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Archive for the ‘Aliens’ Category

SOUNDTRACK2 CHAINZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #170 (February 17, 2021).

I’ve never heard of 2 Chainz, but I love that his Tiny Desk comes from Pamper Atlanta–his nail salon!

He’s a pretty fascinating dude

Colored in royalty, neon hues of lavender, fuchsia and violet, in his high-end nail studio Pamper (yes, he owns it, and he’s not shy about letting you know), 2 Chainz is feeling himself throughout his five-song set. Getting a champagne-soaked pedicure, rolling one and periodically shouting out his sixth and latest studio album, So Help Me God!, the rapper exudes Black excellence in the way of luxurious comfortability.

“Southside HOV” is a fascinating brag track with lines like

I’m from the gutter, diamonds studded, I am too for real
Name another rapper that got a Versace shoe deal

His unbridled braggadocio so clearly comes from the freedom of security after being denied opportunities, not just individually but generationally.

He ends the song with a statement to the little ones:  “Listen carefully, this is a grown man speaking to you … pedicure in this bitch. too.”

“Vampire” is another new song that he casually raps while getting his legs massaged.

Then the set jumps to another room with 2 Chainz sitting in the spotlight as his partially obscured band plays.

He rewinds the clock and samples [his] stacked discography (“Good Drank,” “I’m Different”)

“Good Drank” has a grooving bass line from Tyler Sherard with some cool soloing from Josh Sneed.  “I’m Different” opens with a quiet piano melody from Mark Polynice–it’s almost like a horror movie.  Most of the songs have a chill rap style, but in the middle of this one he really lets it fly for a verse–rather impressive.  There’s some great drumming from Alex Turner on this track too.

The set ends with “Grey Area” and good grief with these lyrics, so much for inspirational).

All this sh- that I have done, I can not believe in karma (yeah)
Old enough to be your Daddy
Young enough to f- your Mama (boom, boom, boom!)
Young enough to f- your sister, young enough to f- your auntie
I ain’t messing with your Grannie, I just juuged her out them Xannies (true!)

It’s surprising then, that he gets all thoughtful at the end of the set.  As Polynice plays some backing chords, 2 Chainz says “Let me inspire.”

“There are a lot of people who have been moving the needle forward for Black people. And they have been for some time,” says an earnest, almost plaintive 2 Chainz. In a heart-filled sermon, he cites Martin Luther King Jr., Tyler Perry and Puffy as trailblazers, practicing gratitude for Black leaders who inspire him and the world at large. It’s a sober moment of euphoria — and a drastic shift from the first 17 minutes of the Grammy winner’s flashy Tiny Desk.

When thinking of inspirations he thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I played from M.L.K.” he says (this must be metaphorical since King died almost ten years before Chainz was born).  Then when asked to name names of black people “who are currently like breathing and accessible in entertainment and tech” he says there’s so many who have inspired him he really can’t think of any names, even though there are so many black billionaires … “their names logged in my phone.”

The jump from M.L.K. to Tyler Perry may be the only time that connection was ever made.  But at the end he admits

I wasn’t specific when answering the question.  I just said what my heart told me to say.

But damn, if Pamper Atlanta doesn’t look really nice.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 3

While I enjoyed Book 2, I thought that Book 3 was a bit more fun.

Because it has dogs!

Raj’s parents are heading to Hawaii for a dental conference (Raj’s dad is a dentist, which you know because he is wearing a “plaque is wack” shirt.  Dad said it was work, but Raj was pretty jealous.  He wasn’t allowed to go because he was in school.  And that could mean only one thing: his ajji (grandma) was going to come stay with him.  Ajji was old-school Indian and brought three suitcases worth of cooking supplies.  And a dog.

Ajji doesn’t have a dog, but she was foster sitting this fluffy creature named Wuffles and brought it with her.  Since Wuffles needed a seat, Raj’s appi (grandfather) had to stay home!

Obviously Klawde is not happy to see that the “mortal enemy of all felines” was going to stay with them (the drawing of Wuffles on the “mortal enemies” page is hilariously adorable.  As Klawde sneaked up to get a better look, Wuffles exploded, snarling and barking right in Klawde’s face.

Klawde surveys the creature from atop the fridge:  It has the good sense to walk on four legs and has proper anatomical parts: fur, tail, whiskers and claws. But the whiskers were short (and couldn’t possibly be intergalactic sensors) and the ears were flopped over–clearly broken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #177 (March 4, 2021).

Ólafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer who creates (mostly) beautiful soothing songs.

I really enjoyed his previous Tiny Desk Concert where he displayed his high tech player piano gadget (used in one of these songs although it’s hard to tell).

He and his accompanying quartet (Geirþrúður Ása Guðjónsdóttir, Sigrún Harðardóttir and Karl James Pestka on violins; Unnur Jónsdóttir on cello) play four tracks.

The pensive set opens with an older tune, “Happiness Does Not Wait,” with Ólafur Arnalds seated at a short upright piano known as a Danish ‘pianette.’

“Happiness Does Not Wait” opens the set with a beautiful looping melody on the piano and gentle strings added on top.  Then the strings take over playing the piano melody and the backing melodies as Arnalds preps his next song.

The remaining three songs are form 2020’s, some kind of peace. 

For “Woven Song” he winds up an Edison “Fireside” cylinder phonograph which plays a haunting melody–a traditional Amazonian healing song sung by the late shaman Herlinda Agustin Fernandez.  He plays a complex piano melody on top of the song.  Then strings layer on top and then once again take over the melody as he stops playing and heads to his other piano.

He explains that in the tribe where Fernandez sings, they weave their melodies into cloth to write them down.

Then moving from the wax cylinder to his high tech Stratus music software.

Look closely at the piano toward the back of the studio during the tune “Spiral,” and you’ll see a piano playing seemingly without a performer. That piano is reacting to Ólafur Arnald’s real-time performance using algorithms he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn, developed.

The song opens with the violin and then the rest of the strings flesh the song out while he begins the piano.  Then the instruments fall back leaving just one violin along with the piano for the end.

For the final song, he moves back to the first pianette to play “We Contain Multitudes” which has an otherworldly echoing quality to it.

It’s a lovely calming session.

[READ: March 21, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 2

Book 2 picks up soon after the events of Book 1.  In other words, summer is over and it’s time for Raj to go to his new school.  The good news is that the friends he made at camp–Cedar and Steve–will be there.  The bad news is so will his enemies Scorpion and Newt.

In the introduction, Klawde explains that his name is not Klawde, it is Lord High Emperor Wyss-Kuzz, the Magnificent.  He says he hated the planet Earth when he was exiled here and he hates it even more now.

Raj is freaking out about school, but Klawde is not interested in his pathetic classes. Where is Battle Tactics?  The Art of Slash-and-Claw? The Art of Ambush?  And that made Klawde think–he will start his own school–a school for warriors.

Marciano wrote this book in 2019 but how crazily prescient was this.  Raj goes into his classroom but there is no teacher.  Instead a voice came from speakers

Now, y’all may think it’s weird to have a teacher on a screen, but it’s part of a new wave in education… remote instruction! [And] no you cannot do whatever you want… I may be sitting down here in Alabama, but … I have a split screen monitor right here with every student’s face on it.

Spooky! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #150 (January 22, 2021).

I really enjoyed Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert back in January of last year.  The pieces were pretty and sad and had a modern classical feel.

For his Home Concert, he seems to be one of the few people who actually plays in his home.

Shot in artful black and white, their simplicity and beauty invite us into a world as we once knew it, where fresh air wafts through open doors and dogs peacefully snooze (canine cameos by Evie and Haku) in the late summer sunshine in southern England.

These half-dozen short pieces can offer two very different modes of experience.  There’s a mysterious potency in instrumental music, where the mind is open to wander and free-associate. Max Richter taps into that power with singular grace and humanity.

His entire set is 16 minutes, so indeed all of these pieces are quite short.

He played “Vladimir’s Blues” when he was at the Tiny Desk.  There’s no blurb about it here, but the first time, the blurb told us

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

It’s a 2004 piece that’s only a minute and a half and it is quite lovely.

Up next are the

gently swaying chords of “Origins,” where the music lumbers in the lower half of the keyboard.

It reminds me a lot of a famous piano piece which I can’t quite remember the name of.  After about three minutes of the piece, one of the dogs who had been lying outside gets up and walks almost up to the camera.

Infra is a ballet he made with Wayne MacGregor for the Royal ballet in London in 2008.

He plays the “soothing, oscillating figures” of “Infra 3” and follows it with the mellow but more upbeat “Horizon Variations.”  This piece also lasts less than two minutes as well.  It’s lovely.

“Prelude 6” from Voices which has a much faster melody than the other pieces.  About half way through, the other dog (who looks like a puppy) comes in all tail-wagging and heads over to dog number 1 (both off camera now).

“Fragment” is a pretty, sad piece to end the set (also about a minute in a half).  As he signs off he says

“Looking forward to the time when gigs can come back and we can do this for real,”

As the video ends, both dogs get up and walk into the lovely sunshine.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat

I saw this book at the library (actually I saw book 5, I think) and thought it sounded funny. They had book one so I decided to start from the beginning.

The title says it (almost) all.  Klawde is an evil alien warlord cat.  The book opens on the planet Lyttyrboks where Klawde (whose Lyttyrboks name is Wyss-Kuzz) is on trial.  He is found guilty of clawing his way to power and committing crimes against felinity.

The elder says that thousands of years ago the punishment’s on Lyttyrboks was banishment to a vast wasteland of a planet inhabited by a race of carnivorous ogres.  For generations they sent their convicts there, but eventually that punishment was deemed to cruel.  However, given the severity of Wyss-Kuzz’s crimes, they have resurrected this punishment.  He is transported across the galaxy to the horrible planet known as Earth.

Alternating chapters are written from the point of view of Klawde’s and an earth boy named Raj.  Raj’s family recently moved from Brooklyn to Elba, Oregon and he is bored and alone.  So when a spaceship lands in front of his house and the doorbell rings… well how exciting to find a cat without a tag.  Even if this cat meows like nothing he’s ever heard before and seems kind of mean.

The book is full of illustrations by Chenoweth.  I love the wickedness of Klawde and Raj’s parents are a hoot as well.

Klawde sees the humans as furless ogres and fears what they will do to him.  They put him in a cage (kitty carrier) and force him to eat horrible food–what is this torture?  Raj’s dad names him: “like clawed, but spelled in a more exciting way.  Why use a C when you could use a K?  K is the alphabet’s party letter.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 4 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 21 1995).

Darrin at Rheostatics Live added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week

Fourth night of the third annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar September 18-23 1995. Never Forget makes its live debut and Farm Fresh and Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies joins the band for Soul Glue. The 16 minute Digital Beach/Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald/You Are Very Star ending is amazing. The band also talks about “Raise A Little Elf” which would be noted on The Blue Hysteria and several other albums.

This is the first of the shows in which the audience is really obnoxious.  It gets worse later on.  I’m not sure why they get picked up so clearly on the mic, but it ruins some of the songs.

Many of the shows opens quietly, but this one opens with a raw “Feed Yourself” with some different words.  The guys are still figuring out the ending.

There’s a really noisy guy who shouts “sit down!” [This is a big thing tonight].  Tim: I’m not getting involved in that.

They play “All the Same Eyes” which I wouldn’t call the most rocking song in their catalog, but Martin says “we’re not normally this rock n rolly.”  Dave: Only on Thursday.  Only on St. Swithin’s day.  Only on my grandpa’s birthday.

They play “an old song,” it’s “Fishtailin'” and the crowd is stupidly loud during the quiet parts.

Up next is “Four Little Songs.”  There’s a long intro, but they get it right.  During Dave’s part he asks them to play the intro twice and he says Bono’s (?) kitchen.  But by the end, they can’t get the counting part right so they ask the audience to help and they do great.

These songs are “aged like sharp cheese which is what Rheostatics means in Latin.”

Dave finally addresses the shouters: you’re not gonna shout out sit down still are you?  They’re obviously not going to sit down and stuff.  Don: They’re talking to you, Dave, they want you to sit down.

Dave says his “day band” The Medicores” playing tomorrow at Lee’s Palace.  It’s a food bank benefit  Don will be at a benefit on Sunday with the coolest band in the area, Don’t Talk, Dance (a group with Tyler Stewart and others).

Last night was a weird night–felt the ghost of Trooper.  We even broke into “Raise a Little Elf.”  The story behind that is that when Andrew was very young he thought that the Trooper song “Raise a Little Hell” was “raise a little elf.”  He didn’t find out until …1992!  So naive.  He’s Mennonite.  Mennonites believe in elves.

Up next is Tim’s new song “Connecting Flights,” which Martin says is called “Two Flights of Stairs.”

You hear the guy shout “sit down asshole.” Thankfully before the song starts.

Presumably to damp down the jerks, they play their happy theme song (“Introducing Happiness”).  He says they plan to play it at the Grey Cup and the Governor Generals Inauguration (cheers). You like the Governor General? Weird crowd.

Up next is “Claire,” the only time they played it this week.  This time it features a guitar “duel” between Martin and Tim.  Tim obviously loses.  he even messes up his simple part and has to play it twice.  Dave says that the song is from the movie Whale Music which is coming out in the States on October 6 at a place in Santa Monica.

Next up is a brand new, never performed song sung by Don kerr called “Never Forget.”  There’s so much talking during it I can’t believe it.

Dave tells a funny, lengthy story about riding his bike and getting honked at by girls in a van.  He tells them Mississauga’s that way (a burn on Don Kerr).  The punch line is them telling him to “go back to England.”  You know what happens when Italians are mistaken for English….

Don says that if you’re riding a bike in Mississauga, you’ve got to  watch for people in vans with baseball bats.  Their TVs break and they have nothing to do.

A great sounding “Fat” has a rocking ending (Dave reveals that the gum that’s tough to chew was Dubble Bubble).  Farm Fresh gets the shout out in “Fan Letter” And then Martin introduces the next song which is “about working in a gas station.”  Dave: It’s not the ‘Summer of ’69’ is it?  But seriously, who talks through “Self Service Gas Station?”

Then there is clapping for the “contest winner.”  The “play drums on your birthday with the Rheostatics” contest.  It’s Tyler Stewart.  Give him a shot at the big time.

Dave asks about an “eat Kraft dinner with BNL contest” in which the bnl were too busy to eat with th eguys and so there were cardboard cutouts.  Tyler: is that some sorta CHOP?

They got to eat with Tyler’s double: Tarzan Dan.
Tim’s double is Henry Rollins
Dave’s double is Telly Savalas
Martin’s double is Starsky Michael Paul Glaser
Don’s double (courtesy of Janet Morassutti) Richard Manual from The Band.
The guitar tech’s double is William Baldwin–at least you didn’t say Ed Begley, Jnr.

Tyler plays a beat for Farm Fresh.  It’s a wild introduction to “Soul Glue.”  There’s so much cursing!  Whaddya think of Farm Fresh/Rheostatics/Barenaked Ladies  “They suck!”  Tyler also does a rap and then describes “Soul Glue” as a “song about LSD.”  It’s a bit slower, but sounds cool.  When Tim sings the “reapt that mistake” Tyler shots “sorry!” and after the “in the ground” Tyler adds “in the ground, in the ground, in the muthafuckin ground.”

Dave encourages everyone to join the Green Sprouts Music Club if you can.

The encore is “Digital Beach.”  There’s some shushing as Martin starts.  It segues into a slow, powerful “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The song is fantastic–the loud parts are really overwhelming. Then as the song ends and Tim reprises the slow part some some jackass shouts out “Gordon Lightfoot!” which totally ruins the moment.  Jesus.  Dave threw in an “I wish I was back home in Derry” which I thought was something he did much later.

After atmospheric jamming at the end of the song, it ends with a lovely (uninterrupted) “You Are Very Star.”

I hate that these drunken people can ruin quiet moments because otherwise this show is fantastic.

[READ: February 20, 2021] School for Extraterrestrial Girls

The title of this book sounded pretty good and when I saw that it was written by Jeremy Whitley who did the wonderful Princeless I was ready to read it.  I don’t know Jamie Noguchi but he has illustrated Erfworld.

Princeless was a YA book and this series is aimed a little younger.  It starts with Tara Smith, a normal girl going to a normal school.  Well, not that normal.  She doesn’t really have any friends. She just puts her head down and gets good grades.  Her parents are pretty intense.  And they are very busy.  So much so that she never really sees them in the morning.  They give her her daily meds (she has serious allergies) and trust that she will catch the bus (which she always does).

When she gets home they go over her homework, make her do everything that she got wrong over and over again and then tell her to study for tomorrow.   The only free time she has is when she takes out the garbage.

Then one morning she wakes up late. A power failure has messed up her alarm.  In her haste to get to school, she drops her meds and breaks a special bracelet that her parents gave her.  Today she can’t take the mean kids on the bus.  She yells at them and her eyes glow red, which gets everyone to back up.  Later in class, as she is writing on the board, her hand catches fire.  And then her whole body does. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Lighting Strikes the Postman: The Flaming Lips Remix (2016).

This release came out on Record Store Day 2016.  It is, simply put, the Lips’ album Clouds Taste Metallic but remixed to remove all of the vocals and to highlight all of Ronald Jones’ guitar playing.  This was Jones’ last album with the band and he has become pretty reclusive since then.

You can hear the very basic structure of all of the songs–drums, bass and rhythm guitar are all there, but mixed low.  The rest of the CD is Jones’ rather unique style of playing–noisy, feedbacky, almost improv-y, but never out of control.

The release also comes with a comic book penned by Wayne Coyne.  The comic pretty much explains Jones’ guitar playing.

You see, after the band released the album, Ronald was abducted by aliens. Why would they take him? Because back then he had one of the most elaborate homemade pedal boards on earth.   He would hook together an endless amount of gadgets, some that were not meant to go together.  One night he connected to a giant antenna.  Then while searching for a sound to enhance the ending of “Placebo Head Wound,” he found the sound of the dreaded Zorgodrites’ freaky 2 way radio and boy were they mad.

They came down and took him away and he was never seen from again.

And so that’s what you get.  Around 55 minutes of guitar freakouts.  But unlike an album of just noisy, weird stuff, this collection is based around songs.  Some of the songs are the same length as the final product.  Others are a bit longer.  The opening track “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” is about three minutes longer than the album version–mostly for Jones’ noodling. 

I tried to sync up the disc to the original via Spotfiy with varying degrees of success.

If you know the album pretty well, you’ll recognize the songs–the verses and choruses are in tact, it’s just that you get to hear some wild guitar around those melodies instead of the melodies themselves.

It can be a disconcerting listen if you are expecting to hear the songs, but if you put that aside and just listen to the kind of things Jones is doing it’s a pretty cool exploration of the guitar.  But definitely not for everyone.

[READ: October 1, 2020] Cycling: The Craze of the Hour

I love books like this.  This is a collection of pamphlets from around the turn of the 20th century, both pro and con for bicycles.  The first item is an instruction manual about how to ride a modern bicycle.  The second talks about the dangers (to your heart) of riding a bicycle.  The third and fourth are humorous stories in which bicycles feature prominently.

The first bicycle was invented at the turn of the nineteenth century but the craze really took of in the 1890s. And so you get:

“The Modern Bicycle (with Practical Illustrations)” (1877) by Charles Spencer

Spencer was an early proponent of the bicycle.  In 1869, he rode from Trafalgar Square to Brighton in fifteen hours (Google maps says it should now take you a little over five on a bicycle, so that’s pretty impressive for 1896.)

This instruction manual is fascinating.  Now, the bicycle they are talking about is more or less a penny-farthing.  The “modern bicycle” may be slightly shorter than a pennyfarthing.  And yet, as a person who can ride a bike today, I can”t imagine riding one of these death traps. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2020] Furthermore

The pandemic pretty much nixed our summer plans.  But we decided to look for someplace close by, in a low-infection rate area, for a short getaway.  It only amounted to a two night trip, but it was well appreciated.  We traveled to the Lake George region and that meant we needed an audio book.

I absolutely love Bronson Pinchot as a narrator.  I will listen to literally anything he reads.  He tends to read darker materials, so the only trick is trying to find something family-friendly.  Fortunately, he reads a lot of those as well.  I’d never heard of this book before (although I was vaguely aware of Mafi’s other series “Shatter Me”).  But as soon as I saw that Pinchot was reading it, I checked it out.

The only bad thing about Pinchot’s narration in this story is that there aren’t all that many characters in it.  Pinchot has an astonishing range of voices at his disposal.  So, to only show off 8 or so means you can’t fully appreciate how great he is.  But the voices he chose were outstanding.

And the story was really interesting.  Mafi has taken a fairly common idea–travelling to another world–and has infused it with all kinds of novel ideas and conceits.

First off, the original world that the characters start in is not our own.  Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in Ferenwood, a land full of magic.  Magic is so integral to Ferenwood, that it is a part of everything–including the people who live there.  And that magic is displayed through color.  Color that is abundant and vibrant and breathtaking.

Except for Alice.  Alice was born without color.  She is pale as anything.  Her hair is white, her skin is white–she is unlike anyone else in Ferenwood and she hates that about herself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-Tiny Desk Concert #964 (March 30, 2020).

What’s worse?  Liking someone’s personality and disliking their music or liking their music and thinking they are a bad person?

In this Tiny Desk Concert, I learned that Allen Stone is a super nice guy, sweet and funny.  But boy do I dislike his music–and his singing voice.

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

His three graceful background singers L-r: Moorea Masa, Jessica Childress, Raquel Rodriguez) and piano player ( Michael Elson) provided the perfect compliment, but this set proved undoubtedly that his voice belongs right up front.

And yet, lyrically, “American Privilege,” which addresses his internal guilt about everything from materialism to being born white, is really powerful.

Between songs he is a delightful sweetheart.  He says that playing Tiny Desk is a, “breath of fresh air that this is how people want to hear music.  It’s not pyrotechnics, its stripped down songs in their purity.”

After this song he played

a trilogy of Building Balance songs dedicated to his wife (who he said he’s “face first in love” with)

He says he got married a year and a half ago.  And he is still married, which is great.

“Give You Blue” (I don’t quite understand the metaphor) is played on an acoustic guitar with gentle piano and the backing singers providing a lot of the backing sounds.

He says say that being so in love has meant that he got a lot of great tunes out of it.  Although “Brown Eyed Lover” seems a questionable title given the Van Morrison classic.  Plus, it seems odd to dedicate a song to your wife that goes, “I’ve got a brown-eyed lover on the other side of town.”

I acknowledge that Stone has a strong, powerful voice–his vibrato is impressive.  I just don’t care for it.

But again, he is so nice between songs.  He says playing a big room is fun and so much energy but with ear monitors in your head you feel isolated.  However, the best part of music is the people and this is so much fun for musicians.

He wrote “Consider Me” before he asked his wife to marry him.  It’s a sweet song, but I’m surprised that a sweet, romantic song has this verse

If you’re looking for somebody who
Will put up with your shit

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 5

Book 5, the army is more intent than ever on finding Hilo. But because he is a child (and not from here) they can’t find any matches in any database.

It will also be hard to find Hilo because he has returned to his home planet Jannus (along with DJ who put on Hilo’s suit and ran through the portal at the least second).

Their absence means that Izzy needs to create replicas of the two of them.  Which she does easily, although the first attempts are way too smart (hilariously so).

Meanwhile Gina has been practicing her magic and accidentally opens a a portal to let two giant dogs in the room.  And they are not friendly dogs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK CROWES-Tiny Desk Concert #963 (March 23, 2020).

I didn’t really like The Black Crowes when they dominated the airwaves in the 90s.  They weren’t really my cup of tea.  In hindsight I like them more.  Although I am very puzzled that the Robinsons are part of the jam band scene as their music seems a little too straightforward for jamming.  But then I haven’t heard any of his jam stuff.

This show is just the two Robinsons, Chris singing and Rich playing some beautiful acoustic guitar –lovely riffs and fills and harmonics.  (Rich’s beard looks better).

It’s somehow been 30 years since the singles “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” (their Otis Redding cover) received constant radio play, and the brothers have reunited for the 30th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut platinum album, Shake Your Money Maker.

The newly reunited Brothers Of A Feather decided to open their Tiny Desk concert with “She Talks To Angels.”

This song is stripped down so much, that its sounds really quite different (I like the acoustic playing more than the original).  But I guess it is more of a jam band song since it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes.

The second song is another big hit in a very different format.  Although I feel like “Jealous Again” doesn’t quite work as well as an acoustic song.

It’s no secret that the brothers haven’t always gotten along, and Chris and Rich Robinson have had musical successes outside their collaboration as The Black Crowes. But the combination of Chris’ instantly recognizable raspy belt and Rich’s catchy guitar riffs was always going to be the duo’s legacy.

Chris’ voice does sound recognizable, although perhaps a little worse for wear.

“Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica) is about constantly being in motion.  Rich plays a beautiful 12 string guitar (it sounds so full!)  They both sing in harmony for much of the song and their voices sound wonderful together.

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 4

In Book 4 we get to see just how awesome Hilo’s sister Izzy is.  Hilo is from another world and Izzy is his “sister.”  He rescued her at the end of Book 3 an now that she’s on Earth, she is just the cutest thing.  They are on earth hanging out with DJ and his best friend Gina.

Izzy makes things from parts and scraps and she is constantly making things (and hilariously, nonchalantly mentioning what they do).

The first thing Izzy makes is a chicken out of the broken toaster.  The chicken speaks Portuguese (what else is she going to speak?) and when she gets mad, her butt falls off.  The chicken shouts estar frio aqui alguem me dar um casaco and indeed it does fall off.

In the last book they went to Oshun, the planet of Polly the warrior cat.  Gina learned magic there and she is learning to control it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARTHUR MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #962 (March 20, 2020).

Arthur Moon is exactly the kind of weirdo band that I never would have heard of if not for Tiny Desk Concerts. I’m so happy that Bob Boilen enjoys the offbeat, because there’s no other way I would have heard of these guys.

This band, the project of singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud has the quirky freshness I first heard from New York artists such as Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and more recently with Dirty Projectors. It comes off in the starkness of the sound, a spaciousness that leaves room for me to hear the storytelling in the songs, but always surprising me with aural delights.

They play three songs (here’s another Tiny Desk I wish was twice as long).

All three songs in this performance come from their brilliant self-titled 2019 album, an album too many missed, in my opinion. And this band pulls off these odd, unpredictable twists and turns with simplicity and charm.

The first song, “Homornormo” starts with an lopsided five-note acoustic guitar riff from Martin D. Fowler and hugely processed vocals Lora-Faye Åshuvud (I guess it’s a vocoder).  There’s backing vocals and hocketing from keyboardist Cale Hawkins and Aviva Jaye (who is credited with “toys” and vocals).  There’s a guitar solo form Åshuvud which is as weird and abstract as the rest of the song.  The only thing vaguely conventional about the song are the drums from Dave Palazola because the rhythm has to be consistent when every thing else is chaotic.  But even his sounds are oddball, like the reverse snare drum sound he plays at the end.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

The opening song at the Desk, “Homonormo,” begins with a kiss-off to the very city that birthed their sound, and a search for something normal, yet twisted.

“Hello
Send my kindest regards to New York
I’m gone, woo
I think I want to settle down
But weirder”

Even the end of the song is unconventional.  It ends with a series of claps: 4, 5, 6 and then a few random numbers that they all know perfectly.  It’s like getting people to clap for you.

“Reverse Conversion Therapy” opens with the mini Mellotron from  Cale Hawkins, who was last at the Tiny Desk with Raveena.  This song is slower, with Moog bass sounds from Fowler.  When the chorus kicks in the guitars launch out like a St. Vincent song, but it quickly settles back down.  The middle turns down nearly all the music as Ashuvud sings while others provide ooohs for backing vocals.  It ends with some awesome hocketing from all three vocalists.

There’s anxiety in these songs, even when the chorus is “I Feel Better,” but there’s a creative spirit in this anxiety, and then, of course too, there’s the tin foil.

“I Feel Better” opens with drums and a sprinkling of sounds as she sings.  Then comes the chanted chorus of “I feel better” that everyone sings. Aviva Jaye (who brought a table of toys) gets a brief lead vocal line before everyone else joins in again.

The song ends with a pretty piano solo and Åshuvud pulling out a roll of aluminium foil )I only wish I could see what she was doing with it).

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 3

At the end of book two, Gina was sucked into a portal and DJ and Hilo were surrounded by army tanks.  How would they ever get out of this?  In the most hilarious way ever (by acting like the little kids they appear to be).  I love that there is a recurring joke that dogs love Hilo and even they get in on the act.

Hilo takes advantage of being in the military base to hack into the computer system to learn about possible portals that he can open to get Gina back.  They were also given an orb by Polly which causes everyone on earth to forget the last two days–an outstandingly easy way to get everyone to forget everything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #960 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

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