2019 December 11 • Wednesday

Happy birthday!!!

New on our shelves is a new book from Trunk Records. Actually it's not on our shelves yet because we can't stop looking at it. Jonny Trunk's Wrappers Delight is a gorgeous collection of colorful and striking wrappers, mostly from candies and sodas and such. It is a marvel to behold.

This will be available in stores early next year but you can get it at the Trunk Records website now. I think I joined a Kickstarter for this. My book came with a t-shirt, also available as a separate purchase from Trunk Records.

These photos won't do justice to the book but putting some of them up here was irresistible.

Nice to see The Bionic Woman, Columbo and Kojak!

Some of those candy cigarette wrappers are devastating.

That guitar!

2019 December 09 • Monday

For the 599th Soundtrack of the Week we sat down with Zdeněk Liška's score for Ikarie XB-1, a Czech sci-fi movie apparently based on a Stanislaw Lem story and an influence on Star Trek. I saw it on the big screen maybe about twenty years ago and enjoyed it.

A mixture of strange electronic bleeps and bloops along with some more conventional musical instruments and scoring make up the main title cue.

After that comes a similar electro-acoustic hybrid, "Surveillance on Standby/Alpha Centauri", which veers between some solo clarinet playing and proto-industrial sound manipulation.

A plaintive and mysterious electric guitar with some subtle electronic responses from mysterious sources makes up the fascinating "A Small Stone in Space".

“Sunflower for a New Star” is kind of like avantgarde Hawaiian music, with dreamy and swooping electric guitar lines weaving in and out of electronic noises.

This is followed by a very delicate and spacious piece for vibes and electronics, "The Backwoods of the Universe".

"Silver Ball (Věra in Cameo)" is riveting and atmospheric mostly acoustic piece in 6/4 that features the piano. Something about the groove and the feel of it, as well as the instrumentation, might remind you pleasantly of Sun Ra.

The next cue, "E.V.A. Will Teach You" is also along the lines of Sun Ra, but a mixture of Sun Ra with surf and cartoon music. It's hard to describe: strange but pleasant, pulsating and insistent but not maddeningly so.

That's what you'll hear on Side A. Side B begins with "The Tiger's Breath", a long track of mostly electronic sounds and music, though there is an expansive organ section, eventually joined by some more acoustic instruments for a more traditional sounding approach to scoring. Some of this is similar to some of what you hear in old episodes of Doctor Who.

More weird electronic noises announce that "The Dark Star" is here. I wonder if John Carpenter saw this movie and was influenced by it and its music.

"'Do Not Eat the Fruit'" has an Alphaville-ish computer voice speaking in Czech, over more far out electronic music. Presumably some of this is musique concrète. And perhaps computer voice is saying not to eat the fruit.

After that comes "The Awakening", in which strings are the featured voice, though of course accompanied by some nimble electronics work.

"Voyage to the End (Of the Universe)" is another strange and cool electronics piece, this one with more of a groove to accompany its various blastery and transistory sounds.

Then we come to the end with "The White Planet", a heavy and dramatic orchestral piece (with electronics accompaniment of course) that perhaps is meant to go with a triumphant resolution, though it would probably go with an unhappy ending just as well.

2019 December 06 • Wednesday

Ken Greenhall's second novel, Hell Hound, is as powerful and unusual as his first, Elizabeth. Just these two books have given me the impression that he was an extraordinary and brilliant writer, under-rated and overlooked, somebody whose work has a lot to teach us about the art and craft of writing.

The book does have one big problem, however: the title. It gives the impression of a demon dog and certainly Baxter, the dog in question, is a terrifying presence in the book.

But Baxter isn't a horror genre monster. A more apt title for this novel would have been Stranger in a Strange Land, though of course that was taken.

What's the story? Baxter is an alien. Okay, he's a dog, but he lives among humans, an alien species that he finds variously contemptible, confusing, pathetic, stupid, attractive or worthy of respect, depending on the person and the situation.

While the story is told from the points of view of at least a dozen different characters, all residing in the same small town, Baxter is the only one whose voice we read in the first person singular—until the last page of the book when a shift from third person to first person concludes the narrative with a silent explosion of devastating dramatic intensity.

While Baxter does some horrible things—murder, infanticide— his alienated and sociopathic reality isn't in and of itself horrible because he's a dog. His lack of interest in the value of human life and human morality can be safely presumed by any reader with only the slightest knowledge of the natural world and the behavior of animals. (Animals even including humans, sadly, the difference being our need to invent contorted rationalizations for our atrocities.)

It's interesting to note how Greenhall steers his characters and the story away from the direction that, say, Stephen King might have taken it.

When Baxter ends up as the companion to a thirteen-year-old psychopathic boy obsessed with Hitler and sexually aroused by violence, who sees in Baxter an instrument and a weapon more than a companion, you might find yourself thinking of Idle Hands and of course Cujo.

The boy builds a pit in which he wants Baxter to fight and kill other dogs. Eventually he puts another boy in there, a younger child, and turns Baxter loose on him as well.

In most writers' hands, that's probably what would happen. It seems like the standard way to escalate everything and move the plot forward. I can imagine a writer being steered in that direction in a creative writing class just as I can imagine any number of professional writers instinctively going that way.

But Ken Greenhall was a true original with a twisted and unique vision. You'll have to read it to find out what happens.

2019 December 04 • Wednesday

The Jimi Hendrix/Billy Cox/Buddy Miles Band of Gypsys Fillmore East concerts have just been released again and if somebody had put out this music in this way decades ago, they would have saved me a lot of money.

Every time I've come across some recording of this band, I've bought it. But finally we have the complete recordings of this two-night run from New Year's Eve 1969 and New Year's Day 1970.

Some of these performances I thought I had listened to so many times that they couldn't possibly reveal anything new to me but here we are, listening to songs I've heard hundreds of times before and they sound new.

Of all the recent Hendrix releases, this is absolutely one of the greatest and most important and it sounds fantastic.

Will I keep all the other versions of this material that I've been buying for the last thirty years or so? Of course. But I don't expect ever to listen to them again.

This is it. A spectacular release of some incredibly powerful music and some of Jimi's greatest guitar playing.

2019 December 02 • Monday

The 598th Soundtrack of the Week is Basil Poledouris's music for On Deadly Ground.

The main title music starts sparsely and quietly with what sounds like a wooden flute. Then strings and percussion come in for a full, rich sound propelled forward by a triplet feel.

A heroic action setting gets introduced in “Aegis Flameout”, which has some of the force and power of John Barry’s Bond music.

Tension and suspense defused by heroism are the key elements of the first half of “Fire Out”, another cue which could almost be right for a Bond movie. The second half is airier and more meditative.

“Forrest Doesn’t Fight” starts out with a lush sweeping passage that suggests an epic storyline, then relaxes into a calm, lovely, peaceful cue.

Suspense and menace return in “Kill Hugh”, with some insistent percussion, dissonant strings and serpentine horn work. There’s also some interesting use of synths throughout and an almost otherworldy feel to the music. I could imagine it being used in a Star Trek<\em> movie.

The dissonance and menace return, along with some serene flute playing, for “Hugh Torture”, which is a surprisingly laidback piece.

That almost bucolic feel is continued, along with urgency created by pulsating synth percussion, in “Forrest Blown Up”.

Some delicately arpeggiated lines, gently lilting strings, solid horn playing and subtle percussion pick up the thread in “Forrest Found”. The main idea of this cue then gets developed further in “Chief Meets Forrest”.

After this comes the eight-minute “The Journey”, a suite of various themes and ideas from the pastoral to the heroic, the rhythmic to the textural.

Violence returns in “The Chief Is Shot”, but it’s another cue that’s surprisingly wistful and uplifting.

“Snowmobile Ride” has a great groove with energetic strings and soaring horns above it.

Then there’s a “Gunfight at Hugh’s”, the first straight-up action cue here, and it’s a blast of energy with great lines for the horns and strings.

Contemplative and suspenseful swirling strings come out of a pensive beginning in “The Mercs/Forrest Decides”. It ends with driving synth percussion and heroic horns that morph into a more organic and thicker sound.

“Safe House/Chopper Explosion” has an almost metronomic percussion part layered with the maniacal synth percussion figure as well as some martial snare drum work. This is contrasted with delicate string work, interrupted by explosive orchestral parts and eventually dominated by a very strong acoustic percussion groove. There’s even some nice guitar playing near the end.

For “Horse Chase”, Poledouris comes up with another driving heroic theme that blends perfectly with everything that came before.

Blaring horns announce that “Forrest Enters Aegis”, which sounds like a place of considerable tension and danger.

“Lights Out” beguns with a John Carpenter-esque keyboard part before returning to the percussive and soaring epic feel that makes up most of this score.

More martial and action music, as well as more sweeping heroics, are the contents of “Mutiny/Setting the Bombs”.

This release has an extended version of the strong and lyrical “Jennings Goes Down”, which swells in intensity and builds to several bursts of excitement over the course of its six minutes.

“The Warning” is gentle and thoughtful piece with plaintive strings and winds above softly bubbling electronic percussion, a chance to catch your breath after the heaviness of the previous track.

Moods of danger and heroism return for the end credits, with another strong rhythmic foundation for stirring orchestral figures.

As a couple of bonus tracks there are also an alternate version of “The Journey” and the music for the Seagal/Nasso production company logo.