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Archive for the ‘Prison’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CARRTOONS, KAELIN ELLIS, KIEFER AND THE KOUNT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #229 (June 28, 2021).

This is one of the more unusual Tiny Desk Concerts that I’ve seen.  Essentially the NPR team asked these musicians to make remixes of NPR theme music.  I haven’t heard of any of the musicians before, but I gather they are well known and regarded.

Over the past year and some change, beatmakers Carrtoons, Kaelin Ellis, Kiefer, and The Kount took to social media individually and often collaboratively to cook up productions, often resulting in viral moments and never-seen-before glimpses into their creative process.  As we continue to celebrate 50 years of NPR, Tiny Desk was determined to take part. To honor the iconic themes from our news programs, we asked these four producers to come up with their own spin on the All Things Considered theme (written by Don Voegeli) the Morning Edition theme and the theme for Weekend Edition (both written by B.J. Leiderman).

The blurb describes them as beatmakers. I don’t know what that means exactly (in my mind it has nothing to do with instruments), but for this set, each guy plays an instrument or two.  Clockwise from the bottom left Kaelin Ellis: drums, The Kount: percussion, Kiefer: piano, keyboards and Carrtoons: bass.

Most of the themes are under 30 seconds, so it’s interesting to hear them stretched out.  It’s also interesting that they didn’t simply play the theme and them jam it.  each one uses a part of the theme, but the songs go in very different directions.  The addition of bass and drums certainly changes the sound, as does their new jazzier feel.

“All Things Considered (Remix by Carrtoons)” Kiefer plays a variant of the original (quite similar) and then plays a kind of staccato piano like the news urgency music.  I like the way those original eight notes keep returning.   This new song is all of 1 minute long.

“Morning Edition (Remix by Kaelin Ellis)”  This one sounds really different with an intro (lots of bass and drums).  It’s not until the middle that the jazzy chords reveal themselves as the Morning Edition melody.  I feel like you can’t hear all that much percussion on these tracks although the bongos are audible here.  and I like the little cymbals near the end.  This song is about two minutes,

“Weekend Edition (Remix by Kiefer)” I like that this one opens with that iconic ascending melody, but dissipates smoothly.  It’s also interesting that the middle melody is still there, only stretched out. Kaelin’s drums are pretty great on this track and Carrtoons’ bass is pivotal throughout.

[READ: June 1, 2021] The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

S. read book three in this series, not realizing it was book 3.  She then read the books in reverse order, ending with this one.

Well, I decided to read them in the correct order.  And while I haven’t read 2 or 3 yet, book 1 was fantastic.   I loved everything about this book–the plot, the illustrations and especially the writing style

Jaclyn Moriarty has created a hilarious and thoughtful young narrator and the ways in which she has to deal with adults makes for some very funny scenes indeed.

The premise is that Bronte Mettlestone is ten years old and has just found out that her parents were killed by pirates. She’s not really that upset though because she never knew them.  They abandoned her at the doorstep of an aunt when she was just a baby.  They were adventurers and couldn’t be tied down by a child.

The humor comes right away, with the announcement that Bronte’s parents were killed.  They receive a telegram which says that they were “taken out by cannon fire.” Aunt Isabelle is furious about that phrase.  Could they not have chosen a less flippant turn of phrase?

So Bronte was raised by her aunt Isabelle with help from The Butler.  They see that her parents will says that Bronte must take a series of trips, by herself to visit all of her other aunts and give them each a present (the present is included with the will).  The details of the trip are spelled out in very specific detail–how long she is to stay with each Aunt and how to get from one to the next.  To make things worse, the will has been sealed wit faery stitching, which means if she doesn’t do what the will says, there will be terrible consequences.  Essentially Bronte must follow these rules exactly or OR PEOPLE COULD DIE!

So obviously this is world where magic exists, although Bronte herself has had little exposure to magic.  She says the only thing she knows about magic comes from the book The History of the Kingdoms and Empires.

There are two types of magic that are worked by thread.  There was bright thread which was used by True Mages like Faeries and elves and water sprites.  Then there was shadow thread used by dark Mages like witches and Sterling Silver Foxes.  The third kind was binding thread which Spellbinders used to stop Shadow Magic from doing its work. Initially the thread was real, but now they can do their magic with imaginary thread.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Avening Hall, Creemore, ON (November 16, 2019.

At the moment, the link for the first show of this series downloads this show instead of the 15th).  When the link is updated, I’ll post about November 15th.

It was pretty amazing that Rheostatics were going to do a mini tour.  I wanted to go to these shows so badly, but it was really hard for me to get up to Toronto.  I even bought a ticket for the final night, hoping something would allow me to go.  But, alas.

Second of the 7 Ontario shows for the Here Come The Wolves mini tour. The band were having some sound issues during the first set and I think it threw them off so Clark suggested they take a 10 minute break to regroup. This recording is actually a mix of one of the audience mics and the soundboard. The Soundboard mix, however, was all instruments other than kick drum in the right channel so I had to turn it into a mono file or it would have been unlistenable. I added the audience mix in for some room ambience and added a bit of compression, etc in Garageband for the final mix.

This show did not have Kevin Hearn, but it did have Hugh Marsh.  I’d have liked to see one show with Kevin and one without.

This show opens with a quiet intro and lots of Hugh Marsh playing as “Stolen Car” begins.  There’s some wild soloing in the middle of the song with Martin and Hugh having a “conversation” with bending notes.  Dave B sings the “I don’t need anger” verse.

Up next is “AC/DC On The Stereo (Country Version).”  for whatever reason, they play this as a more folky song (hence the “country version” label).  DB sings the first part; DC sings the middle.  When it ends, Martin jokes “that’s the brand new country version.”

During “Rearview” someone plays a simple acoustic solo (Tim or Dave?) and BD jokes “pretty hot licks.”

They go a little nuts on “Here Come the Wolves” with barking and howling.  When Hugh plays the middle violin riff, martin sings every day is silent and gray (Morrissey).  ‘It’s The Supercontroller!” has a false start but a wonderfully trippy opening from Hugh and DC.  Before the lyrics begin, DB asks for a monitor adjustment: “There’s a squirrel in my monitor.”   Martin: you hate squirrels.  Dave: No, Martin YOU hate squirrels.  MT: It’s not that you hate them, it’s that you don’t think they are worth your time.  Clark gets audience participation on the  “ahhs”

DB says they are playing the new album in order.  We are never out of order.
DC: We are never out of odor.  My wife thinks I  am never out of odor.
MT: I’ve never thought you were smelly–that’s not part of your reputation.

A lovely “Music in the Message.”  Then Dave says that people flew in from Vancouver and asks if anyone is from further.  DC: We’ll still thank you anyway.  Then he jokes about Tyler Stewart and says we’re in the drummer’s union.  It’s okay.

After babbling a bit, “I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to say anything. I just feel like words belong here and I’m trying to make things flow.”  He says “Vancouver” is a song he wrote when he was around 18 (he says he was born in 1967) and which he rewrote last year.  This gets him to ask everyone’s birth year and hospital of birth.

DB 1963 in Etobicoke, St Michaels (a good Italian will be born in a hospital named after a Saint).
Tim: Etobicoke General (he’s the only real Etobicoke native).
DC 1965
Hugh: Montreal
Martin gives a shout out to Hugh and Nick Buzz: we’ve done 3 albums in 30 years.
“Vancouver” takes a bit of time to get going. The b vox are a little rough on this, but Martin’s echoing rippling guitar blasts at the end are awesome. The solo quotes from Journey’s “Who’s Crying Now.”

“I Wanna Be Your Robot” is rocking fun.  DC encourages the audience to make a new friend tonight.  Turn and introduce yourself.  You’ll make a new friend, for life potentially.  It feels really nice.  You’re all fans, you might as well.

The start of “Beautiful Night” has Hugh making all kinds of cool trippy violin noises.

They take a little break you can hear LP’s “Lost on You” in the background.

They return with “Northern Wish” to some cheers and talking, but there’s lovely crowd singing at the end.

Dave says they’d like to thank their opening band.  They were a little nervous: The Rheospastics.

Up next is one they haven’t done in a while.  “P.I.N.” starts out happy, but “just you wait.”  The final notes (Dave B) are messed up.

DB: IS it going a little better in the second set?  Tim: a little funnier at least.

During “Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne,” Hugh plays a ripping solo and DB says “these are the rotation of chords where we think about what Hugh just played.”  During the ending “Crazy Train” line Martin plays the riff and it fits perfectly.  DB says that song is more of a PSA than anything.

They ask what do you want to hear (Horses of course).  But they play “Legal Age Life” with a wicked wah wah violin solo.  They have a little fun with a guy in the vest in the audience–“he’s not from Vancouver–MT: he lives in a shack in the parking lot.

I love the record version of “Goodbye Sister Butterfly,” but this live version feels a little weird.  However, the disco ending is hot and they throw in some lines from “Good on the Uptake.”  They get really silly making robot and dog sounds.

Martin introduces he next song: This next song is about a robot dog named “Claire.”  He plays a  ripping solo very Neil Youngish.

Then comes an 11 minute Horses -> Crosseyed And Painless -> Another Brick In The Wall -> Horses.  DB sends this out to all the teachers.  Thank you for being teachers.  We love you.  We got your back.  There’s a percussion solo in the middle (glasses and wood blocks).  The speakers crackle at the end.

I want to be in a audience to scream “holy mackinaw, joe.”

After the encore break, DC gives a nice talk about friendship and music.  Then they introduce Hugh who is from Montreal and is “beautifully exotic” and was “born in a violin case.”  Martin talks about Hugh’s first violin lesson.  He plays a scratchy Mary Had a Little Lamb.  How?  on his guitar?  on the violin?  That’s how he got the Bruce Cockburn gig.

Then Martin talks about places where he’s lived. Funny jokes about Flesherton and sex cults.  Finally someone shouts Play a song, then!

DB: Here’s a song, sir.  But not for you.  It’s for everybody else.  Al the patient ones.  They play a brooding “Albatross.”

Dave says this is the first time he’s ever directed anyone to a website in his life.  But Darrin Cappe [the guy who runs the Rheostatics Live site!] who is here tonight has concerts going back to 1981.  MT: Hey Darrin, How you doin?

The end with “Mountains And The Sea.”  They mess up the challenging transition but quickly get it back and Hugh plays another wicked solo.

This show is almost two and a half hours long.  There were some glitches and lots of chatting, but what fun.  And great to have them back.

[READ June 25, 2021] Banned Book Club

I saw the title of this book and was instantly intrigued.  I had no idea that it was about banned books in Korea, though.  It’s immediately apparent that it is set there (the first page says South Korea, 1983), and that’s when I realized I knew nothing about South Korea in the 1980s.

The book opens on a family arguing.  They are in their “Fancy Steak Restaurant” where the main character, Kim Hyun Sook, is planning to go to University.  Her mother argues with her that she should be working in the restaurant not going to school.  But her father wants her to pursue her dream, like he pursued his (which was to open a steak restaurant).

Next we see her arriving at University where protests are underway.  She is irritated by them (her mother had bad things to say about them) and just wants to get to class.

She does well in school and joins a masked dance folk team as an extracurricular activity.  The folk dancing is wonderful, but at their first performance, the protesters arrive.  The drums team tells her that it was planned–they are part of the protests as well.  She is outraged and says she doesn’t want to do anything political. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FAT JOE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #217 (June 1, 2021).

This Tiny Desk (Home) Concert opens with big chords from Eric Whatley’s bass and Simon Martinez’ guitar.  Then some record scratching from DJ Ted Smooth and crashing cymbals from Rashid Williams.

Fat Joe walks into a shop and is handed a mic as the Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts plays a menacing melody on the keys.  I like Fat Joe’s vocal style but “My Lifestyle” is just another story of bitches n’ hos.

A founding member of the D.I.T.C. (Diggin’ In the Crates) crew, Fat Joe Da Gangsta has managed to last nearly 30 years and multiple generations in the rap game without ever giving up his lease on the top of the charts.

He introduces DJ Ted Smooth and his protégé Angelica Vila and then the Terror Squad band.

That crew turns the rugged “My Lifestyle” into a visceral experience with layers of nuance added by Joe’s longtime DJ Ted Smooth.

“What’s Luv?” is a slow ballad.  Angelica Villa sings and her refrain of “whats luv” sounds remarkably like a sample–her voice is really amazing.

 On the 2002 smash “What’s Luv,” Angelica Vila takes the spotlight singing a hook originally performed by Ashanti.

It’s weird to see her dancing and grinding like it’s a music video, which I guess it is, but still.  There’s some salsa infusions in the song.

“Lean Back” has a bad ass riff and a repeated chant of “lean back.”  It’s really catchy.

Latino hip-hop legend Fat Joe muscled his way out of the streets of the South Bronx with his debut album, Represent, in 1993. He radiates a different energy in 2021, sauntering in his own uptown streetwear shop, fresh fitted in pink leather and a designer bucket hat, but he’s still got that old larger-than-life electricity.

And yet he still seems unreasonably angry–staring down the camera and shouting, “Tiny Desk don’t play with us like that, man.”  [What could that possibly mean in this context?]

Up next is “Sunshine (The Light)”

an effervescent new springtime jam that was spawned by 22-year-old internet sensation Amorphous, who mashed up Luther Vandross’s debut single “Never Too Much” with Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Joe, who has always had a solid ear for new talent and a prowess for pinning down a buoyant hit record, came in and gullied this sparkling jam, renewing a glow that’s been dim for this last year.

It’s a pretty song and Angelica’s voice sounds really great.  I look forward to hearing more from her.

He shouts out to Luther and then goes on a little rant about being old and having everything ripped away and the coming back at 40.  I don’t know he seems pretty successful to me.

“All The Way Up” ends the set sounding similar to “Lean Back” but with a jazzy sample.  Throughout the song as he raps lines there’s a response.  I thought they were samples, but it turns out that the DJ is his hype man too.

I tend to like rappers in this Tiny Desk Home Concert better than on record, but I really liked Fat Joe’s style.  I’ll have to keep it limited to this though, I think.

[READ: May 20, 2021] Heist

I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to see what else Paul Tobin had written.  Lo and behold, he is responsible for a favorite graphic novel Claudette.  This story is a lot different and a lot darker, but it still has his sense of humor.

The book opens with a man fleeing from people trying to kill him. Glane Breld escapes and says he needs a drink…and a  crew.  He’s been out of prison for nine hours and he is ready for his next heist.

The people he wants are Celine Disse, master gunsmith, Gaville, master of disguise (she is crazy-she enjoys blowing things up and collecting famous peoples underwear).

Saving the best for last Eddy Lets.  Why is he the best?  Because the closest this planet ever had to a leader was Eddy’s mom Lera.  Her assassination was Glane’s fault.

When Glane heads to his rendezvous he is met by a local street urchin named Brady.  Brady latches on to Glane and Glane cant shake him.  But the kid proves useful.  Not only does he get Glane away from some assassins but he also gets Glane a splint for his brain–so his mind can’t be read.

Then Brady, believing he has a tourist with a lot of money, tells the history of planet Heist.  Right up to the story about Glane himself (Brady does not realize the man is Glane).

Dignity Corporation owns all of the planets in the area but this one (Heist).  Glane was hired by the Dignity Corporation to find incriminating evidence on Lera.   This faked evidence was used by Dignity to bring down Lera which eventually led to her assassination.  Soon after, Heist was taken over by Dignity Corp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD plays Nothingface (streamed May 31, 2021).

When I saw Voivod a few years ago, I was delighted with how good they sounded.  I only wished they’d played a few more songs from my favorite album of theirs, Nothingface.

Well, here it is, mid lockdown and the Voivod guys have answered my request.  They are going to play the entire Nothingface album live.

Over two days in May they recorded the entire album live–an album that all four of them had to learn all over again.  Some songs they had never played live.  And, of course two of the guys were not in the ban when Nothingface came out.   Indeed, bassist Rocky was only 15 and guitarist Chewy was only 13 when the album was released.  [It’s not that weird, singer Snake was about 25 at the time].

It could have been a disaster (but they wouldn’t have aired it, I’m sure).  But if you’re going to replace a unique composer like Piggy, who better to use than the kid who has been a fan of Piggy since he was 13?  Chewy gets Piggy and has even written tab books for all of Voivod’s albums–showing all of the complex and bizarre stuff that Piggy created.  Rocky actually acknowledged Chewy’s books as what helped him to learn the songs (even though he played the album every day for a year when it came out).

They did not play this in front of people.  Rather, they played in a studio.  But director Catherine Deslauriers designed the studio to project images behind the band as they played. It doesn’t feel quite like a Voivod show since they interact with the audience so much, but it feels very live.

From the opening chord of “The Unknown Knows,” this show was amazing.  The sound was fantastic–I was especially impressed with how great the drums sounded.  I don’t think I ever realized what a beast Away was on the kit.  Rocky’s bass sounded awesome and Chewy’s guitar parts were spot on.  Snake’s vocals sound pretty good too considering he’s thirty years older.  His voice is unique in metal–that thick accent and slight growl–and it’s all in place.  When Chewy hit that screaming bent note and the song paused then jumped into the next part, it was magical.  And when Chewy played those crazy chords in the section after it I knew the whole thing would be great.  Oh, and Rocky’s bass sound during the end part was perfect.

The only thing was that they didn’t play the coda to the song, but really, that’s quite alright.  They had to move on to “Nothingface.”  The jump from the angular sharp parts to the catchy “lapse of time/syncho-freeze” is just so good.  An I really enjoyed watched Snake sing the “Cold cold choke cold” part.

Before “Astronomy Domine, there was a brief interview with Snake.  He talks about how he didn’t want to do a cover, especially someone as big a Pink Floyd.  He also jokes about how hard it was to learn the harmonies–it was like Spinal Tap. But Piggy knew what he was doing.

And the harmonies with the new guys sound perfect.  They had been playing this on the tour that I saw them, but my show was a little shorter because it was three bands so they didn’t play it.

It segues perfectly in the opening bass notes of “Missing Sequence.”  It’s a cool slow moody intro before snake shouts NOW!  The harmonies on this song are so good and the way it jumps from this chugging heavy part to the staccato “down down, far underground” is tremendous.  Away’s alternating double bass is a great component.  There’s another great place for Rocky’s bass to sound fantastic.

Rocky speaks before “X-Ray Mirror.”  He speaks only in French and talks about seeing the Nothingface tour when he was 15 and just loving it.  He even took a promotional poster and had Snake sign it years later when they met.

I love the jazzy riff in the middle of the song and the thrashing double bass drum–Away’s drumming is just outstanding in this song.  Followed by the resolutely King Crimson chords  and the great fast thrashing section with the funky bass line and the wild solo

“Inner Combustion” has a striking ascending guitar riff that leads to the heavier section of the song. The distinctive snare blasts between each verse is such a distinctive aspect.

Chewy interviews before “Pre-Ignition” and he talks about how the album was the soundtrack to his teenage years.  He was 13 for this, his first show.  He was shorter than everyone but pushed forward and stood by the speakers until he got pushed back by the mosh pit.  he also mentions a launch party that aired on Solidrock.

Chewy studied contemporary composers in a course.  He was listening to a song and said “woah Stravinsky stole something from Voivod.”  Strange chords and time changes.  There’s even middle eastern harmonic minors.   Those orchestral guitar parts are so cool and very dramatic.  There’s really harsh chords and Away going nuts on the drums.   I always like the vaguely Middle Eastern part “ground and rock and sand come crumbling tumbling down.”

Away introduces “Into My Hypercube.”  He says whenever we go on tour I like to buy scientific magazines to read on the road.  In the 80s it was Omni and Discover.  He came upon an article about scientists representing visually a cube in 9 dimensions.  He and Snake had a chat trying to imagine living in a hypercube in a 9 dimensional building and he wrote these lyrics.

Away says that this song reminds him of “Remember Tomorrow” from Iron Maiden–his favorite metal album.

You can hear that in the slow echoing bass opening.   I love the way it goes angular and harsh and segues perfectly into the more catchy mosh part followed by a really heavy pounding section before a ripping guitar solo.  And once again Rocky’s great bass sound ends the song.

The show ends with “Sub-Effect” a song that builds dramatically into a pounding bridge and has a complicated riff that jumps into the “too late for SOS” funky bass and unusual guitar melody.  The show fades to black on yet another of Piggy’s bizarre but wonderful chords.

In a couple of weeks they are playing all of Dimension Hatross, and album I don’t know as well.  Bu I have time to learn it.

[READ: May 30, 2021] Redfork

I had just read a couple of violent and bloody graphic novels when I picked up this one.  The cover alone is pretty gruesome.  And I thought, what is it with stories that need to be so gory?  I don’t have an answer for that.

Then the story opens on a couple of hicks trying to steal drugs from the doctor’s office.  I have little time for stories of meth addicts, so that combined with the gore, meant that this story had a long way to go to engage me.

And yet it did.

Because it went places I never would have expected.

When the two boys were stealing drugs, the doctor walked in on them and one of the boys got scared and killed him.  The story jumps to six years later when Noah is getting out of prison.  He is huge–been working out the whole time, clearly.  His best friend D-Ray is there to pick him up.

I don’t know who storyboarded this book.  Maybe it artist Nil Vendrell, but he did some really cool things.  I love on one of the early pages as they are driving back home, the car stays in the middle of the frame but the scenes change around it and in the white borders there’s random townsfolk–showing everything Noah sees.  It’s very effective.

As is a later page that runs clockwise–counter to all graphic novel reading.  But it’s done with such a great purpose and effectively conveys a moment of two people at a distance from each other. (more…)

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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: U.K. SUBS-Another Kind of Blues (1978).

In this essay, Rebecca Kushner mentions a bunch of punk band members that she either knew or hung out with.  I was amazed at how many of them I’d heard of but didn’t really know.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to go punk surfing.

U.K. Subs are a punk band that I’ve heard of but really knew nothing about.  A little research tells me that they have been active all of these years–their latest release was in 2019.  That’s some serious staying power.  According to Wikipedia, there have been about 75 members of the band over the years.

This first album is a pretty fascinating listen.  Most of the seventeen songs are under two minutes long, but they’re not blisteringly fast or anything.  The songs are more or less blues based (as the title indicates) but faster and grittier

This is definitely a punk album.  But they follow a lot of rock song conventions.  Indeed, “I Live in a Car” is a minute and a half long but it’s got verses a chorus and two guitar solos.  “I Couldn’t Be You” even has a harmonica solo.

But songs like “Tomorrow’s Girls” offer good old punk chanting choruses.  And “World War” which is all of a minute and twenty three seconds is actually over 20 seconds of explosion.

“Stranglehold” was a pretty big hit in England and it’s easy to see why.  It’s got an immediate riff, a three chord chorus that’s easy to sing along with and a bouncy bass line.  And it’s all of one minute and fifty-seven seconds.

Checking some of their other releases through the years, UK Subs definitely went through a metal phase in the 80s and 90s, but their 2016 album Zeizo has found the punk spirit again.  I think I like Zeizo better than their first.

[READ: February 2, 2021] “The Hard Crowd”

I’ve read a few things by Rachel Kushner, although I’ve never given any thought to her biography.  I never would have guessed that Kushner was part of a San Francisco pub scene when she was growing up (or that she is essentially my age).

This essay is about that time in her life.  When Jimmy Carter was president and he quoted Bob Dylan in his acceptance speech “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

She says that being born is an existential category of gaining experience and living intensely in the present.  Conversely, dying doesn’t have to be negative–the new stuff is over but you turn reflective you examine and tally–it is behind you but it continues to exists somewhere.

She says she’s been watching film footage found on Youtube shot in 1966 or 1967 from a car moving slowly along Market Street in San Francisco, where she grew up.  She assumes it is B roll from a film, because it is professional grade (she imagines it was for Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, but that’s not based on anything).

She worked at the Baskin Robbins making $2.85 an ahour.   The shop is now gone and she thinks it’s weird to be sentimental about a chain store, but when her mother took her to the IHOP years after she worked there, it all came flooding back–sights, smells.  Despite every one being identical, this one was hers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PUMAS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #122 (December 7, 2020).

After hearing a couple of Black Pumas songs on WXPN, I had to get the album.  They played such an interesting and catchy style of “gritty, retro soul.”

I was pretty happy for them when the were nominated for a bunch of Grammies.  Then S. and I were laughing because so many people we knew (who follow pop music) had never heard of them.  So I guess they are quite the niche band.  But I’m glad to have heard them.  And I’m glad they get the Tiny Desk Home Concert.

The Austin-based rock band Black Pumas is having a good 2020. The group, led by singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada, was just nominated for three Grammys, including album of the year for Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), and both record of the year and best American roots performance for the track “Colors.” The band’s turn behind a tiny desk (and chair) shows why its debut album — now more than a year old — is receiving so much recognition right now.

The band is socially distanced in a studio with singer Eric Burton in a bad ass leather jacket up front.

Behind him are terrific backing singers Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller.

Then, masked in the back row are guitarist Adrian Quesada, drummer Steve Bidwell bassist, Brendan Bond and keyboardist JaRon Marshall.

They play four songs and

the intensity level builds gradually throughout this four-song set. It’s clear why the band’s live shows have won over fans. From the opening strains of “Red Rover,” Burton digs deep and by the time we get to the ballad “OCT 33,” he’s burning with old-school soul heartbreak.

“Red Rover” is on the second disc of the deluxe edition, so I wasn’t as familiar with it.  But it’s got a nifty wah wah and echoed guitar solo from Quesada.

Up next is “Fire.”  Burton grabs a guitar as a keyboard melody opens the song.  Quesada plays a cool surf riff and then Burton takes over the vocals.  His voice is outstanding and this song is crazy cathy (the backing vocals are just icing on the cake).  When Burton sings a note mid song and kicks it even higher, his hat falls off–that’s the kind of intensity they bring.

Burton opens “OCT 33” with a soft, echoing guitar melody.  It’s simple but instantly grabbing.  He starts to sing as bass is added.  The song slowly builds over the length of it to a wonderful moment mid song where Burton sings and Quesada plays a ripping fuzzy guitar solo.

They end with the wonderful “Colors.”  An echoing, instantly memorable guitar lick opens the song.  Burton’s voice sounds fantastic as he sings.  I love the “doo doo doo doo” part in the middle and JaRon’s extended old soul-sounding organ solo is a fantastic treat.

The Pumas are probably my favorite new band of 2020.

[READ: January 3, 2021] “Rwanda”

I’ve really had a hard time getting into Wideman’s stories in the past.  I don’t like his writing style and I often feel like I know what’s going on until he starts to get really elliptical and he loses me.  I feel like this is a failing on my part, but who knows.

This story is told in four parts.

Part I

The narrator asks his niece (and us) a thought experiment.  If you were in charge of running the world and you learned that life on earth was going to end shortly (6 months at most) would you tell the public?

Wideman ties the story to what’s happening in the world.

What if this deadly plague meant that all life would soon end.  Would they tell us?  How would people react?  Would people freak out and go crazy–everyone for himself, or would some carry on as normal? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHIRLEY COLLINS: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #109 (November 10, 2020).

There is no denying the first line of this blurb: “Shirley Collins is a legend.”  But like many legends, I find that I know of her more than I know about her.  It’s possible that I’d never heard her before this set.  And that may not be an unreasonable thing

 Her life story took the sort of twists you hear in the songs she sings, in her case, a broken heart, a painful divorce, and the loss of her voice. For 30 years, she couldn’t sing.

I don’t exactly understand what happened to her voice (that link doesn’t explain it), but her first album in over 30 years came out in 2016.

Now, here she is playing songs from Heart’s Ease, only the second album she’s made in the past 40 years. You hear her sing of a young sailor boy who saves his ship from robbers and is promised by his captain both gold and his daughter’s hand in marriage. The lad sinks the robber’s boat, only to be left to drown by that very same captain.

These unimaginable tales and that unadorned voice have influenced both British and American folk music since the 1960s, from Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny to The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. These tales of woe and whimsy are as timeless as Shirley Collins

So here is Shirley Collins, at 85, seated in the living room of her cottage in Lewes, East Sussex, accompanied by guitarist Ian Kearey, singing along to a few stringed instruments

She sings five songs.  At 85, her voice doesn’t sound amazing, but it does sound good.  And it’s more about the emotion she puts into these songs than the power of her voice.

She explains that in the 1950s, she took a field recording trip across the United States with Alan Lomax.  She heard “The Merry Golden Tree” in Arkansas.  It was still sung in England but had traveled across the Atlantic and then across the continent.

Kearey plays guitar for the first song, but switches to banjo for “Sweet Greens and Blues” a song her first husband Austin John marshall wrote 50 years ago.   She says the first line seems apt in 2020: “If we don’t make it this year let’s see what next year will bring.”

She heard “Wondrous Love” from a rural Alabama congregation.  The church was full of people from all over.  They sang this hymn in their old voices–“shrill and beautiful at the same time: the most incredible lovely noise you could hope to hear.”  Kearey gets a very cool metallic slide guitar sound for this song.

Before singing “Tell Me True” she tells the story of an American friend in Montana who sent her a vast British ensign flag from the Royal Navy.  He found it in a barn when he was 16 on holiday in rural Vermont.  He took it!  Now he sent it to her.  She thinks its from 1812, the Battle of Lake Champlain in vermont.  Woah

“Old Johnny Buckle” is a nonsense song, an upside down song that’s good fun to sing.  I imagine it could have been sung by Boy and Girl Scouts.  With silly lyrics like this

Old Mrs. Buckle went a’fishing one day
She caught her left leg in the clay
The toads and frogs all wobbled about
She ran to get a shovel to dig herself out

[READ: December 8, 2020] “Reflections”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 8.  Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, is glad she remembered to pack those seasickness tabs..  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story was a challenge for me.  First because I didn’t realize that the two letters (the story is two letters on facing pages) were meant to be read separately.  At first I thought it was a series of disjointed, unfinished letters–a sort of failed attempt at communication.  Obviously that is very far from what the story is mean to be about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GroundUP FAMILY DINNER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #103 (October 27, 2020).

This is a sort of family affair Tiny Desk (multiple Home) concert.  The family is the GroundUP label.

This three-act, 18-person Tiny Desk (home) concert was conceived by Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s composer and bandleader. He and his cadre of artists on the GroundUP record label believe in two important points: that music and politics are inextricably linked, and the best way to connect people is through song.

The first song, “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” is a beautiful folk song that’s mostly Becca Steven and her guitar.  But there’s some beautiful subtle  piano from Brad Mehldau and simple but very effective bass from Chris Tordini.  I really liked this song with its ever so true refrain “This is not the America I know” and I liked it even more when I heard what it was all about.

The concert features three distinct ensembles, beginning with Becca Stevens and her song “Heather’s Letters To Her Mother.” “I wrote this for Heather Heyer, who was killed on August 12, 2017, while peacefully protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville,” she says. “In my heart this song has always been a rallying cry to come from a place of compassion in our actions and reactions. It’s a reminder to continue the fight for equality from a determined and compassionate stance regardless of what is happening around us. And it’s a reminder to stay grounded in love because without a foundation of love we are truly lost.”

I was surprised that the second song was in a language I didn’t know.

The second song features League’s world music group Bokanté performing the Creole song “Réparasyon,” meaning “reparations.” Bokanté vocalist Malika Tirolien wrote the song, which appears on the band’s Grammy-nominated album What Heat. “With the rise of black liberation movements around the world, this is a crucial time to remind everyone that people of African descent need the slave trade officially recognized as a crime against humanity and need reparations and restitutions of stolen goods,” Tirolien says. “Getting justice is the only way we can begin a process of forgiveness and healing.”

This song is amazing with some absolutely fantastic solos throughout. The song starts out with four, yes four, percussionists playing a pumping rhythm: Keita Ogawa, Jamey Haddad, André Ferrari, and Weedie Braimah.

Then bassist Michael League follows the same rhythm making it a melody.  Three guitars join in.  A lap steel from Roosevelt Collier and more guitars from Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bob Lanzetti and Chris McQueen one of whom plays a fantastic ethereal solo in the middle of the song.  It’s followed by a hand drum solo After a little bass solo one of the frummers (the one with the full kit) amusingly hits a tiny cymbal to get the song moving again.

Alina Engibaryan introduces the final song “We Are.”    She explains that the song

strives to bring people together, “I wanted to write a song that has a message about people, where regardless of our beliefs, our political views, our race, color, we are all human beings and made of the same thing,” Engibaryan says. “I hope people will understand that one day and will learn to love, respect and accept one another.”

It’s a time when hate has reached its limits.

It opens with gentle piano from Taylor Eigsti and some soft but complex drumming from Eric Harland. Chris Potter plays an introductory saxophone melody.  Alina Engibaryan playing Rhodes and Moog bass sings the first verse (and is backed up by Michael League).  Then in a surprise, Gregory Porter jumps in to sing the middle verse.

Whether or not this was meant as an introduction to the bands on the label, it is a terrific way to experience them in a short time with great songs.

[READ: December 5, 2020] “Fast Hands, Fast Feet”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 5. Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of We Cast a Shadow, refuses to part with his cassette collection.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the kind of story that I knew I wouldn’t like because of the way it started.

Sentences like “Who still on cassettes, anyway? What year they think this is, 1980?” made me knew it wasn’t really meant for me.

But still, the story was engaging.

A young girl (woman?) has been breaking into cars, looking for something valuable.  A man spies her and tells her it’s cool, but she’s not about to wait and see what he’s all about.

She runs (“fast feet”) for the underpass where she and Queen Elizabeth Two call home.  But while she is settling in, a hand grabs her.  It’s the same man.  She panics but he calms her down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE-“Killing the Name” (1991).

I was living in Boston when this song came out.  It was an electrifying shot across the bow of institutional racism–thirty years before that terms was on everyone’s lips.

This song was amazingly catchy and very vulgar.

It had few lyrics, but they were repeated over and over–a chant, a call to action.

Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses…
Well now you do what they told ya…
Those who died are justified
For wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites
You justify those that died
By wearing the badge
They’re the chosen whites…

The song begins with a staccato opening, then some thumping bass and drums.  A cow bell and off goes the riff.  It’s as jagged and aggressive as angry as the lyrics.

The bridge is a pounding three note blast as the sections repeat.

Then comes a guitar solo.  One thing I remember distinctly when this album came out was that most of the talk was of Tom Morello’s guitar playing.  The album stated in the liner notes “no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record.”  It was an odd disclaimer, but with the bizarre sounds that Morello made, it was fascinating to wonder how he did it all.

The solo came at the four minute mark and, if radio wanted to play the song, they could fade it right there (that’s still plenty long for the radio).  But if they didn’t, then the chaos began, with crashing drums, and a slow build as Zach de la Rocha started quietly and got louder the simple but effective refrain

Fuck you. I won’t do what you tell me.

A band anda  room full of people chanting that song might just frighten the authorities a bit.

And that’s why in 2020, that song is being played a lot.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “On Defense”

A quote attributed to Dostoyevsky (who evidently never said it) is”

The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

This quote is in the visitor center of the Manhattan Detention Complex (known as The Tombs). De La Pava says The Tombs is “one of the most hideous places on earth.”

I have really enjoyed Sergio De La Pava’s fiction.  I knew that he was involved in the New York City court system (his novels were too detailed about the system for him not to be).  This essay is a non-fiction account of his time as a public defender (he is still in the system, and is now the legal director of New York County Defender Services).

It seems like the public defender is not always appreciated–he or she stands in the way of putting criminals behind bars.  But De La Pava’s experience (along with many of the accused) shows that he has the really hard but important task of keeping innocent people from unfair punishment. (more…)

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