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Election Day is here again! In Pennsylvania the polls are open from 7:00AM until 8:00PM, leaving you a thirteen hour window in which to vote. Figure out where you are voting and for whom you are voting and do your civic duty as a citizen of an active democracy. Silence is death.

As always, my personal picks for where I live:

United States Senator for Pennsylvania

Re-Elect Bob Casey

Governor & Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania

Tom Wolf for Governor

Ballot Question

Shall the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter be amended to establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund, funded by Allegheny County levying and collecting an additional 0.25 mills, the equivalent of $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value, on all taxable real estate, beginning January 1, 2019 and thereafter, to be used to improve the well-being of children through the provision of services throughout the County including early childhood learning, after-school programs and nutritious meals?


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Someday I will once more write journal/weblog posts about something other than election reminders. Today is not that day.

If you live in Pennsylvania like I do, then there's a primary election today. As Pennsylvania rightly has a closed primary, your ballot choices will most likely be limited (i.e.: nothing) if you aren't registered as a Democrat or Republican, but check your local listings for ballot questions which may need to be answered.

Polls are open from 7:00AM-8:00PM.
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It's that time again: election time! In Pennsylvania, the polls are open from 7:00AM until 8:00PM. As this is an "off-year" election, focused on municipal races, it sadly generates less interest. Of course, if you ever wondered where presidents, senators, governors, etc. get their start, you can usually look towards these "boring" off-year municipal elections.

Here's something you may not know: in Pennsylvania, the people who work at your polling place are often a combination of appointed and elected individuals; the former are volunteers generally not assigned to work the same polling place that they vote at, whereas the latter have petitioned their neighbours to get on the ballot for the opportunity to work the polling place they vote at. As such, voters in Pennsylvania have an opportunity to choose who aids them in voting.

If you are a voter in Ward 32, District 7 of the City of Pittsburgh, you will see a familiar name on your ballot for one of the poll worker positions: mine. I, Seth Warren, am the Democratic candidate for Judge of Election at my polling station. My friend, Eva Diodati is running as the Democratic candidate for another poll worker position: Inspector of Election. If you live in Pittsburgh's 32nd Ward, District 7, I wish to humbly ask for your vote and confidence for both myself and Ms. Diodati to serve at the polls for the next four years. Thank you.

And now, I take off my candidate hat and resume wearing my private citizen cap as I list my personal opinions on which sections of the voting machine touch screen I shall be placing my finger upon:

Mayor of Pittsburgh

Bill Peduto for Mayor

Ballot Questions

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property with a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?



Shall Section 707. Multiple Employment Prohibited, of the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended to permit a compensated City employee to hold a compensated position as a part-time athletic coach in a public school system or a compensated part-time educational position at a public institution of higher learning, as more fully described in Pittsburgh Ordinance 36?


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Sadly, most Americans don't realise that there are two elections every year. Most turn out for the big, glamorous selection of the president and resume hibernating upon their civic duty for four more years. Of course, this doesn't stop them from asking, "how do we get such idiots for candidates!" Well, my fellow Americans, idiot candidates rely upon people like you being politically apathetic during boring municipal elections, which allows them the opportunity to slip in at the bottom of the political ladder with little opposition, if any at all, and start working their way up.

It's one thing if you vote for an idiot and then complain about that person (and hopefully are more the wiser the next time you go to vote). However, if you complain about the idiots in office yet did nothing to prevent them from taking office...suffice it to say that I have little sympathy for you.

That said, Pennsylvania has a primary election tomorrow (May 16th). Don't be apathetic. The polls are open from 7:00AM-8:00PM and I'm picking some smart candidates (and I hope you do as well).

Mayor of Pittsburgh

Bill Peduto for Mayor

Pittsburgh City Council, District 4

Ashleigh Deemer for City Council District 4

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Is it over yet? starts at 7:00AM when the polls open and ends at 8:00PM when they close (applicable to the state of Pennsylvania). Find your polling place and get there to vote within that 13 hour stretch of time!

I'm picking these candidates:

President and Vice President

Clinton/Kane 2016

United States Senate

McGinty 2016

Ballot Question

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to require that justices of the Supreme Court, judges and magisterial district judges be retired on the last day of the calendar year in which they turn 75?


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I wrote this eight years ago today, towards the denouement of the Clinton/Obama contest to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. Despite being ahead in the popular vote, the DNC threw Hillary Clinton under the bus and handed the nomination to Barack Obama. It was a disgusting "fuck you" to everyone who actually believed in a fair democratic system.

Now, in 2016, I have seen many complaints during the Clinton/Sanders contest about how the DNC has treated Sanders unfairly. There have been irregularities, but nothing to the degree of what happened in 2008 and nothing tied to the Clinton campaign now which could be directly tied to the Obama campaign then.

Here's the bottom line: Hillary Clinton should have been the Democratic nominee in 2008. She won the popular vote - that's how it should work. Sanders supporters are rightly justified in complaining about an overly complicated and "rigged" system, but do themselves no good by placing all of the blame on Hillary Clinton, who was a victim of this very system only eight years ago!

And let's face it: Hillary Clinton is winning the popular vote in the 2016 primaries. To maintain this lead given by common registered Democrats is to be the legitimate Democratic nominee for President. Obama could not claim this legitimacy in 2008 as the DNC handed the nomination to him. It is my hope that Sanders does not become Obama. As much as I like Sanders and wanted him to win the nomination, I can not abide a cheater. I would hope that Sanders agrees with me.

Your vote is your own. If you don't like the nominee, you don't have to vote for the nominee. Speaking only for myself, I am at peace with voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election despite voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary because she has run as clean of a campaign as possible within the constraints of a very flawed and irregular system. In the future, my hope is that we always look to the will of the people and away from the machinations of the establishment elites.
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It is finally Primary Day in Pennsylvania! Why is it that the second state admitted to the Union has to wait until April to vote for Presidential nominees? It's a mystery. Personally, I think it is because Iowa and New Hampshire are brats, but I digress...

Polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7:00AM until 8:00PM. Find your polling place and pay it a visit today. Due to a ballot question, independents get to vote in what is usually a fully closed Primary.

This is my opinion on that matter:

Ballot Question

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court?


And here are my Democratic picks:


Bernie Sanders


Joe Sestak

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Mostly, I just don’t want to think about it.

That sentence, more than any I can think of, sums up my feelings regarding reflecting on the year that was 2015.  And this is why I am writing my memoirs in the waning days of January, when I generally bust one of these out if not on January 1st, pretty close to.

The abridged version of my year is as follows: in December Madeline turned five, in July Amélie turned three and somewhere else during that time True decided that five years was quite enough for her of being my life partner.

It’s not something I particularly want to elaborate on in a public venue.  What happens next?  I don’t know.  We’re both with new people.  Life goes on, right?  Right.

Unless you are no longer alive.

Conventional wisdom states that I should be reflecting on Marin Luther King Jr. today.  The problem is that, on a personal level, any reflection of King is a reflection of someone taught to me from history – a history where someone fought for an end to discrimination and for fiscal fairness and who seems to have lost.  Barack Obama, for all of the legitimate criticisms one could lodge against him, is still the most vilified president to ever hold office for little more than the above average amount of melanin colouring his dermal layers.  I hesitate to say “good riddance” to Obama and his tepid ultra-centrism for fear of inviting the full-fledged fascism of Donald Trump.

A week ago when the news broke that David Bowie had died, I texted my girlfriend, “Lemmy’s passing was sad, but this one really hurts.”  My copy of ChangesBowie is lonely upon my CD rack and needs company.  Last Monday I fired up Spotify and listened to nothing but David Bowie all day long, culminating in what is now his swan song, Blackstar.

I’d heard the title cut and found it a song which demanded to be heard through a proper set of speakers.  To listen to the song through a pair of earbuds is to listen to a song neutered.  The whole album is beautiful and it makes me sad.  While the circumstances surrounding it are different (cancer, as opposed to suicide), I felt that I was hearing a goodbye note much in the same way as Joy Division’s Closer.

The thing about David Bowie is that he influenced and was influenced by pretty much all of the music I love.  My first encounter with the Starman occurred when I had to have been six or seven years old.  Not the Starman, mind you, I met the Goblin King of Labyrinth.  To this day “Magic Dance,” despite all of it’s 1980s cheesiness is one of my favourite David Bowie songs to this day.  It just makes me happy…and sometimes that is all that matters.

The radio stations out of Canada which I listened to growing up kept Bowie on regular rotation.  All of the classics which were collected on ChangesBowie came to me via those airwaves.  By 1998, I remember my friends and I driving around the countryside of Northern New York blasting the Nine Inch Nails remix of “I’m Afraid of Americans” and generally being weird, terrifying kids.  When I joined my college radio station, there was not a time that David Bowie did not get airplay – a new album was guaranteed an add to the playlist rotation (my tenure as music director contained the release of Heathen).  I can thank college radio for the fact that I have heard “The Laughing Gnome.”

For his birthday one year, I bought a friend a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.  He was heavily into glam at the time which was influencing his music and it seemed an appropriate gift.  On the card, I wrote, “something to bring you closer to your roots.”  In hindsight, I should have bought two copies and kept one for myself.

The first Illusion of Joy long-player I ever recorded, 2002’s Bitter was done as a class assignment.  Actually, the assignment was to record a song and I went way beyond and recorded an album.  It is somewhat of a miracle that I was allowed to do this.  However, the professor must have liked, if not what I was doing, my drive to do it.  At one point he commented that my vocal style reminded him of David Bowie.  It was an amazing compliment.

For the second year in a row, Illusion of Joy made only one live appearance.  I have been slowly working on a new album.  I gave the songs from it a listen in chronological order recently…and made my girlfriend listen as well.  She referred to one track as “devastating.”  That’s a keeper.

With any degree of luck this album will be fully complete and released for public consumption this year!  For most intents and purposes, it is done, but there are some other players I want to bring on to add their talents and finish it off.  The closing song, in particular, I want to have a big finish.  To that end, I’ve been asking every vocalist I know to contribute to the coda.  Thus far, I’ve gotten Don Anderson, Jim Semonik and Maresa Whitehead to contribute – and just the three of them brought the song to a much higher level.  I get shivers thinking of what a dozen vocalists may sound like all tracked together.

I feel that, musically, I have been operating in a bubble for way too long.  This has not been healthy for me.  But I also have trouble reaching out and socialising with other people.  I am trying to not be so anxious, but it is a difficult wall to scale.  It especially frustrates me because there is no logic to my emotional state and I pride myself on being someone who can power through things and tackle problems with logic.  Emotions just don’t follow the rules…what makes me a decent songwriter otherwise cripples me.

And 2015 showed me, if nothing else, how emotionally crippled I am.
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The first Tuesday of November is Election Day in the United States. If you are 18 years of age, you should be registered to vote. And if you are registered to vote, you should actually excercise your right to do so. Find your polling place, go to it and make your selections. Polls are open from 7:00AM-8:00PM in Pennsylvania.

All over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with the exception of some local races, it is Judgefest! I'll be blunt, I'm voting for a Democratic sweep of the courts. Frankly, nothing good happens when right-wingers sit on the bench. So, my personal picks should come as no surprise:

Pennsylvania Supreme (three seats), Superior & Commonwealth Courts

Wecht, Dougherty, Donohue for Supreme Court; Dubow for Superior Court; Wojcik for Commonwealth Court

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

McGough, McCrady, Regan for Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

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It is barely 38 minutes long and turned 25 years old last month. On par with Treasure for Cocteau Twins at the apex of their craft, Heaven or Las Vegas is the first album of the group's that I listened to and fell in love with.

I was introduced when someone with whom I had a brief communication in the summer of 2002 sent me an MP3 copy of "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires." Prior to this she had insulted me for not having heard of the group. "You can't call yourself a goth boy and not have heard of the [sic] Cocteau Twins!" Whether or not this was intended as some sort of sardonic joke is irrelevant – the song turned out to be more lovely than the person who introduced it to me ever was.

In a way, having that memory is kind of perfect in association with Cocteau Twins. The music is absolutely gorgeous, but whenever Elizabeth Frasier actually lets comprehensible English words slip off of her tongue, the subject matter relates to absolute human misery. A little bitter in your sweet, there.

Is there any English on Heaven or Las Vegas? On the title cut of the LP, I think I can hear the aforementioned title sung during the chorus. As expected, pretty much everything else is left up to interpretation.

I suppose I should reflect on why I love this particular album so much, but I can't really explain it. The Cocteau Twin sound just naturally resonated with me and I suspect that when one finds a music group they click with, there is an inherit bias towards the first album by the group that was listened to – or even the first song. So, if pressed for my favourite LP and song, I'd say Heaven of Las Vegas and it's closer "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" with little awareness of the introductory bias which may or may not actually exist.

Regardless, I loved the sound so much that I made it essential to get my hands on everything I could and have a complete collection. This is naturally impossible, given the alternate versions and rarities floating around, but I feel that with all of the proper LPs and the compilations collecting the singles and EPs, I've grabbed all that one without unlimited means can get their hands on as a lover of music.

Heaven or Las Vegas would be Cocteau Twins last proper album for 4AD (in the United States they would remain on Capitol until the end of their career). Two more LPs would be released before their time as an active recording and touring group came to a close. Welcome to the 1990s and the dénouement…

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In Pennsylvania, Primary Election Day is the third Tuesday of May.  This year that day falls on the 19th.  You have from 7:00AM-8:00PM to get yourself to a polling station and vote.  I'm picking these candidates:

Court of Common Pleas

Hugh McGough for Court of Common Pleas

Allegheny County Controller

Chelsa Wagner for Allegheny County Controller

Pittsburgh City Controller

Natalia Rudiak for Pittsburgh City Controller

On death

May. 5th, 2015 10:18 pm
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“Daddy, when is Cherry coming home?” asked Madeline as she was brushing her teeth yesterday evening.

“Sweetie…Cherry isn’t coming home,” I told my oldest daughter.  Her four year old mind processed this for a moment before she finally said, “that’s right.  I forgot.”

A couple of hours prior to that exchange, True and I were at the local veterinary clinic, the place from which Cherry, a Chihuahua nearly thirteen years old, would not be returning.  I had gotten the message during my lunch break at work; Cherry, whose health had been deteriorating, had suffered a prolapsed rectum.  I left work early since there was no point in leaving the dog to face several hours of suffering due to my usual work schedule.

Years ago I researched the price of an abortion, mostly out of curiosity and the fear of condom breakage.  Yesterday I learned that it costs the same amount of money to have an abortion as it does to euthanize a small dog.  In both cases, I can see death as nothing less than a merciful release.

I am pro-euthanasia.  I have decided that should I become useless to this world, a vegetable merely taking up space on a hospital bed and possibly screaming inside, I want it all to end.  I want to live, not merely be alive, a pile of organs just going through the motions, most likely prodded along by excessive technology.  I don’t want my children seeing me rotting alive and devoid of lucidity; I don’t want their final memory of me to be my final memory of my father.

That was 25 years ago today.

I was nine years old when my father died, meaning that he has been dead for the majority of my life – a tipping point which occurred somewhere between my 18th and 19th birthdays.  Madeline said to me tonight that Grandma lives in New York, but that one of the neighbours was Grandpa.

“No,” I corrected her, “your grandfather died before you were born.  The neighbour isn’t Grandpa.”

“Oh,” she said, “I don’t have a Grandpa?”

“No, Madeline, you don’t.”

“But I still have a Grandma?”

“Yes, Sweetie, you still have a grandmother – and she loves you very much.”

The memories are fuzzy, as are the family photos, albeit slightly less so.  I grew up in the age prior to digital photography, so either out of my head or out of the photo album, the past has an imperfect soft-focus aura about it and always seems to need a bit of colour correction.  I don’t remember much about my father, though the photos reveal that my younger brother inherited his face while I inherited my mother’s face (which looks way better on my daughter Amélie than it ever did on me).  It seems that my youngest brother was the lucky one, getting the perfect genetic blend of both of our parents.

Over the quarter century, the pain of Saturday, May 5th, 1990 has faded into something resembling insignificance.  I note the date and I note the time which has passed and I note how insignificant this day is to most people not celebrating Cinco de Mayo.   My daughters are too young really understand what is going on – be it a grandfather they never knew or a dog their father bitched about on more than one occasion.  Someday they will though…someday we all do.
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My oldest daughter now uses the toilet with, what in my estimation is, a 95% success rate. As I reflect on the price of diapers and realise that this particular expense has been effectively cut in half, I count the girl’s successful toilet-training as one of the major victories of the year. One child down, one more to go – and then True and I can take our spawnlets out as slightly more civilised members of society.

Read more... )
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In all, Cocteau Twins had fifteen unique singles and extended plays to accompany their eight proper studio albums. Nine of these releases are included on the first two discs of Lullabies to Violaine. The remaining seven (which would be nine, had the two versions of Tishbite and Violaine not been re-sequenced as single EPs with song overlap accounted for) make up the final two discs of the compilation.

Disc three (or disc one of Volume 2) begins with the three songs from Evangeline. By 1993, Cocteau Twins were firmly established in their sound – a band who was a genre unto themselves. This group, so unique yet recognisable, was the type of band who never opened a sentence where the phrase was spoken, “they sound like,” but would often rightly conclude it.

Evageline closes with “Summer-Blink,” which then takes us 180 degrees into the Snow EP, which contains the only two holiday songs the group ever recorded: “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Here’s the thing though…these aren’t technically holiday songs. The former is a little love song set against a snowy backdrop while the latter is a bit of winter fantasy. These are songs which have been co-opted by the holiday season. Neither one mentions Christmas or any other December holiday, nor even the month of December itself. “Jingle Bells” and “Sleigh Ride” have suffered the same fate as “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

So, while it is accurate to say that Cocteau Twins never recorded any holiday music, if I am to listen to any music associated with a certain overblown December holiday, I much prefer that it features the voice of Elizabeth Fraser and the instrumentation of Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde. As an added bonus, outside of This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Song to the Siren,” these two songs are a rare opportunity to hear Fraser singing intelligible lyrics.

The period of 1993 through 1996 only contained two Cocteau Twins albums: Four Calendar Café and Milk and Kisses. There was at least one single or EP for every year of that time period. And then it was all over...Lullabies to Violaine, Garlands to Milk and Kisses.

On Cocteau Twins’ website is a much more befitting epilogue than I could ever write. Would I personally want them to get back together so I could have a chance to see a performance that I didn’t have in my youth? I honestly don’t know – reunions are a huge gamble and I know it wouldn’t be the same. You can’t go home again, lightning never strikes twice and so on and so forth…

Nearly every song sounds strangely out of time and timeless and perhaps it’s fitting that I am out of time myself in experiencing them. I was too young to be there with any real awareness when they first came out, but how I would have liked to be.

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Originally released in 2005 as a four disc set and then split into two volumes of two discs each, Lullabies to Violaine collects all of the odds and ends of Cocteau Twins’ discography. With very few notable omissions, all of the singles and extended plays are represented here. For a basic collector like myself who doesn’t like driving myself mad looking for everything by bands I love, this kind of compilation is perfect. I already have the albums, so a compilation set of all of the non-LP tracks and alternative versions of songs is perfect when I’m looking to fill most, if not all of the holes in my collection.

It’s even chronologically sequenced, which is more than you can say for my “Off The Rack” entries about Cocteau Twins. “Why,” you may be asking, “if you have all of the albums did you skip everything after Blue Bell Knoll and decide to go directly to the compilations?” That’s a good question – and I even have an answer for it! Two answers, actually…

First, I decided that since it was December and since Lullabies to Violaine contains the only two holiday-themed songs ever performed by the group, I’d better listen to it now or not get to it for another year. I have a strict rule against listening to December holiday music outside of December (or even past the 25th, to be honest) if I can avoid it – I certainly don’t play it myself! Since skipping tracks is not an option I am going to entertain – it’s all or nothing in the world of OTR – to keep the holiday music where it belongs, I’m listening to this set now. I don’t anticipate encountering this “problem” very often.

Secondly, I realised that with Blue Bell Knoll, I had completed listening to all of the Cocteau Twins albums from the 1980s. Everything else is from the 1990s, starting with Heaven or Las Vegas. Since the group had so many singles and EPs released in-between and alongside their albums, it actually felt natural to complete the 1980s by listening to what wasn’t necessarily contained on the albums and then do the same with the 1990s before delving into those albums. I probably should have done this with Past Masters when I listened through my collection of albums by The Beatles.

The first volume of Lullabies to Violaine covers 1982 through 1990. The second covers 1993 through 1996. The liner notes delineate where each set of tracks was originally divided into their various original releases. The name of the compilation is actually taken from the names of the first and final EPs. Lullabies was released in 1982 while Violaine closed things out in 1996.

Listening through this set, despite it’s generous four disc, four hour running time, is like a quicker version of revisiting the history and evolution of the group. Lullabies and Peppermint Pig (the first six songs on disc one) are quite the bursts of post-punk. By the time one hears songs from Sunburst and Snowblind, things are taking a dreamier turn, although the group isn’t quite there yet. There is a lovely 12” version of “Sugar Hiccup” along with the shimmering “From the Flagstones” and “Hitherto” but “Because of Whirl-Jack” sounds like a close sibling to “In Our Angelhood,” from Head Over Heels.

In case you ever want to know where Claire Voyant stole the inspiration to the bassline for “Close To Me,” take a listen to the title cut of The Spangle Maker. More notable though is “Pearly-Dewdrop’s Drops,” which is a great starting point for the newcomer wanting to know what Cocteau twins sound like. It was also their first song to get the music video treatment. On Lullabies to Violaine it is presented as an “alternate version,” but I’m hard-pressed to tell you how it differs from any other versions of the song I’ve heard. There’s a 7” version of the song from The Pink Opaque, but I feel like I’d really have to examine each track closely to figure out the exact differences between the two. It’s not something which particularly bothers me.

In all, nine EPs are represented on the first two discs of Lullabies to Violaine and the amount of overlap with what was released on the proper LPs is staggeringly low. Cocteau Twins treated their singles and EPs with the same care with which they treated their albums. In considering ratio of remixes and edits to original material, the balance greatly favours the latter. Perhaps if I didn’t love this group so much, I would find this annoying (for the casual fan who just wanted quick compilations, there was The Pink Opaque which was later replaced by Stars and Topsoil - I own neither). However, as I’ve said before, I own all of the original albums, so having a compilation of highlights from those is useless to me. This complements and completes my collection.

Tomorrow I listen to the second half of this set – yes, the version I own is not the original four-disc package, but the two part split. Could you not tell by the title of this entry?

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It is the first Tuesday of November - the 4th, to be specific. Or, to be blunt: it is Election Day in the United States of America. Yes, the time of year has arrived again where the Halloween candy has been eaten (or stored in the kitchen cabinets for next year) and that stomach-ache you now feel has more to do with who may end up representing us in this great Democracy than any excessive sugar consumption. Want to be able to justify complaining about who is "representing" you in any level of government?

Go out and VOTE!

Your local races will be detailed at Here are my picks for my little corner of the nation here in my little district in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the polls are open from 7:00AM until 8:00PM:

Governor of Pennsylvanla:

Wolf 2014

Pennsylvania State House, District 36:

None of the Above

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Released in October of 1988, Blue Bell Knoll found all three Cocteau Twins back together for a proper LP for the first time since Treasure. This was also the first Cocteau Twins record which received distribution in the United States (not counting the 1985 compilation The Pink Opaque).

When it was originally released, one could buy Blue Bell Knoll in one of the following formats: vinyl LP, cassette tape, compact disc or digital audio tape (DAT). Does anyone else remember DAT? While I never personally touched one, I remember DAT (along with the similar competitor, digital compact cassette) being pushed by audio manufacturers in the early to mid-1990s along with minidiscs as part of some sort of "digital recording revolution." At the time, burning a CD was expensive – these other two formats promised people the ability to record their music without the cost. Of course, we all know how good industry promises are.

DAT and DCC seemed idiotic from the onset. What, exactly, is the point of recording something digitally on a reel-to-reel system? The appeal of the compact disc was a perfect recording with instant access on a pocket-sized format. Had it not been for the MP3, I think that the minidisc would have gained a good share of market traction (and anti-piracy backlash). I remember using minidiscs for a brief period at WAIH, before a computer was installed in the air studio. They were as convenient as air studio cartridges without the bulk or winding. Of course, they were pointless once one could record a file on a computer and load it with even more portability and convenience.

Blue Bell Knoll is not an album I am intimately familiar with. It's another quick one – about 35 minutes long. Like Victorialand, it is named after a place (in this case Bluebell Knoll in Utah) but sonically, it is more like a cross between Treasure and the group's next album: Heaven or Las Vegas. Over the years it has received mixed reviews. Personally, I don't hate or dislike anything this group has put out...and I've come to the point where I've confessed to myself that I can't objectively rank albums. So, subjectively, this is another pretty set from the group, but not the first one I'd recommend to a newcomer.

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According to the group, this is not a Cocteau Twins record. On the group's website, in the discography section, it is listed under "Compilations, Collaborations & Special Appearances" along with This Mortal Coil's two 1980s LPs. When one rips the disc using Windows Media Player, the metadata auto-populates with the names listed in a different order than they appear on the cover.

For my part, I defer to the wishes of the original artists, hence what you see in title of this post being the same as what appears on the LP cover. However, when it comes to the disc position on the rack, I catalogue it the same way does: as if it were a Cocteau Twins record. The boring truth regarding my reason for this is simple: I just can't freaking remember whose name comes first on the cover listing if I'm not looking directly at it! So, rather than go hunting in B for Budd (technically correct) or F for Fraser (WMP incorrect), it gets nestled safely in-between the proper Cocteau Twins LPs Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll.

1986 was a busy year for Cocteau Twins - The Moon and the Melodies was released in November while Victorialand had come out in April sans Simon Raymonde because of his work on This Mortal Coil's Filigree & Shadow (also released in 1986). Harold Budd was a composer and pianist who collaborated with the three members of Cocteau Twins to create a soundtrack for a television programme. When the programme never got made, they kept the material which had been recorded and released it as an independent project.

Given the origins, it is not surprising that most of the work on here is instrumental. Elizabeth Fraser can be heard singing on only half of the tracks on the LP: "Sea, Swallow Me;" "Eyes Are Mosaics;" "She Will Destroy You;" and "Ooze Out and Away, Onehow." On the CD, these are tracks 1, 4, 5 and 8, respectively. However, on the vinyl LP, Elizabeth Fraser's voice ends up opening and closing not only the whole record, but each side of it as well. This is what I call well balanced.

Dif Juz saxophonist Richard Thomas joins in on his primary instrument for "She Will Destroy You" and "The Ghost Has No Name," then switches to drums for "Bloody and Blunt." Around this time Dif Juz went on "an extended hiatus," never officially breaking up but the members of the group have yet to – and likely won't – collaborate again.

The Moon and the Melodies sounds very much like Victorialand, perhaps with a few louder moments here and there. It is about five minutes longer than that album, which is still a quick listen. We remain firmly in the realm of dreampop.

I find myself listening to this the day after I ventured out to catch a few bands on the Wild Kindness Records Showcase, which was put on at Cattivo as part of R.A.N.T. in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighbourhood. Opening that set was a group called Sleep Experiments. Upon hearing their dreamy, shoegaze, I thought, "this is a lot like Cocteau Twins…or Pittsburgh's own Low Sunday with a female vocalist." I bought their CD; expect me to write about it once Off the Rack gets to the letter S.

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After seemingly solidifying their line-up with 1984's Treasure Cocteau Twins went back to being a duo for the 1986 follow-up, Victorialand. Elizabeth Frasier and Robin Guthrie are the core of the group on this record, as Simon Raymonde had been drafted to work on Filigree & Shadow, the second LP by This Mortal Coil. Raymonde would be back for The Moon and the Melodies however.

With the absence of Raymonde, the first thing immediately apparent about this album is the lack of percussion throughout most of it. Effectively, we've moved out of dream pop territory into ambient sounds. It is still gorgeous, but it did present a problem for the media of the time: apparently initial 33 RPM vinyl test pressings were of an inadequate fidelity to the original master tapes. The sounds are very subtle compared to songs like "In Our Angelhood" and "Persephonie" – to accurately capture what was recorded, Victorialand was issued as a 45 RPM 12-inch. Knowing that, it is easy to understand why this album clocks in at barely more that half an hour – almost an EP rather than an LP!

Suffice it to say that the compact disc I own does not suffer the physical and mechanical limitations of a vinyl record. Honestly though, based on the physics of vinyl, they probably should have issued this as a series of 78 RPM discs in 1986 just to appease and annoy the audiophiles. Given what I've read about mastering for vinyl, I have pretty much concluded that it is not worth my time and money. My music would simply not be appropriate for vinyl and no one would get any more out of the listening experience on that format than they would on compact disc (or MP3, or streaming media).

But I think back to when and how Victorialand was recorded; sound was laid on analogue tape, which simply translates better to analogue vinyl grooves. The bedrock, so to speak, was already there and it was a straight line from engineering to mastering to mass production. That said, it is easier to go from analogue to digital than the other way around.

I digress, however...the bottom line is that when I look at the history of recorded music, I find myself grateful that I have it so freaking easy when it comes to fixing sound into a transferable medium. Of course, so does everyone else, so getting your single voice heard in that screaming choir of voices is now the more difficult part.

As noted prior, given that Victorialand is little more than 32 minutes long, it plays fast and is done like a cold breeze before you know what happened. With the mood created here (the title comes from a territory in Antarctica), I'm half-tempted to shuffle this one up with Kate Bush's 50 Words For Snow - maybe even throw in "Winter" by Tori Amos and "Arctic Summer" by B-Movie for good measure.

No one track really stands out for me here...I prefer to think of Victorialand as one piece with nine movements (which makes me glad to not have to flip the record over).

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Released on November 1st, 1984 – exactly one year after Head Over Heals - was Cocteau Twins' third and probably most aptly named album: Treasure. Every group with a long discography has a "defining album," the one you tell newcomers to listen to first to gauge whether or not they will actually like a band (and whether or not said newcomer is to be mocked for their "taste"). In Treasure, Cocteau Twins' post-punk past collides with and acquiesces to their dream-pop destiny. Back to being a trio with the addition of bassist Simon Raymonde to the duo of Elizabeth Frazier and Robin Guthrie, this is the line-up which defined the group for the rest of their career.

I don't remember when or where I bought my copy of this album, only that it has been in my collection seemingly forever (though I do know it wasn't the first Cocteau Twins disc I purchased). "Ivo" (perhaps a nod to 4AD owner Ivo Russell-Watts) opens the set followed by "Lorelei." These two songs immediately bring the album up to the heavens; I can only imagine a cathedral being the only appropriate venue for them to be performed in.

"Beatrix" pulls back a little bit, lacking in percussion but increasing the gothic moodiness. "Persephone" brings the beats back, the song a sibling to "When Mama Was Moth," albeit slightly more uptempo and slightly less intense. I listen to it and love it, but my brain still foolishly tries to understand the lyrics, as if there are really any to actually be understood. "Paper chase is on, join the rat-race, for a timepiece never changes face" – is one of many phrases I've mentally moulded out of Fraziers sung syllables.

"Pandora (for Cindy)" is pure dream-pop and quite a contrast to "Persephone." On my copy of Treasure, there is actually a three second gap between the two songs, as if a breather is needed before the mood changes. Intensity gives was to relaxation and haste to breeziness.

And that is how side A of the record closes. Side B opens with "Amelia," a song which doesn't take us too far from its predecessor. "Aloysius" is perhaps the song with the most open space on the set (it's also the second time you hear a 4/4 beat on the record). While reverb is still prevalent and the guitars still shimmer, there are more rests in many of the instruments – slightly more breathing room.

A gothic ambience returns with "Cicely," but the spidery guitars lines of Garlands have been married to the shimmering which would define the group henceforth. Still, this is the song where Frazier sounds most like Siouxsie Sioux on this record.

"Otterley" is a downright slow piece. There is not so much singing as there is whispering throughout it. If I were cast adrift in a small, leaky rowboat down a foggy river in the middle of the forest at night, this is pretty much what would be playing in my head (in between flashes of terror at the realisation that I'm probably not too many steps away from either drowning, being devoured or getting horribly maimed or killed).

Closing song "Donimo," takes the outro of "Otterley" and slowly glides to a choir of Elizabeth Fraziers (it sounds like her voice was multi-tracked in any case). The build is deliberate before exploding into a mid-tempo 8/8 beat where the kick is on 2. The song ebbs and flows but brings things into the stratosphere as it concludes the album. We've come full-circle and the record is perfectly balanced.

For me, this is a five-star album. I enjoy listening to this all the way through and have no desire to reach for the skip button or even put it on shuffle play. Each individual song is perfect in its own right and all ten tracks are in the correct order. The musical journey is extremely satisfying with just the right amount of contrast and turns to keep things interesting but not arresting.

Had Treasure never been recorded and released, we might have never had Lush, Miranda Sex Garden or Claire Voyant. What a pity that would be.


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Seth Warren

November 2018

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