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SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH KECKLER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #223 (June 14, 2021).

I saw Joseph Keckler open for Sleater-Kinney.  I’d never heard of him and had no idea what to expect.

He had videos and sang funny lyrics.  And then, POW, he had the most amazing operatic bass voice I’d ever heard.

You can hear that about two minutes into the first song here.

“My love called me many names,” Joseph Keckler sings in “GPS Song,” which opens his Tiny Desk (home) concert. He proceeds to list them: “Baby animal. Little baby animal. Big baby animal. Black chicken.” (It goes on like this for some time.)

“GPS Song” — which is sung partly in a made-up language and evolves to feature the titular navigation system droning in the background of a breakup — is one of Keckler’s hallmark absurdist arias, which he performs with a commanding presence and a winking, deadpan delivery. While their content is quirky (another features the narrator’s relapse into a teenage goth identity), it’s not quite right to call them strictly funny; they’re infused with a kind of intimate, observational detail that makes them simultaneously comedic and affecting. (“It was the most heartbreaking moment of my life,” Keckler once said of the situation that inspired “GPS Song,” “yet it was also so ridiculous to have this disrupting automaton, breaking our silence to misdirect us at every moment.” This performance captures that ridiculousness and heartbreak equally.)

The music is wonderful.  Gorgeous piano from Matthew Dean Marsh.  Michael Hanf bows his guitar for rumbling low chords.  Two minutes in Lavinia Pavlish joins on violin and Keckler shows just how amazing his voice is.  Even if the lyrics are comic.

Is it funny?  Yes.  Baby potato?  Yes.  And also when he finds his love’s text messages (in operatic Italian) to “Baby Zebra” and when he sings “Google translate: ‘god is a bicycle, ride slow’ nothing made sense.”  Or when in the middle of the operatic intensity the GPS says (in English) recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.

But not everything is funny.

“City” has a bouncy piano with lovely violin from.  because of the slow operatic way he sings this song (in English) it’s a little hard to follow the words.  But again musically, it’s so interesting.  In the middle, there’s a cool soaring moment when both violin and Michael Hanf play a high scratchy descending note.

So who is this guy?

A classically trained singer, performance artist and writer whose work spans styles and genres, Keckler turns his Tiny Desk (home) concert, shot in Brooklyn, into a showcase of his dynamism as a performer.

For “Goth Song” he sits at the piano and says, “I used to work in a music library but one day…” That is not idle banter, it is the introduction to the song–the story of his descent into a teenage goth.  It’s very funny hearing him singing these things in his amazingly deep operatic German.

He ends with “Appearances” another song sung in English.  Michael Hanf swipes a bow across his guitar to generate an echoing chord.  Hanf also plays the low bass on the synth (and even a cymbal midway through).  Again, this song is not comic, but it really shows off his voice nicely.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Giganto”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features three pieces of fiction and three poems.

The third piece is a short story.

It’s an interesting look at infighting in an under-funded and under-appreciated university department.

There are four people in the truck, a truck that’s off-roading until they have to start using the ATVs.  Dr. Krentz is head of the department.  The narrator, Melinda, is Dr. Krentz’ (poorly) paid assistant.  She intends to hang on to this job until Krentz retires and then take it over herself.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Melinda fears that Camryn, who is young (pretty) and full of energy, is looking to steal her own job.  And then there’s Nigel.  Nigel was some rando who “appreciated the doctor’s work.”  He was hoping to interview Dr. Krentz for his upcoming book on megafauna in North America.   Krentz was flattered and Nigel was a pain in the ass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARRTOONS, KAELIN ELLIS, KIEFER AND THE KOUNT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #229 (June 28, 2021).

This is one of the more unusual Tiny Desk Concerts that I’ve seen.  Essentially the NPR team asked these musicians to make remixes of NPR theme music.  I haven’t heard of any of the musicians before, but I gather they are well known and regarded.

Over the past year and some change, beatmakers Carrtoons, Kaelin Ellis, Kiefer, and The Kount took to social media individually and often collaboratively to cook up productions, often resulting in viral moments and never-seen-before glimpses into their creative process.  As we continue to celebrate 50 years of NPR, Tiny Desk was determined to take part. To honor the iconic themes from our news programs, we asked these four producers to come up with their own spin on the All Things Considered theme (written by Don Voegeli) the Morning Edition theme and the theme for Weekend Edition (both written by B.J. Leiderman).

The blurb describes them as beatmakers. I don’t know what that means exactly (in my mind it has nothing to do with instruments), but for this set, each guy plays an instrument or two.  Clockwise from the bottom left Kaelin Ellis: drums, The Kount: percussion, Kiefer: piano, keyboards and Carrtoons: bass.

Most of the themes are under 30 seconds, so it’s interesting to hear them stretched out.  It’s also interesting that they didn’t simply play the theme and them jam it.  each one uses a part of the theme, but the songs go in very different directions.  The addition of bass and drums certainly changes the sound, as does their new jazzier feel.

“All Things Considered (Remix by Carrtoons)” Kiefer plays a variant of the original (quite similar) and then plays a kind of staccato piano like the news urgency music.  I like the way those original eight notes keep returning.   This new song is all of 1 minute long.

“Morning Edition (Remix by Kaelin Ellis)”  This one sounds really different with an intro (lots of bass and drums).  It’s not until the middle that the jazzy chords reveal themselves as the Morning Edition melody.  I feel like you can’t hear all that much percussion on these tracks although the bongos are audible here.  and I like the little cymbals near the end.  This song is about two minutes,

“Weekend Edition (Remix by Kiefer)” I like that this one opens with that iconic ascending melody, but dissipates smoothly.  It’s also interesting that the middle melody is still there, only stretched out. Kaelin’s drums are pretty great on this track and Carrtoons’ bass is pivotal throughout.

[READ: June 1, 2021] The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

S. read book three in this series, not realizing it was book 3.  She then read the books in reverse order, ending with this one.

Well, I decided to read them in the correct order.  And while I haven’t read 2 or 3 yet, book 1 was fantastic.   I loved everything about this book–the plot, the illustrations and especially the writing style

Jaclyn Moriarty has created a hilarious and thoughtful young narrator and the ways in which she has to deal with adults makes for some very funny scenes indeed.

The premise is that Bronte Mettlestone is ten years old and has just found out that her parents were killed by pirates. She’s not really that upset though because she never knew them.  They abandoned her at the doorstep of an aunt when she was just a baby.  They were adventurers and couldn’t be tied down by a child.

The humor comes right away, with the announcement that Bronte’s parents were killed.  They receive a telegram which says that they were “taken out by cannon fire.” Aunt Isabelle is furious about that phrase.  Could they not have chosen a less flippant turn of phrase?

So Bronte was raised by her aunt Isabelle with help from The Butler.  They see that her parents will says that Bronte must take a series of trips, by herself to visit all of her other aunts and give them each a present (the present is included with the will).  The details of the trip are spelled out in very specific detail–how long she is to stay with each Aunt and how to get from one to the next.  To make things worse, the will has been sealed wit faery stitching, which means if she doesn’t do what the will says, there will be terrible consequences.  Essentially Bronte must follow these rules exactly or OR PEOPLE COULD DIE!

So obviously this is world where magic exists, although Bronte herself has had little exposure to magic.  She says the only thing she knows about magic comes from the book The History of the Kingdoms and Empires.

There are two types of magic that are worked by thread.  There was bright thread which was used by True Mages like Faeries and elves and water sprites.  Then there was shadow thread used by dark Mages like witches and Sterling Silver Foxes.  The third kind was binding thread which Spellbinders used to stop Shadow Magic from doing its work. Initially the thread was real, but now they can do their magic with imaginary thread.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FAT JOE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #217 (June 1, 2021).

This Tiny Desk (Home) Concert opens with big chords from Eric Whatley’s bass and Simon Martinez’ guitar.  Then some record scratching from DJ Ted Smooth and crashing cymbals from Rashid Williams.

Fat Joe walks into a shop and is handed a mic as the Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts plays a menacing melody on the keys.  I like Fat Joe’s vocal style but “My Lifestyle” is just another story of bitches n’ hos.

A founding member of the D.I.T.C. (Diggin’ In the Crates) crew, Fat Joe Da Gangsta has managed to last nearly 30 years and multiple generations in the rap game without ever giving up his lease on the top of the charts.

He introduces DJ Ted Smooth and his protégé Angelica Vila and then the Terror Squad band.

That crew turns the rugged “My Lifestyle” into a visceral experience with layers of nuance added by Joe’s longtime DJ Ted Smooth.

“What’s Luv?” is a slow ballad.  Angelica Villa sings and her refrain of “whats luv” sounds remarkably like a sample–her voice is really amazing.

 On the 2002 smash “What’s Luv,” Angelica Vila takes the spotlight singing a hook originally performed by Ashanti.

It’s weird to see her dancing and grinding like it’s a music video, which I guess it is, but still.  There’s some salsa infusions in the song.

“Lean Back” has a bad ass riff and a repeated chant of “lean back.”  It’s really catchy.

Latino hip-hop legend Fat Joe muscled his way out of the streets of the South Bronx with his debut album, Represent, in 1993. He radiates a different energy in 2021, sauntering in his own uptown streetwear shop, fresh fitted in pink leather and a designer bucket hat, but he’s still got that old larger-than-life electricity.

And yet he still seems unreasonably angry–staring down the camera and shouting, “Tiny Desk don’t play with us like that, man.”  [What could that possibly mean in this context?]

Up next is “Sunshine (The Light)”

an effervescent new springtime jam that was spawned by 22-year-old internet sensation Amorphous, who mashed up Luther Vandross’s debut single “Never Too Much” with Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Joe, who has always had a solid ear for new talent and a prowess for pinning down a buoyant hit record, came in and gullied this sparkling jam, renewing a glow that’s been dim for this last year.

It’s a pretty song and Angelica’s voice sounds really great.  I look forward to hearing more from her.

He shouts out to Luther and then goes on a little rant about being old and having everything ripped away and the coming back at 40.  I don’t know he seems pretty successful to me.

“All The Way Up” ends the set sounding similar to “Lean Back” but with a jazzy sample.  Throughout the song as he raps lines there’s a response.  I thought they were samples, but it turns out that the DJ is his hype man too.

I tend to like rappers in this Tiny Desk Home Concert better than on record, but I really liked Fat Joe’s style.  I’ll have to keep it limited to this though, I think.

[READ: May 20, 2021] Heist

I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to see what else Paul Tobin had written.  Lo and behold, he is responsible for a favorite graphic novel Claudette.  This story is a lot different and a lot darker, but it still has his sense of humor.

The book opens with a man fleeing from people trying to kill him. Glane Breld escapes and says he needs a drink…and a  crew.  He’s been out of prison for nine hours and he is ready for his next heist.

The people he wants are Celine Disse, master gunsmith, Gaville, master of disguise (she is crazy-she enjoys blowing things up and collecting famous peoples underwear).

Saving the best for last Eddy Lets.  Why is he the best?  Because the closest this planet ever had to a leader was Eddy’s mom Lera.  Her assassination was Glane’s fault.

When Glane heads to his rendezvous he is met by a local street urchin named Brady.  Brady latches on to Glane and Glane cant shake him.  But the kid proves useful.  Not only does he get Glane away from some assassins but he also gets Glane a splint for his brain–so his mind can’t be read.

Then Brady, believing he has a tourist with a lot of money, tells the history of planet Heist.  Right up to the story about Glane himself (Brady does not realize the man is Glane).

Dignity Corporation owns all of the planets in the area but this one (Heist).  Glane was hired by the Dignity Corporation to find incriminating evidence on Lera.   This faked evidence was used by Dignity to bring down Lera which eventually led to her assassination.  Soon after, Heist was taken over by Dignity Corp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEEP SEA DIVER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #214 (May 25, 2021).

I had not heard of Deep Sea Diver before this year.  But her song “Impossible Weight” is definitely one of my favorite songs of the last year.  Apparently, last year NPR voted “Stop Pretending” as one of their favorite song of 2020, so she clearly writes great songs.

She’s also got a keen sense for presentation, as soon as you see her set.

She also chose a very particular location for the shoot: “There were countless times this past year that I wanted to be transported out of my house and into a different world,” the singer and guitarist explains to NPR via email. “One of my favorite and most inspiring worlds is that of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I wanted to pay homage to the show by recreating the red room for our Tiny Desk.”

I’m not saying that that would be terribly hard to do, but it certainly took a bit of effort.  And it looks awesome.

Inside the red room, the set includes three tracks from Deep Sea Diver’s marvelous 2020 album, Impossible Weight… joining the band are some special guests: Natalie Schepman and Meegan Closner of the band Joseph sing background vocals, and Dobson’s Beagle, Henry, makes an appearance. (Dobson claims he’s the only one who didn’t care that Deep Sea Diver couldn’t tour last year.)

“Impossible Weight” sounds fantastic.  I really love everything about it.  From the mutes guitar intro to the super catchy chorus to the wordless hook.  Every time I heard it on the radio, I was singing along to that chorus.

But that
was then
and this is now
I tried
so hard
not to let you all down
It’s an impossible weight
So I’ll just let you down now

On the record, Sharon Van Etten sings some part of it. I’m not sure what–I assumed Sharon sang the chorus, but it sounds the same when Dobson sings it here.  But in this Tiny Desk two thirds of the band Joseph joins her on backing vocals (I wonder why Allison wasn’t part of it) and they sound perfect.

After the song her drummer (and husband) brings out Henry, who gets a credit.

  • Henry Lee: beagle

“Lights Out” is up next and wow does it rock.  It’s got a great fuzzy bass intro from Elijah Thomson.  I feel like her voice sounds a bit like Torres here (no bad thing).  The sprinkling of keys from Elliot Jackson are a subtle touch, as is his later guitar playing.  But man, the guitar solo that Jessica plays absolutely rips–she gets a fantastic sound.  After the solo the song gets quiet for a minute but it slowly builds in power.  Mansen’s drumming by the end of the song is exhausting to watch.  The song comes to a fantastic abrupt end and it really feels like it needs a crowd cheering after it (so it’s nice that Joseph is off stage to provide the cheers).

She moves to the piano for “Wishing” where she shows off

an impressive homemade bolo tie that she crafted from an NPR enamel pin and “a little bit of duct tape.”

Pianos tend to mean ballad, and this song is more ballady for sure.  The synths give it a retro feel, although Mansen provides some good rumbling drums for the catchy chorus.  I also got a huge kick out of the end when she plays a chord and sings “Awesome.”

“Stop Pretending,” was chosen as one of NPR Music’s favorite songs of 2020.

It has a cool opening guitar riff and later in the song the guitar sound she gets is an amazing roar.  In fact the end of the song builds to a great wall of noise with intense drumming and some great bass lines while Jessica plays an amazing solo.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series (Mac Barnett is such a hilarious writer–or maybe Jory John is the funny one?  Well, I know from past books that mac is hilarious).  But I forgot about the series and didn’t realize that this one (or the next one) had come out.

So book three is different from the first two because it is set in the woods. In the summer!

Niles and Miles are spying on Papa Company.  Papa Company is a patrol at a summer camp–the wonderfully named Yawnee Valley Yelling and Push up Camp.  Papa Company is run by Josh Barkin.  Josh is the son of the boys’ Principal and their archenemy.  He has two cadets in his patrol.  He has nicknamed them Dugout and Mudflap.  It’s not entirely clear if Josh is supposed to be taking these boys on as his own patrol, but the only rules at camp seem to be yelling and push ups, so….

Josh was sent to the camp last summer as punishment.  But he loved the yelling and meanness so much that he asked if he could stay there all summer…and return again this year.  The camp is big on acronyms, and the authors have a lot of fun with them (right up until the end!) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PALBERTA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #210 (May 18, 2021).

Palberta has a great name (even if they are not from Alberta).  They are an underground Philly band.  I saw them a few years ago, and this attitude of relaxed yet frenetic fun was evident then as well.

While many of us have gotten better at using technology to feel close to our friends and collaborators over the past year, there’s still no replacement for being in the same room as someone who you swear can read your mind. That’s what it feels like to watch punk band Palberta, whose music makes magic out of repeated phrases sung in tight harmony and charmingly zany pop hooks. For its Tiny Desk (home) concert, shot on a MiniDV and a Hi8, the band crams into Nina’s Philly basement for a set that’s a testament to the group’s tight-knit collaboration and playful exuberance.

The band plays six songs in fifteen minutes (including the time it takes to switch instruments).  Five songs are off of their new album Palberta5000.

The guitar-bass-drums trio is made up of Ani Ivry-Block, Nina Ryser and Lily Konigsberg, and each member sings and plays each instrument. Here, they trade places every couple of songs.  The songs aren’t over-complicated but still manage to surprise at every turn – a true Palberta specialty.

The “frenzied opener” “Eggs n’ Bac'” has a wild instrumental opening which jumps into a faster indie punk sound for most of the song.  All squeezed into less than 2 minutes.  For this song Nina is on bass, Lily on guitar and Ani on drums.  Their sound reminds me of early Dead Milkmen.  Is this a Philly thing?

For “No Way” Nina stays on bass, Lily switches to drums and Ani takes the guitar.  Nina sings lead with the other two giving great tight harmonies.  For these songs the bass lays down the main melody and the guitars play a lot of single note melodies that run counter to the bass.

For the “queasy-yet-sentimental” “The Cow” it’s the same lineup but Lily sings lead on the first verse and Ani sings leads on the second verse.  The staccato guitar style on this song is so unusual.

For the “anxious and melodic” “Big Bad Want” Lily stays on drums and sings lead, Ani switches to bass and Nina gets the guitar.  Ani plays some chords on the bass and you can really see how the guitar plays a repeated pattern while the bass takes more of a lead role.  The call and response for this chorus is really tight.  Nina even plays a guitar solo.

“Sound of the Beat” (from 2018’s Roach Goin’ Down) is “a sweet testament to grooving” and gets a full lineup switch.  Nina sits behind the kit, Ani is back on guitar and Lily is on bass.  This song is really catchy–surely the catchiest thing in this set.  It has a feeling like early Sleater-Kinney.  All three sing harmony lead.

They end with “Before I Got Here” with same line up.  It’s one of their longer songs at over three minutes.  Ani and Lily switch off lead vocals for the fast verses.  After a minute or so, the tempo shifts and the last two minutes are a slow instrumental jam with Ani playing a guitar solo while Lily keeps the melody on bass.

It’s tempting to try to see if one of them is “better” at one instrument or another, but they are all clearly very comfortable on each instrument.  This leads to endless possibilities for songs.

[READ: May 1, 2021] Weird Women

“Introduction” by Lisa Morton and Leslie S. Klinger

Why summarize when they say what this book is about so well

Any student of the literary history of the weird or horror story can hardly be faulted for expecting to find a genre bereft of female writers, at least in its first two centuries. …

Yet there were women writing early terror tales—in fact, there were a lot of them. During the second half of the nineteenth century, when printing technologies enabled the mass production of cheap newspapers and magazines that needed a steady supply of material, many of the writers supplying that work were women. The middle classes were demanding reading material, and the plethora of magazines, newspapers, and cheap books meant a robust marketplace for authors. Women had limited career opportunities, and writing was probably more appealing than some of the other avenues open to them. Though the publishing world was male-dominated, writing anonymously or using masculine-sounding names (such as “M.E. Braddon”) gave women a chance to break into the market. It was also still a time when writers were freer than today’s writers to write work in a variety of both styles and what we now call genres. A prolific writer might pen adventure stories, romantic tales, domestic stories, mystery or detective fiction, stories of the supernatural—there were really no limits.

Spiritualism—the belief that spirit communication could be conducted by a medium at a séance, and could be scientifically proven (despite continued evidence to the contrary)—was widely popular, and so one might expect to find that many writers of this period were producing ghost stories. But ghost stories were just one type of supernatural story produced by women writers at this time. Women were also writing stories of mummies, werewolves, mad scientists, ancient curses, and banshees. They were writing tales of cosmic horror half a century before Lovecraft ever put pen to paper, and crafting weird westerns, dark metaphorical fables, and those delicious, dread-inducing gems that are simply unclassifiable.

ELIZABETH GASKELL-“The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852)
Gaskell wrote primarily about social realism, but she also wrote this creepy story.  The set up of this story is fascinating. A nursemaid is telling a story to her new charges.  The story is about their mother–from when the nursemaid used to watch her.  The story seems like one of simple haunting–strange things are afoot at this mansion.  But there’s a lot more going on.  I love the way everyone is so calm about the broken pipe organ playing music day and night.  Way back then, the children’s mother saw a girl outside and went to play with her.  But it was winter and when they found the child, alone, under a tree, there was no evidence of anyone else being there with her.  That’s when we learn the history of this house and the way the owner treated his daughters.  The ending gets a little confusing, but when you unpack it, there’s some wonderful deviance at hand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES NEWMAN-“Embers” (England, Eurovision Entry 2021).

.Eurovision 2021 is over and the big news (aside from drug-taking accusations against the winner) is that the entry from England received zero.  Nul points.

This is not unique, but it’s not something that anybody wants.  It’s actually better to not make the finals than to make the finals and get nul points, because no one is going to forget that.

So just how bad was “embers?”

I’m not going to defend the song, because I would never listen to it on purpose–it’s not my thing.  But by the same token I can think of a lot of songs that are much worse than this.

This song is just kind of bland.  It thinks its big and catchy with the horns and the “light up the ROOM!” line.  But really it just doesn’t do much.  I could see this song playing in a club and people would dance to it and then forget it.  No one would ask who it was or request it again.

And maybe that’s worth nothing.

[READ: May 26, 2021] 52 Times Britain was a Bellend

Bellend is such a great insult and it is exclusive to Britain, which is a shame.

Also a shame is just how terrible Britain as a country has been throughout history.

Obviously any global superpower is going to be dickish–you get power by crushing others.  You could write this same book about the United States and cover just the last four years.

But Felton, whom I’ve never heard of before, but who is apparently a huge Twitter presence, narrowed history down to 52 (one a week) examples of Britain being absolutely horrible (and somehow managing to make it funny).

How did he decide on these events?  Well, they are judged by today’s standards (saying “I’m from the past” is no excuse).

What you’ll get here is a good overview of fun and horrifying times when we were cartoonishly evil, from a comedian just as appalled as you are about what shits it turned out we were in the past.

Most of the terrible behavior involves other countries.  Like starting wars with China because they wouldn’t buy British opium.  Or making Zanzibar pay for the bombs that Britain dropped on  them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ELENA TSAGRINOU-“El Diablo” (Cyprus, Eurovision Entry 2021).

Eurovision 2021 has come and gone and I am very amused at how angry people get about it.

After the results were announced, someone in a comments section was shocked that their song didn’t do well and couldn’t believe that the entry from CYPRUS made it.

So, obviously I had to see what Cyprus contributed.

This songs opens like a fairly classic Euro dance song to me.  Elena Tsagrinou has a powerful voice and the song starts with a big soaring chorus and a love song at that–although to the devil, which is a bit odd.

After the chorus, the verses sound more contemporary.  She sings in a kind of rap style and the music is more smooth throbbing bass with a familiar 2021 sound to it.

My favorite part is the quiet middle with the simple twinkly melody and heavy breathing.  And the puzzling choice of singing

mamma- mamma- cita tell me what to do.

The mamacita line is a bit odd, unless the whole song is meant to be sung by a Mexican person, I guess.  But whatever. It jumps nicely into the chorus from there.

This song came in 16th place.  So what could have upset that commenter so much?  Could it have been the subject matter?

I fell in love, I fell in love
I gave my heart to el diablo, el diablo
I gave it up, I gave it up
Because he tells me I’m his angel, I’m his angel

Or perhaps it was the children’s choir taunting “I love el diablo, I love el diablo.”

It’s pretty fascinating.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “April & Paris”

Surprisingly, given some of his later books (Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk), Sedaris actually seems to like animals (or he did back in 2008).  He talks about watching nature programs and getting far too invested in the animals.  He knows its wrong to anthropomorphize animals and yet he’s as guilty as anyone of it.

He watched a show called Growing Up Camel (was that real?) and when it was over–despite nothing terribly dramatic happening

The final shot was of the three camels standing in the sunshine and serenely ignoring one another.

David was a crying wreck on the couch.

The subject turns to inside their Normandy house which is full of all kinds of insects.  And spiders.  He heard a faint buzzing sound and went to the window and watch as a spider rushed forth and carried a trapped fly

screaming to a little woven encampment.  It was like watching someone you hate getting mugged.  Three seconds of hardcore violence and when it was over you just wanted it to happen again..

The spider was Tegenaria Duellica–a big spider the shape of an unshelled peanut.  This was an adult female (which can live for two years) and he called it Alice. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NATHANIEL RATELIFF-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #190 (April 12, 2021). 

Nathaniel Rateliff treads a fine line between country and rock.  But between this album and his work with the Night sweats, I tend to prefer him to others like him.

The Mercury Café is one of the first places Nathaniel frequented when he moved to Denver in 1998, hearing jazz, dancing, and eventually playing many shows there. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he’s assembled a dozen players including a string section, backing singers, and some of his oldest friends: Joseph Pope III on bass, Mark Shusterman on keys, Luke Mossman on guitar and Patrick Meese on drums.

On the opening song and the title track to his 2020 album, And It’s Still Alright, they’re restrained as Nathaniel sings about loss, “I’ll be damned if this old man / Don’t start to counting his losses / But it’s still alright.”

This song is so darned catchy, despite how sad it is.  Mossman plays lead guitar and Shusterman keeps the keys going throughout. The addition of strings (Chris Jusell: violin, Joy Adams: cello, Adrienne Short: violin and Rachel Sliker: viola) add a new component that sounds great.

“All Or Nothing” has an interestingly picked guitar with lots of bouncy bass from Joseph Pope III.  Midway through, the song starts rocking out with two drummers.

But restraint lets loose on the chorus of “Redemption,” a song about breaking free of the past and written for Apple original film Palmer.

“Redemption” is a powerful song that has a simple but big chorus “Just set me free.”  The backing vocals from Larea Edwards, Chrissy Grant and Kinnie Maveryck sound fantastic.

The ender, a tune called “Mavis,” truly is a grand finale, a song that conjures up images of The Band singing Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” — and what a fabulous release it is.

Half way through the song builds to a really full sound.  Rateliff sounds great and so do his songs.

[READ: May 7, 2021] “The Shape of a Teardrop”

I really love the diversity of style and subject matter that T. Coraghessan Boyle brings to his stories.

This one is told from two different points of view.

We open on Justin, a belligerent person, angry that his parents have kicked him out of his room. It took three final straws–dropping him from the family cell phone plan; putting a lock on the fridge and the final final straw was the eviction notice on his door.

Alternating sections are are supplied by the first narrator’s mother. She says how much they loved their son and tried to give him everything they could.  They had tried so hard to have children, including expensive in vitro.  And then one day their miracle was born.

Their son doesn’t have a car (it’s on blocks in the driveway) and doesn’t have any motivation to get a job.  But he does have very expensive salt water fish and a bar that he likes to go to (he enjoys the bartender whose name is apparently Ti-Gress. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAE KHALIL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #171 (February 18, 2021).

Rae Khalil was a contestant on Netflix’s music competition show, Rhythm + Flow.  I distrust anyone who wins a music TV show, but I really liked Khalil’s music.

She is recording in Harun Coffee in the historic Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles.  Khalil’s set is a colorful explosion of talent, perfectly complimenting the funky patchwork and textures of her attire.

She calls her band The ill, and they are pretty great, in particular the fantastic bass work from both Dominick Cruz and special guest Kelsey Gonzalez of The Free Nationals (they switch mid set).

“Way Down” opens with retro keys from Elyzr and grooving bass (from Gonzalez) and a fiddly guitar solo from Takoda Barraza (on a nifty green Steinberger guitar).  Khalil has a great delivery throughout–quiet, understated and yet powerful too.  Drummer Nico Vasquez sets a killer rhythm throughout, too.

“Tiny Desk! Happy Black History Month!,” rapper, singer and songwriter Rae Khalil exclaims before gliding into “FATHER,” from her LP Fortheworld.

“FATHER” has a lengthy jazzy keyboard intro from Elyzr.  When Khalil sings, her delivery is understated on this one as well, although she occasionally lifts her voice into a kind of croon.  Dominick Cruz plays a jazzy guitar solo.

Sticking to the “inspiration” theme of our Black History Month celebration, she recites an excerpt from Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” The 86-year-old words still read painfully relevant for many Black people in this country today.

Her reading of this poem is really good.  I wasn’t familiar with it and I can’t believe it is 86 years old.  I thought it was quite possible she had just written it, it felt so disturbingly contemporary.

The Torrance, California native’s musical theater background shines through here; she exudes an array of emotions in a span of minutes on tracks like “UP LATE” and “MARIA,” making it impossible to look away.

“UP LATE” has an outSTANDING bass line from Dominick Cruz.  Rae starts the song singing softly , but with speedy delivery.  Then she takes off!  Dramatically singing/rapping/laughing/pausing and then on a drop of a hat, “MARIA” shifts tones and she starts scatting along to the gentle jazzy music.

Vasquez get a few mini drum solos in the middle before the song takes off again and then ends with a jazzy bass solo from Cruz.  It’s fun watching her dance in he big bell bottoms.

This was a really great Tiny Desk and while it won’t get me to watch any reality music programs, I will acknowledge the success of this performer (although she didn’t even come in the top 8, so the heck with that).

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the second book in the Charlie Thorne series.  I had not read the first one but S. told me that I would love it and that the first book wasn’t necessary for the enjoyment of this book.  And that was absolutely true.  This story does follow that one, but it is wholly independent and anything that needs to be filled in from the previous adventure is dealt with pretty handily.

So who is Charlie Thorne?  She is a genius.  She is a fugitive.  She is not yet thirteen.

I have not read any Stuart Gibbs before (except for one short story), but I understand his Spy School is a great series.  I have to hand it to him right away for writing such a cool and compelling protagonist for this series.  And also for having a story with so much fascinating information included.

As the book opens, Charlie is surfing off a small island near the equator.  She chose this location because it is very remote.  She needs to be remote because of what happened in the previous book (she has a piece of information that everyone from the CIA to a dozen other international cartels would kill for).

She assumed she was safe, but knew she wouldn’t be for very long–nowhere was totally hidden.  But while she’s here, she’s going to learn to surf.

Gibbs using surfing to show off Charlie’s brain power.  She has never surfed before but because she is so smart–so good at using numbers to read nature–she never misses a wave and never wipes out.  The locals think she might be a demon.  I enjoyed the way he uses her skill at figuring out angles and pacing and such in several later scenarios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKKeiyaA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #168 (February 11, 2021).

I had not heard of KeiyaA (and have no idea how to say her name), but i was quite stuck by this performance.

KeiyaA is a new performer, and her debut album

Forever, Ya Girl, appeared last year with kismet timing, unveiling her as a fully formed star. The 2020 release is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood.

The set opens with “Do Yourself a Favor.”  For this track KeiyaA sits behind the keyboard a while 13th Law plays a slow funky bass line plays accompanied by finger snaps and backing vocals from the amazingly named Nelson Bandela.

KeiyaA comes out front for the rest of the tracks.

Cornrows braided back with the precision of an architect. Stiletto nails commanding a sampling machine. Gold-glinted lids to match her light-up Beads Byaree earrings. With every move, KeiyaA shines so bright, it’s impossible to look away. And while your eyes are fixated on her person, the music KeiyaA conjures inside Brooklyn’s Electric Garden is what leaves you completely spellbound.

On “Hvnli,” Nelson Bandela plays keys behind a new slow funky bass line.  Keenyn Omari played guitar on the first song but he plays saxophone on this one.  It starts with soft bursts and then he really starts wailing.  With the sax and the syncopated drums from Buz “Hvnli” sounds like a spare jazz song.  She sings:

Gone for so long I prefer to spend time in my pain, hey / Gone for so long I can barely recall the last my phone rang,” she sings on “Hvnli.”

Her album

is a meditation on the thin line between solitude and loneliness, one that KeiyaA traces and teeters on while defining her Black womanhood. Whether it’s through jazzy woodwinds, heavy synths or prickly staccato, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares waves of anguish, depletion, love and elation in a swirling stream of consciousness.

She says that “Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of Black women Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange [she holds up their books] who both speak unabashedly of the plight and joys and general experiences of the Black femme woman.  And those writings are paramount in my work.”

She opens “Finesse Without a Trace” with a wobbly sample and The 13th Law plays some bass chords and splashy drums.  The sample turns into some quotes while Omari plays some wild distorted flute.

The song ends with an improvised flute solo which KeiyaA accompanies with samples and some oohing.  The song slowly morphs into “Rectifiya” a funky piece with response vocals on the chorus.

She ends the whole set with the sampled quote from Nina Simone.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody. All over the place…in most situations, most of the time. I know I’m one of those everybodys. And to me it is terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just to open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.”

Apparently the album sounds very different than this Tiny Desk: (The “album version of these tracks boast much of KeiyaA’s own production, affirmations and layered vocals in chorus”).  Perhaps I’m better off just enjoying this and not looking further.

[READ: April 5, 2021] Parable of the Sower [end]

The end of the book provides something of a skeptical feeling of hope for our travelers.   I read in the Foreword that Earthseed was meant to be a trilogy; however, Butler only finished a sequel (and an unrelated novel) before she died.  The Foreword (by N.K. Jemisin also gives a spoiler to Parable of the Talents–uncool!  Even if the books are over twenty years old.

By the way, Jemisin sounds pretty interesting.  Anyone read her?

To me, it is astonishing how many big questions go unanswered in the book.

I had mentioned wondering about the Mars mission and there’s no mention of that again.  We never find out anything about any state east of Central California and we never find out What Happened.  Obviously that information is irrelevant for the characters–they just have to move on–but it’s frustrating not to have even a hint.  [I accept that it wasn’t relevant to Butler, but I’m still curious].  We never hear anything about the community that the corporation bought, either–although there is a kind of follow up with someone from a similar community telling about how badly it turned out for the people living there.

This section starts off with an earthquake.  Earthquakes are bad news in general but in this situation they are much worse because earthquakes tend to cause fires.  And we know who fires attract.  Zahra thinks that they might be able to scavenge for something they can use, but Lauren suspects, rightly, that it would be a dangerous thing to do–druggies and people more violent than they are would be there.  And this proves to be true.

In fact, it proves to be very smart to move on because they wind up putting some distance between themselves and the violent crowds that scavenged the burnt out houses. (more…)

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