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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Who’s Gonna Stop Me” (feat. “Weird Al” Yankovic) (2020).

Portugal. The Man and “Weird Al” (punctuation buddies, clearly) have worked together in various ways in the past.  But here is something totally weird for Weird Al.  He is providing serious verses to a serious song.

Portugal. The Man songs tend to be dancey and fun, but this song is quite serious (and the video is fantastic).

A quiet opening of drums and echoing keyboard notes.  The hook comes when the vocals speed up in the middle of the first verse.

There are some gorgeous “ooohs” and then Al’s verse comes.  Al obviously has a great voice–he can mimic anyone–he is perfectly matched to the original vocal line and his voice sounds great singing “sneaking out, jumping over backyard fences, we’re always looking for freedom.”

After some more of those haunting oohs, a loud drum fill introduces the second half of the song which elevates the song into a slightly more danceable section full of drums and voices.

And then comes the incredible hook of “toooooooo high!”  The vocal range from the deep “too” the soaring “high” is outstanding.

It sounds like Portugal. The Man are taking their music in yet another direction and this one is quite a good one.

[READ: October 10, 2020] Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

I read a positive review of K.J. Parker’s “follow up” to this book called How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It.  When I picked up that book, I saw that the back cover said it was the follow up to Sixteen.  I assumed that meant it was a sequel and that I should read Sixteen first.  Well, Sixteen ends pretty definitively.  It turns out that Empire takes place seven years later and while I haven’t read it yet, I think it’s good I read this one first.

Also, K.J. Parker is the pseudonym of Tom Holt, a fantasy author I have not read but whom I gather I would like a lot.  So it was a good thing to read the review of Empire.

Parker has written several trilogies as well as a few stand-alone books.  I bring this up because I’ve read that some of the characteristics of this story reference other parts of his stories (this is a stand alone story, but I guess there might be parts that refer to his other books).

Like, for instance, the blues and the greens. These are two of the dominant races in the book.  I had a hard time telling them apart because there was no real introduction of either group. It was clear they hated each other, but I couldn’t figure out why (which I assumed was the point). At any rate, another reviewer says that the blues and greens are part of his other books, so maybe they are explained elsewhere.

The City appears to also be a thing that Parker likes to play around with.  In this book, the City is run by the Robur, a dominating group who have successfully conquered much of the surrounding lands. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020).

You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere is a pretty radical departure from their last album and a huge leap from their debut.  There are a lot of moody pieces that play with atmospheric sounds rather than outright melody.  Which is not to say that there isn’t a nice catchiness to the album, just that it comes from a different place.

It opens with the haunting, spooky “My Only Ghost” which would seem very out of place on any other release but really sets the tone for the experimentalism on this album.  It’s a quiet piece with vocals sung in falsetto harmony.  It’s an appropriately spooky opening with backwards guitars and atmospheric sounds.  It’s not even obviously The Districts.  Although the next song, “Hey Jo” certainly is.

“Hey jo” mixes acoustic guitars with that uniquely Districts-sounding guitar tone and a storytelling vibe.  The song feels very restrained with a quietly spoken section at the end and a nearly whispered coda tacked on.

It’s with the third song “Cheap Regrets” that The Districts show what they are really taking chances.  They called this track “nihilistic disco,” and that’s pretty apt.  This song is a great mix of disco sounds and a stellar bass line, with an unexpected amount of keyboard (for them).  It also contains a fantastic lead guitar line after the verses.  It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Velour and Velcro” sounds more like old school Districts but updated and with new polish.  The song is catchy and bouncy with some cool guitar sounds.  “Changing” introduces the slower moodier section of the album with gentle acoustic guitar and somewhat warped sounding electric guitar.  There’s a rollicking chorus, but the song retains a moody element that continues into “Descend.”  The song has a pretty acoustic guitar with an almost sing-along melody.  It ends with a trippy series of keyboard washes as the song drifts away.  It segues, appropriately into “Clouds,” another gentle song.

“Dancer” is a similarly moody number with swirly synths. But that fantastic bass line keeps the song grounded and very interesting.

Things rock out again with “Sidecar.”  The old looseness is back with plenty of doo doo, doo doos and screamed vocals from Grote, but the song never feels like its going to get away from them.

“And the Horses All Go Swimming” starts the end of the disc with some swirling sounds.  It builds slightly before moving on to the delicate “4th of July” with the pretty acoustic guitar and super catchy (if somehow off-sounding) whistle.

It’s great to see The Districts exploring new sides to their music, I just hope they never lose that loose, rocking side.

[READ: October 1, 2020] “Reborn to Run”

This is an excerpt from Bonner’s The Book of Atlantis Black.  The intro comment calls this a memoir, so I’ll assume it is.

This excerpt is 7 numbered short sections.

First we see that the narrator’s older sister Nancy decided to run away by hopping a train (when she was 12).  She was gone for several hours but when she returned she only replied “Wouldn’t you like to know?” when the narrator asked if she had done it.

When she was 13, Nancy climbed out her window in the middle of the night and walked the nine miles to school only to arrive on time for first period.

Section four is written in an interesting way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Popular Manipulations (2017).

The Districts third full length sees a change in style and sound for the band. They are clearly still The Districts, but they are far less shambolic.  Their sound is fuller, more complicated and less “sloppy.”  They also keep things reigned in with the longest song here being under five minutes.

The band also plays off of Rob Grote’s higher notes with excellent backing vocals, especially on “If Before I Wake.”  He sings the high notes while the someone else in the band sings a low counterpoint.  The lead guitar brings a catchy melody to the song which is all about the propulsive bassline.

“Violet” is one of the catchiest thing they’ve done.  From the chiming guitar sounds to Grote’s high pitched verses and smooth, catchy chorus, this song is marvelous.  Even the quiet bridge is attention grabbing amid the thumping drums.  But “Ordinary Day” tops “Violet” by having three separate catchy melodies in it.  There’s an immediate melody in the vocal line at the top, a bridge that is instantly gripping and a chorus that plays perfectly off the angst of the bridge.  Fantastic stuff.

“Salt” plays with a few different guitar sounds before hitting the catchy chorus.  Then comes “Why Would I Wanna Be,” a shorter song (under three minutes) with acoustic guitar a and a echoing drum keeping a very fast pace.  Spooky atmospheric sounds–keys? vocals? float through the song giving it a slightly warped feeling.

The catchiness comes back with the bouncy “Point,” a simple melody that resolves into a fun singalong chorus. “Airplane” sounds a bit more like their older style (all the way back to their last album), but updated and a bit more catchy (it’s amazing what a simple guitar riff can do for a song–in the beginning and in the lengthy one at he end). There’s also piano added on this track.

“Fat Kiddo” is the acoustic song–the guitar sounds great, but the song really takes off with the addition of the rumbling bass.   It’s a nice slowdown before the faster “Capable,” with its cool opening guitar sound and riff.

“Rattling of the Heart” is a faster song that works as a nice segue to the finale “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” which is pure Districts–the vocals are unmistakable and the sound of the song is catchy and distinctly them.

It’s great to see a band retain its sensibility while exploring new sounds.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “The Sand Banks, 1861”

This story feel like an excerpt because there seems like there should be a lot more.  I’m not sure if it is or not.

The story is set in remote Roanoke in antebellum South.

An assortment of people stood on the peer looking at the oysters.  Ebo Joe Meekins, the old Negro, “was either fifty or a thousand.”

There were six pre-teen boys, five colored and one white.  The narrator’s name is Dick.  He is one of the colored boys and is, in factor Master’s John B’s son.  But not really his son.

Among isolated people, increasing your slave stock was as difficult as finding new blood for brides.  Mulattoes were the result, open secrets.

The boys were friendly, if not friends, including Patrick, the white one.  Patrick was Mass. John B’s nephew and he was willing to take chances.  Instead of seeding the oysters in the oyster bed, he ate them.  As John B. walked away Patrick mocked him, but Dick would never dare. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #92 (October 7, 2020).

Angel Olsen is a favorite of many critics. I rather enjoyed her new album–but I think more for the sound of the production than the songs themselves.

I had the chance to see her recently but didn’t go and later heard the show was amazing.

This is a super-stripped down set (just her and her guitar on a balcony in North Carolina).

She opens with “Whole New Mess.”

The song is actually about addictions, defining her “home” amidst a life of touring that kept her on the road for large chunks of time. Much like this Tiny Desk performance, the original recording is just her stunning voice and guitar (minus the birds and the trees), recorded in a church-turned-studio a few years ago.

Up next is “Iota”

a song that wishes “that all the world could see something for what it is at the same time.”

“What It Is” is the only song I knew.  It was played on the radio a bunch and I grew to really like it.  This spare version is less interesting to me, but the melody is still lovely.

Angel leaves us with “Waving, Smiling,” a farewell song. She says goodbye to the sounds around her, the birds, the chainsaws, and leaves us with a theme of acceptance, bittersweet but without regret.

The whole set is gentle and lovely–it’s hard to believe she put on a dynamic and exciting live show.

[READ: October 1, 2020] Child Star

I am only mildly upset to learn that Box is not Box Brown’s real name (it seemed unlikely but amusing, nonetheless). But I am in no way upset about how great this book is.

In the author’s note, Brown says that he grew up watching TV in the 80s–he especially enjoyed the shows that had child actors in them.  He learned that the lives of child actors tend to follow a particular, tragic arc.

So for this “biography,” he created a child star, Owen Eugene, as an example of the kind of life.  If you grew up watching the same shows, you’ll recognize the children that he is drawing from.

You’ll recognize some of the notable episodes from shows.  Like the “very special episodes,” about drugs, or pedophilia or smoking or whatever; or the one where Nancy Reagan came on set; or when the younger, cuter kid came on to take over being the cute one.  And of course, the inevitable catch phrase.

The book is written like a Behind the Scenes kind of TV show.  There’s interviews with all kinds of people–his parents, his costars, washed up actors and ex-wives.

Owen Eugene had a hormone issue so he didn’t grow very tall–which meant he stayed adorable for a long time.  He was also a lot older than he looked.  So he could try out for roles and get them because he was the most talented 5 year old (because he was ten). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JHENÉ AIKO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #89 (October 1, 2020).

This is the 89th Tiny Desk Home Concert (if I’m counting correctly) and I am really surprised that this is probably the 40th one (not counting at all) in which I’ve never heard of the artist even though they are referred to as a star or at least wildly popular.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, R&B star Jhené Aiko coasts through an eight-song medley that plays like the ultimate nod to her legions of fans — fans who’ve been begging for a Tiny Desk for a long time.

Is “star” warranted?  I don’t know.  But here’s her raving blurb:

The Los Angeles native’s star status is a result of her music’s versatility and vulnerability. Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo has carved out a space of her own over the past decade, despite a rapidly changing R&B landscape. As a songwriter, she leaves no stone unturned, explicitly expressing her struggle, joy and sexuality while always administering the vibe.

The set begins with Aiko stirring a singing bowl, which I admit is pretty nice. I have a tiny one, but it’s nowhere near as cool as hers are.

Backed by an ensemble of masked players, Aiko bookends her set with a sound bath of singing bowls that’s peace personified through sound.

I appreciated the way the note of the singing bowl segues perfectly into Julian Le’s opening piano for “Lotus (Intro).”  Aiko has an old-fashioned vocal style–deep and breathy.

The short song fades out and in comes Brain Warfield’s thumping percussion and a gorgeous harp trill from Gracie Sprout that signals “Stranger.”

It is also short and as it fades and she drinks some tea, the bass from Bubby comes sliding in to open “Do Better Blues.”  The song pauses and she says she wants only three things in a relationship:

Eyes that won’t cry ; lips that won’t lie ; love that won’t die

Things slow down to the piano and chimes as the band jumps into “To Love & Die.”  Iam quite impressed wit her vocal restraint.  There’s a few moments of R&B diva wailing, but mostly, she sings very nicely and prettily with no histrionics.

This works especially well on “Born Tired” which opens with just a harp.  It’s impressive how well this acoustic setup works with these songs.

This medley of songs is disconcerting because everything is so short. She only plays two minutes of “Born Tired,” before Bubby’s high chords on the six string bass introduce “W.A.Y.S.” which has the most R&B styled-vocals so far.

“Summer 2020” opens with harp and piano and a spoken introduction from Jhené  as she introduces the “quarantine edition” of her band.  After a verse she throws in a verse from “Everything Must Go” without changing the music.  I do have to wonder about the mindset of someone who writes the lyrics:

I am no god or messiah
But here’s what I know

Three chimes on the singing bowls introduce “Eternal Sunshine” as she sings almost a capella.  The band comes in to flesh out the song and she ends with a lengthy R&B warble which quickly fades out as the song comes to an end.

I’m still not sure if she’s a star, but I am really impressed with her voice and musical choices in this set.  Often, I have found that when I really like an R&B performer’s Tiny Desk, it’s because of the way it is stripped down–both instrumentally and in production terms.  So I’m not going to listen to her album because this set was a perfect introduction to her and just enough for me to enjoy.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “The Intensive Care Unit” 

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

When I first thought about stories for this collection, I knew J.G. Ballard had to make an appearance.  Initially, I had chosen an entirely different piece.  Then COVID-19 came to the United States and I learned how very bad I was at predicting the future.  ‘The Intensive Care Unit’…is a story about living entirely in isolation: no human-to-human contact, ever. Even families live together through screens, not physically in the same space.

Frustratingly, she ends with

I’ll leave you to guess which other Ballard story this one replaced.  [I don’t know him well enough to even hazard a guess].

I haven’t read many J.G. Ballard stories, but I have it in my head that all of his stories are very dark and very violent.  The few that I have read certainly were.  And this one is no exception.

It’s starts off with a violent sentence: “Within a few minutes the next attack will begin.”

The room he is in is filled with his wife’s faint breathing, his son’s irregular movements, marked by smeared hand prints on the carpet, and his daughter’s limp body under the fallen lamp. (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: CONWAY THE MACHINE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #84 (September 23, 2020).

Several musicians have tinkered with the “home” component of the Tiny Desk Home Concert.

Conway the Machine’s “home” is in the Queens, NY restaurant lil’ Sweet Chick, where he performs five songs, and has a fine looking plate of chicken and waffles.

Conway the Machine is part of Griselda, a Queens-based rap trio.  I watched Benny the Butcher’s Tiny Desk recently and rather enjoyed it. Conway’s songs seem grittier and darker (especially when you learn the origins of “Front Lines.”

He opens with “Lemon” (prod. by Daringer & Beat Butcha) as a waitress brings him a drink (a lemon squeeze?).  The music is dark and grimy and it works very well with his voice.

Up next is “Front Lines” (prod. by Beat Butcha) which was inspired by the George Floyd incident–he wanted to record a perspective from the upset angry protestors.  It speaks directly to the racial profiling committed by cops while policing Black communities with this outstanding verse:

I just seen a video on the news I couldn’t believe (nah)
Another racist cop kill a nigga and get to leave (again?)
He screamin’, “I can’t breathe”, cop ignorin’ all his pleas
Hands in his pocket, leanin’ on his neck with his knees (psh)
Cracker invent the laws, that’s why the system is flawed
Cops killin’ black people on camera and don’t get charged
We ain’t takin’ no more, we ain’t just pressin’ record
Can’t watch you kill my brother, you gon’ have to kill us all
Just ’cause he from the ghetto, that don’t mean he sellin’ crack
He drivin’ home from work, you pull him over ’cause he black
Think he gangbangin’ ’cause he got dreads and a few tats
He reach for his ID, you think he reachin’ for a strap
He get out, put his hands up, and he still gettin’ clapped
But if he try to run, you just gon’ shoot him in his back
What if it was my son? I wonder how I’m gon’ react
I bet I’m finna run up in this precinct with this MAC (brr)
I swear to God

“OverDose” (prod. by The Alchemist) has what sounds like a zither as the main discordant musical tone.  I like the way the bass is slow and his rapping is really fast.

Then comes “The Cow” (prod. by Daringer)  “The Cow” is, as he says in the intro, “one of [the] most personal and transparent records I ever wrote,” in which he speaks about losing one of his best friends and getting shot in the head and neck. The injuries led to permanent facial paralysis.  The song has brought Conway to tears in the past, and the memories clearly get to him again here.

Last is “Anza” (prod. by Murda Beatz) which is a pretty traditional bragging rap, with maybe a touch more aggression than other.

As the set ends, he thanks lil’ Sweet Chick for the ambiance: “I’m about to get into this chicken right here … tastes like it was made with a mother’s care.”

[READ: September 23, 2020] Three Hundred Years Hence (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.

This first story is by Mary Griffith.  Written in 1836, it looks, literally, three hundred years into the future.  Romney writes:

It is the story of a man who gets caught in an avalanche of ice in 1835 and wakes up in 2135.  It’s often cited as the earliest utopia written by an American woman.  The author imagined a future in which society’s advancements increase dramatically due to one major structural shift: supporting women in science.  Born in 1772, Griffith herself was one of the nascent United States’ earliest practicing women scientists, with special contribution in geology.

The ice man, Hastings, is given a tour of the country–New York, Boston and Philadelphia–by a man named Edgar.   Edgar updates him and tells him about al of the changes that have taken place.

The writing style of this tory isn’t all that interesting–it’s a little preachy and dry.  Since this is an excerpt I’m not sure if there’s a plot necessarily.  But in this excerpt it’s mostly just meandering around.    (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AILBHE REDDY-“Distrust” (2016).

I found this song from, of all things, a redbull website listing up and coming Irish bands.  It says that this song has been streamed over 3 million times.

This song opens with otherworldy “oohs” before a jagged, slapped guitar melody enters the song.  The guitar feels like it ends too abruptly.  It ‘s a very cool hook.  Especially for a song that is a total kiss-off song like this one.

Over the course of three and a half minutes more and more is added to the song–an insistent bass, drums, more backing vocals and even a violin.  But that persistent guitar runs through the whole song.  As does Ailbhe Reddy’s voice which is clean and piercing.  She speak-sings in the beginning, but when the chorus comes in, her voice is in full power. 

The song soars by the end, as does her voice.  

In the video, she stands absolutely still and strong as the room she is in falls apart around her.  

Reddy has a full album coming out next month. This song isn’t on it, but her new song “Looking Happy” is a real rocker (with a cool video). 

[READ: September 19, 2020] No Country for Old Gnomes

I really enjoyed the first book in the series–Kill the Farm Boy.  I was really looking forward to reading the continuing efforts of the heroes of Pell.

So I was a little surprised to learn that this book has almost nothing to do with the first one.  It’s set in the same place (with the same map up front) and the world remains the same, but this book follows the exploits of a completely different band of accidental warriors. 

That was a little disappointing at first (I miss Fia and Agrabella) but Dawson & Hearne have created a brand new band of travelers who are just as interesting and compelling as the first bunch. All of the characters from the first book make cameos, but they are brief.  The only characters from the first book that have any regular work are King Gustave and Grinda the Sand Witch.

But this book is exciting and funny and in the same vein as the first while being very different as well.  It is full of puns and jokes and twists on fantasy novels all while fleshing out the world that was created in book one (and making great use of the map that’s on the first page).

The book opens with three witches (not Grinda) and a cauldron.  I love a spoof of this scene and this one is especially good.  Two of the witches are casting a spell to help the Bruding Boars win their jousting competition.  But they needed a third so they put an ad on Ye Olde Meet-Up Bulletin Boarde. This third with (who looked quite different from her picture) had a very different spell in mind.

The third witch disappeared after casting a spell full of blood and seeming to be against gnomes.  But, really, who cared about gnomes.

Neither noticed the surfeit of portent in the air, wafting from the coppery-smelling cave, probably because the second witch smelled so strongly of cat urine.
But the portent was there nonetheless.

The book shifts to the Numminen family of gnomes.  Gnomes are generally smöl (ha!) and cheerful. The two sons Onni and Offi are fighting about Offi’s lack of gnomeric behavior.  Offi likes wearing cardigans that are black and covered in bats (gnome cardigans should be bright and cheerful).  So, yes, Offi is a goth gnome.  Whereas Onni is a perfect gnome who wins award for his gnomeric behavior. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUP-“Rot” (2020).

Pup has a new EP coming out in October.  It’s called This Place Sucks Ass. Ha.  This is the first single.

It’s three minutes of angry catchy punk (so a PUP song).  The verses are sung by the lead singer while the chorus is sung by the whole band–chanted and rocking.

The bridge changes things a little bit and adds some tension to this otherwise catchy but dark song.  It celebrates the paradoxes of life

The more I’m reckless The less I break
The more I care about money The less I make
The less I care about everything The better it goes
And the better it gets The more I lose control
And when I’ve lost it all I self-sabotage

Looks like PUP has been busy over the quarantine.

[READ: September 18, 2020] “Along the Frontage Road”

In this story, the narrator remembers going to pumpkin patches as kid around Halloween.  I love that his father is fastidious and hates to get his hands dirty–especially with food–but is also a surgeon and has expert precision as he operates on the pumpkin.

But he now lives in the city and instead of farm pumpkin patch, they go to an abandoned lot on the frontage road where every year people set up a booth with pumpkins and Halloween items. It slowly morphs into a Christmas store and then disappears again until next all.

The narrator is sad that his son, Nicky, seems to love this otherwise gloomy stretch of land.  His son was intrigued by the decorations–a rubber snake crawling through a skull’s eye socket.  The scarecrow at the entrance had a pumpkin for a head and wore a Friday the Thirteenth goalie mask

I forbid myself absolutely to consider the proposition that in the orchards of my youth it would neve have occurred to anyone to employ a serial killer motif as a means of selling Halloween pumpkins to children.

(more…)

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