Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-Tiny Desk Concert #964 (March 30, 2020).

What’s worse?  Liking someone’s personality and disliking their music or liking their music and thinking they are a bad person?

In this Tiny Desk Concert, I learned that Allen Stone is a super nice guy, sweet and funny.  But boy do I dislike his music–and his singing voice.

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

His three graceful background singers L-r: Moorea Masa, Jessica Childress, Raquel Rodriguez) and piano player ( Michael Elson) provided the perfect compliment, but this set proved undoubtedly that his voice belongs right up front.

And yet, lyrically, “American Privilege,” which addresses his internal guilt about everything from materialism to being born white, is really powerful.

Between songs he is a delightful sweetheart.  He says that playing Tiny Desk is a, “breath of fresh air that this is how people want to hear music.  It’s not pyrotechnics, its stripped down songs in their purity.”

After this song he played

a trilogy of Building Balance songs dedicated to his wife (who he said he’s “face first in love” with)

He says he got married a year and a half ago.  And he is still married, which is great.

“Give You Blue” (I don’t quite understand the metaphor) is played on an acoustic guitar with gentle piano and the backing singers providing a lot of the backing sounds.

He says say that being so in love has meant that he got a lot of great tunes out of it.  Although “Brown Eyed Lover” seems a questionable title given the Van Morrison classic.  Plus, it seems odd to dedicate a song to your wife that goes, “I’ve got a brown-eyed lover on the other side of town.”

I acknowledge that Stone has a strong, powerful voice–his vibrato is impressive.  I just don’t care for it.

But again, he is so nice between songs.  He says playing a big room is fun and so much energy but with ear monitors in your head you feel isolated.  However, the best part of music is the people and this is so much fun for musicians.

He wrote “Consider Me” before he asked his wife to marry him.  It’s a sweet song, but I’m surprised that a sweet, romantic song has this verse

If you’re looking for somebody who
Will put up with your shit

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 5

Book 5, the army is more intent than ever on finding Hilo. But because he is a child (and not from here) they can’t find any matches in any database.

It will also be hard to find Hilo because he has returned to his home planet Jannus (along with DJ who put on Hilo’s suit and ran through the portal at the least second).

Their absence means that Izzy needs to create replicas of the two of them.  Which she does easily, although the first attempts are way too smart (hilariously so).

Meanwhile Gina has been practicing her magic and accidentally opens a a portal to let two giant dogs in the room.  And they are not friendly dogs. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK CROWES-Tiny Desk Concert #963 (March 23, 2020).

I didn’t really like The Black Crowes when they dominated the airwaves in the 90s.  They weren’t really my cup of tea.  In hindsight I like them more.  Although I am very puzzled that the Robinsons are part of the jam band scene as their music seems a little too straightforward for jamming.  But then I haven’t heard any of his jam stuff.

This show is just the two Robinsons, Chris singing and Rich playing some beautiful acoustic guitar –lovely riffs and fills and harmonics.  (Rich’s beard looks better).

It’s somehow been 30 years since the singles “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” (their Otis Redding cover) received constant radio play, and the brothers have reunited for the 30th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut platinum album, Shake Your Money Maker.

The newly reunited Brothers Of A Feather decided to open their Tiny Desk concert with “She Talks To Angels.”

This song is stripped down so much, that its sounds really quite different (I like the acoustic playing more than the original).  But I guess it is more of a jam band song since it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes.

The second song is another big hit in a very different format.  Although I feel like “Jealous Again” doesn’t quite work as well as an acoustic song.

It’s no secret that the brothers haven’t always gotten along, and Chris and Rich Robinson have had musical successes outside their collaboration as The Black Crowes. But the combination of Chris’ instantly recognizable raspy belt and Rich’s catchy guitar riffs was always going to be the duo’s legacy.

Chris’ voice does sound recognizable, although perhaps a little worse for wear.

“Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica) is about constantly being in motion.  Rich plays a beautiful 12 string guitar (it sounds so full!)  They both sing in harmony for much of the song and their voices sound wonderful together.

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 4

In Book 4 we get to see just how awesome Hilo’s sister Izzy is.  Hilo is from another world and Izzy is his “sister.”  He rescued her at the end of Book 3 an now that she’s on Earth, she is just the cutest thing.  They are on earth hanging out with DJ and his best friend Gina.

Izzy makes things from parts and scraps and she is constantly making things (and hilariously, nonchalantly mentioning what they do).

The first thing Izzy makes is a chicken out of the broken toaster.  The chicken speaks Portuguese (what else is she going to speak?) and when she gets mad, her butt falls off.  The chicken shouts estar frio aqui alguem me dar um casaco and indeed it does fall off.

In the last book they went to Oshun, the planet of Polly the warrior cat.  Gina learned magic there and she is learning to control it. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ARTHUR MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #962 (March 20, 2020).

Arthur Moon is exactly the kind of weirdo band that I never would have heard of if not for Tiny Desk Concerts. I’m so happy that Bob Boilen enjoys the offbeat, because there’s no other way I would have heard of these guys.

This band, the project of singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud has the quirky freshness I first heard from New York artists such as Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and more recently with Dirty Projectors. It comes off in the starkness of the sound, a spaciousness that leaves room for me to hear the storytelling in the songs, but always surprising me with aural delights.

They play three songs (here’s another Tiny Desk I wish was twice as long).

All three songs in this performance come from their brilliant self-titled 2019 album, an album too many missed, in my opinion. And this band pulls off these odd, unpredictable twists and turns with simplicity and charm.

The first song, “Homornormo” starts with an lopsided five-note acoustic guitar riff from Martin D. Fowler and hugely processed vocals Lora-Faye Åshuvud (I guess it’s a vocoder).  There’s backing vocals and hocketing from keyboardist Cale Hawkins and Aviva Jaye (who is credited with “toys” and vocals).  There’s a guitar solo form Åshuvud which is as weird and abstract as the rest of the song.  The only thing vaguely conventional about the song are the drums from Dave Palazola because the rhythm has to be consistent when every thing else is chaotic.  But even his sounds are oddball, like the reverse snare drum sound he plays at the end.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

The opening song at the Desk, “Homonormo,” begins with a kiss-off to the very city that birthed their sound, and a search for something normal, yet twisted.

“Hello
Send my kindest regards to New York
I’m gone, woo
I think I want to settle down
But weirder”

Even the end of the song is unconventional.  It ends with a series of claps: 4, 5, 6 and then a few random numbers that they all know perfectly.  It’s like getting people to clap for you.

“Reverse Conversion Therapy” opens with the mini Mellotron from  Cale Hawkins, who was last at the Tiny Desk with Raveena.  This song is slower, with Moog bass sounds from Fowler.  When the chorus kicks in the guitars launch out like a St. Vincent song, but it quickly settles back down.  The middle turns down nearly all the music as Ashuvud sings while others provide ooohs for backing vocals.  It ends with some awesome hocketing from all three vocalists.

There’s anxiety in these songs, even when the chorus is “I Feel Better,” but there’s a creative spirit in this anxiety, and then, of course too, there’s the tin foil.

“I Feel Better” opens with drums and a sprinkling of sounds as she sings.  Then comes the chanted chorus of “I feel better” that everyone sings. Aviva Jaye (who brought a table of toys) gets a brief lead vocal line before everyone else joins in again.

The song ends with a pretty piano solo and Åshuvud pulling out a roll of aluminium foil )I only wish I could see what she was doing with it).

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 3

At the end of book two, Gina was sucked into a portal and DJ and Hilo were surrounded by army tanks.  How would they ever get out of this?  In the most hilarious way ever (by acting like the little kids they appear to be).  I love that there is a recurring joke that dogs love Hilo and even they get in on the act.

Hilo takes advantage of being in the military base to hack into the computer system to learn about possible portals that he can open to get Gina back.  They were also given an orb by Polly which causes everyone on earth to forget the last two days–an outstandingly easy way to get everyone to forget everything. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: REX ORANGE COUNTY-Tiny Desk Concert #961 (March 18, 2020).

I read about Rex Orange County (the low-key British pop star born Alex O’Connor) in some random article which basically said if you’re over twenty you’ve never heard of him, but if you’re under twenty, you think he’s the greatest thing ever. (My 14 year old son had not heard of him).

I didn’t read anything about his music, but I assumed he was a hip hop performer or the like.

So imagine my surprise when he turned out to be an English dude who sings like Stevie Wonder and (in the Tiny Desk at least) has music that sounds like it comes straight from the 70s.

“Loving Is Easy” features Michael Underwood on flute and Johnny Woodham on flugehorn sounding for all the world like a mid 70s AM hit.  Is he really popular with the young kids?

There was a palpable connection between the 21-year-old singer and [the crowd of millennial and Gen Z staffers that gathered early for Rex’s soundcheck]  that I don’t see often at this stage in a musician’s career. My guess is that they see themselves in him: introverted and shy, with the audacity to write and sing about his innermost thoughts.

I really feel like this blurb is overselling his openness.  I mean, most singer-songwriters bare their souls, so I’m not sure what makes him any different.  But the blurb really pushes his honesty

We’re in an age where young people are uninhibited and unafraid to address emotions, simple or complex. In that sense, his latest LP, Pony, is timely. He spoke with NPR and shared that he was incredibly unhealthy mentally throughout the making of the album. But there’s an arch to Pony and by the time we get to the final song, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” he seems at peace with his new reality.

But what’s so intense about these lyrics?

Loving is easy
You had me fucked up
It used to be so hard to see
Yeah, loving is easy
When everything’s perfect
Please don’t change a single little thing for me

I mean, not much, so let’s not get carried away about how revolutionary he is.

I was instantly surprised by how white his band seems.  The band is dressed all in white and they are a remarkably pale bunch.  Drummer Jim Reed has the bright red cheeks of the overheated.  And Michael, Johnny and lead guitarist Joe Arksey are all blond and very pale.

Between songs, he seems like he has never been in front of an audience before with the awkward way he introduces these songs.

Up next is “Pluto Projector” in which Rex switches to guitar and  Underwood switches to piano.  There’s a moment in the middle when bassist Darryl Dodoo plays a slap note.  It’s really the only notable bass in the show.  Woodham plays a muted trumpet solo which is followed by a guitar solo from Joe Arksey that I was sure was bass, but it’s just a weirdly muffled guitar sound.

For “Always” Rex moves back to piano and he sounds even more like Stevie Wonder.  This song features sax and a non-muted trumpet.  There’s some great horn melodies in this song and I like the way he plays some piano parts in the middle.

There’s this awkward introduction.  Okay I only have one more now, and then I’m gonna go…  Let’s play the song that’s called “Sunflower” now.

“Sunflower” is “older,” meaning it dates all the way back to 2017.  He’s back on guitar with a nice echo.  The beginning of the song is guitar and flugelhorn.  Then in the middle, the song picks up the tempo and becomes the catchiest thing all show.  I’m not that keen on the rhyming/talking middle part–it seems oddly forced, but that’s okay.  There’s a jamming section at the end with a flugehorn solo followed by a sax solo

Rex did not blow me away, but I was pleasantly surprised by his sound and that kids actually like it..

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper Book 3

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part three, the final part, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home to save Sunrise Valley.

This third part is a lot of travel, very little dialogue and, honestly some fairly confusing action.

Pig has been given a plant by the moles and he hopes to use it to find the smoke monster.  Fox and Hippo say the heck with that and choose to head home.

Fox and Hippo are on Van’s ship.  They are brought inside to meet Van’s children.  The room is full of dozens of children of all different species.  As hippo puts it:

Erm.. these are your kids?  But they don’t look like you or Van how is this possible?

Van;s wife says that all of the children were abandoned for being different so Van took them in. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #960 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKJENNY LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #950 (February 24, 2020).

I was lucky enough to see Jenny Lewis open for Death Cab for Cutie.  I really enjoyed her set and how much fun they all seemed to be having.  Although I guess my version of her show paled in comparison to her headlining show:

Having seen Jenny Lewis’ recent concert spectacle, with its Las Vegas sparkle — complete with a multi-level stage — I loved the contrast her Tiny Desk Concert provided.

There was certainly spectacle, but maybe it was the venue (darker than it should have been) that made it less Las Vegas and more Atlantic City.  But either way, it’s obvious that this Tiny Desk is very different from that set.

Jenny arrived at NPR with just her acoustic guitar and bandmates Emily Elbert, who sang and played guitar, and Anna Butterss on upright bass and vocals. Stripped of all the glitz, it was the words that found their way to my heart. A consummate storyteller, going as far back to her days with her band Rilo Kiley, Jenny’s words have comforted and inspired so many.

She sings two of her three Tiny Desk songs from her fourth solo record, On the Line. These are tough breakup songs, though she redirects all the pain into thoughtful fun.

Jenny plays guitar on “Rabbit Hole” and that upright bass adds some great low notes to Jenny’s high vocals.

She even turned “Rabbit Hole” into an NPR sing-along

The crowd very willingly sings along–except for one person who looks defiantly at the camera instead.

For “Do Si Do” Jenny puts down her guitar and picks up a tambourine.  The low bass notes that start the song are almost shockingly loud and rumbling.  There’s a few very high backing vocals in the song which are all provided by Emily Elbert (I especially like the Ooh ooh ooh and wonder if she does them on record as well).

The blurb also includes this line

and [she] gave us all a Hot Pockets surprise. You’ll have to watch for that one.

That comes when she messes up “Just One Of The Guys.” (or J-O-O–T-G).  I’ve thought that that song sounded really familiar, but never in the way she suggests.

They (thankfully) start the song from the top.  It’s my favorite song of hers and I’m glad to get it all the way through.

The original of this song is super catchy and this quieter version (no electric guitar melodies mid-song) is just as catchy.  Elbert also does a nifty solo (very high up the neck) on the acoustic guitar.

This is another wonderful Tiny Desk Concert that once again I am going to complain is waaay too short.  One of these days, artists I’ve heard of will get more than fifteen minutes.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Investigators

I have loved everything that John Patrick Green has done–Hippopotamister, Kitten Construction Company and now Investigators.  His humor is excellent and his artwork is so clean and enjoyable.

The premise of this book is pretty much based upon the fact that Gators is the last sound in Investigators.  What I mean is that this book is chock full of word play–some of it clever, some of it really dumb and all of it very very funny.

Mango and Brash are the top agents and they are on the case (Brash: “Hey get offa my case!” while Mango stands on Brash’s suitcase).  The case contains a mustache and chef hats.  Turns out that chef Gustavo Mustachio is missing.  Gustavo is the guy on all the pizza boxes and is the chef behind some of the best cupcakes.

There’s a giant creature who has taken him and is demanding that Gustavo cook something perfect. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: SUNNY WAR-Tiny Desk Concert #910 (November 13, 2019).

Sunny War says twice that she’s not going to talk.  She saves all of her words for her songs.

Her voice is soft and gentle, but her words are strong.

The first song “If It Wasn’t Broken” features the chorus “how would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?”

Further lyrics in this slow and simple song:

so you lost your baby
so you lost your job
so you lost all faith
in the one you call god.

Dang.

These are words from a young woman who has been homeless, busked on city streets and Venice Beach, left home feeling she was a burden to her distraught mother, had her life complicated by drugs, and yet still found a way to pick up a guitar and bring joy to others.

Her songs aren’t complicated, but they feature some really excellent fingerpicking.  “Got No Ride” has a lot of beautiful interludes (including one part where she is fingerpicking and bending a string at the same time).

Sunny War began learning guitar from her uncle at around the age of seven. One of the early songs she learned was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” an almost prophetic tune with the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” But it was the fingerpicking that was the attraction for Sunny War. She loved playing guitar that way as opposed to strumming and, as you watch this Tiny Desk, you’ll see what a fluid and remarkable guitar player she’s become.

The song also features some extra bass lines from Aroyn Davis (The first song didn’t really have noticeable bass).

“Love Became Pain” is a lot faster, with some really impressive guitar work.  Clearly from the title, though, this isn’t a happy song either.  I like the shuffle drums that Paul Allen gets using brushes on the cajón.

The final song, “Shell” opens with the lines:

“Before you rip your girl to shreds / Be sure you really want her dead.”

With such a pretty melody, too!

Much like her name, Sunny War’s music is a wonder of contradictions.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 4

This book concludes the Rust saga.

Like the first book, there are a ton of pages with no dialogue.  This story is wonderfully told with just visuals.  And Lepp’s visuals are really amazing–what he accomplishes with such  limited color palette is really impressive.

The book starts with a flashback to the war 48 years ago.  It’s been awhile since I read the first book but I feel like this intro pages are exactly the same.  We see Jet Jones rescue a man by creating a large shield.  I’m not sure if there;s some more significance.  I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to know who the man is.

But the story quickly jumps back to the Taylor’s farm.  The really menacing robots are closing in.  Oz has a shotgun in ready.  And the engineer is carrying Jet Jones’ limp body away with him.

The robots arrive (why does it amuse me that they open the door) and Oz shoots, which awakens the family.

A terrible battle commences in the house with all of the people getting hurt, but with all of them doing a good job of harming the robots.  Jet comes in at the last second and smashes up some of the robots.  In the process reveals his mechanical arm.  The family is shocked, except for Oz.  Roman is furious that Jet lied. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN SCALES FOURCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #943 (February 7, 2020).

I assumed that by this name, that this band would be contemporary classical.  I didn’t really consider that they would be jazzy (or that there would be three of them).  I certainly didn’t expect to hear steel drums!

Here’s a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It’s true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales’ virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

The first song “Focus Poem” opens with spectacular bass from E’Lon JD and complicated drums from Maison Guidry.  Then the huge surprise comes when Scales plays the steel pan drums.

Scales’ musical hero, Béla Fleck, happened to be performing in the Washington, D.C. area on the same day as this performance, with just enough time to stop in for one song,”Focus Poem.” It’s a cut Fleck originally played banjo on for the band’s 2018 album Pillar. While the tune is a regular on the trio’s setlist, this performance marks the first time they’ve played it live with Fleck. Scales later revealed that it was a little risky to open with such a technically complicated piece, but the execution was still superb.

Fleck is, of course, fantastic too and he plays a fantastic solo at the end.

So it’s like jazz but with banjo and steel pans.

I assumed that the band was fairly new but

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra has been performing for 13 years, now, redefining the steelpans as a signature jazz instrument. The first iteration of the band was a trio-plus-guitar, hence the “four” in the name. But when drummer Maison Guidry and bassist E’Lon JD joined Scales later, it was clear the trio’s sound was complete. JD grounds the music with powerful bass lines, combined with guitar-like melodic and harmonic embellishments.

The other two songs in this set are also from Pillar. While it’s not his most recent album, Scales calls it his most potent work to date, a quintessential representation of his music.

Introducing “We Came Through The Storm,” he says he’s always wanted to compose for cinema, so for this song he pretended he was writing music for a movie.  There’s a repeating four-beat rhythm (with complex drumming on top, of course) and great lead steel pans and wild bass.

With its heavy arrangement, is one of their most popular tunes, partly because of the dazzling drum riffs Guidry nails with playful proficiency.

The final song they play is “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child” is a lullaby to your inner child.  We have an outer shell he calls the Fake Buddha which says “we can handle this, I’m cool.”  Meanwhile, the inner child is exposed, full of anxiety and depression.  He considers this song to be a “Lullaby to the inner spirit.”  It’s a quieter song with high notes on the bass and a lot of cymbals.

It’s a great quiet ending to a wild set.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 3

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book two our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were unable to light the second beacon.  It turns out they have to be lit in a certain order and so they are off to Moon Yatta and the red beacon.

The opening of book 3 is a flashback to what happened to Jax when the escape pod crashed at the beginning of book two.  He was rescued by the Salassi Devoti and one of them put its spirit inside of Jax.  They never thought it would be possible to put a spirit in an android but Uncle Jep had left a space inside of Jax–a space that is perfect for this creature to infuse Jax with life.  Noe Jax is more than he was before.

An Tzu is very excited to go to Moon Yatta because it is the land of the free where they elect their leaders, where hopes and dreams come true.   The citizens hate to break it to him but things are not perfect there–the mimic is there, too.

When they arrive the beautiful lush moon (from An Tzu’s postcard) is now desert wasteland.  It turns out that Stan Moon bought all of the crops.  All water has been diverted to irrigate the Stan Moon fields. Stan Moon also bought the Mon Domani lands which is why Sao Sablo is a slum and why An Tzu’s life has been miserable.

The Red Beacon is in the center of Moon Yatta under a maze of tubes and tunnels.  The beacon is powering everything on the moon. How will they ever get to the beacon through the maze?  An Tzu says an old joke: “The best way to get there is to not start from here.”  Nobody gets it.

When they land on the moon, Oona is a celebrity–the beacon lighter–and they are preparing to introduce them to the Head Citizen.

Felizia is the Head Citizen and she is charming and delightful.  She has a feast for them which makes An Tzu pretty excited.  But she admits that the feast would be even more special if the shapeshifters were allowed to do their transforming dances.  The transforming dances are now illegal–they must wear collars that prevent them from changing shape.  Those who refuse are sent to the ruby desert.

When Oona says she wants to light the red beacon Felizia says, its an election season, they cant go changing things right now.

Felizia’s second in command Brightley whispers that Oona should talk to Eldridge and Derrick Stoak, heads of Nanotex Corporation–they have a bit more sway with the beacons.

The next morning the first order of businesses is getting An Tzu’s disappearing disease looked at.  They find the best doctor in the city and she insists on a large payment before even looking at him.  Moon Yatta is not the land of dreams that An Tzu imagined.

Oona has a similar problem with Derrick Stoak.  He wants to know what she will do for him if he lets her light the beacon–he is a businessman not an idealist.  What he wants most is for Jax A,boy to return to the Starball field–playing for Stoak’s Leaterheads team, of course.  Oon says she will ask Jax but she doesn’t think he’ll agree (and hopes he doesn’t).

An Tzu has started having vision. He comes out of one and believes that Stan Moon is the mimic.

Even Derrick Stoak is concerned is about Stan Moon, but his brother Eldridge thinks that Stan Moon is a great fit for Nanotex.

In order to assist Oona, Jax agrees to play one special Starball game.  But when Jax asks about the beacon, Derrick says too bad.  So Jax refuses to play but Derrick seems to know how to override and control Jax.  Dax still has that spirit in him but Derrick believes his doctors can reset Jax to his original Starball playing self.

Meanwhile, Oona, An Tzu an Ram Sam Sam are in the red maze looking for a way to the beacon and also looking for Etta Zelle, a Yattan Sand Master and shapeshifter.  While they are looking around they meet some street urchins. The urchins recognize Oona as the person who lit the beacons.  Thet tell her that they are rebels although they are all wearing the form-lock collars to prevent them from shapeshifting.

When they try to blast through the maze, they are arrested and sent out to the dessert.  Although it turns out Brightley had them sent to the desert rather than prison so that they could meet Zelle.  Oona confesses to a man there that she needs to find Zelle.  She also weeps a bit that she was in the red maze and couldn’t even summon the fire needed to light the beacon.  The stranger says “perhaps you were too busy–carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”  Then the man transforms into Etta Zelle.

Etta Zelle is great, comforting and instructive.  She also confirms that Stan Moon is the Mimic, but even if they kill Stan Moon, the mimic will live on.

Then Etta Zelle shows Oona how to make a portal (it’s pretty amazing).  Oona can’t actually control the portal yet–to rather amusing results.

Back at Nanotex headquarters, the board are talking about the situation on Moon Yatta and Eldridge reveals that they are basically going to be rigging the election in favor of Stan Moon.  The leaders are outraged and don’t want to undermine Yattan democracy.  Mr Tarney says he quits, but as he does so, Stan shapeshifts into a fearsome creature to frighten Mr Tarney into going along with them.   The only one having any misgivings now is Derrick, but he keeps his mouth shut.

Part of the propaganda for Stan Moon comes in the form of Peet Bowl a fat , sweating outraged TV person–this character is so clearly any one of a number of Fox news anchors–hysterical, unhinged and strangely persuasive.    He shouts things like

Our very way of life, our own Yattan way is under siege.

If only he said they would make Yatta great again.

Meanwhile the police track Oona and her crew to he desert  They storm in with the intent on grabbing them all but Etta Zelle and Oona make portals and everyone escapes except Zelle.

Although Derrick is upset about what happened, he still wants to ensure that Jax Amboy is back on board with him.  Soon we see Jax in a commercial urging criminals and rebels to quit and to turn in the beacon lighter.  But before Oona and An Tzu can get too upset, the person who actually reprogrammed Jax finds An Tzu and says that he an be deprogrammed if he says “Do it for Laaniel.”   And so, during the important Starball game, when Jax collapses, An Tzu is able to shout those magic words to him.

As the book comes to an end we see that Stan Moon and Eldridge have created an army of Jax Amboy look-alikes.

When Stan Moon walks away, Derrick asks Eldridge to try out the cryotech pod.  Which he closes up and sends off to the Y-26 System.

He then apologizes to Jax Amboy and sets a bomb amid all the fake Jaxes.

Oona, An Tzu, JAx and Ram Sam Sam are reunited, but before they celebration the election results are in and Stan Moon has won

And this surely has to do with the 2016 election

An Tzu looks at the screen on Stan Moon talking and shouts “Liar! It’s the Mimic!  They elected the Mimic!”  And Oona says “Most wont believe it. Some won’t even care.”

The security forces close in on Oona and her group but she uses some advice that An Tzu gave her earlier to get to the beacon.

The book end with An Tzu’s eyes glowing in a strange way and when they they ask him what he sees, he says Home!

Continued in the next book!

The illustration style continues to be excellent and very trippy–soft and delicate with fine lines and gentle coloring. It looks very anime and yet it’s not.  It’s hard to know which artist’s style dominates.  I feel like Boya Sun, but they all have a similar aesthetic.  I really like the character design as well.  I found it very refreshing that none of the characters look like superheroes (well except for Jax the athlete).  Oona is a short girl who has wide hips and thighs and An Tzu is a chubby boy.  Even the other creatures are all interesting and uniquely designed.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: ANOTHER SKY-Tiny Desk Concert #942 (February 5, 2020).

I have watched this video many times because I love everything about this band.  I love the unexpectedly intricate guitar, the adventurous bass and complex rhythms, and I love singer Catrin Vincent’s voice.

Drummer Max Doohan open “Brave Face” with really fast hi-hats.  Some very high bass notes (from Naomi Le Dune) and a smooth, slinky guitar (Jack Gilbert) makes the melody as Katrin sings in her unique, deep and clearly accented voice.

After a verse or so, Katrin plays a piano chord while the guitar opens a clean catchy melody.  The  song stops musically for a moment before it kicks back in with some rocking guitars and fast drums.  Despite the rhythmic changes, all the while her vocal style remains unchanged–a great contrast.

There’s so much dynamism in this song.  It builds and builds to a dramatic ending.

There’s intensity and clear intention to the music of Another Sky. I knew that from having seen this London band perform at SXSW. But in the confines of an office, hearing Catrin Vincent’s unique voice, raw and un-amplified, brought it to another level. They came to NPR back in December to perform, opening their Tiny Desk set with a new song, released just this week. “Brave Face” is a window into the uncompromising sound and message of Another Sky, as Catrin sings in her impassioned voice:

“You must put yourself first
believe you will be loved
only you can demand all you deserve
You put on your brave face, now girl.”

This isn’t a message that is easy to punctuate with music, but matching message with music is the strength of Another Sky. You can hear it in the way Jack Gilbert weaves his guitar lines around the haunting vocals, the way the rhythm section sets up a tension with the melody.

“Avalanche” “another song that deals with toxic masculinity, there’s such ferocity, such commitment to the message.”   It opens with guitar harmonics and Katrin singing along on a slow piano melody.  A complex bass line adds some lower notes to the song which teases quiet moments before getting loud again with a nifty guitar solo.  The song once again gets huge before the music cuts out for just some piano and voice.

Before the final song,

Catrin brought some levity in the form of thanks. “I used to work in an infamous thrift shop in London,” she said, “that paid me to sit and watch NPR Tiny Desks on loop, and I used to think, ‘Oh we’ll never get here,’ and we did, so thank you.”

“All Ends” opens with a quiet introduction and more great guitar work.  Once again I love the bass work–chords played at the high end of the neck, along with ringing guitars and Katrin’s voice.

This band is so interesting, I can’t wait to hear more from them.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 2

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book one our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were able to light the first beacon.  Lighting the beacon made it rain on Mon Domani for the first time in years.

This book opens with a flashback.  In book one we knew of Oona’s sister, and how she fled just before it was her time to light the beacons.  By the end of the book we saw that she was actively trying to prevent Oona from lighting the beacon.

Master Elon pulls aside a young Jessa Lee and tells her about the Mimic–he is not a legend, he is real and a real threat.  He tells her that the Cobalt Prince wants to destroy the Mimic and only a great sand dancer (and Jessa is the best) can defeat the Mimic.  But just before the lighting is to commence, Elon tells her the true consequence of lighting the beacons (which we don’t hear). (more…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »