LaBianca house.

The haunted mansion

Fresh tracks, Jerry Seinfeld vs. the English language, the other Manson murder house and more.

Emptyset, “Petal,” Blossoms (Thrill Jockey Records)

If you are one of the unfortunate Montrealers living near a construction zone — and let’s face it, who isn’t? — you have my enduring sympathy. It seems that the strategy of any crew, whether they’re building a condo or knocking down the Turcot, is to do the noisiest work as early in the morning as possible. Somehow, things always quieten down by around 10. It reminds me of the old joke: “What does a Calvinist say when he falls down the stairs? I’m glad that’s over with.”

Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (Netflix)

I don’t like to complain. But there are many contemptible things about the latest season of Jerry Seinfeld’s new show. For one, there’s the star and guest’s luxurious ambling around New York City in outrageously expensive automobiles, flaunting their lives of fortune and fame while deriding the servant classes. Another is Seinfeld’s limited roster of interviewees — he’s not making any appearance of discovering new talent, or even extending an invitation to a comedian not already in his inner circle. But there is one script-related thing that particularly irks me as a writer.

As he introduces each episode, rattling off details about his guests and the car he has chosen for them, he always ends this little preamble with: “… and that’s why I’m Jerry Seinfeld, and this is Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” In each instance, these hacky tags are utter non-sequiturs. A beat-up police cruiser and a Seth Rogen interview is not why he’s Jerry Seinfeld. There are in fact few phrases that could precede that statement and actually make sense, and none of them would be interesting: think something like: “My parents named me Jerry Seinfeld, and that’s why I’m Jerry Seinfeld…” Seinfeld even stresses that comedians have a deep love of language. And yet here he is, this mammoth comedic mogul, misusing it in every single episode. It’s so aggravating.

Ultimately, though, the show breaks the number one cardinal rule of comedy: it’s not funny.

Laura Cannell & Polly Wright, “Help Me to Salt Help Me to Sorrow,” Sing As the Crow Flies (Brawl Records)

The shortest distance between two points is to pretend that point A is also point B, and just never leave.

S. Chioini, “+4 Degrees,” Humidex 001 (Humidex)

Nearly a decade ago now, the scientific community convened in Oxford, U.K., for the 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference. The event’s title was inspired by the general consensus that average regional temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius or more would ensure catastrophic global consequences. France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands all set record high temperatures this summer, during wave after wave of extreme heat. And yet I still want to be optimistic.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, dir. Quentin Tarantino (Columbia Pictures)

The Los Feliz area residence at 3301 Waverly Drive, where on Aug. 9, 1969 six friends of Charles Manson infamously murdered Rosemary and Leno LaBianca, was sold last week for $1.98-million to Zak Bagans, host of the American TV series Ghost Adventures. No doubt, the grisly crimes’ approaching 50th anniversary, as well as the publicity surrounding Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, in which the Manson clan collectively play a supporting role, spurred the purchase. While the LaBiancas don’t figure into Tarantino’s movie, the house in which their lives tragically ended has a nightmarish kind of resonance.

The grim fascination with Manson-family-related architecture has a history that spans back to the 1969 murders. The house at 10050 Cielo Drive, where the more famous Sharon Tate was killed the previous evening along with five other socialites, was a routine destination on the Los Angeles occult tour circuit throughout the 1970s and ’80s, an upside down sort of star map attracting pilgrims of a more morbid persuasion. Trent Reznor rented it out in the early 1990s to record the Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral, before the home was finally demolished in 1994. The Spahn movie ranch, where the Manson family lived at the time of the killings, was suspiciously destroyed in a 1970 wildfire, but the LaBianca residence remains in its near-original state.

The house was built in a modernist update of Spanish colonial style typical of Los Angeles in the 1920s, and is mostly unremarkable aside from its violent history. But there is one striking feature that sticks out in retrospect, and cannot be unseen once you see it: in the entranceway at the centre of the edifice, two ovular windows perched above the elongated porch columns distinctly create a screaming face with eyes and mouth agape, an expressionistic image worthy of Edvard Munch. It is as if the building’s draftsperson foresaw the future brutality occurring there, and built it right into the construction.

In their 2013 book Horror in Architecture, Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing call these kinds of exaggerated design features “anamorphic” distortions: “The anamorphic projection, while it causes an object or volume to appear misshapen from most everywhere, is resolved to normal appearance from a privileged viewpoint.” Similarly, Quentin Tarantino, the cinematic master architect, exploits anamorphic distortions — not only does he favour the widescreen format that anamorphic lenses afford, but he also stretches and distorts history to his own liking, until, from the audience’s vantage point, the cartoonish departure from real events appears almost normal again.

The true horror of Tarantino’s films is that the histories they revise  — indeed the realities they erase — are far more horrifying than pulp fiction.