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Archive for the ‘Drinking’ Category

SOUNDTRACKDEDICATED MEN OF ZION-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 /138(January 11, 2021).

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

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

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

The first band on the first night are the Dedicated Men of Zion from North Carolina.

Dedicated Men of Zion come to you from their backyard barbecue in North Carolina, bringing with them an electrified version of sacred Gospel soul music. This family band (all related through blood or marriage) has been isolating together during the pandemic, and the members are excited to provide an uplifting note during difficult times.

They sing three songs in front of an amazing looking barbeque in Dex’s backyard.  The first, “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” is a rocking gospel song.  There’s a great old-fashioned organ sound from Aaron Adams.  The four men sing.  Anthony “Amp” Daniels sings lead, Dexter Weaver [his nephew-in-law], Antwan “Ace” Daniels [his son], and Marcus Sugg [his son-in-law] sing great backing vocals.  There’s a fun jam at the end.

“Can’t Turn Me Around” opens with Mark Richardson playing a simple blues riff on the guitar. Then Jerry Harrison joins in on bass.  Amp is full on power singing through it.  He sounds great.

For “It’s A Shame,” Ace takes over lead vocals.  He has a good voice, but not nearly as commanding as his father.  Drums throughout are provided by Amp’s little brother Jaheim Daniels.

They sound great, but honestly I kept thinking about that barbeque.

[READ: January 2, 2021]

Despite the boring title I was really intrigued by this story.  The cover is tshirtking and the blurb was really intense-sounding.

So, I was really fascinated that the fundamental basis of the story the #FeesMustFall Rally was real: #FeesMustFall was a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa.  Much of the story is grounded in the reality and danger of this movement.

The story takes place over the course of a week and each chapter is told from one of six character’s person’s point of view.

Hector, a student protester is looking to get everyone riled up about the cost of education in Cape Town.

Noné, South Africa’s president is not ready to deal with this interruption because she has a big public event coming up–an extraordinary zoo.  Noné was once a student protestor herself but she has since become The System.  She can’t trust anyone because everyone is out to get her.  The only reliable face she knows is Alice.  Alice is young an beautiful and while Noné knows that Alice probably wants her job (and is undoubtedly prettier than she is), at this point Alice is a perfect assistant and only makes Noné look better.

Thuli is a student and friend of Hector.  She has been “glitching” where she can see seven days in the future.  She knows that Hector’s life is in danger.  She has to try to convince reporter Helen that what she’s saying is true. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LABESS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

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

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

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

The second band on the first night is Labess.

This Algerian and Canadian band proves that music has no boundaries even in times of isolation. Recording its set from France and Colombia, Labess blends flamenco and Gypsy jazz-influenced North African chaabi into energetic soul music with a nonstop beat. Singing in Arabic, French and Spanish, lead vocalist Nedjim Bouizzoul mixes realism and hope, gentleness and fury, in stories about exile that illustrate the joys and the distress that pave the road from the native countries to new homes and back again. Through his poetry, he proposes we reflect on cultural diversity and the necessity to unite, no matter our differences.

“Yal Maknin” opens with Rabah Khalfa playing the derbouka hand drum and a great riff on the banjo from Simon Demouveaux.  Nedjim Bouizzoul sings lead.  As the song move on, Demouveaux plays a solo along with strings from Simon Lannoy (cello) and Loran Bozic (violin).  It’s a lot of different sounds that work well together.

“Yemma” is a much quieter ballad.  Bouizzoul plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Khalfa plays the derbouka and Demouveauz plays a grougious melody on the oud.

They end with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Mike Rajamahendra opens with drums accompanied by François Taillefer and Julio Frias on percussion.  Pierre Bonnet played some excellent bass in the first song. It sounds even better in this song.  Bouizzol sings in Spanish on this one.  The middle of the sing shifts gears and sounds very Spanish, with great horns from Javier Villa (trombone), Rafael “Pachalo” Gavilan (trumpet) and Moises Marquez Leyva (saxophone).  Then comes a drum and percussion section (including Bouizzoul playing percussive guitar.   Finally, along comes the star of the song–Miche Molina plays a wonderful button accordion solo.

[READ: January 2, 2021] A Poor Season for Whales

After having not had much exposure to South African writers (or really much of anything South African), I’m now on my second book.  This one is fiction.

My ignorance of South Africa is pretty vast, so I had to do a bunch of looking things up while I was reading.  Race plays a pretty big role in this book, so i wante dto look up some information about that.

About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages. The remaining population consists of communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).  The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most coloured and white South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

So South Africa has a pretty intense history.  This story addresses that history in some ways–it seems almost unavoidable frankly–but it’s more about an older white woman and the relationship she forms with a younger colored man.

The book starts on November 20, 2018 and runs through the new year.

Margaret Crowley a white fifty-something woman.  She is an architect, is clever and rich and has just moved into a home she designed for herself in Hermanus.  She used to live in Cape Town but left all of her friends and family to find some space in the more bucolic suburbs. The only living creature she brings with her to Hermanus is her dog Benjy, a fun and loyal Doberman.  

There’s some more fascinating things I learned about South Africa.  This story is set at Christmas time and in South Africa, Christmas is warm.  There are also whales who come to calve outside of Hermanus, making it a very popular tourist destination.  The title “a poor season for whales” refers to the fact that not many whales came to calve this year.

Margaret has recently had more upheaval than just a new house.  After twenty-six years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger man.  She is not angry about it–she’s coping rather well, but she is still disappointed in the way things turned out.

The back of the book draws you in with this

After nearly fifty six years in the world with very little to stress or vex her, it was therefore hardly to be foreseen that in her fifty-sixth year she would kill a man with a kitchen knife.

Things get exciting at the very start of the book.  Margaret is walking Benjy along the sea front when he spots some dassies and charges after them.

Okay, so what the hell are dassies?  That was the first thing I had to look up (they are an African rodent found among rocky outcroppings.)  They were several meters down the cliff.  Benjy went after them he had no way to get back up.  And if he went further over the cliff he would clearly plummet to his death.

As she is freaking out a young man calms her down.  He says he will help.  He rappels down the side of the cliff an helps poor Benjy up and back to safety.  Benjy has made a new friend for life.   The man is a twenty four year old named Jimmy Prinslii-Mazibuko. 

He is very handsome with gray green eyes and caramel skin.  Jimmy is what is known as “colored” in Africa–

In early 20th-century South Africa, the word “Coloured” was a social category rather than a legal designation and typically indicated a status intermediate between those who were identified as “white” and those who were identified as “black.” The classification was largely arbitrary, based on family background and cultural practices as well as physical features. Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites

Margaret is obviously very grateful to Jimmy for saving Benjy.  She asks how she can repay him and Jimmy basically asks if he can stop by her house for coffee and maybe a clean up (he’s cut in a few places).  Margaret is hesitant obviously–she doesnt know this man at all–but Jimmy is persuasive and seems sincere enough.  She agrees.

As she puts the ointment on his leg (at his insistence), she finds the whole scene erotcialy charged–but what could a 24 year old want with a fifty-six year old woman?   

Jimmy stays for a time and is completely irritating to her.  He loves to argue and enjoys giving her grief about pedantic issues.  Their conversations are wonderful–funny and very believable.  Jimmy is clearly smart and knows how to turn convention on its head to get what he wants.

Jimmy has really left an impression on her, but she assumes she’ll never see him again.  But the next morning when she goes to the grocery store, she sees him hitchhiking.  He flags her down and she takes him in to town.  She assumes that’s the end of it but he’s waiting at the car when she is dione shopping. She gives him a ride back home and he helps unload the groceries and then offers to make a meal for her.  (She is a terrible cook and he studied to be a chef).

She really doesn’t know what to make of this young man.

One of the most wonderful things (and timely for today–ITMFA) about this book is how much their discussion revolves around eviscerating donald trump.

The ANC was off the wall, Brexit had been a colossal blunder and donald trump was a buffoon, albeit an extremely dangerous buffon.

Even better is Jimmy assessment of how trump won

“I know I’m not saying anything original, said Margaret, but it remains a mystery how a developed, prosperous country like America could have elected a vulgar huckster as its president”
He laughed, “What is democracy but vulgar hucksterism dressed up as the will of the people?
“But democracy is the will of the people,” she objected.  “At least of a majority of the people.”
“Okay fair enough, yea but what determines the will of the people?”  Most people wouldn’t know what to have for breakfast if their TV didn’t tell them.  It’s all showbiz, reality TV, and Trump wasn’t on reality TV for chicken shit. His deal is selling himself to people who like to believe hey too can live in gold-plated skyscraper and screw supermodels”
“But he’s so unappetising.”
… “Sure he’s unappetising but that’s part of his appeal.  Most of the people who vote for him aren’t that appetising either–you’ve seen them on TV, men with paunches, brassy blonde women with too many teeth.  It’s the Revenge of the Uncool, the people left behind in Gun-and-God Gulch, who at the snobbery of the cool, with their trigger warnings and their safe spaces and their gay marriages and their abortions, the people who fly over what they call flyover country and cannot understand how anybody can actually live there…and electing Donald fucking Trump doesn’t make them any more cool, but it sure makes the cool eat a lot of shit. Because the last revenge of the uncool is to annoy the cool.

The story also deals with race issues in an unexpected way.

Jimmy introduces margaret to his friend Thuthukile.

She says to Margaret, “as a black person, I feel unsafe in Sea Point, I feel my identity threatened by the rising tide of whiteness.”
“Excuse me,” Margaret could not help but saying, “but did you say ‘as a black person?'”
“Yes, sure I did, I mean just because I was born with a white skin that doesn’t mean I’m white, Right?”
“Oh, I thought that was exactly what it did mean.”
“No, that’s the old essentialist argument.  I have a while skin but I self-identify as black. I mean, you have people born with penises who self-identify as women, and people born with vaginas who self-identify as men, right?”

When she talks to her friends and family back home about Jimmy, they have amusing reactions. Her best friend Frieda is scandalized (but fascinated) by this young man and wants all of the salacious details.  Her daughter Celia is actually too interested in her own life to care all that much, but her son Carl is concerned.  He is the same age (almost) as Jimmy and goes to the same school that Jimmy did.  He finds out some things about Jimmy that Margaret is not too pleased about.

As Christmas approaches, Margaret get st the unwelcome news that her former cleaning lady Rebecca needs to move in with her.  When Margaret moved to this smaller place, she no longer needed Rebecca who went to live with her own daughter.  But now the cleaning lady finds her living situation unbearable and insists that Margaret allow her to live with her.  Margaret can’t say no largely out of guilt.

There was an earlier comment from Jimmy that I found interesting.  When Margaret told him that she no longer employed a cleaning lady he was offended that she had money and wouldn’t give a needy person a job.  She had felt a little guilty about employing someone to clean for her, but he says it’s better that she an income, right? 

Rebecca lives in a sketchy area and Margaret is nervous to go there, but Jimmy offers to drive. He also speaks isiXhosa which impresses Rebecca and her neighbors very much.

Another wonderful subplot comes when Maraget goes to her daughter’s engagement party.  No one is looking forward to it because no one really likes her fiancee.  But everyone has a pretty good time.  Margaret also runs into her ex-husband’s sister Felicity.  Felicity is a large brash woman–the exact opposite of her brother.  She is flirtatious (even with her nephew) and tells some wonderfully scandalous stories (she believes that her father killed her mother).

This all leads to a big event on Christmas Eve at Margaret’s house.  She invites Miriam, her children and Felicity.  Jimmy agrees to cook and serve.

The party is a disaster with Felicity getting drunk and offending everyone: “when did young people get so humourless.”  At the talk of politics, Felicity grew animated

with trump the troll in the white house, Timid Theresa in Number 10 and Balls-over-Brains Vlad in the Kremlin, we’re fucked.  America is fucked, of course, it goes without saying, but where America goes the planet goes, so the planet is fucked.  And you know why?  Because fifty-two percent of white American women want their pussies grabbed.  That’s the percentage of white America women who voted for trump, right?  In the full knowledge of his pussy-grabbing propensities.
Aunt Felicity are you saying women want to be sexually assaulted?
No love I’m saying that a politically significant number of white women, fifty two wpercent,to be exact don’t regard pussy grabbing as sexual assault otherwise they wouldn’t vote for that tangerine troll, would they?
They may think that trump’s other virtues cancel ot his less admirable propensities
What other virtues love?  His humility?  His honesty?

At this point Celia stormed off.  Felicity was too drunk to drive home. Her son was too drunk to drive home. Carl and Jimmy hit it off and Jimmy wound up spending the night, with Carl.  Margaret is not sure what to think of this.

Things get very intense after this.  Margaret finds out that Jimmy’s secretive past is quite bad–he is mixed up with some very bad people  She can’t decide if she wants him gone for ever or wants him around all the time.  Two big unexpected events happen–one with Jimmy and one with Jimmy’s associates.

And yes, she does stab someone with a kitchen knife. 

I really enjoyed this story a lot and it has led me to other South african authors who I have also liked a lot.  

Incidentally, this book has a blurb: “Pitch Perfect. Aclever, bitingly funny novel.  It had me riveted,” from Finuala Dowling and I just happen to have a book by her with a blurb from Heyns: “Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.”

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SOUNDTRACK: ACTIVE CHILD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #131 (January 6, 2021).

Active Child has been around a long time, although I was completely unfamiliar with him.

Active Child is the music of Patrick Grossi. … He layers his choral-styled voice on top of melodic harp and piano. Electronic beats propel selections from his latest album, In Another Life, as well as one of his earliest and well-known songs, “Hanging On.”

He opens with “Hanging On.”  A drumbeat begins along with his high soaring voice.  As the camera fades in, he is playing the harp.  As he samples and loops himself, he switches to piano to play the main verse.  Then the loop starts and the room fills with music.  It’s pretty neat to watch him jump from piano to harp and again for a solo.

From a stunning room overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, Calif., we hear the ethereal sounds of Active Child. “I chose this space, as this is where I’ve written nearly every piece of music for my active child project. my music and this house / this view are completely intertwined.”

As he’s talking, the drm for “In Another Life” begins.  I couldn’t see how he triggered it at all.  Over a drum beat and harp, he sings an ethereal melody.  When he switches to the piano his voice loops in a nice harmony.

There’s a very slow fade from one scene to the other as he begins “Cruel World.”  He starts looping and harmonizing with himself.  This is the catchiest of the three mostly from all of the looping.

[READ: January 6, 2021] Days of Our Lockdown Lives

In addition to the Zapiro book of editorial cartoons, we also got a comic strip collection from Stephen Francis and Rico (Schacherl).  This was a book in the Madam & Eve comic strip series.  There are thirty plus collections and this is the most recent.

Madam & Eve is a daily comic strip syndicated in many South African newspapers.  It started in 1992 and went daily in 1993. The premise is based around a middle-class white woman, Gwen Anderson (“Madam”), and her black maid, Eve Sisulu and how they manage in the new South Africa as the Apartheid era drew to a close.

Theirs is a relationship of affectionate squabbling.  Perhaps in the spirit of equality, neither character is portrayed as particularly sympathetic. Madam is always coming up with silly ideas in order to fit in more with the new way of life. Eve meanwhile keeps coming up with ways of obtaining extra cash out of Madam and others.

There is also a lot of political humor with strips mentioning topical incidents and also featuring some of the political figures in the news–so the Zapiro book is a nice companion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Rainy Day Women 12 & 35″ (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Five” December 14, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fifth night is a classic rock staple: a singalong from Bob Dylan.

So now everybody must get stoned (not in the Law of Moses sense) as we put some blood on this track: Rainy Day Women 12&35 by the immortal Bob Dylan!

Anyone who has listened to classic rock radio has heard this song a hundred times.  And if you heard it when you were younger, it made you chuckle because he says “everybody must get stoned.”  I have often wondered if there is any more depth to the song than that.  Also, why it is called “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35.”

Kurstin plays the piano on this one–a bouncy barroom piano rag.  He also adds harmonica.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  These drums are about the simplest thing that he’s ever played–a two beat snare and bass drum. He doesn’t try to sing like Dylan (that would be too obvious), although he definitely sings more like Dylan than himself.

It’s a straightforward song and both of them have a lot of fun with it.

[READ: December 15, 2020] “The Game”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 15. Kris Bertin, author of Use Your Imagination!, would like to buy a vowel. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is about allowing fate to control your life.

The narrator and his friend Brad both work at a University.  They are both published authors although neither has written anything since they got the jobs.

Brad believed in “all that shit”–he got his fortune told,  did Tarot, I Ching, Ouija–he did it all. He believes that he is fucked on a cosmic level.  He is trying to bring his wife and child to where he is working, but he can’t afford to do so yet.

The narrator tries to convince him it’s all junk and says he’ll do a fortune for him right now.  But Brad knows that having any of that divination shit in your house is bad luck.  However, he does have a can of dice.

The dice are a large assortment of letters–from multiple Boggle games.  Brad tells him you roll the dice and you read what it says–not all the letters obviously, just what speaks to you.

The first roll produced

GOGET ON THE ROOF QIUCK

So they did.  The roof was beautiful–a lovely night, a lovely view, and a flat surface to keep rolling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACIE AND RACHEL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #98 (October 19, 2020).

I only know Gracie and Rachel from a previous Tiny Desk Concert.  I was entranced by that performance and am similarly entranced by this one.

Gracie and Rachel are perfect musical mates. Their styles conjure contrast, with Gracie Coates’ more pop-leaning keyboard melodies alongside Rachel Ruggles’ classical background. They’ve been honing their orchestral pop sound since high school. These days they share space in a NYC apartment and are grateful to be able to “commute from their bedrooms” at a time when so many collaborators can’t be together.

They open with “Strangers.”  Gracie plays the keyboards and sings lead with a wonderfully breathy voice.  Rachel plays the violin and then starts adding in percussion and singing higher (sometime haunting) backing vocals.

They’ve just released their second album, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. The title of the album reflects their positive attitude despite angst.  The duo made much of this music in the past year and a half, in the very room they’re performing this Tiny Desk (home) concert

On “Ideas,” they sing together a classical melody with a tinge of autotune.  Then the song shifts to the delicacy of Gracie’s keys and Rachel’s pizzicato violin.

The lyrics to “Ideas” highlights that attitude by encouraging us to dig inside ourselves and discover our creative spirit” “So take your little ideas / Make them a little bit stronger / Throw out the ones you can’t / You don’t need them any longer.”

When the drums come in they are deep and heavy and there’s a very cool bass slide (triggered by Rachel on the SPD-SX sampling pad).  I love the highs and lows of this song.

“Sidelines” features Rachel playing the drums live (on the sampling pad with mallets) while Gracie sings and plays the keyboard melody.  For the bridge, their voices intertwine in a lovely way, weaving in and out of each others melodies.  Then Rachel picks up the violin and adds some more lovely pizzicato to the song.  When she adds her soaring backing vocals its really quite angelic.

“Underneath” is a song about getting underneath ourselves. Rachel plays squeaky, haunting violin melodies to accompany the keys.  There are several parts to this song and I love the way they sound so different–from the strummed violin in the bridge to the rising vocal line of the chorus.

These songs are definitely poppy but they have an unusual sensibility that must come from Rachel’s classical ideas.  The songs are really wonderful and I’m curious what they sound like when fully fleshed out on record.

[READ: December 1, 2020] “Over the Plum-Pudding”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 1. To officially kick off the 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar, here’s a story about truth, fiction, and characters who can’t tell the difference from the late author and humourist John Kendrick Bangs.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story contains some parodies of other writers and uses them as an excuse for why the editor’s own Christmas collection did not get published on time.

It opens with a note from Horace Wilkinson, the editor at Hawkins, Wilkes & Speedway Publishing.  He sets out to explain why the advertised Christmas book “Over the Plum-Pudding or, Tales Told Under the Mistletoe, by Sundry Tattlers” was never published.  He has been getting questions from the authors who were supposed to be paid for their work when the collection was published.  He wants to publicly set the record straight.

Right off the bat, he places the blame entirely on the shoulders of Rudyard Kipling.  This made me chuckle. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POLO G.-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #106 (November 4, 2020).

I love that they play this Tiny Desk at a (socially distanced) basketball court.  The band are all wearing Lakers jerseys.

I love the live band in this set.  They are amazing and totally make the Concert worth hearing.

Polo G’s eyes are hidden behind his hair for the majority of his performance, but as he sings “I’m so sick of farewells and RIPs” on his latest single, “Epidemic,” it becomes clear that this 21-year-old Chicago emcee is going through a lot. I found it refreshing to hear a rapper normally backed by beats bare his “heart and soul” with a live band.

I had never heard of Polo G.

The man born Taurus Bartlett has achieved quite a bit for a relative newcomer in hip-hop. This summer he was selected for XXL’s popular Freshman Class cover. His second LP, The Goat, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 200 and spawned two platinum-certified singles, including the braggadocious “Flex” that kicks off his Tiny Desk.

“Flex” is impressive for the virtually nonstop rapping that he does.  His delivery is fast and he never seems to come up for air.  There’s some soft echoing guitar throughout, although it never really changes.  But there’s a wild drum fill right at the end of the song.

Speaking of “heart and soul,” it amused me to hear him say he really put his heart and soul into this song, as if he doesn’t for the other ones.  And really, can’t you feel the heart and soul in lines like

Once you give my pussy up, it’s over with
Miss who you used to be, ’cause that’s who I was closer with
I’m in my bag, now I act like I don’t know the bitch

Before the final song he says that he was fortunate enough to play it with Bruce Hornsby.  “Wishing For A Hero” has the piano melody from “The Way It Is.”  He raps over it very quickly.  After his verse and chorus the backing singers (Shaunise Harris, Candice Boyd, Nava Morris) croon “the way it is” for a few more bars and then Polo G. walks off.

And that’s when the Concert really takes off!

The band jams for a bit, with a brief, thrashing drum solo from Vasjon Hill, followed by a little bass solo from Austin Cain and and some guitar shredding from Chris McCorkle.  When keyboardist Lamar Edwards gets his solo, it’s mixed a little too quietly  But they really jam out an have a good time.  I wish it was longer.  It’s almost a shame that polo G. is out there at all.

[READ: November 28, 2020] “Gigantic” 

This was one of those stories that seemed to try to turn me off right away.

It starts at a zoo.  But not a real zoo, more of a zoo behind the zoo, where the cast off animals go.  My understanding now is that zoos take good care of their animals (at least that’s what it seems).  Perhaps twenty years ago, near Camden Yards, things were different.

So the first page of the story is really gruesome and hard to read.  The narrator is named Fiddy, and he’s pretty awful.  But he’s not as bad as the guy who runs the zoo (Uncle Don) or the guy who works with Fiddy (Don’s nephew Dewey).  Dewey is the worst.  When Uncle Don has a complaint about something, Dewey blames Fiddy and Fiddy is fired. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-tears e.p. (2019).

Boris tends toward being a very heavy band.  Their two recently albums D.E.A.R. and NO are some intense heavy metal.  They also do a lot of noise and heavy drone.  But they are not afraid of melody.  And they are not at all afraid to make pretty, dancey music.

There are five songs.  The first song “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない (doushitemoanataoyurusenai)” is on the disc twice.  The first version of this song is a remix by Narasaki under his name “Sadesper.”  It opens with a grooving bass line and some pretty guitars.  The drums are metronomic and there’s a sprinkling of keys.  I’m not sure who sings, but there’s a lot of falsetto. I love how just before the chorus there’s some orchestra hits.  It’s pretty much a full on dance song and it suits them perfectly.  You’d never guess it was Boris, but it makes sense once you realize it.  It even ends with a nifty guitar solo that sadly fades out.

“u fu fu” opens with a fast simple guitar chugging riff.  After a good ol’ “Whoo!” from Atsuo, the song pulses forward on the insistent grunted  “ooh ah” that works as a foundation to the song.  There’s a lots of great backing vocals in each ear. With about a minute to go, the bass takes over with a fast, heavy rumble before the harmonizing vocals kick in.

Up next is a fantastic cover of a Coaltar of the Deepers song “To the Beach.”  I didn’t know Coaltar of the Deepers before this release, but I have listened to them a bunch since and they are a terrific Japanese band unknown in the States.  I’m not sure how much this differs from the original , but this version is fantastic–slow and moody with lots of build and release.  The song starts with a pretty guitar melody and then a series of crashing chords and cymbals while Wata’s guitar soars.  The verses are slow with a whispered vocal.  But the choruses resume the crashing chords to punctuate things perfectly.  In the middle of the song as the vocals overlap and blend, it sounds magnificent.

“Peaches” comes next, it’s a 2 minute song sung by Wata.  A pulsing bass line propels the song forward as Wata chants the the word “peaches” over and over with an occasional “la la la” fleshes things out.  A repeating piano is added for a bit and then a shift to a kind o funky bass line that leads to the end of the songs.  It’s only two minutes long and kind of goofy but I wish it was longer.

The disc ends with an instrumental version of “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない.”  The song is so catchy and wonderful that hearing it a second time in the EP is a great thing.  It’s one of the few instrumentals that I think might sound better than the original because you can really hear what the musicians are doing–and its some great stuff.

[READ: October 29, 2020] The Ten Loves of Nishino

I have a stack of books waist high next to my desk which I intend to read.  And yet, I continue to find new (to me) books that I jump in and read first.  This book was recommended by the most recent Tiny Desk Contest winner Linda Diaz.  Why on earth would I read a book recommended by a person I’d never heard of before?  She said it was her favorite book ever (which seems weird since it only came out in English last year, but whatever).  It was also pretty short.  So I decided to check it out.

I have enjoyed many of the Japanese writers that I’ve read, so I was intrigued to read a contemporary female author (this book was translated by Allison Markin Powell).

So this book is written in ten chapters–each one written by a lover of Nishino, an enigmatic figure whom we only learn about from the women writing about him.

There is something strangely seductive about Nishino that these women find hard to resist.  He is aloof and puzzling, but that seems to make women want him even more.  But he is perpetually with women (more than these ten, it would appear). (more…)

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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-The Districts (2014).

The Districts are a band from around Philly.  They are very popular there.  I saw them live with a crowd that knew every word to every song (I didn’t know them that well and felt a little out of place).

The band was in high school in Lititz, PA when they formed.  They independently released a couple of EPs and an album, Telephone in 2012 (while they were sophomores).

This EP was their first for a label (Fat Possum) and has three newly recorded songs from Telephone as well as two new songs.

“Rocking Chair” opens the EP.  There’s some Americana-ish guitar melodies and the some loping, rocking chords.  There’s also a couple of “whoos” and a full on “oooh” singalong part near the end. Rob Grote’s voice is old-in-a-young-body, with some nice gruffness.

“Lyla” is a slower, moodier piece with some really pretty guitar fills at the end of each verse.  There’s some loose, rambling dah dah dah’s near the end of the song that are very fitting to the feel of the record.

“Funeral Beds” starts out with quiet guitar and a harmonica!  There’s some slide guitar-sounding parts, giving it a desert feel.  The drums start as simply a thumping bass drum. At three and a half minutes, the drums amp up to include some martial snare beats.  And then the song takes off, rocking on to it’s five and a half minute conclusion.

“Long Distance” is my favorite track on the record.  It’s got a great melody, some clear guitars and jaunty rocking chord changes.  It’s got a big raucous sing along chorus.  After almost five minutes the song drops away for a simple thumping bass line and the whole band singing the chorus.

“Stay Open” ends the EP with a bit more raucousness–alternately slow and rocking controlled sloppiness.

It’s a great introduction.  They would follow this with a terrific full length the next year.

[READ: September 19, 2020] A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall

This book came across my desk and it sounded really interesting.  I’d never heard of the author–this is his second novel–but there was something about the title and the cover that grabbed me.

And boy did I really enjoy this book.

The book starts four months from now, with the narrator trapped under a car that has crashed into the sea.  It’s an inauspicious beginning, but proves to be the logical conclusion for a man whose life went from amazing to horrific in one day.

Davis Winger is the man trapped.  He has a lovely wife and daughter.  He has a very cool job (he designs roller coasters) and he is well liked by everyone.  Even by his sister, Molly, with whom he has a great relationship.  Molly proves to be an excellent co-protagonist.  Indeed, her story proves to be more interesting than his. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENEVENTO/RUSSO DUO-Play Pause Stop (2006).

This is the final release (so far) by the Benevento/Russo Duo.  There were two earlier ones that have not be reissued yet.  This follows in a similar style to the previous one, with great drumming and a wonderfully full sound from Benevento’s keys.

This album featured 9 songs and this reissue includes five live bonus tracks.  There’s a few shorter songs (under three minutes), but most are longer.  Like the title track, “Play Pause Stop” which is almost 8 minutes long.  It starts as a slow pretty melody with a lots of distortion on the keys.  There’s vocals on this track, but it still counts as an instrumental because the only words are whoa whoa–a happy inclusion for the chorus.

“Echo Park” is one of the shorter songs. It starts with simple piano melody and distorted washes of sound.  It turns into a super catchy, bouncy song.  Similarly, “Soba” starts slow and moody and turns into a rocking rager.

“Best Reason To Buy The Sun” features a lot of wild drumming.  It’s bookeneded by a pretty keyboard.  “Powder” opens with a pretty, staccato guitar melody.  The credits online don’t say who is playing the guitar.  The melody is looped as backwards solos are added.  It’s one of the trippier songs on the record until “Hate Frame” later on.

“Something For Rockets” opens like a Flaming Lips song with soaring chords.  It shifts to a singsong melody on the keys and then returns to the soaring melody.   The best title on the record is clearly “Walking, Running, Viking.”  It’s only 3 minutes long–a simple melody with a catchy solo near the end.

“Hate Frame: is 8 minutes long. It’s centered around a pulsing that sounds like an alarm followed by a rumbling bass.  By the middle of the song the music has turns utterly trippy, shooting off in all directions until it comes crashing back down with some fast frenetic drums.  The disc ends with “Memphis,” a slow loping song that sounds like it would work for a Western.

The bonus tracks are live versions of “Echo Park,” “Soba,” Walking, Running, Viking,” and “Something for Rockets” which all sound like jamming versions of the original.  The biggest change comes in the live version of “Play Pause Stop.”  It runs to nearly eleven minutes and stars with several minutes of noise and nonsense.  It’s surprising how long the noise goes on–they must have been having a blast.

[READ: August 31. 2020] Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

I bought this book for my son on a whim.  It was his birthday and the title made me laugh.  Now, he’s not much of a reader these days and it’s pretty unlikely that he would read a book like this, anyhow.  I knew when I bought it that if he didn’t read it I would certainly give it a go.

I thought that this book was going to be a funny look at an introvert going out and having a hilariously awkward time at various events.  I assumed it was comic essays.  Boy was I wrong.  This is, as the subtitle says, a book about Jessica Pan’s decision to start doing things.  This may not sound that compelling and when I first realized what the book was, I was a little disappointed–I wanted funny essays.  But then I read on about the things she actually said “yes” to and the book became inspiring (even if I’ll never do the things she did).

Pan starts out by saying that she doesn’t think anyone needs to be “cured” (introvert extrovert or otherwise).  But that she was unhappy and wanted to make a change.

Then she divides people in to two categories–those who would happily go to the Glastonbury festival and those who watch it on TV as if it was a horror show.  Obviously, as a painfully shy introvert she would not be going to Glastonbury.

Nearly one third of the population identify as introverts–people who gain their energy from being alone.  Meanwhile, extroverts get their energy from being around other people.   But there are two other parameters: shy and outgoing.  Some introverts can be confident in groups or when giving a presentation–they just can’t take the stimulation of large crwds for extended periods of time.  Then there are other like her who are shy as well–this is what she felt was making her miss out on things. (more…)

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