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Archive for the ‘Octavia Butler’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CALMA CARMONA-Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK: #204/196 (May 2, 2021).

Tiny Desk Meets AFROPUNK was the opening event of AFROPUNK’s “Black Spring” festival. The virtual celebration, hosted by Jorge “Gitoo” Wright, highlighted outstanding talent in Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean music across the globe. Our showcase featured four artists who honored their homes and celebrated the art their heritage has inspired.

Calma Carmona got her start in 2013 when the Latin soul singer-songwriter released her first EP and opened for Beyoncé’s The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour in Puerto Rico.

Carmona is mesmerizing as the massive amount of dreadlocks is piled on top of her head.  The setting is fascinating–it looks like an aquarium–a dark hallway with lit windows, but instead of fish there seems to be technology in the windows.  I love how in some scenes, it’s almost totally black–since (almost) everyone is dressed in black as well.

Her music is not dark, though.  Indeed, “When I Was Your Girl” has a kind of reggae feel, at least from the rhythm guitar (which I’m assuming is looped because Pedro “PJ” González is playing lead throughout. Carmona’s voice is quiet and kind of sultry through this song and when she’s supported by her backing singers, Athina Alejandra, Almonte Duluc and Yarinés Salgado, they sound great together.

There’s a lot of drums in these songs, although it’s so dark it’s hard to know who is doing what. Gabriel Oliver plays drums and he, Andres “Kino” Cruz and José “Junny” Elicier all play the barril, a traditional hand drum.

From her hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Calma Carmona delivers a bewitching Tiny Desk performance. Her voice rarely rises above a whisper as she sings over impassioned Afrobeats during her three-song set — but when it does, it’s a gritty, intimidating growl.

That growl is present on “Ella Se Mueve” a darker song with deep bass from Adrián “AJ” Rodríguez and distorted deep keys from J. Rochet.  “PJ” González noodles some guitar solos throughout and you can really hear the barril.  Carmona sang in English on the first song but she switches between English and Spanish here

“Vibra” opens with the three men playing the barril and a slow bass line.  She sings the verses and then throws in a growly rapped verse.  I really enjoy the slinky way the song ends with them singing “and I’ll be on my way.”

And before the send us out, there’s a quick barril serenade.

[READ: May 3, 2021] “How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival”

Having read three of Octavia E. Butler’s book recently, I was saving this article (what timing) until all three were done.  And considering the opening line of this article mentions Parable of The Sower (the second book of the three that we read) I’m glad I waited.

Although this is really a book review of her new Library of America Collection (she is the sixth science fiction writer to be featured in the series and the the first Black science fiction writer).  The book collects Kindred (1979) Fledgling (2005) and short stories.

He says, as we have noted

It’s often observed that the Parables, already prescient when they were published, now read like prophecy

But I didn’t know that Earthseed had inspired an opera by folksinger Toshi Reagon and that last September Parable of the Sower was back on the best seller list (we’re so trendy).

The article notes that her protagonists often begin as fugitives or captives but emerge as prodigies of survival only to find that adaptation exacts hidden costs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE HOLIDAY-“Strange Fruit” (1939/ (live1959)).

This haunting song is sung with minimal piano accompaniment.  In between verses, the original version has some stark trumpet solos, although they are not present in this live version.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

She sings the words slowly (the song is 3 minutes long despite the relatively few words), letting the image linger in your mind as she stretched out “burning flesh”  and “for the crows to pluck.”  The way she agonizingly sings “drop” and “crop” really emphasizes the last lines.

The studio version has a haunting guitar line–the only guitar in the song–as a little coda.  It’s a remarkable addition and really affecting.

I can’t imagine the courage it took to sing these words in 1959 let alone 1939.

This song has a fascinating origin.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were two Black men who were hanged in a spectacle lynching in 1930.  A photograph was taken by studio photographer Lawrence Beitler.  He sold thousands of copies of the print [which is amazingly disturbing and I can’t imagine who would have bought them].  In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish school teacher from New York City saw a copy of Beitler’s 1930 photograph which “haunted [him] for days” and inspired his poem “Bitter Fruit” which was published in The New York Teacher in 1937 (under the pseudonym Lewis Allan). Meeropol then set his poem to music, renaming it “Strange Fruit” which Billie Holiday recorded in 1939.

[READ: March 8, 2021] Kindred [the fight]

This week took us to the end of the book.

Dana arrived home with Kevin this time.  He’s initially happy to be home, but is soon very restless. He was in the past for five years.  They have only been in their new house together a few days–noting is familiar here.  He is agitated and irritable.  He tells her about some of the horrible things he’s seen like a woman dying in childbirth.  It’s interesting that this horror comes from Kevin telling Dana about a woman’s whose master beat her until the baby fell out of her.

I feel like Kevin is overreacting to his return–his agitation seems way too great.  I realize that things are new in this house, but you’d think that even after five years, being home wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  And then he tells a story like the above and while I still don’t understand why it’s not just a relief to be out of there, i can see that he’s got PTSD.

But he was jumpy–the sound of jet overhead freaked him out.  Again, would five years without a jet overhead make you forget that they existed before hand?

Earlier Dana had been concerned that Kevin could be “won over” to the bad side. But he tells her that he had been helping slaves to escape.  he even imagined that they might both want to go back to help more slaves escape–to do good historically speaking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NINA SIMONE-“Mississippi Goddamn” (Live in Antibes, July 24-25, 1965).

This song is amazing for so many reasons.

Nina Simone wrote this song in less than an hour as a response to  the murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers in Mississippi, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama (see the posts from John Lewis’ March).

It is simple and straightforward.  She pulls no punches, from the title to the explicitness of the lyrics.

The intro (and chorus) get right to the point

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi, goddamn

She doesn’t stop there.

Don’t tell me, I’ll tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying
“Go slow!”

But that’s just the trouble “too slow”
Washing the windows “Too slow”
Picking the cotton “Too slow”
You’re just plain rotten “Too slow”
You’re too damn lazy “Too slow”
The thinking’s crazy “Too slow”
Where am I going What am I doing I don’t know

Having the band chant back “too slow” during the bridge is a nice call for support.

What’s most scary about this song is how little has changed since she wrote it fifty years ago,

Picket lines, school boycotts
They try to say it’s a communist plot [substitute Antifa or BLM now]
All I want is equality
For my sister, my brother, my people, and me

In the Antibes version, she substitutes Governor Wallace in one of the lines–and you can tell how intensely she feels these words.

Then there’s the music–a sort of bouncy jazzy number that could easily be about anything.  The lyrics are straightforward, but the music almost softens the bite, or at least.  In the Carnegie Hall recording she even jokes “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it, yet.”

The middle section, which is a little quieter, definitely sounds a bit more sinister.  And justifiably

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Watching this video is really intense.  I wonder how impactful this was in France. And I can’t imagine what the impact was like at Carnegie Hall.

[READ: March 8, 2021] Kindred [the fight]

This week’s read is one long, painful chapter.

After the first few sections have established the scenario, the more you think about it, the more you realize how many things can (and likely will) go wrong for Dana.

Each time Dana is sent back in time, the gap between instances grows.  Time doesn’t pass in the present the same way it does when she goes back.  She had been gone for nearly two months but when she returned home she had been “gone” for less than a day.

Now that Kevin has remained, she fears for him as well and those fears are completely reasonable–he was treated well in that world because he was white.  He looked forward to watching the expansion of our country West.  Could he become a hardened white person if he was there for too long?  Kevin seems like a pretty decent fellow and doesn’t seem like he would become an owner of anyone, but you could see him getting caught up in everything that’s happening. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMARTHA REDBONE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/154 (January 13, 2021).

Martha RedboneGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The fourth artist of the third night is Afro-indigenous appalachian performer Martha Redbone.

Martha Redbone performs her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST performance from her home studio in Brooklyn’s Navy Yards. Native and African-American singer-songwriter Martha Redbone is known for her mix of folk, blues and gospel from her childhood in Harlan County, Ky., which she infuses with the eclectic grit of pre-gentrified Brooklyn. Inheriting the powerful vocal range of her gospel-singing African-American father and the resilient spirit of her mother’s Cherokee, Shawnee and Choctaw culture, Redbone broadens the boundaries of American Roots music.

“The Garden of Love” starts with Martha playing percussion sounds.  Keyboardist Aaron Whitby is playing some backing chords while guitarist marvin Sewell is playing some interesting slide guitar sounds.   Martha sings in a very traditional style.  Then the song starts proper with an old sounding blues riff and the song feels old and gospel-like.

She tells us her inspiration is the Appalachian mountains where she grew up–rattles, soul music, the blues.

“Talk About It” is a prayer for stronger communication around the world.  It’s a more conventional sounding soul song, with heavy keyboards and Redbone’s vocals taking the fore.

“Underdog” is a very pretty ballad with slide guitar sounds and gentle keys.  But it’s all about her gorgeous voice.

[READ: March 1, 2021] Kindred [prelude-the fall]

I’m always happy to start a new group read with the fine folks at Infinite Zombies. Normally we read big books by white men.  So this time it was decided to pick a different kind of author.

I was pretty pleased to see that Octavia E. Butler would be the new reading choice.  I had only recently heard of her and had recently read Mind of My Mind, which I really liked.  So it was a great opportunity to read more from her.

Kindred is Butler’s most famous book.  I was looking forward to reading something different from Mind (although I do intend to read the rest of that series).

I didn’t know what this book was about.  The cover of this book gives absolutely no indication is what’s going inside.  In fact, it looked pretty much exactly like what is not happening in this book.

I was blown away by the first sections of this book.  Butler’s style is not fancy and I found this direct writing to be really effective at conveying what is going on.

Butler basically puts a horrifying slave narrative into a science fiction story.

It starts very abruptly with the prologue.  The narrator, Dana says that she lost her arm on her last trip home.  The police question her husband Kevin but she assures them it is not his fault.

Then the story resumes with The River.  It flashes back to when this all started–June 9, 1976.

In The River, Dana and Kevin are unpacking books in their new California home when suddenly Dana feels dizzy.  She is pulled through space into a river where a young red-haired boy is drowning.  Dana thinks quickly and stomps into the river to rescue the him.  She even does some mouth to mouth

The boy’s mother starts blaming Dana for what’s happening even while she is trying to resuscitate the woman’s son.  Dana succeeds and just as the boy, whose name is Rufus comes to, his father holds a shotgun at Dana’s head.  What is the black woman (who is dressed like a man) doing with her mouth on his son?

Rufus’s father is Southern and they seem very, very old-fashioned.  But just as Dana fear the worst from the shotgun, she flies back to her bedroom.  She is covered in mud and soaking wet, but Kevin says she was gone maybe ten seconds.  He has a hard time believing her (who wouldn’t) despite the proof of the mud on her clothes.

What in the hell just happened? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CONTROL TOP-Control Top (2019).

Control Top is an intense punk/new wave band from Philly.  They are a must-see live.  Ali Carter is a dynamic front person.  Al Creedon’s guitar is a blast to see live and Alex Lichtenauer’s drums are even better when you can feel them.

This is their debut album.  A couple of songs run over 3 minutes, but most are in the two and a half minute range (the album is ten songs in 29 minutes).  While the music is mostly hardcore-ish, they have a very cool early new wave sound–robotic and precise.  There’s angular rhythms and interesting juxtapositions all underneath carter’s (mostly) screamed vocals.

“Type A” sets the mold with screamed vocals, interesting lead riffs and heavy chords.  Creedon makes all kinds of interesting walls of noise which never detract from the melody of the song itself.  “Office Rage” has thundering drums and a cool change of guitar sounds midway through the song.  not to mention when Carter sings “service with a smile,” the band pauses and she shouts “eat shit.”  How they manage to squeeze a guitar solo into this 3 minute song is beyond me.

“Chain Reaction” has jagged guitar chords and a robotic vocal delivery.  I love the way Carter’s bass holds down the melody while the guitar is just playing a wall of noise.  “Unapologetic” runs to almost four minutes with two distinct parts, the main verses that have distorted harmonic guitar notes and Carter’s staccato delivery and the piercing high notes of the “who’s” the bull in the China shop now?” part.

“Straight Jacket” is less abrasive than the other songs with a more new wave feel and Carter’s vocals more melodic.  “Covert Contracts” plays a lot with empty space–there’s moments with just bass and moments with just drums but the loud guitars are never far away, ready to fill in with squalls just when the song seem like they might be getting too quiet.

“Betrayed” returns to the angry style of the earlier songs–harsh guitars and appropriately angry vocals.  “Ego Deaf” has a few pummeling drum rolls in just over two minutes with a bass and drum-only portion before the ringing solo comes in.  “Traffic” is only 90 seconds long and it soars with harsh notes and angry vocals. Amazingly, it even has time for a slower middle section and a pause before the speed resumes.

“Prism” is a terrific new wave song.  The verses start with just bass and drums and vocals.  The chorus is crazy catchy, yes catchy.  Although the noisy guitar squalls after the chorus keep it from being too poppy.  The disc ends with “Black Hole” which shows off more of those drum fills and that rumbling bass.

This album is a cathartic blast and when the 30 minutes are over, you’ll want to start it again.

[READ: November 10, 2020] Mind of My Mind

I recently read (and loved) an excerpt from one of Octavia Butler’s stories.  So when this book came across my desk (perhaps all of her books are getting reissued in trade paperback?) I immediately decided it was time to start reading her books.

Obviously one wants to read a series in order.  But this was the book I so I hoped I could start here.  I had seen there was a prequel to this book, but that it was written after this one.  Just to make things more confusing, none of the books in the Patternist series were written in chronological story order.  Here is the story timeline (and when they were written).

1 Wild Seed (1980)
2 Mind of My Mind (1977)
3 Clay’s Ark (1984)
4 Survivor (1978)
5 Patternmaster (1976)

So this is the second book written and the second book chronologically.

At any rate, I didn’t need the other books to appreciate or understand this one.

The premise is fairly simple, but the execution is outstanding. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIGHT EYES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #86 (September 28, 2020)

I was never a fan of Bright Eyes.  Something about them just never quite appealed to me.  And since Conor Oberst was so prolific, I got tired of him too.

But then he made better Oblivion Community Center with phoebe Bridgers and I really liked the album and the live show.  So I’ve rethunk Bright Eyes.

They were supposed to play a show in Bethlehem this summer with Lucy Dacus.  I was more interested in seeing Lucy, but I would have certainly gone.

So here’s Bright Eyes with their first new album in almost ten years.

They recorded this Tiny Desk (home) concert with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis at ARC Studios in Omaha, Neb., while Nate sits 1,500 miles away at Lucy’s Meat Market, a well-equipped studio in Los Angeles filled with sweet-sounding vintage keyboards. Singing and seated behind him is Becky Stark, better known as Lavender Diamond, along with their daughter.

The three songs they perform from Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, are intense, with stripped back rawness and lyrics that are not always decipherable, filled with struggle and hope.

They open with “Mariana Trench” in which Mogis is on pedal steel, Walcott is on piano and Becky and daughter sing backing vocals.  Oberst’s voice sounds as strong and confident as ever.

Up next is “Pan and Broom.”  Nate starts the drum machine and then plays the organ.  Meanwhile Mike is playing the Marxophone which is a kind of tiny echoing sounding zither machine.

“Persona Non Grata” is about being insane enough that people don’t want you around. Conor sits at the Moog, while Nate stays on the organ and Mike goes back to the pedal steel.  Oberst plays a cool-sounding solo while Mike plays a pedal steel solo along with him.  It sounds really good.

“Shell Games” is an older song.  Mike switches to the guitar and Nate jumps over to the Casio.  The guitar is quiet but adds a cool fuzziness underneath the synth sounds.  This song also seems to be a bit more intense than the others.

This feels like a stripped down sound, but I don’t actually know what the recorded versions sound like.

[READ: September 26, 2020] “A Logic Named Joe”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

Murray Leinster was one of the most prolific writers in the heyday of science-fiction pulps. … It reads like a creative exercise in conditional statements, with just a touch of black humor thrown in. … My favorite aspect is the implication that AI is evil because we, humans, make it evil, not because some robot has gone rogue.

The other stories in this collection so far have been more of a detailed explanation of a utopian future.  This story is an actual story–and an exciting one.

It’s a shame that the central motivator of the narrator is a sexist trope, but otherwise the story is really cool and amazingly prescient when it comes to technology.

The story jumps right in and doesn’t fully explain what’s going on just yet.

The narrator works at Logic Company as maintenance worker.  On August 3rd, a Logic called Joe came off the assembly line.  Two days later Laurine came into town, and that’s when the narrator saved the world.

The narrator is married and Laurine is the woman he dated before he met his wife  Laurine “is a blonde that I was crazy about once–and crazy is the word.”  She dumped her exes and even killed one of them.

So, yes, a sexist underpinning to this story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I was supposed to see The Districts play at Union Transfer on March 12.  COVID-19 had just found its way into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I was being very cautious so I decided to skip the show.  It was a safe decision, but one that I now regret as it would have been a pretty great final show of the year.

Last year I went to one night of the Philly Music Fest and it was terrific.  This year, the Philly Music Fest was all virtual.  The live shows were played at Ardmore Music Hall and there were some prerecorded shows as well.

If this were a show I could have attended (apparently, some “golden tickets” were given out to a few people, but I have no idea how), the two live bands are exactly who I would have wanted to see.  The Districts opened for Japanese Breakfast.  And in the live stream, Arnetta Johnson & Sunny played before The Districts and Zeek Burse played in between them.

So here was my chance to see The Districts playing live.  I’m actually not sure if I would have gone had I gotten a golden ticket (I have read that 25 people were in the place including the band).  When they played Union Transfer, they played 26 songs in what must have been quite a long show.  For this show, they only had about 45 minutes.  So they played 10 songs from their last two albums and a new song.

They opened with “My Only Ghost,” which opens the new album.  It’s a quiet song with a nifty bassline and a lot of atmospheric keys.  It’s an unusual song for them, with a lot of gentle falsetto singer.  But it works as a good opener.

Up next was “Nighttime Girls,” a 2018 single that I didn’t know.  It rocks with echoing whammy bar guitar chords.  The band really started having fun with this song.  When the song ended a slow drum beat thumped as they prepped for the next song.  They thanked everyone for coming out and talked about how excited they were to play live again.  a

Then they launched into “Fat Kiddo” from Popular Manipulations.

The camera came up behind them to show that there was a video monitor in front of them where they could see the people watching online.  After shouting out to a few people, they started the ripping “Sidecar” with the really fun “hoo hoo hoo” singalong part.

After some more chatting with more of the “zoomers” and acknowledging the few people in the audience whom they cannot see, they play the wonderful new “Hey Jo.”  It was great to hear this live.

As the band tuned up there were samples of tweeting birds and a slow rumble of bass and drums.  Singer Rob Grote says, “someone’s putting on quite the show on zoom,” before jumping into a great sounding “If Before I Wake.”  The band sounds really tight as they jump between the quiet verses and the loud ones.

Then one of them looks at the screen and says “hey that’s my apartment!  that’s my girlfriend.”  She says “you guys are great. Love you!” It’s nice they unmuted her for that.  They play the moody “And the Horses All Go Swimming” (which they did not play at UT) and there’s some wild soloing at the end.  I think the band would have been bouncing around if there was an audience, but they are pretty animated.

Up next was the slow whistling opening of “4th of July.”  It was followed by the faster “Salt” complete with gang vocals during the chorus.

The set was nearing the end and they played their fantastic new song “Cheap Regrets.”  This is one of my favorite songs of the year.  I love that it’s totally retro sounding but not retro at all.  It’s got a great bassline and keys.  They rocked this out to a roaring ending.

They ended the show with a new song that is quiet and pretty with a flute-like keyboard and mellow guitar.  There’s some great changes in the song and some really cool guitar parts.  It might be called “Do It Over.”

And that was it.  Was it as good as being at a live show?  Not really.  But it was still petty great seeing them play live and have a good time.

My Only Ghost [¥]
Nighttime Girls [single]
Fat Kiddo [¶]
Sidecar [¥]
Hey Jo [¥]
If Before I Wake [¶]
And the Horses All Go Swimming [¥]
4th of July [¥]
Salt [¶]
Cheap Regrets [¥]
Do It Over [new]

¥ = You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020)
¶ Popular Manipulations (2017)

[READ: September 24, 2020] Light Ahead for the Negro (an excerpt)

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that this is an early example of Afrofuturism and of utopianism.  It follows in the tradition of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward in imagining a future society that has changed for the better due to a vastly different political climate.  As with most such vision, Johnson’s world manages to be both too optimistic and too pessimistic.

In his 2006, news outlets no longer produce racist content, yet there are only 11,000 Bloack doctors…. The main characters’ conversations about “now and then” are in reality, a survey of cutting edge political thought on issues of major concern to Black citizens of 1904: voting disenfranchisement, lynchings, reconstruction, employment, poverty, education and more.

Johnson was a practicing attorney when he wrote this and he later became the first African American to be elected to the New York State legislature in 1917.

The book opens in 1906 with the narrator flying in a dirigible to the South.  He is planing to help the Negroes in the South adjust to their new citizenship.  But the dirigible hits bad weather and he is lifted up into the atmosphere only to come back to earth in the year 2006.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRANDY CLARK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #85 (September 23, 2020).

Brandy Clark is just too country for me.  I do like her lyrical content, but there’s just too much twang in her voice.

The amazing thing in this video is the view from her apartment.  The day doesn’t look very clear, but the view is still lovely. Who knew Nashville looked like that?

If you’re going to be stuck at home during a pandemic, it helps to have an awe-inspiring living room view. Stellar singer-songwriter Brandy Clark highlights hers in this charmingly casual set recorded in her loft-like Nashville apartment. The city’s verdant hills roll out behind her as Clark plays these four songs.

“Bigger Boat” is a standard slow country song with the rhythm provided by Vanessa McGowan on upright bass.

The song addresses serious issues

The floods down south, the fires out west
You turn on the news, scares you to death
Give me that hammer, somebody hold my coat
Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger boat

But in an winking, funny way

We’re springing a leak, we’re coming apart
We’re on the Titanic, but we think it’s the ark
Sharks in the water got me thinking ’bout a movie quote
Yeah, we’re gonna need (we’re gonna need)
A bigger boat (a bigger boat)

I like the way Kaitlyn Raitz’ cello is the lead instrument.

“Can We Be Strangers” feels like a classic old country ballad with a clever country lyrical twist

We struck out as lovers
We struck out as friends
Is it too much to ask
Can we be strangers Again?

There’s some very nice harmonies here from Vanessa and Cy Winstanley (whom she just met today) who plays a simple solo at the end of the song.

She says that she was only going to do songs from the new record but “I can’t think of a show in the last six years that I haven’t done this song.”  She says “Hold My Hand” is her absolute favorite.

“I keep saying thank you, because we’re used to playing live, it’s kind of weird,” she says after a particularly poignant rendition of her fan-favorite “Hold My Hand.” “I hope everybody’s clapping in their living room.”

She has a poignant but amusing introduction to the last song, “Who You Thought I Was”

She was at Americana awards and John Prine came out to introduce Iris Dement and there as lengthy ovation for him. He said “Well, I’m John Prine, but I’d like to go back to who you thought I was.”

She wrote that down as she imagined every songwriter did that night and she went the next day and wrote the song first.

I don’t really care for the very Nashville verses, but I do like the chorus:

There’s a lot of things I used to wanna be ’til I met you
Now I wanna be honest
Now I wanna be better
Now I wanna be the me
I should’ve been when we were together
I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love
I want to be who
You thought I was

She’s a singer with great lyrics who I will never listen to because of the kind of music she makes.

[READ: September 23, 2020] “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  Get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

This story is from Mark Twain. He wrote it in 1898 and it is set in1904.

“Printed” on April 1, 1904, this correspondence from the ‘London Times,’ Chicago was written by the reporter Mark Twain.

He writes to keep us updated about the extraordinary event that has the whole globe talking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDISEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #83 (September 22, 2020).

I feel like I just watched (and enjoyed) Oddissee’s Tiny Desk Concert recently, but apparently it was back in 2015.

In 2015, Oddisee visited the Tiny Desk with a drummer and a keyboardist. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he assembled his full band, Good Company, for the first time since the global pandemic cancelled their tour last spring. They rehearsed the day before this capture at Assorted Studios in York, Penn., the midway point between the members’ hometowns of Philadelphia, New York City and Washington D.C. They picked this facility because it felt more like a living room than a studio. And to make it feel as cozy as possible, they brought memorabilia from their own homes. Bass player Dennis Turner brought family photos, Ralph Real (on the Fender Rhodes) brought his son’s toy drum set, and Oddisee brought tribal statues from Sudan.

Oddisee has eleven albums out (!), but all of the songs here come from his new EP Odd Cure which was

“a record I didn’t want to write but needed to,” Oddisee said in July. He wrote it in eight weeks, between March and May, while in self-isolation. He had just returned from a performance in Thailand and wanted to protect his family. Oddisee says these songs were inspired by the deluge of news, social media, misinformation and conspiracy theories generated during the first weeks of the pandemic. Relevant and inspiring, his music and its message addresses the uncertainty and anxiety we all live with today.

“The Cure” has some great funky bass from Dennis Turner and some excellent twinkling on the Rhodes keyboard from Ralph Real.  Before the verses start, drummer Jon Laine gets the drums to make a really neat sound and then plays a wonderfully complex rhythm–complete with rim shots.  Oddisee raps speedily and clearly.  Half way through the song a little window opens up and Olivier St. Louis (all the way from Berlin) plays some cool guitar soloing.  But the star of this song is definitely Turner, with some amazing bass work throughout the song.  The song also has a really funky chorus.

“Shoot Your Shot” is full of slow thumping before the funkiness starts.  An integral part of the band is DJ Unown playing the MPC.  I really don’t know exactly what sounds he’s making, but I can see him playing all throughout the songs and I’m sure the music would lose something without him.  The middle takes off with another wicked solo from St. Louis.

“I Thought You Were Fate” is a slower song that opens with guitar from Sainte Ezekiel.  This song has a slower r&b crooning chorus.  But I love the way it speeds up after the  chorus and shifts the song into higher gear.  Ezekiel get a jazzy solo mid song.

“Still Strange” shifts the tempo much slower and features a lead vocal (via Oddisee’s phone) of Priya Ragu.  Sainte Ezekiel plays some beautiful understated guitar throughout.

“Go To Mars” returns the funk and Oddisee raps in a very cool style of short, abrupt lines.   It’s got a really fun chorus of longing: “I wanna go to Mars; live among the stars ; be the one who got away from it all.”

There very little social distancing here–Oddisee even has the guys scooch over (although I think Turner is wearing a mask).

[READ: September 24, 2020] Introduction

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

I don’t know anything about Rebecca Romney, but I love her introduction to this collection and I want to look into her work a little more. (more…)

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