Archive for the ‘Plague’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAMES NEWMAN-“Embers” (England, Eurovision Entry 2021).

.Eurovision 2021 is over and the big news (aside from drug-taking accusations against the winner) is that the entry from England received zero.  Nul points.

This is not unique, but it’s not something that anybody wants.  It’s actually better to not make the finals than to make the finals and get nul points, because no one is going to forget that.

So just how bad was “embers?”

I’m not going to defend the song, because I would never listen to it on purpose–it’s not my thing.  But by the same token I can think of a lot of songs that are much worse than this.

This song is just kind of bland.  It thinks its big and catchy with the horns and the “light up the ROOM!” line.  But really it just doesn’t do much.  I could see this song playing in a club and people would dance to it and then forget it.  No one would ask who it was or request it again.

And maybe that’s worth nothing.

[READ: May 26, 2021] 52 Times Britain was a Bellend

Bellend is such a great insult and it is exclusive to Britain, which is a shame.

Also a shame is just how terrible Britain as a country has been throughout history.

Obviously any global superpower is going to be dickish–you get power by crushing others.  You could write this same book about the United States and cover just the last four years.

But Felton, whom I’ve never heard of before, but who is apparently a huge Twitter presence, narrowed history down to 52 (one a week) examples of Britain being absolutely horrible (and somehow managing to make it funny).

How did he decide on these events?  Well, they are judged by today’s standards (saying “I’m from the past” is no excuse).

What you’ll get here is a good overview of fun and horrifying times when we were cartoonishly evil, from a comedian just as appalled as you are about what shits it turned out we were in the past.

Most of the terrible behavior involves other countries.  Like starting wars with China because they wouldn’t buy British opium.  Or making Zanzibar pay for the bombs that Britain dropped on  them. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: KING KRULE-Tiny Desk Concert #681 (December 6, 2017.

King Krule is one of those artists that I love on paper.  But who in actuality I find really rather unpleasant.  He was raved about by so many people this year, and yet, aside from a few parts of these songs that were good, this was all kind of slurry jazz to me.

The blurb says the music is a kind of mashup of “cool” and “jazz” and an acquired taste well worth dipping in.

I guess I don’t have that taste.

They play three songs with instruments including sax, guitars, bass, drums, live vocal processing of Archy’s voice and electronics

“Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” has interesting sound effects and echoes on his voice, which I like.  But his voice is deep and mumbly and the music is pretty standard lite-jazz.   There’s a sax solo and a jazzy guitar solo.

I don’t know if it’s the whole picture but this vibe turns me off:

lyrics that talk about the sorts of depression singer and guitarist Archy Marshall has dealt with in his young life (he’s 23).  “Why’d you leave me? Because of my depression? / You used to complete me but I guess I learnt a lesson.”  All this comes from someone who honestly looks like he couldn’t care less, which seems like a far cry from the words and care he puts into his twisted, woozy tones.

His “whatever” attitude annoys me and I can’t hear these words anyway.

“Lonely Blue” There’s some interesting things going on in this song–the shifts in tension and volume.  But those few moments can’t rescue the song for me.

“Logos/Sublunary” is 7 minutes and is either one long song or two shorter ones.   He switches to keys and I like it a bit more.  This song sounds like some other songs I like but those jazzy elements (two saxes!) bug me.  After 4 minutes it switches to a more funky style (that would be “Sublunary,” I guess).  The end is my favorite part.

But once again, I feel like I was set up to be blown away, and it sounds too much like jazz to me.  The musicians include: Archy Marshall; Connor Atanda; John Keek; George Bass; Jack Towell; James Wilson.

[READ: September 17, 2017] Science Comics: Plagues

This might just be my favorite of First Second’s Science Comics series.  I love the topic, I really love the art, and I love the way Koch has created a compelling story as well.

The book opens with a Bubonic Plague creature (a cute blue hot dog with yellow bits) meeting up with Yellow Fever (a yellow-green ball with nodules).  They are in a host body and are looking to take advantage of their surroundings. Before they can do any damage, though, they are attacked by a large, scary T-cell.

A fight ensures bit it is short-lived because, in fact, everyone is in a simulation created by ECHO [Education Control Hologram Overseer].  They are in CHAMBER [Center for Holographic Advanced Microorganism and Bio Engineering Research].

In CHAMBER, the researchers observe cells–like way white blood cells learn about germs (anything that makes us sick) and is able to fight it. (more…)

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wallsSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Round Room (2002).

round After Farmhouse, Phish went on a hiatus.  No one knew it would be quite so brief, but there was really a feeling that they were done.

And then they quietly released Round Room in 2002.  And it bursts forth with an 11 minute song.

“Pebbles and Marbles” has an interesting riff—complex and pretty.  And when I listened to it again recently I didn’t really quite recognize it.  But that’s because it’s nearly 12 minutes long and the really catchy part comes later in the song.  At around 5 minutes, the catchy chorus of “pebbles and marbles and things on my mind” announces itself.  And it is a good one.

“Anything but Me” is a pretty, mature song that is slow and piano heavy.  “Round Room” is a boppy little ditty (clearly a song written by Mike).  It is sweet and a little weird.  “Mexican Cousin” sounds a lot like a cover (maybe an old song by The Band) except for the solo which is very Trey.  It’s a funny, silly ode to Tequila.  “Friday” is a slow six minute song with two sections.  The verses are spaced out a bit, delicate riffs that are mostly piano once again.  The middle section is sung by Mike (which makes it more mellow somehow).

“Seven Below” is an 8 minute song.  It has another great riff (and the intro music is cool and bouncey).  When the vocals come in, it’s got gentle harmonies as they croon the sweet song).  Most of the 8 minutes are taking up with a guitar solo.  “Mock Song” is another of Mike’s songs.  This one seems to be a random selection of items sung to a nice melody.  Then when the chorus comes it’s quite nice, how this is a “just a mock song.”  The first verse is sung by Mike, then Trey does a kind of fugue vocal with different words in verse two.

“46 Days” opens with funky cowbells and turns into what seems like a classic rocking folk song—few words but a great classic rock melody (complete with 70s era keyboards).  “All of These Dreams” is a mellow piano piece, another mature song.  “Walls of the Cave” has an interesting piano melody that opens the song. The song is nearly ten minutes long and the middle part has a nice flowing feel to it.  There’s also a few sections that are separated be drum breaks—something that doesn’t often happen in Phish songs.  When the third part opens (to almost exclusively percussion, their vocals all work in a very nice harmony.  It’s a long song but with so many parts it always stays interesting.  “Thunderhead” is another piano-based song with some guitar riffs thrown on top. But it is largely a slow, mellow piece.

“Waves” is an 11 minute song with long instrumental passages.  It also begins with a kind of Santana feel to it, but it is a largely meandering song, with a simple melody that they stretch out for much of the song.  So this album proves to be an interesting mix of long jams and mellow ballady type songs.  It seems like Phish had a big mix of things to let loose.

[READ: November 1, 2013] If Walls Could Talk

This book reminds me of the work of Mary Roach—exploring a topic in great detail and including lots of amusing insights.  The two big differences here are that Worsley is British and that she goes back very far in British history to give us this fascinating information about the development of certain rooms of the house.

Worsley begins with the bedroom.  She looks at the furniture—the history of the bed from lumps with straw to fantastically ornate full poster beds that were made for kings who might never actually use them.

Then she moves on to more personal matters—sex (including deviant sex and venereal disease); breast feeding (for centuries mothers felt they were not equipped to take care of and nurse their own children, hence wet-nurses) and knickers (royalty had an entourage designed specifically to assist with underthings).  Indeed, privacy was an unknown thing in olden times.  Even royalty was expected to receive people in all of the rooms in the house.  Initially the bed chamber was for their most intimate friends, not just for sleeping.

The section on old medicine was also fascinating, they believed that it was vaporous miasma that did you more harm than say, excrement-filled water.

The section on Sleep discusses what was also in a recent article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus—that there were two sleep times at night.  With no electricity there was no artificial light to keep people up late so they would go to sleep early, wake up in the middle of the night (the best time for conception of children) and then sleep again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Due to High Expectations…The Flaming Lips are Providing Needles for Your Balloons EP (1994).

This EP came after the success of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and the single “She Don’t Use Jelly.”  Naturally that is not the single here, rather it is “Bad Days,” a new song tha sounds of the period.  As does “Jets Part 2 (My Two Days As An Ambulance Driver)” a fuzzed out trip.

“Ice Drummer” is a primarily acoustic but still distorted song.  It’s kind of boppy and light which is odd since it is a cover of a Suicide song.   “Put the Waterbug in the Policeman’s Ear’ is a demo with strings and piano.  It also has a very lengthy introduction in which Wayne explains his brother’s proclivity for drugs and his belief that he can control bugs (and have them attack the policeman who is trying to arrest him).  It was recorded on a boombox.

“Chewin’ the Apple of Yer Eye” is a live version recorded at a record studio.  It has nice guitars with scritchy violins.  “Chosen One” is a cover of a Bill Callahan song at the same venue.  There’s a lengthy introduction explaining that it’s a cover and why he likes it so much.  It’s a nice version, very stripped down.  “Little Drummer Boy” is a travesty, but a good one (and is 1,000 times better than their version of “White Christmas.)”

“Slow-Nerve-Action” is a live version apparently broadcast on a Top 40 radio station.  The squall of noise as the song opens would frighten off anyone listening to Top 40, but the middle of the song’s acoustic section is rather pleasant (if not a little scratchy and staticky).  Although this EP racks in at 44 minutes long, it’s really not that essential (although the live versions are nice).

[READ: May-July 2012] Deadly Kingdom

If you have any kind of animal phobias–literally any kind: snakes, sharks, spider, rodents, bugs, stay away from this book.  Indeed, even if you don’t have this kind of phobia, you may after reading this book.  As the title says, this book tells you every single conceivable way that an animal can kill you–from biting to clawing to stomping to crushing to infections to diseases to parasites to long lingering diseases to numbness to elephantiasis (and that’s just chapter 1).  Somehow the author is not afraid of everything that moves, and is even a collector (with his wee son) of all manner of unusual creepy crawlies–tarantulas, hissing cockroaches and the like.

Sarah bought me this book for my birthday because David Sedaris recommended it when we saw him speak.  When Sedaris read from it, it was funny but dark.  Sedaris’ comment that “Monkeys are such assholes “was certainly borne out by the book.  Sedaris’ other comment–if you ever feel bad about eating meat, just read this book–is also completely accurate.  Even cows can be assholes.  This book is hard to digest in large doses.  I found that I had to put the book down after a section or two because there’s only so much you-will-die-if-you-do-this reading that I could take.

Grice has done a ton of research–he has looked into all manner of medical and death records and talked to lots of scientists around the world.  And he breaks the book into five major categories: The Carnivorids, Aquatic Dangers, The Reptiles and Birds, The Arthropods and Worms and Other Mammals.  The introduction more or less explains his origin story for being interested in deadly animals–a cougar was on his Oklahoma panhandle property when he was six years old.  His grandfather dispatched it, but he had to stay safely in the car during the ordeal.  And he has been curious ever since.

The introduction also contextualizes the violence that animals do to humans.  Is it all defensive (as we take over more and more land, it’s hard to know exactly what is defensive) or is it straight out aggressive. But he says the hardest part about this kind of descriptor is that “besides our usual biased views of all the parties involved, is that violence rouses strong emotions.  We are almost forced to take sides with the injured humans or the slandered animals….  Many writers depict virtually all animal attacks as “provoked” by the victim.  On the other side, some writers are at pains to paint dangerous animals as monsters of cruelty.  All of these views are simplistic.” (xxiii). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARKTHRONE-“Kathaarian Life Code,” (1992), “Sacrificing to the God of Doubt” (2004), “Canadian Metal” (2007).

After watching Until the Light Takes Us, I wanted to check out some of Darkthrone’s music.  According to their Wikipedia page, over the years the band who pioneered black metal has morphed away from the sound.  They’ve added elements of punk and speed metal to their bludgeoning sound.  In the movie Fenriz says that he listens to all kinds of music and is very open-minded.

Kathaarian Life Code” is a ten minute dirge of black metal.  It opens the band’s second album (considered to be a black metal classic) with chanting and guttural spoken words.  Then it blasts forth with the jackhammer style of drums that is now standard in black metal.

It slows down from time to time, allowing for the really heavy parts to blast through the chaos of the fast parts.  It’s pretty intense and not for the faint of heart.  You can hear occasional guitars screaming through the din, but the production is intentionally murky, dark and noisy.  As they say in the movie, the bands intentionally recorded on the shittiest equipment they could find.

Sacrificing to the God of Doubt” is a later song, taken from what is considered their final album in the black metal style.  The band was turning away from the traditional black metal sound, and there are elements of punk (guitar riffs that are audible, and a sound that is less bass heavy) present.  And the production, while still mired by noise is relatively cleaner.

Canadian Metal” is from their third most recent album, after the shift from black metal was more or less official.  It sounds more like an early death metal song.  There’s low tuned notes, audible vocals (growled, but you can actually hear words) and a kind of headbanging aspect to it.  The album is called F.O.A.D. which was a song by Venom (and others, obviously), and this track reminds me of Venom somewhat.  I wouldn’t say that the band has sold out because there’s no way anyone is playing this on the radio, but it’s interesting to see how a band has managed to change things up and add new elements to its sound even though they were the forerunner and grandfather of a scene.

[READ: February and March 2011] A Child Again

This is a collection of short stories from Robert Coover.  There is a kind of theme throughout (most of) the stories about returning to childhood.  But the overall sense is one of despair, sadness, pointlessness and sex.  Lots and lots of sex.  And the sex is usually as vulgar and nasty as the tone of the book suggests it would be.  It’s a little off-putting, actually.

I was planning to say that I didn’t like this collection at all because I really didn’t enjoy the first half-dozen or so stories.  I continued because Coover has a great reputation that I didn’t want to give up after a few misfires.

The real disappointment came because the stories seem so promising: many of them are a kind of retelling of classic fairy tales that looks at “what happened afterward.”  However, and this was true for almost all of them, Coover tries to do two contradictory things with the stories.  He is playing with fairy tales but he is also writing stories that are completely unlike fairy tales.  By that I mean, Coover’s stories are long and very detailed, they bring far too much information to the story.  And a fairy tale is almost by definition short.  I mean, “Puff the Magic Dragon” is a song that’s about five paragraphs long.  But Coover’s “Sir John Paper Returns to Honah-Lee” is 26 pages long.  So instead of playing with the original, it feels like an original story that uses someone else’s characters.  It’s unsettling and unsatisfying.

It’s also not very funny.   And I’m not sure fit’s supposed to be.  But with a title like “Sir John Paper Returns to Honah-Lee” you expect the funny.  And there are funny moments.  I mean the whole premise is that little Jackie Paper has grown up into Sir John Paper.  He’s now an old Knight and he is sent to slay the dragon (Puff) who is plaguing the city.  Even though that is a tragic story, it is also inherently humorous.  And there are laughs when they reunite.  But it gets so bogged down in details, that the essence of the story seems to get lost.  Perhaps I’m just disappointed because it (they) turned out so unlike I wanted them to be. (more…)

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32SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-Tindersticks [the red one] (1993).

tsTindersticks are a fascinating band.  The first distinctive thing about them is Stuart Staples’ voice: a deep rich bass that he uses almost like a whisper.  The second thing you notice is the music.  It’s an orchestral/chamber pop collection of dark rockers with fantastic moodiness to it.  And then you notice the lyrics: dark songs of lost (and decayed) love.

Yet despite the description of chamber pop, the nad is really much darker than chamber pop suggests.  The band has a very noir sound: organs that penetrate through walls of sound, tinkling pianos suring hushed moments.  The horns and strings add dark atmospherics (strings zing like a Hitchcock movie).  And the minor key chords are rich and loud.

You also get a song like “Whisky and Water” which genuinely rocks hard (loud guitars are featured).  Or a simple acoustic guitar driven song like “Blood.”  Throughout the disk you get these fantastic melodies that play off of Staples’ voice and the twisted lyrics.  “City Sickness” and “Patchwork” are just two of the tracks that are very catchy.

And then there’s the fantastic “Jism” with its awesome noir organ.  Or “Raindrops” with its accents of vibes and the beautiful piano trilling at the end (and the detailed and emotional lyrics: What we got here is a lazy love / It mooches around the house / Can’t wait to go out / What it needs, it just grabs / It never asks / We sit and watch the divide widen / We sit and listen to our hearts crumble”).  “Her” follows up with a wonderfully flamenco-infused spaghetti western number.

And lets not forget “Drunk Tank” a propulsive song that is as sinister as it is catchy.  Oh heck, I could just keep raving.  But there’s 22 songs!   Four songs are about a minute each, and the disc is about 75 minutes (not bad for a debut!).  And the disc never loses momentum or its sense of purpose.

What really distinguishes this disk is the mood of the music.  Like the best soundtracks, you can feel the emotions and imagery with the music alone, but when you add Staples’ evocative lyrics and powerful voice, it’s a deadly potent combination.

The disc was reissued a few years ago with a bonus disc of demo tracks.  The demos are surprisingly rich (they’re not at-home recordings or done without accompaniment) so they don’t differ that dramatically from the originals.  But they have a slightly less polished feel, which doesn’t hurt the band at all. There’s also a demo of the fantastic “For Those…” which doesn’t appear on the original disc.

I have to thank my friend Lar for getting me into this band. (Thanks Lar).

[READ: October 19, 2009] McSweeney’s #32

The concept for this issue is this: McSweeney’s asked several authors to “travel somewhere in the world–Budapest, Cape Town, Houston, any sleepy or sleepless outpost they could find–and send back a story set in that spot fifteen years from now, in the year 2024.”

And so, all of the stories are vaguely sci-fi-ish in that they are future related, but they are all grounded very heavily in reality, in particular, the reality of individuals trying to live in this future world. (more…)

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harperoctSOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-Acoustic Citsuoca (2004).

mmjThere was a lot of fanfare when this EP was re-released recently (at least I think it was re-released; there was a lot of fanfare about it recently whatever the case). This is a live acoustic performance which features 5 songs from MMJ’s earlier recordings.

I’ve become a pretty big fan of MMJ over the last few years, but I haven’t really delved into their back catalog all that much.  As such, this album doesn’t blow me away, because to me, these aren’t different versions of the songs.  They’re just the versions of the songs.

That said, the disc is very enjoyable, and the band, especially Jim James, sound in great form.  If you’re a fan of the earlier discs, this is probably a stellar addition to the collection, especially since (as I’m led to understand) the early discs are full of reverb and all kinds of fun things like that.  And this is a very stripped down recording.   (Although I have to admit that I think “Sooner” sounds an awful lot like “Sweet Jane”).

If you’re new to the band, I recommend either their newer discs or Okonokos, the live disc, where the band really rocks out.  It’s a great introduction to latter day MMJ.

[READ: October 12, 2009] “Hygiene”

scaryThis story is listed as coming from the book There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales.  Which sounds pretty cool.  But I only have this one story to mention.  And, it seems to fit in quite nicely with the title of the book.

“Hygiene” is set in a city in Russia.  As the story opens, a stranger rings the Family R’s door and informs them that a plague is coming.  They should stay housebound, and not speak to anyone.  And, most importantly, they should stay away from mice (who as we all know, are carriers).  He also confides in them that he is one of the few people who has survived the plague.  If they agree to pay him some money he will happily go out and get them supplies on a regular basis. (more…)

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