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Archive for the ‘Ben Hatke’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG-“I Think We’re Alone Now” (2020).

This quarantine has already brought out a ton of creative work from musicians.  If not new items, exactly, then certainly a lot of home concerts.  And also a lot of cover songs.

Billie Joe Armstrong released the first cover that I heard about that was specifically quarantine themed (even if jokingly).

It includes a homemade video (of what one might do at home with a lot of time on your hands).

So, yes it’s a cover of the song by Tommy James and the Shondells.  It’s about 2 minutes long and it’s terrific.

A simple. formulaic Green Day pop punk take on a simple, formulaic pop song.  It’s instantly recognizable as Billie Joe.  He recorded the song in his bedroom.  I feel like it sounds like it’s not the full band (the drums are really simple and the bass isn’t as prominent as usual).  But it’s a really short poppy song, so the spareness is understandable.

Whatever the case, it’s a fun cover and one of the, by now, dozens of fun things musicians have done to keep busy.

[READ: March 20, 2020] Comics Squad: Detention!

I really enjoyed the first two Comics Squad books and I was delighted when T. got this third one.  I wanted to read it when she brought it home, but I forgot all about it until I saw it the other day.

And what a better time to read a book about detention than during a quarantine.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

This book has comics from Krosoczka, George O’Connor (the Olympians series), Victoria Jamieson (Rollergirl), Ben Hatke (many many great books), Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre, Lark Pien, Matt Phelan and the Holm siblings.

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. Like that Babymouse is in detention and Lunch Lady is going to slide her some cookies (no cupcakes?). (more…)

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jack SOUNDTRACK: RINGO STARR-The Best of Ringo Starr: Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters (2003).

This Christmas album came out twice.  First in 1999 as I Wanna Be Santa Claus and then in 2003 as The Best of Ringo Starr: Christmas Collection: 20th Century Masters.  The track listing is the same.  Some history suggests that when the 1999 album came out the label failed to push it and it kind of faded away.

As you can see from the images, the original cover was the same, more or less.  So, for whatever reason, this new label or maybe its the same label) decided to repackage the Christmas disc as a best of.  Well, whatever, it’s still a great Christmas album, and has quickly become one of my favorites.

Like most people, I’ve never been a huge fan of Ringo.  And yet, I feel like I have new respect for him as a musician and as a humanitarian (he has recently been knighted).  This album is also a perfect example of good will, love and happiness.  And while it may be a bit cheesy here and there, his joyfulness overrides any complaints.

There’s some new songs and some traditional songs as well, all done in a vaguely Beatles rock n roll sorta way.

“Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On” is a new song.  It’s a rollicking childlike good fun wondering why it’s taking Christmas so long to get here. I can’t believe this isn’t played on more Christmas channels.  With lots of big loud chanting.

“Winter Wonderland” is like a slower Beatles swagger, with some great backing vocals and a cool instrumentation.

“I Wanna Be Santa Claus” is exactly what you think a Ringo Starr original Christmas song would be like: light-hearted whimsical and very sweet.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a quick-tempoed version of the song (which is good as it’s usually too slow) with some solid drumming from Ringo himself.  I was delightfully surprised at the presence of bagpipes throughout the song.

“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” sweet and boppy with swinging bass sax and more great backing vocals.  There’s a spoken part where Ringo gets to use his Liverpudlian accent that the luved him.  There’s even a “mistake” where he speaks, “he said Santa, no he didn’t he said Rudolph” [laughs].  He even throws in a Ringo the Red Nosed Reindeer line.

“Christmas Eve” is a sad song about being alone.  But he’s not willing to totally bring us down as there is some hope.

“The Christmas Dance” is a fun skiffle song about going to, yes a Christmas Dance.  It swings and is generally good fun.

“Christmas Time Is Here Again” is my least favorite song on the disc.  Although I do like the chorus the main part is just too simple and repetitive (and long!).  It’s just repeating that same line over and over (with a weird shout of “Do it for Jesus, Jesus Loves you.”  It’s also weird that several times he states O-U-T spells out, but the song doesn’t actually.

“Blue Christmas” is almost country-sounding with a slide guitar. It’s sweet and is one of the better versions of this song.

“Dear Santa” sounds about a mash up of several songs (I expect to hear the “oooohs” from “Twist and Shout”;  there’s a bit of “Dear Prudence,” there’s even the melody of “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease.  It’s a nice sentiment but a little long.  However, I do really like the shout out to John: “Dear Santa, I’ve heard it all before, from Jingle Bells, to no more war.”

“White Christmas” is done in a Jamaican lite-reggae feel with steel drums.  It’s rather silly and fun.

“Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)” is a cool Middle-Eastern sounding jam with a sitar.  There’s also vocals in several languages.  he ends this song by muttering. ” Merry Christmas, Annabelle.”

It’s a fun and enjoyable Christmas album from a fun and enjoyable Beatle.

[READ: September 9, 2017] Mighty Jack and the Giant King

I rather assumed that this Mighty Jack series would have several book s in it.  So I was surprised to see that this story pretty much ends the Jack saga (although the epilogue does leave things open…)

The story picks up right where it ended–Jack and Lilly are climbing a beanstalk to chase the monster that stole Jack;s sister Maddy.  They are clearly not on Earth and the monster seems to be rats working together as larger monster.

Jack and Lily are separated.  Jack heads toward the giant’s castle while Lily falls underground and meets goblins. (more…)

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jack SOUNDTRACK: KANADA 70-Vamp Ire [CST089] (2012).

vampKanada 70 is the first of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set.  The set is primarily electronic instrumentals, highlight little known bands or collaborations.

From the Constellation site:

Kanada 70 is the home-recording project of Toronto’s Craig Dunsmuir, who started giving away CD-R micro-releases under this moniker in 2006. There have been over two dozen K70 titles issued since then… where the repetitive and cyclical nature of mostly loop-based tracks is conditioned by the fact that Dunsmuir plays and punches everything by hand; returns of phrase contain odd stutters and variations, intention and accident collide, and there’s an organic immediacy throughout. Vamp Ire spans a wide range of influences, from abstract techno, industrial and noise music to prog-rock, African funk, no wave and metal. The hardest part was selecting only 45 minutes worth!

There are fifteen tracks on the disc.

“Ignore Dub I” a droning keyboard and analog synth noodling.  There’s some ringing metal sounds too. For a  song with dub in the title there is no dub or bass or drums, it’s just an electronic soundscape.  “Mou” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc, with an interesting pulsing synth line and a cool noisy descending bass riff.  It’s only a minute and a half but it’s really neat.  “Krankqui” has a slow, pulsing bass line which plays under a quiet series of notes.  “Molle” has a neat retro sound.  It begins with some noisy staticy percussive sounds and out of the rumble comes a neat  outerspacey echoing guitar or synth riff. It seems like it could lead some where but since its only 2 minutes long.  It sets up something interesting and then disappears just as quickly.

“Delivery” is a fun piece with a high-pitched series of rapid notes.  This track is the longest on the disc and after a series of 2 minute songs a four minute track feels really long.  “Gnaer” runs through a series of repeated guitar lines, kind of staccato and fractured. With some of the chords being unconventional it sounds a little like 1980s King Crimson.  “Errora High II” is a series of rumbling noises–more effects than song.  About half way through an interesting riff comes out of the noise sounding like an 80s sci-fi movie.

“Chimura” has a series of guitar lines which overlap and make an interesting fugue of music.  At only a minute and a half this song feels like it has much more to explore.  “For T.O. (Perish)” is primarily drums and percussion, playing a  simple rhythm.  Of all the songs to be 4 minutes, this is certainly the least interesting–it’s all just a simple drumming rhythm with no real diversion.  “Annoyo I”  is a slow bass piece.  About 30 seconds in a series of horn blasts plays a staccato melody over the bass.  “Redrag” is a bunch if high pitched synth notes.  The song adds some staccato guitar licks and it eventually resolves into a kind of fast, inelegant guitar solo.

“Thumas” has a great riff and sounds like it could be any kind of jam band introduction (including some wha wah guitars in the background).  Why are the best songs the shortest?  “Redsidled” is a series of guttural noises that sound like car horns over a series of crashing percussion.  “Scorpi” features repeated noises with a series of sound effects whizzing through the background.  “Doubles” has  harmonics and echoed percussion.  I like the way the echoed guitar runs through a series of creaky notes to make this song spacey and grounded at the same time.  The drum beat is simple but cool and the background guitar make this whole song one of the better ones on the disc.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Mighty Jack

Ben Hatke continues to make me very happy with his books.

When the blurb on the back said that Jack’s job was to stay at home and watch his autistic sister, Maddy, I was afraid that this story was going to have a Message.  But it doesn’t.  It doesn’t exactly address her autism at all, which is great–it doesn’t make a big deal out of it, which allows the story to flow naturally.

Indeed, Maddy’s autism isn’t spelled out exactly, she is just introverted and doesn’t really speak.  Until, that is, jack comes across some magic beans.

I love that Hatke is playing with the jack and the Beanstalk story without retelling the story at all.  So he is touching on a lot of things without explicitly using those story parts. (more…)

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goblinSOUNDTRACK: AURORA-Tiny Desk Concert #486 (November 9, 2015).

auroraAurora is a Norwegian singer (I was sure her accent was Irish, so I was pretty surprised).  She was just 19 when she recorded this.

Aurora is a beguiling performer to watch because her sincerity comes through with everything she does–from her hand gestures, to the power of her voice, to the intensity of her face, which only relaxes when the song is truly over.

All three songs are just her accompanied by an acoustic guitarist (who sings backing vocals).

“Runaway” is a beautiful song of despair: “I can’t take it anymore…but I kept running for a soft place to fall.”

Between songs she seems completely moved by her words.  Once she composes herself, she has a nice chat with everyone.  Then she says she’s going to scream a bit high, “is that fine?”  Interestingly, her loud is not as loud as many other singers who don’t ask permission.

aurora2“Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” begins with her beautifully singing “5,4,3,2,1.”  And then the song gets pretty dark and a little disturbing. For she is killed in the first line of the song, and she is so passionate about it she sways and moves her hands in time with the “Oh oh ohs.”  I think things somehow work out though–it’s a little hard to parse.

“Running with the Wolves” has a pretty spooky chorus of the two of them singing the title in falsetto.  She’s pretty intense as she sings this song, making varied emotional faces.  And the fact that she looks to be about 12 makes them seem even more intense.

I found watching her to be a bit disconcerting, and I’d love to know more about her.  There were many parts of her songs that I liked a lot.  And I’m curious to hear what she’d sound like with full instrumentation.

[READ: September 9, 2016] Nobody Likes a Goblin

I wrote this about Hatke’s previous picture book (which I loved), Julia’s House for Lost Creatures:

I don’t normally write about kids’ picture books (if I did my whole blog would be about them as we read so many).  But this one gets a special mention because a) it was published by First Second and b) I love Ben Hatke’s drawing style so much.

Hatke has drawn books for slightly older kids, but he also does sweet (and slightly weird) books like this for littler kids.

This book really shows that nobody likes a goblin (even if he is creepy cute). (more…)

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robotSOUNDTRACK: PAOLO ANGELI-Tiny Desk Concert #480 (October 20, 2015).

paoloPaolo Angeli is kind of a one-man band.  But not in a novelty sense.  Rather, he is an accomplished guitarist who decided to modify his guitar.  First a little and then a lot.

Angeli plays a Sardinian guitar which is several steps lower (and bigger) than a traditional guitar (and is bigger accordingly).  And he has added a whole bunch of strange gadgets and toys to alter and enhance the sound.

Notable additions: a set of electronic foot pedals that allow him to play little piano pads which hit the bass strings–he can play lead guitar notes and play complex bass patterns with his feet on the same strings.  He is somehow able to make the guitar sound like an electric and an acoustic at the same time.  There are propellers in the body which make a continuous buzzing sound on the strings.  There’ even a mobile phone for a drone.  I don’t think he uses it in this show, but he jokes that in concert he takes away peoples’ phones when they don’t turn them off and he uses them in his guitar.  He also plays the strings with a bow.

Anything else?  Yes.  Crossing the center of the guitar perpendicularly are another set of “strings.”  He seems to bang on these a few times for more dissonance, and maybe they are what the propeller is playing?  There’s also a set of strings that extend from the guitar head to the base about three inches above where one normally plucks the strings.  These extra strings are primary there for bowing, but they are quite loose and make some interesting scratching sounds on the final song.  There’s also a big spring attached to the bottom for percussion.

Not all of the effects are necessarily pleasant. The buzzing of the propellers is kind of harsh and the giant spring makes some crazy noises.  But his guitar playing is rally very pretty.

Oh and he sings too.

Well, not on the first song, the 12 minute “Mascaratu.”  Although he does whistle (it’s unclear if the deep breaths that he takes are meant to be a part of the song or not).  It opens with beautiful acoustic (fairly traditional) soloing, including some nice harmonics.  And then he flicks a switch and suddenly it sounds electronic.  And you can see and hear the foot pedals at work.  And then he turns on the propeller and starts using the bow.  About 4 minutes in he starts playing chords and the song comes fully alive.  By 7 minutes, he is playing the foot pedals and a lovely acoustic melody which he then trades off for a fast bowing solo.  The song proceeds in different directions and then ends with a lovely bowed solo.

He jokes that “Corsicana” is “Tom Waits vacationing in Sardinia, singing a traditional song in his own way.”  He places a damper/washer type thing under the strings which makes all of the notes sound flat and dead and metallic–yes like Tom Waits.  The bass line is even a bit like Les Claypool.  After an interesting certainly Waitsian solo, he sings what I assume are traditional lyrics (in a traditionally high tenor).  It’s about 7 minutes long.

He asks if there is time for a short song, which proves to be the 8 minute “Brida.”  For this song he uses many items to create a “prepared guitar.” He says that a “prepared guitar comes from the prepared piano which comes from John Cage.”  He wedges all kinds of little things (like binder clips) into the strings.  The song begins as a kind of noisy, chaotic solo.  In the middle of the song he plays some really fast acoustic chords.  Then it’s back to the bow–it’s cool to watch him bowing while the bass pedals are tapping away.  Then he added the buzzing propeller sound and starts hitting the piece of wood at the bottom for percussion.  This includes hitting the big spring for that weird sound and slowly slowly bowing those top strings making a creepy sound.

Angeli is a pretty ingenious player and he is a lot of fun to watch up close–he flips switches, and turns pedals and plays barefoot.  But not everything he does sounds pretty.  And some of the sections seemed to go on a bit long.   I thought I would be fascinated by everything he did but there were times when I couldn’t tell if he was playing something or just showing off the things his guitar could do.

But he is personable and funny and certainly a likable guy.

[READ: March 11, 2016] Little Robot

I love Ben Hatke.  His drawing style is wonderfully cartoonish and cute but with the ability to go a little dark and mildly scary on a dime. He also loves to draw strange-looking aliens and creatures.  Or in this case, robots.

One thing that I thought was especially cool about this book was that there are hardly any words in it.  And there doesn’t need to be.  I kind of wish it was all done without words, but that might turn it into a different kind of story, so I think it was  good choice to include dialogue, but to keep it minimal.

The story opens on a dark night as a truck drives across a bridge.  It hits a bump and a box falls out.  The box bounces over the bridge and lands in the river.

The next morning a little girls wakes up in a trailer park.  She climbs out the window and runs off.  There’s a moment when she seems to be afraid of the kids by the school bus (and the neighbor–there’s clearly a back story here that I wonder what it’s all about–I love that about his stories–there’s stories behind them).  And then she runs down to the water. (more…)

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juiaSOUNDTRACK: AVI AVITAL-Tiny Desk Concert #239 (September 12, 2012).

aviAvi Avital plays a mandolin. But he doesn’t ply bluegrass. Indeed, much like the Punch Brothers covering Debussy, Avital uses the mandolin to play more classical type of music.  He is the first mandolinist to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Instrumental Soloist category.

He has had this mandolin for about thirteen years and he loves it.  He has been using the same Israel lutier since he was 17, exchanging them until he found this one.  And he can really play the heck out of it.

He plays only two songs in the ten minute concert, but they really showcase his skills.

“Nigun” was written by Ernest Bloch in 1923 for violin and piano.  NPR says Avital’s arrangement, like the original, pivots between the ecstatic and the introspective, rising in intensity (and pitch) until finally disappearing in a mist of quietly plucked notes.  If you think of the mandolin as just strumming along to pop songs, you’ll be blown away by this.  He plays notes that I suspect were never meant to be played…sliding all the way down to the highest high notes on the highest strings.  I don’t know that it sounds better than a violin, but it is pretty neat.

“Bucimis” is a raucous Bulgarian folk tune in the odd meter of 15/16. “It’s almost 4/4, but not quite,” he says. “I can play it, but I can’t dance it.”  This song is absolutely wild, especially at the end.  While the first song was pretty, this song showcases just what you can do with a mandolin.  It’s intense.

[READ: June 19, 2013] Julia’s House for Lost Creatures

I don’t normally write about kids picture books (if I did my whole blog would be about them as we read so many).  But this one gets a special mention because a) it was published by First Second and b) I love Ben Hatke’s drawing style so much.

This is a delightful story which you have to start on the title page.  It shows a giant turtle with a huge house on its back.  And on the next page the text says “Julia’s house came to town.”

Julia puts in a mailbox and settles in by the sea. (more…)

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nurserySOUNDTRACK: FRANK FAIRFIELD-Tiny Desk Concert #445 (May 29, 2015).

frankFrank Fairfield and friends Tom Marion (who plays mandolin on the third song) and Zac Sokolow (on guitar) play old-timey music (marches, polkas and mountain tunes).  Fairfield plays banjo and plucked cello (and apparently fiddle, although not here).

The first song “Tres Piedras” is an upbeat instrumental.  The second song “I Ain’t A Goin’ To Weep No More” was written by Harry von Tilser whose brother wrote “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

The final song “Campanile De Venecia/Sharpshooters March” has an overwhelming Italian feel (that mandolin, I gather).  I like that Fairfield yells “take it, Tom” so that Marion will play a lengthy mandolin solo on the for the final song.  There’s also a “traditional” Italian melody in the song that I know more from cartoons than elsewhere.

The songs feel like they leaped out of a 78 record (even Fairfield’s voice seems suitably “old” on “Weep” (although it appears that they were up playing late last night so he may not quite be up to par).

This was a fun Tiny Desk by an artist I’d never encounter anywhere else.

[READ: January 21, 2015] Nursery Rhyme Comics

This is a collection of Nursery Rhymes as drawn primarily by First Second artists.

The 50 nursery rhymes includes here are the traditional rhymes which remain unchanged.  So this was an opportunity for these artists to draw interesting visuals to accompany the traditional stories.  Some artists stayed traditional, while others went in a totally new direction.

It was fun to see that while I knew most of the nursery rhymes, there were quite a few that I didn’t know.

I always wanted to get a  collection of nursery rhymes for my kids when they were younger, and I feel like I never got one that would have been as satisfying as this one. (more…)

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zita3SOUNDTRACK: USMAN RIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert #349 (April 19, 2014).

usmanUsman Riaz is an amazing musical prodigy.  I almost don’t want to say anything about him, I just want you to watch the video and have your mind be shattered.

Riaz is a 23-year-old Pakistani man and is as humble (and soft-spoken) as he is talented.  He trained on the piano as a six-year-old child.  And then, at 16, he learned how to play the guitar (in a most unconventional way called “percussive guitar”) by…watching YouTube.  He transposed his piano style to the guitar and has developed his own style within the genre.  The first song,

His song “Boneshaker” starts with some intense drumming on the guitar and then… well just watch it below.

Next he plays his piano song,”The Waves” a song he wrote at 16.  And it is simply gorgeous.  There’s a bit of showoffiness in it, but it never sacrifices the song.

he returns to the guitar for his third song, “Shimmer” which uses more percussive guitar techniques.  It is also mesmerizing (and absolutely gives “eruption ” a run for its money).

Riaz is a shy, quiet man, but his love of technology and his belief that anyone can pick up any skill if they just watch it enough is really quite infectious.  He also shows off some “parlor tricks” like body percussion and harmonica (perhaps real harmonica players might be insulted by calling this a parlor trick) that he learned from videos.  He has also created a short film that was accepted at the New York Short Film Festival.

He’s all over the place, but give this guy 30 seconds and you’ll be hooked.

Riaz also did a Ted talk/performance with Preston Reed, which is pretty amazing too.  You can watch that here.

[READ: June 19, 2013] Return of Zita the Spacegirl

I was excited to see a new Zita–I really enjoyed the first two a lot.  But it took me a while to get up to speed with this one.  It has been two years after all–I think maybe a recap was in order.

We see that Zita is on trial in a strange land.  The judge calls her Zita the Crime Girl–so you know things aren’t looking too good for her.  And the judge’s exhibit A is Pizzicato the Plunderer (or, as we know him–Mouse), who is all shackled up.  She is found guilty and is thrown into a jail cell with a pile of rags and a skeleton.  Both of them can talk, of course.  And they encourage her to escape–even those the skeleton says that anyone who escapes is caught and sent right back to jail–or to the mines.

While this has been going on we’ve seen glimpses of a blue ghost-like creature who helps her in small ways.  He helps her to escape, but he her that she needs to help only herself–she can’t save everyone.  This just makes her mad.  But like skeleton said, she is caught and is sent to the mines.  In the mines there are coals with eyes (which reminds me of the Susuwatari in My Friend Totoro (those are the little black soots that carry things).  Everyone is told to smash the coals to look for the one with the crystal inside.  No one knows if the coals are alive, but one of the coal pieces hops into Zita’s pocket.

Meanwhile, when Zita’s uniform was thrown out, bits of her star floated into space and soon, all of her old friends knew she was in trouble,  So they reunite to rescue her.  It was great to see Strong Strong and One and even Piper and Madrigal, who are working together (temporarily). (more…)

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zita2SOUNDTRACK:poodle “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC–Poodle Hat (2003).

I think of Poodle hat as a good Al album.  It won a Grammy even (the true sign of quality, right?).  But its the only one of his albums (along with Polka arty) to not even go gold!  That’s pretty amazing given that he’s usually platinum.  I read that stat before listening again and I wondered why this album tanked so bad.  Was it the title or the cover or what?  And why do I think fondly of the record?  Well, it turns out I think fondly of the record because of the final track, “Genius in France” a Frank Zappa style parody (which I assume was not terribly endearing to many people either).  But what about the rest of the album:

Couch Potato.  It’s a good parody of Eminem, but I never thought the original was that good to begin with–it’s pretty repetitive with no real drama.  And while the lyrics are funny, so as a lead off track it’s not that great.  “Hardware Store” is a weird song–lots of crazy sound effects and backing vocalists.  I want to like it more than I do–the fast singing is great the lyrics are all kinda funny but it doesn’t really resonate–the chorus, perhaps is not that great.  “Trash Day” is a parody of a song by Nelly, which I don’t know.  I’ll now show off my musical prejudice by saying that a lot of these aggressive R&B/rap songs sound very similar with no real hook, which I think makes the parodies harder to enjoy.  “Party at the Leper Colony” just seems like a bad idea (especially for Al’s umpeenth album).  It’s a rockabilly type song (a style I don’t like anyway), so another thumbs down.

“Angry White Boy Polka”is the first bright ray on the disc–mixing aggressive metal songs in the polka style is a pretty great idea, especially System of a Down, The Hives and The White Stripes.  Twisting the style of The Strokes twist is a pretty great idea too.  I really enjoyed the way the angry songs are utterly lightened with silly sound effects.  It’s very funny.

“Wanna Be Ur Lovr” is a song I never much liked until seeing him perform it live.  It’s a sexy song made up entirely of lame come on lines.  It’s petty funny but the live version utterly blows it away.  “A Complicated Song” is a parody of Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”.  It seems like it might be just a silly parody until the first verse turns out to be about eating too much cheese.  I laughed so hard to find that the first rhyme was “constipated”  The other two verses can’t possibly live it to it but that first one is a big highlight (toilet humor it may be, but it’s good toilet humor).  “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” features Ben Folds on piano (the piano is very good).  The song is a series of complaints about minor things within the context of real tragedy.  It’s a funny idea but the presentation doesn’t seem to work somehow.

“Ode to a Superhero” is a surprise because it uses Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” as the musical basis for a song about Spiderman.  It seems like a sure fire hit after “The Saga Begins.”  And it works quite well.  “Bob” is a series of palindromes (see the title) done in the style of Bob Dylan.  It’s very clever.  “Ebay” has been mocked for being so similar to an actual eBay commercial, but I think its very funny.  I never liked the original but I find myself singing this every time I think of eBay.  “Genius in France” features Dweezil Zappa on guitar, and beyond that it gets so many Frank Zappa things right.  It is weird and crazy and spot-on.  I love to think that it may have made some Zappa fans out of Weird Al fans.  And if you’re a Zappa fan, you must listen to this to see just how many great Zappa musical moments he throws in here (including vocals styles and potty jokes).

It’s pretty interesting how the back half of the album is so much better than the first half (that’s no way to sell albums, Al).  I can totally see why this album didn’t sell all that well. And I’m a little bummed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

[READ: June 19, 2013] Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

I actually read this book first of the two (didn’t realize it was the second book in the series and, frankly from the title, how could I?).  But I’ll treat it like I read it second.

So this story picks up soon after the first ended.  But rather than Zita, we see a robot crawling through a junkyard.  The robot’s box says RECALLED and the name is Imprint-o-tron.  The robot sees a poster of Zita and is immediately overwhelmed by a crowd who is rushing to see her.  Imprint-o-tron paints itself to look like Zita as the crowd assembles.

And there we see, Piper introducing Zita, the girl who saved Scriptorius.  But she is nervous, and intimidated by the crowd and tells the truth, that it was Randy who blew up the bad guys.  But they aren’t buying it.  She signs autographs, gets exhausted and hides behind a rock where Imprint-o-tron sees her and immediately becomes her (but with circles instead of dots for eyes).  Zita delights in this doppelgänger and sends it out to do her singing work while she and Mouse run off to have fun.

But then the ambassador of the planet Lumponia informs them that  swarm of star hearts are heading for their planet and they as Zita for help.  Robot Zita agrees and when real Zita returns to the ship, robot Zita pushes her away and takes off with the crew. (more…)

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zitaSOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Running with Scissors (1999).

Running_with_Scissors_(Weird_Al_Yankovic_album_-_cover_art)This is the first album Al released with is new look—LASIK surgery and long hair.  He looked quite different, but it didn’t diminish his song writing skills.  Running with Scissors is a pretty great collection of songs.

“The Saga Begins” is a genius parody taking the music of “American Pie” and merging it with the plot from Star Wars Episode I.  The way he retells the story is snarky and funny.  “My Baby’s in Love with Eddie Vedder” is a weird song—an accordion-based zydeco song about, well, a guy whose girl loves Eddie Vedder.  Vedder is kind of a weird person to pick (since he does make fun of him), although I guess it’s pretty mild abuse.  “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” opens with a joke on a Def Leppard song (in Hebrew) but then moves on to “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”  The original is pretty goofy and there’s not much Al could have done to it except this—changing it to being all about a rabbi. I like this version better than the original now.

The next track is the theme for The Weird Al Show.  It’s utter nonsense, but very funny.  And it packs a lot in to the 75 seconds that it lasts.  “Jerry Springer” is a parody of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”  The original is pretty weird/funny, so this seems an odd choice, and yet Al’s specifics to the Jerry Springer show is pretty funny.  Of course I hate shows like that so I don’t love this song.

“Germs” is a style parody of Nine Inch nails (the song opens a like “Terrible Lie”, and then moves through some other songs).  The sound is uncanny in its soundalikeness (except perhaps the “microscopic bacteria” section which is a little too goofy sounding even for NIN.

“Polka Power” is one of the first medleys where the parodied songs seem utterly dated.  Like The Spice Girls, Harvey Danger, Backstreet Boys (which I only know because he says “Backstreet’s Back.” Smash Mouth.  Chumbawamba, Marchy Playground, and Semisonic.  Of course, there is also a Beastie Boys line (“Intergalactic”), but it’s a very era specific song.  “Your Horoscope for Today” is a ska song of horoscopes inspired by The Onion (which is hilarious).

Of course, nothing comes close to “Its All About the Pentiums,” Al’s first rap song about being a total dork  It is amazing—heavy guitars and lots of screaming.  It’s even more bad ass than the original.  And the smack talk is hilarious Asking about his computer: “You think your Commodore 64 is really neato.  What kind of chip you got in there, a Dorito?”).  I can listen to this song over and over.  It’s a wonderful precursor to “White and Nerdy.”  “Truck Drivin’ Song” has a remarkably deep voice for Al. It’s about driving a truck (as a transvestite).  The humor is childish but funny and with that voice it’s particularly so.  “Grapefruit Diet” is another series of jokes about being fat, but it works very well as a parody of “Zoot Suit Riot” with the jazzy horns and all.

That leaves “Albuquerque” an eleven, yes eleven, minute story song.  It’s a style parody of a song by The Rugburns which I didn’t know until recently (called Dick’s Automotive, but that song is much more “adult” than Al’s. The song is simple enough but the lyrics are wondrously absurd and very very funny.  And as it goes on and on and on you just marvel at the mind that created it.  And it’s catchy too.

Scissors is a great album which holds up quite well after 14 years.

[READ: June 23, 2013] Zita the Space Girl

I’d actually read the sequel to this book first, but I quickly found this first book and the family devoured it, too.

This is a charming and sweetly drawn series about a girl, Zita, who winds up in outer space.  As it opens, Zita is being a bit of a bully to her friend Joseph.  Not horrible but teasing in the way friends can do.  And when they find a giant meteor hole and a space-type gadget with a big red button on it, of course she threatens to push it in front to him,  He freaks out, but she does it anyhow.  And when she does, another dimension opens up and sucks Joseph away.  Oops.

So she pushes it again and winds up in the same place which she realizes is very very different from her own.  The thing that has Joseph is all tentacles in a diver’s helmet.  But that’s just one of the weird creatures here (as seen in Gilliam’s Guide to Sentient Species–which I take as a tribute to Terry Gilliam).  Like Strong-Strong, a large lumbering biped (who helps Zita), and a group of chicken creatures (who do not).  There’s also a man who plays a flute (called Piper) who may or may not be a friend.  She also meets a giant mouse named Pizzicato, but which Zita just calls Mouse.  Mouse is very sweet and communicates through a printer around its neck. (more…)

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