Archive for the ‘John Layman’ Category

  SOUNDTRACK: BLUE MAN GROUP Tiny Desk Concert #567 (September 26, 2016).

This Tiny Desk Concert is probably the most fun right from th get go.

It opens with three men in blue marching through the NPR offices.  They go through backstage places, grabbing items.  The go through the DJ booth and even interrupt Corva Coleman’s weather forecast.

They even pull Bob away from his desk as they set up.  And then we see the blue men in action.

I remember seeing ads for Blue Man Group when I worked in Manhattan decades ago.  But I never actually saw them (something i regret).  And indeed, I’m not the only one who remembers their humble beginnings:

Josh Rogosin, our engineer for the Tiny Desk, first saw them in their early days, some 25 years ago at New York’s Astor Place Theatre. He told me how the Blue Men would retrofit some of their theatrical magic — including their custom-made instruments, confetti cannons and streamers — to fit this small desk space.  instead of installing their entire signature PVC instrument, what ended up behind the desk was about a third of it. On the right side of the desk, their Shred Mill makes its internet debut: It’s a drum machine triggered by magnets that changes rhythm depending where they are placed on the home-made variable-speed conveyor belt. They also invented something called a Spinulum, whose rhythmic tempo is controlled by rotating a wheel that plucks steel guitar strings.

So the guys, covered in blue (closeup cameras suggests to me that they are wearing gloves and masks?) play a number of home-made instruments (you can read a full description on the instruments below).  In addition to thw home made instruments, there is a Chapman stick bass guitar and a conventional drummer.

And they sure do get some cool sounds out of these items.

“Vortex” has its melody on the PVC pipes with the spinumlum and once the song really gets going in the middle, with the stick playing a cool melody and the cimbalon playing a sweet plucked melody, it’s really quite a pretty song.

For “The Forge,” the stick plays some cool scratchy melodies while two guys play the PVC tubes (I like that there’s a mirror mounted above them so you can see what they’re doing).  The cimbalon is put to good use in more pretty melodies.

“Meditation for Winners” is hilarious.  They play an old scratchy record with a really intense guy doing intense meditation.   They play really catchy music behind it.  They go into the audience and grab people to breathe in and out, and stretch.  Or doing dragon breath.  Then they chant a positive affirmation “I am the best at being relaxed.”  The way the meditation goes from Namaste into something else is pretty great as are the confetti cannons.

This makes me wish I had seen them 25 years ago even more now.

[READ: February 15, 2017] Chew: Volume Twelve

This is the concluding arc to the amazing (and disturbing) series Chew.  It covers issues 56-60 and includes Demon Chicken Poyo.

Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to Tony Chu, Cibopath.  By now we know who he is and what he does–he eats things (or people) and knows the history of whatever he just ate.  We are reminded that the only food that he does not get a psychic sensation from is beets.

The end of the previous book showed the death of Mason and his instruction that in order to save the world Tony must eat him.  Tony does not want to (obviously) but he must.  But the joke is on him because the last thing that Mason ate before killing himself was a big plate of beets–meaning he is totally blocking Tony’s abilities and that Tony will have to suffer through Mason’s long and tedious explanation of everything (this makes Colby crack up, which is quite funny). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKKERVIL RIVER-Tiny Desk Concert #311 (October 15, 2013).

I had first heard of Okkeervil River a few years ago, but I never really knew much about them.  I assumed they were a folk band.  Then a few years back I first head “Down Down the Deep River” and loved it.  I had some idea that the band was maybe a duo, so I was surprised to see this rather large 6 piece band–two acoustic guitars, 1 electric guitar, keys, trumpet and drums.

So what’s the deal with this band and the name?

At first blush, Okkervil River is obviously a good rock ‘n’ roll band, but listen closely — especially to its lyrics — and you’ll hear a great rock ‘n’ roll band. The group has been making sharp, thoughtful music since the late ’90s, with the first of its seven albums coming out a dozen years ago.

The songs in this Tiny Desk Concert are from The Silver Gymnasium, a record inspired by the childhood of 37-year-old singer-songwriter Will Sheff; he grew up a bespectacled, crooked-toothed redhead in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden. His lyrics are drenched in specific memories, pop-culture references and youthful insecurity.

The stories pop a bit more in this acoustic set-up for Okkervil River, but they rock plenty hard in concert and on their albums. If you’ve missed the past dozen years of this band, start here and then work your way back through its catalog. The Stage Names is my favorite, but nothing disappoints.

[The band takes its name from a short story by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya set on the river in St Petersburg].

As it turns out the band is more rocky than folky–even if they are heavily acoustic.

“On a Balcony” a catchy swinging folk rock song.  The addition of the trumpet after averse is really cool.

Before “Pink Slips” Sheff switches guitars with the other guy–then laughs because the strap is set wrong.  Someone says, why not just switch straps?  Which they do.  Bob asks him about the strap correlation and he says: I don’t like the Paul McCartney disconnected cerebral height but I don’t like the grunge-Kurt-Cobain-I-cant-reach-my-guitar thing.  He likes a happy medium.  Then they ask about his shirt–it’s by Winsor McKay, the comic artist.  He says he always loved him, then he saw the Tom Petty “Runnin’ Down a Dream” video which imitates McKay.  It was a like a dream come to life, so he thought he’d make shirts of artists he likes and sells them with his merch.

“Pink Slips” has a kind of slacker melody with a lot of words—and here you can really hear the sophisticated lyrics that Bob talks about.  And the backing vocals sounds terrific.  After the song he says No one has caught the Kevin Costner references in that song. (Waterworld and The Postman).  He also notes that Tom Petty plays himself in The Postman.

“Down Down the Deep River” is so catchy, although this version is very different from the recorded version—more folky less keyboardy.  I really like the keyboard/horn melody and the great backing vocals.  And the claps are super fun.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Eleven

Book Eleven covers issues 51-55.  And it features the death of two major characters!

Chapter 1 opens with the cryptic panel TWO YEARS LATER.

It shows Chu Chu’s bestselling cookbook being taken out of the best seller display and being replaced by Amelia’s EATERS series.

Then we flash up to heaven where Tony’s deceased sister Toni catches us up to speed briefly before getting called to bed by Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan (I love the bed scenes, they are so funny–the way Guillory draws the sheets so snug…).

Next we move to the White House where the annual Easter Egg hunt has been replaced by a Platypus Egg Hunt (with a platypus that looks quite similar to another famous cartoon platypus).  How I wish this was a commentary on the Trump Easter Egg Fiasco #RESIST.

Next we flash to Olive working in the White House kitchen.  It is through Olive’s lightning fast reflexes she is able to stop an assassination attempt of the President.  And their fast work has promoted them to full-fledged agents with the FDA.  Sadly for Olive, she is assigned to work with Ginny who is pretty nutty.  But some flash forwards show just how well they work together.

The next chapter shows the early history of Savoy.  His wife died in the avian flu epidemic which put him on the path to finding the truth about it.  But when he offers his services, a Senator is quick to shut him down–which doesn’t make Savoy very happy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TYPHOON-Tiny Desk Concert #314 (October 26, 2013).

As the show begins, you hear Bob inviting all the short people up front.  Bob suggests the band could organize something like that at their shows: Height night–order everyone as they come in where to stand, that way everybody meets different people and people who never get to see a show in their lives could finally see.  The lead singer says he hates to go to shows for that reason (he seems quite short), although the drummer is way over 6 feet tall.

I first heard Typhoon from NPR, where the song “Young Fathers” was strange, somewhat disjointed and incredibly catchy.  I loved the full band sound and big backing vocals.

The blurb notes: The group from Portland, Ore. crafts rock anthems like emotional tidal waves, propelled by the stories of frontman Kyle Morton. His deeply personal tales are often full of grief and loss. But just as often they celebrate and praise life’s simple wonders. Morton himself is a very grateful (and lucky) man who writes songs as if he were living on borrowed time. That’s because a random bug bite when he was a child left him with a monstrous case of Lyme disease that led to multiple organ failures. Morton’s own father donated a kidney to save his son’s life.

I love when Bob gets excited by a band, as when he talks about Typhoon:

At 27, with a backing band of a dozen musicians, Morton and the rest of Typhoon are making some of the most poignant pop tunes around. We’ve been following this group for a few years now, but Typhoon has never done anything quite like what you can hear on its latest album, White Lighter. The songs are by far the best arranged and most compelling of the group’s nearly 10-year run.  Somehow everyone in Typhoon not only managed to fit behind the Tiny Desk, but also managed to shine in this performance.

The opening of “Young Fathers” is so distinctive, the way the chords start and then pause completely for a second before starting again. When I first heard the that opening section, I was hooked.  The drama is still here in this Tiny Desk, although it’s acoustic so a bit less so.  But the backing vocalists sound great.  The whole band is really tight and it’s impressive that a dozen or so people can be and so quiet when they need to be.   And then singing in harmony and loudly!  Mid song the sound drops out and the two women sing a quick and gentle melody. As the song gets near the end all of those clappers and singers pick up their horns and add a cool melody.

“The Lake” has a simple and beautiful melody all the way through.  I also really like the guitar’s sliding low/high “solo.”  When the vocals join in singing some ooohs, it’s quite lovely.  The end of the song slows down to some staccato horn blasts,  almost martial, which leads to a dramatic ending.

The final song is the surprisingly named “Dreams of Cannibalism.”   There’s another gentle guitar introduction with some cool drums and cymbal buildups.  Once again, there are some dramatic moments where things grow quiet and it’s just him and his guitar and then he gets to belt out the lyrics (his voice is so interesting–raspy and powerful with a slight Oregonian accent).

I’ll leave the last word for Bob: “If you’re looking for music that touches your heart, that helps you appreciate the everyday, sit back and get ready for Typhoon to carry you away.”

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Ten

Book Ten covers issues 46-50.  And it open with Poyo in hell.  He has everyone there running scared.  Although there is a Disclaimer: “this doesn’t happen.”

Tony is furious with Colby and refuses to work with him.  So instead he is paired up with D-Bear.  Their first assignment is to look into a destructive candy scene. A CEEOSAKARER who can turn anything with glucose and fructose into machinery.  He appears to have gone insane and destroyed a town with gummi tanks and a jaw-breaker cannon.  And his message was about the coming dominance of E.G.G.  But he proves to be under the spell of the MINTHAMPERIOR who can hypnotize with peppermint candy.

D-Bear turns out to be a surprisingly good detective, and they work well together, even taking down a VECTUCIBORUTARE who can produce a noxious eruption (A fancy-assed word for “burps”) based on the age of what he eats.  But then Tony gets news that Mason has escaped from the hospital and taken Tony’s daughter Olive and Tony’s wife Amelia with him.  That’s the last straw.

Book 3 opens with FDA director Mike Applebee and special agent Cesar Valentino returning to duty.  The doctors have each been given one mechanical enhancement.  Caesar’s is a big claw while Mike’s is more… dramatic. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK-Tiny Desk Concert #309 (October 7, 2013).

I’ve been a fan of Superchunk for years and I was excited to hear this Tiny Desk Concert.  Superchunk is a band full of manic energy.  Sorta punk, sorta poppy but mostly just fast, catchy songs.  So I was a little surprised to see them play an acoustic set for this concert.

I appreciated some context for this show from the blurb:

 The North Carolina band got its start in 1989, and here it is in 2013, with a new record called I Hate Music that demonstrates an undying passion for punk-fueled story songs with catchy phrasing. The band recorded its 10th album with a lineup that has held for most of its history: Mac McCaughan on guitar and vocals, Laura Ballance on bass, Jim Wilbur on guitar and Jon Wurster on drums.

At the Tiny Desk and on tour, it’s a shame not to have Ballance in the fold — her hearing problem worsens on tour and in loud venues — though Jason Narducy fills in admirably here. This set in the NPR Music offices includes songs from I Hate Music and 2010’s Majesty Shredding, but the group also digs deep to perform a song from 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In. All in all, it’s a joy to have Superchunk translate its electric sound to acoustic instruments in such an intimate way.

It’s fascinating to see Mac sing so close up—you’d never expect that voice to come from him.  “Out Of The Sun” is so mellow.  I have I Hate Music, but I don’t actually know the original very well.  “Digging For Something”  I know this song well. I like the original of this so much that I find the slower acoustic version a little less fun than the original rocking version.  And yet it is still supercatchy and fun.  I love that the drummer has his wallet on the drum head—muffling the snare?  “Animated Airplanes Over Germany” is a great fun old song, I was really surprised when they started playing it and it sounds great regardless of the speed.  “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” is a fun catchy song from their news album and it is well served acoustically.  Although the song title is pretty odd and I never could figure it out.

I’ve never seen Superchunk live and I assume I never will, so while this is a good look at the band, it probably doesn’t really capture their full live show experience.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Nine

Man do I like this series.  It is so gross and yet so compelling.  Book Nine covers issues 41-45.  And it features a lot of Poyo!

I hate reading these books so far apart because it takes me at least an issue to get up to speed and by the time I’m flowing with the story again, it ends!

Chapter 1 opens with The morning after in Las Vegas.  And as Tony Chu is being woken with news of an emergency, we see that he and Amelia are in the honeymoon suite having just gotten married.  Then we flash back to the day before at the FDA convention.  Chu is being hailed as a hero, except by Director Applebee (who still hates Chu).

And then we flash to a bar in which Tony & Amelia are drinking together and Applebee and Colby are drinking together.

Tony answers the phone and hopes to not have to go on assignment.  Why not send in Poyo! (he is on special assignment–double splash pages–vs Unisaurus Rex).

Tony is called downstairs where everyone is covered in deadly fudge.  And we meet Professor Anazani, the FDA’s lead Armavictologist–he deals with weaponized food.  But this attack is not from the egg cultists, it is from the Collector.  Tony quickly solves that case and is even more of a hero much to Applebee’s eternal consternation.  The final page ends with a hilarious surprise. (more…)

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chew8SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-“Dude” (2012) and “Seattle Party” (2013).

chasdudeThe Dude EP is 3 songs recorded after the first EP and with some dudes in the rhythm section.  On this record: Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Peter Richards, Andrew Hall.

The record sounds a bit less trebly, which I like.  And there are loud backing vocals which is interesting (especially on “Pony Tail”: “cut it off cut it off” and “Alines” : “put your tentacles inside me.”

You’ve got a long pony tail and you look like my mom (another verse: you look like Steven Segall and the great rhyme: you look like Thomas Jefferson/Jennifer Aniston).  “Aliens” has a fun riff and an interesting guitar sound.  “Cadaver” sounds really full, with Shaprio’s voice fitting right in to the more bass driven sound.

chas seattle“Seattle Party” is a single from their debut full length No Regerts, which I’m only including here to show the album cover.  It’s something of a maturation (using the term loosely) musically–with a slow, unshouted chorus, although I don’t think it’s the most likely single on the album.

[READ: January 25, 2015] Chew: Volume Eight

Book Eight of the series (the last one I have until book nine comes out later this year) reminds us that even when people die in fiction they can still come back–especially with a supernatural story like this.  Well, come back is not the right phrase.  Show up again is more suited. Because in this book Tony Chu is able to imbibe a (revolting) concoction and speak to a dearly departed deceased person.

But before we even get to that we see how it was possible.

We also meet Tony and Toni’s baby sister Sage.  Sage also has food related “gifts” but she hates hers.  Sage is Cipropanthropatic–she can see the memories of anyone who is sitting near her if they are eating the same thing–so she goes to great lengths to try to avoid eating what others may also be eating.  It turns out that Sage has just discovered that the person eating next to her is a murderer and also the head of a crime family.

Chapter two introduces us to Ken Keebler, the eroscibopctaros, who can take pictures of food which arouse sexual desires in the viewer.  This all ties in with people in jail reading Food Luv magazine (ha).  Currently in that same jail is Mason and that’s when we realize that someone whom we thought was on Tony’s side is actually working with Mason.   And their escape plan involves Ray Jack Montero–the man behind the ban on chickens

In chapter four, Tony’s daughter Olive–an even more powerful Cibopath than her father helps to get on the case.

In chapter five we get to see the fascinating thing that Tony eats.  It has psychotropic powers as well which makes this whole chapter trippy and hilarious.  When Tony sprouts rabbit ears, that’s just the beginning.  And when the final page shows Olive screaming “Holy Shit…cool” you know something big is coming for book nine.

I can’t wait

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chew7SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-Fuck Chastity Belt (2012).

chasThis is the worst music you will ever hear.
Chastity Belt is the worst band to ever exist.

So says the Chastity Belt band camp site for this EP.  Which also states that: The album was produced by Peter Richards. Peter Richards is deaf in one ear.
The cover photo was taken by William Newman-Wise. William Newman-Wise is blind in one eye.

Chastity Belt are not the worst band I have ever heard, not by a long shot.  But they sure do love to provoke, like their band photo (see below).  And the fact that is you try to look them up online, you will find many many images that you don’t want to see (not their band photo).

This four song EP is pretty representative off their full length album–intertwining guitars, catchy (if not vulgar) choruses, and a lead singer’s voice that soars above the music (and reminds me a bit of Grace Slick, although not exactly).  The band comes from Walla Walla Washington.  That and the cover photo reminds one of the Pacific Northwest riot grrrl scene, and there is so me of that slightly abrasive and yet still catchy feel to their music.

The biggest difference seems to be that although their lyrics are feminist and take-no-shit, there is still some humor in the lyrics too.  Not that the original riot grrrl scenes wasn’t funny, but it was much more intense, and unlike to include lines like: “God damn, that boy is hot damn, he makes me so stupid crazy and drunk.”

Of the four songs, I like them all, but the second, Dodge Ram is the least exciting for me, although I do like the “lead” guitar line that runs through the track (perhaps 4 minutes is too long for the song?).  “God Damn” is a great lead off track a simple guitar riff played slowly with an air of sloppiness that may be more of the recording sound (which is a bit staticky).  The segue into chorus really pretty.

On a far more serious tone is “A Bloody Spiral of Unyielding Fury” which is not a super fast belligerent death metal song, in fact it starts with a rather sweet high-pitched guitar melody.  But then lyrically, the chorus of “he wants me dead but I don’t want to die” informs the rather scary song about a guy with a knife (yet always with that rather happy guitar riff).

The one thing I don’t like about the record is the rather tinny sound of it.  There is bass, but it’s not very loud, and the two guitars are certainly turned up in the mix (and play mostly the high strings).  Having said that, “James Dean” (which also appears on their full length) has a much fuller sound, bigger chords and some of the most straightforward lyrics yet (all in Julia Shapiro’s keening voice)

chastityYou’re a slut
I’m a whore
we’ve fucked everyone before
Oh boy, when I fuck you
you make me feel like a prostitute
yeah, when you fuck me
I make you feel just like James Dean

You can check the EP out on their bandcamp site.

On this recording, Chastity Belt was On this record: Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, and Gretchen Grimm.

[READ: January 21, 2015] Chew: Volume Seven

After the horrible events at the end of Book Six, Book Seven was a chance for Revenge!

Tony Chu has not taken the event of book six lightly, and he is ready to get the bastard–the “vampire”–who has caused such distress to his family.  In fact, things are so serious that Tony (and Colby) have been reinstated to the FDA (and their boss doesn’t seem to mind).

And remember the high priestesss from the church of the super ova? (I had forgotten about her, but she’s back with all those writings in the sky and whatnot).  Well, she is looking to cause a lot of trouble.

But not everyone is happy that Colby has been transferred back. His former boss at the USDA is terribly sad to see her bed partner go. Of course, Colby’s new boss (who was his old boss) is suddenly also quite keen on having him back…I love how that is resolved with a nod and wink from the authors several chapters later. (more…)

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chew6SOUNDTRACK: ALVVAYS-Live at KEXP (December 2, 2014).

alvvays I’ve been enjoying the Alvvays album quite a lot.  They will be opening for The Decemberists this summer, so this was a good way to hear what they sound like live.

The band (pronounced Always) is from Canada and they play four songs and have a little chat.

The four songs are all on their debut album and while none of them are mind blowingly original, they scratch an itch that I have for poppy 90 s alt rock (female singer division).

Molly Rankin has a delicate voice that blends in beautiful with the washes of music (guitars and keyboards).  They remind me a bit of Lush, although less rocking.  There’s a bit more angst and yearning in her voice and lyrics.

Their hit is “Archie, Marry Me” but I find the other three songs, “Ones Who Love You,” “Dives” and “Party Police” to be just as catchy and delightful.  In fact I think the best song in this set may be “Party Police.”  The only real downside to this set is that they don’t have a live drummer.  No idea why, and it doesn’t really detract from the performance, it just makes it a but flatter than it might be.  I assume they’ll have a live drummer when I see them this summer.

[READ: January 22, 2015] Chew: Volume Six

Volume Six brings a very exciting return and a devastating loss to this awesome series.

The good news first: POYO!

The book opens with Toni (Antoinelle), Tony Chu’s sister in bed with Paneer, a man who is in love with her.  She, of course, needs to bite him to see what his future holds (which rather freaks him out).  Toni is (like her brother), cibovoyant and can read the future of everything she eats.

Toni is asked by her other brother Chow to help with a case.  A guy has out-bid him for a painting and he fears that the guy is just going to destroy the masterpiece.  As an agent of NASA surely Toni agrees she must help.  It turns out the artist is a sabopictor–his paintings taste delicious.  Of course it turns out that Chow has an ulterior motive–the guy has also stolen his cookbook, that’s all he cares about–he doesn’t care about the painting at all.  Toni is annoyed, but always happy to see her brother.

While she is visiting Tony in the hospital (from injuries suffered in book 5), Caesar walks in. Caesar used to work with Tony and he is quite certain that he recognizes Toni from somewhere (I loved this ongoing joke and that we keep flashing back to the number of times they met (and even hooked up) in their lives).

Then Toni gets called onto another case, involving mutated chicken frog (chogs) and a gangster named D-bear.Poyo-rules-the-Chew-roost-in-Secret-Agent-O31R1IQP-x-large

Of course the real excitement comes from the interlude which features POYO! the cybernetically enhanced rooster.  He is on a mission to stop Dr Albrecht Regenbigen, a ranapuliva who can recreate the meteorological phenomenon in which animals rain from the sky.

Back in our main story Poyo proves to be a great partner for Colby especially in the story of Judy Heinz-Campbell a victuspeciosian, who can craft a concoction out of food that temporarily changes your appearance (useful for supermodels and supervillains).

The final book shows the unthinkable–a wedding for Toni and Paneer?  Or something much more horrific and unimaginable.

I’m not sure I can forgive this series. Book 7 better bring something happy.

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negrtitoFantastic Negrito won this year’s Tiny Desk Concert contest.  About 7,000 people submitted entries and Negrito was chosen.

On the surface this song is pretty simple–a basic blues riff and some simple percussion, but man there’s some gritty power and conviction in this performance.  The way he sings “rage” in a late verse is really great.  I also really like the way the chorus is so very different–it really changes the dynamic of the stomping verses.

A couple other things I like about this song: the drums appear to be done on a box, but they sound great and there’s a super cool piercing sound he gets when he claps.  This was a really good song and I’m looking forward to his upcoming Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: January 19, 2015] Chew: Volume Five

I had been enjoying Chew so much that I’m shocked that I not only forgot about it but forgot about it for over three years!  This is the trouble with annual publications.  I’ve decided to try to find all of the series that I forgot about, so if you can think of something I’ve ignored for a while, let me know.

The good thing is that there have been four more books published since I last read them, so I get to indulge in four whole books rather than just one at at time.

As this book opens we learn that Tony Chu’s boss is super happy because he finally got rid of Tony Chu–his most hated agent.  That’s right Tony Chu is now a traffic cop and his partner, Colby, has been transferred to the USDA–and his partner is a lion.  If this whole USDA/FDA business seems weird, it is, and you need to get caught up on the series and the poultry ban. (more…)

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I was not aware that this EP existed (I guess technically it’s a single).  It came out after their original EP but before their first full-length.

The title track is a rocking number with all kinds of cool keyboard noises strewn about.  This is clearly early template TV on the Radio.  “The Wrong Way” will appear on Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and it shows a new noisy sound for the band–lots of horns and a reluctance to allow silence appear, there’s sound filling up every space.  The final song, “Modern Romance” feels like a B-side.  It is kind of slow and meandering.  There are a few interesting sonic bits but mostly they are overshadowed by a kind of monotony.

Not essential listening for the TV on the Radio fan.

[READ: December 29, 2011] Chew: Volume Four

It was delightful to get volume four of this series so quickly after finishing volume three!

As with previous issues, this one starts out with a quirky opening.  A series of shots of a chicken restaurant (Mother Clucker’s) thirty-five years ago, then twenty-five, then fifteen and then five (nice clientele drawings over the years).  And then finally we see it today, after the ban on chicken–a wasteland.

But this story introduces an entirely new element (which goes through the arc of the book.  Lights from (presumably) an alien life form fill the skies.  They spell out words in a language that absolutely no one can understand.  And it is so vexing that money is taken away from the FDA (the people who are fighting the chicken war) and put into NASA.

This first chapter also introduces a new kind of character: a man who is voresophic–if he is eating he is unbelievably intelligent. Of course, if this was your gift, how long would you be able to stay slim?

Chapter Two jumps us right into a NASA space station.  Just as it explodes.  A quick cut to a school (where Tony Chu’s estranged daughter goes) reveals a more down to earth problem.  Since the letters have appeared in the sky people have been acting weird.  And one technologically savvy boy, who has been picked on most of his school life is looking for revenge.  But is he responsible for the space station explosion as well?

Chapter three is wonderful for a couple of reasons.  First, Chu and John Colby are getting assigned increasingly dangerous missions (because their boss wants them dead).  It culminates in a hilarious scene at the USDA (a furious female army). Chu and Colby are the last resort.  If everyone else fails, they have a fall back so dangerous that it is classified.

Chapter four is amazing for opening with a series of scenes that are gruesome and awful and, as the narrator boxes keep repeating, never actually happen.  And that is because Tony Chu has been assigned to work with his twin sister Toni Chu–NASA bigwig and (unknown to anyone else, fellow Cibopath–she doesn’t tell anyone so she’s not treated like a freak like her brother).  It’s great to see the two of them work their magic.  And while I wouldn’t want it to replace the Chu/Colby team, it would be fun to see future pairings of these two.

Chapter five (this is the first book with five chapters!) opens with a wonderfully long sequence of Agent Mason Savoy (he never went away, he’s always in the background) sampling something amazing.  And we get several wordless pages of him processing what he has just ingested.

But the more amazing thing is that suddenly the letters in the sky simply disappear.  And there seems to be a cult leader who predicted this, right down to the minute.  The cult leader ingested scads and scads of gallsaberries when she was adrift at sea and it led her to the Truth.  And she has lots of followers who are willing to drink her Kool-Aid.

The book ends with two wonderful cliffhangers.  The first one is (mild spoiler, but not really since it will be dealt with in the next book) that their actions lead Chu and Colby to get fired.  The second one is that Mason Savoy has learned a special secret about one of Tony Chu’s relatives (remember we saw them all in that cool scene from the last book?).  And he takes advantage of that knowledge.

The series isn’t over by a long shot.  Awesome.

A couple other things, first off–welcome back Poyo!  I loved the faux story they created about his background and then the negation of said story.  Also, this books reintroduces the vampires that were mentioned early in the story and then kind of hidden.  I love when stories pick up threads like this.  And a final quick nod to all of the excellent little jokes in the margins of the pictures.  I read them all and I love them…keep them up!

For ease of searching I include: flambe

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-The Double Cross (2011).

Sloan never fail to make enjoyable punky pop songs.  Surely it has something to do with having four songwriters in the band (which must minimize clunkers).  I can never decide who my favorite songwriter of the group is as they all do fairly varied work.

“Follow the Leader” is a fast rocker (with a very cool guitar solo bit and a nice acoustic break in the middle).  While “The Answer Was You” is a bouncy piano-based song that starts out fast and then settles into one of the more recognizable Sloan voices (I wish I knew who was who–even after twenty years I have never quite determined who was singing what).  This song also has a great third part, minor keys and very dramatic structure.  It’s the first of several songs that hover around the 2 minute mark, as well.

“Unkind” is a simple guitar based song and man is it catchy, with a chorus that sticks with you.  “Shadow of Love” is a great fast rocker and even at only 2 minutes long it has several great parts.  “She’s Slowing Down Again” has some great bah bahs and a strong chorus.  “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” actually slows things down, with a gentle acoustic ballad.  But it’s followed by one of their screaming punk tracks, “It’s Plain to See,” simply put, it’s two minutes of adrenaline.

The album changes somewhat with “Your Daddy Will Do,” a catchy disco song.  Yes, disco.  How else do you explain those keyboards riffs?  And man is it catchy.  “I Gotta Know” may be the stupidest song they’ve recorded yet.  How many times is the phrase “I gotta know” repeated in 82 seconds?  Still, you can’t deny how catchy it is.  “Beverly Terrace” returns to that cool pizzicato piano that they do so well.

“Traces” is the longest song (almost 5 minutes) and is one of the longer Sloan songs in general.  It feels like  an old classic rock song for many reasons (including Doors-y keyboards), and yet it doesn’t feel retro at all.  Neat trick, that.  The disc ends with “Laying So Low,” a piano ballad with a great catchy melody.  It slows the album to a nice ending.

12 songs in 33 minutes.  Multiple genres, multiple styles, multiple singers.  All of it wonderful.  Just an other typical Sloan album. Great jobs guys, here’s to twenty more years.

One word to yeprock records, though.  If you offer “free bonus” songs for purchasing their album, I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that the four bonus songs should not be one song each from their previous records.

[READ: December 29, 2011] Chew: Volume Three

We were quite excited to get this book–we were on the Hold list forever at the library.  So I’m surprised to see it came out back in 2010!  I assumed it was much newer than that.  I guess there’s a Volume Four out already (yes it came out, and they have just published issue 22 in single issues).  Volume three covers issues 10-15.

This mini-arc, as they call it, isn’t so much of an arc as a continuation of the awesome story line.

For those in the dark, read the first two posts.  But in a nutshell, Tony Chu is a Cibopath, which means that anything he tastes he knows the entire history of, be it vegetable, meat (ew) or, since he is a cop, human (bleagh, but hey it’s a comic book, right?).  His partner, John, is part machine now, having been practically blown up and then put back together.  And, as we start Chapter One (Issue #11), Tony is out on his first date with Amelia Mintz (alright, they got together!).  Amelia Mintz is a Saboscrivner which means she can write about food so wonderfully that you can literally taste it. (more…)

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