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Archive for the ‘Alternate Reality’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GIVĒON–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #166 (January 28, 2021).

GIVĒON is a pretty classic R&B crooner.  He seems pretty grateful to have gotten where he is.

“Just bear with me while I just enjoy this and soak in it,” GIVĒON admits with a laugh.

He plays three songs.

“The Beach” opens with gentle guitar chords from James Murray and a slow bass line from Ivan Chatman.  Then GIVĒON and RaVaughn Brown sing together.

After the song, he says he’s pretty excited to play in February.

“Any moment to do this would be special,” he says between songs, “but I think Black History Month … just celebrating Black culture for this month, I’m really excited to get to do this on this platform.”

He also notes that he is a Pisces.  “Pisces are emotional, maybe that’s why I make songs like this.”  “Like I Want You” opens with a simple drum intro from Andre Montgomery and a slow bass line.  Deondre Ellis plays a keyboard melody that matches the vocal melody at the beginning each line–it’s a nice touch.  Murray plays a pretty ripping guitar solo, too.

Before the final song, “Stuck on You,” he says, “I can’t wait to watch this with my mom and see what she thinks because she likes to nitpick sometimes.”  It’s a bit of a faster song and when there’s about a minute left, GIVĒON walks off to let the band jam out the set.  The mark of an old school singer already.

[READ: February 20, 2021] Goliath

The final book of this trilogy was as exciting as the rest of the series.

Everyone is back aboard the Leviathan and they are heading toward the Arctic.  They have an exciting and dangerous mission up ahead–they are going to lower Leviathan as low as she can go so that they can retrieve some cargo from the back of a polar bear beastie.

Deryn and Newkirk are on a small platform swinging madly through the air as they try to secure this very large parcel from the back of a moving bear.  It’s something that’s been done before, but never with something this large (usually just mail bags).  This is a massive time saver, but if they miss, it means a several hours before they can turn around an try again.

The package is a huge amount of supplies both for the Leviathan and for the special guest who they are going to meet in the Wilderness. Things don’t go as smoothly as promised because the package weighs more than was promised–the danger is pretty great and the scene is very exciting.

When they open up the packages in the ships hold, they discover that in addition to the various supplies there is a massive Clanker gadget that needs assembling.  It is good that Alek and his men are on board to help assemble the Clanker contraption.  He’s also happy to have gainful employ for a time–it’s the happiest he’s been in a while.

The device proves to be a portable metal detector–a powerful one designed to be used almost like a giant magnet. But there’s no explanation for why it’s here.

The ship continues on its mission further up towards Greenland.  Then the watchman sends a message: Trees All Down Ahead.  It doesn’t make sense until they see a clearing up ahead and indeed all of the trees are destroyed–knocked over as of by the world’s largest hurricane. Worse yet, there are gigantic bones littering the place–as if a whale beastie was eaten. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFUTURE ISLANDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #158 (January 25, 2021).

I’m not a huge fan of Future Islands.  I like some of their songs, and I think singer Sam Herring’s voice is really interesting.  The biggest thing I remember about them is NPR’s fascination with singer Sam herring’s dancing.  Herring does some dancing here, but saves most of it until the final song.

Future Islands’ four members are gathered not too far from their Baltimore base in Carroll Baldwin Memorial Hall, sans desk. “We lost the desk,” singer Sam Herring tells us with a smile. With drummer Michael Lowry on the tiny stage, the rest of the band — including bassist William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers on electronics — took to the floor, allowing Sam Herring to make his moves and sing his heart out. This music is clearly for the head and the feet.

The first three songs are from

their sixth and very recent album, As Long As You Are. 

“Hit the Coast” is an upbeat song musically.  The notable thing about Future Islands is that their music is primarily keyboard based, but there’s something about having a bassist that brings an organic element to the music.

Along with themes of loneliness and love, we also hear songs about race, which is most evident in “The Painter,” a song about how we can all look at the same thing and see it so differently.

He continues, “Art is subjective but they way we think about people and the way we treat human lives shouldn’t be.”

My favorite part of this very precise song comes mid-song when Cashion scratches up the strings a bit to add some chaotic distortion.

“Thrill” is set in Greenville NC on the banks of the great greasy Tar River.  It’s about feeling isolated in your society, about self-isolating through substance abuse and about continuing to push forward as all the seething bubbles up inside of you like the great river.  It is a slow and moody song and yo can tell that its very personal to Herring.

We end with a song that came out shortly after visiting NPR in 2011 [Oh man, I miss my hair] called “Balance.” It’s one of those tunes that feels repurposed for the 2020s: “This is a song for anybody who’s struggling through their lives,” Sam Herring says, “and I know there are a lot of you all out there, just trying to get by, but it’s going to take a little bit more time.”

This is a fun dance song–the kind of earlier, faster song that I like from them.  Herring lets his dance shoes lose, with some impressive and wild moves.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Behemoth

Book two of this series was longer and more dangerous–as a sequel should be.

As this book opens, everyone is on board the Leviathan having just sailed to safety.   Alek is showing Deryn how to fence.  She is impatient and has no technical skill.  But it’s nice for her to be with Alek (who Deryn has admitted to herself that she fancies) and it’s nicer that he is saying things like “we” when he talks about the Leviathan.

But soon they see some enemy ships.  The ships look in bad shape and the Leviathan looks poised to destroy them.  Until one of them fires up what they learn is a Tesla tower–a generator that can shoot lightning across great distances.  No one has ever seen one before.  But Alek’s men piece together what it is.  Since they are the only ones who know how to fly Clanker engines, they are in charge of propulsion.  And they disobey orders by bringing the ship to a halt.  The Leviathan, being sentient, also senses what’s going on and starts to concur with the decision.

But disobeying orders is mutiny (except that Alek’s men aren’t technically part of the crew so they can’t be punished).

The Tesla cannon fires and grazes the Leviathan.  It doesn’t puncture the ship (it could literally blow it up if it got to any of the hydrogen), but it does mess with everything electrical.  It also leaves one of the men stranded on a Huxley–essentially electrocuted.

Deryn takes it into her hands to save her mate in an exciting an daring rescue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 1 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 18 1995).

It has been a while since I’ve listened to a live Rheostatics show.  Darrin at Rheostatics Live has added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week.

He writes:

Rheos had just come off of the 2nd Another Roadside Attraction tour with The Tragically Hip in July. The band would perform their Group Of 7 commission in Ottawa a month later and during this run were working on material for what would become The Blue Hysteria album. Some of the working titles are listed (Crescent II, Two Flights) as well as Drumheller which would end up as “Desert Island Poem” on Dave’s first Bidiniband album The Land Is Wild.

I don’t regret missing many shows that I’ve missed, but I do very much wish that i had been able to go to a few nights of a Green Sprouts Music Week.  Seeing them in a small club with them chatting away and experimenting seems like it would have been a wonderful experience.

As the tape starts on this first night, someone asks

“Are we going to play that song tonight?”
“What song?”
“The $1.79 song.”
“Of course it wouldn’t be a Green Sprouts…”

Never find out what that is.  But then Dave tells the audience

The plan is over the next 7 days to pay every song we know and even songs don’t know.  He says that it’s Roger the sound man’s first Green Sprouts week and he hasn’t caught Green Sprouts fever yet.  This is also Don Kerr’s first green sprouts, too.

We’ll lay a couple old ones to start.  Someone shouts “YAY!”  Dave: “Hey you haven’t even heard the new ones yet.”

They start with “Me & Stupid” which features the spoken part of the poem “Wilderness Gothic” by Al Purdy:  “Something is about to happen two shores away a man hammering the sky”

Dave: “The great thing about green sprouts is you forget different stuff each night.”

Up next is “another Southern Ontario song” “Fish Tailin’.”

Then Martin unveils his new (as yet unpainted double neck) guitar: “overcompensating for the lack of headstock for the last 6 years.  Now he’s got a guitar with two big ones.”

Tim gets the first new song with “All the Same Eyes,” a song that doesn’t change much between now and the record.

In what will be a theme for the week, they have a really hard time coordinating the opening countdown for “Four Little Songs.”  They have to start it three times.  And they mess up the 4321 at the end.  Martin’s verse seems different.

Kevin Hearn joins them for the next song.  Dave says they stole some part of “Four Little Songs” from [Kev’s “on patrol?  Cabs On patrol?   No idea].

Kevin plays on “Fan Letter” and in they chant “Farm Fresh” instead of Michael.

Over the course of the week we’ll get more details about the creation of “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  Onm this first night, Martin forgets the second verse.

Dave says that Neil Peart said that he preferred playing smaller places (meaning arenas) because he could hear himself (he preferred arenas to open air venues).  But in arenas there’s big speakers but it sounds small.  But it’s snugsville in here, boy.

It’s been a long time since we did this song (“Palomar”), which gets a good response.  After which “it’s the fall but we can still play summer music” (“Introducing Happiness”).

Dave says he saw Asleep at the Wheel and the last song everyone did a solo.  Then the lead singer had a guitar shaped like Texas, but instead of his solo, he picked up three balls by his feet and did some juggling. The last one he threw up in the air and it landed on the brim of his cowboy hat.  They’re working on that for later in the week.

They start the new “Connecting Flights” but can’t find a capo.  They do an improv “capo shortage,” a goofy bit a fun.  Up next is the new “Desert Island Poem,” which sounds great.

Then comes the popular section.  A rocking “California Dreamline” which segues into a lovely “Song of Flight” and right into “Fat.”

They haven’t played “Queer” in a while (which is a surprise).  As they start Dave says, “now there’s a little matter of the words.”  Someone recites them for him.

Dave is going to play “My First Rock Concert” every night this week and the and are kind of learning it on the fly.  In the middle of the song, some words are different.

Dave: “I sense something funky coming on (start of “Soul Glue”).

The last song before “our first encore” is a rocking version of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.”  I love their version.

Heading into the encore break Don says, “We just played 18 songs without a pee break.”

That reminds him of a gig they played in Pennsylvania: drinks were free until the first person has to pee.  It was a real classy establishment.  The most boring place on earth–Harrisburg, PA.  It’s a great place if you have a huge bladder.

Martin says “My assessment of tonight is that it started out very vague and hazy, like we haven’t played in six months or like we’re getting back together after a year breakup.  But it gelled together in the last three or four songs.”

Martin tries to remember the new song “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  He doesn’t go for the high note in the middle of the song–choosing a lower growl instead.  It works pretty well, but I love the high note.

Dave jokes: You don’t know what it was like touring in Platinum Blonde town after town having to play the hits with the drummer under the stage playing the parts for the fake drummer on the stage.

A delicate “Take Me in Your Hand” is followed by Don Kerr’s first time playing “Northern Wish.”  Martin gets the first line but missed the rest of the verse and starts the song again.

The first night ends with a ripping “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  There’s a drum solo for Don and then martin ends the song with interesting guitar effects.

It’s a good start to a great week.

[READ: February 20, 2021] Leviathan

I signed C. up for a YA program at the library.  His subject was steampunk and they chose this book for him.  S. had read this series and loved it, so I decided to give it a read while it was still in the house.  I found it to be a fast and fun read.

The story is set in 1914, the dawn of World War I. But it’s an alternate reality–one where zeppelins and other hydrogen-based flying machines dominate the air  It also has a very cool component of animal/machine hybrids that are really quite impossible to explain except to say that the Leviathan is a living airship that is made out of whale–they are in side of a whale–but it’s also a machine.  Or something.  Best not to think too much about that.

It’s here that I should mention the drawings by Keith Thompson. They are wonderful pencil-looking drawings–dark but detailed.  They really help to get the visuals down of thes extradoridfanly machiens tah Westerfeld has createa.  I’m not always certain that I could picture the without the drawings.

The book opens on teenaged Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Austrian throne.  While he is playing with toy soldiers, imagining a war, two of his servants enter the room and tell him they are off to do some training in the dark–his father’s orders.

The machine that Aleks is being taken to is a Cyklop Stormwalker.  This is a giant machine that walks on two legs (Star Wars, yes). Alek has never piloted something this large before, but they tell him it’s important for his training. But Alek senses something is wrong and that’s when they tell him this is not a drill.  His parents, the King and Queen of Austria, were killed that very night. He is probably another target and they are trying to keep him safe. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEDICATED MEN OF ZION-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/138(January 11, 2021).

Dedicated Men Of ZionGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the first night are the Dedicated Men of Zion from North Carolina.

Dedicated Men of Zion come to you from their backyard barbecue in North Carolina, bringing with them an electrified version of sacred Gospel soul music. This family band (all related through blood or marriage) has been isolating together during the pandemic, and the members are excited to provide an uplifting note during difficult times.

They sing three songs in front of an amazing looking barbeque in Dex’s backyard.  The first, “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” is a rocking gospel song.  There’s a great old-fashioned organ sound from Aaron Adams.  The four men sing.  Anthony “Amp” Daniels sings lead, Dexter Weaver [his nephew-in-law], Antwan “Ace” Daniels [his son], and Marcus Sugg [his son-in-law] sing great backing vocals.  There’s a fun jam at the end.

“Can’t Turn Me Around” opens with Mark Richardson playing a simple blues riff on the guitar. Then Jerry Harrison joins in on bass.  Amp is full on power singing through it.  He sounds great.

For “It’s A Shame,” Ace takes over lead vocals.  He has a good voice, but not nearly as commanding as his father.  Drums throughout are provided by Amp’s little brother Jaheim Daniels.

They sound great, but honestly I kept thinking about that barbeque.

[READ: January 2, 2021]

Despite the boring title I was really intrigued by this story.  The cover is tshirtking and the blurb was really intense-sounding.

So, I was really fascinated that the fundamental basis of the story the #FeesMustFall Rally was real: #FeesMustFall was a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa.  Much of the story is grounded in the reality and danger of this movement.

The story takes place over the course of a week and each chapter is told from one of six character’s person’s point of view.

Hector, a student protester is looking to get everyone riled up about the cost of education in Cape Town.

Noné, South Africa’s president is not ready to deal with this interruption because she has a big public event coming up–an extraordinary zoo.  Noné was once a student protestor herself but she has since become The System.  She can’t trust anyone because everyone is out to get her.  The only reliable face she knows is Alice.  Alice is young an beautiful and while Noné knows that Alice probably wants her job (and is undoubtedly prettier than she is), at this point Alice is a perfect assistant and only makes Noné look better.

Thuli is a student and friend of Hector.  She has been “glitching” where she can see seven days in the future.  She knows that Hector’s life is in danger.  She has to try to convince reporter Helen that what she’s saying is true. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NADA SURF–North 6th Street (1999).

In 1999, Nada Surf released this collection of songs.

It was named after the street in Brooklyn where we first got together. It has our first singles, some 8-track demos we made in our practice space, some alternate versions, french versions, a couple of unreleased songs and a cover.

Collections like this can be hit or miss, especially when a band had progressed from their original sound.  But there’s nothing embarrassing about this collection at all.  In fact, there’s a lot of really charming stuff on here.

The first two songs, “The Plan” and “Deeper Well” are labelled as 7″ Version.  I don’t really know what that means.  Both songs appear on High/Low.  “The Plan” is a little shorter than the record and “Deeper Well” is a little longer.  They sound similar, although there’s a different drummer, Aaron Conte.  But they both sound really good and are a nice reminder that Nada Surf can really rock out.

The next three songs are demos of songs from High/Low: “Ice Box,” “Psychic Caramel,” and “Popular.”  These also have their first drummer.  These aren’t boombox recordings.  They sound well produced, although they do feel a little more grungy than the album.  “Popular” sounds the most different.  There’s female vocals in the beginning.  The tone of this version seems a bit angrier, but otherwise similar.

The next two songs are French versions of songs from High/Low.  Matthew Caws and Daniel Lorca met at a French school in New York, so their French is quite good.  It’s weird, but cool to hear familiar songs sung in a different language by the same vocalist.  These songs, like the whole High/Low album were produced by Rik Ocasek, so I’m assuming they were done a the same time.

“Traffic” and “Me and You” are (I believe) previously unreleased.  “Traffic” is a quiet instrumental propelled by Daniel’s bass and some gentle pretty guitar picking.  The ambient noise of an ambulance is a nice touch.  “Me & You” is a full-on folk song–acoustic guitars and possibly a suitcase for drums.  Each of these songs is 1:47 long–snippets into bits of songs.

“Silent Fighting” and “Spooky” are alternate versions of songs that appeared on the band’s reissue of their album The Proximity Effect.  They weren’t on the original album (which was lost in record label hell for quite a long time), but they are the final songs on the version that’s largely available.  “Silent Fighting” is a demo version, but again, it sounds professionally done.  And “Spooky” is listed as an Alternate Version.

The next two songs are also unreleased elsewhere.  “The Manoeuvres” is a quiet acoustic ballad.  “Sick of You” is an Iggy Pop song!  Like the original, this song is slow and moody with a distinctly Iggy tone in the vocal delivery.  And like the original, it rocks out in th emiddle with a full on punk assault.  It runs over five minutes long

Up next are two more demos from The Proximity Effect.  “Robot” is a lot quieter.  You can hear the lyrics more clearly and the heaviness is toned down.  “Amateur” sounds pretty similar–full with a great bass sound.  Although it’s missing the wonderful “ooh ooh ooh” part.

“River Phoenix” is a rocking song with a spoken vocal line and fascinating lyrics like:

River Phoenix
Ian Curtis
And river Phoenix
And me and you

And it’s quite catchy.

“Mother’s Day” is another demo from The Proximity Effect.  This is a fantastic anti-rape song with brutal, angry lyrics.  This version sounds a little different–a little less distorted, a little less loud, but still angry.

“Dispossession” is an alternate version from The Proximity Effect.  The album’s guitars sound a bit rawer, the guitars a little crisper and the whole things feels a bit more wild.  This version is a bit cleaner, except for the wild guitar solo.

[READ: November 7, 2020] The Midnight Library

S. brought this home and really enjoyed it.  She thought I’d enjoy it too.  Of course she was right.  I’d probably enjoy most of the books she reads, but I already have my own dozen dozen authors that I like to read already.

The book opens with the fascinatingly dramatic opening sentence:

Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of a small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Nora is playing chess with Mrs Elm the librarian when Mrs Elm gets a call that Nora’s father has just died.

The book jumps nineteen years ahead to “twenty-seven hours before she decided to die.”  The next few chapters list the miseries of her life: her cat is hit by a car, she gets fired from her lousy job (her boss has the funniest, meanest line I’ve read: “I can’t pay you to put off customers with your face looking like a wet weekend.”) (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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516ZKjM2CqL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) SOUNDTRACK: ELISAPIE-Tiny Desk Concert #948 (February 20, 2020).

downloadElisapie (I have no idea how to pronounce that) is a First Nations singer from Salluit, on the Northern tip of Quebec.

She sings in Inuktitut (as well as in English and French).  And her voice is absolutely intense.

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

her life as an adopted child and of meeting her biological mother. Now, as a mother herself, she sings about what it must have meant to her own mother to give up her child.

Elisapie left her birth-village, Salluit, as a teenager and headed to Montreal, leaving her community and her sick mom. The songs she sings, here all come from her album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl and deal with the consequences of her leaving.

These songs are definitely rock, but with a different overall sound.  Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone is fantastic–creating deep low rumbles and otherworldly squawks.

“Arnaq” opens with some chugging guitar riffs (I can’t tell if the guitar is acoustic or electric) from Joe Grass and after a verse or so, some great noisy electric guitars from Josh Toal, who punctuates the song with little solos.  There’s no bass guitar because the bass saxophone covers all of the low ends.

The song, even though it is in Inuktitut is rally catchy with a chorus of “ahhhhhh, I, yi, I” (or something).

The middle section is full of great noises as both guitars and the sax all play some wild solos.

All of this is held together by “the tasteful drumming of Evan Tighe.”

She says the second song, “Una” is the most painful yet the most freeing song.  It is  written to her biological mother.  In Inuktitut the word for mother means “our little bag” because they carried us.

It opens with slow staccato guitar chords and a near a capella vocal before the quiet electric guitar from Josh Toal joins in.  The spareness of the beginning of this song is a great counterpoint to the end of the song when everyone joins in–vocals, guitars, sax and some complex drumming.

Before the final song, she looks around and smiles and says Lizzo was here!  My daughter is very excited.

The final song “Darkness Bring The Light” opens with some great weird sounds from everyone.  Tighe makes scraping metallic sounds as he slides his drum sticks around the cymbals.  Toal plays a synth intro as Grass bows his guitar and Sharp makes waves of gentle sounds to underpin the melody

This one is in English.  She sings a melody that rides over the sounds.  After 2 minutes the drums kick in and after a run through of the chorus, the guitarists join in

Bob Boilen concludes

This is an extraordinary Tiny Desk from an artist with something meaningful to say.

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

[READ: March 10, 2020] Gunnerkrigg Court 4 [32-41]

I really enjoyed the first three books of this series and then promptly forgot about it.  I happened to see this book at the library and was excited to see that I hadn’t read it.  Can it really have been three years since I last read about these characters?

Being away for so long made some of this a little confusing.  I will have to read the whole story again some time.

Chapter 32 shows Antimony returning from the forest and there is a warm welcome with Renard. But Katarina’s welcome is cool–“you kinda make it hard to be your friend.” Antimony tries very hard to make Kat like her again…too hard.  She creates scary situations in which she can “save” Kat,  It doesn’t exactly work, although Kat isn’t really mad anymore, just annoyed.  But then a gigantic creepy monster thing comes out of the water.  Kat is impressed by Annie’s conjuring until Annie says she didn’t do it.  They run out.

Only to learn that this is Lindsey–the creature who helped design most of everything at the court–a giant crablike creature.

All this time Kat has been working on the idea of growing a robot.  Well, not exactly, but kind of.  She imagines using a muscular frame to build a robot body around.  Or something.  She is able to use the smarts of one of the existing robots to give her a hand.  The code they provide is actually a small white cube with no writing on it.  Amazingly Kat is able to read parts of it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RONG-“Shrugging at the Dearth of Discourse” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by the band Rong from Boston.

He says:

Just bonkers. Boston’s Rong channels the joyous chaos of Japanese punks Melt-Banana and the aggro skronk of Brainiac with a tad of Deerhoof’s weirdo-pop hooks, in what sounds like a swarm of bats fighting a comically large industrial fan… and the bats win. Dissect the noise and you’ll find some truly athletic guitar interplay, held together by a sturdy rhythm section and Olivia W-B’s vocal acrobatics.

This song starts out with Olivia screaming quickly and almost inaudibly while the drummer thrashes away on every surface nearby.  There appears to be two guitars each playing their own riff that seems irrelevant to anything else. It’s a chaotic statement that will likely make most people turn the song off.   After 30 seconds one of the guitars plays a riff and at 35 seconds the riff is actually really catchy and Olivia sings along with it.  Wow.

And the song is not even one third over.

After a few more rounds through similar styles things really slow down around 1:45.  It is just bass and drums and vocals for a bit before two separate solos happen at once.  About five more parts occur before the song ends at 3:11.  This includes a riff that is repeated a few times and a absolutely berzerk ending.

That’s the first of 8 similarly eclectic and, yes, bonkers, songs.  Finding the melody and connections between the parts is rather strangely rewarding.

Incidentally, the final track on the album is called . ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽   In a bigger font, that’s:

༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Cosmos

The “Long Earth” Tetrology is complete.

This was a series that was pretty much impossible to end.  I mean the very premise is that there is unlimited exploration to be had in the various “Earths.”  So how do you end it?  Well, really you end it by following the main protagonist of all of this, Joshua Valiente to his logical conclusion (or something like that).

This book also serves as a kind of reconciliation for many of the estranged characters, but, thankfully does not resurrect any dead characters (well, except for Lobsang–whatever he may be).

The Foreword to this book answers a question that I had: If Terry Pratchett died in 2015, did he have anything to do with this book which came out in 2016?  Baxter explains that indeed, he and Pratchett had created drafts of the final three books by August 2013.  Terry and Stephen worked on the book together as late as autumn 2014.  Then Baxter dealt with final editorial and publishing stages.  So that makes me happy.

I am, as always with this series, puzzled as to what Terry’s contributions were to the books.  I haven’t read anything else by Baxter, so I don’t know if this is a Baxter book with Pratchett sprinkled in or if it’s a combination of their writing styles   The one thing is that this series is never really all that funny (with one huge exception later).  Not to say that Pratchett had to be funny, but it was certainly what he was known for.  Maybe I’ll try a Baxter book one of these days to see just what his works are like.

But back to the concluding chapter of this long series.

This book opens with the invitation: JOIN US. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FALHA COMUM-“Film Do Mundo” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by this band Falha Comum, a duo from Brazil.

He says:

The Brazilian post-punks scaled down to a duo, but opened a festering third eye. The psychedelic noise receptors of a previous decade (think Raccoo-oo-oon and Gowns) run throughout Rakta’s Falha Comum, but in levels below, the sinister grooves and cackled reverb inhabit a life all their own with primal incantations to spirits unknown.

The album is like a few things and nothing else that I’ve heard.  There’s elements of krautrock–but not sterile and efficient, more groovy and cool, with a warm bass and seemingly wild, improvised vocals.

This particular song is 7 minutes long and opens with a spoken word section (presumably in Portuguese).  There are synths and screams behind the speaking and then everything starts pulsing as the vocals echo and echo.   The music–a simple repetitive drum and bass (I guess) line, keep a terrific groove going while on top, the high notes (vocals and other synths) skitter and flit about.

Midway through, the song goes through a phase shift–it sounds like it’s been transported somewhere else, and that’s when the bass gets cleaner and the vocals grow a bit more intense.  But the groove remains.

Somewhere around 6 minutes, the groove changes slightly–a brief shift in notes suddenly gives the song a brief moment of extra melody.  The following keyboard frenzy keeps it from getting too comfortably melodic though.

It’s an unexpectedly interesting and cool record.

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Utopia

This was the fourth book in the Long Earth series.  I brought it along on vacation thinking it would be a fairly slow and leisurely read like the others—something I didn’t mind putting down and picking up a few days later.  But this book changed that pattern entirely.  It was fast paced and quite exciting and my favorite book of the series so far.

The previous book about the Long Mars seemed to be more than anything else, a distraction.  Not a lot happened, although there were some cool ideas in it.  The one big thing that book 3 did that effects book 4 is the cable/elevator thing—which I still don’t understand [see yesterday’s post about book 3].

This book also introduces a new concept in Stepping.  Typically Stepping is described as moving left or right, east or west through the Earths.  But suddenly, in this one world, it seemed like a person could move…north.  Into an entirely different world—night instead of day:  “No stars exactly, it was like he could see the whole galaxy…from outside.”

This book is set in 2052.  Protagonist Joshua Valiente:

will be 50 years old. He has been stepping for 35 years and has been all over the Long Earth.  But some things are still unsettling—things that he can feel in his bones or his head.

The reason for his feelings date back to 2036 in New Springfield.  Cassie Poulson had been digging a basement for her house when she hit some kind of opening.  Not a cave or anything natural, but some kind of manufactured tunnel or the like.  When she poked her head in,  what poked back was a humanoid metal beetle.  Obviously she freaked out and covered up the hole. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRE-TOOLZ-“mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by this band Fire-Toolz.  He says:

When I try to describe the simultaneously fantastical and obliterating sounds of Fire-Toolz to folks, I usually throw my hands up — not out of frustration, but from awe. Angel Marcloid has clashed New Age synthscapes, clubby raves, jazz fusion and metal shrieks for a few years now, but Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) goes beyond the mash-up, into an idiosyncratic master’s pure creation.

The album credits indicate: Angel Marcloid: voice, drums, electric & acoustic guitar, fretless bass, virtual studio technology, field recordings, circuit-bent junk, composition, lyrics, recording, production, mixing, mastering.

The only other musician is Ian Smith: who plays what can only be described as a smooth-jazz saxophone solo.  Oh, and her cat, Breakfast, gets a vocal turn.

I have listened to some of the whole record, (a lot of tape manipulation on track 2), but nothing sums up the project like the first song, “mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (yes, that’s the title).  In 2 minutes and 11 seconds, she includes more genres than I can name.  And the amazing thing is that unlike other artists who squeeze many genres into one song (there are those who do this well and those who do not), these shifts feel at once hairpin but also natural. 

The song starts with a skittery electric melody that almost sounds like digital pipe organ.  It’s very new-agey, but with heavier drums than you might expect.  The quiet death metal growling is certainly unexpected, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place (and is low enough in the mix to feel more like another sound than vocals–I have no idea what she’s saying).

After the first verse the music shifts to a kind of jazzy new age followed by a punishingly fast electronic drum and a scorching heavy metal solo and the song devolves or crescendos with inhuman growls.

Welcome to 2020!

[READ: May 2019] The Long Mars

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

I found the second book less compelling on a story level, but no less compelling on a conceptual level.  There was still some cool stuff going on.

Joshua Valienté has settled down in a town called Hell-Knows-Where.  He has a wife, Helen, and a child, Daniel, and lots of regrets about what happened at the end of book one.  He is embedded with the rest of the community.  They show off what a successful community can be way out in the Long Earth.  It is more or less cut off from Datum Earth, which means that everyone needs to work for the community to survive.  Since trust and companionship are key to survival, people don’t really try to take advantage of others and crime is pretty much nonexistent.

This independence is a major concern for the governments of Datum Earth.  In fact, some of the more thriving distant communities (like Valhalla) want to declare independence from Datum Earth altogether.

Another issue is human (or alien) rights.  The trolls from the first book have become a part of most communities at this point.  And yet, the way they are treated seems largely dependent on who they are with.  Some are welcomed like family members, other are treated like animals, slaves or worse.   And the mistreatment of a mother and son troll are what set a series of events in motion.   Maggie Kauffman is a new character introduced to speak on behalf of the trolls.  Before their otherwise peaceful nature gets pushed too far.

Another plot line (and there are quite a few) concerns Roberta Golding, a young genius who goes on an exploratory mission with the Chinese.  The Chinese are exploring the “East Earths” (most of the other travelers went West).  Roberta is an odd child, who anticipated jokes and therefore finds nothing funny. She is cold and emotionless.  Her story remains unresolved by the end of the book.  But her crew managed to get to Earth East 20,000,000 with the crew.

When Sally tries to get Joshua involved in an adventure once again, he is reluctant, but Helen is the one who spurs him on–as long as she and Dan go with him. This adventure is a bit of backtracking, though–an attempt to use Joshua’s name and status back on Datum Earth–where he is not welcomed by everyone.  He tries to prevent the government from harming trolls–because he knows what is at stake if the trolls grow angry.

In their adventure, they also encounter a race of beings known as Beagles.  It is a pretty dark and disturbing world, with Joshua getting tortured and Sally and Monica being the only things keeping him from a brutal death.   There’s a lot of brutality now, which is not unexpected given the reality of the situation, but it does often seem rather harsh

That’s a lot of summary to prepare for Book Three.  But book three does continue the saga, just another twenty years or so later.

(more…)

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