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Archive for the ‘Gene Luen Yang’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Willoughby’s Beach (2011).

After releasing five new albums in 2017, KGATLW spent 2018 re-releasing their first five releases.  These were out of print and hard to find.  And now they’re back.

Back in 2011, KGATLW was more of a goofy side project (hence the name).  But they coalesced as a seven-piece band and proceeded to make an EP–Willoughby’s Beach.  At nine songs in about 25 minutes, this garage rock/dirty blues project pretty well flies past.  Lyrics are an afterthought (most songs repeat one line) and most of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes.  It is great zipping fun with fuzzy guitars, fuzzy harmonicas, fuzzy vocals and an all around DIY feel.

“Danger $$$” is a fast, crazy blues with a wild harmonica solo and the repeated shouted lyrics of “danger money” between lots of whoops and screams.  “Black Tooth” opens with a similarly fast riff but it immediately slows down into a slower but still rocking riff.  “Lunch Meat” is a crazy fast and catchy song with the full lyric: “They made me get up in the morning morning morning morning.”

“Let it Bleed” is the longest song on the disc at 3:14.  It’s slower and the repeated lyrics are far more comprehensible (I want to see my lover again).  The wonderfully titled “Crookedile” has a kind of a spy theme for its music dark with echoing squealing guitars and chanted vocals.  What “just say god is on your side, he’s on your side” has to do with the title I have no idea.  “Dead Beat” is also (relatively) long, but it is much faster with lots of whoops and a simple but addictive guitar line.

“Dusbtin Fletcher” is a fun punk song with lots of big backing vocals–like The Monkees doing punk.  Oohs and oh ho ohs make this an incredibly poppy song.  “Stoned Mullet” has two sets of lyrics: “jack it” and “green out.”  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s fast and catchy with a wonderful chorus.

“Willoughby’s Beach” is quick and catchy, a wonderful end to the disc.  The song is the definition of three-chord rock and features the lyric: “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”  Superb stuff.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Secret Coders: Monsters & Modules

This book ends the Secret Coders storyline.

It begins with the boys feeling very calm as they work out a code that will get them to travel to Flatland.  But Hopper doesn’t understand why they aren’t freaking out since as soon as they work out the code they will be travelling to a world with one fewer dimension!

Using a simple repeating code, the turtle makes the opening and they fall into the second dimension.  Eni turns into a square, Josh turns into a triangle and Hopper turns into a line!  And we learned in the previous books that lines (and women in general) were considered nothing.

They are immediately bothered by circles–the most superior shape in Flatland.  After some altercations, Josh and Eni are thrown in jail.  Hopper is able to hide because she is just a line and is therefore very hard to see. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION (“Field Recording” March 2, 2009).

Years before NPR created a category called “Field Recordings,” they were creating Field Recordings–“backstage” (or elsewhere) recordings of bands.  Most of these seem to happen at Music Festivals where musicians just seem to be hanging around anyway.

I have no idea how many of these there are.  In fact, the only reason I discovered this one is because there was a link to it from the Blood Orange Tiny Desk Concert.

Because it turns out that Devonté Hyness, the guy behind Blood Orange was once Dev Hynes, the guy behind Lightspeed Champion.

And so, eleven years ago, Lightspeed Champion played SXSW.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Austin, TX when Lightspeed Champion’s Dev Hynes and violinist Mike Siddell met with All Songs Considered’s Bob Boilen for this exclusive outdoor performance. Hynes and Siddell offered up an intimate little set as they ran through four songs, opening with “Tell Me What It’s Worth,” followed by “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” “Galaxy of the Lost” and an inspired cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu.”

For all four songs, it’s Dev on acoustic guitar and Mike on violin.  Like on “Tell Me What It’s Worth” Dev sings mostly quietly with his accent audible.  The violin adds sweet touches and occasional solos.

He introduces “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk” by saying that crunk is a musical genre that originated about two hours east of here.  Li’l John more or less started it and the queen of crunk is Sierra.  It features this amusing chorus (?)

my drawings are starting to suck
My best friends are all listening to crunk
i feel like the world’s gone crazy
…sometimes in the cold night my phone rings but it’s not you

“Galaxy of the Lost” is a slow pretty ballad with a lovely rising scale in the middle.

Finally comes his cover of “Xanadu” (a song I love).  The opening guitar sounds like “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and I love the way he resolves it into “Xanadu.”  The sprinkles of violin are a nice touch.

It’s pretty amazing how different this sounds from Blood Orange.  It’s an impressive development for an artist.

[READ: January 23, 2019] Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders 4 ended with a puzzle.  But I read it months ago, so I haven’t even thought about it since then.  In fact, I have conceded that I will not learn basic programming from this series, so I’m not even trying.  I could see, though, that if you were reading these in quick succession that it would be fun to learn how to do what they are doing and to try the tests.

When we last left our heroes they were being attacked by biting ducks (!).  They use their program skills and the hard-light-generating Light-Light to escape.  And they wind up in a room with all the people who have drunk the green soda.  Including Hopper’s dad.  What?

As they try to snap him out of the “green!” stupor he is in, Dr. One-Zero arrives with Paz.  Turns out Paz was double crossing the kids all along and now Dr. One-Zero has the hard light generator and has the kids trapped.  He’s that much closer to winning–and his final plan is pretty terrible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBIN OLSON-Tiny Desk Concert #724 (April 1, 2018).

Because the blurb is perfect, I am including it in it’s entirety.

“Not all pianists are created in equal temperament,” Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music’s storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an “avant-garde gewandhaus” by Berlin’s Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Olson’s trademark style — shooting clusters of shimmering chords and solitary, pearlescent pitches into reverberant space — has led him to exalted concert halls and to work with a broad array of stars such as Yuja Wang, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea and Emanuel Ax.

Drawing from the seminal Plink technique, cultivated among the Schlammstadt School of composers in the 1950s, Olson is regarded as a leading technician of the more expansive Neo-Plink style. “Intervals have coincident partials,” Olson explains. “They create a form of dissonance, called ‘beats,’ by which pitches are set for optimum harmonicity.”

From a bulging briefcase, Olson pulls out any number tools to alter specific pitches, as in his opening piece, “A 440.” He threads ribbons of felt between piano strings to mimic the muted cries of the Asian dung beetle in “The Temperament,” from his 2014 collection Infinite Chasms.

Olson surprised everyone at the Tiny Desk by debuting a new piece, “Tuning the Bass,” wherein his inventive command of the instrument’s lower register highlighted spaces between keening dark octaves.

He may be considered a challenging artist, but Olson, through the essential humanity of his performance, reveals the efforts of almost any other living pianist to be little more than a joke.

Set List

  • “A 440”
  • “The Temperament”
  • “Tuning the Bass”

I only wish I had seen this before the Editor’s Note revealed that it was an (excellent) April Fool’s joke.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

Secret Coders 3 ended with a puzzle.  And I guessed wrong!  How embarrassing.  I see what I did wrong, but I still would have failed. I have a hard time with binary, too.

Anyhow, this book reveals some pretty amazing details about the ongoing story.

After selecting the correct door, the gang finds a floating triangle thing.  We learn that Professor Bee is not actually from this planet (okay now things are getting pretty weird, I must admit).   But he dismisses that (what??) so the kids can code some more using a construct made of “solidified light” which is pretty cool, although perhaps not as cool as an alien. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 3 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (November 13, 2004).

The Rheostatics, live at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, November 13, 2004. This was the 3rd night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  This show was exactly 13 years ago!

I compared all of the setlists from the nine shows and was somewhat surprised to see just how much repeating they did. Most of the repeated songs are new ones–they played a lot from 2067, which makes sense.  But for a Fall Nationals, there’s really not a lot of “popular” or “rare” stuff.  But the band is in terrific form for all nine shows and the recordings are consistently great.

Over the PA, they’re playing some good music, which Martin says, “That was my brother’s [John Tielli] band, Clark, on the PA there.  We’re the Rheostatics project.

They open the show with “It” which is a fun way to start.  Martin is feeling a little silly and sings “I grew up on dinosaurs” and the rooooars to the delight of all.

You hear Martin say, “Woodstuck?”  They play and Dave sing a line and says “That’s wrong.”  But the rest of the song is right on and at the end after “hippie child,” Martin says “waah.”  Tim tells the story of someone bringing them a 24 track master of that song in Vancouver.  But he felt it was too heavy to bring home.  Although someone (Martin?) says that it is in fact in his basement.

“Happiness” seems to rock along really nicely.  After which Martin says, “It’s Saturday night in Bonertown.  The city where you can’t.” Dave: “But you can, its’ ok to have a boner.”  Mike: “Yeah, but can you smoke it?”

“Mumbletypeg” sounds a little sloppy at the beginning and Dave doesn’t sing the first line.  But they pull it together.  It’s followed by “Marginalized” which opens with a groovy drum before the funky bass and then an introduction of Chris Stringer on the keyboards.

Mike comments, it’s such a lovely extended summer up here.  Holy french fry lights, designed to beautifully bake us.

On “Four Little Songs,” each guy takes his verse: Martin, Tim, but when it’s Mike’s turn, Chris plays some crazy trippy synth noises.  Dave gets his verse and at the end, the fast riff devolves into utter chaos with Martin and Chris just making all kinds of weird ass noises.  They end the song with the bass thumps and state “By Mennen.”

Dave introduces “The Tarleks,” “here’s a song about a super salesmen”  Once again, Martin has a lot of fun singing it.

They play a zany version of “I Dig Music” and in the middle where Mike has to do his slow part (which he seems to really dislike), he says, “For the longest time I’ve been thinking Dave’s ideas were so gay and then he offered me a martini.”  After a sip MPW sings the Seymour Stein line and then they rock the end of the song.   I really enjoy Tim singing the “too bad.” backing vocals.

AS they start “Here Comes the Image” Dave notes the “double keyboard attack, eh?”  It’s really evident in the solo section as the one keyboard plays the solo and the other plays trippy sound effects.  Then up comes Jen Foster on accordion to join them for “Who Is This Man, And Why Is He Laughing?”  Martin is singing something in his robotic voice thing but I can’t tell if it’s just sounds or actual words.  At the end, Martin says, ”That’s a nice walk in the park, doncha think?”

Tim notes: “our heritage gets to shine in that song.  A little bit of Czech, little bit of Italian, little bit of French, little bit of Polish.  No English.”

“Pornography” opens with synths which is a nice change.  coincidentally, Dave says to someone: “You put your shirt back on, I see.  Good idea, sir.”

“We Went West” continues the rather mellow middle section of the show.  At some point Dave, I think says, “while you’re there check out the place mats they’re hilarious.”

Next up is “California Dreamline.”  Dave announces, “We’d like to invite Paul Linklater up for the next song.  He sang this song with us last year on guest vocalist night and we have guest vocalist night next Wednesday.  His rendition is pretty painful.

The next guest is during “I am Drummstein” Ladies and gentlemen, the star of stage and sound in Belleville, Ontario, Mr Anthony Fragomeni:  “Too bad that you quit Vebron, wasn’t working out?  They kind of sucked.”  While they are in the middle grooving section, Tim says, “This is the Better Than Ezra part of the evening.”  In a real coincidence, on this same day in 2017, Barenaked Ladies announced a summer tour with Better Than Ezra opening.  I haven’t thought about them in ten years.

“Satan is the Whistler” is quiet and menacing to start.  Martin gets the fast guitar riff pretty well this time.  But he’s still being a little silly singing “moose away aroo aroo arroo” and then “Satan is the Whistler, Satan Live in Whistler, arooo!!!”

During the encore, they raffle off an item with a ticket.  When Tim reads out the number, someone whoops and Dave says, “There’s always one guy who claims he has won when he hasn’t won.  I wonder what void you’re trying to fill in your life.”  Then after a pause.  “Just kidding.”  No one claims the prize, so Dave says anyone can go to the merch table with it later.

“Little Bird, Little Bird” is insane.  It starts with some silliness when Dave mocks Tim for his hat and then says, “Tim you have to bring popping and snapping to country music.  It hasn’t happened yet.”  They play the song and then midway through the it stops with much laughing.  Dave says, “there’s no room for karate in this song.  Cant believe you re always trying to sneak your karate in there.”

Time retorts, “Wait a second, you guys made that “ho ha”part while I wasn’t in the studio and now it comes time to do it live and I’m the only one doing it?  Dave says: “We’re not going hoo ha and laughing in the middle of it.”
Tim asks the audience, “Who won the debate, Tim or Dave?”
Dave: “There was no debate because you’re not gonna do it any more.”
They compromise: “everybody ho ha and nobody karate.”
Tim mutters, “I hardly even karate’d I can’t believe you saw it.”
Dave: “I couldn’t help but see it, you almost took me out with one of those chops.”
Martin: “He’s feeling sensitive like a little bird.”

They finish the song and then Martin says, “okay we’ll do ‘PIN’ for ya.”  But before the song starts we get a run down of all of the opening acts for the next few shows:

Sunday matinée: Hebrew School Dropouts on at 4.
Monday night Selina Martin with the Formidable Forces of Bigness (Mike: Close enough Faceless Forces of Bigness).
Tuesday is free.  We’ll give about 61%.
Wednesday night Kevin Hearn is opening and it’s guest vocalist night.  Tim: “I’m definitely coming on Wednesday.”  Martin: “I’m going to come for every single night (get the bonus pack).”
Thursday is Killer Thursday Danny Michel.  And apparently John Wojewoda will do some Bluegrass Nightmare.
Friday the Buttless Chaps are flying in from Vancouver.
And Saturday, The Imponderables will be back.

After “PIN,” “Ozzy” sounds even more maudlin with the mandolin and backing vocals, but there’s a pretty wild solo.  There’s a special shout out to Chris Stringer: “you can’t tell but he’s actually playing all our parts for us. “

They end with a lovely ending “Making Progress” which has a wonderfully smooth ending.  Thanks to all the out of towners, out of country-ers and out of mind-ers.

Then the guys come back out to try to get rid of the raffle prize.  Tim runs through a bunch of numbers.  Come on, people get with it.  I wish I had money to burn. I remember when 50 cents meant something.  Finally he says, “Well come and get the fucking t-shirt, Oh. He’s a liar.”  This is so embarrassing… anyone show me half a ticket?

[READ: April 14, 2017] Secret Coders: Secrets & Sequences

Secret Coders 2 ended with a pretty big cliffhanger.  Tabitha and I were a little bummed that there wasn’t more of a recap at the beginning of this book.  We sure hope that book 4 has a bit of recap because we’ll never remember the ending of this one when its time for that book (which just came out).

The kids are able to use the repeat function of the turtles to scare of the mean old rugby players.  In the commotion, it sure looks like the Professor’s nose falls off (what?!).

The next day in school, one of the rugby players calls for a truce, he never realized that Principal Dean was such a bad guy.

The kids learn about parameters–how you can use the same code, but just change a variable to make a bigger object (in this case, triangles). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TEGAN AND SARA-Tiny Desk Concert #581 (November 21, 2016).

This particular Tiny Desk Concert is very painful to watch.  Not because of the music, but because it was recorded the day before the 2016 election, when the world was good and positive and happy.  Tegan and Sara are fun and optimistic about making history and about drunk tweeting the results.  And their mood is infectious.  People actually believed that goodness would win.

Sigh.

So, horrors aside, Tegan and Sara play a four song set–they say that they  couldn’t decide on just three songs.  They play three from their new album and one older song.

And the blurb notes:  It’s hard to believe Tegan and Sara have been making music for 17 years.  ….  Contrary to the poppy sound of 2016’s Love You To Death, the two insisted on performing their Tiny Desk concert acoustically — stripping down highly produced songs while hearkening back to their early recordings. Without the distraction of production, we’re left with the gorgeous sound of roughly identical voices blending. Plus, their endearing banter and jovial sibling rivalry left us defenseless against their charm.

I wondered if they did four songs so that they could each sing lead on two.

Tegan sings lead on “Stop Desire” (with lovely harmonies from Sara).  There’s a bass (by Eva Gardner) and drum, but this song is mostly a simple, pretty piano melody.  It sounds like it was meant to be poppier (at least compared to their earlier stuff), but it still sounds very nice.

When the song is over, Tegan says her instinct is she wants to banter …  “if i had known this many people were going to come, I would have applied a little more attention and focus to the application of makeup and clothing” (although she looks very good already).

Sara sings “Boyfriend,” her voice is noticeably huskier.  The lyrics of this song are great, in which a lesbian relationship might not appear that way at first listen.

You call me up like you want your best friend
You turn me on like you want your boyfriend
But I don’t want to be your secret anymore.

Then Sara talks about Ryan Adams confronting bad reviewers and how she was thinking that that was an approach they could take since they got many bad reviews.  But now she enjoys ignoring bad reviews, saying the best you can do is ignore it and then they only get three retweets or 3 hearts on Twitter and you’re like “I hope you enjoyed writing that bad review for 3 people.”  She pauses and says, “that makes me sound mean spirited…but I guess I am.  I guess deep down inside I might be a Donald Trump person.”  This elicits groans from many including Tegan.  Sara jokes, “Too soon?  We’re Canadian and we can’t wait for your election to be over too.”  That’s when Sara said the thing about making history and she apologizes that she brought the room down.

Sara sings “100x”  which has a “di-di-didnt you” chorus.  Again this hints at the poppier format, but I like the song in the stripped down version–it’s piano only (from Gabrial McNair).  Tegan gets the lead in the middle section, which is quite a change in style.  It’ s cool song overall.

When Tegan says that they couldn’t decide on three songs, the crowd applauds and she jokes, “Thank yo for your enthusiastic response.”  Then   Tegan asks if everyone else is hot, to which Sara jokes, “Honest to God, Tegan has talked about her heat issues for the last 5 years. I am so afraid when menopause hits.”

Tegan sings lead on Closer, their single from Hearthrob and it is quite pretty. The whole band is back on this one–and their voices work so well together.  I also love that Brendan Buckley is using one of those box drums for the bass drum.

I really enjoy this set a lot, if only their prediction about the elections was better.

[READ: December 1, 2016] American Born Chinese

I have mentioned this book a lot.  But I only recently realized that I never posted about the book itself.   I read it a long time ago and it is the reason I fell in love with First Second graphic novels (and why I have more or less read all of their books by now).

It had been long enough since I’d read it that I didn’t remember just how fantastic it was.

This book is three seemingly unrelated stories–about a monkey god, a teenaged boy, and a sitcom with an incredibly offensive Chinese character.  The way he stitches these stories together is amazing. (more…)

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recessSOUNDTRACK: BUIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #298 (August 26, 2013).

buikaI had never heard of Buika before, so I had to rely on the blurb:

Concha Buika’s voice doesn’t come from inside her petite body: It comes from Africa, and from the past. There are obvious traces of flamenco, itself a historical mash-up of the Moors and various transitory cultures in southern Spain and north Africa.

During her flights of improvisation, we also hear the influence of Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz, a product of Afro-Cuban culture, mixed in with Ella Fitzgerald, who was the pinnacle of African-American jazz vocal expression.

In these two performances, we hear Buika interpret her own lyrics after a handful of albums in which she’s interpreted others’ words. With her eyes closed tightly, she inhabits these poems of love and heartache as if she were reliving them again before our eyes.

Buika’s singular voice has attracted a cadre of fans who’ve become enchanted by her voice and her leave-it-all-on-the-stage performances in clubs and theaters around the world. Watch this video and join the club.

So as the notes say, these two pieces are improvisations.  Not knowing Spanish all that well, I don’t know how much is made up or even how much is just sounds rather than actual words.  But it certainly sounds more off the cuff than written out.

The music is just a piano and a box drum and her voice.  Her voice is raw and pained, but quite pretty.  The two songs are called “La Noche Mas Larga” and “La Nave Del Olvido.”

[READ: April 15, 2016] Comics Squad: Recess

I found out about this collection in the back of a Babymouse book.

Comics Squad is a collection of eight comics from some of my favorite artists.  It basically works as a bunch of short, shall we say graphic novellas, from Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) ; Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady) ; Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) ; Dan Santat ; Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman  (Smile and Astronaut Academy); Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath) ; Eric Wright (Frankie Pickle) and Gene Luen Yang.

Since it’s edited by the Holms and Krosoczka they sprinkle the book with marginal comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady.  But each artist/author gets a story, and I enjoyed them all.

GENE LUEN YANG-“The Super-Secret Ninja Club”  This was a really fun story about a group of boys who meet at recess.  Once they know that noone is watching, they put on their masks and become the super-secret ninja club.  But Daryl, a decidedly un-ninja like boy wants in…desperately.  He’s never had a passion for any club before but this one is totally him.  The one boy says that since winter break is about to start, when the get back to school, they can talk about him joining.  So Daryl spends all inter break practicing.  Will it be enough?  The answer is very funny.

DAV PILKEY-“Book ‘Em, Dog Man!”  This story begins with a letter to the parents of George (the main character in Captain Underpants) from his teacher saying that she asked for a written assignment and once again he drew a cartoon.  She has attached the offending (and offensive) cartoon for them to see.  Petey the cat is in jail .  He wants to beat the superhero Dog Man.  But Dog Man is too smart  So Petey realizes that if he removes all the words from books no one will be smart anymore.  He invents a ray which does just that.  What will the world do when they can’t read anymore?

JARRETT J, KROSOCZKA-“Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day”  “Lunch Lady” is a cartoon I didn’t really know before reading this collection. Lunch Lady appears in the margins of the pages of the book, but not in this actual cartoon.  Rather, the star of this cartoon is Betty, Lunch Lady’s helper. And since Lunch Lady can’t be there, Betty will have to deal with lunch.  But it is pizza day!  The only hope is the Pizzatron 2000.  Unless, of course, it develops a mind of its own and goes on a rampage.

URSULA VERNON-“The Magic Acorn”  I don’t know Dragonbreath all that well, although C.  has read all of them.  This story is pretty simple.  Although since I don’t know the characters I don’t know if it is representative of anything prior.  Scratch, a squirrel who is rather realistically drawn (Vernon’s drawings are great) is interrupted by Squeak, a far more a cartoony squirrel.  Squeak is excited because he found a magic acorn.  Scratch states that this is the 318th “magic acorn” that he’s found.  And besides they have recess in ten minutes.  Well, this acorn may not exactly be an acorn, but it is certainly magical.

JENNIFER L. HOLM & MATTHEW HOLM-“Babymouse: The Quest for Recess”  In this brief story Babymouse has a few fantasies that prevent her from actually getting outside for recess.  First she is late for school (dreaming about Camelot) then her locker brings her to Zeus, making her late for class.  A western dream makes her disrupt lunch and then the barbarian fractions invade during math class.  Can she keep it together and actually get outside?

ERIC WIGHT-“Jiminy Sprinkles in ‘Freeze Tag'”  So I don’t know this comic at all either. Jiminy Sprinkles is a new student to the school (he is a cupcake). He immediately befriends a peanut who tells him to watch out for The Mean Green Gang, a group of vegetables.  (Their leader is Russell from Brussels (ha)).  The Mean Green Gang is pretty tough but Jiminy has a secret weapon of his own–a very funny one that the Mean Green Gang actually gets a kick out of too.

DAN SANTAT-“300 Words” This is an interesting look at the story The Giving Tree.  The kids were assigned a book report on the story three weeks ago and it is due today.  John is one of the boys who didn’t do the assignment and he’s about to write his 300 words now.  It’s a tree. It gives things.  But another boy has a better idea–he’s going to ask Sophia for her paper.  Even though the last time he talked to her he threw up on her.   Sophia has an interesting answer for him.

DAVE ROMAN & RAINA TELGEMEIER-“The Rainy Day Monitor” is a wonderful take on kickball.  Since the kids can’t go outside to play because of the rain, their recess is indoors.  And they are closely watched by Boring Becca the totally boring fifth grader.  When they ask if they can play kickball inside she asks the kids if they have ever played Dungeons and Dragons.  They groan until she says they should play kickball using dice and imaginary characters.  Pretty great idea Becca!

The end of the book is set up with fun fake ads and useful tips.

One “ad” is an offer for Babymouse Binoculars.  I also really liked Lunch Lady’s tips on how to draw Betty (which skip from 3 to 12 while Squish sweats).

This was not only a great introduction to all of these fabulous comic writers, it was a really funny collection in its own right.

The end of the book says “Do you think there will be another one? As sure as there is syrup on pancakes there’ll be a Comics Squad #2.”  And indeed, there was a second one.

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secret-2SOUNDTRACK: SANDRO PERRI-Spaced Out EP [CST101] (2013).

cst101cover_258x242Sandro Perri, plays jazzy music and sings in a gentle falsetto. I really enjoyed his album Impossible Spaces a lot.  This 10″ EP is composed  of 3 remixes from that album.  I happen to really dislike remixes that basically take one aspect of a song, add drums to it and repeat for 5 minutes.  Most dance remixes are pretty inane.  These are a step above that.

The three tracks are Love & Light (Larry Gus – Panamix), Wolfman (Le Révélateur – Sky Mix), and How Will I? (Imugem Orihasam – Outlook Mix).

The original of Love and Life is a pretty, jazzy number with some great sounding drums and synth notes.

The remix opens with some really fast clicking and some cool wild bass synth.  Then Perri’s voice is manipulated into a kind of repeating note.  Once the song starts properly there’s a cool drums beat and repeats of Perri singing “hey” along with his voice played low in the mix.  And that’s Brett much it.  It’s simple but insanely catchy/dancey.  The song pauses in the middle and then resumes with new vocal snippets The Constellation site says the remix “employs over 500 samples extracted from the song’s stems. The result is an intricate, dense, exuberantly satisfying groove-based track that chops and channels the woozy rhythmic complexity and mellifluous vocal of the original.”

“Wolfman” is a ten minute track that I love–it has so many components and different styles. But this remix strips away pretty much all of it.  It is basically 5 and a half minutes of drums with some wavering synth lines.  About 3 minutes in some ooh oohs from the original track come in, but it’s so removed from the track that I almost wonder why bother.  Well, Constellation is there to tell us: Roger Tellier-Craig (Fly Pan Am, Pas Chic Chic), reworks “Wolfman” as a beautifully building swarm of layered loops and long delays – an homage of sorts to Perri’s own Polmo Polpo sound palette.”  And if that’s what you are expecting, he does it well.

I also love the original of “How Will I.”  This version is very strange.  The music is stripped almost all away with just some occasional sprinkling of piano and rumblings of low notes in the background.  There are additions of synths and percussion but otherwise it is largely a stripped down song.  What I loved about the original was the music—the flutes and everything–and it’s all gone.  I do love at 7 minutes when the bass rumbles through the song, but otherwise its pretty samey.  Constellation tells us: “Japanese producer Imugem Orihasam (Fragil) extrapolates a sweet and loose abstract-House vibe from the original, bringing the highly detailed swing of the song’s live drum tracks to the fore, allowing Perri’s vocal to unfurl against a minimal, skittering, plunderphonic arrangement.”

So, this is not a release I would play very much.

[READ: October 3, 2016] Secret Coders: Paths and Portals

Secret Coders ended with a  pretty big cliffhanger.

Hopper and Eni are on to something big at their school, Stately Academy.  They have just discovered a robot which (through their own programming) has opened up a portal to a secret underground lab. But it is the lab of Mr Bee.  Oh, and that bully Josh has decided he wants to help them.  Hopper says no way, but Josh doesn’t give up.  However, he’s kind of a coward and a little dumb and Hopper is really quite mean to him back.

Eventually they all start working together–Josh has mad typing skills.  And the beginning of the book shows the trio learning to write a program for the Robot Turtle to run. Coding isn’t a terribly exciting thing to watch, but Yang and Holmes do it in a cool way that makes it rather enjoyable.  Even (or maybe especially) when the kids screw up.

But they do succeed.  Which leads to an even more secret room with dozens of robot turtles off all sizes  And that’s when Mr Bee reveals a bit about himself and Stately Academy. (more…)

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secretSOUNDTRACK: CLUES-Endless Forever 7″ [CST064] (2009).

  cluesClues was a band who played rock songs that fused a lot of different styles–often within one song.  They released one album which was fantastic and then basically went on hiatus (that was six years ago).  This 7″ was a tour artifact that Constellation has made available.

It has two songs–a band-made remix of one song from the album and a demo of another album track..

“Ledmonton (Endless Forever Version)” is an unusual but fun song with lots of different sections.  All of them sound unrelated to each other and yet each part is quite catchy and it works wonderfully as a whole.  This remix doesn’t change the song all that much.  It makes it a little softer and fuzzier.  “You Have My Eyes Now (Demonstration Version)” feels like a demo compared to the final version, but it’s really full sounding–just not as full as the album.

This release is more for completists of the band or, since they put out one album and disbanded, any fan of their recorded output might just enjoy this.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Secret Coders

Beloved artist/author Gene Luen Yang came back in 2015 with a new series called Secret Coders.

There is a kind of introductory section that implies the whole story is a lot more meta than it might at first seem–but it is not resolved yet so it’s hard to be sure of that.

The story opens on middle-schooler Hopper.  She is very unhappy to have moved to this new town and a new school.  In addition to missing everyone back home, the sh cool is decidedly weirdo.  There are birds with four eyes, the groundskeeper’s doors are locked and the custodian Mr Bee is really mean.   Plus the whole place looks haunted and there are huge numbers painted all over the buildings (but not in any actual order).

Hopper is pretty abrasive. In fact I’d say she’s downright unlikable–I find her rather offputting, myself.  Of course, she’s also unhappy and the first people that she meets make fun of her (and throw pudding at her), so she is quite snippy with people.  But she’s also not afraid to stand up for herself, which is cool.  When she learns who threw the pudding at her, she fights back–not realizing that the guy is a huge basketball player.  But he doesn’t fight her.  Rather, he chooses to walk away. (more…)

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shadowSOUNDTRACK: ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE-Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989).

The band with an amazing pedigree created a band with a preposterous name and an equally preposterous album title.  But who cares, right?  After the pop frenzy of Big Generator, why shouldn’t the “real” members from Yes (excepting Squire) form a band?  They even brought Bruford back (he has said that he didn’t realize all three other guys were part of it, he thought it was a solo recording).  Perhaps the most insulted person should be Tony Levin.  Not only did I not know he played bass on the album (Bruford brought him over from King crimson), but I can’t even hear him on it!  I have listened to this record a couple times recently and I can’t hear any bass at all.  It’s like the anti-Chris Squire album!

I remember when this came out I was pretty excited.  I remember drawing the album cover (look, kids, Roger Dean is back!), and I remember joking about the preposterous “Teakbois.”  But when I listened to it again (first time in probably twenty years), I didn’t recognize a lot, and I liked even less.

abwhThe album opens with “Themes,” a six-minute, three-part mini epic which should hearken back to Yes of old.  There’s an interesting slow circular keyboard piece and a pretty piano melody and then it gets funky, sort of.  About 4 minutes in, it changes to a new thing altogether but again the sounds are so…bleah,  the guitars sound pretty good (some great guitar work from Howe) while those keys just sound….  You know I said that Wakeman would never play the sounds on 90125 & Big Generator, but he went even blander on this song.

Track two is only 3 minutes long.  It’s dramatic and angry with some good keyboard sounds.  It’s probably the best thing on the album.

“Brother of Mine” is another three-part mini epic that runs over 10 minutes.  The guitar chords and style remind me of mid 80s Rush. There’s lots of interesting elements and the main verse reminds me of maybe early Genesis or Marillion.  Although the solo and other sections seem…obvious instead of groundbreaking.  The middle part is pretty good, with a very classic Yes feel.  But the final section sounds exactly likes something from a Disney movie, perhaps The Little Mermaid (which came out the same year).

“Birthright” starts off ominous with some interesting percussion.  Although all the percussion on this album is rather disappointingly electronic.  Not that’s there’s anything inherently wrong with electronic drums, it just seems wasted on someone as amazing as Bruford.  It feels vaguely like a Peter Gabriel song.  It’s pretty good but it gets a little melodramatic by the end.

“The Meeting” is a treacly ballad.  It sounds nice but is nothing special.  “Quartet” is the third mini epic.  This one is nine minutes and four parts.  The first part is folky and reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel.  Part 2 references tons of old Yes songs in the lyrics (which seemed to make reviewers of the album giddy) but which really just shows how weak this song is compared to those other songs.

elp“Teakbois” has got to be the biggest WTF recorded.  I’m all for bands embracing other cultures and it’s awesome that after Paul Simon released Graceland other bands added multicultural elements to their sound, but this 7 minute monstrosity sounds like AWBH went to the Caribbean and joined a tourist band.  I don’t know if they released many band photos for this album, but this songs makes it seem like this could have been their cover.  There is a chorus near the end of the song in which they sing “cool running” and I was relieved to find out that the film with that name came out four years after this song.

“The Order of the Universe” is another 9 minute, four-part epic.  Just thinking of this song makes me think of the closing credits for The Lion King (which came out five years after this at least) or something.  There are some interesting parts to it.  But the “Rock Gives Courage” section is dreadful and Anderson sounds like he’s singing a pop metal band

“Let’s Pretend” closes this album.  It’s only 3 minutes long and is co-written by Vangelis.  It’s a fine song, completely inoffensive.

So what is up with this disc?  Am I imposing a 21st century attitude on it?  Am I missing that it was actually really influential (on Disney songwriters anyhow) and that it’s not their fault that other people have poisoned the sound for me?  I understand that musicians change and grow, but with these four names, you’d expect something a lot bigger and better than this.

Maybe when I listen to it in another 20 years I’ll actually like it again.

[READ: May 10, 2015] The Shadow Hero

I really enjoy the stories that Gene Luen Yang creates.   And this one (which I later found out is actually meant to be an origin story of an already extant character) was really interesting.

The story begins in China.  In 1911 the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed and soon after the Spirits who were born with China and watched over her had to decide what to do.  The Dragon, the Phoenix, the Tiger and the Tortoise came to a council.  Later, the tortoise left the country with a man who was too drunk to know why he was even on the ship he was sailing on.

Then we see that the story is told by a first person narrator when he says that his mother came to America a few years later.  She had high hopes of the prosperity and beauty of the country, but her hopes were dashed by the realization of the ghettos and slums of Chinatown.

His father (the drunk from above) owned a grocery store and Hank (the narrator) helped out.  His mother, the stronger-willed of the two was a driver for a rich woman and took no crap from anyone. (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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