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Archive for the ‘Political Humor’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AILBHE REDDY-“Distrust” (2016).

I found this song from, of all things, a redbull website listing up and coming Irish bands.  It says that this song has been streamed over 3 million times.

This song opens with otherworldy “oohs” before a jagged, slapped guitar melody enters the song.  The guitar feels like it ends too abruptly.  It ‘s a very cool hook.  Especially for a song that is a total kiss-off song like this one.

Over the course of three and a half minutes more and more is added to the song–an insistent bass, drums, more backing vocals and even a violin.  But that persistent guitar runs through the whole song.  As does Ailbhe Reddy’s voice which is clean and piercing.  She speak-sings in the beginning, but when the chorus comes in, her voice is in full power. 

The song soars by the end, as does her voice.  

In the video, she stands absolutely still and strong as the room she is in falls apart around her.  

Reddy has a full album coming out next month. This song isn’t on it, but her new song “Looking Happy” is a real rocker (with a cool video). 

[READ: September 19, 2020] No Country for Old Gnomes

I really enjoyed the first book in the series–Kill the Farm Boy.  I was really looking forward to reading the continuing efforts of the heroes of Pell.

So I was a little surprised to learn that this book has almost nothing to do with the first one.  It’s set in the same place (with the same map up front) and the world remains the same, but this book follows the exploits of a completely different band of accidental warriors. 

That was a little disappointing at first (I miss Fia and Agrabella) but Dawson & Hearne have created a brand new band of travelers who are just as interesting and compelling as the first bunch. All of the characters from the first book make cameos, but they are brief.  The only characters from the first book that have any regular work are King Gustave and Grinda the Sand Witch.

But this book is exciting and funny and in the same vein as the first while being very different as well.  It is full of puns and jokes and twists on fantasy novels all while fleshing out the world that was created in book one (and making great use of the map that’s on the first page).

The book opens with three witches (not Grinda) and a cauldron.  I love a spoof of this scene and this one is especially good.  Two of the witches are casting a spell to help the Bruding Boars win their jousting competition.  But they needed a third so they put an ad on Ye Olde Meet-Up Bulletin Boarde. This third with (who looked quite different from her picture) had a very different spell in mind.

The third witch disappeared after casting a spell full of blood and seeming to be against gnomes.  But, really, who cared about gnomes.

Neither noticed the surfeit of portent in the air, wafting from the coppery-smelling cave, probably because the second witch smelled so strongly of cat urine.
But the portent was there nonetheless.

The book shifts to the Numminen family of gnomes.  Gnomes are generally smöl (ha!) and cheerful. The two sons Onni and Offi are fighting about Offi’s lack of gnomeric behavior.  Offi likes wearing cardigans that are black and covered in bats (gnome cardigans should be bright and cheerful).  So, yes, Offi is a goth gnome.  Whereas Onni is a perfect gnome who wins award for his gnomeric behavior. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DECLAN McCKENNA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #79 (September 14, 2020).

I really only know Declan McKenna from his Tiny Desk Concert.  (His song “Brazil” was a hit, although I’d never heard it anywhere else).

At that Tiny Desk he was solo, but here he’s got a band, and they sound great.

Declan McKenna and his band rock their Tiny Desk (home) concert. Their “home,” in this case, is The Foundry, a neighboring studio in North London. Declan is decked out with glitter, channeling a more flamboyant side of rock than I’ve seen from him before. He’s still immersed in complex storytelling with characters on the fringes, alienated for reasons of class and politics.

It’s hard to believe he was a teenager when he released his first album–although he does sound older now for sure.  He’s got a new album out.

Three of the songs are from Zeros, his brand new album recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce. It’s been a wild three-year ride since the release of his teenage smash debut What Do You Think About the Car? He’s now 21.

Opening the set with “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” McKenna sits at the keybaord playing the piano-sounding chords.  There’s a deep bass sound from William Bishop anchoring the song which has a surprisingly 70s sounding synth riff from Nathan Cox.  There’s some excellent guitar riffing and soloing from Isabel Torres (including a scratching wah wah section).  I enjoyed that there’s a pause after the line “outside the shop that sells your favorite drink” and drummer Gabrielle Marie King hits a drum pad that sounds like a beer can opening.  King also plays some really great fills all the way throughout.

A nifty bass line (including an unexpected harmonic note) opens “The Key to Life on Earth.”  Declan plays guitar on this one including a suitably fuzzed out guitar solo.  Although I think Torres is a better guitar player, he does get a cool sound from his instrument.  The song is catchy but especially so as it ends.

For “Beautiful Faces” Torres plays a raw a slide guitar riff that follows the vocal line. Once again, he uses some falsetto in the synthy chorus to throw in a little hook.  Declan plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

For the end, Declan performs his best-known song, “Brazil,” a tune steeped in politics and sports, and the enthusiasm has him atop a tiny desk in the end.

“Brazil” has a catchy guitar riff followed but a catch bass riff. And even though I’ve only heard the song here, I still can’t get it out of my head.  (Even if I can’t exactly figure out what it’s about–grizzly bears, football, Brazil).  McKenna gets another ripping solo–but I’d like to have heard more from Torres.

McKenna is an interesting character and I like his song more each time I hear them.

[READ: September 14, 2020] Our Times in Rhymes

This is a short book in which Sam Leith (who I don’t know anything about) summarizes 2019 in verse.

Leith summarizes the major news each month.  Leith is British so most of the news he talks about is British (especially Brexit), but he does have plenty of stanzas devoted to the person occupying the White House.

It’s interesting reading this near the end of 2020, which has been such an incredible shitshow.  It’s hard to believe we cared about dumb things that happened then.  But it’s also hard to believe that tRUMP is still an asshole, that Boris Johnson is even more of a liar than it seemed, that Brexit hasn’t been finalized yet, and that anybody in either country actually supports either of these bozos.  What the hell is wrong with people? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Archive Volume One “Live 96-98” (2005/2020)

In early August, Boris digitally released six archival releases.  Volume One is called “Live 96-98” and that’s what it contains.  There’s eight songs all recorded in the same place Koenji 20000V, once a year or so.

Originally released in 2005 from the US label “aRCHIVE”, limited to 600 copies which sold out immediately. Compiled from live recordings during Boris’s “Power Violence” period 1996 – 1998, including songs from the 1998 studio album “Amplifier Worship” and Archive Volume Zero “Early Demo”.  (Reissued as part of Archive 1 on March 5, 2014. Limited to 1,000 copies).

The first two songs were recorded in December 1996.  They are not for the faint of heart.

“Huge” is a ten minute drone.  It’s full of feedback and slow chord progressions that repeat until after five minutes, when Wata hits a high note and Atsuo starts screaming along with the thumping drums.  It segues into “Hush” which is 53 seconds of thrash: pounding guitar and drums, including something of a drum solo by the end while someone sings to it.

The next chunk of songs were recorded six months earlier.  “Soul Search You Sleep” is nearly 9 minutes of crashing chords with lots of screamed vocals.  There’s a brief fast section before the slow drones return.  Wata takes a guitar solo near the end which segues into “Vacuuum” which is a minute and a half long.  It starts with that wailing guitar solo until the pummeling drums and screamed vocals take over.  It ends with feedback that segues into “Mosquito” a slower song that has chanted vocals from both Atsuo and Takeshi.

“Mass Mercury” was recorded almost a year later.  Things aren’t radically different, but they allow some of the noise to drop away a bit more.  It opens with feedback and fast riffing guitars.  After a minute and a half everything drops out but some pulsing bass and guitar effects from Wata. The pulsing runs through to the end after a middle section of growls and drums.  It segues into “Scar Box,” which is a big slow riff.  Unexpectedly, mid song it briefly turns into a crushing hardcore song with shouted growly vocals until it slows back to crashing heavy chords.

The final track is the newest of the bunch.  It’s 8 minutes long and starts as a fast hardcore song.  Then a bass and drum rumble takes over and things slow down while Wata makes some airplane-like sounds it her guitar.  The solo loops and phases through to the end until about a minute left when both singers start shouting through to the crashing end.

I’m not sure if they are singing in Japanese or just growling, but it’s a pretty intense 45 minutes of live music.

[READ: August 12, 2020] A Very Punchable Face

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about Colin Jost.  I like him on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and yet as the title of his book says, he has a very punchable face.  And, as I say every time I read a memoir–I don’t really care about memoirs all that much.  And yet here’s another one I’ve read.  And it’s yet another one from a cast member of Saturday Night Live–a show that I don’t think is all that great (but the memoirs are usually quite good).

There was an excerpt form this book in the New Yorker and it made me laugh at loud, so I looked forward to reading the rest of the book.

The beginning is interesting in that he says he had a hard time learning to speak–an odd thing for a TV news presenter.  But really the most fun part starts when he tells us about the astonishing amount of bad fortune he has had–his delivery about it all is hilarious.

The chapter “You’re Gonna Need Stitches” lists the six times (throughout his life) that he has had to get stitches–one was from getting a surfboard to the face!  Indeed there are two stories of surfing –not something I expected from a guy from Staten Island.  The second one involves being saved by Jimmy Buffet (and how much Jost enjoys eating at Margaritaville restaurants–I can’t get over how much alcohol must be consumed at a this franchise).  There’s also a crazy story about him visiting Google and getting injured by the VR machine.  He even somehow managed to possibly have insect eggs laid under his skin.  Ew! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANGELICA GARCIA-Tiny Desk Concert #968 (April 15, 2020).

I saw Angelica Garcia open for Phoebe Bridgers.  Her show started off okay but she totally won me over by the end.  She played guitar, she looped her voice and synths and was really impressive.  She also sang some songs in Spanish.

Well, two years later, Angelica Garcia is very different.

The biggest change is the amount of color she has added (when I saw her she was in a black floral print dress).  She is also embracing her heritage a bit more than when I saw her.  It was present then, but it is way out in front here.

Angelica Garcia decorated the Tiny Desk with colorful fabrics, orange flowers, a fuchsia dress, and a great deal of pride in what she calls her “Salva-Mex-American” heritage. Her song “Orange Flower” got my attention back in 2016, but I thought of her only as a Virginia rock and roller. Not anymore. Angelica Garcia’s music in the 2020s embraces her heritage, her life growing up in Los Angeles, and the ranchero music she heard from her family.

The show opens with a sample of a high pitched voice (presumably hers) saying “I wanna be like her.”  It works as a repeated sample in “Guadalupe.”  In this song

Angelica expresses respect for La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, singing “I wanna be like her.” Guadalupe inspires her to declare that “power isn’t defined by your physique.”

But power comes from the loud rocking guitars from John Sizemore (what a great raw sound).  Josh McCormick plays big electronic drums, including some electronic cowbells.  In between the power chords, the melody is provided by a quiet and interesting keyboard sound from Ryan Jones

And let’s not overlook Garcia’s impressive voice.  She has power and a lot of diversity in her delivery.  She might even sound better than she did when I saw her.

The middle of the song has a breakdown where she and percussionist Kenneka Cook sing together a kind of scat.  Anchoring all of this is really great bass sound from Chrissie Lozano.

For “Valentina in the Moonlight” Angelica plays the quieter guitar melody (she’s really good).

This song is slower and quieter, a love song.  When the whole band kicks in, the song gets really full, with quiet guitar chords from Sizemore, while Garcia plays the main melody.  You can clearly hear Lozano’s nice bass sound in this song.

Angelica moved to Virginia at age seventeen. The songs she sings at the Tiny Desk, all from her album Cha Cha Palace, reflect the way she was seen, or more to the point, not seen, in her new home. “Jícama” captures that feeling of invisibility:

“Jícama” starts out with cha cha sounds.  Angelica sings with a pronounced accent.  I really like the splash cymbal sounds that accent her song.  When the whole band kicks in there’s a real Tex-Mex vibe  which feels like a children’s song melody, perhaps the best way to get the message across

“I see you, but you don’t see me
Jícama, jícama, guava tree
I been trying to tell ya but you just don’t see
Like you, I was born in this country.”

Angelica Garcia has definitely changed.  And for the better.

[READ: May 2, 2020] Strong Female Protagonist

Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic which is on hiatus (although I don’t know for how long).

We’ve had this book floating around the house for a while and I’ve been meaning to read it.  I loved the title–so simple, so terrific.  I finally grabbed it off the shelf and decided today was the day.

I didn’t really know what the story was about and I found myself very surprised.  This proved to be a superhero story with a difference–a huge difference.  Both the origin story of the superpowers and the exploration of the ethics of superpowers are handled in a very different way.

One oft he big differences right up front was the language–these people say bad words… a lot.  It’s while reading this book that you realize you’ve never heard Superman or Spiderman say “fuck.”  But then these superheroes are not superheroes in the conventional sense. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE POP UPS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #13 (April 23, 2020).

When my kids were little I tried pretty hard to introduce them to interesting children’s music.  I often wonder if I ruined them by not just letting them enjoy Raffi.  Because they don’t like much of what I listen to these days.

I’m not sure how long The Pop Ups have been making music, but this is sure a fun (and informative) children’s band.

The Pop Ups (Jason Rabinowitz (on the keytar) and Jacob Stein) sing the theme song to the wonderful NPR podcast Wow In The World and perform at Wow in the World live shows. In their Tiny Desk (home) concert, they save the earth from an asteroid, explain sound waves through a sing-a-long and a keytar, and encourage us all to invent and create.

Before the first song Jason introduces the greatest instrument in the world.  The guitarino?  No, the keytar.  Then he talks about the kind of sound waves a synthesizer can produce: a square wave, a sine wave and sawtooth wave.  “Synthesizer” is a song about making these sound waves–and you are encouraged to dance around and make those waves yourself.

Then Jacob wants to see if we can stump Jason with sounds the keytar can’t make: saxophone, whistle, marimba, organ?  Nope, it can do them all.

The next song, “Meteor” introduces a puppet, Doctor Bronc the Brontosaurus.  Dr. Bronc saw a meteor in the sky so he created a laser to shoot at the meteor.  If everyone turned off their lights for one day, it would save enough energy to power the laser.  The moral: “You can save the world when everybody tries!”

The final song “Inventors” introduces us to a woman I have never heard of.  Mary Anderson in Alabama saw that snow was piling up on the street cars.  She figured there was something that could clean off the snow and so she spent much of her time coming up with windshield wipers.  Which we still use today!

Young inventors will help solve the problems that our generation made for you.

It’s sure inspirational, and a useful piece of history.

[READ: April 26, 2020] “Little Donald’s Sneeze”

I love any cartoon that is going to mock trump.  It’s especially excellent if you can use his own words against him (which isn’t hard because he never stops saying stupid things.

I particularly enjoyed this cartoon because of its old-fashioned look.  Since I can’t find the original cartoon this is based on (or maybe it’s just based on the general style of Winsor McCay’s strip), I can’t tell if Kuper did all of the art himself or if he judiciously used the original panels.

I also don’t know what’s at the header originally, but this one pretty succinctly describes the man who is killing people with his deceit.

The header of this cartoon lays it out clearly: He just simply couldn’t stop lying / He never told the truth!

Why is it that cartoonist knows this but news reporters can’t seem to catch on and actually believe him when he says things? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON + SOCIAL SCIENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #955 (March 4, 2020).

There is something that sets this apart from many other rap-centric performances.

Perhaps it’s because the music is complicated and fascinating–elements of jazz and prog and not just a 4/4 beat.

Perhaps it’s because on the first song “Trapped In The American Dream,” Kassa Overall on vocals doesn’t dominate the music, he is part of it.

Maybe it’s because singer Debo Ray has an utterly amazing voice, whether she is singing lead on “Waiting Game” (which sounds like it could be from a musical) or the amazing operatic backing vocals she contributes to the opening song “Trapped In The American Dream.”

It’s definitely because bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is phenomenal:

In the jazz world, Carrington is a celebrity — a 40-year professional musician who’s won Grammy awards and performed with a seemingly infinite list of jazz dignitaries such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen. An outspoken activist, teacher and mentor, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a multidisciplinary program whose motto is “Jazz Without Patriarchy.”

Her skills are really impressive and it’s fun to watch her really get into it.  There’s a moment where she is going super fast on the hi-hat and snare and it’s super cool.

“Trapped” has some interesting guitar melodies that run through the song.  When Ray sings along with them it’s quite magical.  The bass from Morgan Guerin sounds great and it’s quite a surprise when he busts out a saxophone solo.

“A Waiting Game” starts with just a piano and Ray’s voice.  There’s washes of guitar and Carrington hits her drums with her hands–flat open sounds.

The song is very pretty and ends with someone (I can’t tell who) playing bells.  As the bells ring out there’s rather a surprise as Malcolm Jamal Warner (yes) comes out to recite poetry “Bells (Ring Loudly),” in between verses from Ray.

The third tune, “Bells (Ring Loudly),” written by Parks and Carrington, features actor Malcolm Jamal Warner who also wrote the spoken word. Carrington had just seen the Philando Castile shooting and her powerful lyrics imagined what she would say to the offending police officer.

Throughout the set, pianist Aaron Parks plays some fantastic melodies and solos and guitarist Matthew Stevens seems to be perpetually filling the soundscape with little solos and accents.

Social Science [is] a collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens (both performing here). In the works for some time, their project culminated in 2016 when the cultural divisiveness brought on by the presidential election inspired the trio to take action. “I think there’s an awakening happening in society in general,” Carrington writes on her website, “I feel a calling in my life to merge my artistry with any form of activism that I’m able to engage in.”

This performance features music from the band’s new album, Waiting Game. It’s story-filled, groove-music performed by a group of accomplished musicians who improvise, rap and sing over complex but highly crafted and accessible instrumental motifs. A perfect synthesis of jazz, indie rock and hip-hop influences, the four songs they played address important, culturally relevant protest narratives: mass incarceration, collective liberation, police brutality and Native American genocide.

The final song “Purple Mountains” features Kokayi rapping as Debo Ray sings beautifully with him.  The music in this song is outstanding–complicated and interesting (reminds me a bit of Frank Zappa, which I did not expect).

It opens with some really heavy chords from guitar and bass together while guitar play a cool atonal melody and Aaron Parks played an electric keyboard instead of piano.

The end of the song when Kokayi is rapping faster with yea yea yeas in the middle is really intense and cool.

“I hope that you can enjoy this music because it can be heavy,” drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington told the NPR crowd gathered for this Tiny Desk. “We’ve tried to figure out a way to make it feel good and still give these messages.”

“There is so much we can be angry about but you can’t really stay there,” Carrington told NPR. “Instead, you can reach somebody on a human level.”

I was totally won over by Social Science.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Carlitos in Charge”

This story was really great and also an interesting (presumably true) look into what (might) happen at the United Nations.

This story was written in a fluid and ease to read style.  I especially enjoyed the lengthy passages of lists that he threw into the story.

Carlitos was nicknamed “Charles in Charge.”  Why? because he didn’t like standing out in an American middle school with such an ethnic name.  So he asked to be called Alex P. Keaton. But his father pronounced it like Alice, which didn’t help.  So he settled on “Charles in Charge.”

Carlitos has worked in the United Nations building for a little over a year assembling data for the Health Department.  And in that short time he has had sex with

the South Korean ambassador, the spokesman for the Swedish Mission, and Irish delegate, a Russian interpreter, an Iraqi translator, the assistant to the deputy ambassador from El Salvador, an American envoy, the chief of staff for the Ukrainian prime minister, the vice presidents of Suriname and the Gambia, a cultural attache from Poland, the special assistant to the Saudi ambassador, the nephew of the ruling party’s general secretary of Laso, a distant cousin of Castro, a film director from Mauritania, countless low-level staffers, a few guides, a half-dozen tourists and Brad.

He says that they had to leave their phones in a lock box on the second floor so cruising happened the old fashioned way.

He got the job through a college friend William Mycroft Quimby–Quim–an authentically Irish fellow living in Brooklyn. He says it was weird working for the world and not his country.  But really his jobs was “Convincing the U.S. to do no harm.”

The United States was immune to easily interpretable, commonsense data on everything–pollution, tuberculosis, birth control, breastfeeding, war, rape, white phosphorous, blue phosphorous, red phosphorous, lithium, P.T.S.D., G.M.O.s, slavery, winged migration, lions, tigers, polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, capital punishment, corporal punishment, spanking, poverty, drug decriminalization, incarceration, labor unions, cooperative business structures, racist mascots, climate change, Puerto Rico, Yemen, Syria, Flint, Michigan, women, children, wheelchairs, factory farms, bees, whales, sharks, daylight savings time, roman numerals, centimeters, condoms, coal, cockfighting, horse betting, dog racing, doping, wealth redistribution, mass transit, the I.M.F, CIA, I.D.F., MI5, MI6, TNT, snap bracelets, Pez dispensers, Banksy.  It didn’t matter what its was if the Human Rights Council (or Cuba) advocated one way, the U,S, Went the other.

He soon learned that people used their liaisons to influence decisions.

Do you mean blackmail?
Not blackmail, but, yes, blackmail.

Many of those dalliances resulted in changed results on important bills.

As for Brad, he met Brad at a bar.  Brad also worked at the U.N. but in a different department.  They started dating and got pretty serious. Their one rule was no talking about business.  That worked very well until something was bringing Brad down.  They tried not to talk about it but it soon became too much.

It turned out that Brad was working on a bill calling for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes in El Salvador.  (Charles in Charge’s family is from El Salvador).

The problem was that China signaled support for it and the U.S. can’t go on record agreeing with China about a human-rights issue.  That would be a bad precedent.  Carlitos said he had been working at the U.N. long enough that this made sense.

China was supporting the resolution because El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. If El Salvador and Taiwan agreed with each other, that might change China’s decision.

Brad wonders of Charles in Charge cam have an impact on this momentous vote.

The way the story and the vote play out are both pretty surprising.

I enjoyed this a lot.

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SOUNDTRACK: BABY ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #944 (February 10, 2020).

I had not heard of Baby Rose, which I suppose makes sense since she put out her debut album last year.

The blurb makes it sound like she has been through a lot more than her 25 years might suggest.

But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose’s, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace.

She even speaks like a much older person:

“I would not be able to write with such emotion about these things without my fair share of regrets.”

It sounds like a sincere statement until you realize it’s a bit, an introduction to the song strangely spelled “Ragrets.”

But that is my favorite song here.  It’s got a great opening guitar riff from John Scherer that is duplicated on the bass (with some great high notes) by Craig Shephard.  Backing vocalist Erika JaNaé is there with her throughout–matching her with lovely backing ooohs.

Baby Rose has a voice that sounds a bit like Antony from Antony & the Johnsons–wavery and operatic.  Especially as the Concert opens with “Sold Out” which features strings from Jasminfire on viola, Yuli on violin and Noah Johnson on cello.

It’s also evident in the third song “Over.”  In the middle of the song she sings low and it sounds very Antony, although I suppose another comparison would be “the bluesy melisma of Nina Simone and the deep register of Sarah Vaughan–two of her idols.”  This song is, surprisingly, less than two minutes long.  It has a simple piano melody from Timothy Maxey.  In addition to Erika JaNaé, Jasminfire and Yuli sing backing vocals.  I like the bass slide at the end, which seems like it’s a transition to another part of the song, not the end.

The next song is “Mortal” which opens with a loud drum hit from Tauseef Anam and quiet shimmering guitars.  There’s a lot of backing singing on this song and they all sing very nicely.

As this song is ending she introduces the band and says

“This is what real love sounds like.  This is what it feels like.”

The blurb says

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature.

I actually thought pretentious was the word.

She asks if she can do one more (because of course an artist I’ve never heard of gets an 18 minute set).  And in introducing “All To Myself,” she says she is

Dedicating the song to herself — and “to anyone here that’s ever wanted to call or text somebody that you know you should not call or text” —  congratulating those of us who’ve refrained from squandering our emotions on the undeserved.

Her voice is really impressive on this song and I like that the blurb acknowledges that she’s not using autotune

In an era when the over-reliance on Autotune has nearly everybody in radio R&B land sounding like automatons, her unadulterated voice is almost otherworldly. It’s confounding how a vocal tone so weathered and wise emerges from her so effortlessly.

I was a bit cynical about her at first, but Baby Rose really brings the goods.

[READ: July 10, 2019] Who is Rich?

Rich Fischer is a cartoonist.  As the book opens, Rich is beginning his annual week-long teaching assignment at a New England beachside Arts Conference.  Rich was once sort of famous for his first (and only) published book and that’s why he was initially invited to instruct.  In the intervening six years, he has not really produced anything except drawings for magazines, but the head of the council still likes him, so Rich has that annual work to look forward to.

Although he doesn’t really look forward to it.  People come from all over to study all kinds of arts with esteemed faculty.  It’s a place where writers, artists and historians show off that they are really drunkards and perverts and are willing to do anything to dance naked on a beach in a drum circle.  At this point, he knows what he is and how he fits along with the rest of the teaching staff:

unknown nobodies and one-hit has-beens, midlist somebodies and legitimate stars.

His was a four day intensive workshop that cost $1500.  He details his students–a former high school art teacher (who tried to take over the class), a med student who didn’t want to start med school, a trans kid, a Vietnam War veteran, a grandmother and a teenager skulking in the back.

But he was also sick of it.  The same faces year after year.  Nadia Klein  “was widely mocked an imitated.”  Larry Burris skipped his meds one year and wore a jester’s cap to class and lit his own notes on fire.  And yet when he was asked to name another cartoonist he could vouch for to teach a second comics workshop, he didn’t answer the director, “because of the way my career had gone, I worried that I’d be hiring my replacement.”

He talks about his precocious success–at first it seems like a mistake, but you get used to it quickly. You assume it will always be there.  Until it isn’t.

(more…)

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Terry Jones [1942-2020]

Terry Jones died last night at age 77 because of complications from a rare form of dementia.

I was a huge Monty Python fan back in the day.  I’ve seen all the episodes (even the German ones) and the movies.  I have the records and the books and just about everything they’ve done.  They influenced me terrifically.

Terry Jones was a founder of Monty Python and while I tended to not think of him as my favorite on screen person, thinking about all of the amazing characters he played over the years, I think I’ve unfairly put him too low.  Especially as I think of some of the most quotable lines and how he either said them or was in the skit that spawned it (wafer-thin, anyone?).  Not to mention he did some of the best women’s voices in the series.

Most of the Pythons have been slowing down as of late, which is to be expected.  I was supposed to see John Cleese live recently but my plans fell through. Terry Gilliam is making some unfortunate comments in the media lately.  Eric Idle seems to always be about.  Michael Palin has been doing fantastic work travelling and writing no-fiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHARLY BLISS-Tiny Desk Concert #900 (October 9, 2019).

I wanted to wait until I saw Charly Bliss live before I watched this Tiny Desk Concert–even if the promo picture was certainly intriguing.

Lead singer Eva Hendricks was so much fun live, so full of joy and energy, that I’m glad I wasn’t expecting anything when I saw them.

In this Tiny Desk Concert, she is no less subdued, and her outfit–a pink tulle flouncy dress–is as vibrant as she is.  There’s even a whole bunch of gold balloons!

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind.

Actually she is somewhat subdued because these songs have been changed for the Tiny Desk.  There’s even a small string section! (Rogue Collective: Kaitlin Moreno: violin; Alexa Cantalupo: violin; Natalie Spehar: cello).

They start with “Capacity” (which they started with when I saw them).

This song started with a drum machine because drummer Sam Hendricks was playing keys.  But what’s surprising (and was surprising when I saw them is that the lead “synth” line of the song is actually played by guitarist Spencer Fox.  Bassist Dan Shure is also playing keys on this song.

One of the most wonderful things about this song is how you can hear Eva Hendricks smile as she sings this song.  Even if, as the blurb says

 The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band’s second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

After about two minutes, Dan switches to bass as the strings kick in and the song really takes off.  Eva even does some pogoing (she never stopped bouncing when I saw them, although she seems to be restraining herself somewhat here).

Up next is “Young Enough,” which is the name of their second album.

While introducing the title track, Eva Hendricks tells the NPR crowd, “It’s been really incredible rearranging these songs for this [Tiny Desk Concert] because it makes you remember how you were feeling when you wrote it all. And this song is kind of about when you finally realize that you made it out to the other side of something really painful.”

One thing that was really great when I saw them (and here) is when all the band members sing along.  Presumably that’s because

Eva Hendricks and her brother Sam Hendricks write the songs along with the other band members.

“Young Enough” starts quietly with just the keys (from Sam) before the gentle guitars chords strum in.  For the first few verses, it’s the bass that is prominent as Eva sings.  She is very into these songs–you can feel the emotion on her face (even with the eye shadow and glitter) as she sings.  Midway through, she adds acoustic guitar and the strings fill in more.

Sam switches to drums for the final song, “Chatroom.”  Eva introduces it with, “one of the most important things you have to do to grow is to cut some toxic people out of your life.”

When I saw them live, this song was a rocking fun fest.  It’s certainly more subdued here (no pogoing or wailing solos) , but you can feel the infectious nature of the songs in the way everyone gets into it (including Rogue Collective).  And the string crescendo at the end is a nice touch.

This is a band that is fantastic live–in any setting.

[READ: November 15, 2019] “On the First-World Campaign Trail”

I’m not sure how often Larry David writes for the New Yorker.  I feel like this is the first piece, but I’m probably wrong about that.

This piece is political–sort-of-and is timeless in the sense that it could apply to any campaign of the last thirty years.

This piece isn’t crazy funny, but it is much funnier if you read it in Larry David’s voice.  (more…)

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