Adapted from a photo by Todd Lappin on flickr
Hello, and happy summer! No sooner has the delightful BoW 44 been released into the world than it becomes incumbent upon me to announce that the next volume of Ball of Wax (#45, summer 2016) will be another go-round with the theme “One Minute Singles” (see also Vol. 18).
One Minute Singles II will consist exclusively of songs running 60 to 90 seconds in length – as many of these songs as humanly possible. I would love to have 45 tracks, but even more would be wonderful. So spread the word, submit songs from multiple projects, make it happen.
Submission deadline: Friday, July 29th. Submission guidelines: Here.
Questions? Answers? Recipes? Drop me a line.
“Auto Composition 27: Ding Dong” is a goofy, free association little vocal ditty by one Ken Cormier, an unknown-to-me but accomplished Ball of Waxer from Connecticut. According to his bio, Ken is a teacher, performance poet, independent radio producer, and musician as well as the author of two collections of stories and poems and an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Quinnipiac University. “Auto Composition 27: Ding Dong” is the kind of silly, satisfying tune you might make up in the shower or walking the dog or doing some other mundane task. It’s a squirt of creative juice that’s simple and brief, a humble and eminently accessible choice to close out volume 44, a volume that captures a wide range of vocal experiments and arrangements. Nice sequencing, Levi.
What a delight to hear some spoken word. Eric Leckbee’s “Songbird” is an elegantly told story of a young man brought face to face with his two greatest fears. Throughout the piece we are there with the storyteller as he tells his tale. We can picture ourselves on the streets of the lower Haight. We can feel our blood pulsing as the girl in the story says “serenade me.” At which point, the storyteller breaks into song, seemingly spontaneously. The story takes on new heights at that point. He faces his fears head on. I applaud the storyteller’s confidence in telling the story and laying down his tender side for the audience to see. His cadences, pacing, and tone are all well placed. One should be able to sit down, listen and be taken out of their shoes for six minutes while listening to “Songbird.” The experience is an uncommon one these days, but one that is delivered eloquently by this artist.
When I first wrote about Karaoke Hottiez (and that still-atrocious moniker) for volume 43, I had no idea that the band was the side project of one Matty P, he of the Foghorns choir, Plastic Jet Airline and all-around good man about town. And like last time, the name is still a chemical fire but the song is ace (and to the shitty commenter from last time, yes – my band DOES have a transcending, magical, urbane name). “Get on By” is a gob of lo-fi Beach Boys-esque self-harmonizing vocal goodness, sad and pretty and almost stately. The fi is so lo that you can hear Matty pressing the record button on and off at the end, adding to the charm. Nicely done Matty! Please change your band name.
There’s a lot packed into the less-than-two-minute running time of “Miles to Meters,” the first recorded music the world has heard from Seattle expat Heather Duby in several years. A first it sounds like a solo vocal, Heather’s husky alto stark and alone, as if recorded into a handheld recorder in the wee hours. But then a harmony line appears with the chorus and you realize it was two voices all along, double-tracked so as to be almost indistinguishable from each other until that lovely falling melody reveals them. After the second verse comes another surprise as more voices join in, backing up the chorus with beautifully cascading “ooh”s. As soon as it ends you want to start right back at the beginning again.
Lyrically, “Miles to Meters” reminds us that a life well lived is a series of failures, and all we can do is keep falling and keep learning – ironically, a lesson that itself can be hard to remember. If this is the caliber of work Heather’s been keeping from us all these years, I sincerely hope there’s more to come before too long. Regardless, I am incredibly honored Ball of Wax to be the vehicle for this long-awaited gem to be released to the world.
Joelle Berry’s “Moon Beam” glistens lyrically as well as musically. There is a cathedralesque reverb which lends itself to the tight harmonies and cadences that grace this song. The song is pretty in and of itself and very pleasant to listen to, though it’s fun listening to hear where the various vocal lines are going next and what chords will miraculously appear and open up. From the beginning, “Moon beam bend down low,” starts the song off with a most poetic gesture. Those five words are wonderfully suggestive and pretty in their own succession. The heavy hitting doesn’t let up throughout the song, and the grace of the delivery keeps up. And then there is that beautiful space of ringing overtones and reverb that follow a well stroked chord when “heavens above” is sounded. The song fades easily with the soothing low tones of the singer’s vocals “talking in the world tonight.” Joelle Berry’s “Moon Beam” is a heartwarming meditation.
You’ve already heard Anne Mathews’s voice once on this volume of Ball of Wax, backing up Annie Ford on “The Ravens’ Feast” as half of The Lonely Coast. But here she is all on her multi-tracked lonesome, singing another sub-two-minute beauty, no less powerful for its sparseness and brevity. This tune feels both modern and ancient to me – which makes sense, since the idea of creating layers of sound and beautiful beds of drone with the human voice is probably as old as the human race, and yet is still reused and repurposed to create some pretty forward-thinking music and sound art (as we’ve heard throughout this volume). “In the Meadow” would be equally at home in a medieval cathedral or a night of experimental music at the Chapel . . . or, of course, at the Fremont Abbey, where I hope we’ll hear a live rendition from Anne, Annie, and Valerie on June 11th at the Ball of Wax 44 release show.
womwomwomwomwom. Many times over and in layers. steady hmms and moans. This song plays like an eerie alleyway perhaps in 1970s New York City. There is neither up nor down in the song. It feels largely like things are coming at you. And then, they fade away. Maybe to return again, though maybe not. The song is spooky enough, but to think that it was all recorded with the human voice is even spookier. Is Rae Diamond trying to tell us something with this piece – and if so, what? There is a slow build with many sounds coming in then fading out. Perhaps it’s appropriate this song is named after water, as one could picture waves and an occasional splash. The piece itself is rather shapeless like water, spilling into whatever form will hold it. Perhaps trying to interpret it too much or at all is beyond the point of the piece. Strange frequencies come to mind.
At this point in Ball of Wax 44 we’ve strayed into some pretty strange territory, pushing at the outer limits of what you might call music. Jon Rooney/Virgin of the Birds’ a capella version of “Cardinal Points” takes us some of the way back toward the realm of song, but keeps a few toes squarely in droney soundscape territory, which is a-OK by me. Most of you haven’t heard the original “Cardinal Points,” as it’s on an album that hasn’t come out yet, but suffice it to say this treatment is quite a departure. As always, we hear Jon’s distinctive baritone intoning his eruditely obscure lyrics, but instead of upbeat pop driven by trebly guitar and punchy Motown bass we get lush beds of supple, beguiling, delay-drenched oohs and ahhs, expanding to include a plaintive descending melody in the last third. I almost wish I could unhear the original so I could completely appreciate this version on its own merits. The rest of you, make sure to absorb this one while you can, and then hear it anew on VotB’s new record this fall.
I’m not sure which version we’ll get at the Ball of Wax 44 release show, June 11th at the Fremont Abbey, but it’ll be great either way. Get your tickets now!
Listening to Darryl Blood‘s “Maelstrom,” I’m taken into a dark world of nightmares. So it seems, with the strange industrial-esque sounds inhabiting the background. There is a faint pulse beating every couple of seconds and occasionally what sounds to be a loud foghorn blasting its whereabouts in a darkened chamber full of mist. Occasionally the singer makes himself heard with indistinguishable words and phrases. It sounds like Roach from Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. And so the song sounds as if it would be a fitting soundtrack to such a movie. Or one could just as easily picture this piece as an accompaniment to Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” The musical tone is sure dark enough.