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Archive for the ‘Outer Space’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE GOOD ONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #87 (September 29, 2020).

I love when a music critic, like Bob Boilen, picks an album for his top ten lists that (I assume) no one else has heard.  So it’s no surprise to learn that 

In 2019, The Good Ones’ album RWANDA, you should be loved was one of my top 10 albums. They were to play a Tiny Desk concert in May of this year, but the world had other plans.

The blurb continues, “this is the tiniest of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, a single song.”  The song “Soccer (Summer 1988)” is simple, with a pretty guitar melody and wonderful harmonies.  But read what they’ve been through.

Adrien Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana know endless hardships. The night before this recording was made, a flood in Rwanda killed more than a dozen people and destroyed homes. Muddied water was more than waist high in Janvier’s one-room hut. That next morning, Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli showed up to record the duo; she had the camera and he handled the audio. And though Janvier had been up all night dealing with the mud, they all took a two-hour drive to Adrien’s hilltop farm. Janvier tapped out the rhythm with a key on a thermos; the jug was filled with milk — milk from a cow Adrien was able to purchase courtesy of a 2019 U.S. tour.

The performance is a song they’d just learned to play together: “Soccer (Summer 1988).” It’s a nostalgic tune of a favorite soccer team, Rayon Sports F.C., from the days before the genocide in Rwanda took too many lives nearly a quarter of a century ago. Support means a great deal to these people, and if you like what you hear, their Bandcamp page is a good way to help The Good Ones.

It’s worth checking out their page to hear what they sound like when their world hasn’t just been turned upside down.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that it is one of her all time favorite books

Imagine a tongue-in-cheek spin on Mad Men, but set in a future when corporations have largely taken the place of governments.  …  This is mind-boggling in the number of predictions it gets right about the effects technological developments have had on capitalism over the past fifty years.

I also loved this story, or at least this excerpt, and will absolutely read the whole story to see what happens.

As it opens, we meet the narrator heading to work at Fowler Schocken Associates.  The company is a very successful advertising firm, headed by Fowler Schocken.  

As their meeting starts Fowler wonders aloud if they are getting soft.  The room is full of yes-men, but they are also correct.  They have not been getting soft.  They just secured the Coffiest account (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-Tiny Desk Concert #964 (March 30, 2020).

What’s worse?  Liking someone’s personality and disliking their music or liking their music and thinking they are a bad person?

In this Tiny Desk Concert, I learned that Allen Stone is a super nice guy, sweet and funny.  But boy do I dislike his music–and his singing voice.

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

His three graceful background singers L-r: Moorea Masa, Jessica Childress, Raquel Rodriguez) and piano player ( Michael Elson) provided the perfect compliment, but this set proved undoubtedly that his voice belongs right up front.

And yet, lyrically, “American Privilege,” which addresses his internal guilt about everything from materialism to being born white, is really powerful.

Between songs he is a delightful sweetheart.  He says that playing Tiny Desk is a, “breath of fresh air that this is how people want to hear music.  It’s not pyrotechnics, its stripped down songs in their purity.”

After this song he played

a trilogy of Building Balance songs dedicated to his wife (who he said he’s “face first in love” with)

He says he got married a year and a half ago.  And he is still married, which is great.

“Give You Blue” (I don’t quite understand the metaphor) is played on an acoustic guitar with gentle piano and the backing singers providing a lot of the backing sounds.

He says say that being so in love has meant that he got a lot of great tunes out of it.  Although “Brown Eyed Lover” seems a questionable title given the Van Morrison classic.  Plus, it seems odd to dedicate a song to your wife that goes, “I’ve got a brown-eyed lover on the other side of town.”

I acknowledge that Stone has a strong, powerful voice–his vibrato is impressive.  I just don’t care for it.

But again, he is so nice between songs.  He says playing a big room is fun and so much energy but with ear monitors in your head you feel isolated.  However, the best part of music is the people and this is so much fun for musicians.

He wrote “Consider Me” before he asked his wife to marry him.  It’s a sweet song, but I’m surprised that a sweet, romantic song has this verse

If you’re looking for somebody who
Will put up with your shit

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 5

Book 5, the army is more intent than ever on finding Hilo. But because he is a child (and not from here) they can’t find any matches in any database.

It will also be hard to find Hilo because he has returned to his home planet Jannus (along with DJ who put on Hilo’s suit and ran through the portal at the least second).

Their absence means that Izzy needs to create replicas of the two of them.  Which she does easily, although the first attempts are way too smart (hilariously so).

Meanwhile Gina has been practicing her magic and accidentally opens a a portal to let two giant dogs in the room.  And they are not friendly dogs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK CROWES-Tiny Desk Concert #963 (March 23, 2020).

I didn’t really like The Black Crowes when they dominated the airwaves in the 90s.  They weren’t really my cup of tea.  In hindsight I like them more.  Although I am very puzzled that the Robinsons are part of the jam band scene as their music seems a little too straightforward for jamming.  But then I haven’t heard any of his jam stuff.

This show is just the two Robinsons, Chris singing and Rich playing some beautiful acoustic guitar –lovely riffs and fills and harmonics.  (Rich’s beard looks better).

It’s somehow been 30 years since the singles “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” (their Otis Redding cover) received constant radio play, and the brothers have reunited for the 30th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut platinum album, Shake Your Money Maker.

The newly reunited Brothers Of A Feather decided to open their Tiny Desk concert with “She Talks To Angels.”

This song is stripped down so much, that its sounds really quite different (I like the acoustic playing more than the original).  But I guess it is more of a jam band song since it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes.

The second song is another big hit in a very different format.  Although I feel like “Jealous Again” doesn’t quite work as well as an acoustic song.

It’s no secret that the brothers haven’t always gotten along, and Chris and Rich Robinson have had musical successes outside their collaboration as The Black Crowes. But the combination of Chris’ instantly recognizable raspy belt and Rich’s catchy guitar riffs was always going to be the duo’s legacy.

Chris’ voice does sound recognizable, although perhaps a little worse for wear.

“Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica) is about constantly being in motion.  Rich plays a beautiful 12 string guitar (it sounds so full!)  They both sing in harmony for much of the song and their voices sound wonderful together.

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 4

In Book 4 we get to see just how awesome Hilo’s sister Izzy is.  Hilo is from another world and Izzy is his “sister.”  He rescued her at the end of Book 3 an now that she’s on Earth, she is just the cutest thing.  They are on earth hanging out with DJ and his best friend Gina.

Izzy makes things from parts and scraps and she is constantly making things (and hilariously, nonchalantly mentioning what they do).

The first thing Izzy makes is a chicken out of the broken toaster.  The chicken speaks Portuguese (what else is she going to speak?) and when she gets mad, her butt falls off.  The chicken shouts estar frio aqui alguem me dar um casaco and indeed it does fall off.

In the last book they went to Oshun, the planet of Polly the warrior cat.  Gina learned magic there and she is learning to control it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARTHUR MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #962 (March 20, 2020).

Arthur Moon is exactly the kind of weirdo band that I never would have heard of if not for Tiny Desk Concerts. I’m so happy that Bob Boilen enjoys the offbeat, because there’s no other way I would have heard of these guys.

This band, the project of singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud has the quirky freshness I first heard from New York artists such as Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and more recently with Dirty Projectors. It comes off in the starkness of the sound, a spaciousness that leaves room for me to hear the storytelling in the songs, but always surprising me with aural delights.

They play three songs (here’s another Tiny Desk I wish was twice as long).

All three songs in this performance come from their brilliant self-titled 2019 album, an album too many missed, in my opinion. And this band pulls off these odd, unpredictable twists and turns with simplicity and charm.

The first song, “Homornormo” starts with an lopsided five-note acoustic guitar riff from Martin D. Fowler and hugely processed vocals Lora-Faye Åshuvud (I guess it’s a vocoder).  There’s backing vocals and hocketing from keyboardist Cale Hawkins and Aviva Jaye (who is credited with “toys” and vocals).  There’s a guitar solo form Åshuvud which is as weird and abstract as the rest of the song.  The only thing vaguely conventional about the song are the drums from Dave Palazola because the rhythm has to be consistent when every thing else is chaotic.  But even his sounds are oddball, like the reverse snare drum sound he plays at the end.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

The opening song at the Desk, “Homonormo,” begins with a kiss-off to the very city that birthed their sound, and a search for something normal, yet twisted.

“Hello
Send my kindest regards to New York
I’m gone, woo
I think I want to settle down
But weirder”

Even the end of the song is unconventional.  It ends with a series of claps: 4, 5, 6 and then a few random numbers that they all know perfectly.  It’s like getting people to clap for you.

“Reverse Conversion Therapy” opens with the mini Mellotron from  Cale Hawkins, who was last at the Tiny Desk with Raveena.  This song is slower, with Moog bass sounds from Fowler.  When the chorus kicks in the guitars launch out like a St. Vincent song, but it quickly settles back down.  The middle turns down nearly all the music as Ashuvud sings while others provide ooohs for backing vocals.  It ends with some awesome hocketing from all three vocalists.

There’s anxiety in these songs, even when the chorus is “I Feel Better,” but there’s a creative spirit in this anxiety, and then, of course too, there’s the tin foil.

“I Feel Better” opens with drums and a sprinkling of sounds as she sings.  Then comes the chanted chorus of “I feel better” that everyone sings. Aviva Jaye (who brought a table of toys) gets a brief lead vocal line before everyone else joins in again.

The song ends with a pretty piano solo and Åshuvud pulling out a roll of aluminium foil )I only wish I could see what she was doing with it).

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 3

At the end of book two, Gina was sucked into a portal and DJ and Hilo were surrounded by army tanks.  How would they ever get out of this?  In the most hilarious way ever (by acting like the little kids they appear to be).  I love that there is a recurring joke that dogs love Hilo and even they get in on the act.

Hilo takes advantage of being in the military base to hack into the computer system to learn about possible portals that he can open to get Gina back.  They were also given an orb by Polly which causes everyone on earth to forget the last two days–an outstandingly easy way to get everyone to forget everything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #960 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #959 (March 13, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Chika, but she proves to be really fun and funny (while rapping some serious topics).

Her band is jazzy and stripped back:

Chika was also the first hip-hop act to anchor her set with just a Peruvian cajón instead of a full, hard-hitting kit. The surprisingly stripped-down performance allowed her lyrics, with all their nuance, to take center stage — and the result was remarkable.

In addition to the band, were her terrific backing vocalists

The impressive harmonies from Chika’s four backup singers brought all the feels right out of the gate.

She starts with “Industry Games.”  Lovely ooohs from the backing vocalists then David Levitan plays an echoing guitar (“both catchy and eerily haunting” that I found reminiscent of the Close Encounters melody).  Up comes that cajon with gentle thumps from Dominic Missana.  Then she starts rapping.

Moving seamlessly between rap verse and melodic hooks, Chika showcased her unusual tonality, multi-cadence delivery and vocal range, with an effortless, double-time lyrical bounce.

She has a fantastic fast flow (smiling as she goes).  It’s interesting hearing the gentle backing vocals that repeat her (sometime harsh) final lines.

She even starts giggling in the middle.  She explains later “I say ‘tightest around’ and they sing ‘hottest around’ and it is hysterical to me.”

Before the next song she says, “Everyone brings nice things to the Tiny Desk, like lights…  I didn’t bring anything, or so you thought.  I brought this Chapstick and I’m gonna place that right here.  Fuck anyone who underestimated me.”

She says that “Songs About You.”  No shade to anyone.  It’s not about y’all. its about you.  The song features more nice backing vocals and then a grooving bass line from Chris McClenny.

Before the third song she sends a shout out to her sister who is there.  “Shout out to our parents… genetics!”  She asks, “What kind of shows are you wearing?”  “Puma…”  “You should have been wearing ‘Balencies,’ which is the name of the next song. She pauses and waits for the laughter.  Then says, “I’m funny.  We’re not gonna argue about that.  You all didn’t want to laugh… something about that felt racist.”

The backing vocals are wild and weird as it starts, Danielle Withers sounds like a perfect loop of an eccentric vocal line.  It’s pretty magnificent–I really hope she goes somewhere with a distinctive voice like that (I see that she has sung with some pretty big names already).

The other singers are (l-r) Jabri Rayford; Darius Dixson and Rachel Robinson (she’s standing on a box).

“Crown” has some great lyrics

I got a habit of rapping ’bout tragic sh-
I think I’m just passionate
Tryna steer the way while in the dark
Hope I ain’t crashin’ it (Woah)
Now my little hobby turned to cashin’ out
Thinking ’bout who I’d be if I listened to doubt
Said I’d never do it, well look at me now

Okay
This is for the kids with depression
The one’s whose parental expectations got them stressin’ (Woah)
The one’s who would rather persevere, bust they ass, tryna make it ’cause-
They ain’t really livin’ in the present

The set ends, oddly enough with “Intro” which is a very quiet song.  Gentle guitars and  a quiet rap.

This was a really satisfying set.  her songs were short and to the point.  The lyrics were powerful and affecting and the music was a nice accompaniment.

[READ: April 2, 2020] Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks worked together on the awesome book Primates.  Now they are back sending some primates into space.

I just love Wicks’ artwork.  She manages to do such amazing things with such simple-seeming drawings.  Her eyes are (mostly) dots, the faces are almost all simple shapes and yet everything she draws is so expressive and conveys exactly what she wants.  It is a pleasure to look at anything she draws.

Ottaviani did a lot of research for this book (obviously) and the end is chock full of resources that you can look at to learn more.

As for the book itself, it is “told” by astronaut Mary Cleave.  It starts with young Mary being told (by the President) that she was too young for the Astronaut Corp.  The letter (from President Eisenhower) did not go on to say that no women were accepted into the Corp, she had to find that out herself.

She was already a practicing pilot at age 14, but that wasn’t good enough.  She then jumps over to another girl her own age over in the Soviet Union.  Valentina Tereshkova was jumping out of planes and training to be a pilot, because the Soviet Union did not have a sexist component in their system.

But in 1959, even though women like Jerrie Cobb were certainly (physically) capable of becoming astronauts, women simply weren’t chosen.  Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart testified before Congress where sexism (and simple, painful examples are provided) ruled the day.  They were even shut down by Jacqueline Cochran, a director at an airline, who said women should not even be pilots because they get married and leave after two years. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RONG-“Shrugging at the Dearth of Discourse” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by the band Rong from Boston.

He says:

Just bonkers. Boston’s Rong channels the joyous chaos of Japanese punks Melt-Banana and the aggro skronk of Brainiac with a tad of Deerhoof’s weirdo-pop hooks, in what sounds like a swarm of bats fighting a comically large industrial fan… and the bats win. Dissect the noise and you’ll find some truly athletic guitar interplay, held together by a sturdy rhythm section and Olivia W-B’s vocal acrobatics.

This song starts out with Olivia screaming quickly and almost inaudibly while the drummer thrashes away on every surface nearby.  There appears to be two guitars each playing their own riff that seems irrelevant to anything else. It’s a chaotic statement that will likely make most people turn the song off.   After 30 seconds one of the guitars plays a riff and at 35 seconds the riff is actually really catchy and Olivia sings along with it.  Wow.

And the song is not even one third over.

After a few more rounds through similar styles things really slow down around 1:45.  It is just bass and drums and vocals for a bit before two separate solos happen at once.  About five more parts occur before the song ends at 3:11.  This includes a riff that is repeated a few times and a absolutely berzerk ending.

That’s the first of 8 similarly eclectic and, yes, bonkers, songs.  Finding the melody and connections between the parts is rather strangely rewarding.

Incidentally, the final track on the album is called . ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽   In a bigger font, that’s:

༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Cosmos

The “Long Earth” Tetrology is complete.

This was a series that was pretty much impossible to end.  I mean the very premise is that there is unlimited exploration to be had in the various “Earths.”  So how do you end it?  Well, really you end it by following the main protagonist of all of this, Joshua Valiente to his logical conclusion (or something like that).

This book also serves as a kind of reconciliation for many of the estranged characters, but, thankfully does not resurrect any dead characters (well, except for Lobsang–whatever he may be).

The Foreword to this book answers a question that I had: If Terry Pratchett died in 2015, did he have anything to do with this book which came out in 2016?  Baxter explains that indeed, he and Pratchett had created drafts of the final three books by August 2013.  Terry and Stephen worked on the book together as late as autumn 2014.  Then Baxter dealt with final editorial and publishing stages.  So that makes me happy.

I am, as always with this series, puzzled as to what Terry’s contributions were to the books.  I haven’t read anything else by Baxter, so I don’t know if this is a Baxter book with Pratchett sprinkled in or if it’s a combination of their writing styles   The one thing is that this series is never really all that funny (with one huge exception later).  Not to say that Pratchett had to be funny, but it was certainly what he was known for.  Maybe I’ll try a Baxter book one of these days to see just what his works are like.

But back to the concluding chapter of this long series.

This book opens with the invitation: JOIN US. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRE-TOOLZ-“mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by this band Fire-Toolz.  He says:

When I try to describe the simultaneously fantastical and obliterating sounds of Fire-Toolz to folks, I usually throw my hands up — not out of frustration, but from awe. Angel Marcloid has clashed New Age synthscapes, clubby raves, jazz fusion and metal shrieks for a few years now, but Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) goes beyond the mash-up, into an idiosyncratic master’s pure creation.

The album credits indicate: Angel Marcloid: voice, drums, electric & acoustic guitar, fretless bass, virtual studio technology, field recordings, circuit-bent junk, composition, lyrics, recording, production, mixing, mastering.

The only other musician is Ian Smith: who plays what can only be described as a smooth-jazz saxophone solo.  Oh, and her cat, Breakfast, gets a vocal turn.

I have listened to some of the whole record, (a lot of tape manipulation on track 2), but nothing sums up the project like the first song, “mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (yes, that’s the title).  In 2 minutes and 11 seconds, she includes more genres than I can name.  And the amazing thing is that unlike other artists who squeeze many genres into one song (there are those who do this well and those who do not), these shifts feel at once hairpin but also natural. 

The song starts with a skittery electric melody that almost sounds like digital pipe organ.  It’s very new-agey, but with heavier drums than you might expect.  The quiet death metal growling is certainly unexpected, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place (and is low enough in the mix to feel more like another sound than vocals–I have no idea what she’s saying).

After the first verse the music shifts to a kind of jazzy new age followed by a punishingly fast electronic drum and a scorching heavy metal solo and the song devolves or crescendos with inhuman growls.

Welcome to 2020!

[READ: May 2019] The Long Mars

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

I found the second book less compelling on a story level, but no less compelling on a conceptual level.  There was still some cool stuff going on.

Joshua Valienté has settled down in a town called Hell-Knows-Where.  He has a wife, Helen, and a child, Daniel, and lots of regrets about what happened at the end of book one.  He is embedded with the rest of the community.  They show off what a successful community can be way out in the Long Earth.  It is more or less cut off from Datum Earth, which means that everyone needs to work for the community to survive.  Since trust and companionship are key to survival, people don’t really try to take advantage of others and crime is pretty much nonexistent.

This independence is a major concern for the governments of Datum Earth.  In fact, some of the more thriving distant communities (like Valhalla) want to declare independence from Datum Earth altogether.

Another issue is human (or alien) rights.  The trolls from the first book have become a part of most communities at this point.  And yet, the way they are treated seems largely dependent on who they are with.  Some are welcomed like family members, other are treated like animals, slaves or worse.   And the mistreatment of a mother and son troll are what set a series of events in motion.   Maggie Kauffman is a new character introduced to speak on behalf of the trolls.  Before their otherwise peaceful nature gets pushed too far.

Another plot line (and there are quite a few) concerns Roberta Golding, a young genius who goes on an exploratory mission with the Chinese.  The Chinese are exploring the “East Earths” (most of the other travelers went West).  Roberta is an odd child, who anticipated jokes and therefore finds nothing funny. She is cold and emotionless.  Her story remains unresolved by the end of the book.  But her crew managed to get to Earth East 20,000,000 with the crew.

When Sally tries to get Joshua involved in an adventure once again, he is reluctant, but Helen is the one who spurs him on–as long as she and Dan go with him. This adventure is a bit of backtracking, though–an attempt to use Joshua’s name and status back on Datum Earth–where he is not welcomed by everyone.  He tries to prevent the government from harming trolls–because he knows what is at stake if the trolls grow angry.

In their adventure, they also encounter a race of beings known as Beagles.  It is a pretty dark and disturbing world, with Joshua getting tortured and Sally and Monica being the only things keeping him from a brutal death.   There’s a lot of brutality now, which is not unexpected given the reality of the situation, but it does often seem rather harsh

That’s a lot of summary to prepare for Book Three.  But book three does continue the saga, just another twenty years or so later.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Centre Halifax NS (December 07, 1996).

This is the 19th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

The show starts with Dorothy introducing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and then she begins singing the song.  After a verse, the acoustic guitar comes strumming in and Tim announces that “This one’s for Wilf Carter.”  [Wilf Carter, known as Montana Slim in the United States, was a Canadian Country and Western singer, songwriter, guitarist, and yodeller. Widely acknowledged as the father of Canadian country music.  He died on Dec 5].

It sounds great.  the final strains of guitar lead into a beautiful “California Dreamline.”  It’s followed by a “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” that features a middle “dance” section, with Dave chanting: “Tuesday night at the discotheque, I can dance, what the heck.  I’m an Uzbek.  Wer’e all freakin’ Uzbeks.

The ending feedback segues into the introductory noises of “Motorino.”  Martin says it comes from their new album.  “It’s called The Blue Hysteria its about not having much money.  Dave: “That’s the green hysteria, martin.”  Tim:  “Blue hysteria as about playing your stereo too loud and blowing it up.”  That’s a sort of introduction to “Bad Time to be Poor.”

Dave says “It’s great to be in hockey rink, The Moosehead Dome.  We played in the Devonshire Arena last night, a private affair.  It was hockey though, not rock.  We’re all a little sore, a little better off, a little stronger in character.

Up next is “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine,” during which Martin drops out of an entire verse–the music sounds great through.  You hear someone asks “want to do it again?”  but they press on and martin platys the noisy guitars that lead into RICH!

Then comes “two big songs back to back,” a ripping “Feed Yourself”  followed by a full 8 minute “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream.”  It begins with a pretty, meandering guitar melody that Martin songs along to (in a high falsetto, la la l a)–its  quite lovely.  Then it segues into a roaring version of “Midwinter.”  The band sounds great and the feedbacking noise martin generates before the end is just amazing.

This might be my favorite version of the song.  It’s a show-stopper indeed.

[READ: March 20, 2019] Science Comics: Robots and Drones

I have enjoyed every Science Comic that has come out.  Most of them seem almost too full of information.  But this one was actually one of the less jam-packed books.  And that was kind of nice.

After an introduction from Sabine Hauert, the co-founder of Robohub.org, we are taken to a prototype robot from 350 BCE (!).  In Tarentum Italy, we see a “mechanical” bird created by Archytas.  It flies (perhaps on a string) and crashes instantly.   The bird snaps out of it and introduces himself –call him Pouli.  Pouli was the first machine to ever fly and he will take us through the past and future of robots and drones.

Pouli tries to break our familiarity with what a robot is by showing a simple robot–the coffeemaker.  It has as simple job.  It’s a modern version of the automaton.  Of course we have more sophisticated R/C cars and roombas now.  Some day soon there will be self-driving cars. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome Calgary AB (November 15, 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 6th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

Dave introduces the show: “Hello people of Southern Alberta, let us entertain you.  Let us kick your ass.”

The show starts with “Fat” and Martin gets some cool wild guitar sounds.  The backing vocals are great and the end of the song really jams out.

Tim’s “All the Same Eyes” seems to rock out a bit more than usual with some scorching guitars from Martin.  They follow it with “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” and they have fun with it.  Dave has to announce, “stop making faces, this is serious stuff.”  During the middle part, Dave chants, “Michael’s getting married,  Michael’s having a baby, Michael’s going down.”  They stretch out the “it feels good” part with a mellow jam and Martin doing some great falsetto.

Dave talks about Melville millionaires sticker on his guitar.  He says “we played in Melville, Saskatchewan–the best town in Canada.  Martin talks about them playing The National hotel.  They had two nights there and after the first night, someone spray painted outside of their door: “Go home noise pigs.”

Martin introduces “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful, Mine” and Dave says “and we’re not going home.”   Martin makes some great weird noises from his guitar and, once again, there’s more amazing backing vocals from the band.

Don announces: “We’ve got a new record out, it’s been out about a week.  This next song is on it, that last one was on it.  It’s available tonight.”

Then comes two songs from Tim.  It starts with “Bad Time to Be Poor” which has scratchy guitars from Martin.  It sounds great and Dave says “That’s getting played on the radio and we’re awfully happy about that and thanks to those who are playing it.”  Up next is the second Tim song with “Claire.”  Dave says this next song is from Whale Music, underwater music–aquarium rock, they’re calling it.

Dave says they played hockey last night at Max Bell Arena–home of the Calgary Canucks–Calgary’s greatest team. It was them and the Hip & the crews.  The score was 17-17.  It was a great game–we were fortified on ice.

After a rocking “Self Serve Gas Station, ” Dave says, “The people in Edmonton said the people in Calgary didn’t know how to rock.”  Tim: “That’s not true.”  It’s a great intro to another blistering version of “RDA” which they sing as “Rock Death Canada.”

Even though I love the Rheostatics’ longer sets, these 45 minute nuggets are really tasty.  And the band is in peak form at these shows.

[READ: March 4, 2019] On a Sunbeam

I really enjoyed Walden’s memoir Spinning, which was all about competitive skating and a young girl coming out.  So this story threw me a bit because it is about a crew of workers aboard a space ship whose job is to help repair derelict structures.

And it starts right in the middle with no explanation.  We just see a teenaged girl looking out a window at a floating city.  Her name is Mia and she is being brought to a crew that she’ll be working with for the foreseeable future.  The crew consists of Alma, the de facto leader, Char, the actual captain, Jules, a young girl who is actually Alma’s niece, and Elliot.  Elliot is a mechanical genius, is nonbinary (goes by “they” rather than he or she) and does not speak.

Mia and Jules bond pretty quickly, but it’s going to be tough work–up at 5AM and a lot to learn.

The story flashes back to five years earlier.  Mia is at school and, although a freshman, is already defiant.  She gets in trouble for skipping out on a mandatory assembly and sneaking into the gym to look at what turns out to be flying machines.   While in detention, she meets Grace.  Grace is shy but a defiant in her own way.  They form a pretty quick bond. (more…)

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