mists of war, blade in hand and strict moral code intact. No modern person wants to live in that realm, but the stories' clear division between right and wrong has its appeal.
Past cinematic offerings in this pulp genre are patchy. The Italian Hercules flicks can be campy fun. But the Schwarzenegger Conan films fell flat -- despite John Milius' direction of the first film -- largely because Schwarzenegger is never anyone onscreen but himself. For every inventive outing such as Excalibur there's a not-quite-there entry such as King Arthur; for every Flesh + Blood, a Gladiator.
And the straight-to-DVD/made-for-basic-cable landscape offers a bounty of passable dreck that, we confess, may pull us in on a hangover Sunday afternoon. (We don't watch those movies because they're worth our attention, we watch them because nobody has to know about it when we're done.)
Thanks to CGI and a summer blockbuster season that lasts six months, Hollywood's launched a few more big-budget swashbucklers our way in the past decade, with expectedly mixed results erring on the side of crap. But two forthcoming releases could be worth a look.
Michael J. Bennett, who helmed two unusual, battle-themed horror films -- Deathwatch and Wilderness -- has directed the first big-screen adaptation of Solomon Kane.
Kane, a creation of Robert E. Howard (who also brought Conan the Barbarian to life), is a 16th century tough who packs two flint-lock pistols and various sharp items because dang it if the Colonial world isn't lousy with Satan's minions. James Purefoy, unknown to the average U.S. viewer, plays the lead. Check the trailer here.
From the less popcorn-friendly side comes Valhalla Rising, a film about a slave named One Eye who escapes his Viking captors only to run into some Crusaders and an unusually thick fog.
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, who delivered the goods with the punishing Pusher trilogy brings the bleak reality of life in 1000 A.D. Northern Europe to the screen here. The role of One Eye is played by a Danish actor named Mads Mikkelsen. (Everytime we say his name aloud, various Slayer riffs play. It's the damnedest thing.)
Here's the Valhalla trailer:
[Courtesy Vertigo Films UK]
Having not seen either of these, The Typing Monkey can't vouch for the level of quality. So don't send us angry e-mail if they're trash because we'll be just as disappointed as you.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
So you like early Devo, The Cars and too many spastic British pub/punk bands to list? This quintet does a fine job of recreating and recasting that sound for modern audiences. Novelty sunglasses encouraged, but not required.
We don't pretend to be anywhere near the frontier of hip-hop, and you shouldn't either. However, this blog offers a selection of downloadable singles, mixtapes and remixes diverse enough to suit just about any taste within the realm of the DJ/MC style, and does so with a fair amount of framing so that you know what you're in for.
For example, here is a funny bit of text regarding the music of rough-looking rapper MegaSean: "If you're currently picking dandelions in fluorescent skinny jeans and humming show tunes then I wouldn’t advise you to download any of this. For everyone else please proceed to give your eardrums a taste ..." Right below this was a post hailing "Pursuit of Happiness" -- Kid Cudi's new single featuring MGMT & Ratatat.
Ox Rooster Little Tiger
Ever been to Taiwan? Typing Monkey associates Monsieur Goman and Bri went for you and have been there since August '09. Catch up with the overseas adventure of this adorable, morally upstanding duo.
Beware, There's A Crosseyed Cyclops In My Basement!!!
We blabbed about this site previously, and have decided to add it to our love list. Downloadable comic books to suit just about any taste, updated with dizzying frequency.
Just For the Hell of It
Looking for rare and out-of-print DVDs of the B-grade, Z-grade, horror and exploitation variety? Look here first. They even have a YouTube channel where you can get a temporary fix with select scenes from various features. Shadowman -- yes! (J4HI YouTube clips not always SFW.)
Secret Fun Spot
Lots of Websites post pictures, reviews and rememberies of pop culture ephemera from the recent and distant past. Few are as classy or well-designed as this. You will waste much time here. Don't believe us? Two words: bike decals.
Stefan G. Bucher's fun art project continues by splintering off beyond the original plan: A monster a day, created, documented and posted for your viewing pleasure. It's now a book with a DVD you can order on Amazon. Mission accomplished, sir.
The End Times*
Disassembled by Dr. F. Beldinstein, the "doom folk" trio has a posthumous LP in the works, recorded before the good doctor brought it down. Singer Abigail Anderson makes music on her own. Slide-guitarist Tyson Lynn documents many aspects of his life on various social networks. If you missed them, get the recording when it's available.
Friday Night Frights
Who thought this was a good idea?
*Note, The Typing Monkey generally removes bands from the "Monkey Love" section if the band breaks up. So why do we keep a connection to The Blacktree Singers, a one-off project never intended to last? Because their music is the sound your heart makes in spring.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
(Coming Home/Los Feliz)
Please remember: Pop is short for popular. Rock is short for rock & roll. Mellowdrone make pop-rock and are good at what they do. The trio's 2006 major label debut, Box, came stocked full of polished, broad-appeal tunes delivered with the kind of hairstyled sex-appeal that television producers seek out to soundtrack the choreographed make-out sessions of pretty young actors. Box was fine, but the danger felt a tad calculated.
The band has since parted ways with Columbia Records, taking time to write and record Angry Bear in a more casual manner, letting the tunes, not the studio, rule the day. An outstanding example of this change is the song "Elephant." An open, playful arrangement makes enough room for a short organ-led waltz amid the guitar scratches, pounding snare and '80s-rock synth coda.
Mellowdrone uses dynamics more fluidly too, releasing smoldering tension with thunderous guitars that smash up against choruses. Singer Jonathan Bates' lackadaisical baritone swings up to a scream only when necessary, enhancing the too-many cigarettes weariness of Bear. The effect is a less deliberate eroticism, colored by resignation, confusion and myriad other emotions that clog and complicate romantic entanglements.
Listen closely to "Jumping Off the Pier." The rhythm guitar and drums crib from Motown, and though the song does layer on more instruments, Bates and his band (multi-instrumentalist Tony DeMatteo and drummer Brian Borg) don't build a wall of sound. Instead the recording echoes the recollections of the lyrics by putting the pieces together a little bit at a time, rearranging the details as the song unfolds.
Bates, multi-instrumentalist founder and chief songwriter of Mellowdrone, recorded and mixed Angry Bear himself. That's not an unusual feat these days. That it sounds so good is.
Reference material: Though Bates' vocals recall Beck, Angry Bear should find a comfortable home with fans of Eels (circa Daisies of the Galaxy) and Pulp's Hardcore. And check out the Mellowdrone website -- a rare example of a band site that's more than PR copy.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert sit this one out, letting Annie Ross show off. (Though they do respond to a few of her lines.) Count Basie, suave as always, and his rhythm section back her up. For an added bonus, at the 1:19 mark, Tony Bennett smiles and the angels sing. How many jazz cigarettes has he had before the cameras rolled?
Annie Ross (of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross)
For additional fun with the amazing vocalese trio, dig this other voxpopulai-provided clip from the same outing, with the trio at full power. Watch Dave Lambert's confident, comic entrance as he "well, er-um-ahs" his way into a solo.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Thanks for reading The Typing Monkey Bryant. We're fine. Our editorial staff has no plan to convert to a video-only format. Why would we when other sites, such as Frenzy of the Visible, do that so well already? What you're noticing is most likely due to the effort of our managing editor, Claudette.
She's French and has difficulty understanding the fact that American workers don't take the month of August off, as is common in her homeland. As a result, she enforces strict use of vacation time and urges our writers and editors to take as many days off as possible during summer months. This translates into fewer posts of our high-standard criticism, cultural obsessions, aimless rants and wild speculation.
TMI staffers are gradually returning and beginning to sober up, so expect new and thrilling content in the near future.
We welcome your comments, corrections and criticism. Write to us: email@example.com
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Bonus Batgirl: If you've never seen it, the producers of the Batman TV series made a short pilot to introduce Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (played by Yvonne Craig). It never aired, but "mhirtes12" posted a good, clear copy to YouTube. The whole thing is less than 8 minutes long, so click and enjoy. Notice at the 4:20 mark how leisurely Ms. Gordon goes about hanging up her jacket as she dons her Batgirl gear.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
Their departure for a location known as "The Mitten" means The Typing Monkey will have a decidedly more difficult time drinking with them while the good Dr. spins Bo Diddley's Black Gladiator, various Venom cuts, and as much of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music as he can get away with before the rest of us notice.
They are good people. They will be missed. Congratulations to you Lori. Good luck to you both.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Is it still vivisection if the creature is barely breathing?
Artist Mike Hill, a longtime fan of heavy metal music, decided to make a "single drawing -- a giant timeline that contained every heavy metal band from the 1970's to present day, organized by subgenre."
It has since evolved into four parts, and even if you don't know Angel Witch from Morbid Angel, the art pieces themselves are worth a look simply so the viewer can marvel at what a monumental task Hill assigned himself.
The "Metal Subgenre Popularity Index" has an almost geometric-abstraction look, until a closer examination reveals that it's a functioning chart.
Hill keeps a blog about his endeavor too.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The press materials for Bibio's fourth LP claim that his switch from the Mush label to Warp "reflects a difference in musical output." This is one of those rare instances in which the PR one-sheet is correct.
Bibio, aka Stephen Wilkinson, sings on the majority of the 12 songs comprising Ambivalence. Granted, he uses his voice as another instrument most of the time, masking the clarity of his lyrics, but it's a big step for a man who previously hid behind his hypnotic guitar exercises. The bigger change here is the move toward actual songwriting.
Previous compositions relied heavily on Bibio's brassy guitar picking, looped into brittle melodic cycles. They were not without their charms, but here he's opened up the melodies and stretched them out, creating a broader spectrum of moods and pushing himself into unexpected territory. (His Curtis Mayfield falsetto ribbons around a freeze-dried funk in "Jealous of the Roses.")
The experimental aspects of his work -- field recordings, salvaged equipment not necessarily designed for professional use -- are all still in place. What's different is that he wields them better here. Chopped up recordings of children's voices stutter through the first half of "Fire Ant" and the separation between digital, analog and purely organic instruments is pleasantly, deliberately blurred.
Ambivalence Avenue shifts easily from sun-warmed music to fly kites by ("Lovers' Carvings" and the title track) to autumnal psych-folk ("The Palm of Your Wave" "Abrasion") while still leaving room for sampler & drum machine fun.
Reference materials: Calibrate your interest based on enthusiasm for Boards of Canada, Koushik and loads of other musicians who successfully dress muffled hip-hop beats in psychedelic finery. Or if you liked the direction J Dilla was taking before his death (e.g. "Nothing Like This") you might find new joys in Bibio's music.
Friday, July 24, 2009
By Joan Didion
Leave it to Didion's short, sharp new-journalism-defining style to examine the grieving process with both a microscope and telescope. As with her other non-fiction writing, Didion inserts herself into the equation carefully and well, a feat often imitated but rarely duplicated or perfected by generations of others who've attempted reporter-as-the-story writing.
Discussing her life and her emotions is essential for a book about the death of her husband of 40 years, John Gregory Dunne. But her research and explanations of the cause of death, and how hospitals and other medical staff in the United States deal with death, pulls back just far enough to let the writing function as an examination of our attitudes toward death all while reminding the reader of the very real event that triggered Didion's words.
Identified early on by hospital staff as a "cool customer" because she didn't instantly sob and rend her clothing at the news of her husband's death, Didion immediately -- perhaps uncontrollably -- goes into reporter mode and learns what being a "cool customer" means, even as the layers of her grief peel away. With each layer comes a new discovery about mourning, what we allow ourselves to do and show when everyone around us knows of our personal tragedy.
For all the sadness (her daughter Quintana is fatally ill throughout the course of the book) Didion squeezes some humor out of the story. An attempt to take up crossword puzzles reveals how distracted she is. Later when she reports to a friend that she and her daughter split a Big Mac during a cross-country flight with two medics, Didion's daughter is conscious enough to correct her. It was a Quarter Pounder they ate.
Magical Thinking paints a tender picture of lasting love. For the reader it's a brave exposure of what goes on in the mind of a person who is just beginning to discover and navigate the empty spaces in a life no longer shared.
Reference material: Mary Roach's Stiff is a fascinating book about what happens to cadavers before and after the funeral -- a good read for the clinically minded. But William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience is a better companion to The Year of Magical Thinking. Both touch on the universal and the personal for events that are assured for all of us, and always intertwined.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Beware ,There's A Crosseyed Cyclops In My Basement!!!
It's a blog by Zen Tiger that offers hundreds of comic book downloads, with a book for just about every taste. Honest, just start scrolling down the alphabetical list on the right nav of Crosseyed Cyclops and start clicking -- television, film and cartoon characters; mainstream superhero titles; and underground political conspiracy comix all piled up in one place.
Don't thank us, thank Zen Tiger and Datajunkie.