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

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

He’s a pretty fascinating dude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it has dogs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a lovely calming session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky! (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next are the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Show 6–all ages (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 23 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.  On the last night of Green Sprouts Music Week, the band played two shows in one day. This first one is all ages, which I kind of think of as a children’s show, but really it means that people under 21 (or whatever the drinking age is) can get in too.

Sixth show of the annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar September 18-23 1995. This is the all ages afternoon show. Very solid fun show. Of note is Aliens sung by Julia Pietrus and her stuffed chicken followed by Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man sung by Don – actually this to me could be considered the genesis of his band Communism. A couple of nice acoustic in the crowd numbers as well. Near the end the band mentions they were commissioned to perform the GO7 but hadn’t as of yet written a single note for it which is pretty crazy seeing as it would be performed just a month later.

Dave says that at this show they have people aged 6-60.  A nice sober crowd–a daunting thing.  Martin says “after we play tonight they’re going to tear this place down.”  Tim: No.

Martin’s wearing sailor blue for the nautical song “Saskatchewan.”  It’s great to hear this.  There’s a line in the song about knowing the truth and when the song is over, Dave asks, “what is the truth?”  A prescient and profound young person says “I’m the truth.”

Tim tells everyone that this is his first week with picks taped to his stand.  Do you put them back or drop them? Dave says you fling them.  Tim does and is mocked–you throw like girl.  Tim: which isn’t a bad thing.

Then comes three solid versions of “All the Same Eyes.” “Four Little Songs and “Introducing Happiness.”

Dave then calls Julia Pietrus and her stuffed chicken Dale to the stage.  Dale has been to all of the shows.  Julia is going to sing “Aliens” in Polish.  Her mom made her translate it and she’s here tonight to sing it.  She’s also in a band called Ow, That’s My Head.

It’s amazing to hear her translate this song and hear how it works and doesn’t work at the same time.  But it’s really cool.  They they give her a Rheostatics single from 1980.

Then comes some “Old New Wave” as Don Kerr sings “I’m the Man” (it seems like he used to sing this with his old band).  It’s really fun.

That song was written by someone we’ll tell you who it was in the next song.  They play “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” but shout JOE!  JACKSON! (no relation).  Dave starts shouting “One Step Beyond” and then sings the Tuesday night in the discotheque. I can’t dance what the heck, I’m an Uzbeck.

Dave: You kids okay out there?  I didn’t know it was gonna get so dark and loud and weird but I think you’re loving it.

People start whistling “You are Very Star” which is pretty cool.

Up next is the “Digital Beach / Earth segue and then they announce they’ll do a few acoustic songs in the audience.

They are in the crowd for a spirited run through of “Take Me in Your Hand” and “Peas & Rice.”

Dave says that they have been commissioned to write 40 minutes of music for the Group of 7 at the National Gallery next month.  But we haven’t written a minute of it, yet.

Martin asks him to tell the Neil Young story.  Dave says he went to see Neil Young at the Garden during the Ragged Glory days.  It really wasn’t very good.  They all had Marshall stacks and were trying to be the loudest band in rock.  These two folks behind me shouted “acoooooooustic” through the entire show–he never brought the acoustic out.
Martin: the loudest sound I have ever seen was at the first stadium concert I went to about three years ago for Rush.  It wasn’t Rush though, it was this guy behind me who was whistling so loud I couldn’t believe it.
Tim: Whistle like this?  [puts fingers in his mouth and can’t do it].
Dave: have you done that and tried to say “puck?”  Don: The title of the next BNL album is going to be Born on a Pirate Ship.  They all crack up.

Martin: We unplugged and we plugged it back in.  Replugged?

After a great “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine,” Dave plugs the Green Sprouts Music Club–people who have written to us and we’ve written back.  We’ve met many bands.  Like The Inbreds, Farm Fresh and Local Rabbits (in the audience now, playing tonight at the Horseshoe).

They play a lovely version of Tim’s “All in a Row.”

Don: Are there any more Dave Bidini dolls?  Sold out!
Dave: When you pull the string, what does it say?
Can I let you off the corner?
I can’t break this 50.
I found a great thrift store.
Can you pick up my dry cleaning for me?

Martin brought art to sell but left them in the back–I declare them for sale.  A page from the lyrics from Saskatchewan and the other is a story book.  We were going to do Melville part 2 with corresponding songs.

We’ll do one more song and they’ll be available.  They end with a great “Fat.”  How fun to be done with a concert by 7:30.  But it was totally worth it to go at night as well because it’s a very different set.

[READ: February 5, 2021] Cleopatra in Space Book Six

Book five was dramatic and pretty intense.  Where do you go from there?

You start on Cada’Duun, the home of the Golden Lion, where a battle with the Xerx has left yet another one of their forces dead.  But our heroes are okay and Brian has made Cleo a new crown.

Her old one was an heirloom but it was destroyed.  Cleo us touched. They even got the ibis just right (they thought it was a snake). She asks if it does anything–Brian made it after all. Brian is annoyed to be figured out but he is pretty pleased to show of that the lower left side makes her invisible.

They are en route to Thonis, a remote, previously unpopulated planet where they have terraformed a small section to make it habitable.  They been bringing refugees from around the Nile galaxy.  Luckily, the right side of the crown is a universal translator (thanks Brian). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL-“Ballad of the Times” (1985).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

Of course I know of Everything But the Girl, they really took off a few years after this album came out.  Indeed, their sound changed quite a lot since this first album.

But I never really listened to them.  Of course, I knew their song “Missing” (“like the deserts miss the rain”) which was pretty ubiquitous in mid 1990s.  But in the mid 1980s, the band’s sound was very different–characterized by jangly guitars and a more upbeat feel.

Love Not Money was the band’ second album.  The first song on the album “When All’s Well” has a very distinctive feel like The Smiths–with the picked echoing guitars and louder grooving bass.  But “Ballad of the Time” is a bit more downbeat (as a ballad should be).  There’s some big overdubbed guitars on top of the pretty picked melody.  It’s catchy in a very “of its time” way.

Interestingly, this album apparently sounds unlike anything else in their collection, which makes me think Stuart wouldn’t have pit a later song on the mix.

[READ: December 29, 2020] Solutions and Other Problems

Seven years ago I read and loved Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s first book.  So I was pretty excited that Allie Brosh had a new book out. Apparently she has gone through some stuff in the last seven years which I won’t go into.

Instead, I want to talk about how freaking funny this book is.

I hadn’t considered or realized that her art style had changed much since the last book.  Although comparing the covers, I see that her drawings do seem more sophisticated–which somehow makes her characters look even crazier.  I love that that yellow oval on her head is her hair.  And the massive eyes.  And that crazy smile.  It’s bonkers and hilarious.

This book starts out with a bang–a very funny story about a young Allie getting stuck in a bucket. But the best part is that she was in the bucket because she felt the need to get her whole body into the bucket.  She looked at the bucket and looked at her body and decided that one needed to be in the other.  The look on her face (and then later on her parents’ faces when they find her in the bucket) makes me laugh just thinking about it.

“Richard” is all about a person who lives next door.  Young Allie couldn’t quite grasp the idea that someone lived not in their house.  She never even thought about the next door house until Richard walked out of it one day.  So she snuck in through the cat door and started investigating the neighbor,  She would also steal trinkets on each trip.  And occasionally leave a “gift” (like a creepy drawing).  When her parents found some things, they asked her about it and she said she was “hanging out” with Richard.  This obviously made her parents…uneasy.  Poor Richard.  She went too far when she stole Richard’s cat. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Frustrated” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Seventh” December 16, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The seventh night is a song from a band who, to most people’s knowledge only ever released one song. I know I have certainly never heard this song from The Knack before.

Tonight we’re featuring 4 nice Jewish boys whose biggest hit was a song about a nice Jewish girl… “My Shalom-a” or something like that… We’re huge fans of New Wave (as well as the “old wave” that came after Moses parted the Red Sea)…so we were psyched to get to cover one of our favorites…The Knack!

The Knack put out three albums from 1979-1981, then three more in the late 90s-2000s.  And yet the only song they ever released is “My Sharona,” right?

“Frustrated” is a pretty simple late 70s new wave song.  Catchy (but not super catchy).  Kurstin plays the keyboards and it sounds pretty new wavey.  He also rips a pretty good solo.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  The drums are pretty simple although I like that the verses alternate between snare and tom dominance. I don’t know how close he comes to the original voice but the (inserted video) harmony vocal i quite lovely.

It’s nice that they chose something other than the obvious hit, although the obvious hit is a hit for a reason.

[READ: December 17, 2020] “Ersatz Panda”

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 17. Lucy Ives, author of Loudermilk, has a nickname for every cat she’s ever met. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I really enjoyed the way this seven-part story began.  In a store there is a cat.  It is black and white.  Its name is Panda.  The narrator sends videos of Panda being cute to her feed.

Then one day the woman goes to the store and Panda has been replaced by another cat.  It’s also black and white but looks nothing like Panda.  This one is also loud and hairy.  The owner says that someone took Panda and replaced her with this cat.  A friend calls it “Ersatz Panda.”  The narrator decides she can’t go back to that store.

She goes to a new store.  They also have a cat.  This one is orange.  It’s name is K.C. for Kitty Cat.  K.C disappeared for a while, but she came back.

But then Part 2 shifts gears.  It comments on what we have just read: “narration is the act of organizing discrete events into a series.”  The narrator defines ersatz and says that ersatz is a beautiful word. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-tears e.p. (2019).

Boris tends toward being a very heavy band.  Their two recently albums D.E.A.R. and NO are some intense heavy metal.  They also do a lot of noise and heavy drone.  But they are not afraid of melody.  And they are not at all afraid to make pretty, dancey music.

There are five songs.  The first song “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない (doushitemoanataoyurusenai)” is on the disc twice.  The first version of this song is a remix by Narasaki under his name “Sadesper.”  It opens with a grooving bass line and some pretty guitars.  The drums are metronomic and there’s a sprinkling of keys.  I’m not sure who sings, but there’s a lot of falsetto. I love how just before the chorus there’s some orchestra hits.  It’s pretty much a full on dance song and it suits them perfectly.  You’d never guess it was Boris, but it makes sense once you realize it.  It even ends with a nifty guitar solo that sadly fades out.

“u fu fu” opens with a fast simple guitar chugging riff.  After a good ol’ “Whoo!” from Atsuo, the song pulses forward on the insistent grunted  “ooh ah” that works as a foundation to the song.  There’s a lots of great backing vocals in each ear. With about a minute to go, the bass takes over with a fast, heavy rumble before the harmonizing vocals kick in.

Up next is a fantastic cover of a Coaltar of the Deepers song “To the Beach.”  I didn’t know Coaltar of the Deepers before this release, but I have listened to them a bunch since and they are a terrific Japanese band unknown in the States.  I’m not sure how much this differs from the original , but this version is fantastic–slow and moody with lots of build and release.  The song starts with a pretty guitar melody and then a series of crashing chords and cymbals while Wata’s guitar soars.  The verses are slow with a whispered vocal.  But the choruses resume the crashing chords to punctuate things perfectly.  In the middle of the song as the vocals overlap and blend, it sounds magnificent.

“Peaches” comes next, it’s a 2 minute song sung by Wata.  A pulsing bass line propels the song forward as Wata chants the the word “peaches” over and over with an occasional “la la la” fleshes things out.  A repeating piano is added for a bit and then a shift to a kind o funky bass line that leads to the end of the songs.  It’s only two minutes long and kind of goofy but I wish it was longer.

The disc ends with an instrumental version of “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない.”  The song is so catchy and wonderful that hearing it a second time in the EP is a great thing.  It’s one of the few instrumentals that I think might sound better than the original because you can really hear what the musicians are doing–and its some great stuff.

[READ: October 29, 2020] The Ten Loves of Nishino

I have a stack of books waist high next to my desk which I intend to read.  And yet, I continue to find new (to me) books that I jump in and read first.  This book was recommended by the most recent Tiny Desk Contest winner Linda Diaz.  Why on earth would I read a book recommended by a person I’d never heard of before?  She said it was her favorite book ever (which seems weird since it only came out in English last year, but whatever).  It was also pretty short.  So I decided to check it out.

I have enjoyed many of the Japanese writers that I’ve read, so I was intrigued to read a contemporary female author (this book was translated by Allison Markin Powell).

So this book is written in ten chapters–each one written by a lover of Nishino, an enigmatic figure whom we only learn about from the women writing about him.

There is something strangely seductive about Nishino that these women find hard to resist.  He is aloof and puzzling, but that seems to make women want him even more.  But he is perpetually with women (more than these ten, it would appear). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Flowers of Neptune 6” (2020).

After a series of much harsher, darker albums, The Flaming Lips’ new record, American Head (due out next month) promises a much brighter, warmer experience.  Perhaps one indication of the change is that the guest singer on this song is Kacey Musgraves.  Sadly, she is barely audible at all and doesn’t really add any of her own flare to the song.

“Flowers of Neptune 6” opens with a quiet piano melody.  There’s slow (albeit loud) drums and acoustic guitars–it’s a Flaming Lips ballad.  This one feels almost sixties-like with the echoing voices and the primary melody.  Not to mention the content:

doing acid and watching the light bugs glow -oh oh oh
like tiny spaceships in a row-oh oh oh

The chorus is slow but catchy and the end of the song is a minute of instrumental fade out with slide guitars, choruses of voices of a moment for Kacey to hum a solo.

[READ: August 1, 2020] “My Widow”

This story is broken into shorter sections as the dead narrator relates a story about his living widow.

First we learn that his widow is a cat person.  Or, perhaps more correctly, a crazy cat lady.  She has about thirty.  She feeds them and cares for them, but really doesn’t care about anything else.  So when the roof develops a leak, she ignores it and allows the water to drip right onto her bed.

It doesn’t seem like much is going to happen in this story. She ignores the roof until she can’t any longer and then calls a roofer in to repair it. But nothing much happens with that.

The scene shifts to shopping.  “In her day, my widow was a champion shopper.”  She has a collection of antique jewelry, glassware, china figures and the like” which the deceased says would be truly valuable if she took care of the house. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOKYO JIHEN [東京事変]-“The Scarlet Alibi” (永遠の不在証明 Eien no Fuzai Shoumei) (2020).

220px-Tokyo-Jihen-News-EP-cover-artRingo Sheena formed Tokyo Jihen (which means Tokyo Incidents) in 2003.  They put out five albums and disbanded them in 2012.

Then she surprised everyone by reforming the band in 2020 (with the same people who played with her in 2012).  They have released a new EP, News.

永遠の不在証明 which translates more or less as “Eternal Alibi” is the final song on the EP and the only one that Ringo Sheena wrote the music for.

It starts like a kind of James Bond theme (and it is indeed a theme for Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet).  It’s got a noir piano, but the bass is really fat and fuzzy.

The chorus gets big while the piano stays prominent and the bass does some really fancy fretwork.  Then in th emiddle of the song there’s an instrumental break.

Seiji Kameda (亀田 誠治Kameda Seiji) gets a wicked bass solo followed by a ripping guitar solo from Ukigumo (浮雲The Drifting Cloud) and a soaring keyboard solo from Ichiyō Izawa (伊澤 一葉Izawa Ichiyō).  Everyone gets a moment to shine except drummer Toshiki Hata (刄田 綴色Hata Toshiki)–but his playing throughout is stellar.

The song halts at 3 and half minutes, but there’s a jazzy jamming coda (lots of piano and guitar solos) that runs for about a minute as the song concludes.

Although I just discovered the band this week, it’s nice to have them back.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 2

This is Konami Kanata’s second and final collection of FukuFuku stories.  After all of the Chi stories, it was probably for the best to limit FukuFuku to just two volumes.

It allows the story to go out on a high note.

The framing device of the series is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   I was pleased that this book ends the framing device with FukuFuku as an older cat–the flashback is complete.

This volume is less about FukuFuku exploring new things and more about her owner’s expectations of her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RINGO SHEENA [椎名 林檎]-Shōso Strip [勝訴ストリップ] (or Shouso Strip or Winning Strip) (2000) 

Yumiko Shiina (椎名 裕美子Shiina Yumiko, is known by her stage name Ringo Sheena (椎名 林檎Shiina Ringo). She later fronted the band Tokyo Jihan.

I’m not exactly sure how I discovered this album.  I think I had been reading about psychedelic Japanese bands and this album came up as a must-listen.

I found a copy on eBay (it’s also streaming) and, wow–it’s my favorite album in a long time.  Ringo Sheena flirts with just about every genre of music throughout her career.  Often times, including several genres in one song.  But throughout this album, it’s her singing and songwriting that really stand out.

Plus, I absolutely love the sound that she gets from her bassist.  I have included all of the credits from the album below because my copy of the album is entirely in Japanese. The “official” Wikipedia entry is first, but the Google Translated version is second.  I’m not sure what is going on with the Google Translated version, but for most of the songs the bass is described as “Bombshell base” which is totally accurate.  Interestingly, sometimes the guitar is described as “Oxygen deficient guitar” which I think just means electric, but I love that description.

So the overall feel of this album is grungy.  There’s a lot of distortion among the guitars and the drums.  None of the songs would be described as metal, but there are definitely some heavier rocking elements.  But there is an underpining of J-Pop throughout.  Both in her catchy choruses and the way her voice soars as she sings.

The disc opens with “I Am a Liar” (虚言症 Kyogen-shō) 5:26 [“False” from Google Translate].  A funky slap bass and some flutes introduce this song that has a great mix of alt rock and J-Pop.  Sheena Ringo has a great voice that can sing low but also soars nicely when needed. The chorus of this is instantly catchy with a great melody disco flourishes and her fantastic vocals.

“Bathroom” (浴室 Yokushitsu) 4:15 [bathroom] is a wild song (and one that she has apparently performed in very different styles over the years).  A ripping funky bass and synth lead to a great pulsing ear worm of a melody.  The chorus is warm and inviting and fantastic.  “Excuse Debussy” (弁解ドビュッシー Benkai Dobyusshii) 3:16 [Excuse Debussy] is another propulsive rocker with a great fat bass sound.

Things slow down for “Gips” (ギブス Gibusu)  (which apparently means “orthopedic cast”) 5:38 [Gibbs] but it has a huge soaring chorus that is partially in in English “don’t you think I wanna be with you….”  It’s about the catchiest peppiest thing and it is awesome.  The songs is quite long–over five minutes–and the last few minutes feature a great guitar line that repeats and repeats until it breaks apart with chaotic confusion.

Things slow down even further for the gorgeous strig opening of “A Driving Rain in Darkness” (闇に降る雨 Yami ni Furu Ame) 5:03 [Rain in the Darkness].  Interesting electronic sounds and some electronic percussion mask the beauty of the stirrings and then after 45 second the strings turn pizzicato and pop song structure stars with a loping bass that plays some funky high parts.  It’s a pretty song that segues nicely to the scorcher that is “Identity” (アイデンティティ Aidentiti) 3:05 [Identity].  It opens with a ripping guitar and Sheena screaming like the best of them.  This song hits pretty standard metal sounds and is a total rocking freak out with her singing syllables as the guitars and drums just go bananas.  Her band is really fantastic.

“Crime and Punishment” (罪と罰 Tsumi to Batsu) 5:32 [Crime and Punishment] plays like a torch song ballad, but it’s accompanied by a heavy guitar and a big fat bass that keeps it in the alt-rock arena.  The juxtaposition is great.  There’s a lengthy jamming coda as well.

“Stoicism” (ストイシズム Sutoishizumu) 1:46 [Stoicism] is a short interlude.  Her voice is manipulated while she’s singing a simple melody as bouncy synths underscore the whole thing.  It flows into “A Broken Man and Moonlight” (月に負け犬 Tsuki ni Makeinu[3]) 4:14 [Lose dog on the moon] which sounds like a grunge version of “Closing Time” until the loud distorted bass crashes in and upends everything. The end totally rocks out.

“Tidbits” (サカナ Sakana[4]) 3:43 [Fish] opens with a harpsichord and the makings of a bubblegum pop song.  But as the verses come in it feels kind of noirish with horns and a great catchy chorus.  The end of the song features that noir bass and a piano.

“Sickbed Public” (病床パブリック Byōshō Public) 3:16 [Patient Public] has super distorted drums and a heavy bass rumbling underneath her whispered vocals until it switches to a bright J-Pop chorus.  “Instinct” (本能 Honnō) 4:14 [Instinct] has a menacing opening of sound effects and turntables that meld into a super catchy poppy melody with wild bass.  The verses slow to a slinky sound, but that chorus is undeniable–especially when the whole song shifts up a note midway through.

The disc ends with fun watery sounds that bloop and blip for the opening of  “I Am an Addict” (依存症 Izon-shō) 6:23 [Dependence].   The song begins with a delicate synth but there’s a fun fun soaring chorus (of course) that you can’t stop humming.  The song and disc end with ends with three minutes of everyone jamming at the end of a show when the star has left the stage and the band is just going to keep playing until they can’t anymore.

I haven’t really looked into much more by her–although I did enjoy the one Tokyo Jihen song I heard.  This album is so good I’m afraid to explore anything else for the time being.  So I’ll just enjoy this one.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 1

Konami Kanata wrote the wonderful manga Chi’s Sweet Home about a family who adopts a cat.  It’s wonderful and is apparently one of many manga about cats.  Even though it’s sweet and adorable there are occasionally weird thing that make it seem more adult than it seems to be (the word pissing is in one of them, which seems a little odd for a cute book).

The framing device of the book is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   FukuFuku wants to see them too, which means lying on them, of course.

And so there are 24 short pieces about kitten FukuFuku’s introduction to living with this woman.  I understand that the book is translated, so I don’t know if the cat sounds are translated as well, but I love that when she tries to pick up the kitten for the first time, it says “Mii?”  And when she grabs for it it says “Mya”

The translator also has a lot of fun with the kittens’ action words: Skoot, Bound, Dash, etc. (more…)

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