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Archive for the ‘College’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #936 (January 22, 2020).

Max Richter is a composer and pianist.  His music is emotional and even more so when you know what has inspired it.

The first piece “On The Nature Of Daylight” was written as a response to the 2003 Iraq War.

In Daylight, which has been effectively used in movies such as Arrival and Shutter Island, a simple theme rolls out slowly in the low strings until a violin enters with a complimentary melody in a higher register. Richter, at the keyboard, adds a subterranean bass line for added gravitas, while high above another violin soars sweetly, mournfully. With all elements interlocked – and sensitively played by members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble [Clarice Jensen: cello & artistic director; Ben Russell, violin; Laura Lutzke, violin; Isabel Hagen, viola; Claire Bryant, cello] – the piece gently sways, building in intensity. It all adds up to a six-minute emotional journey that, if you open yourself to the sounds, can leave you wrung out.

The music reminds me of the kind of repeating motifs you might hear in someone like Michael Nyman.

In between the two emotional string-filled pieces, he plays a solo piano piece called “Vladimir’s Blues.”

Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.

The final piece, “Infra 5” is a ballet that he composed as

a meditation on the 2005 terrorist subway bombings in London… he counters violence with calming, thoughtful music.

This piece is much like the first in that it is beautiful and repetitive and thought-provoking.  This one is interesting because Richter does not play on it.  He just stands there and listens, no doubt deep in thought.

Richter is a truly amazing contemporary composer and his music is just wonderful.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Early Registration

I found out recently that there is an end to Giant Days. In fact I believe it has already ended, but there are still three or so collections left to come out.

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early issues and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.

Early Registration is a collection of the first self-published comics that John Allison made of our heroes Daisy, Esther and Susan.  This book is drawn by him (in the style that I initially preferred although I have now come to love Max Sarin so much that these pictures look weird).

This book begins with Esther’s parents sending her off to college (I didn’t realize until recently that Esther de Groot was in Allison’s previous comic Scary Go Round and that this is a spin off of sorts.  I don’t know that comic but am sure looking forward to reading it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOLA-Tiny Desk Concert #934 (January 17, 2020).

Yola was just nominated for a Grammy for best new artist.  And it does seem like she just came out of nowhere.  But she has been making music for a least a decade (with the band Phantom Limb) and was singing backing vocals for bands like Massive Attack before that.  She finally went on her own a few years ago and then released her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album last year.

This Tiny Desk features Yola singing three songs from that debut album and wow, what a voice she has.

With her bouncy Afro and a big smile, Yola’s presence behind the Tiny Desk was commanding, her energy captivating and, oh, that voice!

I had the exact same reaction as Bob Boilen:

I assumed her background was as a southern gospel singer, until she spoke. Her British accent was a shocker.

She’s very funny between songs as she chugs water and then jokes how she puts it here and it comes out here (on her forehead).

Yola’s affection for American music, from Dolly Parton to Aretha Franklin, is at the center of her character and expression. It’s likely one of the reasons she chose to write and record her debut album, Walk Through Fire, at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, and why it was such a perfect fit for her.

The second song, “”I Don’t Wanna Lie” is a “newie” and it is my favorite song of hers.  I absolutely love the chorus–so catchy and powerful.  It’s a shame it’s only on the deluxe version of her album.  Instead of piano, the keys are a great organ sound and the main riff on bass (from Taylor Zachry) and the great guitar licks (from Andy Stack) make this song a great soulful rocker.

For the last song, “It Ain’t Easier,” she picks up the acoustic guitar and is accompanied by slow guitar lines and that cool organ sound.  Drummer Jamie Dick is using brushes to emphasize the gentleness of this song.

I’m not sure what it takes to get someone to go from backing and guest vocalist to making a way for herself.

Now this singer from Bristol, who once sang for Massive Attack, and sampled by Iggy Azalea and The Chemical Brothers, is front-and-center.

But it was a great decision.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Vol. 8

In this book, friendships are fractured and the future of our trip is in doubt!

As Chapter 29 opens we see Esther looking fabulously academic as she heads to her Romantic Lit class. She is the star of the class and always has the right answer. Until today.  McGraw’s ex-girlfriend Emilia has just started taking the class and as Esther rants “It’s not fair to sing that good, look that good, and think that good.”

Meanwhile Ed Gemmell is trying out a new look–overalls and a braid and, boy howdy, Daisy does not like it.  She asks, “Are you ‘fine’ because you joined a cult and they’taken away your pain?”  He says he’s tried so many things but girls are not interested in him.  Daisy sets him up with her friend Kathy with whom he should have lots in common.  She’s geeky and sexy!  But when she tries to move things forward he demurs.  Daisy is furious, “she could not have been any more your type if she’d been the result of a lab experiment to create the perfect Gemmell mate in one of those nightmare sci-fi shows you both like so well.”

The Esther/Emilia issue resolves itself at a literature professor’s soiree.  When one of the teachers gets handsy with Esther. It is Emilia who is there to help her out. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENYA-“Echoes in the Rain” (2015).

One of the running jokes in this series is that Daisy’s favorite musician is Enya.

So why not add an Enya song to the soundtrack here?

Enya has released eight albums over the last twenty years.  Her sound is instantly recognizable and distinctive.  The impressive thing about her is that if you give some time to her songs you can see just how much diversity there is in these songs that sound vaguely the same.

This song, from her latest album features those same synthy strings, layered and soft as they pulse through the melody.  And of course, he layered soft voice running through the melody.

The biggest surprise to me in this song is that the chorus is simply Alleluia repeated over and over (with a kind of weird 80s repeat on her voice on one of them).  I’ve never known her to have overtly religious lyric in her songs (of course I don’t know her music that well, so maybe she has lots of them).  The verse is also a bit less soothing than usual–like the words are very distinctive and clear and make you think more about what she is saying rather than the feeling the song evokes.

There’s also a piano solo (sort of) in the middle of the song.  This intrusion of an acoustic instrument (not soft and echoed like everything else) is kind of jarring.

All in all, it’s a lovely song fitting in with her other songs pretty well, although I tend to prefer her earlier singles for a total chillout.

[READ: January 21, 2020] Giant Days Vol. 6

Book six covers the Fall semester in the students’ second year at school.  It takes us up through Christmas and a few new (sort of) characters get a lot of story time (to very good effect).

It is also a time of tempestuous love and solitary death (not one of the main characters).

But the honeymoon of Esther, Susan and Daisy’s brand new flat doesn’t last long because…

Chapter 21
They are robbed! After an instinctual freaking out, they deal things in their own way–Esther attacks the room with her karate, Susan crafts a weapon out of a broom and knives, and Daisy tells the robber they can work it out–no harm no foul. Of course the robber is long gone, but at least we have that established. There is humor to be had though, Esther says that whoever stole Susan’s laptop is likely to catch typhoid from her keyboard. But Daisy is the most upset because the only items she had left from her parents–some pieces of jewelry–were also stolen.

The police come and Susan assures them they have reset their passwords “some of our new security questions answers aren’t even true” (I love this series). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAKE BUGG-“How Soon the Dawn” (2017).

Back in 2012 I recall Jake Bugg kind of buzzing around with his debut album.  One of my co-workers at the time was really into him as well.

He basically fell off of my radar entirely until I saw him mentioned in this volume of Giant Days, which is why I looked him up.  He has put out a couple of albums since 2012 with his latest being a 2017 acoustic album produced by Dan Auerbach.

This song has such an incredible 70s vibe both in the sound of his guitar and his vocal delivery.  His voice is soft and clear and the chorus is really catchy.  Really any song that has a “tooo” that you can turn into a lengthy “oooooh” section is going to be super catchy.  It’s just acoustic guitar and a very minimal accompaniment and it suits him rather well.

His Wikipedia entry says that in 2018 he signed to a new label “in a bid to relaunch his career.”  I guess that hasn’t happened yet.  Shame, because this is a really pretty song.

Incidentally, in the book, he is mentioned when the girls are at a musical festival. Daisy says “Is ‘Jake Bugg’ good music?” and Esther says “No.”

Ouch.

[READ: January 20, 2020] Giant Days Vol. 5

In 2017 I wrote

I love this series so much.  I can’t believe I have to wait forever for volume 5 to come out.

Turns out I took that forever more literally than I needed to.  This book came out in 2017, but it took me until 2020 to read it.  The only consolation is that I now have about 6 books to read right in a row!

Max Sarin’s drawings are still over-the-top cartoony which I rather like. Even though the story lines are realistic(ish), giving them a cartoony vibe allows the over-the-topness to feel natural.

This book focuses on the end of their first year of school (can it really be over so soon?).

Chapter 17 starts a mini thread with Daisy going on an archaeology dig.  Susan’s comment that “You’d have thought we’d dug up all the Romans by now is interesting since just a few weeks ago (in the real world) even more remains were recently discovered.  Daisy’s dig is a disaster because Professor Bradford (you mean bad-ford) is in charge and he criticizes everything Daisy does.  “You’re doing it wrong” is a constant refrain.  He is so mean because on his very first dig he sat on a mummified form and was basically never invited on another dig.

Susan is distracted by McGraw’s new lady whom Ed Gemmell describes as “she speaks better English than we do but in an accent that means I understand one word in three.”  Susan refers to her as an Andalusian Succubus.

Ed reveals that he has been making spare change helping his roommate Dean with a translating project.  Dean pays 25 pence for every three word phrase they translate.   Like, “philosophical ideas about” becomes “recondite notions of,” and “brutally powerful world” becomes “mean planetoid.”  It soon dawns of Esther though that making money this easily can’t be on the up and up and that’s when they realize that Dean is basically selling plagiarized papers (with very bad phrases included).

Chapter 18 sees Esther and Ed being so concerned that they will get in trouble for Dean’s work–there’s a Paypal trail–that they visit a 24 hour lawyer.

But the more concerning news (really) is that their beloved home, Catterick Hall is going to be torn down at the end of school.

There’s a delightful running joke about Daisy being an unwitting pool shark.  She’s so good that McGraw, in his spare time, made her her own cue, which she calls a “pool pole.”

At the Farewell ball, Ed reconnects with Jenny.  Jenny broke the story on Dean’s plagiarism ring but described the lower tier workers as “Mr. Hair and Vampiella” (hee hee).  After a night of dancing, Ed Gemmell has fallen in love.  Even if he and McGraw aren’t sure what  they ‘re going to do if their roommate is in jail.

Chapter 19 is a delightful side trip to A Music Festival!  Esther is all in, Daisy is quite nervous and Susan just doesn’t care.  She has been smoking a lot more and when it comes time to set up her tent, she just lays it on the ground.  She’s in a sleeping bag anyway, this is just another layer–“double bagged like in an American supermarket.”  [Is that a uniquely American thing?].

Esther has a crush on the singer for Poison Nebula and wants to get right up close to hear their topical song “You’re my Napster you’re my wifi.”  Esther followed the band to their bus (Daisy: “Don’t go into buses with strange men!”).  It turns out Poison Nebula is really into…calligraphy: “Quill work on rag-edge parchment.”  There a hilarious moment later on when Shinobi the drummer tries to barter one of his quills for food but the philistines don’t appreciate the quality of the tool.

Daisy is horrified by this spectacle and is looking for something with the majesty of Enya combined with the mystery of Enya, “You’re just jealous of her success.  Everyone is.”  But she soon finds herself loving the world music stage which means Susan can explore on her own.

Susan meets up with The Cowboy who drugs her drink and has her spinning and flying through the festival–not in a good way.

This is all just to much for daisy who needs to find a space to meditate.  Which she does just as the sky opens up a downpour on them all.   The only consolation is that Susan’s unpegged-tent is there to save the day.

Chapter 20 opens with two guys throwing a rager in a unfamiliar house.  The furniture looks utterly destroyed.  We find out the at this is the place the girls are living in this year.  Amazingly it all looks beautiful.  Until Susan sits on the couch and finds that it is all held together with school glue and tape.  This can only mean one thing: a trip to IKEA!

Esther has never been to one (The deGroots fled the Netherlands to escape the jackboot march of flat-packed furniture) but she is instantly convinced of its awesomeness. The next page shows them sitting on all kinds of furniture with IKEA sounding-names (the note at the bottom translates” Orkan/Hat/Slukhål as hurricane/hatred/sinkhole.

Esther is allowed to buy one puppet and they have come in under budget which means meatballs!  Susan explains that they are “made of the national meat of Sweden: swan.”

Then reality sets in–they have to transport all of those flat boxes home.  AND put it all together.  Susan refuses to let Daisy ask McGraw for help, but Daisy sneaks out to ask him for tools: “is one size of junior hacksaw enough?”   “For 99% of the human race, probably.”

McGraw and Ed move into their new place.  Ed has spent a fortune on a cappuccino maker which he says will save them a ton of money over the year.  When they come back from their evening out, Dean has returned and has immediately destroyed the coffee maker by stuffing bananas into it and saying the smoothie maker is broken.

It’s going to be that kind of year.

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SOUNDTRACK: SNARKY PUPPY-Tiny Desk Concert #913 (November 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about Snarky Puppy lately.  So much so that I assumed they were a new band.  Wrong:

Snarky Puppy has been a force for a while now, earning the ears of millions for more than a decade.  The band started as college friends in the jazz program at the University of North Texas back in 2003. But the formative era came a few years later, after Michael League [bassist and bandleader] became a part of the gospel scene in Dallas and eventually brought the jazz students to church, where music plays a different role than it does in the classroom. In the pulpit, it’s a channel for spiritual healing, a communal experience between players and congregation. As an experiment, League pulled his jazz friends and his gospel bandmates into one ensemble, where the two groups bonded together and established ground-zero for building the sonic identity of Snarky Puppy

I also had an idea that (because the name sounds similar to Skinny Puppy) that they might be a, what, young bratty dark punk band?  Wrong again.

Their secret sauce? A long-simmered recipe of jazz, funk and gospel.  Thirteen albums later, you can still hear these gospel and jazz orbits crashing into each other.

Oh, and one more thing.  They only play instrumentals.

They’re a band whose lyric-less melodies are still yelled (sung back) to them at their concerts around the world, as a shared catharsis for everyone in the room.

I really couldn’t have gotten that more wrong.

The band plays two songs in this lengthy set.

The first is called “Tarova.”  It opens with a wonderful sequence of keyboards.  Shaun Martin plays the keyboards with that talk box thing (made famous by Peter Frampton).  He seems to be having a kind of call and response solo with Bobby Sparks.  Sparks has the most fascinating thing on his keyboard.  A very large whammy bar/lever that he is able to push really far down to bend notes far more than any keyboard I’ve ever heard.  It was so much fun watching him do this, I was very glad he was up front.

During all of this, “JT” Thomas is keeping time on drums.  The song proper jumps in with a fun funky riff with lots of trumpets.  Everybody gets to do something impressive in this song and there’s a bunch of solos as well.

I really like the middle funky section that’s mostly bass and keys.

The song builds to a moment when everyone stops–after a two second pause which makes everyone clap, they resume with a great percussion solo from Nate Werth.

When the song ends, League introduces everyone and says who soloed.  He jokes, “That’s what you;re supposed to do in jazz, right, say who soloed n case anyone was confused that there were solos going on.”

Then he addresses the crowd.  He says that most people there are employees and family and an abundance of interns.  He wants to turn the cameras around for a minute (only one or two turn around) and force you into a musical rhythmic experiment.  Turns out that

Seconds before we hit record, Snarky Puppy’s bandleader, Michael League leaned in to ask if he could “do a little crowd work.” I suspect he waited until the last second on purpose, but it’s been easy to trust this band when they have an idea, judging by the three Grammy Awards they get to dust off at home after every tour run.

What resulted was a Tiny Desk first: League divided the audience into two sections, one side clapping out a 3/4 beat and the other half a 4/4 beat, creating a polyrhythm that I’m sure a handful of coworkers didn’t feel so confident trying to pull off. But this band pulls you in with simple instruction and a little faith.

League says, “we’re going to a polyrhythm because things have to get nerdy and unenjoyable.”  The crowd does admirably well with the two rhythms going on.  They are aided by Nate Werth on percussion who is really amazing (not necessarily here, but in the two songs).  I believe that they are creating 7/4.

The audience is warned that this polyrhythm will be used in the second song “Xavi,” dedicated to their friends in Morocco.

The song opens a funky bass and a lovely flute melody from Chris Bullock.  Then after a short guitar lick by Chris McQueen the whole band jumps in with a really funky melody.  The riff is taken over by two trumpets Justin Stanton (whose trumpet has a mute) and Jay Jennings (no mute) and Chris Bullock who is now on sax.

I was going to say you really don’t hear much of the violin in this set as it gets kind of melded with everything else.  Then mid way through the song, Zach Brock takes a wild and, often, effects-riddled solo in the middle of the song.  It might be my favorite part of a set that has many highlights.

The clapping part is used twice.  In the first one, the band is kind of quiet and the clapping is aided with great percussion from Werth and another lovely flute.

The guitar and bass in this song are fantastic even if they are never entirely prominent.  There’s also a very cool keyboard solo from trumpeter Justin Stanton.

Then the clapping comes around a second time.  During this one, there’s a guitar and keyboard making all kinds of sounds while the drums keep hitting everything, there;s more percussion and a little more flute.

The whole set is tremendous fun.  Totally not what I was expecting and so much better.

[READ: August 15, 2019] The Idiot

I grabbed this book because I had written down the author’s name as someone I wanted to read.  I also got a kick out of the title (and the obvious allusion to Dostoevsky).

I started the book and enjoyed it and then realized that I had read an excerpt from this story already.  And that is why I had written the author’s name down.

This book was written as a kind of response to her first book.  In an essay in The Guardian, she explained that:

In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books.

Of the excerpt I wrote quite a lot (and quite a lot that almost gets left behind after the excerpt): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAJOR HIT-Robert De Niro at the Tony Awards Remix (2018).

Who is Major Hit?  No idea.

Is this remix very good?  Not really.  It’s only a minute or so.

Is it hilarious?  Yes.

Is it satisfying?  Hell Yes.

Will you listen to it more than once?  Probably not.

But will you feel a little bit better about your taxes after hearing this?  Well, probably not.

Actually, it might make you feel a little better.  And you probably find yourself quoting De Niro, too.

 

[READ: April 4, 2019] The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors. For this particular book, proceeds to benefit Proceeds to benefit Granada House.

Originally appearing at the heart of The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous semi-novel, this extended monologue brilliantly rambles its way around the circumstances that brought its narrator out of his ‘wastoid’ childhood and into maturity at the IRS. Along the way, he falls under the spell of a fake Jesuit, considers the true meaning of a soap opera station break, and narrowly escapes a gruesome death on the subway.

This is the final Madras Press book that I had left to read.  Since I has already read The Pale King, I was in no hurry to read this one.  But now it’s nice to say that I’ve finished all of the Madras Press books.  And that I could post this just in time for the massive Republican tax scam in which thanks to trump and his evil puppet mcconnell, my tax return dropped over $3,000.  Bastards.   May they all rot in prison.  And then hell.

Interestingly, back when I read this during Pale Summer (2014), this entire section was one week’s reading.  So my post from that week is still relevant.    It is posted almost in its entirety below:

This book is an excerpt from The Pale King.  In the book, it is almost 100 pages of one person’s testimony.  Without the novel for context, this excerpt stands on its own just fine.  It is basically an unnamed person’s introduction.  This narrator is so detail oriented that everything gets the same amount of importance–snowfall, the way to score drugs, the effects of drugs, Christian roommates, his father’s death, his mother’s lesibianism, oh and taxation.

So much of it is “irrelevant,” that I hate to get bogged down in details.  So this is a basic outline of ideas until the more “important” pieces of information surface.

For the most part, this is all inside one man’s head as he talks about his life in college, after college, and into the Service.  Mostly this is simply a wonderful character study, full of neuroses and problems that many people face at some point (to one degree or another).  The interviewee states that “A good bit of it I don’t remember… from what I understand, I’m supposed to explain how I arrived at this career.”

Initially he was something of a nihilist, whose response to everything was “whatever.”  A common name for this kind of nihilist at the time was wastoid.  He drifted in and out of several colleges over the years, taking abstract psychology classes.  He says that his drifting was typical of family dramas in the 1970s–son is feckless, mother sticks up for son, father squeezes sons shoes, etc. They lived in Chicago, his father was a cost systems supervisor for the City of Chicago. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Corel Centre, Ottawa, ON (November 28, 1996).

This is the 14th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  The site has recently added a DAT version of the show in conjunction with the existing fan-recorded version.

The band had played a show earlier in the day at Record Runner.  They sound great and fresh at this show as well–playing 45 minutes instead of 2 and a half hours must be a much more relaxing gig.

After the intro music of “Popcorn” (I wonder if the intro music has any bearing on the rest of the show–setlist, mood of the band, anything), they play “Self-Serve Gas Station.”  Not too many shows open with an older song like this.  Martin sings “What went wrong with Nimrod, is he dumb?”  It sorta segues into Martin playing “California Dreamline.”

“Claire” sounds really nice with a great solo from Martin.

Dave introduces “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” by saying, this song is about a writing a letter to Alanis Morissette asking to be on her team.  In the middle he whispers “write me back… write me back, in blood!”

A plug for the new record with “Bad Time to be Poor” which is followed by “Motorino.”  I love when thy play this song.  It’s quite peculiar with a cool riff and Martin speaking Italian.

They run through a sweet instrumental jaunt through “Artenings Made of Gold” for 40 seconds before seguing into “All the Same Eyes.”

They end the show with a shout out to “Tim Mech [who] is in the home” as they play a rocking “Horses.”  As the song ends, Dave chants “Fuck the Tories.”

It’s another great opening set.

[READ: March 2018] Motherest

This was a really touching story about Agnes, an 18 year-old going off to college who has lost her mother.  Not that she died… she is just gone, left one day without saying anything.

Set in 1994, Agnes gets through the tribulations of college by writing to her absent mother (a letter at the end of each chapter).

Despite the premise, there’s a lot of funny stuff in this book.  Agnes has a sarcastic outlook on life and her parents, even though she clearly misses her mother.   The humor is evident in her letters to her mother (who will probably never read them) and in the main body of each chapter.  Like that her roommate’s given name is Surprise (which makes for some challenging sentences: “Surprise asked me”).  Also a little challenging is that the boy she fancies is delicate and sensitive so she calls him (and refers to him as) Tea Rose.

Also missing from Agnes’ life is her brother Simon who died three years ago–the three longest shortest years.

So while she is going through her daily life–handing in papers and willing Tea Rose to look at her, she is also writing to her mother: “is ‘leaving” a verb or a personality trait.  Like do you do it because you are it, or are you it because you do it?”

The book does not have her pining for Tea Rose for too long, which is nice.  They speak pretty early in the book–he asks her is she knows Nirvana–not “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” their early stuff.   “How could he know I had an older brother once who knew everything there was to know about music?”  And by the end of the semester they are firmly together. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL BACHMAN-“Song for the Setting Sun II” (Field Recordings, May 21, 2015).

Daniel Bachman plays a gorgeous six string acoustic guitar.  He plays wonderful instrumentals full of melody and feeling which tell a story in their own way.

Bachman grew up around the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. It’s a quiet town in Northern Virginia that still has a pharmacy with cheap sandwiches and milkshakes.

The 25-year-old has been at the solo-guitar game since he was a teenager.  That’s why it felt right to bring Bachman back to the area that inspired River, a record surrounded by history, but guided by hands and a heart that know its bends and bumps.

In early March, we met Bachman in Fredericksburg to drive an hour east to Stratford Hall, home to four generations of the Lee family, which includes two signers of the Declaration of Independence; it’s also the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. Bachman knows it well, not only because his dad works there, but also because he can’t help but bury himself in history books about the region.   Bachman plays a version of “Song For The Setting Sun II” in what was the performance space at Stratford Hall. The song leaps boldly around the sunlit, symmetrical room, bouncing off walls decorated with paintings of buxom women and men in powdered wigs.

It’s a gorgeous piece with ringing strings that sounds massive in this Great Hall.  In the second half, he strikes a low E and it sounds like a cannon.  And when you hear that melody amid all of the ringing notes, it’s just sublime.

[READ: January 29, 2015] “F.A.Q.s”

Phoebe is in her mid 20s.  She returns from college withdrawn and single. Her parents are delighted that she is single, but not happy that she is so withdrawn.

Phoebe is also pretty unhappy with the changes that have occurred since she was at school.

A new coffeemaker was where the compost bucket had been.  The chicken coop lay empty (they had reverted so quickly to supermarket eggs).  An exercise machine was in her old room–however after several minutes of exercise Melanie usually ended up lying on Phoebe’s bed.  Her mom tells her that she bought rice milk and oat cakes   Later on she even tries to make her parents granola (her father was supposed to watch his cholesterol but didn’t and her mother nibbled Icelandic chocolate),

One of the few things that remained was Grandma Jeanne’s violin on the top shelf of her closet.  It was unmentioned. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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