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Archive for the ‘Decadence’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE & JEREMY IVEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #2 (March 26, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

I respect Margo Price’s lyrics and attitude. But her music is just too country for my tastes.  I don’t know anything about her husband Jeremy Ivey (turns out he released his first album this year at age 41).

In this concert, Margo’s accent is subdued and her songs sound great.  Plus, she says what we are all thinking between the first and second song.

Margo Price and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, performed a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from their Nashville attic. Behind them are two handmade signs inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In For Peace that simply reads “Stay Home” and “Save Lives.”

They play three songs

They played “Stone Me,” a song they co-wrote and included on Margo’s upcoming album, That’s How Rumors Get Started.

Maybe it is best is Margo stays in the country world, because her lyrics really stand out against the status quo:

Love me, hate me
Desecrate me
Call me a bitch
Then call me baby
You don’t know me
You don’t own me
Yeah that’s no way
To stone me

Plus it’s really catchy.

After the song Ivey jokes that you can hold your applause until the end.  But then Margo gets serious saying the last time they did Tiny Desk trump had just gotten elected and didn’t think things gcould ever get worse…here we are.

The second song, “Just Like Love” is from an EP.  It’s a minor key song, less catchy but more affecting with Ivey’s excellent backing vocals and guitar solos.

Margo and Jeremy dedicated this concert to all those that are struggling right now and thank “all the people still out there working, the doctors, all the sanitation people, everybody out there just doing what they have to do to so we can survive, all the people working in grocery stores. And to everyone who has lost their job, we feel you.”  In addition to the rapidly spreading virus, Nashville was recently ravaged by tornadoes.

The video cuts to black and Margo returns saying Take 25, while carrying a hand drum.

They ended the set with a premiere, a song called “Someone Else’s Problem,” that they wrote together on an airplane while Margo was pregnant. It’s a song dealing with the guilt many of us have, being part of a problem instead of part of a solution.

This is another minor key song and it’s quite long (about 7 minutes).  It’s almost like a Bob Dylan story song (including a harmonica solo).

She ends the set by looking at the camera and asking, Where’s the ventilators” if only the stereotypical country fan would listen to her and maybe change their minds about the impeached president.

[READ: March 30, 2020] The Adventure Zone 2

I loved this book.  It is a graphic novel realization of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  It is based on a podcast called The Adventure Zone.  The podcast is fun and is a real scenario of friends (in this case brothers) playing D&D.  The podcast is pretty funny if a little unedited.

Book Two picks up more or less where the last book left off.  Our heroes Taako the elf mage, Merle the dwarf cleric and Magnus the fighter meet with the leaders of the Bureau of Balance, a volunteer organization dedicate to finding and eliminating weapons of magical destruction.

They are given new gear, they level up, they shop at Magic Costco.  Then they are to board the Rockport Express train and retrieve the Oculus, a magical object.  The person who had it, Leeman Kessler, was killed for it.

The train is pretty cool with a crypt safe that can only be opened if the engineer’s hands are on it for an hour.

There a bunch of hilarious NPCs in the game including the engineer, Hudson, and the guy who is there to help them, Jenkins.  Jenkins brings their food and shows them the magic portal room (it’s not-only-a sex thing).  The fun that the characters have at Jenkins’ expense it totally worth the reading of the book.

Also on board is a young boy (I’m ten, not eight) Angus McDonald the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective who offers to help him (and sound snotty doing it).   Angus knows about Leeman Kessler’s death and he is out to find “The Rockport Slayer.”  The three adventurers agree to help him.  As they go snooping around they discover another dead body.  His hands and head were cut off.

Coincidentally also on board is the professional wrestler, Jess the Beheader (Magnus loves her and has both her action figures, the regular one and the rare one).  But Merle snarks: “Don’t you know wrestling is made up fantasy bullshit?”

The rest of the book becomes kind of a mystery story–finding the Rockport Slayer and eventually getting the magical oculus out of the cryptsafe. There’s magical spells, serious hit point damage, a large  crab, preposterous story lines and a nice plot twist.

The fun part at the end comes when our heroes hand over the oculus (come on that’s not a spoiler) but the head of the BOB reveals that there are a total of seven magical items that they must retrieve and thanks to our heroes, they now have two.

So you’re telling us that you and your big organization and secret moon base and flying snow globes have been doing this for however long and your score is zero?!

Two?

No that’s our score…BOB Incorporated has a big old goose egg.

As the book ends a mysterious hooded figure who has been lurking throughout the book crosses out the oculus on a list.  The phoenix fire gauntlet is already crossed out.  That leaves Five to go.

I really enjoyed this story even if it was more of a mystery than a good old D&D story.  Although honestly I haven’t looked at D&D since the 70s so maybe it’s different now.

Although, more specifically there is no way this is how a D&D story could work.  The repartee and the battles are too clean cut and plotted.  Now I realize that the book borrows liberally from various things to create the story line.  So maybe they have taken the podcast and taken the highlights and best quips and made this story from it  I mean, it works as story but it doesn’t work at all as a campaign.  Which is fine, since this is a story not a campaign.

I’m just curious how the actual campaign worked.

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: KING KRULE-Tiny Desk Concert #681 (December 6, 2017.

King Krule is one of those artists that I love on paper.  But who in actuality I find really rather unpleasant.  He was raved about by so many people this year, and yet, aside from a few parts of these songs that were good, this was all kind of slurry jazz to me.

The blurb says the music is a kind of mashup of “cool” and “jazz” and an acquired taste well worth dipping in.

I guess I don’t have that taste.

They play three songs with instruments including sax, guitars, bass, drums, live vocal processing of Archy’s voice and electronics

“Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” has interesting sound effects and echoes on his voice, which I like.  But his voice is deep and mumbly and the music is pretty standard lite-jazz.   There’s a sax solo and a jazzy guitar solo.

I don’t know if it’s the whole picture but this vibe turns me off:

lyrics that talk about the sorts of depression singer and guitarist Archy Marshall has dealt with in his young life (he’s 23).  “Why’d you leave me? Because of my depression? / You used to complete me but I guess I learnt a lesson.”  All this comes from someone who honestly looks like he couldn’t care less, which seems like a far cry from the words and care he puts into his twisted, woozy tones.

His “whatever” attitude annoys me and I can’t hear these words anyway.

“Lonely Blue” There’s some interesting things going on in this song–the shifts in tension and volume.  But those few moments can’t rescue the song for me.

“Logos/Sublunary” is 7 minutes and is either one long song or two shorter ones.   He switches to keys and I like it a bit more.  This song sounds like some other songs I like but those jazzy elements (two saxes!) bug me.  After 4 minutes it switches to a more funky style (that would be “Sublunary,” I guess).  The end is my favorite part.

But once again, I feel like I was set up to be blown away, and it sounds too much like jazz to me.  The musicians include: Archy Marshall; Connor Atanda; John Keek; George Bass; Jack Towell; James Wilson.

[READ: September 17, 2017] Science Comics: Plagues

This might just be my favorite of First Second’s Science Comics series.  I love the topic, I really love the art, and I love the way Koch has created a compelling story as well.

The book opens with a Bubonic Plague creature (a cute blue hot dog with yellow bits) meeting up with Yellow Fever (a yellow-green ball with nodules).  They are in a host body and are looking to take advantage of their surroundings. Before they can do any damage, though, they are attacked by a large, scary T-cell.

A fight ensures bit it is short-lived because, in fact, everyone is in a simulation created by ECHO [Education Control Hologram Overseer].  They are in CHAMBER [Center for Holographic Advanced Microorganism and Bio Engineering Research].

In CHAMBER, the researchers observe cells–like way white blood cells learn about germs (anything that makes us sick) and is able to fight it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACIE AND RACHEL-Tiny Desk Concert #666 (November 1, 2017).

Who are Gracie and Rachel?

They are Gracie Coates the primary singer and keyboard player and Rachel Ruggles on a violin processed through various pedals.  The two Berkeley California high school friends are now New York loft-mates. Together with percussionist Richard Watts, a huge bass drum, and electronic drum pads, the group mixes classical training with pop hooks, and curiosity with uncertainty.

The complex tunes they beautifully reproduced in this thrilling Tiny Desk performance are from the group’s debut, self-titled album released back in June of this year.

All three of the songs have the same basic style and tone–rather intense–somber piano with soaring strings and Gracie’s interestingly delivered vocals.

“Only A Child” stars with a simple piano riff that has a real sense of uncertainty, almost menace.  I can’t decide what she’s doing with her vocal style but it’s certainly unique.  There’s some backing vocals although I can’t quite tell where they’re coming from (live or prerecorded) and they add a really creepy tone.    And then there’s the lyrics:  “I’m moving my mouth but I don’t say a word/My ears are open but nothing is heard/I’m only a child, only a child.”  But really the way the violin plays that descending mellow is absolutely captivating.

“Go” features the big bass drum which I didn’t even see at first.  This one has ringing piano notes and pizzicato strings.  The violin is primarily fast notes until the middle when she slows things down and it takes on a very different tone.  The middle features just a simple piano note repeated along with the women’s voices.

Before the last song she says, “I really wanted this moment to say something fun but I realized that our music isn’t very funny.”

And she’s right.  The music is sharp and inquisitive.  It’s not fun, but it’s very good.

“Don’t Know” has the pointed lyric: “And when did it become alright for you to take our rights and when did we decide to give away the life that we live today?”  There’s more sinister piano but there’s these interesting trills on the violin (and backing vocals) that float above the music.  It’s really some great and enticing music.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish

I really enjoyed the other two books in this series, and the tagline “Yet another 11-Year old time-travelling Orthodox Jewish babysitter” let me know I’d be in for more of the same fun.

Mirka is the 11-year-old orthodox girl.  Her mother died when she was young and her father remarried.  She has a brother and two step-sisters.  Her step mother is tough but fair (sometimes).  And they live very distinctly Orthodox life–Non Orthodox Jews are called moderns.  We learn a bit about Orthodox culture–there are lots of Jewish phrases with translations at the bottom, and little cartoon which show that unmarried women keep their hair long, while married women cut it short or shave it and wear a wig called a snood.

Right now the crisis in Mirka’s life is her six-year old step-sister Layele.  Mirka is going to babysit Layele for a couple of days.  Just as the adults leave, Fruma mentions having seen something in the woods–but stops herself before she can reveal anything.  This of course only sets Mirka’s mind in motion and she immediately defies orders and goes into the woods with Layele. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PATTY GRIFFIN-Tiny Desk Concert #282 (June 24, 2013).

I have Patty Griffin’s first two albums—I like her folkie sensibilities and her voice which I tend to think of as a little unusual.  And yet it’s not unusual here at all.  She sings powerfully and beautifully.

For this Tiny Desk Concert she’s playing some from her then new release:

she takes care to balance the exquisite mourning of “Faithful Son” — and the sweetly somber “That Kind of Lonely,” which Griffin describes as “a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence” — by closing her set with the playfully bawdy, kindly celebratory “Get Ready Marie.” Inspired by a favorite photo of her grandparents, the song finds Griffin viewing two complicated lives with the generous, hopeful eye she’s been casting on her subjects for three fruitful decades now.

She opens with “Faithful Son.” I love how the middle of this has a cool section where the two acoustic guitars (played by Griffin and Dave Pulkingham) face each other and strum hard for a bit.  The problem for me with this song is that the baritone guitar (played by Craig Ross) is either out of tune or the Ross hits a few wrong notes.  Since it resonates a bit louder than anything else, it’s really noticeable.  The accordion (played by John Deaderick) isn’t loud enough either.

“That Kind Of Lonely” is, as noted, a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence.  It’s a pretty, quiet number.  A good contrast to “Get Ready Marie.”  She says she is always picking on her family for stories.  She says she got this idea from a photograph of her grandparents taken just after they wed in the 1920s.  Her grandmother is looking at the camera like maybe she made the biggest mistake of her life and her grandfather (who looks really handsome) looks like he can’t wait to get his hands on her. They had a wild relationship—plates were lying.  This is a comic bawdy song that sounds like a traditional drinking song with some great lyrics:

No this isn’t the end of our story
No our marriage stuck like a habit
But I had a good hunch, when she kissed me a bunch
She could do other things like a rabbit

It’s in ¾ time and the accordion is louder here and it all sounds terrific.  It’s hard to believe that she’s been playing for 30 years, but she sure sounds like a pro.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis 2

I found Persepolis to be an amazing book.  A peek inside a regime that was sort of mythically wicked during my childhood. Marjane’s personal story was interesting of course, but I enjoyed seeing just what was happening in this world that seemed so mysterious when I was growing up.

This sequel is a little less exciting because it is more or less about a lonely teenager in Europe.  I think if the first book wasn’t so groundbreaking, this one wouldn’t feel as disappointing.  Her story is interesting and her experiences are story-worthy, but compared to the first book this one is the awkward teenage years.

We see that Marjane’s being sent to Europe didn’t go quite as planned.  She stayed with her mom’s friend.  But the friend fought with her husband all the time and their house was not a happy one. They felt that they couldn’t look after Marjane so they sent her to boarding school in Vienna–Marjane didn’t speak German. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Tiny Desk Concert #281 (June 17, 2013).

I really like Billy Bragg.  Not necessarily all of his music, but I like a lot of it and I certainly love what he stands for.  If you like his instantly recognizable voice (which I do), then just about anything he does sounds good.  But no doubt some songs are catchier than others.

Bragg played a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016 with someone else as part of a duo.  I’d listened to that one first, but I liked this one more.

For this one he is accompanied on the first two songs by dobro player C.J. Hillman.

Bragg talks a lot–he has many lengthy stories between songs–and he’s pretty much always funny or thoughtful.  He introduces the first song by saying that moving into a new building always has troubles–you’ll always need someone to fix things up.  With that, his first song is called “Handyman Blues.”

It’s a great story song.  I especially like this line:

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed / but I can write a song about how much I love you instead.

It’s amusing that in the next song workers actually interrupt his song.  They were “met with lot of hammering on our rooftop by some real handymen as they put the finishing touches on NPR’s new home.”

For the second song they

channeled the spirit of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie, with whom Bragg collaborated — albeit posthumously, in Guthrie’s case — when he took Guthrie’s unsung words and set them to song with the help of Wilco. Here, he takes a song Guthrie himself co-opted and altered: a gospel tune (“This World Is Not My Home”) he’d turned into an anthem against inaction.

Bragg introduces this song as saying he took it over when the U.S. was having the debate about universal health care.  He says that people still face all the same problems that this classic song talks about–people losing homes to banks or families struggling to make ends meet.  But the middle verse is about a wife who dies on the floor for want of proper health care.  Bragg says that that doesn’t happen in his country anymore and it’s hard for people in his country to imagine that a generous country like the US still hasn’t resolved that issue (and five years later things are even worse with Trumpcare–#ITMFA #RESIST).

Guthrie called the song “I Ain’t Got No Home (In This World Anymore”).  After he sings a verse, the hammering starts and they pause the song to wait for the work to finish before he re-starts the song.  In the meantime they talk about what his band should do in Washington.  Someone says the National Archives and he jokes the Nashville Archive?  He says that they really enjoyed Nashville.  Then he mentions the National Archive to CJ and says

We can find out how the Americans started the war of 1812.  (chuckles).  I just played Annapolis, they’re still sore about it over there.  Never mind who won the war but who started it.

It’s another nice story song.  The dobro works perfectly with it.

“Sexuality” is the only song on this set that I knew.  It’s an old favorite that is serious and funny as well (and very progressive for when it was written).  It sounds terrific and is super catchy.  Although he comments that the acoustics aren’t that great in this new building–there’s not much bounce back off the walls “for those of us who technically aren’t great singers.  But for those of us who are buskers like myself, it’s not bad.”

Introducing the final song, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” he says he read an article on the BBC about a kid who proved that economics professors were wrong and the article commented that “the trouble with economics is that no one knows nothing anymore.”  He says that had just written a song with that same name, so he’s with the zeitgeist.

He also interjects that there will be pedants–“and there are one or two who listen to NPR, I’m sure” who will write in to say it should be ‘no one knows anything any more.’  But the first thing they teach you at songwriting school is that alliteration trumps grammar.

And then he starts strumming “Sexuality “and says “Oh, I’ve just played that.”

“No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a nice folkie, very-Billy Bragg song–good melody and really good lyrics.

At the end, as the camera fades to black he says “Chris, pass the hat around.”

I’m so happy that Billy Bragg is still making music.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis

This graphic novel is legendary, and I’m embarrassed it has taken me 13 years to read it.

Persepolis is a memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  I appreciated the contextualizing introduction in which she explains the history of the country.

The introduction lays out a basic outline of the history of Iran and the Middle East (that goes all the way back to B.C years).  She explains that Iran has always been a rich nation and has constantly been under attack.  When oil was discovered, the West came calling.  Great Britain wielded a powerful influence over Iranian economy.  During WWII, Iran remained neutral but then was invaded by the west.

The Prime Minister of Iran (not the Shah) nationalized the oil industry in 1951 which led to an embargo and a coup organized by the CIA.  The leader, Reza Shah was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah–known simply as the Shah of Iran.  The Shah stayed in power until 1979 when he fled to escape the Islamic Revolution.

She says that since the Islamic revolution Iran has been associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism, but she knows that this is far from the truth.  And that’s what inspired her to writ this book.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK GO-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MVULA-Tiny Desk Concert #284 (July 1, 2013).

I don’t know Mvula’s music (I know her because her name is unmistakable and I feel surprised that her debut came out only 4 years ago).  The blurb talks about her big powerhouse soulful pop.  But that is not in evidence here at all.  As they say:

with the help of a small string section, she forgoes some of her flashier songs (“Like the Morning Dew,” “Green Garden”) in favor of Sing to the Moon‘s most brooding ballads.

“Father, Father” is almost entirely her singing and playing a very spare keyboard–with just a few seconds of string help near the end.  Her voice is quite lovely in what is practically an a cappella setting.

She introduces the second song by saying: “If we had the bigger band we’d do the more upbeat things.  I usually write in six-part harmony.  But it’s just the three of us so I’m going to do another more intimate one called ‘Diamonds.'”  There’s more strings on this song, which add to the song (the keyboard is quite thin, I fear).

The set ends with “She,” a song with a bit more complex keyboard parts which I rather like.  This song is my favorite, probably because it sounds the fullest.

The whole set is a little too mellow for my tastes, but I am curious to hear what her big poppy six-part-harmony songs sound like!

[READ: April 21, 2016] The Right Here Right Now Thing

I found this graphic novel at work. What was so funny about it is that the title is in English but the publisher is German.  I flipped through the book and saw the English dialogue so I decided to read it.  Imagine my surprise then that the first few and the last few pages are in German!

Google Translate is a good thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do as well with idiom and vulgar phrases, and there are a few in this book.  But I got the gist.

Plus, quite a lot of it is wordless, too.

The story begins with hands putting drugs (I assume cocaine and pot from later sections) into a condom.  And then we see our heroine on the toilet…doing something.  Her plane ticket says Frankfurt-Krakau.  She says goodbye to the guy lying in bed and she heads to the airport. (more…)

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odddicksSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Boy [CST102] (2014).

carlaI listened to this disc casually a few times and never really got into it.  But when I listened with headphones and focused on it, there was a lot of good stuff about it.  The music is really spare and it’s kind of hard to grab onto anything on a casual listen.  As with much of what Bozulich does, she’s very free form—there’s usually a melody but it’s not up front.  But careful listening pulls out what the songs are designed to do.  It’s not always rewarding listening as her stuff is certainly abrasive, but I was pleased to hear some really cool sounds on the disc.

“Ain’t No Grave” is an impressionist song made up of a few bass notes and a  lot of voices.  There’s Bozulich singing and peaking and a male singing low notes with her during the chorus.  About half way through, the song adds complicated drumming and a sprinkling of keys—all impressionistic stabs at rhythm and melody.  It’s a difficult track and certainly a difficult opening track, but the catchy parts are intriguing the way they emerge from the chaos. “One Hard Man” opens with percussive drumming and Bozulich’s repeated refrain of “one hard man.”  Noisy guitars are added between verses and the thumping is strangely catchy.   “Drowned to the Light” is mellower with quiet instruments and delicate singing.  It’s the first “pleasant song” on the disc despite the menacing tone.  The chorus introduces a pretty melody both in vocals and violin.  It follows a murder ballad style.

“Don’t Follow Me” is mostly spoken word with percussion and accents of keyboards although the chorus does add a melody to the voices.  It’s amazing how simple chords and a backing voice can really add something to what is such a spare song.  The song ends with a  cool refrain of “spinning dreams spinning dreams” that builds nicely.  “Gonna Stop Killing” opens with sound effects and backwards rolling tapes.  But the vocal melody is the catchiest so far with a great chorus of rising notes and Bozulich’s aching voice and hammered dulcimer.  The middle section even has a fairly conventional melody line.  It’s unexpectedly pretty given the lyrics.

The second half of the disc seems to coalesce into a more melodic and song-structured  half. “Deeper Than the Well” has scratching guitars and deep slow  bass with the lyrics “I wish that I could fuck up the whole world.”  It’s menacing but catchy and seems to lurch along with only Bozulich’s voice keeping the song going.  “Danceland” opens as a slow bluesy song with quiet verses and a simple three note bass line.  But it’s joined by a really surprisingly catchy chorus “if we could spin under the light in  dance….land.  It was always night in dance….land.”  The middle section is a little weird until it resolves to that familiar chorus again.  The song really seems to slowly unfold with quieter moments leading to if not louder ones, then certainly fuller moments.   “Lazy Crossbones” adds some keyboards to the main melody.  It has one of the stranger catchy melodies that I can think of—quietly and slowly sung “hey hey it’s a parade.” But the organ sound is so unlike anything else it really stands out.  “What Is It, Baby” begins as a kind of slow, almost bluesy type of song until the big chords kick in for the chorus (which I imagined someone like Elvis singing).  The middle of the song has a soaring “ooooh” section which sounds quite unusual for her.  The ringing chords sound so vivid.

The disc ends with “Number X” an almost entirely instrumental 4 and a half-minute track.  The song starts slowly with meandering guitar notes and an interesting yet menacing melody underneath.  A nearly four-minute build up leads to Bozulich reciting a kind of poem that ends with the disc.

Bozulich consistently explores unusual territory and while this will never get played on any radio, it is more friendly than some of her other releases.

[READ: April 1, 2016] Odd Ducks

Odd Ducks is a play commissioned by the Nova Scotia playhouse.  It is set in Tartan Cross, Nova Scotia.

There are four characters, all in their 40s. Ambrose Archibald, he is unemployed but charming and a total narcissist; Mandy Menzies was the high school beauty queen but she is in a bad marriage now, a naive sweet woman. Estelle Carmichael is Mandy’s friend and housekeeper–she had a crush on Mandy in school and has sworn off men forever.  Freddy Durdle is Ambrose’s only friend but even he is fed up with Ambrose’ behavior.

The play opens with Ambrose out in the woods trying to find himself.  And after a few minutes of soul searching and a minor fright he has succeeded.  He is pontificating about himself when Estelle comments that she can’t listen to this crap anymore.  She tells him he is full of it.  To which Ambrose says, I forgive you. (more…)

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