Archive for the ‘Poker’ Category

dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Welcome Crummy Mystics [CST023] (2003).

sparo3It’s a shame that Welcome Crummy Mystics proved to be Sparo’s last album, because it is by far his best.

This album has more sounds, sounds that accentuate the simplicity that Sparo has constructed.  So there are all kinds of unexpected instruments on th opener “Hospitalville” including horns and bass, And the whole thing has a noir feel that pervades much of the disc.  It was was completely absent on the debut (intentionally obviously).  There are harmony vocals on “Sleds to Moderne” and “Akzidenz Grotesk” has electric guitar and Sparo’s voice mixed a bit louder.  There’s more rocking out on “Back on Speed.”

But it’s not all uptempo.  “Bright Angel Park” is a pretty  instrumental with lots of piano while “My Sistr” is a menacing slow piece that begins with just bass and voice.  Although as more instruments are added the menace is replaced by a kind of jazz feel.

“Camera” is sung in French and has interesting electronics throughout and “City as it Might Have Been” has beautiful strings layered on top of each other as it builds to an epic conclusion.  “This Lie” ends the disc with piano and organ an excellent accompaniment to his lyrics.  And on this album you can really hear what a great lyricist he is.

It’s amazing what a change this is from the debut and that he packs all of this great music in to a mere 37 minutes.

[READ: April 15, 2014] “Loving Las Vegas

I felt like I had read something else from Whitehead about gambling and it turns out he wrote an article for Grantland about the World Series of Poker in Atlantic City.  This essay is an excerpt from the upcoming book that he is writing about said World Series.

This is a story about Whitehead’s appreciation for Vegas from when he was young and dumb (well, not so dumb, really).  His friend Darren got a job writing for Let’s Go, the funky travel guide.  And the assignment was Vegas.  In 1991.  They were Gen X and they were going on a great road trip.  So naturally, the first thing to do was get new speakers for the crappy car.  [I have often felt a strong connection to Whitehead, feeling that we could have been soul mates if I were a little more daring and had lived in NY instead of NJ].

They go on a great road trip (Colson hadn’t gotten a license yet so he was a navigator).  They went to Chicago and saw the Sears Tower, they went to New Orleans to visit an old friend whose frat buddies wanted to know why he was “bringing niggers and Jews” into their chill-space (yikes).  Then they got out of there and went to the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead (which they wrote about).   And then it was on to Vegas. (more…)

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march2014SOUNDTRACK: VALENTINA LISITSA-Chasing Pianos: The Piano Music of Michael Nyman (2014).

Inym,an don’t listen to a lot of classical music, but I do like it. I also enjoy some modern composers, in particular I have a strong fondness for Michael Nyman. Yes, yes, he’s a soundtrack composer, blah blah, but I find his music to be very pretty and often delightfully eccentric.   His music reminds me of Phillip Glass, in its repetitive nature, but he goes beyond the minimalism that Glass was trying to create by implementing inventive melodies and expansive sounds.

 Valentina Lisitsa is a 44 year old Ukrainian pianist and she tackles music from throughout Nymans’ soundtrack career.  Nyman came to prominence with The Piano, which is a beautiful score.  And this is where this album starts out.

I’m not going to talk about each piece.  Rather, the album overall has a consistent feel–piano versions of Nyman’s music.  Nyman isn’t the most difficult composer, but he has his own style and so the entire album has a nice flow (although it does get a little slow by the end).

She plays songs from eleven of his soundtracks (which I’ve listed at the end).  Many of them get only one track, but Wonderland gets two and The Diary of Anne Frank gets 5 cuts.  I actually don’t know either of those two scores.  The bulk of the disc is, unsurprisingly, from The Piano which has ten cuts here.

I actually know his older soundtracks a lot better, so it was interesting to hear these piano versions of many of these familiar tracks.  Like “Time Lapse” from A Zed & Two Naughts and “Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds” (ne of my favorite pieces by him) from The Draughtman’s Contract.

Stripping down Nyman has an interesting effect because you can really hear how pretty the melodies are.  Although the real pleasure I get from his songs is the weird embellishments he puts on them, like the interesting sounds (horn and didgeridoo?) in “Here to There” from the Piano (which are absent here).

Although it has the feeling of a piano concerto the end (with several songs from The Piano in a row) is a bit samey.  It was smart to end the disc with a reprise of the opening.

There’s also songs from Drowning By Numbers, Carrington, The End of The, Man with a Movie Camera, The Claim and Gattaca

[READ: April 3, 2014] “On Nudity” and “The Trees Step Out of the Forest”

I am linking these two essays because I read them very close to each other and they are almost diametrically opposed in their content. And I thought it would be an interesting contrast.

“On Nudity” is a very simple essay about nudity. When Norman Rush was a kid–9 or 10–his father was really into nudism. He always wanted to go to nude beaches, he was very lax with nudity around the house and he tried to get his wife to join him. She was reluctant. Indeed, she didn’t really seem to like her husband very much and it seems they only got married because she was pregnant (and he may not have thought that was a good enough reason, to be honest).  She tried her best to make him unhappy because of this, and that seemed to involve declining his nudity bug.

So there were copies of Sunshine and Health (the premiere nudist magazine) hidden in the house (although Norman knew where they were), and yet, despite this access, he couldn’t get enough.  Rather than sating his needs, he was more obsessed than ever.  He wanted the real thing, whether it was getting his cousin to play strip poker or trying to spy on women in changing rooms.  He talks about the various hings he did just to get a peek of flesh.  And as the essay comes to close he apologizes to the two women whose privacy he invaded by spying on them.  The guilt about what he did to these women made him stop, although the women likely never knew what had happened to them. (more…)

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  grantland8SOUNDTRACK: RALPH STANLEY-Tiny Desk Concert #31 (October 13, 2009).

ralpRalph Stanley is apparently a living bluegrass legend, although I’ve never heard of him.  He plays a clawhammer banjo (and apparently has for 63 years).

The concert lasted only 6 minutes, but in that time he sang three a capella songs: “Gloryland,” “Turn Back, Turn Back” and “Amazing Grace.”

It’s hard to assess a legend based on this performance.  I’ve no idea how good his voice was back in the day.  He sounds fine here, albeit understandably quite old.  I’d have liked to hear his banjo.

[READ: January 3, 2014] Grantland #8

It is becoming apparent to me that Grantland loves basketball.  Like, a lot more than any other sport.  This issue had a ton of basketball in it.  And, I have to admit I was a little tired of it by the end–there was a lot less pop culture stuff, too.  So, it felt especially basketball heavy.  I realize of course that the time frame covered was the playoffs, but still.

BILL SIMMONS-“Searching for a Superman”
A lengthy article about Dwight Howard, discussing the pros and cons of signing him again.

MARK TITUS-“How Did He Get So Good?”
A look at Paul George and Danny Green doing better than expected in the NCAA playoffs.

CHARLES P. PIERCE-“A Dark Day in Boston
Pierce wonders about Boston after the Boston Marathon bombing–he says the city will come back stronger. (more…)

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seamSOUNDTRACKELFIN SADDLE-Devastates [CST087] (2012).

elfinElfin Saddle continues their streak of oddly juxtaposed music that works very well.   The band specializes in a kind of Middle Eastern folk music (there’s a lot of Jewish-style singing), but with Emi Honda singing Japanese-style vocals it really alters the overall sound.  They also use a lot of raw sounding “instruments” many of which are found or quite simply, junk.  Check out the instrumentation list: Jordan McKenzie: voice, guitar, half-accordion, drums, varied percussion, membrane pipes, organs, piano, pvc processing, tapes, phonographs, speakers, etc.  Emi Honda: voice, ukulele, drums, half-accordion, musical saw, extra percussion.  It’s that extra percussion and etc. that you hear a lot, rattling around in the background of these songs.

They play complex rhythms (with lots of low end drumming) underneath ethereal noises (music boxes and the like).  And all the while, Honda and McKenzie trade off their unusual vocals.  It’s mesmerizing.  When the band really starts rocking, like in “The Changing Wind” you hear how well it all works together, and how well the two play off each other.  The slower pieces, like “Boats” are very cinematic, probably because everything sounds so real–you can see the items that are making these odd sounds.

The music is definitely not pop, but with just a listen or two, you can really appreciate what they’re doing.  If you like your folk a little noisy or your rock a little experimental, this is a great record to check out.

[READ: January 13, 2013] The Seamstress and the Wind

Things that I have said about every book of Aira’s that I have read: they are all short, he writes a lot of books (according to Wikipedia he has written at least 45 books since this one came out about twenty years ago), and they are all nonlinear.

And so it is with this 130 page book.

As the book opens, a young boy named César Aira is playing with his friend in the back of their neighbor Chiquito’s truck.  They are playing a game of ghosts when suddenly, César finds himself walking in a trance back to his house.  Turns out his friend Omar couldn’t find him for hours (and when César snaps out of it, indeed hours have passed).  And yet, despite this story, it turns out that really Omar is missing (what? who knows?).  Omar is the son of the local seamstress, Delia Siffoni.  She is sewing a wedding dress for the art teacher, Silvia, who is (scandalously) pregnant.  When she hears that her son is missing, she freaks out and calls out a search party.

She concludes that Omar was hiding in Chiquito’s truck when he left for Patagonia.  So she takes a taxi to chase after Chiquito.  Since the dress is due to be finished right away, she takes it and her supplies with her in hopes of finishing it on the road.  When Ramón, Delia’s husband realizes what she has done, he chases after her.  And when Silvia realizes that her dress is driving away in a taxi she follows Ramón.  And so it becomes a road novel in which none of the characters are together.

By the end of the story there has been a terrible accident with a taxi crashing into a truck.  There has been a poker game where one of the two women has been lost in a bet (unbeknownst to her) and we have met The Wind (Sir Ventarrón) who helps the seamstress with her problems.  Indeed, Sir Ventarrón becomes an integral part of the story, including a flashback when Sir Ventarrón assisted a snowman in his quest for eternal life (yes). (more…)

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This was the first song I’d ever heard from Babe the Blue Ox, and I was hooked (sadly, The Way We Were, where this song is from was their last album).  This is also my favorite songs about sports (and it will never be played in an arena).

It opens with this great funky keyboard over a cool walking bass line.  And after a verse about playing basketball, we get the gorgeous bridge: “pass it to me, I am free, look there’s no one guarding me) sung by one of the women in the band (who sounds vaguely like Edie Brickell).  When the chorus kicks in “And when she gives it to me, I am as high as can be” both singers harmonize wonderfully.

There’s even a cool instrumental break.

Everything about this song is catchy and wonderful.  And it should have been huge.

[READ: December 21, 2011] Grantland

McSweeney’s seems to keep trying to push me away.  Or maybe they are just trying to push me out of my comfort zone.  First they publish Lucky Peach, a magazine about cooking (with recipes that contain ingredients that I couldn’t find anywhere).  I don’t read cooking magazines, but I loved this one.  Now they publish Grantland, a book about sports.  I don’t follow sports.  At all.  I used to play sports and I used to watch sports, and then when I got out of college, I did neither.  I have a very good knowledge of most sports (so I can still follow any game that’s on), but as for actual people playing the games right now–I’m ignorant.  So, why on earth would I want to read this book about sports?

I was pretty sure I would finally not be getting this book until I read the author list: Chuck Klosterman, Colson Whitehead (!), Malcolm Gladwell (?)  I knew this was going to be no ordinary sports book.

So it turns out (and I didn’t know this until just now) that the book is a collection of works from the website Grantland, which is created and run by Bill Simmons.  I haven’t explored the site but it sure looks interesting enough–longish articles about sports and culture and all kinds of interesting things.  And evidently this issue is a sort of best of the website.  The whole Grantland experience, including this book, are connected to ESPN, indeed, ESPN gets a copyright for the book, McSweeney’s is just the publisher.

And this volume was wonderful.  I couldn’t put it down.  I even wound up putting aside a book I was in the middle of to read it.  None of the articles are terribly long and, despite the basketball textured cover (which is very cool–no one can walk by and not touch it) the variety of sports covered is wonderful: from boxing to cricket!  And there are short stories and essays about the entertainment industry as well (articles on Shia LeBeouf and Amy Winehouse (!)).

If I had one complaint about the book it’s that many of the articles don’t give a time from when they were written.  I assume they are all fairly recent but since I don’t follow sports I can’t say for sure.  The other problem is that several of the stories end with a game/match unresolved.  Clearly they have been resolved since then, but even one line saying what happened would be comforting for those of us not glued to ESPN. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FANFARLO-“Replicate” (2011).

This is the final Fall Music song I’m going to mention.  “Replicate” was Robin Hilton’s song of choice for the fall, and I can see what he liked about it–there’s a lot of unusual sounds going on (in many ways it reminds me of Sparks or maybe sort of early Depeche Mode, although no one in the discussion mentioned them).  It opens with a series of staccato string notes over a repeated lyrics (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The strings build and build, but they stop before any major climax; they are replaced by a fast, kind of spazzing keyboard melody with more repeated vocals, (“it’s gonna, it’s gonna, it’s gonna…happen soon”).  The staccato notes come back and both sounds build to another near-climax.

Until the chorus comes in with its supremely catchy but very cold “oohs”.   Even the end builds but does not quite achieve the climax one would expect, although it is still satisfying.

It’s a very clinical song, cold and detached (the instrumental break has wood blocks that sound like a woodpecker banging a tree on a winter’s day).  But the vocals are so warm, that they disarm the song of its coldness even if the chorus is “Will it replicate inside our bodies now?”   At first I really didn’t like the song, but after a couple of listens, I really heard what Robin Hilton enjoyed.  And I would like to hear more from them.

The video is pretty neat too:

[READ: September 19, 2011] “Animal Art”

This article was probably the most “academic” and “scientific” of them all five of the JSTOR articles I read.  And by that, I mean, that it was researched and tested and full of abbreviations and as a result it reads very dry.  Which is a shame (well, actually it’s not a shame, the scientific requirements are essential for there to be an academic article published)–what it needs is a cool popular version to lighten it up a bit (and it needs better pictures as well).

The article looks at the bowers of the bowerbird.  The bowerbird is a family of 20 species of bird found in New Guinea and Australia.  Bowerbirds are noted and named for the bowers that the males construct to win a mate (see photo at right).  What’s interesting is that the different species of bowerbird construct similar nests but do things quite differently (some “glue” the sticks of their nest together with either spittle or insect secretions while others weave their sticks together).  But they are all very particular about the nests they build:

When I shifted the position of a decoration, the bower owner either restored it to the original position or else discarded it in the forest.  Decorations changed from day to day as birds replaced wilting flowers and rotting fruit with fresh ones.

The articles sets out to discover whether the traits that the male bowerbird develop in their nests are inherited or are learned.  Diamond believes that they are learned because birds that are not very far apart use different techniques, but immature birds are often seen observing the adult birds to presumably learn from them.  The nests are built by the males, but, similarly, the immature females go with the adult females to inspect the nests, thereby learning what traits to most look for in a nest.

But what seems to have inspired this paper was the bowerbirds’ proclivity for choosing colors to decorate their nests: most use flowers and mosses from the surrounding area, arranging them in beautiful colors.  What Diamond did was to take colored poker chips (a series of uniform shape, size and texture) with varying colors to see if the bowerbird would choose based on color (his scientific conclusion is that it’s really impossible to tell because who knows what other variables are at play, but his more satisfying conclusion.  is that the birds decorate by color.

So, Diamond put the poker chips in front of their bower (on the moss “mat” that looks like a welcome mat).  And with one group of birds:

Within 10-30 minutes [three birds] picked up all chips regardless of color and discarded the in the forest.

While for a different group of birds, they quickly discarded any white chips (and one bird discarded the yellow chips as well).  There was a marked preference for colors in this order: Blue>purple>orange>red>lavender>yellow>white.  While these birds not only embraced the chips and used them for their decorations, other birds stole chips from their rival makes’ nests:

When I placed three chips of each color at bower W6, bird W5 stole within 3hr all blue, orange and purple chips, two red chips and no yellow, lavender or white.

(Poor W6 bird–he really has nothing).  But the study shows that the birds hate the white chips!  He even created a chart that showed that most of the birds kept 100% 0f the blue chips, and most of the purple chips while dismissing almost entirely the yellow chips; none of them kept any white ones.  (One bird in the study seemed to be quite a pig–this is the one who stole from W6–he kept far more than the other birds, including 100 % of orange an 66% of yellow–i wonder if the females thought he was a gaudy show off?)

Incidentally, this study was done in 1986, so it does not account for the more recent discovery that bowerbirds will basically use any old crap to build their nests, provided it is colorful.  Many people find this sad, but the birds don’t seem to mind.   In the article, the author says that one of the birds came up to his colleague, stood on his shoe, and tried to steal the blue docks that he was wearing.  Here’s a picture of a bowerbird with a whole bunch of blue clothespins.

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Jónsi is the lead singer from Sigur Rós. This is his first solo album and, honestly it’s not radically different from Sigur Rós (were we expecting trip hop or something?).   However, within the confines of the type of music that Sigur Rós play (swirling orchestral songs), Jónsi’s solo disc is kind of different.  And the difference comes in tone.

For while Sigur Rós records are orchestral and swirly, the are also kind of dark and moody.  Jonsi’s songs are more upbeat.  They’re ethereal both in style and tone.

I’m also surprised to see just how short these songs are.  They feel like they are very long (epic in a good way) but in fact, only two songs go over 5 minutes–most are in the mid fours.

There’s no question that if you dislike Sigur Rós you will not like this record. Jónsi’s voice is the same after all–gorgeous sweeping, helium sounding and out of this world.  But if you doubted whether Jónsi could work without his mates in the band, you need not worry. This album is a beauty.

[READ: May 19, 2011] “The Trusty”

I didn’t think I would like this story.  It concerns a subject that I generally don’t have a lot of interest in: chain gangs in the south.  And yet, Rash’s writing was excellent and the story was quite compelling.

The Trusty of the title is named Sinkler.  Sinkler is a prisoner on the chain gang–he stole money from a business and got 5 years.  He has served 18 months with very good behavior and has been given the unofficial title of Trusty, which means he can do things like walk a mile up the road to the next farm house to see if their well has water for the men on the gang.

And this is what he does.  They are working on a road and have moved far enough past their current source of water that Sinkler offers to walk up to the next house to bring water back.  When he arrives, the door is answered by a young woman (between 18-22–Sinkler himself is in his 20s).  She is standoffish and unmoved by him.  She is also married–her (much older) husband is plowing the field.  She agrees to give Sinkler two buckets of water if, at the end of the day he agrees to leave one bucket there as payment.

Sinkler agrees and decides that he would like more than water from the young woman.  And over the next few weeks he returns every day and tries to win her over.  And Lucy begins to sweeten on Sinkler. (more…)

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