Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ 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.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs From 1996-1998 (2014).

Danko Jones has released nine albums an a bunch of EPs.  Back in 2014 he released this collection of songs that he wrote and recorded before his first proper single (1998).

This is a collection of raw songs, but the essential elements of Danko are in place. Mostly fast guitars, simple, catchy riffs and Danko’s gruff voice, filled with braggadocio.  With a cover by Peter Bagge!

He describes it:

Back in the 90’s,the Garage Rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some Rock N’ Roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear. Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.

What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.

The first two songs are the best quality, with the rest slowly deteriorating with more tape hiss.

1. “Who Got It?” a big fat bass sound with lots of mentioning of Danko Jones in the lyrics. [2 minutes]
2. “Make You Mine” is 90 seconds long.  With big loud chords and rumbling bass Danko says “one day I’m going to write a book and let everybody know how to do it.  Seems to me there a lot of people around who want to see if I can prove it.  I been a rock prodigy since the age of 20 and my proof… my proof is right now.”
3. “I’m Your Man” is a bit longer.  The quality isn’t as good but the raw bass sound is great.
4. “She’s Got A Bomb” is good early Danko strutting music.
5. “Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue.”  He would name an album this many years later.  This song is fast and raw and only 90 seconds long.
6. “Dirty Mind Too” This is a fast stomping one-two-three song that rocks for less than a minute.
7. I’m Drinking Alcohol? This is funny because later he says he doesn’t drink.  I don’t know what the words are but the music is great–rumbling bass and feedbacky guitars with lots of screaming.
8. “Love Travel Demo” and 9. “Bounce Demo” are decent demo recordings.  “Bounce” has what might be his first guitar solo.
10. Sexual Interlude” “ladies it’s time to take a chance on a real man.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you women selling yourselves short, going out with a lesser man.
11. “I Stand Accused” Unexpectedly he stands accused of “loving you to much.  If that’s a crime, then I’m guilty.”
12. “Best Good Looking Girl In Town” a fast chugging riff, “oh mama you sure look fine.”
13. “Payback” This one sounds really rough but it totally rocks.
14. “Lowdown” Danko gives the lowdown: “You want a bit of romance?  I got you an bouquet of Flowers and a box of chocolates.  Why you crying for?  That ain’t enough?  Me and the fellas wrote this song just for you.”
15. “One Night Stand” garage swinging sound: Danko is a one woman man and you’re just his type.
16. “Instrumental” is great.
17. “Move On” is a long, slow long bluesy track about love.

It’s not a great introduction to Danko, but if you like him, you won;t be disappointed by this early baby-Danko period.

[READ: August 10, 2019] I’ve Got Something to Say

In the introduction (after the foreword by Duff McKagan), Jones introduces himself not as a writer but as a hack.  He also acknowledges that having something to say doesn’t mean much.  He has too many opinions on music and needed to get them out or his insides would explode.  He acknowledges that obsessing over the minutiae of bands is a waste of time, “but goddammit, it’s a ton of fun.”

So this collection collects some of Danko’s writing over the last dozen or so years. He’s written for many publications, some regularly.  Most of these pieces are a couple of pages.  And pretty much all of them will have you laughing (if you enjoy opinionated music writers).

“Vibing for Thin Lizzy” [Rock Hard magazine, March 2015]
Danko says he was lured into rock music by the theatrics of KISS, Crue and WASP.  But then he really got into the music while his friends seemed to move on.  Thin Lizzy bridged the gap by providing substance without losing its sheen or bite.  And Phil Lynott was a mixed race bassist and singer who didn’t look like the quintessential rock star.  What more could Danko ask for? (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSNorthlands Coliseum Edmonton AB (November 12 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.

This is the 4th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

For this show their opening music is the Wizard of Oz’s Munchkins singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”  Martin follows with some lovely noodling that segues into a lovely “Song of Flight.”  The band sounds a little bit sloppy, surprisingly.

The song segues into “California Dreamline” and the crowd is appropriately responsive.  “All the Same Eyes” follows, sung by Tim in what seems like a casual way.

“Fat” sounds especially great.  Martin starts the song asking “What are you saying, who are you talking to?”  I wonder if it was directed at someone.  The band sound great and everyone seems really into the “robot/zombie” part.

As the song ends, Dave notes, “There’s a bit of banging going on over there but it was in time to the next song.  If you could do that four times….  Not whooing, banging.  Rumor has it that there’s a hockey team that plays out of this rink.  We’re from Toronto and in the 1980s the Leafs sucked and the Oilers were winning cup after cup and we see the banners and it motivates us.  Tim: and it motivates us to move to Edmonton–for the summer only, of course.

There’s more Tim as he says that “Bad Time to Be Poor,” was a true story.  Then its more Tim with “Claire.”  Martin does some great Neil Young sounding solos in the introduction.  The song sounds great with some cool ripping solos from Martin.

“Dope Fiends and Booze Hounds” always sounds great.  This one has a pretty intro and a small stumble before they rock out.  There’s great backing vocals here.  Martin does a weird ending for the “dark side of the moon” part–it’s more growling and he doesn’t quite hit the awesome high note at the end.

“Feed Yourself” is dedicated to The Tragically Hip.”  Tim: “You can all go get a coffee of something.”  The opening is utterly chaotic in a not so great way.  But they settle down and really rip through the song.  Tim seems to be mucking about near the end.  Dave does go dark and creepy with the end part but in a much less dramatic way than he would if they were the main band.  They absolutely destroy at the end and the crowd is very responsive.  What a fantastic opening set.

[READ: March 4, 2019] The Adventure Zone 1

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 a new game of D&D (with new characters).  The podcast is pretty funny if  a little unedited.

The graphic novel is certainly edited.  It’s fun to have a visual accompaniment and the illustrations by Carey Pietsch are terrific with a wonderful comic-fantasy feel. .  If you wanted to hear the comparison from podcast to book, Page 18 syncs up to minute 100:00 in chapter 1 podcast.

But I have one MAJOR complaint.  Why is there so much cursing?  I get that this is a real adventure and that is literally the way people talk when the play the game.  But it is really off putting in this book.  Especially in the beginning when we don’t know these characters well.  Reading them cursing is not nearly as enjoyable as hearing them cursing in the podcast.

PLUS, this book, aside from the voluminous amount of cursing, would be suitable for just about all ages.  The adventure is PG (with maybe a couple of gentle tweaks) and the violence is comedic.  But the point is that this book would be such a great introduction to Dungeons and Dragons to any age and it’s a shame that they blew it.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

recessSOUNDTRACK: BUIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #298 (August 26, 2013).

buikaI had never heard of Buika before, so I had to rely on the blurb:

Concha Buika’s voice doesn’t come from inside her petite body: It comes from Africa, and from the past. There are obvious traces of flamenco, itself a historical mash-up of the Moors and various transitory cultures in southern Spain and north Africa.

During her flights of improvisation, we also hear the influence of Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz, a product of Afro-Cuban culture, mixed in with Ella Fitzgerald, who was the pinnacle of African-American jazz vocal expression.

In these two performances, we hear Buika interpret her own lyrics after a handful of albums in which she’s interpreted others’ words. With her eyes closed tightly, she inhabits these poems of love and heartache as if she were reliving them again before our eyes.

Buika’s singular voice has attracted a cadre of fans who’ve become enchanted by her voice and her leave-it-all-on-the-stage performances in clubs and theaters around the world. Watch this video and join the club.

So as the notes say, these two pieces are improvisations.  Not knowing Spanish all that well, I don’t know how much is made up or even how much is just sounds rather than actual words.  But it certainly sounds more off the cuff than written out.

The music is just a piano and a box drum and her voice.  Her voice is raw and pained, but quite pretty.  The two songs are called “La Noche Mas Larga” and “La Nave Del Olvido.”

[READ: April 15, 2016] Comics Squad: Recess

I found out about this collection in the back of a Babymouse book.

Comics Squad is a collection of eight comics from some of my favorite artists.  It basically works as a bunch of short, shall we say graphic novellas, from Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) ; Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady) ; Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) ; Dan Santat ; Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman  (Smile and Astronaut Academy); Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath) ; Eric Wright (Frankie Pickle) and Gene Luen Yang.

Since it’s edited by the Holms and Krosoczka they sprinkle the book with marginal comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady.  But each artist/author gets a story, and I enjoyed them all.

GENE LUEN YANG-“The Super-Secret Ninja Club”  This was a really fun story about a group of boys who meet at recess.  Once they know that noone is watching, they put on their masks and become the super-secret ninja club.  But Daryl, a decidedly un-ninja like boy wants in…desperately.  He’s never had a passion for any club before but this one is totally him.  The one boy says that since winter break is about to start, when the get back to school, they can talk about him joining.  So Daryl spends all inter break practicing.  Will it be enough?  The answer is very funny.

DAV PILKEY-“Book ‘Em, Dog Man!”  This story begins with a letter to the parents of George (the main character in Captain Underpants) from his teacher saying that she asked for a written assignment and once again he drew a cartoon.  She has attached the offending (and offensive) cartoon for them to see.  Petey the cat is in jail .  He wants to beat the superhero Dog Man.  But Dog Man is too smart  So Petey realizes that if he removes all the words from books no one will be smart anymore.  He invents a ray which does just that.  What will the world do when they can’t read anymore?

JARRETT J, KROSOCZKA-“Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day”  “Lunch Lady” is a cartoon I didn’t really know before reading this collection. Lunch Lady appears in the margins of the pages of the book, but not in this actual cartoon.  Rather, the star of this cartoon is Betty, Lunch Lady’s helper. And since Lunch Lady can’t be there, Betty will have to deal with lunch.  But it is pizza day!  The only hope is the Pizzatron 2000.  Unless, of course, it develops a mind of its own and goes on a rampage.

URSULA VERNON-“The Magic Acorn”  I don’t know Dragonbreath all that well, although C.  has read all of them.  This story is pretty simple.  Although since I don’t know the characters I don’t know if it is representative of anything prior.  Scratch, a squirrel who is rather realistically drawn (Vernon’s drawings are great) is interrupted by Squeak, a far more a cartoony squirrel.  Squeak is excited because he found a magic acorn.  Scratch states that this is the 318th “magic acorn” that he’s found.  And besides they have recess in ten minutes.  Well, this acorn may not exactly be an acorn, but it is certainly magical.

JENNIFER L. HOLM & MATTHEW HOLM-“Babymouse: The Quest for Recess”  In this brief story Babymouse has a few fantasies that prevent her from actually getting outside for recess.  First she is late for school (dreaming about Camelot) then her locker brings her to Zeus, making her late for class.  A western dream makes her disrupt lunch and then the barbarian fractions invade during math class.  Can she keep it together and actually get outside?

ERIC WIGHT-“Jiminy Sprinkles in ‘Freeze Tag'”  So I don’t know this comic at all either. Jiminy Sprinkles is a new student to the school (he is a cupcake). He immediately befriends a peanut who tells him to watch out for The Mean Green Gang, a group of vegetables.  (Their leader is Russell from Brussels (ha)).  The Mean Green Gang is pretty tough but Jiminy has a secret weapon of his own–a very funny one that the Mean Green Gang actually gets a kick out of too.

DAN SANTAT-“300 Words” This is an interesting look at the story The Giving Tree.  The kids were assigned a book report on the story three weeks ago and it is due today.  John is one of the boys who didn’t do the assignment and he’s about to write his 300 words now.  It’s a tree. It gives things.  But another boy has a better idea–he’s going to ask Sophia for her paper.  Even though the last time he talked to her he threw up on her.   Sophia has an interesting answer for him.

DAVE ROMAN & RAINA TELGEMEIER-“The Rainy Day Monitor” is a wonderful take on kickball.  Since the kids can’t go outside to play because of the rain, their recess is indoors.  And they are closely watched by Boring Becca the totally boring fifth grader.  When they ask if they can play kickball inside she asks the kids if they have ever played Dungeons and Dragons.  They groan until she says they should play kickball using dice and imaginary characters.  Pretty great idea Becca!

The end of the book is set up with fun fake ads and useful tips.

One “ad” is an offer for Babymouse Binoculars.  I also really liked Lunch Lady’s tips on how to draw Betty (which skip from 3 to 12 while Squish sweats).

This was not only a great introduction to all of these fabulous comic writers, it was a really funny collection in its own right.

The end of the book says “Do you think there will be another one? As sure as there is syrup on pancakes there’ll be a Comics Squad #2.”  And indeed, there was a second one.

Read Full Post »

basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

Read Full Post »

hpl;oveSOUNDTRACK: NO AGE-“No Ground” (2013).

An ObjectI’ve been hearing a lot about No Age lately, but I don’t really know much about them.  I keep thinking they are a different, older band (although I can’t think of which one for some reason).  Anyhow, this new song from their new album is a simple, propulsive rocker.  It starts out with some echoing guitar notes until the fast, fast bass comes in.

It’s followed by some quickly strummed guitars and low sung, almost chanted vocals.

The song feels like it builds speed throughout, although I don’t think it actually does.  I didn’t realize that there were only two guys in the band—and that explains their limited musical sound.  But unlike a number of other two person bands that I’ve really enjoyed as of late, this song feels a little flat.  There is some appeal to it, but overall I want a little bit more.

[READ: June 16, 2013] H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

I have been “into” H.P. Lovecraft for about thirty years.  Interestingly, I had never read anything by him in that time.  I got into him via Dungeons and Dragons which had a whole selection of monsters from the Cthulhu mythos.  And then Metallica did a song called “The Call of Cthulhu” and even though I bought several of his paperback collections and proudly displayed them, I never read them.  When McSweeney’s imprint Believer Books published this little title by the practically Lovecraftianly named Michel Houellebecq, I was excited to read it, too (because at this time I had assumed that I had actually read some Lovecraft).  But like my Lovecraft books, it languished on the shelf.

Until now.

I decided that it was time to finish off some of those McSweeney’s books that have been sitting on my shelf for years.  And this was on the top of my list. (more…)

Read Full Post »

penumbraSOUNDTRACK: FIONA APPLE-The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012).

fionaFiona Apple released the album with the longest title a few years ago.  The title of this new album (also taken from a verse of Apple’s) doesn’t quite match in terms of length, but the music absolutely delivers in terms of quality.

When the Pawn… was full of big numbers–it was loud and brash and gorgeous.  The Idler Wheel is much more subdued and initially I didn’t think it was as exciting.  But this subdued music draws you in and gets you to really absorb everything that’s going on.  Musically, this album takes notes on the orchestration from her previous album Extraordinary Machine, but it scales  everything back  to what amounts to just Fiona’s voice (often multitracked) and minimal instrumentation.

Like “Every Single Night” which opens with beautiful bells/glockenspiel as Fiona sings.  “Daredevil” is almost all percussion and loud piano.  Indeed, the main sounds of the song is a quick shuffling followed by short piano chords.  It is so stark but her voice just sails through the open space beautifully.

The meandering piano of “Jonathan” is great–at turns minor and sad but then come chords and beauty.  More drums fill “Left Alone” as the opening twenty or so seconds are all drums followed by a menacing piano riff and the amusing lyric, “How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone” (and with each subsequent repeating of this chorus she sounds more and more exasperated).

“Periphery” is also mainly percussion.  But in this case, the percussion sounds like feet scraping on gravel–rhythmically of course.  This leads to a great vocal turn by Fiona, one that climaxes in a big roaring almost shouting section.  Speaking of roaring, just listen to the rawness that Fiona reaches on “Regret.”  It is spine tingling.

“Anything We Want” opens with more odd percussion, which I’m led to believe came from Fiona tapping on things on her desk–and it sounds like it–not instruments, but found objects.  Indeed, read the list of instruments that she and her compatriot used on the album: For “Feedy”: Artwork, Celeste, Composer, Dancer, Field Recording, Keyboard Bass, Loops, Percussion, Piano, Primary Artist, Producer, Stomping, Timpani, Vocals and for “Seedy”: Autoharp, Baritone, Bouzouki, Cora, Dancer, Drums, Field Recording, Guitar, Marimba, Percussion, Producer, Stomping.

The final song is just Fiona and tympani as she sings a line about hot knives and melting butter.  Then the piano and second voice (her sister) sings a fugue as the lines repeat over each other.  It’s a crazy, daring song to end an album with and it sounds like nothing else on the radio today.

I have never been disappointed by an album from Fiona.  Each album is different, taking new chances having wilder experimentation   And this one is up there with the best.  It’s easily one of the best records of 2012.

[READ: January 16, 2012] Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

I saw an ad for this book in The Believer (I believe  and I thought it looked great.  Sarah said she had already put it on hold.  And when it came in from the library, I grabbed it first.

This book is really great.  It’s a story full of intrigue and secret societies  it embraces old books and modern technology; it’s a romance and a puzzle.  And it’s all done in a very comic style.

What is surprising is how different the book is from what I initially expected.  True, I didn’t know anything really about the book before reading it, but the book opens with an overeducated and underemployed guy, Clay, getting a job in the titular bookstore.  But it’s no normal bookstore.  First, it’s open 24 hours a day (that’s 8 hour shifts for three clerks because they really don’t have many customers).  Second, it’s very narrow and very tall–Penumbra has a massive ladder that rolls along all of the shelves and there’s a chapter dedicated to using it properly.  Third, although there are books for sale in the front (an esoteric lot based mostly on Penumbra’s whims), the back section of books (the tall shelves called the Waybacklist) are not for sale–indeed, they are not even real books per se.

There is a small group of local readers (called the Unbroken Spine) who come to the store, give Clay a code, return a book and check out a new one.  Part of Clay’s job is to write down every detail he can about them each time they come in.  But he is not supposed to open any of these wayback books.  Those are really the only rules of the store.

Clay has two roommates, one of whom is Mat, a guy who works for Industrial Light and Magic as a miniaturist (he is building a miniature city in their living room called Matropolis).  He also has an old friend, Neel, with whom he played a Dungeons and Dragons like game called Robots and Warlocks.  Neel has since become a very wealthy programmer (his job is very funny).  Clay and Neel both loved the The Dragon-Song Chronicles, a trilogy of nerdiness by the author Clark Moffat (incidentally, later in the book a character is named Tabitha–this is now the SECOND book in which both of my children’s names are included and both of them are good guys.  Hooray!  So obviously I loved this book).  I love that later in the book, Clay is making an mp3 version of the books because they were only available on cassette!  (I was equally outraged with him).

When Clay’s friends visit the store, they are enchanted by it and can’t believe that he hasn’t looked at any of the books.  So, he does.  He breaks the rule and flips through a book.  But he can’t make much out of it as it has been encoded.

Soon after, a pretty young girl named Kat Potente enters the store (because of a Google ad that he placed trying to get people into the store–she fit every quirky demographic he could dream up).  Kat works for Google, recognizes that Clay is a kindred soul and, in the whirlwind way of people who know what they want, she sets up a date with him.  They hit it off immediately, especially when she sees that he’s working on a program to graph the checkouts of the books that the Unbroken Spine take out.  (Yup, there’s programming in the book–in Ruby).  The graph suddenly starts taking shape and Clay believes that a pattern is slowly emerging.  And when it does, it is like no pattern you have ever seen! (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: SQUAREPUSHER-“Dark Steering” (2012).

Hot on the heels of a review of LMFAO I get to the other side of the spectrum in electronic music—Squarepusher.   There’s no big choruses, heck there’s no words, but this music shares something with LMFAO.  Well, actually it really doesn’t—except maybe keyboards.

Squarepusher play dark angular music. It’s very electronic and alien (and sounds like it may have been used in the background of Skinny Puppy songs back in the day). It’s abrasive and the sounds are otherworldly and yet in this song, there’s a melody to it.  I have but one Squarepusher CD—that’s probably enough for me.  But I am always interested to hear new music by him.  It’s impressive the way he can take a song that starts out so noisy and get it to sound like real music by the end.  It like the science fiction of music.

[READ: June 5, 2012] “Forward Thinking”

I have read only one book by China Miéville—Perdido Street Station.  I found it to be quite challenging for a bunch of reasons and figured I wouldn’t read more by him.  And yet I find that images from that book stay with me to this day (at least ten years on).  So maybe it’s time to give him another shot.  But where to start?

This entry in the New Yorker’s Sci-Fi issue is written as an “E-mail sent back in time to a young science-fiction fan.”  And I loved it.  I enjoyed how it started (with the author knowing that E-mail doesn’t exist at the time the recipient will get this—so who will it show up?)  And I loved the central question: “How did you get into this stuff?”  The sender knows that the kid will get asked this a lot, but the question should be turned around: “How did you get out of it?”  Because all kids love sci-fi concepts.  It’s just that some move away from it as they get older.

Miéville includes a few key moments in (his) sci-fi history: Page 40 of “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher” by Beatrix Potter.  What?  Indeed, for this is the first time that (you) will be ware of knowing something the protagonist doesn’t—that there’s  fish coming up to get him.

Next is Chapter 13 of Golem100 by Alfred Bester.  I have never heard of this book.  Although Miéville does warn us about it—he read it far too young and there’s some sadistic violence in it, what attracted him (and me, now) is the disrespect for text—part of the story is a musical score, another is a picture.  It sounds cool.  And of course it is long out of print. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Uh Huh Her (2004).

After the sort of mellow, almost commercial release of Stories from the Sea, PJ Harvey throws the fans a left turn once again with Uh Huh Her.  It’s a heavy, raw album although not raw like Dry was.  It seems  simpler, somehow.  And I think it’s with this disc that you realize that every PJ Harvey record is going to be different.  It was apparent that she had a trajectory on those first few discs, but this one changes everything, and she proves that you’ll never know what’s going to come from her.

“The Life and Death of Mr Badmouth” has a very simple blues riff with kind of chanting (and occasional creepy backing vocals) by PJ.  While “Shame” adds more texture (melodica?) and some more washes of sound.  “Who the Fuck?” is a wonderfully vulgar and raw track with brutal guitars and overly loud vocals.  “Pocket Knife” is a buzzy but quiet track which feels like a demo (the guitar even seems out of tune), while “The Letter” has a great fuzzy guitar sound and a cool melody.

“The Slow Drug” is one of several slower pieces.  As with many of her quieter stuff this does nothing for me, although it’s a nice change on the disc.  “No Child of Mine” is a brief acoustic number.  It feels more like an excerpt or a transitional song than any actual song (being only a minute long).  It leads to the rocking “Cat on a Wall.”  “You Came Through”  mixes things up very nicely with a heavy percussion.  The effects in the song are really captivating.

“It’s You” is a slow piano-based song, while “The End” is a brief instrumental (more melodica).  And “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” is a dark ballad.  The oddest track is “Seagulls” which is a minute of actual seagulls squawking…an unusual addition for any disc.  The album ends with “The Darker Days of Me & Him.” It’s a quiet acoustic song which shows just how many different style she’s willing to experiment with even on one disc.  Even though to me this is a raw rocking disc, there are still a number of acoustic tracks as well.

This album feels like some kind of psychic purge.

[READ: March 31, 2011] The Littlest Hitler

I picked up this collection of stories because I enjoyed Boudinot’s story in the BlackBook collection very much.  I didn’t realize that that story was in fact part one of a two-part story (although part two bore no relation to part one, as you’ll see).  The story in BlackBook was funny and dark, but it didn’t prepare me for just how dark these stories would get.  And for the most part, it seemed like the darkness came at the very end; a surprise, a shock.   I admit i grew a little weary of the device by the end of the collection, although not all of the stories employed it, so there was some diversity. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: PHOENIX–Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009).

It will soon be unsurprising to say that a great album has come from a French band (no offense to the French, but you never used to hear cool music coming from there).  Then we had Air and Daft Punk and now Phoenix.

The first single and leadoff track, the preposterously catchy “Lisztomania” features guitars and keyboards (just so we know they’re not another techno band).  It has a simple but infectious riff as it opens , and it never lets up in catchiness.  “1901” has a chorus that ends with some ayayayayayays that I dare you not to sing along with.

“Fences” has a pretty classic disco feel to it.  It’s followed by “Love Like a Sunset.” Part 1 is a five-minute atmospheric instrumental, and Part 2 follows along similarly.

“Lasso” follows with some more simple background keyboards topped with grinding guitars.  Like “Countdown,” it’s simple and hard not to like.  “Girlfriend” opens with great swaths of keyboards and lots of repeated words in the verses and chorus, making for yet another great single.   In fact, all of the songs are super catchy.

Despite the simplicity of the melodies, the songs are always interesting.  And that’s hard to beat.  There’s no surprise that this album was on many lists as one of the best of 2009.

[READ: October 28, 2010] “The Dungeon Master”

Reading this short story reminded me that I really want to read Lipsyte’s new book The Ask, which is supposed to be very good indeed.

The title of the story immediately made me think it would be about Dungeons & Dragons, and I was pleased to see that it was.   The story concerns a group of boys who have their own D&D club after school (as opposed to the school sanctioned D&D club).  Their game meets at the Dungeon Master’s house and there is no, repeat, no touching of the DM’s manual.

We quickly learn that the DM is a sadistic bastard.  He has killed off his younger brother’s character at least 30 times (and the brother keeps making a new character in his place: Valentine the 19th, Valentine the 20th etc).  But unlike in real D&D where you die from ogres and dragons, Valentine has died from, for instance, rectal cancer (how do you roll for that?).

There’s a lot of speculation about just how crazy their DM really is (rumors abound: he flashes some girls at the ice rink, he set his own feces on fire).  And, of course there’s talk that he spent some time in Bergen Pines.  And just where is his mother anyway? (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »