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SOUNDTRACK: STEADY HOLIDAY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #187 (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.

Steady Holiday is the music of Dre Babinski. This video, filmed for our virtual SXSW showcase, finds her by the fireplace, a dog at her feet, an acoustic guitar in her arms. Steady Holiday is singing “Living Life,” a tune about a favorite topic of mine: the everyday, the mundane, and living in the moment. All the songs in this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Steady Holiday’s 2021 album Take The Corners Gently, a top record of mine this year.

As “Living Life” opens, Dre Babinski sings the first verse solo, then you can hear other musicians join in and she reveals their secret location (with some very loud shutters).  Derek Howa plays a pretty solo on the keys and by the end of the song drummer Brijesh Pandya is “da da daing” along to really flesh out the song.

Surprise guests aren’t the only surprise.  After the first song, her printer (with googly eyes and an arm) prints out the next song on the setlist.

“Tangerine” is a bouncy song with some heavier ends and an interesting chord progression.  Howa’s keys sound almost like a toy piano (but louder) and add a chiming quality.  It’s wonderfully catchy.  I’m curious how much bigger the proper version of this song sounds. Howa adds some creepy spacey effects in the middle, so I imagine the recorded songs have more going on.

The printer spits out a piece of paper: Your band is overdressed.  Then she tells us why the guys are outside (it’s pretty funny).

Laughing while her dog grabs a chew toy, she performs the album’s opening track, “White Walls,” a song about self-reflection and how doing the same thing over and over (“painting white walls white”) won’t make life better.

This is a slow bouncy song with a really catchy chorus: “painting white walls white just to kill the time.”

Then she shutters out her band and

As her printer cues the last song, (oops, small spoiler), Steady Holiday takes us out on a lovely tune, Love Me When I Go To Sleep”:

It’s just Bea and her guitar as she delicately sings

“Fragile aren’t we, who would guess / Here today, tomorrow’s taking bets.” Her refrain amplifies that fragility with a reminder to appreciate the gift of life. “Love me when I go to sleep / Love me with no certainty / Love me when I go to sleep.”

Her voice is clear and lovely and the final song feels like a lullaby.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Joan & The Man

This book came in at work and something about it made me want to read it (the shortness helped).

So this is a self-published book (I think–it could use some editing) that we received as a gift (from the author?).  It is Rykaczewski’s fourth novel and it is a wonderfully weird mix of reality and nonsense.

Chapter One focuses on Joan as she tried on some clothes in a mall–she is buying bralettes–imposed propaganda to younger hip girls.  Then it pushes back as she and The Man head to their place–the World Revolt Art Gallery.  But more on that place after a brief excursion to the Riverbend Arts Market.

Joan & The Man are artists living in Florida.  She works in paint and he works in words.  They spend time at the RAM hoping to sell some works, but really it’s a sucker’s market.  They often head down with their dog Duke,  Duke is a nasty dog to everyone but The Man. Then there’s a weird moment where Duke winds up trading places with a movie star dog (to the terminal end of the movie star dog).  But losing Duke frees them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDAVIDO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #174 (February 24, 2021).

I thought I knew what Afrobeat was and that I was really starting to enjoy it, but Davido plays something other than what I was expecting.

Nigerian Afrobeats star Davido comes to us from his estate in Lagos with an intimate four-song performance that takes us on a mini-retrospective of his career.

He and his band create a sultry vibe with a unique rendition of “Gobe,” his smash 2013 single, to open the set.

“Gobe” doesn’t have the percussion and bounce that I thought it would, although drummer Stanley Unogu is pretty sharp.  The lyrics are pretty funny, though

Girl your behind is a killer
I can see you’re sensual
See gobe
Omo see gobe eh
When you wiggle and waver
You must be intentional

Bassey Kenneth and Sylvia Asuquo sing nice backing vocals.  Then he says that “Aye” is dedicated to his father.

Davido has long expressed pride in his father’s success. He titled his 2012 debut album Omo Baba Olowo, meaning “son of a rich man” in the Yoruba language. In his (home) concert, Davido cites his father as his inspiration in a sweet and tender moment: “A Nigerian American like myself that studied in the States…I went to an HBCU, you know… My dad went to one as well and my dad used to work at Burger King. … To become what he’s become today as a Black man starting off in America has been very, very inspiring to me.”

A cool bass slide and generally fun bouncy bass from Kenneth Ogueji make “Aye” a fun track.  The rest of the song is all keys from Gospel Obi and Orowo “Roy” Ubiene.

In collaboration with the Alternate Sound band, Davido strips back “Aye,” a hit from 2014, with an unfettered rendition showcasing his natural voice devoid of any vocal effects.

It’s followed by “Risky” which is a bit more poppy.

Rounding out this Tiny Desk (home) concert, he concludes with “Jowo,” a single from the album that of conjures hope for better times ahead.

“Jowo” is a sadder ballad.  I like the song, but I cant help but think that by the end the backing singers are off key.

[READ: March 24, 2021] This is Not the Jess Show

I subscribed to the Quirk books newsletter some time ago.  And that explains why I received so much promotion for this book which I’d never otherwise heard of.

I read the blurb and it sounded fun, so I checked it out of the library.  And I was hooked instantly.

The book set in 1998 and it rather revels in 90s culture.   I though this was a lot of fun (since I am quite fond of the 90s myself).  At times it seemed like the book was maybe overdoing it with the 90s love (how many reference points are there: Titanic, Jewel, Scott Wolf, Savage Garden, Chumbawamba, Tori Amos), but whatever, Jess is a teenage girl and pop culture is pretty important in a teenager’s life.

As are crushes.  Her oldest friend Tyler has suddenly become… more interesting to her.  When they were younger, Tyler had buckteeth and rust colored hair.  He was fun but dorky.  And yet suddenly, she couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Her two best girl friends Kristen and Amber just didn’t get it.  They still thought of Tyler as a dork and they really discouraged Jess form pursuing him.  They teased her that she was like the song “Lady in Red”

It’s like, really?  You’ve known her this whole time and you’re only into her now, after seeing her in a red dress?  Isn’t that a little …fickle?

In fact, they know that Patrick Kramer, the hunky soccer player (and local hero!) is going to ask Jess to the spring formal.  How could she pass this up?  (Because Jess thinks Patrick is dull as dirt). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Frustrated” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Seventh” December 16, 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 seventh night is a song from a band who, to most people’s knowledge only ever released one song. I know I have certainly never heard this song from The Knack before.

Tonight we’re featuring 4 nice Jewish boys whose biggest hit was a song about a nice Jewish girl… “My Shalom-a” or something like that… We’re huge fans of New Wave (as well as the “old wave” that came after Moses parted the Red Sea)…so we were psyched to get to cover one of our favorites…The Knack!

The Knack put out three albums from 1979-1981, then three more in the late 90s-2000s.  And yet the only song they ever released is “My Sharona,” right?

“Frustrated” is a pretty simple late 70s new wave song.  Catchy (but not super catchy).  Kurstin plays the keyboards and it sounds pretty new wavey.  He also rips a pretty good solo.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  The drums are pretty simple although I like that the verses alternate between snare and tom dominance. I don’t know how close he comes to the original voice but the (inserted video) harmony vocal i quite lovely.

It’s nice that they chose something other than the obvious hit, although the obvious hit is a hit for a reason.

[READ: December 17, 2020] “Ersatz Panda”

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 17. Lucy Ives, author of Loudermilk, has a nickname for every cat she’s ever met. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I really enjoyed the way this seven-part story began.  In a store there is a cat.  It is black and white.  Its name is Panda.  The narrator sends videos of Panda being cute to her feed.

Then one day the woman goes to the store and Panda has been replaced by another cat.  It’s also black and white but looks nothing like Panda.  This one is also loud and hairy.  The owner says that someone took Panda and replaced her with this cat.  A friend calls it “Ersatz Panda.”  The narrator decides she can’t go back to that store.

She goes to a new store.  They also have a cat.  This one is orange.  It’s name is K.C. for Kitty Cat.  K.C disappeared for a while, but she came back.

But then Part 2 shifts gears.  It comments on what we have just read: “narration is the act of organizing discrete events into a series.”  The narrator defines ersatz and says that ersatz is a beautiful word. (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: BORIS-“asia” (2015).

Back in 2015, Boris released three albums on the same day all under the “new noise literacy” banner: “urban dance” “warpath” and “asia” [according to their label numbers, this is the order they go in, but I’m posting them out of sequence].

All three records are experiments in abrasive noise.  Despite the adorable child on the covers, these records will scare children.

This album has three songs.

“Terracotta Warrior” Runs for 20:38.  It opens with quiet, slow rumbling–almost inaudible for the first 30 seconds or so.  Then the pulsing sounds start bubbling up under a hissing, mechanical sound.  Around seven minutes the rumble stays pretty steady, but the higher noises–hissing, clanging, horror movie sounds, start to grow more intense.  At 8 minutes, some discernible guitar chords ring out (heavily distorted, but clearly guitars).  It turns into a lengthy drone with squeaky feedback noises throughout.  At 17 and a half minutes the feedback gets louder and louder until it abruptly cuts off and after moment of silence distance guitars start ringing out again.  There’s even the first sign of drums (a gentle hi-hat).

“Ant Hill” is half as long, but similar is tone.  It is primarily pulsing electronics and high pitched squealing electronic manipulation.  There’s also some digital glitching sounds. After 8 minutes the song fades to a pause only to resume a few seconds later with some more digital glitching and manipulation.  With 30 seconds to go, a drum beat comes in and the distortion takes on a more melodic sound including what sounds like someone sawing in the distance.

“Talkative Lord vs Silent Master” is also ten minutes long and it is the most unpleasant of the three songs.  It is full on static and noise with what sounds like a monstrous voice growling in the distance.  By the end of the song it sounds like being in the middle of a howling winter storm.  And as it closes up there is some serious digital glitching.  Not for the sensitive of hearing.

The album is credited to: takeshi: guitar & bass / wata: guitar & echo / atsuo: drums & electronics.

[READ: January 19, 2017] “The Very Rigid Search”

Jonathan Safran Foer has become something of a more serious writer over the last few years, so I’m alway happy to read one of his earlier funnier works (himm, that sounds familiar).

This story is written from the point of view of a Ukrainian tour guide named Alexander Perchov.  He is writing this tale in English, although his English is slightly off (as the title hints at).  He speaks very good English, but his word choices often eschew idioms for literal translation (and much hilarity ensues).

Alex’s family own a Ukrainian branch of an international travel agency and it is his job to pick up and translator for an American traveller.

Alex refers to the traveler as the “hero” of the story.  And the hero’s name is Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jonathan Safran Foer is not having shit between his brains  He is an ingenious Jew.

JSF was travelling from New York to Lutsk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Tiny Desk Concert #888 (September 6, 2019).

I watched the first Tiny Desk Concert from The Tallest Man on Earth about five years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since.  He looks pretty different than he did back then.  But that’s because even though I watched it five years ago,

It’s 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth’s Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos.

It wasn’t viral for me in 2009, but I did really enjoy it.

Since then I have planned to see him on two occasions.  Back in 2018 I had a ticket for him at Union Transfer, but I wound up going on a Boy Scout hike that weekend.  This year, on October 2, he was supposed to play the Met Philly, but he cancelled the entire American tour.

So, maybe in 2020, it will finally happen, especially since he doesn’t live in Sweden exclusively.

The Swedish singer now splits his time between Djurås, Sweden and Brooklyn, N.Y., and has just put out his fifth studio album titled, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. 

I don’t honestly recall what first attracted me to his music (his voice and guitar playing, i suspect) although this observation is fascinating:

I think Kristian Matsson’s words are more focused, more observational and more appreciative of life than in the past.

I suppose it would have been interesting if he played one song that he played ten years ago to see if he did it any differently.  But it’s probably better that he plays three new songs with C.J. Camerieri on French horn and muted trumpet.

“What I’ve Been Kicking Around” opens with his fast finger-picking–there’s really quite a lot going on in this song.  He plays this one on electric guitar  and C.J is on French horn.  His voice is gruff but inviting with a vaguely Bob Dylanesque delivery.  There’s something about the way that minimal French horn accompaniment fills in the spaces between the songs that allows him to play his complex fingering and the song still feels full.

For “I’ll Be A Sky,” he switches to acoustic guitar and C.J. plays muted trumpet.  His fingerpicking style doesn’t change, but the song is a lot warmer.  I love the way he delivers these lines almost conversationally

I feel that I’m a little lost most of the time
But I don’t really mind, oh, when my heart feels young
I travel through the storms but then I hang to dry
And I don’t really mind, oh, when my arm is in the rain and the sun

For the the final song “”The Running Styles of New York,” he switches back to the electric guitar.  He has to tune it and jokes that he was trying to dumb it down by bringing fewer guitars.  The song

begins with, “I hear beauty in things / Like the neighbors return / To their love and pride / Their day like a wicked ride / But then to belong.”

Continuing with the muted trumpet, C.J. plays some solo melodies while Kristian plays his complicated fingerpicking.  There’s some really lovely harmonics on this song, too.

I hope all is well and he’s able to tour again soon.

[READ: August 14, 2019] Gone with the Mind

I’ve enjoyed most of what Mark Leyner has written to varying degrees.  He tends to be an over-the-top satirist of himself, of pop culture and of concepts like the novel.

He wrote two novels and three collections of short stories in the 1990s, was celebrated and vilified and then kind of disappeared.

He was primarily writing for magazines and TV and stuff behind the scenes.  Then he came back in 2012 with The Sugar Frosted Nutsack which I have yet to read.   Then he wrote this one.  I grabbed it from work a couple years back and finally got around to it and it was much like what I was expecting and miles away from what I imagined.

The book beings with an introduction from Mark’s mother Muriel.  She is reading aloud and explains that she is coordinating director of the Nonfiction and the Food Court Reading Series at the Woodcreek Plaza Mall.  She thanks various people for giving them such a nice location at the mall as well as the sponsors Panda Express, Master Wok, Au Bon Pain, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOBE NWIGWE-Tiny Desk Concert #881 (August 19, 2019).

Tobe Nwigwe is the leader, but he shares the spotlight with his backing vocalists all of whom take lead vocal spots at some point.

The thing I like best about this set is that they are all wearing T shirts that say “My First Tiny Desk.”

There’s a wide array of sounds on this Tiny Desk too, from delicate R&B to some abrasive rapping.  I like the abrasive rapping a lot more–he has terrific delivery in that part.

Tobe’s performance was a five-song medley sandwiched effortlessly into a 15-minute block. Launching with “Houston Tribute,” he used clever and evocative wordplay to rap about coming of age in the South. Accented almost hypnotically by a trio of harmonies provided by background vocalists Luke Whitney, David Michael Wyatt and Madeline Edwards, Tobe’s mindful words are like a life hack for those seeking guidance.

The song has a gentle melody with delicate keys from Nic Humes.  The song is a rap, but a soft one.  He speaks quickly but the rhymes are positive and amusing.

My flow a monastery for them extra poor people
That don’t get commentary and get honored rarely
For the guava jelly they produce even though they get thrown fecal
Matter on a platter made by they oppressor
I shatter all the chatter that seem to make us lesser

After about two minutes Lucius Hoskins kicks in some guitar licks.  Then Devin Caldwell throws in some cool deep bass sounds making the song sound very full.

Tobe’s wife, Fat, known for her striking beauty and lead role in the magnificently directed music videos that have paved the way to Tobe’s rapid growth on Instagram. And through it all, young Baby Fat sat silently in her mom’s arms, absorbing the spiritual energy of her dad’s music.

After the song he says, “That’s how you do it June 24” (So it took two months for this to air).  Then he says “Lets teach ’em why the caged bird sings.  “Caged Bird” opens with Aldarian Mayes playing some simple drum thumping before Tobe starts rapping.

LaNell “NELL” Grant gets a lead rap mid song then after another chorus, Luke Whitney takes a high falsetto verse followed by an even higher falsetto from David Michael Wyatt.

Up next is “Against the Grain.”  Madeline Edwards takes the first lead vocal, but Ii love this song for the great raw sound of the bass and guitar and Tobe’s growling rapping delivery.

Aight, I feel like the masses on melatonin when it come to melanin
I grew up melancholy ’cause I ain’t realize that the hemoglobin in my skin
Was connected to a lineage that never ever had to penny pinch

That sound is unlike anything else in the set, although it does segue into “Shine” with more lead vocals from Madeleine.

Throughout the set he offered pleas for listeners to look past inherent hardships and evil and to keep their eyes on the prize, while he reflected on his own decision to go against his Nigerian roots and parental expectations to pursue his dreams of being a rapper.

He is very funny and says, “I’m Nigerian I know a lot of y’all though I was regular black”  For Nigerian parents, if their children haven’t done one of three things they’ve wasted their lives: become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer.  So you can imagine when I told my mom that I wanted to be a rapper. She said (in maternal Nigerian accent) Tobe, why are you such a parasite to my life?  Tobe, why do you love poverty so much? Tobe, why re you trying to kill me?

Legends like Dave Chapelle and Erykah Badu were telling me I was dope which is what  “I’m Dope” is about.  David Michael Wyatt sings an impressive falsetto and the song actually does mention that Chapelle and Badu said he was dope.

The credits also cite Igbo Masquerade: art.  I’m not sure what that’s a reference to.

[READ: September 1, 2019] Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic

I couldn’t imagine how this comic book would work with the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s movie riffing.  But Joel Hodgson had an idea and it works wonderfully.

The Mads up on the dark side of the moon are still tormenting a guy up on the Satellite of Love.

This book is Netflix-era, so the Mads are now represented by Kinga, Synthia, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Max) and the Boneheads.  And joining Crow, Tom Servo and Gypsy on the SOL are Jonah and two small robot creatures that I didn’t recognize (I haven’t watches the Netflix episodes).

I absolutely hate the way Todd Nauck draws the host segments. I can’t stand the mouth designs on anyone, especially Kinga.  They all look like the Joker (is that because this is from Dark Knight comics?) and are horrifying.

But once you get past the art design of the host segments, the premise is pretty great.  Synthia has designed a machine The Bubbulat-r which allows a person to enter a comic book.  They test it out on Max and his favorite book Funny Animals.  Max jumps in as a rabbit can talk to the other characters.

The book explains that there’s a little bubble at the bottom of the word balloon to indicate a line that has been added and is not a line from the actual book.

But when Max comes back he tells us that the cute little bunny is in fact four feet tall with powerful sinewy limbs and reeks of a bizarre musk.

But the key point is that that Kinga has invented a way to do movie riffing from inside the comic.  So Kinga sends them comics and our heroes are inserted into different books. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAROLINA EYCK AND CLARICE JENSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #816 (January 11, 2019).

There have been a lot of bands I have first heard of on Tiny Desk and whom I hope to see live one day.  Carolina Eyck and Clarice Jensen are two women I would love to see live–together or separately.

The concert opens with a looping voice (Carolina’s) and what appears to be her using a theremin to play looped samples.  And then soon enough, she starts showing off how awesome she is at the futuristic 100-year-old instrument.

Carolina Eyck is the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely “fingered” articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

After playing a remarkably sophisticated melody on the theremin (with suitable trippy effects here and there), for about three minutes, she explains how the instrument works.  She even shows a very precise scale.

The position of the hands influences electromagnetic fields to produce pitch and volume. Recognized as one of today’s preeminent theremin specialists, Eyck writes her own compositions, such as the pulsating “Delphic” which opens the set, and she’s got big shot composers writing theremin concertos for her.

Up next is Clarice Jensen with “her wonderful cello.”

Joining Eyck for this two-musician-in-one Tiny Desk is cellist Clarice Jensen. When she’s not making gorgeous, drone-infused albums like last year’s For This From That Will be Filled, Jensen directs one of today’s leading new music outfits, ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Jensen doesn’t explain what’s going on, but she makes some amazing sounds out of that instrument–she’s clearly got pedals and she modifies and loops the sounds she’s making.

“Three Leos,” composed by Jensen, offers her masterful art of looping the cello into symphonic layers of swirling, submerged choirs with a wistful tune soaring above.

Vak Eyck comes back for the final song, a wonderfully odd duet of cello and theremin.

The two musicians close with “Frequencies,” a piece jointly composed specifically for this Tiny Desk performance. Amid roiling figures in cello and melodies hovering in the theremin, listen closely for a wink at the NPR Morning Edition theme music.

Van Eyck make soaring sounds, while Jensen scratches and squeals the cello.  Within a minute Jensen is playing beautiful cello and Van Eyck is flicking melodies out of thin air.

[READ: June 24, 2017] Less

It wasn’t until several chapters into this book that I realized I had read an excerpt from it (and that’s probably why I grabbed it in the first place).  I also had no idea it won the Pulitzer (PULL-It-ser, not PEW-lit-ser) until when I looked for some details about it just now.

It opens with a narrator talking about Arthur Less.  He describes him somewhat unflatteringly but more in a realistic-he’s-turning-fifty way, than a displeased way.

And soon the humor kicks in.

The driver who arrives to take Less to an interview assumes he is a woman because she found his previous novel’s female protagonist so compelling and persuasive that she was sure the book was written by a woman (and there was no author photo).  So she has been calling out for “Miss Arthur,” which he has ignored because he is not a woman.  This makes him late and, strangely, apologetic.

He is in New York to interview a famous author H. H. H. Mandern who has, at the last moment, come down with food poisoning.

It takes only ten pages to get the main plot out of the way:

Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrived in the mail: his boyfriend of the past nine years is about to be married to someone else. He can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and he can’t say no–it would look like defeat. The solution might just be on his desk –a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.  Can he simply get out of town, and go around the world, as a way to avoid looking foolish? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Loose Canon: Live in Europe 2016-2017 (2018).

I loved The Divine Comedy at the turn of the century (the fin de siècle, if you will).  They were one of my favorite bands.

Since then Neil Hannon (the man behind the band) has released a few albums which I have liked–but none as much as those early records.

This recording is primarily his latter songs, and as such isn’t as exciting to me.  (Although setlists from the tour shows that he played a lot of older songs as well, so this disc is mostly a latter period recording).

The first three songs are from the newest album Foreverland: “How Can You Leave Me On My Own,” “Napoleon Complex” and “Catherine the Great.”  And among the next few songs are “To the Rescue” and “Funny Peculiar.”   So that’s five in all from that album.

The previous album Bang Goes the Knighthood accounts for five more songs “The Complete Banker,” “Bang Goes The Knighthood,” “At The Indie Disco,” “Assume The Perpendicular” and “I Like.”

So that’s ten of seventeen from the two latest albums.

After listening to it a few times I have come to appreciate his newer music even more and to see that it is equally as cleverly crafted.  He’s just a different person now with different lyrical and musical ideas.  I will certainly give a re-listen to the last decade;s worth of music.

“How Can” is fun a bouncy, “Napoleon” is snarky and witty.  “Funny Peculiar” is a duet with  guest vocals from Lisa O’Neill.  She has a fascinating singing style which is kind of peculiar in its own way.

“The Complete Banker” is wonderfully sarcastic and catchy and “I Like” is so simple and delightful.  “Assume the Perpendicular” is an other fun uptempo song, but of this batch its “Indie Disco” that is the real highlight (this includes an excerpt from New Order’s Blue Monday”).

It also sounds like this was a fun souvenir for anyone who saw the tour (he dressed up as Napoleon and others, and apparently “Indie Disco” was really fun live).  I have always wanted to see them and hold them high on my list of bands to see.  But he hasn’t been to the States in almost ten years, so I don’t have high hopes to experience them live.

The band for The Divine Comedy’s live shows has changed over the years, sometimes large and orchestral or, like this tour, a simpler five-piece.  They sound good although they do underplay the orchestral quality of the music.

Going back there’s one from Victory for the Comic Muse “A Lady Of A Certain Age” and one from Absent Friends “Our Mutual Friend.”  These two songs are lovely and quite poignant, especially “Lady.”  They are a far cry from the raucous songs of old.

The first older song is from 2001’s Regenertaion with a wild and fun rendition of “Bad Ambassador.”  His voice doesn;t sound great on this song.  I’m not sure if he ever sounded great live, but he certainly underplays some of the bigger moments in the song.

The crowd really gets pumping for Fin de Siècle‘s “Generation Sex” and “National Express.”  These two songs are a lot of fun and I imagine mus t be really rousing live.  Once again he doesn’t sound great. Not that he has lost his voice but almost like he;s not trying all that hard.

The disc is collected from shows all over Europe, so its interesting if they picked songs where he doesn’t sound that great.

It’s not until the encores that he brings out two really old songs 1994’s “A Drinking Song” and “Tonight We Fly.”

I’m sure they picked this particular version of “A Drinking Song” because he admits to being quite drunk himself.  And there’s a funny moment where he gets a hair caught in his throat.  “Is it yours?”  Indeed, his banter with the audience is a highlight.  He is clearly a good showman, and perhaps that makes up for some of the shortcomings of the disc.  This song is a good example.  His voice is much louder than the instruments and, frankly, he doesn’t sound that great as what is mostly a capella–but the overall presentation is fun.

The ending “Tonight We Fly” is a treat as well.  Again, he doesn’t sound perfect, but he sounds like he’s having fun.

I feel like this makes me want to see them a little less–except that it sounds like the performance is great even if his voice isn’t anymore.  Regardless, is he ever comes back to the States, I’ll be there for sure.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The People Who Kept Everything”

I read this novel 7 years ago.  But since I’ve been going back through old Harper’s and found this excerpt I thought it would be worth reading (the excerpt) again.  And I really enjoyed it, I had forgotten about this scene until the end of the piece.

The narrator says that on the night before he left for college his father gave him a Spanish dueling knife and told him to keep it and never lose it.

When the narrator asks his father where he got it he says he’d better not say–he could tell him he won it in a card game in El Paso or a cathouse in Brownsville.

He kept the knife in a drawer and it moved with him to every location her went–dorm rooms, apartments.  Often it was in the kitchen with the cutlery, ignored by everyone except the new girlfriend who wanted to cook something. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Pilot Machines (2012).

The first Darlingside EP had no information about the band.  It was almost a blank slate.  This, their first full album at least gives us this:

Darlingside consists of David Senft, vocals and guitar; Harris Paseltiner, cello, guitar and vocals; Auyon Mukharji, mandolin, violin and vocals; Don Mitchell, guitar and vocals; and Sam Kapala, drums and vocals.

Yes, drums.  This is the final Darlingside album with drums and the final Darlingside album with a sound that is not their current sound.  At this time Darlingside was more of an indie folk rock band who sang with great harmonies and had some unusual instruments.  But they still rocked in a fairly conventional way (in fact the drums are often front and center).

“Still” bursts forth with harmonies (ahhhs) and loud drums. They play with a loud/quiet dynamic within the verses.  It sounds like Darlingside if you squint your ears.  The lyrics are pretty funny, (and now a message from our sponsor) and it’s really catchy too.  But those drums really modify everything.

“The Woods” opens with the kind of harmonies that Darlingside would become known for.  But this song has a propulsive drum moves things forward.  It also highlights some great wild violin and a short spaced-out outro with some heavily processed vocals.  “The Woods” and “Ava,” both have really big loud moments.  Ava starts with a thumping bass and picking guitars but it builds nicely with some great tension between the vocals and guitars.

“Drowning Elvis,” has a very spaced-out drum groove, lots of strings and a clean guitar sound.  “The Company We Keep” features mandolin and high voices.  It’s a pretty, folkie song.

“Blow the House Down” is familiar to fans because they have re-recorded it and play it live consistently.  “The Ancestor” was also recorded without the drums for their next album.  This version has a kind of low thrum underneath the song but the drums are just a kick drum.  It sounds pretty close to the familiar version.

I’d actually like to hear this whole album re-recorded in their current style (no disrespect to their drummer), but the rock band format changes the whole sound of the songs and it would be interesting to hear how they differ.

Having said that, this rock band format also makes some great songs.  “Only Echoes” starts as a slower, moodier piece but midway through it dramatically shifts gears and grows really loud with a buzzy bass and distorted guitar and smashing drums.  It’s the most un-Darlingside song I can imagine, but it’s really great.

“When Fortune Comes” and “My Love” are quieter songs.  “Fortune” focuses on their harmonies (there’s no drums).  While “My Love” has shuffling drums and an upright bass.  The lyrics are also a bit rougher than expected: “You weren’t the first to call me….an arrogant son of a bitch but…”

“Terrible Things” opens with snapping drums a rocking staccato guitar line.  The singers do a series of single note “coo” sounds that’s pretty neat.  The vocal harmonies are really cool and a little spooky, too.  It’s a neat song.

“Sweet an Low” has a very smooth sound (and an extra vocalist–Caitlyn Canty).  The final two minute are kind of an extended jam with this little electronic device.

When I first listened to this after falling in love with Darlingside’s current sound, I didn’t like this very much.  But having listened a few times, I really like these songs.  They’re very well crafted with some excellent details.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “Fletcher Knowles”

This excerpt is from a then novel-in-progress and it is a doozy.  It’s very funny and very meta and once again I can’t imagine where the story is going to go from here.

The story begins with the character saying that his name is Fletcher Knowles.  And he is going to tell his story.  He says that he is going to tell everything from memory and that you should never doubt your own memory.  Nor should you trust anyone who says that they doubt their own memory.

So he is going to tell his story exactly as he wants to.  Which means he is not going to: (more…)

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