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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ACTIVE CHILD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #131 (January 6, 2021).

Active Child has been around a long time, although I was completely unfamiliar with him.

Active Child is the music of Patrick Grossi. … He layers his choral-styled voice on top of melodic harp and piano. Electronic beats propel selections from his latest album, In Another Life, as well as one of his earliest and well-known songs, “Hanging On.”

He opens with “Hanging On.”  A drumbeat begins along with his high soaring voice.  As the camera fades in, he is playing the harp.  As he samples and loops himself, he switches to piano to play the main verse.  Then the loop starts and the room fills with music.  It’s pretty neat to watch him jump from piano to harp and again for a solo.

From a stunning room overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, Calif., we hear the ethereal sounds of Active Child. “I chose this space, as this is where I’ve written nearly every piece of music for my active child project. my music and this house / this view are completely intertwined.”

As he’s talking, the drm for “In Another Life” begins.  I couldn’t see how he triggered it at all.  Over a drum beat and harp, he sings an ethereal melody.  When he switches to the piano his voice loops in a nice harmony.

There’s a very slow fade from one scene to the other as he begins “Cruel World.”  He starts looping and harmonizing with himself.  This is the catchiest of the three mostly from all of the looping.

[READ: January 6, 2021] Days of Our Lockdown Lives

In addition to the Zapiro book of editorial cartoons, we also got a comic strip collection from Stephen Francis and Rico (Schacherl).  This was a book in the Madam & Eve comic strip series.  There are thirty plus collections and this is the most recent.

Madam & Eve is a daily comic strip syndicated in many South African newspapers.  It started in 1992 and went daily in 1993. The premise is based around a middle-class white woman, Gwen Anderson (“Madam”), and her black maid, Eve Sisulu and how they manage in the new South Africa as the Apartheid era drew to a close.

Theirs is a relationship of affectionate squabbling.  Perhaps in the spirit of equality, neither character is portrayed as particularly sympathetic. Madam is always coming up with silly ideas in order to fit in more with the new way of life. Eve meanwhile keeps coming up with ways of obtaining extra cash out of Madam and others.

There is also a lot of political humor with strips mentioning topical incidents and also featuring some of the political figures in the news–so the Zapiro book is a nice companion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KEM: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #115 (November 23, 2020).

I have never heard of KEM, so it’s a surprise to see that he’s been recording for almost 20 years.

KEM’s Tiny Desk performance is light, welcoming and beautifully decorated. So is his music.  After almost 20 years of recording R&B hits … he still comforts my soul with his sultry voice and simple, yet satisfying melodies.

That summary is really apt.  These songs are light and simple.

He plays three songs from his latest album.

The first, “Friend Today,” has KEM accompanied by Michael “Nomad” Ripoll on acoustic guitar.  The song

poignantly articulates a love for our fellow humans: “There’s a roll like thunder / They killing our babies, Lord / They headed straight for the border / And we can no longer ignore it.”

About “Not Before You,” KEM says the recording is a demo vocal because he never got around to doing a real vocal so [logic leap here] this song is very special.  I assume he means it is special because it is

a classic romantic love song, as a dedication to his wife, Erica.

Kem adds programming and a deep resonating bass to the guitar backdrop.

For the final song, “Lonely” KEM brought out the “heavy artillery,” David McMurray on saxophone. The song ends the set

with an upbeat, hopeful vibe: “There’s a life waiting for you / In your brokenness.” It’s an affirmation that personal struggles can end in true happiness.

I don’t enjoy a lot of contemporary R&B, but I liked the understatedness of this set.

[READ: November 20, 2020] Ireland Through Birds

I saw this book at work and thought I’d bring it home to read it.  I wasn’t sure if I’d read the whole thing, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

O’Brien is a bird lover (he should hook up with Jonathan Franzen for a joint tour/book).  He grew up loving birds and has seen many of them.  He decided to look for these twelve bucket-list birds for an Irish birdwatcher.

These dozen birds tend to be shy and wary or highly localized.  And unfortunately

Some need very specific conditions in which to flourish, conditions now found in only a few protected pockets across Ireland.  Some are endangered–and still declining.

So in addition to talking about the birds, O’Brien is here to talk about nature: what we have done to it and what we can do for it.

For those of us not in Ireland, a map is helpful just to know where he is.  So I’ve added one to the bottom of the page. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KINGFISH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #99 (October 20, 2020).

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is an amazing guitarist.  He is clearly a blues prodigy.  He was in his teens when he first came on the scene and is only 21 in this video (so it is funny that he has been singing about drinking Johnnie Walker Red for the past few years).

“Fresh Out” is a pretty classic blues–a simple riff, lyrics about being fresh out of everything, and some wicked, wicked soloing.

“Outside of This Town” is a song I’ve heard on the radio a lot.  When I first heard the song, I assumed he was an old blues man with a comeback record.  So it was really quite a surprise to find out he was 18 or 19.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, he’s accompanied by Paul Rogers on bass.  On this one, Rogers bass feels a bit more prominent, probably because Kingfish is really rocking out on the solo–some great hammering, he must have really powerful fingers.

“Listen” is a very difference song–a gentle ballad kind of song with pretty guitars and showcasing his voice, which is really soothing.  There’s not even a guitar solo in this one.

“Rock & Roll” is dedicated to his late mom.  It’s another mellow song, very pretty and catchy as well.

I had known that Kingfish was an amazing guitarist, but this set shows off more of what he can do and that he’s more than just a young bluesman..

[READ: December 2, 2020] “Aviary”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 2. Lysley Tenorio, author of The Son of Good Fortune, will catch up with you at the food court.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is written in first person plural and is set in the Greenbrook Mall in Manila.

It opens with a group of kids going to Alejandro’s home.  He is the only person they know with the internet (or even electricity). (more…)

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36963399SOUNDTRACK: BEAM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #40 (June 26, 2020).

beamBEAM is a Jamaica-born, Miami-raised reggae artist, whose

father, Papa San, was a dancehall superstar during the late 1980s and early ’90s before becoming a preacher.

BEAM performs four songs, and

the 23-year-old singer and his co-producer and keyboardist, Al Cres, brought a new flair to the Tiny Desk (home) concert series with some unorthodox visual effects.

A guy rapping quickly with a pretty heavy Jamaican accent is pretty hard for me to understand, so I tend to hear phrases like “makes sure you know how to [garbled]” and I think he’s saying NPR a lot.

“SOLDIER” starts the set.

“MAD GAAL,” featured on his 2019 major-label debut, 95, is sure to keep living room dancefloors bumping during the pandemic.

“STRANDED” is a slower, ballad-style song with gentle keys from Al Cres.

He concluded the set with an exclusive: “KUMBAYA”, a fitting song for this moment in history.

It is nice that he included a green screen for visuals.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Bird Trivia

I was looking up books about birds and this book popped up. It seemed like a fun book to check out.  The original subtitle (the one still visible on Goodreads) is “Amazing Facts to Wow Any Bird-Lover.”  This original subtitle REALLY overstates the quality of this book.  The final subtitle is a bit more realistic.

Because this book is okay.  It’s quite short and feels a lot like the forty some pages of  information that Tekiela finds interesting.  It feels like a very personal book (which is good and bad).

I don’t really know what one might expect from a book of bird trivia.  Most bird lovers know a lot of trivia already about their birds (really, isn’t any information about birds trivia?). (more…)

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julyaugust200SOUNDTRACK: BENNY THE BUTCHER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #36 (June 19, 2020).

bennyI’d never heard of Benny the Butcher and when I was listening to his boasts, I assumed that maybe he was really old school.  He makes a crack about Nicki Minaj that made me think he was like 50, but in fact she is older than he is (which is pretty funny).

Benny the Butcher is part of “the triple threat emcee collective from Buffalo, N.Y., consisting of Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny the Butcher” known as Griselda.  They were supposed to do a Tiny Desk until the coronavirus hit.

Benny the Butcher blessed us with a five-song set from the living room of his current home in Atlanta. (Due to some recording snafus, some of the audio and video in this video doesn’t always sync up.)

I really like when they do five or so songs in under fifteen minutes–it’s like a highlight reel.

There’s something really amusing about these guys rapping some hardcore stuff (the n-word is mentioned about fifty times in 13 minutes) while  they are sitting in a suburban-looking house on a gray couch with plants and baby pictures on the table.  But somehow, without all of the posturing and video effects, i gets you to listen to the words more closely.    And I really liked his lyrics.

“Crown for Kings” is like an old school song full of braggadocio and lots of similes (I assumed it was a twenty year old track) at first, until he rapped

I sat back, a vet, and watched beginners winnin’ my belts
Burned my bridges, came back a good swimmer like Phelps

and then this really funny bit about going to Philly, which includes the Nicki Minaj line

What’s the dealy? I’m only ’bout six hours from Philly
That’s an hour on the plane, I’ll make it three in the Bentley
My bitch keep sayin’ I’m famous, but it ain’t hit me
I’m too ghetto, mellowed out, this Hollywood shit tricky
See, before I knew an A&R, I was weighin’ hard
Back when Nicki Minaj was in a trainin’ bra

and

“Rubber Bands & Weight” was a cool song.  Slow and intense with creepy music.  I really appreciated the slow delivery in this song.  Even though I think the challenge is to see how much you can fit into a verse, sometimes slow gets the point across better.  I also liked that this song had a recognizable chorus and the video included jump cuts of him shouting it out.

For the third track, Benny is joined by Rick Hyde and Heem, two artists on his new BSF label imprint, for a live performance of “Da Mob,” the first single off an upcoming label compilation titled Benny The Butcher & DJ Drama Presents: Gangsta Grillz X BSF Da Respected Sopranos.  This track is dark and distorted sounding.  Hyde’s style is gruff (he jump cuts to Benny’s couch). Then Heem comes in for his verse–they don;t cross paths so I assume it’s all socially safe.  Benny returns for the final verse and his is definitely the best voice of the three.

“Cruiser Weight Coke” is a title I don’t get, but I like the sinister sounds on this song–very cool low notes an what sounds like processed vocals. vocals.  This line stuck out to me:

If we link up and make plans (shake hands), it’s a done deal if we shake hands
You won’t understand me ‘less you move your family to a place they feel safe in (alright)

This track is really short (less than 2 minutes) and skips the last verse.

It seems to be saving room for “5 to 50.” “5 to 50” and “Crown” come “from his critically acclaimed 2019 album, The Plugs I Met.”  It continues in this aggressive style.  He seems to pause to really let the final section sink in.  And as the song reaches its end, the music cuts out–intentional or not, I can’t tell.  I’ve never heard a rap end a capella before, but it really makes the words hit haard and show how good his flow is even with out a beat

I can turn your front door to a drug store
Make any kitchen to a lab
Man, I hear these drug stories and I laugh
Talkin’ ’bout the Coke sales they never had
Pull up on a nigga, you gon’ know the pad
Only house with a Bentley on the grass

As the video ends, he is very pleased. He says

“5 to 50,” “Crown for Kings” “Rubber Bands & Weight,” Oh my goodness!  That’s why I’m a legend.

[READ: June 23, 2020] “Lord Mayor Magpie”

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

The fourth piece is a poem.  It is a simple, but lovely descriptive poem about a magpie.

This poem is five long stanzas.

Magpie idles in a limousine
of black feather with a slash of white
piping that outshines all chrome

he has the brazen glamour of a motorcade.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MILCK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #19 (May 7, 2020).

I only know of MILCK from NPR. They talked about her “movement-defining anthem ‘Quiet'” which she played in 2017 at the Women’s March.  It was powerful and very moving.

Aside from that song, though, I hadn’t heard anything else from her.

And now, here she is at home singing “her most recent singles, ‘Gold’ and ‘If I Ruled The World.’  She also plays an unreleased song, “Double Sided” which she says is her most personal yet.

Many artists are sincere, but MILCK might be the most sincere performer I’ve ever seen.  That sincerity comes across as she speaks between songs, but also in her lyrics.  I love this couplet from “Gold.”

Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance / don’t mistake my self-respect for disrespect.

Then she moves on to the brand new song

For this deeply moving Tiny Desk (home) set, recorded at her home in Los Angeles, MILCK performs those two recent singles, along with an unreleased track called “Double Sided,” a gorgeous tearjerker about the necessity of loving one another regardless of our faults and weaknesses. MILCK’s songs of empowerment, unity and understanding have never resonated more.

“Double Sided” is a powerful song and she is definitely moved by the end.

For the final song, “If I Ruled The World” she introduces it by quoting Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem said that dreaming is a form of planning and this song is dreaming and imagining what our world could look like.

The song a capella for the first verses.  This is significant because so far every song of hers that I’ve heard has been about the lyrics.  But it’s here that you fully realize what a great voice she has.

Having said that, the lyrics are pretty great, too.  As I said, they are very sincere.  But it’s wonderful that there are serious ideas coupled with more lighthearted ones

Jenny wouldn’t hate her figure when she’s small, or when she’s bigger
She’d be kissin’ on the mirror, and the WiFi would be quicker
Everybody would recycle, fewer cars, and more bicycles
No more fighting for survival, you would hear this song on vinyl

You’d see a doctor if you’re sick, Mary, don’t you worry ’bout it
‘Cause there’d be no crazy bill, no more thousand dollar pills

All the sexist, racist, bandits would be sent off for rehabbin’
And instead of feeding fear, we’d be feeding half the planet, damn it

If I ruled, it would be less about me, more about you

As the blurb says,

I can always count on MILCK for a good cry. … the Los Angeles-based singer digs into and bares the ugliest sides of human nature, but leaves you feeling nothing but gratitude and awe at just how beautiful life really is.

If you’re not moved by these songs, you’re not really listening.

[READ: May 8, 2020] “Why Birds Matter”

At one point I subscribed to the print edition of National Geographic.  There are so many magazines that I like but which I never have enough time to give attention to.  National Geographic was one of them.  Each issue is packed with amazing pictures and fascinating stories that go along with them.  And every once in a while I would see a dozen or so yellow spines staring at me, accusingly.

I remember when this issue came in and there was a cover story from Jonathan Franzen, which I was excited to read.  I didn’t have the time to read it when it came in.  Later, when I remembered that I wanted to read this cover story I honestly couldn’t remember what magazine it came from.  I was sure it as Harper’s, but searches proved otherwise.

Finally I did a search on his articles and this came up and that was it!

I found an online copy of the magazine through my library (it has since been published in a book) and finally got around to reading it.  So imagine my surprise when it was actually quite short.  There’s an accompanying (amazing) photo essay that makes the entire “article” some twenty pages.  But his text is barely five picture-heavy pages.

Nevertheless, he makes so many point better than I could and better than I could even try to summarize that I’m quoting extensively because I think it’s that important.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LUMINEERS-Tiny Desk Concert #966 (April 6, 2020).

When The Lumineers first came on the scene they were the band that sounded like Mumford and Sons.  It now seems likely that The Lumineers are more popular than Mumford.

I’ve known them since “Hey Ho” but I’ve never seen them I guess because sinegr Wesley Schultz doesn’t look anything like I thought he would (I’m not sure what I thought, but that’s not it).

Much of The Lumineers’ Tiny Desk comes from the band’s third LP, III, which tells a story of addiction in three acts.  They began with gut-wrenching renditions of “Gloria” and “Leader Of The Landslide.”

I’ve heard “Gloria” a million times, but it was nice to see it live.  I especially enjoyed  when violinist Lauren Jacobson joined in on the high notes of the piano while Stelth Ulvang played the low parts.  Byron Isaacs plays some interesting bass lines (That I’ve never noticed before) and adds nice backing vocals.

“Leader of the Landslide” has a very sad introductory tale.  Stelth Ulvang switches to accordion.  It is “accompanied by a cassette recording of crickets made on iPhones and dubbed to play on a boombox.”  It’s a quiet song, unlike what I think of them as playing.

The third track is also from III, but was an assignment from director M. Night Shyamalan. He tasked Schultz and his suspender-clad writing partner, Jeremiah Fraites, with composing a song for the end credits of a film. “Jer and I worked really hard on that, and then he didn’t need it,” Schultz confessed. The results are the stark and haunting “April” and “Salt And The Sea,”which strikes a different chord than any other song they’ve written.

“April (instrumental)” is a one-minute instrumental that segues into “Salt And The Sea” Drummer Jeremiah Fraites plays piano while percussionist Brandon Miller switches to drums. but he’s mostly playing cool atmospheric percussion (my new favorite thing of scraping drumsticks on cymbals).

It wouldn’t be a Lumineers show without a foot-stompin’ sing-along to end the set, which came with their crowd-pleasing hit “Stubborn Love”. Stelth Ulvang demonstrated a level of barefoot acrobatics unrivaled at the desk thus far, not an easy feat (or should I say, feet).

I never knew the name of “Stubborn Love” but I’ve certainly wanted to “Hey oh, oh oh oh) along with it.  And yes, Ulvang jumps on Bob’s desk to get everyone to sing along–I hope he didn’t step on anything (and that his feet were clean).

I’ve never thought about seeing them live, but I’ll bet their show would be a lot of fun. However, since they are now playing to 20,000 people, I can probably give that a miss.

[READ: April 25, 2020] “The Bird Angle”

Nell Zink and Jonathan Franzen are intricately linked.  As she writes in this essay

All I wanted when I first wrote to Jonathan Franzen–a birder who moonlights as a journalist–in 2011 was some attention for a bird-obsessed NGO.  With his help I debuted as a novelist five years ago at age fifty.

Her fifth book comes out this year.  She now has some money and wondered what to do with it.  Franzen recommended birding in Peru.

So this is the first non-fiction piece of hers that I have read.  It’s also the first piece about birds (aside from her novel the The Wallcreeper which has a bird prominently in it).

She was going to Cuzco, Peru for thee days.  First she toured churches (seventeenth century Jesuits made Christ look especially gruesome).  The next morning she hiked to Sacsayhuamán, an Incan ruin made of exceptionally large rocks.

She imagined Peru would feel like a hot night in New York when the A/C broke.  But she only got two mosquito bites the whole time she was there (both on her ass from peeing outside). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WONDERFUL ESCAPE: Birds (2018).

I was looking for a bird song collection to pair with the book.  I found this 20 minute collection on Spotify.  It turns out that Wonderful Escape has many releases of nature sounds.

I haven’t listened to any of the others, but it strikes me that this recording was made by a person with a microphone who didn’t really know what birdsong CDs sound like.

Normally a bird sound recording is meant to be soothing, a “wonderful escape” if you will.  This recording feels like a hastily compiled collection of nature songs.  I would say it’s cash grab, but I doubt there’s much money to be made in posting bird songs to Spotify.

This collection starts out with “Crowes at the Cemetery” (no idea why Crowes has an e in it–there’s no jam band in sight).  These crows are raspy and rather unpleasant.  They are certainly telling us to eff off.  There’s also a long stretch in the middle with no crows at all.  This seems rather odd for a three minute track.  The end of the track has some church bells which I assumed was from the cemetery but which seems to be the natural segue to “Birds at Saint Birgitta Church.”  This track is much calmer.  The twittering and pretty call of birds sounds rather distant though.  Its really not until 2 and half minutes that you hear some really pretty birdsong up close.  Did the bird just happen to land near the microphone?  It also seems very likely that the recording equipment has just moved to the other side of the cemetery because you can hear those same crows from track one in the background.

Track three is called “Birds at the Graveyard” which I suspect is the same graveyard as the above cemetery since you can still hear the crows in the background.  There is some melodious bird song throughout.

This track differs quite a lot from the similarly named “Birds at the Cemetery” (seriously, did they just walk around the building for 20 minutes?).  The sonic quality is very different.  The cemetery sounds less crowded and the birds are less frequent and further away.  This one actually has a more somber feel, which seems weird to say about a field recording.  For the final thirty seconds or so there’s hardly any birds at all.

The next track is “Birds in Village Park,” so at least there’s some kind of place mentioned.  There is a vast array of birdsong in this track, although it is all very far away and seems once again to be dominated by crows.  Halfway through there’s a raspy sound that sounds more mechanical than avian, but I suspect it is a bird chitting.

The penultimate track is called “Birds Swedish Countryside.”  This makes me wonder if all the recordings are in Sweden, but who knows.  It starts out promising with some interesting noisy birds but once again, it is very quiet in the middle.  Then the noisy birds appear to fly over the recording equipment, getting noisy and then quieter again.  This is a pretty cool treat because it changes things up.  But the majority of the track it sounds like the birds are trying to avoid being recorded.

The final track title seems like a joke.  It is called “Birds Way Out in the Countryside.”  And like all the other tracks, it sounds like the birds are way out in the countryside and we are behind a fence unable to get into the countryside.

This is a weird field recording to be sure.  And there are far better nature sound tracks out there.

[READ: December 31, 2019] Effin’ Birds

I saw an ad for this books and asked for it for Christmas.  I loved the idea of a beautifully illustrated book of birds which tells you exactly what they are really thinking of you.

Every page has illustrations from John James Audubon’s Birds of America or Thomas Berwick’s History of British Birds.  These are lovely mostly black and white reproductions, with a few plates in color.

The book begins

Have you ever listened to the melodic chirping of birds and wondered what they were trying to communicate?

Advances in machine learning over the past ten years have allowed for detailed scenario analysis of birds and their songs, and multiple computer-driven studies* that compiled years’ worth of audio and video recordings came to an astonishing conclusion: most of the time, birds are just saying “Fuck off.”

*I made these up because this book is fake — but keep that as a secret between you and me and the handful of other nerds who read footnotes,

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2019] Circus Mirandus

I checked out this book exclusively because Bronson Pinchot was reading it.  I will listen to just about anything that he reads.  So the fact that this story sounded even vaguely interesting (and age appropriate–Pinchot does tend to read a lot more adult books) meant I grabbed it right away.

This book is about Micah, a young orphan who is living with his sickly grandfather.  Taking care of Grandpa Ephraim is Ephraim’s sister Gertrudus.  Aunt Gertrudus is the meanest, most-horrible person ever.   She makes Micah drink bitter black tea, she makes him do all of the work in the house and she refuses to let him see his grandpa.

Micah loves his grandpa and he loves the stories that his grandpa tells.  It’s these stories that Gertrudus is trying to keep Micah from.

As the book opens we see the letter that Ephraim has sent to Circus Mirandus: (more…)

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york200SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-“Ann’s Jam,” “Elena” and “Drown” (2019)

chazzyWhen Chastity Belt first arrived they posted some gnarly band photos and wre pretty aggressive musically.  Their No Regerts album was brash.  Jagged music, pointed lyrics and rather harsh vocals.

Over the course of five years they have mellowed out quite a bit.  Not necessarily lyrically, although there is some of that, but musically it’s almost a different band. Their guitars are tastefully echoed and the vocals are really pretty and delicate.

The music on these three tracks (the only ones streaming on bandcamp) is practically shoegazey with the hazy vocals and ringing guitars.

There’s some really nice harmonies on “Elena”–and when the two distinct vocals lines intertwine, it sounds great.

“Drown” opens with a really catchy guitar part–it’s a bit faster and sounds a little more like their last two albums, but continuing with the softer vocals.

The only problem with these songs is that they tend to lack a bit of the dynamics that their earlier songs had.  We don’t want them to be too chaste, after all.

[READ: September 20, 2019] “Traditions”

This story is about an English school.  It opens with seven boys: Hambrose, Forrogale, Accrington, Olivier, Macluse, Newcombe and Napier.  Each boy has discovered that his tame jackdaw–birds they had taught to talk (as well as a jackdaw can)–had been killed.

The boys suspect Leggett.  Although Olivier believes it is one of the “girls,” one of the maids who lived in the nearby village and attended to the boys.

Despite the birds, they must go on with their day.  This included Olivier going before the headmaster.  The headmaster was disappointed because Olivier had failed to come up to scratch in any of the sciences he was studying.  When the headmaster asked if Olivier had ambitions in that direction, he had to admit that no, he was just curious about the sciences.

The headmaster replied

You indulged a curiosity.  You indulged yourself.  That can be dangerous.

But when Olivier offered to drop out of science, the headmaster said that would be dangerous too.

Olivier quickly forgot about that and resumed thinking about the dead birds.  He was more convinced than every that it was a girl.  Although the other boys had found Leggett and beat him up (and then didn’t think he had done it).

There had been other traditions of strange things happening at the school–bells ringing in the night, things going missing.  But no one was ever caught.

Olivier was certain it was a particular girl, a maid who was no longer a girl, really.  It seemed like she was watching him as well.

No one–no previous headmaster–knows that this maid, who had been with the school for a long time, had been part of a tradition at the school “supplying to boys who now were men, a service that had entered the unofficial annals.”

I have to assume this is an excerpt from a novel, because as a short story it was very unsatisfying.  So many characters introduced, the whole science thing, and so much unspoken about the maids.  But it doesn’t appear to be from the novel he published in 2002.  So I don’t know what to think.

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