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SOUNDTRACK: CLIPPING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #190 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

clipping. is an intense band.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live opening for the Flaming Lips.  I was hoping to see them again before the pandemic hit.  This Tiny Desk doesn’t in any way replicate a live show because they play a little visual trick on the viewer–and they keep it up for the whole set.

Leave it to clipping. to innovate around the central notion of the Tiny Desk; to take the series’ emphasis on close-up intimacy and transport it to new heights of, well, tininess.

clipping is a dark, violent band

Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes craft a bed of hip-hop, industrial music and noisy experimentalism, then set loose rapper Daveed Diggs, whose violent imagery summons ’90s horrorcore and a thousand bloody movies. The band’s last two album titles — There Existed an Addiction to Blood and Visions of Bodies Being Burned — offer up a sense of the vibe, but Diggs’ gift for rapid-fire wordplay also acts as a leavening agent.

That’s right, Daveed Diggs.

The guy won a Tony Award for playing Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton, and he still knows how to sell every word that leaves his lips.

So it’s especially amusing to see them have a lot of fun with the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  The video opens with a few scenes of tables and gear.  But when the show starts, Daveed Diggs picks up a microphone that’s about the size of a toothpick and starts rapping into it.

  And when William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes come in they are playing laptops and other gear that’s barely an inch in length. I have to assume that this stuff doesn’t actually work and yet they are taking their job very seriously–touching and sliding and tapping and looping on these preposterous toys.

“Something Underneath” starts quietly and then Diggs shows off some of is incredibly fast rapping skills.  Then the guy on the right (I’m not sure who is who) comes into the cameras and starts messing with his tiny gear.  After about 2 minutes the guy on the left comes in and starts making all kinds of distorted beats.  It starts getting louder and louder and louder until the noise fades out and its just Diggs’ voice looping “morning” as he moves the camera and he starts the slower track

The only movement in the video is Diggs moving his camera around to different angles for each song.

“Bout That” is fairly quite until a few minutes in when the song launches off.

Diggs shifts his camera and is finally fully on screen before they start the creepy “Check the Lock.”  It’s got clanking and scratching and pulsing noises for the line

something in this room didn’t used to be / he ain’t ever scared tough / but he check the lock every time we walks by the door.

Midway through the guy on the left starts cranking a tiny music box and he plays it through the next two songs.

It segues into “Shooter” [is there a name for this style of rapping–each line has a pause and a punchline–I really like it].

The music box continues into “The Show” which starts to build louder and louder, getting more an more chaotic.  It fades and builds noisier and chaotic once more until it reduces to a simple beat.  And the guy on the right drinks from his can of BEER.

Noisy squealing introduces “Nothing Is Safe.”  Daveed is pretty intense as he raps “death comes for everyone” pause and then full on sound as he resumes.

clipping is not for everyone–certainly not for people who want to see the guy from Hamilton (he was doing clipping before Hamilton, by the way).  But it creates an intense mood.

The blurb says that Chukwudi Hodge plays drums, but I didn’t see or hear any so i assume that’s a mistake.

[READ: April 21, 2021] Better Than Life

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know of the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This second book picks up from where the events of the previous book cliffhangered us.  There is a TV episode called “Better Than Life” and this book is kind of an super- mega-hyper-expanded version of that episode.  Except that the things that happened in the episode don’t even really happen in the book, either.

The basics of the episode are that Better Than Life is a video game that allows your deepest subconscious fantasies to come true.  And since everything is your fantasy, this game is indeed Better Than Life.  It’s easy to leave the game.  All you have to do is want to.  But who would want to leave a game when everything in it is better than what you’d be leaving it for?

As such, your body stars to wither and decay because you don’t eat, you don’t move, you just exist.  It’s a deadly game.

Rimmer’s fantasy at the end of the first book was that he had married a supermodel–a gorgeous babe whom every man wanted.  Except that she wouldn’t let him touch her for insurance reasons.  Rimmer has a problem or thirty with his self image.  But he was still super wealthy and women everywhere adored him. However as this book opens, he has divorced his babe and married a boring woman who also doesn’t want to have sex with him.  As thing move along, he loses his fortune and, ultimately his hologrammatic body.  He becomes just a voice.  Through a serious of hilarious mistakes, he winds up in the body of a woman.

One of the nice aspects of this book is that Grant Naylor have Rimmer see what a douchey sexist man he’s been all this time–believing all women were either his mother or a sex bomb.

The Cat’s scenario is pretty much all libido–Valkyrie warriors serving him and he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants–his clock doesn’t have times, it has activities: nap, sex, eat, nap, sleep, etc.

The one difference is that Kryten is there with him.  Kryten’s deepest fantasy is leaning, and so he keeps finding new things to clean in Cat’s world.

There’s another wonderful bit of anti-religion in this book (there’s always some anti-religion aspect in these stories).  In this one they talk about Silicon Heaven.

The best way to keep the robots subdued was to give them religion. … almost everything with a hint of artificial intelligence was programmed to believe that Silicon Heaven was he electronic afterlife….

If machines served their human masters with diligence and dedication, they would attain everlasting life in mechanical paradise when their components finally ran down.

At last they had solace. They were every bit as exploited as they’d always been, but now they believed there was some kind of justice at the end of it.

Lister’s fantasy is the same as it was before.  He’s living in the city from It’s a Wonderful Life and he’s married to Kristine Kochanski and he has two boys.  As the book opens there’s  a wonderfully touching moment with his family and his kids.

But it is abruptly demolished when a woman driving a tractor trailer crashes the truck in to Bedford Falls.  Literally all of Bedford Falls–every building is demolished or caught on fire.  There’s virtually nothing left.  And when the woman gets out of the truck dressed as  a prostitute and claims to know Lister, well, Kristine takes their boys and leaves him.  He has nothing.

It should come as no surprise that the woman is actually Rimmer.

What about Holly, the ship’s computer with an IQ of 6,000?  Can’t he save them?  Well, no.  He can’t get into the game, plus, he’s going a little crazy from being alone for so long.  So crazy in fact that he decides to start talking to Talkie Toaster, a gag gift that Lister bought for $19.99.

The sequence with the toaster is hilarious on the show (it only wants to talk about bready products!) and it translates perfectly to the book as well.  Essentially, Talkie Toaster encourages Holy to increase his IQ (which has been slowly leaking away) at the risk of shortening his life span.  Unfortunately, things go a little awry and Holly’s IQ eclipses 12,000. But his run time is cut to a number if minutes.

So he need to turn everything off if he wants to stay alive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Lost Society (2020).

Voivod have been around for over 30 years.  In that time, they’ve releases only four lives albums.  The first one was from the period when their original and current singer had departed, so that doesn’t really count.  In 2011 they released Warriors of Ice, a live album that featured the reunited original lineup minus deceased guitarist Piggy.  The third was a limited release from the 2011 Roadburn Festival.

Thus, we have this new release to acknowledge the excellence of their 2018 album The Wake.  This show was recorded at Quebec City Summer Fest on July 13, 2019.  I saw them on this tour on April 5, 2019.  The setlist was largely the same, although they played more in their hometown (and I would have loved to see “Astronomy Domine”).

Being in front of a hometown crowd has the band fully energized.  It also allows Snake to speak French to the audience, which is fun.

Most of Voivod’s music is really complicated and difficult (the chords that Piggy and now Chewy came up with are pretty hard to imagine).  And yet they play everything perfectly.  There’s not a lot of room for jamming when the songs are this tight and complex, but it’s clear the band are enjoying themselves anyway.

Since this is touring their new album, the majority of songs (4) are from it with two more songs from their 2016 EP Post Society.  The rest of the set is pretty much a song from each of the albums prior to 1993 (excluding the album with the best name: Rrröööaaarrr).

They interfile the new songs with the older ones, and it feels really seamless.  This shows how much of a student of Piggy new guitarist Chewy turned out to be.

The few times that Snake speaks in English, he says that Angel Rat’s “The Prow” is “time to dance time to party have fun” something one wouldn’t expect to do at a Voivod show, but compared to their other songs, it is pretty dancey.

My favorite Voivod album (aside from The Wake, which is really outstanding) is Nothingface, so I was really excited to hear “Into My Hypercube” and to hear that Rocky’s bass sounded just right.

Their older stuff is a little less complex and proggy so a song like 1987’s “Overreaction” is a bit heavier and straight ahead.

One of the more entertaining moments is during the opening of “The Lost Machine” where Snake stands between Chewy and Rocky and waves his arms to strum the chords first guitar, then bass, then guitar then bass, etc.

It is strange to think that this is only one-half of the classic line up.  In fact, drummer Away is the only person to have never left the band.  I assumed that when Piggy died, there was no point in continuing, but these replacements were really great.

And, Snake makes sure we never forget Piggy.  They end every show with the song that has the same name as the band.  And before they play it, he starts a chant “Piggy! Piggy!”  In this live recording, you can hear the audience screaming along to “voivod,” a nonsensical word that remains strong thirty-five years on.

The setlist for the album is at the bottom of the post.  I sure hope they tour around here again someday.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know if the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them (and read them, I think, although it’s all new to me 30 years later) sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This first one is basically an expanded version of some of the episodes from the first and second season.

Most of the jokes from the episodes are present here–so it’s easy to picture the characters saying the lines.  But there’s also a ton of new stuff.  Much of it fleshes out things that happened in the show, but still other things are brand new.

The book starts with the death of a Red Dwarf crew member.  He is now a hologram and rather than being excited about being alive, he is horrified to think of all the things his wife will get up to now that he is dead but aware of what is happening.  We also meet another man who is about to die–this time by suicide.  He is in debt for a lot of money and decided it was better than being beaten to death by the men he owed money to.

Turns out, this man outranked the first man and since the Red Dwarf mining ship could only support one hologram, this man was brought back at the expense of the first one.  A lot of ground is covered in these first two chapters and we haven’t even met any of the main characters of the show yet.

Dave Lister comes along in Chapter 3.  For those unfamiliar with the show, Dave Lister is the main character and also the last human being alive.  In the show he is three million years into deep space.  But he had been in stasis so he is only 27 when he is brought out and told the news that everyone is dead.

But as the book starts, Lister is miserable on a planet Mimas.  He got really drunk at his birthday party in Liverpool and, by the end of the night, he was on a planet very far from home with no money to get back. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDakhaBrakha-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/141 (January 11, 2021).

DakhaBrakhaGlobalFEST 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 final band on the first night is DakhaBrakha.  I have wanted to see DakhaBrakha live for years–ever since I saw them ona Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s wonderful to see them again, this time with new songs.

Tonight marks DakhaBrakha’s return to globalFEST and Tiny Desk. The Ukranian band’s first globalFEST performance was in 2014, and their 2015 Tiny Desk concert remains a favorite. We’ve had them in our spaces, so it’s a real treat to see them in theirs, the Dakh Theater in Kiev. Coming together, their performance maintains the energy and joy that define their music, bouncing off each other musically and emotionally. DakhaBrakha aims to keep Ukraine’s musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience, a kind of self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos.” They craft stunning sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary resonances.

I was initially disappointed that they only played two songs, but these are long complex and varied song.  And they are both great.

“Komora” is a new song.  It opens with Nina Garenetska singing while slowly bowing the cello. Keyboardist Iryna Kovalenko and drummer Olena Tsybulskajoin join in on backing vocals with great harmony and sweeping high notes.  Then Nina starts playing a bass line on the cello and accordion player Marko Halanevych and the other ladies seem to be having a conversation of sounds.  Iryna takes over on lead vocals.  Marko adds some accordion while Olena plays soft drums.  Nina is back to bowing then it returns to cello/bass line and lots of oohing from all the singers.

Then Marko sings a lead line and the women seem to be answering him.  The song starts getting faster and faster as they call to each other leading to a spectacular ending.

“Vynnaya ya” is from their latest album.  It opens with Iryna and Olena clappin a rhythm and Nina plucking the cello.  Marko sings lead and they sing back in a call and response.  Nina takes over on vocals to mostly drum and cello accompaniment.  Then Marko plays a “horn” solo using just his hands.  It sounds like a duck call or muted trumpet and is weird and wonderful.

Olena sings the next verse and then Iryna sings the final verse.  When her verse is done, Marko puts down the accordion, stands up and plays another “trumpet” solo with his hands.  Then the whole band kicks up the tempo to nearly double speed as they race to a wild conclusion.

I can’t wait to see them in person!

[READ: November 15, 2020] Starlite Memories

I had never heard of Dov Fedler.  The title of this book made me look at it twice and then I skimmed the back cover blurb.

Beloved political cartoonist Dov Fedler had the opportunity in the 1990s to make a lifelong dream come true: Directing a movie. …  A laugh-out loud story of pitfalls follows.

Turns out he was a political cartoonist for The Star for over 50 years.

Then I saw that Fedler is from South Africa.  I’d never read anything by anyone from South Africa before this, I don’t think.  So I was curious to see what a comedy from South Africa was like.

Somewhere along the line I completely missed that this was a memoir.

So I spent the first 2/3 of the book believing that this was based on something that really happened but that he was making up names and other details to protect the innocent.  Especially since in the beginning the note to the reader says writing is always about the story.

There are times when a writer may have to embellish, obfuscate, conflate and conjure to keep the thing alive.

Again, somehow I glossed right over that word memoir (actually I thought it was a the main character talking about writing a memoir or something).

None of that really changed the way I would have read this.  I had no idea who he was or any of thing the things he did, so it might as well have been fictional.  But I think it’s funnier that it really happened.

This memoir proved to be mostly funny with a lot of thoughtfulness thrown in for good measure.  It is written by a political cartoonist who has always loved movies.  He is a Jewish man in South Africa.  There are not very many Jewish families in South Africa, but there are enough to have a small cultural center there.

Each chapter of the memoir is titled after a film.  He then summarizes the film in a few words.  The chapter is tangentially tied to either what happens in that film or to the title of the film.

Dov explains that he was hired to directed the film Timer Joe Part 3.  This crazy film title is a real film–the third after two popular movies.  But this one is clearly made simply to ash in on the popularity of the other two.  The film is basically the brainchild of his producer Moe Mankowitz.  Moe says, “I make films for black audiences.  Black people like the same moveis we do, but they like them with black people.”  Timer Joe 1 and 2 were a success, so he wants Dov to write the script for 3.  What’s it about?  All he knows is that it’s a comedy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MICKEY GUYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #108 (November 9, 2020).

Mickey Guyton is a country singer, which is probably why I have never heard of her.  And yet, when Guyton sang her first song, I never would have guessed she was a country singer.

Her first song “Black Like Me” is beautiful.

In June, after the killing of George Floyd, Guyton released “Black Like Me,” which tells her own story in a way that gently but resolutely calls for change.

Her desk holds the book that inspired it.  Her voice is powerful and there’s not a twang in sight.  The lyrics are sensational, with the excellent chorus:

if you think we live in the land of the free
you should try to be black like me.

The only problem I have with the song is that although the piano accompaniment from Lynette Williams is lovely, I feel that the song deserves a much bigger arrangement.

I love the arrangement of the next song “Salt.”  Soulful keyboards, the Afro-Caribbean instruments of percussionist Paul Allen, Jon Sosin’s acoustic guitar.  She sounds a lot more country music in her delivery (there’s an actual delivery style that you can hear as she sings, even without the twang).  I liked this song, and I think it’s clever, but after the resonance of the other two songs, this one–a warning to men about women–seems beneath her.  Although the lyrics are pretty clever.

In February, as protests against sexism intensified in the country world, she debuted “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and it caused an instant sensation.

She sang the he song at the ACM awards and was the first African-American woman to sing an original song at the awards–in 2020!

It’s back to just piano again–maybe the more important songs are more spare?  For some reason, the music of this song makes me think it could fit into Hamilton.  And the lyrics, once again, are terrific.

She thinks life is fair and
God hears every prayer
And everyone gets their ever after
She thinks love is love and if
You work hard, that’s enough
Skin’s just skin and it doesn’t matter
And that her friend’s older brother’s gonna keep his hands to himself
And that somebody’s gon’ believe her when she tells
But what are you gonna tell her
When she’s wrong?

Wow.

[READ: December 7, 2020] “Cut”

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 7. Catherine Lacey, author of Pew, presses every button in the elevator on her way out.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I read this story back in April, when it was printed in the New Yorker.  It’s the only story in this collection that I’ve read before so far.  It was bizarre and I loved it.  I’m going to post a briefer version of my original post which you can read here.

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PORTUGAL THE MAN-“Live in the Moment” (Weird Al Remix) (2018).

Portugal. The Man asked Weird Al to remix two songs. This is the second one.  This remix starts with the Weird Al polka medley treatment–lots of fast accordions.  The vocals sound a little different, although maybe that’s just because all of the proper music has been removed and replaced with the oompah bass, accordion and horns blasts.

The transition between verses is tackled with that Weird Al polka flourish, fitting perfectly.

The song definitely feels more frenetic with that intense bass thumping but the chorus is still just as catchy.

After the (serious) second chorus there’s a wild and silly polka instrumental break.  Then Al takes over lead vocals for the final verse.  Since Al’s voice is synonymous with funny, it’s a little strange to hear him sing straight lines–but his voice works operfectly.

[READ: October 10, 2020] The Wolf [excerpt]

K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City contained two excerpts from other books tacked on at the end.  The second is an excerpt from Leo Carew’s complicatedly named The Wolf: Under a Northern Sky: Book One.

The blurb says

In Leo Carew’s thrilling and savagely visceral debut epic fantasy, The Wolf, violence and death come to the land under the Northern Sky when two fierce races break their age-old fragile peace and begin an all-out war.

Roper surveys the scene.  At nineteen, this would be his first battle.  They are in a deluge of rain, which he imagines will shorten the battle–men fight less fiercely in the rain. Ropers father Lord Kynortas says they have no battle plan, they are unsure what they will face. But they have ninety thousand soldiers of the Black Legion marching behind them.

The Sutherners had amassed a similarly large army and threatened the balance of power in Albion.

Kynortas introduces Roper to Uvoren, the warrior that every young boy of the Black Legion aspired to be like.  Uvoren is kindly to the boy and tells him that his father is a lot of fun to watch in a parley situation.

Roper had never seen a Sutehrner before and he was shocked to see that the looked just like him, only smaller. They were childlike.

As the leaders approached, Kynortas announced that the Sutehrners had invaders their land. They had burned and plundered.  Kynortas towered over the Sutherner leader.  Kynortas told him to take his men and leave or he will unleash the Black Legion soldiers and show no mercy.

The leader of the Sutherners was named Earl William.  He was not intimated despite the size difference.  He told Kynortas that his men were very comfortable there and that they have a strong position.  He demanded thirty chests of gold for them to leave.

Roper knew that thirty chests was an absurd number. His kingdom did not have much use for gold and could never procure thirty chests.  Roper concluded that Earl William did not want his offer accepted.

Kynortas said that they neither had that much gold nor would they “satisfy your greed for things that are soft and impotent.”  Then he jumped forward and seized Earl William’s breastplate.  He pulled it off and flung it aside leaving Earl William exposed.

Earl William’s men stormed off.  Except for one named Bellamus.  He snorted at Kynortas and said “being blessed with bone-armor, I cannot imagine you know how it felt for Earl William to have his defences taken so contemptuously from him.  Before this battle is over, I will show you how that feels.”

When Roper asked if this was typical negotiation, Kynortas nodded.  Negotiation is just n exercise in intimidation

When Roper said that they weren’t serious about their gold request–Earl william was goading them into attacking.

Kynorta smiled assuming the Sutherners were overconfident.

I’m vaguely interested in this story, but with so many other books I want to read, I don’ imagine I’ll continue with this story.

 

 

 

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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 FLAMING LIPS-Lighting Strikes the Postman: The Flaming Lips Remix (2016).

This release came out on Record Store Day 2016.  It is, simply put, the Lips’ album Clouds Taste Metallic but remixed to remove all of the vocals and to highlight all of Ronald Jones’ guitar playing.  This was Jones’ last album with the band and he has become pretty reclusive since then.

You can hear the very basic structure of all of the songs–drums, bass and rhythm guitar are all there, but mixed low.  The rest of the CD is Jones’ rather unique style of playing–noisy, feedbacky, almost improv-y, but never out of control.

The release also comes with a comic book penned by Wayne Coyne.  The comic pretty much explains Jones’ guitar playing.

You see, after the band released the album, Ronald was abducted by aliens. Why would they take him? Because back then he had one of the most elaborate homemade pedal boards on earth.   He would hook together an endless amount of gadgets, some that were not meant to go together.  One night he connected to a giant antenna.  Then while searching for a sound to enhance the ending of “Placebo Head Wound,” he found the sound of the dreaded Zorgodrites’ freaky 2 way radio and boy were they mad.

They came down and took him away and he was never seen from again.

And so that’s what you get.  Around 55 minutes of guitar freakouts.  But unlike an album of just noisy, weird stuff, this collection is based around songs.  Some of the songs are the same length as the final product.  Others are a bit longer.  The opening track “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” is about three minutes longer than the album version–mostly for Jones’ noodling. 

I tried to sync up the disc to the original via Spotfiy with varying degrees of success.

If you know the album pretty well, you’ll recognize the songs–the verses and choruses are in tact, it’s just that you get to hear some wild guitar around those melodies instead of the melodies themselves.

It can be a disconcerting listen if you are expecting to hear the songs, but if you put that aside and just listen to the kind of things Jones is doing it’s a pretty cool exploration of the guitar.  But definitely not for everyone.

[READ: October 1, 2020] Cycling: The Craze of the Hour

I love books like this.  This is a collection of pamphlets from around the turn of the 20th century, both pro and con for bicycles.  The first item is an instruction manual about how to ride a modern bicycle.  The second talks about the dangers (to your heart) of riding a bicycle.  The third and fourth are humorous stories in which bicycles feature prominently.

The first bicycle was invented at the turn of the nineteenth century but the craze really took of in the 1890s. And so you get:

“The Modern Bicycle (with Practical Illustrations)” (1877) by Charles Spencer

Spencer was an early proponent of the bicycle.  In 1869, he rode from Trafalgar Square to Brighton in fifteen hours (Google maps says it should now take you a little over five on a bicycle, so that’s pretty impressive for 1896.)

This instruction manual is fascinating.  Now, the bicycle they are talking about is more or less a penny-farthing.  The “modern bicycle” may be slightly shorter than a pennyfarthing.  And yet, as a person who can ride a bike today, I can”t imagine riding one of these death traps. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARLO PARKS-Tiny Desk Concert #80 (September 15, 2020).

I had never heard of Arlo Parks before this set and then today Spotify recommended her album to me.  How about that.

Arlo Parks was born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho in London.

She began writing poetry and songs because (according to her short bio) she spent her high school days “feeling like that Black kid in school who couldn’t dance for s***, listening to too much emo music and crushing on the girl in Spanish class.”

Accompanied by a guitar from her home in London, Parks opens with her latest single, “Hurt”, followed by the three songs that introduced her to the world and remind us that we really aren’t alone.

All of her songs sound similar in style–very gentle guitar and her soft, eloquent vocals.

“Hurt” is filled with nice details like

Charlie melts into his mattress
Watching Twin Peaks on his ones
Then his fingers find a bottle
When he starts to miss his mum

There’s a nice spoken word part–she has a lovely singing voice, but I enjoyed hearing her speaking voice as well.

It’s funny to hear a 19 year-old talk about introspection and reading through her “old journals.”  Especially since the next song, “Cola” is the first song she ever put out–way back in November 2018.

Playing “Cola” makes her reflect on the journey she;s had and what’s next to come.  It’s another pretty, gentle song with lots of specific details.

“Eugene” explores blurring the lines between romance and friendship.  It’s one of her favorite songs that she’s written.  It’s got a simple but really engaging guitar melody.

I had a dream we kissed
And it was all amethyst
The underpart of your eyes was violet
You hung a cigarette between your purple lips
We’ve been best buds since thirteen
I hold head back when you’re too lean
I hold the Taco Bell and you cried over Eugene

“Black Dog” is one of the most emotional songs she’s written.  It’s about mental health and has gotten a very string response from people.  Her voice is so tender, so delicate.  It’s quite lovely.

[READ: September 30, 2019] Personae

I really enjoyed De La Pava’s first and third books but somehow I missed this one, which is quite unlike the other two.  It is several hundred pages shorter and has far less of a narrative.  While the other books are chock full of details, this one feels like he was deliberately leaving things out.

Part 1 is called Our Heroine and begins with Detective Helen Tame.  She is the author of this report: “this Department is obsessed with reports and I am not; if I had to cop to any obsession it would be with the Truth.”

She is amusingly no nonsense.  When addressing a police officer on the case she says:

“You can go now,” I add, but he hesitates.  “That means leave in Etiquette.”

She is writing this report because she has found a dead body–a bloody dead body.  “He is more than century old; was.”  The victim an 111-year-old Colombian writer named Antonio Arce. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRUPA TRUPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #44 (July 3, 3030).

Trupa Trupa is a band from Poland who play some really great indie rock.  They were supposed to be touring the U.S. and doing a Tiny Desk, but instead they are home.

In a little dirty rehearsal room basement in Gdańsk, we find Poland’s great rock band Trupa Trupa on lockdown. Had it not been for COVID-19, this band would have been behind my desk this week, but as it is, they’ve settled into their rehearsal space.

Their songs are pretty intense, but this Home Tiny Desk features lighter versions of the songs.

They open their set with “Another Day,” from the 2019 record Of The Sun.  It has a great throbbing bassline Wojciech Juchniewicz while singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski plays acuostic guitar.  He says its the first time he’s played the acoustic guitar in a really long time.

There’s a cool theremin-type sound that is coming from Rafał Wojczal.  The credits say the instrument is called an ondes Martenot, but this is a homemade device–and it sounds pretty cool.

I’ve seen them perform this; it’s always had an apocalyptic feel, but now the words “another day, waiting for another,” prompts Grzegorz to mention how this has turned into a quarantine song.  Grzegorz tells us that life in Poland has been difficult in this young democracy, but they are staying optimistic and playing music.  There’s darkness in the basement, yet their music is a bright beacon.

“Dream About” starts with a snappy drum from Tomasz Pawluczuk.  Kwiatkowski plays as scratchy rhythm on the guitar before  Juchniewicz plays a great rolling bassline that runs throughout the song until it abruptly stops for a some single notes.  Then it resumes again.  Wojczal adds some guitar before bringing that Martenot back.

“None of Us” is slow and deep basslines.  Initial vocals come from Juchniewicz who has switched to guitar.  The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this song.  And Juchniewicz’  fuzzy electric guitar sound is deep and menacing.

Their U.S. Tour was cancelled, but they weren’t going to play near me.  Maybe when they come back they can squeeze in a Philadelphia date.

[READ: June 20, 2020] Bagombo Snuff Box

This is a short story collection that I read when it came out.  When I read all of Vonnegut’s books a few years ago, I decided to re-read this collection.  It has only taken me several years to get to it.

But what a great bunch of short stories.

The Preface explains that these stories were written in the 1940s and printed in magazines before he had written his first big novels.  After the War, there were many magazines that featured fiction, so Kurt was able to make some good money on the side while he worked at General Electric.  He left the company in 1950.

Vonnegut has an introduction as well.  He talks about the beneficial effect short stories can have on a person.  He also says he generally feels good about these stories although he feels a bit badly for the way some (many) of the women are treated–not that Vonnegut specifically treated them badly, but that was sort of the way it was then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JERU THE DAMAJA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #16 (April 30, 2020).

I’ve always liked Jeru the Damaja’s name; I find it very satisfying.  It’s amusing to me that with a name like that he raps about positive things.

He used the concert to share his inspiring philosophy of self-knowledge. Jeru drops lyrics about what it takes to achieve self-actualization in tough conditions for not just himself, but for the culture.

I don’t actually know any of his songs; this is a “medley of his classics.”  Jeru’s got a great, deep voice that adds a lot of strength to his lyrics.

Like Black Thought, Jeru sits in a chair, surrounded by his gear.  Unlike Black Thought, Jeru is in motion pretty consistently bobbing and waving his hand like he does care.

He starts with 50 seconds of “Can’t Stop the Prophet” after which he says “we need a superhero and we forget that the superhero resides within us.”  he encourages everyone to be creative in this time because idle hands do the devil’s work.  This is his lead into the 90 seconds of “Ain’t The Devil Happy.”

His prescient lyrics remain as relevant as ever as he addresses the deepening fissures of socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis.

He even updates the lyrics of “Scientifical Madness”

Mind Jah lick you with disease
So I inflict MC’s like Ebola Corona
Or some other man made cancer

He says he doesn’t want to be inside, but he’s grateful that he has a place to be because living outside is “So Raw.”  I really like the slow grooving beat of this song.

After the 90 seconds of “My Mind Spray” he says his mind is always working.  He’s always wondering if this and if that. But the old saying goes “If if’s were fifth, we’d all be drunk.”  In the song “If” he adds “If if was a spliff, we’d all get smoked up.”

He closes his set from his home in Berlin with a new song, “The Power,” and offers up a message we all need: “No matter who you are, the power resides in you…We can overcome anything if you put your mind to it, you just can’t get in your mind too much.” The prophet cannot be stopped.

“The Power” is a full song which was inspired by a things his mother used to say that he didn’t understand until he got older: “nothing matters except for how we treat people.”

[READ: May 6, 2020] “Shelter Seekers”

This story is written as a letter to the “scholarship liaison officer.”

The letter writer received a $4,000 Daniel White Foreign Study Scholarship via the Government of Canada.  The money was to fund three months in Argentina to study how the region is “adapting its approach to housing in the interest of sustainability.”

This letter is the final report which is “unconventional in form, long overdue and in excess of the stipulated two-page limit.”

The writer left her husband for three months to undertake this challenge.

On the flight to Patagonia ($1,297) she read the Award Holder’s Guide.  She imagined building clay houses and hanging out with her fellow researchers, drinking Fernet and Coke.  She even considered the idea of an affair with an attractive researcher.  (more…)

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