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Archive for the ‘Hippos’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: REX ORANGE COUNTY-Tiny Desk Concert #961 (March 18, 2020).

I read about Rex Orange County (the low-key British pop star born Alex O’Connor) in some random article which basically said if you’re over twenty you’ve never heard of him, but if you’re under twenty, you think he’s the greatest thing ever. (My 14 year old son had not heard of him).

I didn’t read anything about his music, but I assumed he was a hip hop performer or the like.

So imagine my surprise when he turned out to be an English dude who sings like Stevie Wonder and (in the Tiny Desk at least) has music that sounds like it comes straight from the 70s.

“Loving Is Easy” features Michael Underwood on flute and Johnny Woodham on flugehorn sounding for all the world like a mid 70s AM hit.  Is he really popular with the young kids?

There was a palpable connection between the 21-year-old singer and [the crowd of millennial and Gen Z staffers that gathered early for Rex’s soundcheck]  that I don’t see often at this stage in a musician’s career. My guess is that they see themselves in him: introverted and shy, with the audacity to write and sing about his innermost thoughts.

I really feel like this blurb is overselling his openness.  I mean, most singer-songwriters bare their souls, so I’m not sure what makes him any different.  But the blurb really pushes his honesty

We’re in an age where young people are uninhibited and unafraid to address emotions, simple or complex. In that sense, his latest LP, Pony, is timely. He spoke with NPR and shared that he was incredibly unhealthy mentally throughout the making of the album. But there’s an arch to Pony and by the time we get to the final song, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” he seems at peace with his new reality.

But what’s so intense about these lyrics?

Loving is easy
You had me fucked up
It used to be so hard to see
Yeah, loving is easy
When everything’s perfect
Please don’t change a single little thing for me

I mean, not much, so let’s not get carried away about how revolutionary he is.

I was instantly surprised by how white his band seems.  The band is dressed all in white and they are a remarkably pale bunch.  Drummer Jim Reed has the bright red cheeks of the overheated.  And Michael, Johnny and lead guitarist Joe Arksey are all blond and very pale.

Between songs, he seems like he has never been in front of an audience before with the awkward way he introduces these songs.

Up next is “Pluto Projector” in which Rex switches to guitar and  Underwood switches to piano.  There’s a moment in the middle when bassist Darryl Dodoo plays a slap note.  It’s really the only notable bass in the show.  Woodham plays a muted trumpet solo which is followed by a guitar solo from Joe Arksey that I was sure was bass, but it’s just a weirdly muffled guitar sound.

For “Always” Rex moves back to piano and he sounds even more like Stevie Wonder.  This song features sax and a non-muted trumpet.  There’s some great horn melodies in this song and I like the way he plays some piano parts in the middle.

There’s this awkward introduction.  Okay I only have one more now, and then I’m gonna go…  Let’s play the song that’s called “Sunflower” now.

“Sunflower” is “older,” meaning it dates all the way back to 2017.  He’s back on guitar with a nice echo.  The beginning of the song is guitar and flugelhorn.  Then in the middle, the song picks up the tempo and becomes the catchiest thing all show.  I’m not that keen on the rhyming/talking middle part–it seems oddly forced, but that’s okay.  There’s a jamming section at the end with a flugehorn solo followed by a sax solo

Rex did not blow me away, but I was pleasantly surprised by his sound and that kids actually like it..

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper Book 3

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part three, the final part, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home to save Sunrise Valley.

This third part is a lot of travel, very little dialogue and, honestly some fairly confusing action.

Pig has been given a plant by the moles and he hopes to use it to find the smoke monster.  Fox and Hippo say the heck with that and choose to head home.

Fox and Hippo are on Van’s ship.  They are brought inside to meet Van’s children.  The room is full of dozens of children of all different species.  As hippo puts it:

Erm.. these are your kids?  But they don’t look like you or Van how is this possible?

Van;s wife says that all of the children were abandoned for being different so Van took them in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEG MYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #830 (March 6, 2019).

Meg Myers has a fascinating delivery–singing rather low on the first verse and then in a kind of falsetto on the second verse.  It’s kind of interesting but it seems at times like she’s mocking the lyrics or something.  But I love the music on the song.  I especially love the violin slide to the high notes at the end.

Apparently the instrumentation here is very different from the album.

Meg Myers put out one of 2018’s most intense and cathartic albums. Take Me to the Disco raged and threw sonic punches at anyone who’d ever attempted to use or abuse her, from former record executives to past lovers. Dressed in a sparkling blue leotard, Myers re-creates that fire and ferocity behind the Tiny Desk, replacing her album’s roaring electric guitars and electronics with a pulsing string quartet, piano and brushed drums.  [Jared Shavelson: drums, percussion; Josh Rheault: keys; Kristin Bakkegard: violin; Livy Amoruso: violin; Paul Bagley: viola; Carol Anne Bosco: cello].

But the most intense part of the performance is Myers herself. The distant, piercing looks she gives during the set’s opening cut, “Jealous Sea,” are unforgettable and unforgiving as she sings about a rat’s nest of feelings — anger, fear, jealousy, desire — over an ex. “Everything’s right, everything’s wrong / When you call my name,” she sings while half-hugging herself. “And I don’t think I can stop the jealousy / When it comes, it comes like waves and I can’t breathe.”

I am mixed on her delivery, but I like most of her lyrics.  I am fascinated by the imagery of “I don’t think I can stop the jealous sea, when it runs, it runs like lightning through my teeth.”

Myers follows with a searing version of what she calls “a very lovely, uplifting song” from Take Me to the Disco called “Tear Me to Pieces,” a frenzied takedown of liars, buried secrets and “wicked temptations.”

In the middle of “Tear Me to Pieces,” she sings “it’s in your eye,s you fucking liar” which she sings in what I assume is her normal voice.  And she sounds so powerful and clear there that I rather wish she sang more like that.   I wonder if all of these vocals styles sound different with guitars.  Because by the end, her yelling seems a bit out of tune.

She takes a little break before the final song because she played last night.  While she’s rehydrating, she talks about the next song, a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

She then dials back the fury and indignation to close with a surprising version of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. Myers is a longtime fan, and often gets compared to the British singer. But Myers tells the audience she fell in love with the song for its meaning. “It’s about men and women and the differences between them, and learning to have empathy for each other.”

At first I wasn’t too keen on her version–again, her vocal delivery seemed really wrong for this song.  But as she was singing–and singing the lyrics so clearly, I started to really appreciate the way she was performing it.  So I’m overall mixed on her.  I wanted to like her more than I did.

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part two, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home.  But they need the help of that weirdo frog character named Van.  Van shows them the city where he lives.  And it is incredible. So many people, so many colors, and the dams are all automated.  But when they get down into the city, it is just fill of smog,.. so much smog that they need to wear masks.  Van gets ahead of them and they lost him, but everyone speaks a different language and it’s hard for them to find anything.

After wandering around looking for Van, Pig spies the ancient symbol of damkeepers.  He remembers back to his father saying it’s a symbol of the damkeepers’ promise to protect the city–they sacrifice for a greater cause. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Holiday Songs and Lullabies (1998).

This album “was inspired by impending motherhood and the rediscovery of a favorite children’s book–the enchanting Maurice Sendak-illustrated Lullabies and Night Songs, from whence many of these traditional tunes come.”

I wouldn’t have said it this way, but this quote from the Amazon page is pretty apt (if overwritten):

These simple, elegant songs outshine any nasty humbug associated with holidays and dark nights, offering sanctuary from the ill temper of the season.  Though she was heavy with child at the time of recording, Colvin’s sweet, girlish voice is here huskily warmed and enhanced by the fullness of womanly glow, conjuring the innocent simplicity of a safe childhood.

The songs are all gentle and have that lullaby feel.  Some songs have strings and horns, but mostly it is piano, organ and acoustic guitar.  And it is all down-to-earth, clean-sounding and cozy.

Technically this isn’t really a Christmas album, but it’s perfect to get you fall asleep early on Christmas Eve.

The songs include: “In the Bleak Midwinter” (Traditional) / “Christmas Time Is Here”  /  “Now the Day Is Over” (Traditional) /  “Rocking” /  “Windy Nights”  /  “All Through the Night” (Traditional) /  “Love Came Down at Christmas” /  “Silent Night” /  “All the Pretty Li’l Horses” /  “Little Road to Bethlehem” /  “Seal Lullaby” (Rudyard Kipling) /  “Evening Is a Little Boy/The Night Will Never Stay” /  “The Christ Child’s Lullaby” (Traditional) /  “Close Your Eyes” (Brahms)

What’s especially good is that she doesn’t take any fast or upbeat songs and make them slow and soporific, she takes most of the slow ballads and sings them very prettily.

[READ: October 31, 2017] The Dam Keeper

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the clips are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

The story is a somewhat peculiar one, at least in the beginning.

Animals live in a town called Sunrise Valley.  The fog used to consume the town.  Then they put up a dam with windmills to keep the fog out. It is up to the dam keeper to make sure it is always running. Because the fog means death.

The dam keeper is a pig .  The fog came into town and killed the dam keeper’s wife.  The father taught his son about the dam and the importance of making sure the dam is always working.  Then one day the father walked into the fog and was never seen again.

His father always said that the dam was working if the residents forget about it.  And so they have–they think the Pig family is weird for monitoring it.

So Pig, with no parents, must attend school and monitor the dam.  He has a lot of responsibility.  And he has few friends. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 13, 2017] Believe Me

When I saw that Eddie Izzard had a book out I was pretty interested to read it.  I have loved his stand-up since 1997 or 1998 and I was lucky enough to see him on his Circle Tour (on the date they recorded it!).  I have been keeping up with his career and trying to see him in whatever he does (although I like my comedy more than drama and he has certainly made the shift towards drama in recent years).

I thought an autobiography or memoir by him would be pretty interesting (even if he claims to be boring).  But when I saw that he read the audiobook, I knew I had to give it a listen (even if it was 12 discs)!

Amusingly, there was a long delay at the library.  The lady at the counter (who is not the librarian–we librarians know the difference) said if I knew his voice, I could just read the book to myself in his voice.  It was an amusing thought, and I possibly could do that, ….yes, but Eddie’s voice is just so fantastic that it never would have worked properly.  Plus, he throws in easily an extra hours worth of footnotes and rambles that aren’t in the print book!  That’s right, an extra hour’s worth of nonsense if you do the audio.   True you don;t get to see the pictures, but it’s a fair trade-off.

Well the book finally came in and I had plenty of driving time to make short work of this 12 hours behemoth.  And I laughed and laughed.  And cried and cried.

Because while Eddie Izzard is an action transvestite (transgender, now) and one of the best stand-ups around, he is also an extremely warm and thoughtful person. He worked very hard to become the success he is.  And he has used his fame to do some absolutely wonderful things for humanity–including raising millions of dollars.  Not bad for an atheist who is sometimes in girl mode and sometimes in boy mode. (more…)

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hippo SOUNDTRACK: RAHIM ALHAJ-Tiny Desk Concert #487 (November 13, 2015).

Rahim AlHaj plays the oud, an ancient stringed instrument alhajcommonly played throughout the Middle East, North Africa and countries like Greece and Turkey.  He was born in Baghdad  and learned to play the oud at age 9.

AlHaj wrote protest songs opposing Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. He was imprisoned twice–once for a year and a half–and was regularly beaten by his captors. In 1991, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq because of his political activism, and ultimately found a home in New Mexico.

Despite all of this his songs are about hope and he seems like a generally positive guy.

The first song, “Dream” is a solo performance.  It is intended to serve as a voice for millions of displaced and murdered Iraqi children whose cries will never be heard.

For the next three songs he is joined by Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf.

“Warm Voice” is for his students.  He says he was very mean to them, and this song is for them to have fun.  It is actually for oud and string quartet.  Malluf plays the daf, a large circular drum with a hardwood frame, and a stretched and shaved goat skin that produces a gently melodic tonality. It looks a like an Irish bodhran but it is played with the fingers (especially the finger tips) producing a rich melodic sound.

For the next two songs Malluf plays the dumbek a goblet-shaped drum with a tight head made of goatskin.  It looks like it is lit up and that’s because it is heated by a lamp that keeps the skin taut in order to produce a consistent tone.  This instrument has a much higher pitch tap and is quiet distinctive.

“Friendship” begins as fast romp but the middle slows down with some interesting, fast-picked melodies and some big two note bom bom stops.

“Flying Bird” is a faster song with some very intense riffing going on.  There are some cool moments when the scales ascend and descend and the drums add little fast, tight triplet notes.  And then the whole song stops and there is a kind of drum solo before the speedy notes resume again.

When the set ends, he comments, “Thank you very much and go to work now, please.”

[READ: September 1, 2016] Hippopotamister

First Second is known primarily for graphic novels, but they also do children’s picture books that are kind of in a graphic novel format.

I loved the title of this book.  The premise of this story is that the City Zoo is really run down. No one comes any more, and even the monkeys are lethargic.  Red Panda and Hippo live in the center of the zoo (which really does look quite gross–I assume the health inspectors would have stepped in before this happened).

Red Panda decides to take off.  And he comes back everyone once in awhile wearing a new hat and telling hippo that life outside the zoo is great and his new job is awesome!  Finally hippo says he wants out, too.  Panda tells him that if he wants to blend, he must become a hippopotamister.

And so. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 25, 2015] My Morning Jacket

2015-07-25 22.10.21I had made a list of bands that I really wanted to see.  My Morning Jacket was pretty near the top of it.  My friend Jay and I marveled over singer Jim James’ use of a cape (which sadly he did not wear at this show).  Of course, it wasn’t just the cape we wanted to see, it was the whole band.

So when they were announced to headline the XPNFest, I knew I had to get tickets (the fact that St. Vincent was co-headlining was a huge bonus).

While the crowd was good for St. Vincent, they were ecstatic for MMJ.  Everyone was on their feet the whole show.  And what a show.  The band played for 2 and a half hours, running through much of their new album as well as classics from their past few records.

I had heard that MMJ were a big time jam band, and indeed they were.  In fact, even though Neil Young did some amazing jamming and soloing during his recent set, this was the first real “jam band” show I’ve been to.  Where the band takes a song in different directions, wending through different moods and styles like the 20 minute “Deodato”–more on that later.

2015-07-25 23.27.05In fact, each song was extended by some impressive soloing.  Interestingly, Jim James took a number of solos that were just himself on stage.  And I felt like his solos weren’t really that impressive.  There was a bluesy one that was very cool and one or two others that were more textural than “impressive.”  It’s clear that lead guitarist Carl Broemel can solo amazingly, but he didn’t get any features, just wailing solos during the songs.

I was pretty excited that they started with “Off the Record” which had some pretty impressive jamming in the middle.  Jim James was wearing an awesome jacket with neon stripes all over it and a pair of sunglasses that he never removed.  It was 90 degrees out that day.  How did he stand it? (more…)

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