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Archive for the ‘Whales’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BROWNOUT-Tiny Desk Concert #931 (January 10, 2020).

I’d heard of Brownout when they released Brown Sabbath, a funk covers album of Black Sabbath songs.  They have also released an album of Public Enemy covers.

I didn’t realize that they were a long-established band (fifteen years).  They originally started as a Latin funk band (and backed up Prince).  Their singer, Alex Marrero, has only been with them for four years or so–it was originally a side project that turned into much more.

One of the things you need to know about this band is that they can change traditions or genres almost on a dime. The core members dip into soul, Latin funk, a form of Peruvian cumbia called chicha, and funk covers of both Black Sabbath and Public Enemy.

The first song they play “Somewhere To Go,”

is punctuated by an old-school R&B horn section (Mark “Speedy” Gonzales on trombone and Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet) that’s deceptively simple and emblematic of the power of their concept and spirit.

The song has a slow groove and starts with a cool bassline from Greg Gonzalez.  There’s rocking, distorted guitars and lots of horns.  He sings a few lines and then starts singing into a megaphone “paddle your way out of this.”

The next song “Nain” is also new, “with lyrics in Spanish about being different and not fitting in and seeing that as a positive.”

The intricate interplay of the baritone sax (Joshua Levy), guitar (Beto Martinez), bongos (Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes) and electronic and acoustic drums (John Speice) launch the second cut, “Nain,” into another down-tempo burner,

I love the way the horns play a simple melody after the first section that sounds a bit like a commercial break in a TV show–waiting for whats to come next.  Again the guitar is interesting, playing a few complex patterns while the echoing keyboard solo from Peter Stopschinski adds a trippy aspect to it.

The final song is “You Don’t Have To Fall,” which includes

old-school Tower of Power horns that made quite a few heads dip and hips shake in our corner of the NPR building,

The song has a ripping guitar solo from Beto Martinez’s during  which Alex plays a shaker gourd.  It’s really catchy.

They seem to be able to do it all.

[READ: January 10, 2020] “The Whale Mother”

Leila’s marriage has fallen apart.  She still lives with her husband and kids, but they have both hired lawyers.  Her lawyer had told her things were over and she should “Go forth and date.”

So she decided to book a retreat

While on the SeaTac-Whidbey Island Shuttle, the older man in front of her started talking to her. He says he’s lived on the island for more than ten years.  When the ferry arrived, he led her upstairs–not waiting for her but assuming she’d be following him.  He was married–he wasn’t trying to pick her up–he just seem to enjoy talking to her.  Their time on the ferry was a little disappointing to her because she wanted to stay inside in he “sophisticated interior” but he went right through to the deck.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed the company and developed a bit of a crush on him.

He asked what her heritage was.  This “was the question she would have asked him if such a question weren’t now a minefield.  Leila welcomed the question when it came from another brown person but would not have assumed other brown people felt the same way.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Harbour Station, Saint John, NB (December 08, 1996).

This is the 20th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

This show opens with a Stompin’ Tom recording of “Bud the Spud.”  Then there’s some tuning up and some cool noises from Martin as they prepare to soar with “Song of Flight.”

They follow it with “Fat” and after the line, “I drank pop, ate Pez, laid down and played dumb” Dave explains, “I wasn’t really sick.”  They whole song is fun and they tack on a melody of “Artenings Made of Gold” at the end.

“All the Same Eyes” rocks a much faster than usual.  At the end, Tim says, “Get well soon, Willow.”  Wonder who that was.

Dave thanks St. John and describes the show as “a little matinee affair.  It’s like going to see a movie on a Sunday.”  He continues, “We’re from Toronto.  Actually we’re from Etobicoke.  We went to Vancouver, all the way to St John and now we’re crossing back.”

A fun “Motorino” is followed by “Four Little Songs” which Dave promises is “Four songs in One.  Honest.”  Tim: “What a deal.”

After the song Dave asks, “What was that last bit of shouting?  For “Record Body Count?”  We see we have some Green Sprouts in the audience.  They’re standing.  See them over there.  What are your names?  Rob is the leader I can tell because I heard his name.”

Instead of “RBC” they play “Bad Time to Be Poor” which segues into a nice “Self Serve Gas Station” in which Martin asks, “What went wrong with Nimrod?”  The ending has Martin playing a lengthy series of notes that just bumps abruptly into a ripping “RDA.”  Tim says “Bye,” at the end of the song but they jump into “Dope Fiends” instead.  Tim’s backing vocals sound particularly excellent during the end part.

After the roaring ending, the rhythm guitar picks out a lovely melody while Martin soars away.   Its a nifty denouement.

[READ: April 29, 2019 Science Comics: Sharks

Joe Flood has drawn many of the Science Comics books and this time he writes and draws it.  This one is all about sharks.  And what I found fascinating about this book is that there’s a bunch I didn’t know about sharks, but there’s not a lot to know about them overall.

The book opens with an introduction from David Shiffman a marine conservation biologist.  Then Flood gets right into it by talking about how the movie Jaws has unfairly harmed the reputation of sharks.  We must never forget that the sharks were here first (for millions of years–their ancestors go back 420 million years) and we are trespassing on their turf.

Like most of these Science Comics, there’s a narrative.  And the “story” of this book is of a stupid ship’s captain in the hunt for a shark.  He;s an ignorant and rather unpleasant guy but our guide is here to set him and us straight,.

We are also helped by out friend Red Snapper who is justifiably afraid of sharks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Casbah, Hamilton, Ontario (November 6, 2004).

This was a Hamilton show between the 2004 Western Fall Nationals and the 10 night Fall Nationals at The Horseshoe Tavern the following week. The band attempted to play all of 2067 succeeding apart from “The Latest Attempt On Your Life” and “Try To Praise This Mutilated World.”

The recording opens with some wild jazz playing–rather incongruous opening music.  But it quickly fades and you hear the guys plucking away as their noodling solidifies into “Easy To Be With You.”  They seem to be having a lot of fun with the hoo ah hoo ah middle part–making it a bit more rocking, perhaps?

Martin: “This is for Yod’s sister.”  Mike: “And Daryl from Niagara Falls, Happy Birthday.”  Tim: “We couldn’t download the lyrics to ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ so we’re gonna do this one instead.  Mike: “All the teleprompter rentals were eaten up by the U.S. election.” Martin: “And Velvet Revolver are on tour.”  They play a  stompin “Record Body Count.”

So we have a new record out.  It’s called “twenty one twel–“.  It’s called 2067.  Tim: “It’s our 2,067th release.”  Martin: “We’re a very prolific band.  And we’re gonna attempt to do it top to bottom.”  Mike: “And you know what they say, there’s a fine line between flagship and guinea pig and you’re it.”

The first song is “Shack in the Cornfields.”  Martin introduces it: “This song had a large head. But Mike and I got down to it and made sure it was born.  In the corn.” It sounds good and has a really long percussion ending and then opens up into Dave’s quiet “Little Bird,” a song they have played a lot over the  last year.

Next up is “Marginalized,” which is a bit softer and less angry than some other versions.

Dave says, “We’re gonna do a song we just shot a video for.  We do a video every couple of years.  We got Frank Bonner to co-star in this video with Martin. It’s called The Tarleks and it’s about Herb Tarlke from WKRP in Cincinnati from the late 1970s and 1980s, the heyday of modern American sitcoms.  And one day it will be done and you will see it. But until then you just have to fantasize what it might look like.”  It’s a little slow an angular.  Like much of the show it feels either tentative or like they want the audience to be able to experience the songs fully.

“Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne” has the opening stanza which they hadn’t been playing live.  This is slower than usual, I think–although it feels like a real ballad the way it builds.  There’s a buzzy wire as well, which I’m sure bugs the band.  “I Dig Music” is a little goofier and less rocking than other versions.  On the way after the middle section MPW plays the drum fill for Rush’s “Lakeside Park” but not quite right.  For “Here Comes the Image” Mike plays a playful almost bell-sounding keyboard solo–although it does cut out a few times during the lengthy solo at the end.

Dave notes: “The worst part of switching instruments is not knowing which beer is yours.”

Mike says, “This song [“Who Is This Man and Why Is He Laughing?”] has no words.  It’s drifting and mellow.  Next up is supposed to be “The Latest Attempt on Your Life” which they have played live before.  But you hear Martin say he doesn’t want to do it: “Let’s skip that one and do ‘Polar Bears.'”  Mike agrees, “If we were doing Dark Side of the Moon or something we’d stick to it but we’re going to deviate.”  It’s a spare but romping version of “Polar Bears” with some loud “hey hey ho hos.”

Dave: This next song is about yesterday’s football game that Tim wrote, uh, four weeks ago. Two days ago?  Friday night?  What day is it?  That was yesterday I was talking Tiger Cats.
Mike: “Making Pierogies.”  It’s a slow mellow song.  Very pretty, especially the guitar parts at the end

Next week is our 4th annual Fall Nationals at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto (corner of Queen and Spadina).  Ten nights in a row this year starting next… the coming Thursday.

Tim: Thanks to Wayne Omaha for playing tonight.  They’re selling their new album back there and if you wanna get their other one Can the Maps. Go For the Beauty, bug them, and they’ll sell it to ya.
Dave: I think those guys should tour prisons. I think it would be really good for the country.  As long as they’re on the right side of the bars.

They skip “Try to Praise This Mutilated World” and go into “P.I.N.”  They play the coda at the beginning and then the songs starts.  Martin sings his verse in a kind of flat deadpan and Dave says Martin Stop rapping and Martin seems to get annoyed or something–he starts singing crazy–more deadpan and then he screams a punky style and then redlines the volume with a scream on the mic–it’s a little disturbing.  They jump into a poppy “Mumbletypeg” and after the first line Dave says “That’s a lot of beer.”  It gets pretty wild by the end.  It segues into a dark “Stolen Car,” with Martin singing “Goodbye suburban motherfuck.”  The middle has a lengthy instrumental section with Tim getting to mess around on bass a bit.

After a relatively long encore break, the come back with “Pornography.”  “We wish that song wasn’t relevant; however, it is.”

Then there’s a slow “California Dreamline.” And they end with a long “Feed Yourself” with a really creepy section of Dave whispering all kinds of things like “me and you in his head.”  The song ends with some wild effects from someone–almost a minute of pinging sounds after which Dave says, Sorry.

[READ: February 21, 2017] Furry Logic

This book came across my desk at work (I’m still bummed that they changed the way we get books at work so I don’t see as many interesting ones as I used to).  It looked interesting, so I brought it home and read it over the weekend.

This is a pop-science book that looks at how animals use physics to their advantage:  “If you’re scared of physics, don;t worry, we’ve kept things simple.”  I enjoyed that the book states right up front that the authors are anthropomorphizing the animals because that makes for a much better story. Even though, in the end, they dismiss this idea.

Chapter 1 is called Heat: The Warm Up Chapter.  In which we learn about gender-swapping snakes, floppy skinned dogs, mosquitoes that wee blood, killer bees, hot-tailed squirrels, vipers that see heat and beetles that hear infrared.

The chapter looks at (using the research of others) how snakes in Manitoba keep warm by piling together in a big clumps.  But more interestingly, there are certain snakes which swap genders (temporarily).  Male snakes secrete female pheromones to attract males for body heat.  We learn that dogs shake the water off of them because the energy they expel from the vigorous shaking is actually far less than the energy they would have to use to keep warm if they were so wet.  The authors talk a lot about just how interesting it is to see their skin flip back and forth (this goes for all mammals since they all seem to shake in vaguely the same way. (more…)

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20SOUNDTRACK: ARTURO O’FARRILL-Tiny Desk Concert #303 (September 14, 2013).

arturo Arturo O’Farrill is not, as I expected, an Irish traditional musician.  He is, in fact, a Latin jazz pianist.  And the blurb states:

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O’Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O’Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-’40s New York.

The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don’t think I didn’t try to get the whole band behind Bob Boilen’s desk — and dedicated to both preserving the legacy of the elder O’Farrill and documenting the younger musician’s efforts to move the music forward.

The octet includes trombone, trumpet, sax, bongo, conga, drums, bass and of course, piano.  And they play three pieces (for quite a long set).

“In Whom…” has a good swinging feel with O’Farrill’s piano running wild.  At one point they cut to the conga player and the lady behind him is checking her phone (rudeness even in 2013!).  But it’s not all about the piano, there s sax solo and then a fairly lengthy bass solo.  Indeed there are many bass solo moments in this concert–Arturo certainly shares the spotlight.

The second song is “Compay Doug.”  He explains that “compay” means some who is not family but who is as close as family or maybe even closer.  The main melody has a cool fast/slow riff and then there’s another long bass solo.  There’s some great conga work in the middle of the song ( you can hear the percussionist use a rain stick, too).  Late in the song there a trumpet solo.  So even though this is ostensibly a pianist’s performance, there is much more–but don’t be fooled, his piano playing is intense!

The final song is called “Mass Incarceration Blues.” He says many years ago it was called “Blue State Blues,” then it became “Stop and Frisk Blues” and now it’s called “Mass Incarceration Blues.”  NPR’s Felix Contreras joins them (he ha so many cameos!).  There’s a super fast series of opening piano runs.  Then there’s a surprisingly fun (given the name) staccato melody and lots percussion.  And, as if to get everybody a moment to shine, this song includes a trombone solo, a sax solo and Felix even gets a conga solo.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Goes for the Gold

This book came out in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Babymouse joins the swim team!

The book begins with her doing a fantastic dive (called the Reverse Messy Whisker Dive) only to wake up in her backyard kiddie pool.

Despite her fantasy of doing dramatic dives, she actually spends all of her time after school reading and eating cupcakes.  Her parents insist that she do something–join a team or whatever.  She chooses to join the school swim team, “The shrimps.”  She figures how hard can it be, “I mean, swimming’s not even a real sport.”

Well not when you wear the suit that Babymouse has on.  She is encouraged to wear a proper swimming suit and goggles and a cap (to much amusement of everyone).

But swimming proves to be hard–between trying to go straight, the way the chlorine dries out your fur and the whale living in her locker (Moby-Dick, anyone?), it’s more than just splashing in a pool.

Especially when we see the other team–actual sharks!  And is that a giant squid at  the bottom of the pool?

But The Shrimps are very good and when Felicia Furrypaws dismisses swimming as not even a real sport, Babymouse has second thoughts–or at least would rather stay up late eating cupcakes.  Will she feel guilty about letting her team down?  Of course, she will.

But what will she do about it?

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[LISTENED TO: October 15, 2014] Whales on Stilts

whalesWhen this book came out it was hugely popular in my library.  I was very curious about the title–it’s crazy, right?  But I had no real sense of what the book was about (I wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be funny or a drama–it was on every reading list of that year but who knew why).  Well, had I ever looked at the book carefully I would have known it was a comedy and I would have realized that it was exactly the kind of comedy that I love.

This book is part one in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.  I believe the series shares characters, but I’m not sure if it is necessary to read them in order (we’ll find out when we listen to Book 2 next week).  Of course there are more than three characters in this book, but the three main characters are: Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut! and star of his own adventure series; Katie Mulligan, star of her own horror books series Horror Hollow; and Lily Gefelty, a girl who is friends with both of them.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrator describes Lily as being remarkably unremarkable.  She hides behind her bangs, doesn’t want to be the center of attention and is grateful that her two superfriends have known her for longer than they have been famous.  And what is doubly wonderful is that Lily is the catalyst for solving the major crisis that is about to hit her town.  In fact, Lily is the first one to even suspect that anything is awry. (more…)

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extremeSOUNDTRACK: QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-…Like Clockwork (2013).

qotsa I have loved the earlier QOTSA albums, but I just couldn’t get into this one when it came out.  Perhaps it was too…subtle?  I put it aside, heard everyone rave about it and kind of forgot about it.  Well, I recently rediscovered it and now I get it.  It is just as good and complex as everyone said–I think I was just missing the subtleties, yes.

It’s still very QOTSA–Josh Homme is Josh Homme after all, but there are added elements–pianos, strings (!) and slower sections that add depth and bring really interesting sonic textures to their sound that make this album far more complex but no less sleazy fun.

The roaring sounds that are the guitars of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” (accompanied by that bottom heavy bass are just fantastic.  “I Sat By the Ocean” has a chorus that goes from good to great when it builds to a second set of chords–it’s really irresistible.  I recall being surprised by the ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.” Okay not a ballad exactly but a piano intro that turns into a classic rocker (complete with lengthy guitar solo).

“If I Had a Tail” is a wonderfully sleazy track with a great riff and a great sound.  It’s also got some of the more unusual lyrics I’ve heard–“If I had a tail, I’d own the place.  If I had a tail I’d swat the flies.”  It’s followed by “My God is the Sun” another great riff-based song where Homme’s falsetto is just another catchy element of the song.  It also has another great chorus (why didn’t I like this album last year?).

“Kalopsia” slows the disc down quite a lot–it’s a pretty, gentle song.  Until you get used to it being a mellow song and then it turns into a real rocker (and back again).  “Fairweather Friends” has another great riff and a funny ending with Homme cutting off his chorus and saying “I don’t give a shit about them anyway.”  “Smooth Sailing” reintroduces that sleazy falsetto.  It has a (another) great chorus and an amazing guitar riff that is slowly manipulated into sounding really alien.  It’s very cool.

Most of the songs are pretty standard length, but the final two songs really stretch out.  “I Appear Missing” pushes 6 minutes and has some slower elements, and a great guitar section that connects them all.  The five and a half-minute “Like Clockwork” also starts with a lengthy piano intro and then morphs into another classic rock soloing type song.

It’s one of the best albums of 2013 that I didn’t realize until 2014.  I do wish they lyrics sheet was included as I’m not really sure what he’s saying half the time, and I’m not sure if my guesses make any more or less sense than the actual words.

[READ: September 2014] The Extreme Life of the Sea

I saw this book when I took a tour of the Princeton University Press building.  I loved the cover and thought it seemed like a really interesting topic.  I was later pretty delighted to see it on display in my local library, where I grabbed this copy.

The book is small, but I was a little daunted by the tiny print size (old age or laziness?).  Nevertheless, I was quite interested in the subject, so I pressed on.

Interestingly, a lot of the information that I read in the book, my nine-year old son also knew about–he loves this kind of scary undersea information.  The difference here is that the Palumbis (a father and son team–Stephen is a Professor of Biology, Anthony is a science writer and novelist) write for adults and include a lot of the scientific information to support and explain all the stuff that my son knows–although he knew a surprising amount of detail as well.

And the writing was really enjoyable too.  Anthony knows how to tell a story.  The Prologue itself–about the battle between sperm whale and giant squid–is quite compellingly told.  And whenever an actual creature is involved–he engages us with the creature’s life cycle. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_07_14DeSeve.inddSOUNDTRACK: JOHNNYSWIM-Tiny Desk Concert #352 (April 28, 2014).

johnnyIt was with this Tiny Desk Concert that I was able to get the numbers of the more recent ones.  They proudly announce that this was the three hundred and fiftieth TDC.  Which is pretty hard to believe.  They have almost a year’s worth.  And it seems lately that they have been putting them up at the rate of more than one a week.  How;sa guy ever supposed to catch up?

So I’d never heard of Johnnyswim before.  The band is comprised of husband and wife Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano.  They sing duets mostly but he seems to have the main voice.  And it is booming and powerful.  They have been street buskers and they have a great chemistry with each other and the audience (she says she wants to have his baby someday).

The two start as duo then for the last song the full band comes out.  And their third song with the full band “Diamonds,” is a big catchy uplifting anthem that could be absolutely huge, especially with the big sing along oh’s.  And yet the thing is, I don’t really like their voices.  I completely understand the appeal of catchy sings like “Home” and “Falling For Me,” but I just didn’t really enjoy them.

I imagine their songs will be in soundtracks this summer and I’ll get tired of hearing them.  But for now, they’re just not my thing.

[READ: June 6, 2014] “Pending Vegan”

I enjoyed most of this story because it deals with issues that I think many carnivores (at least those who are relatively sensitive) deal with—how do you eat animals but also like animals.  And yet this is not a preachy story.  I also liked it because it is set at Sea World, a place that the narrator (and many people) find questionable (at best) with regard to its animal care.

The protagonist, Paul, is taking his family to Sea World even though he really doesn’t want to go.  His wife thinks its important for their kids to see the animals before they are all gone. Paul is also quitting the antidepressant Celexa, which his therapist (a very funny, inappropriate man who says things like “black folks and Orientals”) says will make him see a lot of bad things (like bums and pickpockets) wherever he looks.

We also learn that in his own mind, Paul has changed his name to Pending Vegan.  It was a bit of a mortification but something that he felt was a step in the right direction (even if he still ate what he wanted).  He of course doesn’t know how to explain this name change to anyone (especially his daughters).  And of course, he doesn’t know how to explain the questionable (at best) behaviors at Sea World.  But he toughs it out for his family. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges [CST075] (2011).

When you learn that Stetson played saxophone for Tom Waits, it makes perfect sense.  The middle of the second song, “Judges” sounds like the instrumental break for any of Waits’ newer songs.  Of course, once Stetson starts really wailing you realize that Stetson doesn’t need Waits’ lyrics to tell a story. With just one big-assed bass saxophone, Steston can say quite a lot.  He plays with circular breathing, meaning that he doesn’t have to stop to take a breath, he breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time (this is of course impossible).  The bass saxophone weighs some 20 pounds and is massive and Stetson makes it sound like everything from an oil tanker to a field of runaway horses.  Oh, and he also has pretty melodies and songs that sound longing.

This disc is part two of a trilogy, but this is the first of his records that I bought (thanks to a release via the folks at Constellation–I wonder if they will redistribute Pt 1).  There is a story that runs through these discs, although honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it is.  But that doesn’t matter to me, what matters is Steston’s amazing skills.

There are evidently a couple of overdubs on this disc, but for the most part it is just him and his saxophone (and 24 microphones).  The microphones were placed all over the room, on the instrument itself (to pick up the clacking of the keys) and even on his throat (when he makes those “voices muffled by a pillow” sound, that’s the throat mike picking up voice–singing while he is playing (which is impossible)).

The album features a couple of spoken word sections by Laurie Anderson, whose clipped, non-inflected voice gives this otherworldy music an even more otherworldy feel.  And there’s two songs sung by Shara Worden.  Other than that, it’s just the man himself.

Prepare to be amazed by this man’s talent.  But also prepare to be a little frightened by what you hear.  This is not timid music by any stretch.  There’s some scary stuff on this record, especially if you listen in the dark.  More especially if you listen loud (which you absolutely must do to hear all the nuances).  On first listen, this may sound like a noisy jazz record, but the more you get into it, the more amazing it becomes.

[READ: October 11, 2011] Moby Dick-in Pictures

Matt Kish has accomplished an amazing thing.  He has drawn a picture a day (more or less) to accompany every page of the 552 page paperback version of Moby-Dick.  He takes a small passage from each page and renders an image for it.  One thing this book is not is an illustrated version of Moby-Dick.  It doesn’t purport to be.  You won’t get the whole story from this book.  It’s not a cheat sheet for high school students.  If you haven’t readMoby-Dick, this will give you a taste for the story–almost like a preview for a movie.  And hopefully it will compel people to read the original.  If you have read Moby-Dick, this is a wonderful companion.  Not only will the pictures give you fascinating insights into the story (and into Kish, of course), but seeing sentences excised from the book to stand alone makes you aware of the book in ways you just aren’t when you’re reading it as a novel.

Kish admits he is not an artist, which while not false modesty, is certainly selling himself short.  He has an awesome style of illustration.  I am especially excited by his vast pictures with small details (lots of pages where there are small circles with lines in them or, for instance, the details on Queequeg’s face) and when he uses bold lines to create vast, weighty iconic pictures.  Here’s one example of his awesome use of multiple straight lines.  I mean, it’s gorgeous.

But I also love the whole conceit that an artistic shortcoming for him has turned out to be an absolute boon.  Kish says he cannot render the human form and so he made the conscious decision to make the seamen more like avatars than people.  It’s daring and a little odd, but it works wonders.  I admit that I was a little less than excited by the very first page of the book–I was disconcerted by Ishmael and his utter lack of features. (I actually like the way he is rendered later in the book better–call it an artistic growth).  But by the time her gets to Queequeg, or the  gorgeous Tashtego  it’s obvious that his decision was genius.  Just take a look at the marvel that is is Ahab (left).  First off, the colors are amazing.  As are the details of the whale in the corners.  But look at him–he’s a metal machine–shiny and tough–part ship, part whale.  Look at the awesome shading and detailing of the blue “coat” that he’s wearing.  He’s even got the badge of Moby-Dick on his belt!  And then there’s the pegleg–the most beautifully drawn pegleg ever.  It’s really stunning.

Now you’re also noticing that there’s all kinds of diagrams behind Ahab.  Kish used to work at a bookstore and he hated seeing old pages of books thrown away (he has since become a librarian, which makes sense–although as I librarian I learned that librarians are actually quite cavalier about throwing away old books once they are beyond use).  So he brought these pages home.  And, given the density of the layers of meaning in Moby-Dick, he decided to draw his pictures on these old pages.  So on virtually every page you can see something in the background.  Most of the time they are these circuital diagrams, which are wonderful. But there are several drawings where the found pages are pages of text from books.  And I have to say if these were serendipitous findings then he has amazing fortune.  Some of the pages tie in so perfectly it is wonderful.

Like the page that is headed “Cetology” and is from what, a textbook on whales?  Or several other pages that I wish I had taken notes on, because they were really wonderfully chosen.  He even has a drawing on a title page of Moby-Dick. I have to ask, did he really find that or did he buy it for the project? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RADIOHEAD-Hail to the Thief (2003).

After the claustrophobia of Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief was a nice compromise between their earlier guitar rock and the ambience and the technology of Kid A.  “2 + 2 =5” is one of their most satisfying songs, opening with a nice guitar lick and Thom Yorke’s keening vocals, it abruptly jumps into a full-fledged rocker.  “Sit Down Stand Up” has similar properties–it opens quietly with a distant guitar riff.  The song builds and builds into a manic intensity.  By the end, when the pace is much faster and the lyrics are repeating “the raindrops” over and over, it’s a glorious mess.

“Sail to the Moon” is a keening piano-based ballad.  Not one of their best, but with very nice melodies.  “Backdrifts” flashes back to the experimental side of Kid A, with lots of percussive noises tapping into the electronic groove.

The band surprises everyone with a very acoustic sounding song, “Go to Sleep.”  It’s a really wonderful track, especially placed amidst the electronica of the other tracks.  The bridge brings Yorke’s vocals into the stratosphere (and the guitars get noisier and noisier).  “Where I End and You Begin” is a noisy staccato piece of fun with effects and more effects trying to hide Yorke’s voice.

“We Suck Young Blood” is a spare, almost completely stripped song composed of pianos and handclaps.  It is eerie and not a little disturbing.  While “The Gloaming” is practically all electronics.  It’s one of those transitional songs, not terribly exciting in itself, but not throwaway either.  And it leads into the gorgeous quintessential Radiohead of “There There” which could be an OK Computer outtake.

“I Will” is mournful dirge with just guitar and multitracked voice that lasts only 2 minutes and leads into the experimental “A Punchup at a Wedding.”  “Punchup” opens with that rarest of Radiohead sounds: a solo bass.   But it is quickly swallowed by more electronica.

“Myxamytosis”  is a nother great rollicking track with a great slinky keyboard riff that propels the song through the murky depths.  “Scatterbrain” features a cool guitar motif that shows that they can still play pretty music and which leads to the album closer, “A Wolf at the Door.”  “Wolf” ends the disc wonderfully with a cool guitar song and awesome almost-spoken lyrics.  It is kind of sinister and kind of sad at the same time.

This is a disc that rewards repeated listens (and headphones). If OK Computer was difficult, Thief is much more so, but for very different reasons.  But it pays wonderful dividends.

[READ: January 6, 2011] A Naked Singularity

I received a copy of this book about a year ago in March.  It is self-published and seems to have been sent to many folks who blogged during Infinite Summer (because it’s a big book, you see).  I was interested in reading it, but I had a lot of other things that I was reading first, so I put it aside until last month.  And I am really bummed that I waited this long.

A Naked Singularity is a wondrous, beautiful mess of a book that I was so absorbed in, I couldn’t put it down.  The writing style is great: funny, clever, funny, philosophical, funny, legal, funny and at times rather violent.

I’m torn when writing this how much of the “story” to give away.  I didn’t know anything about the book (the blurb on the back is just a quote from the book–there’s no summary or anything).  So I’m going to rob you a little of the “what the hell is going on in this story” aspect that I had, but I’m not going to give anything major away.

The story opens in a the middle of a conversation between a prisoner and a lawyer.  It’s a bit confusing until the story pulls back and we get the whole deal.  The story is about Casi.  He is a wunderkind lawyer who has never lost a trial (in 14 attempts).  He plays the system, but he’s also dedicated to getting his clients off (even though he–and everyone else on staff–knows they are guilty) mostly because he is undefeated.

The entire first Part of the book (320 pages) introduces us to Casi, to his workload, to his clients, to his coworkers and to his family.  His clients are mostly drug dealers. His coworkers are mostly jaded and are no longer excited by their jobs.  His family is wonderful, a group of Colombian immigrants who love each other and fight with each other loudly.  (The early scene at his family’s house is hilarious scene in which unattributed dialogue overlaps–it’s wonderful).

And yet for all of that, the first part never quite gives us a plot.  This might be a problem for some books, but the whole set up is so compelling that you just go with it, from one amusing (or hilarious) segment to the next.

In addition to introducing us to his cast of drug addicts and low level criminals, Casi also indicts the New York Justice system (in hilarious detail).  There are quite a few chapter spent talking about “bodies” (criminals) and how many of them sit in jail for 72 hours until they see a lawyer.

Of course, when he gets home, all is not normal there either.  His apartment is free (because his downstairs neighbor’s father owns the building and Casi squats there).  The neighbors are a curious bunch of college students.  One of them is a total TV junkie.  And, there’s a bizarre, wonderful subplot about him trying to bring Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners to life in his room by watching the shows nonstop for weeks.  Yes.

Textually, the story also plays with lots of styles.  In addition to the dramatic scene with his family, we also see many court transcripts.  The second one with Mr McSlappahan is quite funny not least of which because the judge cannot get the poor man’s name right and the official transcript changes his name throughout the case.  There are also letters to and from one of the clients.   There’s a chapter-long epic poem (which was probably the hardest thing in the book for me to digest).  There’s even a recipe for empanadas (which sounds delicious).

In addition to some wonderful wordplay and punning there is also childish gross-out humor.  A scene with frozen burritos (pp. 150-158) had me laughing out loud for several pages.  But there’s also a lot of commentaries on society.  For instance Television is always capitalized and treated as a proper noun.  The mayor of New York is named Toad.  There are street vigilantes with cameras everywhere and, most amusingly, there’s an in-the-making TV show: Clerical Confessions.

By the time Part Two comes around a plot starts forming.  I was concerned that all of part two would follow this nascent plot, but it doesn’t. The book continues in a similar vein with the plot-instigator [coworker and lawyer, Dane, one of the most consistently amusing characters I’ve read in a long time] continually popping up on Casi’s periphery to try to get him to help him with…the perfect crime.

And that’s when boxing comes into play.  Casi is a fan of boxing, specifically a fan of Wilfred Benítez (who I didn’t know was a real boxer, but whenI looked him up I found this part of the story even more compelling).  And so, interspersed throughout the rest of the book is Benítez’ biography and fight history. It’s a rather lengthy character study of the man himself and boxing in general.  Now, I’m not a fan of boxing, I’ve never watched a fight, but I was totally engrossed by the storytelling.

Because he is setting up a whole story about muiddleweight champiosn, the novel follows many boxers who I had heard of and knew from pop culture (I checked and even Sarah knew who most of these boxers were, so they really must get into the pop culture world): Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns (I didn’t know him, but De La Pava’s description of the 3 round Hearns-Hagler fight is so exciting that I’m going to watch them on You Tube) and Roberto Durán (she didn’t know him).  And so the story of these middleweight fighters trying to knock each other over for the title becomes something of a metaphor for the Casi’s life pre- and post- crime.  In fact, when they go to execute the perfect crime, the first half of that chapter is taken up with a story about Benítez…that’s quite unexpected.

While the crime is beign set up, Toom, one of Casi’s coworkers asks him to help with a case in Alabama.  A severely mentally retarded man is to be executed and Toom has taken on the case to rescue the man.  This plot adds a surprising amount of pathos to the story, especially when Casi flies to Alabama and meets the man.  But even that sequence is lightened by a wonderfully absurd hotel scene.  I totally want to stay at this hotel.

Part Three of the story is where the whole thing devolves into a crazy quilt of insanity.  The crime has happened, and it is messing with everything. There is a city-wide blackout, Casi has no heat, no cars are allowed on the streets so he can’t even escape to his mother’s house.  There’s also a strange guy in is building who looks and sounds suspiciously like Ralph Kramden.  And, Casi is accused of contempt (and is about to be ousted by his law office’s morals group, the childish but amusingly named Committee to Oust Casi Kwickly). Both trials are as absurd as a Marx brothers movie (Karl of Groucho?).

The lead up to the end is very satisfying will all kinds of loose ends tied together (things that I thought he’s never address were in fact cleared up!).  But with a story this all over the place, it’s hard to imagine how you would finally end it.  The ending goes in a direction that is supported by the title (and is a little overwhelming).  It’s a little unsatisfying, but aside from a tidy happy ending (which you knew you weren’t getting) I don’t know how else you could have ended the book.

Ending aside, this is a fantastic novel.  There is just so much going on in it (I didn’t even mention the discussion of Hume vs Descartes “I guessed there was nothing wrong with Hume provided it was acknowledged that Descartes was The Man” (510)) or the whole subplot about the two kids who kidnap a baby), and it is very well constructed and tied together.

Somebody please publish this book officially!  Yes it’s long, yes it’s multifaceted, yes it demands a lot of the reader,but the payoffs are wonderful and, frankly, this is the kind of unexpected story that could be embraced by, well, not the general public, but a niche market who enjoys clever books (and yes, probably fans of David Foster Wallace (and his progenitors)).

Give De La Pava a contract, huh!  You can read an excerpt here.

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SOUNDTRACK: MASTODON-Leviathan (2004).

This is the CD that started it all.  Well, for me and Moby Dick- related music, anyhow. My friend Andrew asked if I would be reviewing it along with Moby Dick.  And, yes I am.

Leviathan is sort of a concept album about Moby Dick. I say sort of because it’s not entirely about Moby Dick.  The opener, “Blood and Thunder” features the chorus: “White Whale.  Holy Grail.  And it also features lyrics that seem to come straight from the book: “break your backs and crack your oars, men.”  There’s also the tracks “I am Ahab” and “Seabeast,” the latter features the lyrics: “Dear Mr Queequeg you have been informed your life’s been saved”

And yet, not everything is about Melville’s saga: “Island” bears no resemblance that I can see and the final track, a slow instrumental is called Joseph Merrick (who was the elephant man).

Musically the disc runs from bludgeoning metal (“Island”) to complex and intricate bludgeoning metal (“Iron Tusk,” which features a stereophonic drum solo opening).  “Blood and Thunder” has some great catchy riffs with some vocals that demand a lyric sheet for clarity.  “I am Ahab” features some extended vocal notes!  But there’s more to it than that.  “Seabeast” has a great slow intro guitar solo and features a two different vocalists to very good effect.

And the whole disc is chock full of time changes, crazy drum fills (how can he play so many different drums so quickly?).  “Megalodon” has a great odd guitar riff in the middle break section (and has nothing to do with Moby Dick at all).

As you near the middle of the album you get a couple of amazingly complex tracks.  “Naked Burn” features a great melodic middle section (coupled with really catchy vocals, too).  And the highlight is the thirteen plus minute “Hearts Alive.”  It begins as a very pretty acoustic guitar piece.  After about two minutes the heavy guitars kick in and there’s several different middle sections with varying degrees of melody.  By the midway point we’ve heard a few more very beautiful picked guitar sections, until it ends with some strong heavy guitar chords that slowly fade away.

So it’s a super heavy progressive rock/speed metal concept album for people who don’t like real concept albums (but who like their metal literate).  Who would have guessed it would have made so many best of the year lists?

[READ: Week of June 28, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 111-End]

The end is here and BOY did I not see that coming.  I honestly had no idea how the book ended (how is it I knew the basics of the story but didn’t know the ending?  Talk about everyone agreeing to the spoiler alert!).  The other thing that surprised me was how damned exciting those last 70 pages were.  Now it could be a simple build up from the slowly paced early chapters–we were all lulled by the waves and the diversions–but man, when Melville wanted to, he produced the goods.  If you want young people to read this book, just assign them the last 70 pages.  I realize that all the art and such will be lost, but if they read just the end parts, they’ll come away with a much better perception of the book, and maybe they’ll want to read the rest later.  [I’m not a fan of abridged things of course, so I’d want them to read the original full text, just the end of it].

And I absolutely cannot believe [spoiler alert–okay the whole post is a spoiler, even if I didn’t know, the book is over 150 years old, so chances are you may have heard…] (more…)

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