Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Jamie turned me on to The Decemberists, a band that has apparently created the avant-folk equivalent of an Edward Gorey illustration or some long-forgotten penny dreadful. Of the two cds I've listened to, the earlier cd Castaways and Cutouts has a sparser sound, acoustic guitar and accordion rising to the surface next to Colin Meloy's mild brogue. The vocals on that cd sound so earnest, it's hard to tell if this band is really serious about their tales of baleful child ghosts, hard-working mums pressed into maritime prostitution, and the foreign legion, and that's one of the elements that make for such entranced listening. The lyrics depend on a turn-of-the-20th century lexicon and some very surreal phrases to keep it all rhyming, cutting the "dolor and decay" with a generous dose of whimsy. This is no novelty ensemble, and the songs really stand up to repeat listening, until you will find yourself absent-mindedly singing about victorian squalor and some hapless, dead chimney sweep, lodged and forgotten in a flue in 1842. The more recent recording, Her Majesty the Decemberists, adds a few more layers of production, including a string section. It's hard to tell if that particular icing was really needed on the cake, since there is a very peculiar and powerful delivery on the leaner Castaways and Cutouts. Highly recommended as an antidote to the wax fruit being passed off as real aural sustenance everywhere you turn -- thanks, Jamie!

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Finally fixed an old Seth Thomas mantle clock that had been sitting dormant on top of my bookcase. Now the house is accented by its rhythmic ticking, a single chime every half hour, and then the counting of each hour in sustained, solemn notes. It's very pleasing in a classic horror movie sort of way. The visit to the clock repair shop, a place called Watchpital, was just as much fun. The shop is filled with grandfather clocks, mantel clocks, wall clocks, cuckoo clocks, a few old movie posters, workbenches, drill presses, bins of parts, and an aquarium. It's very much an archetypal setting for a James Blaylock story....and the trip there and back, on a relatively warm Saturday morning, seemed to convince me that the world was finally starting to come back to life from the icy whiteness that had swallowed it for a month or two.