Archive for the ‘James Kochalka’ Category

glorkpizza SOUNDTRACK: NELLIE McKAY-Tiny Desk Concert #117 (April 4, 2011).

nellieNellie McKay is a singer I’d never heard of.  She is a blonde woman in a kind of yellow kimono and looks like she might be a funny folk singer as she plays a ukulele which is cut to look like an electric guitar.  But rather unexpectedly, she and her band burst into a reggae song.

McKay is, according to the blurb, an audacious artist who once devoted an entire album to Doris Day songs.  And now she writes a pretty authentic sounding Caribbean jam.  “Caribbean Time” has all the trappings of an island song–reggae guitars, bongos, and heavily wah-wahed guitars.

Between the songs, she makes some unexpected comments.  Like she says that she decided that a good sketch would be people sitting around a table asking for things and confessing at the same time, “Pass the syrup my father beat e as a child.”

When they start “Beneath the Underdog” the guitarist doesn’t start on time.  He says “Sorry, I forgot where we were for a second.”  She replies, “We’re in Washington D.C. fighting the man.”

“Beneath the Underdog” is a little less reggae influenced but still has a very tropical, light sound.  And her lyrics are wry and amusing, “beneath the underdog, that’s where I’m comfortable.”  It’s poppy and fun.  She even plays a keyboard solo with notes that sound kind of like steel drums.

“The Portal” is a ballad.  It’s much more traditional sounding, although with the same inflections that McKay has used on the other songs.  Her voice is quite distinctive without being unusual.  This is a somber song, but even while singing it she looks like she’s about to laugh.

And she caps off the set with an other weird  moment where she introduces her band and mispronounces her guitarists last name and seems to have a really hard time saying it.  She apologizes, “I was stoned when I met him.”  As the camera dims she says, “Thank you for fighting the good fight.  We are the silent majority but not so silent, we’re just quiet and tasteful.”

I found her to be quite engaging and charming.  I wonder if she’s still making music.

[READ: January 17, 2016] The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza

I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from John Kochalka.  His drawings are deceptively simple and his books are stupid but ultimately clever (and funny, either way).  His adult books are pretty over the top vulgar (don’t let your kids see them), but his kids books are very funny and perfectly juvenile.

This is his first book for First Second, and the first in a trilogy about the Glorkian Warrior.

Our copy also has an autograph for C.–our Vermont cousins sent it for his birthday (Kochalka is the artist laureate of Vermont, you know).

The premise of this book is painfully simple.  We meet the Glorkian Warrior who is, well, dumb.  His backpack talks to him and tries to get him to be less dumb.  And to be more heroic. (more…)

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superSOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS Christmas Infinity Voyage: Songs for Christmas Vol. 8 (2008).

sufjan 8Back in 2008, a Vol. VIII of Sufjan’s Christmas recordings was leaked on the internet.  It was called Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage-Songs for Christmas Vol. VIII and I talked about it here.  When his official release came out volume 8 was similar yet different from the leaked one.  The song tracks were almost identical, but the versions (and lengths) were rather different.

The leaked version of the disc has this track listing:

Angels We Have Heard on High  5:00
Do You See What I See  4:59
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear   :48
Christmas in the Room  4:50
Good King Wenceslas  2:15
Joy to the World  7:49
The Child With the Star on His Head 13:15

And the official version has this track listing

  Angels We Have Heard on High  4:04
Do You Hear What I Hear  9:14
Christmas in the Room  4:32
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear    :48
Good King Wenceslas  4:18
Alphabet St.  1:36
Particle Physics 1:04
Joy to the World  5:25
The Child With the Star on His Head 15:13

So what’s the difference


“Angels We Have Heard On High”—The leaked version has a lengthy warbling keyboard introduction and is the real song.  The official version is an original song based on the hymn.  I like the way the opening melody changes expected direction in mid line.  I also enjoyed the “oh ho ho hos.”  This is pretty much the only traditional sounding song on the disc because the rest get pretty unusual electronic treatments

“Do You Hear What I Hear”  The leaked version (with a different title) was autotuned and slow (and only 4 minutes).  The official version is also autotuned, and is filled with electronic percussion. It quickly goes weird and crazy, but I like it.  It’s 9 minutes long and the last five minutes are a crazy freakout of autotuned nonsense.

“Christmas in the Room” is a song about being alone with someone you love for Christmas—pros and cons (although there seems like a lot sadness in the song). The autoharp is pretty though. [The leaked version is a bit louder with electronic music rather than autoharp].

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in both version this is a short (less than a minute) electronic version of the traditional song.

“Good King Wenceslas” is also crazy and electronic with lots of strange inserted sounds and lines from other songs.  [The leaked version is only 2 minutes and while still electronic is far less crazy].

“Alphabet St” continues some of the nonsense in Wenceslas—lyrics about being sexy. “Particle Physics” is also 1 minute long of space sounds that merge into

“Joy to the World” is also slightly off-sounding (with lots of different instruments). It starts kind of pretty but goes really wild with the electronics and the autotune and by the end it’s just crazy electronic freakout.

“The Child With the Star on His Head” opens the official version with someone saying “desperately seeking Santa take 3.”  Despite it being super long (in both version) the song itself is really quite pretty.  It’s very Sufjan with great falsetto and an unexpected melody.  The two versions are similar in construct but after the opening few minutes they diverge pretty radically.  At around 5 minutes an electronic sounding, totally fuzzed guitar solo begins and it adds a very strange element to it—a kind of psychedelic outer space sound, which doesn’t quite fit the mood. [Interestingly, in the leaked version, the solo is pretty much the same notes, but it is far less spacey and effects filled.  It has more of a classic rock guitar solo (kind of David Gilmour-ish]. The solo lasts longer in the new version too.   That pretty much accounts for the two minute discrepancy.  The rest of the song plays out mostly the same, although again, the leaked version is kind of pretty and sweet (with la las and a horn solo) while the official release is all electronic and gets crazy here and there.  The end of the song is a denouement–horn based in the leaked and all electronic in the official.

I’m not really sure which release I prefer, because the electronic stuff is really kind of wild and fun (although not very Christmassey).  But the leaked version is really quite nice.

[READ: December 11, 2014] Superfuckers

I know Kochalka mostly from his children’s books, which are weird and warped and really really funny.  Most of them seem to star his son’s head imposed on his weird cartoon style (so funny).

So imagine my surprise to discover a book of his called Superfuckers.

Superfuckers is a “collection” of “issues” of the “series” Superfuckers.

It opens with issue #271 (from 2005).  And within five or six panels, we get every single curse word you can imagine from our “superheroes.”  Indeed, they really don’t “do” anything.  They just sit around and yell at each other (calling everyone gay or slut or some such), get high (on a staggeringly odd number of things) and plot to take over the gang. (more…)

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jksI once saw James Kochalka Superstar perform at a party in Vermont.  He was a lot of fun and the kids in the audience really dug it too.  This song is a perfect encapsulation of the JKSuperstar ethos–silly, irreverent, rocking, and more than a little off-kilter.

Kochalka’s voice is a little strainy and whiny which works perfectly for this kind of song.  The backing band, The Zambonis, write exclusively hockey-based songs, so although JKS wrote this one, they are perfect for this song about a hockey monkey.  And they rock through this simple, funny song with lyrics like:

all the scientists are running around
looking for the monkey but he can’t be found
cause he’s down by the pond playing hockey with the kids

and all the mothers are running around
looking for their children but they can’t be found
cause they’re down by the pond playing hockey with the monkey

and its 1..2..3.. the kids love the monkey and
4..5..6.. the monkey’s got a hockey stick
7..8..9.. havin a good time yeaaaa

In my mind, James Kochalka is more known for his books (done in the cool style of the album cover above), which are wild and very funny.  And so is his music.  Go on up to Vermont and check him out.

[READ: August 10, 2014] Odd, Weird and Little

Since we were on a Patrick Jenning’s kick, I decided to grab Odd Weird & Little.  I didn’t realize it was his newest book, and I really liked it a lot.  And so did the kids.

They both pointed out how the cover drawing looks like an owl and how the initial letters spell owl.  Well, the chapter titles also spell O W L all the way down.  It’s weird and funny.  And so is the story.

As with Jenning’s other stories where mildly supernatural things happen, we never quite learn enough about this odd, weird, little character.  His name is Toulouse Hulot (I loved that) and he comes from Quebec, Canada.  He is definitely little, and definitely odd–he doesn’t take off his gloves or his hat in class (which the teacher allows because he is new).  He barely speaks and he is so…proper.  He wears a suit and has excellent penmanship.  It’s weird.

Toulouse Hulot is not the only funny name in this book.  The narrator’s name is Woodrow Schwette.  And he tells us all about Toulouse, as they are in the same class.  He relates how the two bullies are preparing to gang up on the new kid (which is okay with Woodrow as they usually gang up on him).  But he feels sympathy for Toulouse, because he is so weird.  And little.  And, actually, kind of cool. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BELLE & SEBASTIAN-“Write About Love” (2010).

This single was released on the bands website on September 7th.  The first 20,000 visitors were able to get a free download.  By the time I’d heard about it (3PM) it was long gone.  But the streaming version is still there.

This song continues in that “groovy” vibe that they’ve been indulging in with the last few listens.  It’s far afield from their earlier, more mellow/acoustic sound, and it features some loud organ and solid guitar lines.  Although I really like the early B&S, I’m also quite fond of this later, louder material, and I think it makes for a well-rounded band.

The song is a duet with Carey Mulligan (who I don’t know, but she was in An Education which I haven’t seen).  B&S have always found great melodies for their songs, and this one is no exception. Even with this more rocking sound, they still haven’t lost their sense of songcraft.

I can’t seem to embed the song, so here’s a link: http://www.belleandsebastian.com/newsstory.php?id=515.

[READ: September 7, 2010] Pinky & Stinky

This is the third book that Sarah received for her birthday.  I’m not sure why I put off looking at it until now, but it was worth the wait.

This is a fanciful graphic novel about two pigs who are sent into space.  I’ve always thought that Kochalka’s drawings were simple/sloppy.  But this book shows them to be not at all sloppy, and perhaps deceptively simple.  Because even though the main characters are cute pigs with very few lines, and (once they get to the moon) the moon men are basically hands, the drawings are consistent and are all quite good (hands are definitely not easy to draw).

But on to the plot…. (more…)

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Opening with a simple, discordant piano, this song quickly morphs into a fast chaotic piano run, all the while the vocal stay slow and calm.  Once the bass kicks in, the song feels less like a solo track and more like a band effort.  And it’s amazing that this simple bass can add so much to this swelling track.

I heard about this band from a nice review at wallernotweller.  I think I’ll have to order this CD, if for nothing else than because it looks beautiful.

I’d like to hear more from this label, but all their songs seem to be linked to last.fm, which I find very awkward to use.  One band’s “radio page” didn’t play their own songs and now at home it says I don’t have a plug in or some nonsense.  Pity.  But you can hear this song (and watch their mesmerizing webpage here.

[READ: June 7, 2010] A Book About Design

This book was also part of Sarah’s birthday present.  Inexplicably, although James Kochalka has absolutely nothing to do with the book, he autographed the inside and made a little cartoon that says, “Hi Sarah.”  Cute.

So this book is a wonderfully illustrated primer about design.  It is so basic that I read it to Clark (aged almost 5) and he loved it, too.  There are some sections that I had to use different words, obviously, but he enjoyed the basics very much.

Not including pictures almost makes this review pointless, (but you can see many pages at Google Books) and yet I have to say something here, so I’ll talk about a few things.  Chapter 1 talks about the effects on Object B if you change the appearance of Object A.  Chapter 2 starts: “Take a look at the square in the right.  Imagine drawing two straight lines that intersect only once inside the square.”  When I turned the page to reveal the basic window design of four equal squares, Clark said, “How’d it know that?”  It was very cool. (more…)

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