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Archive for the ‘Robots’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CLIPPING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW: #190 (April 5, 2021).

Every year, NPR Music participates in the SXSW music festival, whether it’s curating a stage or simply attending hundreds of shows at the annual event in Austin, Texas. Last year, the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it returned this March as an online festival. We programmed a ‘stage’ of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and presented them on the final day of the festival. Now, we present to you Tiny Desk Meets SXSW: four videos filmed in various locations, all of them full of surprises.

clipping. is an intense band.  I had the pleasure of seeing them live opening for the Flaming Lips.  I was hoping to see them again before the pandemic hit.  This Tiny Desk doesn’t in any way replicate a live show because they play a little visual trick on the viewer–and they keep it up for the whole set.

Leave it to clipping. to innovate around the central notion of the Tiny Desk; to take the series’ emphasis on close-up intimacy and transport it to new heights of, well, tininess.

clipping is a dark, violent band

Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes craft a bed of hip-hop, industrial music and noisy experimentalism, then set loose rapper Daveed Diggs, whose violent imagery summons ’90s horrorcore and a thousand bloody movies. The band’s last two album titles — There Existed an Addiction to Blood and Visions of Bodies Being Burned — offer up a sense of the vibe, but Diggs’ gift for rapid-fire wordplay also acts as a leavening agent.

That’s right, Daveed Diggs.

The guy won a Tony Award for playing Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton, and he still knows how to sell every word that leaves his lips.

So it’s especially amusing to see them have a lot of fun with the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  The video opens with a few scenes of tables and gear.  But when the show starts, Daveed Diggs picks up a microphone that’s about the size of a toothpick and starts rapping into it.

  And when William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes come in they are playing laptops and other gear that’s barely an inch in length. I have to assume that this stuff doesn’t actually work and yet they are taking their job very seriously–touching and sliding and tapping and looping on these preposterous toys.

“Something Underneath” starts quietly and then Diggs shows off some of is incredibly fast rapping skills.  Then the guy on the right (I’m not sure who is who) comes into the cameras and starts messing with his tiny gear.  After about 2 minutes the guy on the left comes in and starts making all kinds of distorted beats.  It starts getting louder and louder and louder until the noise fades out and its just Diggs’ voice looping “morning” as he moves the camera and he starts the slower track

The only movement in the video is Diggs moving his camera around to different angles for each song.

“Bout That” is fairly quite until a few minutes in when the song launches off.

Diggs shifts his camera and is finally fully on screen before they start the creepy “Check the Lock.”  It’s got clanking and scratching and pulsing noises for the line

something in this room didn’t used to be / he ain’t ever scared tough / but he check the lock every time we walks by the door.

Midway through the guy on the left starts cranking a tiny music box and he plays it through the next two songs.

It segues into “Shooter” [is there a name for this style of rapping–each line has a pause and a punchline–I really like it].

The music box continues into “The Show” which starts to build louder and louder, getting more an more chaotic.  It fades and builds noisier and chaotic once more until it reduces to a simple beat.  And the guy on the right drinks from his can of BEER.

Noisy squealing introduces “Nothing Is Safe.”  Daveed is pretty intense as he raps “death comes for everyone” pause and then full on sound as he resumes.

clipping is not for everyone–certainly not for people who want to see the guy from Hamilton (he was doing clipping before Hamilton, by the way).  But it creates an intense mood.

The blurb says that Chukwudi Hodge plays drums, but I didn’t see or hear any so i assume that’s a mistake.

[READ: April 21, 2021] Better Than Life

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know of the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This second book picks up from where the events of the previous book cliffhangered us.  There is a TV episode called “Better Than Life” and this book is kind of an super- mega-hyper-expanded version of that episode.  Except that the things that happened in the episode don’t even really happen in the book, either.

The basics of the episode are that Better Than Life is a video game that allows your deepest subconscious fantasies to come true.  And since everything is your fantasy, this game is indeed Better Than Life.  It’s easy to leave the game.  All you have to do is want to.  But who would want to leave a game when everything in it is better than what you’d be leaving it for?

As such, your body stars to wither and decay because you don’t eat, you don’t move, you just exist.  It’s a deadly game.

Rimmer’s fantasy at the end of the first book was that he had married a supermodel–a gorgeous babe whom every man wanted.  Except that she wouldn’t let him touch her for insurance reasons.  Rimmer has a problem or thirty with his self image.  But he was still super wealthy and women everywhere adored him. However as this book opens, he has divorced his babe and married a boring woman who also doesn’t want to have sex with him.  As thing move along, he loses his fortune and, ultimately his hologrammatic body.  He becomes just a voice.  Through a serious of hilarious mistakes, he winds up in the body of a woman.

One of the nice aspects of this book is that Grant Naylor have Rimmer see what a douchey sexist man he’s been all this time–believing all women were either his mother or a sex bomb.

The Cat’s scenario is pretty much all libido–Valkyrie warriors serving him and he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants–his clock doesn’t have times, it has activities: nap, sex, eat, nap, sleep, etc.

The one difference is that Kryten is there with him.  Kryten’s deepest fantasy is leaning, and so he keeps finding new things to clean in Cat’s world.

There’s another wonderful bit of anti-religion in this book (there’s always some anti-religion aspect in these stories).  In this one they talk about Silicon Heaven.

The best way to keep the robots subdued was to give them religion. … almost everything with a hint of artificial intelligence was programmed to believe that Silicon Heaven was he electronic afterlife….

If machines served their human masters with diligence and dedication, they would attain everlasting life in mechanical paradise when their components finally ran down.

At last they had solace. They were every bit as exploited as they’d always been, but now they believed there was some kind of justice at the end of it.

Lister’s fantasy is the same as it was before.  He’s living in the city from It’s a Wonderful Life and he’s married to Kristine Kochanski and he has two boys.  As the book opens there’s  a wonderfully touching moment with his family and his kids.

But it is abruptly demolished when a woman driving a tractor trailer crashes the truck in to Bedford Falls.  Literally all of Bedford Falls–every building is demolished or caught on fire.  There’s virtually nothing left.  And when the woman gets out of the truck dressed as  a prostitute and claims to know Lister, well, Kristine takes their boys and leaves him.  He has nothing.

It should come as no surprise that the woman is actually Rimmer.

What about Holly, the ship’s computer with an IQ of 6,000?  Can’t he save them?  Well, no.  He can’t get into the game, plus, he’s going a little crazy from being alone for so long.  So crazy in fact that he decides to start talking to Talkie Toaster, a gag gift that Lister bought for $19.99.

The sequence with the toaster is hilarious on the show (it only wants to talk about bready products!) and it translates perfectly to the book as well.  Essentially, Talkie Toaster encourages Holy to increase his IQ (which has been slowly leaking away) at the risk of shortening his life span.  Unfortunately, things go a little awry and Holly’s IQ eclipses 12,000. But his run time is cut to a number if minutes.

So he need to turn everything off if he wants to stay alive. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Lost Society (2020).

Voivod have been around for over 30 years.  In that time, they’ve releases only four lives albums.  The first one was from the period when their original and current singer had departed, so that doesn’t really count.  In 2011 they released Warriors of Ice, a live album that featured the reunited original lineup minus deceased guitarist Piggy.  The third was a limited release from the 2011 Roadburn Festival.

Thus, we have this new release to acknowledge the excellence of their 2018 album The Wake.  This show was recorded at Quebec City Summer Fest on July 13, 2019.  I saw them on this tour on April 5, 2019.  The setlist was largely the same, although they played more in their hometown (and I would have loved to see “Astronomy Domine”).

Being in front of a hometown crowd has the band fully energized.  It also allows Snake to speak French to the audience, which is fun.

Most of Voivod’s music is really complicated and difficult (the chords that Piggy and now Chewy came up with are pretty hard to imagine).  And yet they play everything perfectly.  There’s not a lot of room for jamming when the songs are this tight and complex, but it’s clear the band are enjoying themselves anyway.

Since this is touring their new album, the majority of songs (4) are from it with two more songs from their 2016 EP Post Society.  The rest of the set is pretty much a song from each of the albums prior to 1993 (excluding the album with the best name: Rrröööaaarrr).

They interfile the new songs with the older ones, and it feels really seamless.  This shows how much of a student of Piggy new guitarist Chewy turned out to be.

The few times that Snake speaks in English, he says that Angel Rat’s “The Prow” is “time to dance time to party have fun” something one wouldn’t expect to do at a Voivod show, but compared to their other songs, it is pretty dancey.

My favorite Voivod album (aside from The Wake, which is really outstanding) is Nothingface, so I was really excited to hear “Into My Hypercube” and to hear that Rocky’s bass sounded just right.

Their older stuff is a little less complex and proggy so a song like 1987’s “Overreaction” is a bit heavier and straight ahead.

One of the more entertaining moments is during the opening of “The Lost Machine” where Snake stands between Chewy and Rocky and waves his arms to strum the chords first guitar, then bass, then guitar then bass, etc.

It is strange to think that this is only one-half of the classic line up.  In fact, drummer Away is the only person to have never left the band.  I assumed that when Piggy died, there was no point in continuing, but these replacements were really great.

And, Snake makes sure we never forget Piggy.  They end every show with the song that has the same name as the band.  And before they play it, he starts a chant “Piggy! Piggy!”  In this live recording, you can hear the audience screaming along to “voivod,” a nonsensical word that remains strong thirty-five years on.

The setlist for the album is at the bottom of the post.  I sure hope they tour around here again someday.

[READ: April 20, 2021] Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers

I don’t recall when I started watching Red Dwarf–some time in the 90s, I suspect.  I don’t even know if the show was ever very poplar here in the States, so it’s kind of a surprise that these two Red Dwarf novels even had a U.S. release.  But they did. And I bought them (and read them, I think, although it’s all new to me 30 years later) sometime when they came out.

So Grant Naylor is the cleverly combined names of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor–back when they were working together (I’m not sure why one of them left).   They penned two Red Dwarf books together, then they each wrote a Red Dwarf book separately.

This first one is basically an expanded version of some of the episodes from the first and second season.

Most of the jokes from the episodes are present here–so it’s easy to picture the characters saying the lines.  But there’s also a ton of new stuff.  Much of it fleshes out things that happened in the show, but still other things are brand new.

The book starts with the death of a Red Dwarf crew member.  He is now a hologram and rather than being excited about being alive, he is horrified to think of all the things his wife will get up to now that he is dead but aware of what is happening.  We also meet another man who is about to die–this time by suicide.  He is in debt for a lot of money and decided it was better than being beaten to death by the men he owed money to.

Turns out, this man outranked the first man and since the Red Dwarf mining ship could only support one hologram, this man was brought back at the expense of the first one.  A lot of ground is covered in these first two chapters and we haven’t even met any of the main characters of the show yet.

Dave Lister comes along in Chapter 3.  For those unfamiliar with the show, Dave Lister is the main character and also the last human being alive.  In the show he is three million years into deep space.  But he had been in stasis so he is only 27 when he is brought out and told the news that everyone is dead.

But as the book starts, Lister is miserable on a planet Mimas.  He got really drunk at his birthday party in Liverpool and, by the end of the night, he was on a planet very far from home with no money to get back. (more…)

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25938055SOUNDTRACK: MALAWI MOUSE BOYS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #42 (July 1, 2020).

mouseThis Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is from Malawi in Southeastern Africa.  The performer is Nelson Mulligo of the Malawi Mouse Boys.

He only plays one song, but it’s really cool.  Bob Boilen tells us some very important details about the song, the singer and the band.

We see his two-room home in the opening shot where he and his family live without plumbing or electricity. Then we see Nelson, standing below the power lines, holding his homemade guitar singing, “I’m So Tired of You.” It’s a song that sings out the evils of poverty, a life of hard physical work, of making money scavenging for mice amongst boars and snakes so they can sell them as roasted mice shish kabobs along the roadside. We only get one song, and even that cuts off abruptly, but I was deeply moved when producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, The Good Ones) sent it my way. He and his wife Marilena Umuhoza Delli met and recorded the Malawi Mouse Boys in 2011. You can hear Ian Brennan tell his story on NPR’s Weekend Edition. If you fall in love with what you hear, give a listen to the entire band harmonize. You can find their music on Bandcamp here. Even though the group played Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in 2015, they still live in poverty. Support what you love.

The song is simple and very catchy with Mulligo’s voice sounding strong and really lovely and his homemade guitar sounding great.

[READ: July 2, 2020] Nichijou 1

This book was recommended to me based on some other manga that I had read.  I didn’t know Keiichi Arawi [あらゐけいいち] or anything about Nichijou, but the cover picture of a classroom full of kids with a deer on one of the desks looked promisingly funny.  As did the comments about the series being delightfully surreal.

It is very surreal.  So much so that I finished the book with a massive question mark hanging over my head.  I literally had no idea what was going on.

When I looked up some information about the series (there are dozens of books and a TV show), I learned some details about what I was reading.  When I re-read it, it made a lot more sense, but was still really bizarre and not easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAPTAIN GROOVY & HIS BUBBLEGUM ARMY-“Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army” (1969).

Was there ever a band made for its time more than Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army?  In addition to the hippie component, there’s even “bubblegum” in the title.  [The “golden age” of Bubblegum Music was 1966-1970].

I’ve never heard of them or this song before.  It made it to #128 on the charts.  So who were they?

This band was a studio project constructed by bubblegum music kings Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who were also the masterminds behind the Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Music Explosion.

They released one 45 (‘Captain Groovy And His Bubble Gum Army’ b/w ‘Dark Part Of My Mind, Part 1’) on the Super K label in 1969. Joey Levine, lead singer of the Ohio Express, provides vocals on the record, which was originally intended to be the soundtrack to a cartoon series titled ‘Captain Groovy And His Bubble Gum Army’, but it never got off the ground.

Perhaps it never got off the ground because they couldn’t decide if it was “bubblegum” or “bubble gum.”

Despite the name, his song seems to defy the concept of bubblegum music.  There’s not a lot of music in the song.  There’s a melody but it’s mostly provided by the bass and vocals.  The drums are also too loud for bubblegum.  Indeed, this song feels much more psychedelic, which makes sense given the time.  I guess the name is misleading in several ways.

The bridge of the song features a slowly increasing riff that leads a lot of tension and the guitar solo at the end is quite anarchic.

I can’t imagine what the show would have been like.

[READ: May 18, 2020] Bubblegum Week 2

Over at the Infinite Zombies site, there was talk of doing a Quarantine book read.  After debating a few books, we decided to write about a new book, not a book that everyone (or some people) had read already.  This new book would be Bubblegum by Adam Levin.  Many of us had read Levin’s massive The Instructions which was not especially challenging, although it was a complex meta-fictional story of books within books.  It was kind of disturbing, but also rather funny and very entertaining.

So I’ll be posting weekly ideas on this schedule

Date Through Page
May 11 81
May 18 176
May 25 282
June 1 377
June 8 476
June 15 583
June 22 660
June 29 767

Facts are Subjective Anyway

I wasn’t planning on focusing on names again this week, but there are a few things that came up that put names back on my radar.  The first of which was the fact that he mentions Adam Levin, author of the novel The Instructions, as a person who smoked as much as he does.  But speaking of this, there is a lot of fiction within fiction revealed here.  So these were two interesting ideas.

In fact though, this was a tough section to write about because a lot happened.  With more action, there seemed to be less to ponder because so much moved things forward.  Not a lot happened in the first week, but comparatively, this was action galore.

Chapter 1, Section 4 “All-Encompassing and Tyrannical”

As this part opens, Belt muses about Lotta’s conspicuous generosity.  As with many other things in this story so far, Belt is super analytical.  He decides that her generosity had to mean something.  But what.

  • What she too spidged to realize she’d given so much money?
  • Was it a communication of some kind?  But what?
  • Was she hinting that she loved him?
  • If she did, it was not mutual but he didn’t want to offend her.  So how should he proceed with the loan?  Anything he did might offend her, which he didn’t want to do.

He “knew a stalemate of hypotheticals when [he] saw one.”

The question of if he should spend the money is mooted when his father returns early.

His father tells a lengthy story about why he left the fishing trip.  He’d gotten a fight with his friends who claimed that Belt was a puker.  Belt did once puke  on a fishing trip.  Clyde’s friend Rick’s son Jim pretty much butchered a fish trying to take the hook out and belt threw up.  Rick said they call Belt “the Duke of Puke.” So Clyde got into a fight with his best friend.  He also realized he’d forgotten to leave Belt money so he came home early.

Clyde is a prickly dude to be sure.  Here’s a couple of example of Clyde’s behavior to his son.

He asked if it was I who’d left the water on the kitchen table, and, if so then why had I left the water on the kitchen table, but before I could answer either question, he’d already begun to sarcastically offer a number of reasons why someone who has just celebrated his thirty-eighth birthday might feel entitled to leave water on a table instead of feeling obligated to spill it in a sink and wash its container or, at the very least, rinse its container. He didn’t say container, but he didn’t only say tumbler.  He named a large assortment of containers–glass, cup, mug, tankard, stein, grail, chalice, etc.–as if he felt that uttering a exhaustive list of names of containers from which one might drink was necessary to bringing his point across with clarity.
When at least he finished speaking, I told him I wasn’t yet finished with the water.
“So finish it,” he said.

We also learn that Clyde had not only purchased one of the “Jonboat Say” T-shirts, he mounted it in a glass frame (and assumed that it bugged Belt.  It did, but doesn’t any longer.

Chapter 1, Section 5 “On the Chin” also has a lot of “action.”

Belt talks to a few inans and it’s interesting to learn that the inans have opinions about each other.

The slide is a whiner and mocks Belt for having to talk to the inans out loud rather than in his head.  The slide encourages him to try to talk in his head, but it’s so muffled the slide rips him apart.

He leaves the slide and when his feet hit the ground, the SafeSurf spoke up.  The SafeSurf is empathetic. and here we get some more incorrect names.  The SafeSurf initially calls him Blight Magnificat.  ||I knew Magnificat sounded off||.  SafeSurf also reveals how much he dislikes the slide because the slide has been calling him |not pebbles| because it replaced pebbles, I guess. But even that’s insulting because SafeSurf didn’t replace pebbles it replaced woodchips which replaced the pebbles.

Then comes the frankly astonishing information that there is a girl, unnamed of course, who can also speak to inans.  Belt has known about this girl for some twenty years and had been looking for her.  But how do you find someone who is talking to inanimate objects?  Especially if she is talking to them in her head.  The inans can’t tell people apart aside from gender, so they’re no help.

Then we hear that ten years ago she had killed herself with pills in the bathtub (news travels slowly among inans but it does travel).  But now the SafeSurf tells him there is a new girl who an talk to inans and it has encountered her.

Then comes some real drama and real action.

Five fourteen year old boys all wearing identical baseball hats embroidered with “yachts” approach.  Their names are on the brims: LYLE, BRYCE, CHAZ, CHAZ JR.  There was a fifth who was further back and called Triple-J (or Trip).  Belt had let Blank out and the boys spotted it immediately The boys think Blank is adorable and want to buy it.  The fifth boy is ignoring them as he is doing something by the slide.

Belt gets tense about the boys closing in on him and he lashes out at them.  Triple-J comes over and subdues him but jumping on his kidneys.  But in a remarkably restrained manner.  He even makes sure that Belt is okay.  But belt has figured out who this boy is.  When Triple-J said “Dicksneeze,” Belt knew that it was Jonboat’s son.

After the beating Belt passed out.  When he wakes up he find a cure taped to the slide–Triple-J had taped him there with Band-Aids.

Belt brought the cure home and wanted to save it.  He doesn’t want to dact on the cure because he wants to remain innocent of that experience.  He assumes that the cure has bonded with Triple-J, so he knows he will need the Independence

He thinks of Chad-Kyle because of his Bic lighter. The sound it makes is claimed to be a flick but it is duosyllabic and it sounds a lot like CHAD-kyle.

Chapter 1, Section 6 is called “Toe”

The cure that belt brought home died over night (Belt tried to save it but wound up killing it instead).  The cure had been in the process of laying a reproductive pearl.

Belt is actually burying the dead cure in the backyard when his father sees him.

It begins with a possibly touching moment between Belt and Clyde.  Clyde got a cure from the cuddlefarmer at the brothel the night before with the intent of then both dacting on it together–a bonding experience.  But it was so cute that Clyde couldn’t get it to his mouth fast enough.

When Clyde sees him burying a cure, he assumes they both self-dacted which makes them even.

But then there’s more of Clyde’s prickliness.

Speaking of forgot, I hope you’re better at remembering which hook you took that spade from than you are at remembering to lock the shed door.
I had locked the shed door.  “It’s locked,” I said.
“Sure,” said my father, “I can see it’s locked now, but it wasn’t while you did whatever you were doing with my spade over there for however long you did it.”
“No one would’ve broken in while I was standing in sight of it.”
I didn’t say they would.  I’m talking about habits. The more often you fail to lock the shed when you leave it, the more likely you are to forget to lock the shed.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Trust me,” he said.
“I trust you,” I said.
“Don’t get all autistic, I’m fucking with you Billy.  Lighten up.  Take it easy.

As Belt leaves the scene, Clyde says he’ll just dig up whatever Belt has buried (which Belt said was a 25 year-old cure).

Belt goes to the bank to return Lotta’s money and to talk to Chad-Kyle about Independence.

He has an awesome conversation with Gus about handkerchiefs and how the demise of the handkerchief is essentially responsible for the death of romance and the rise of child beating (its pretty spectacular).

Gus is an interesting character and Belt likes him.  He even says “I really like your name.  It’s an old-timey name.  A tough kind of name, but not like a bully.  Just straight up tough.

When Belt reveals that his father is Clyde Franklin Magnet, Gus knows him–he was Clyde’s supervisor (before he retired or, you know, was fired).

Later Gus says to Belt, “And so your name’s uh–its’ Cuff, right?”

Belt says he’ll give him an autographed copy of No Please Don’t.  And soon enough Belt’s book will come into prominence in the story.

But first he goes to talk to Chad-Kyle who is trying to get his Independence cure (and two others) to do a (violent) trick which he thinks will get him on the marketing plan for Independence.

Chad-Kyle goes on a long, hilariously inaccurate, diversion about the inventor of dynamite.  “I can’t remember his name” [Aflred Nobel].  Nobel created it to blow up mountains but then someone realized it could be used as a weapon in WWI against the Nazis.  That’s when he had his Topeka moment.  When Belt says he doesn’t think that’s right, Chad-Kyle says, “facts are subjective anyway.”

Finally Lotta Hogg drags Belt away (No worries, Beltareeno) and says she wants to take Belt to lunch.  She says she hates the idea of killing cures–and this makes him think twice about her.  He calls CK a “wang scab” but she says he’s not that bad.  She is playing Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the first music mentioned in the book, I believe.

They go to Arcades Brothel.  They recently started serving pizza (which Belt decides isn’t very good).  Lotta orders them a flight of slices (ha).  It turns out Lotta’s mother is the cutefarmer who sold Clyde the cure last night.

Belt goes into the bathroom trying to decides if he could actually like or even love someone like Lotta.  When he returns he sees that she has a cures toe in her cleavage.  (His mind comes up with some repulsive alternatives before realizing what it actually is).

She tries to get him to eat one, “PWEESE? Aw we want is Cwoseness.”  But Belt will have none of it.

Chapter 1, Section 7 “What the Gold Should Have Done”

The final section of the chapter features Triple-J at the Magnet house.  It also features a lot of detail about No Please Don’t.

Belt says there are three vaguely autobiographical moments in the novel.  Although he won’t spoil the novel by revealing anything more than that Gil Benjamin MacCabby is mourning the loss of his beloved Bam Naka action figure and the chipmunk episode resonates for him in a way it really didn’t for Belt.  (I’m not detailing the chipmunk episode).

When Belt gets home, Triple-J greets him with a quote from the book, “What should gold have done.”

Triple-J says he loves No Please Don’t.  It’s the first book he ever loved and he has read it many times.

Jonboat’s former driver is now driving around Triple-J.  His name is Burroughs.  Belt tells Burroughs to call him “Belt,” but his father says “Call him Billy.”

Clyde and Burroughs get into a tough guy conflict that leads to nothing.  Eventually, Triple-J (Burroughs calls him Trip) invites Belt and his father to “the compound.”

Before they leave, Burroughs takes Belt aside and says that Jonboat was convinced that Belt modeled Bam Naka after him.  He was quite upset about it but has since gotten over it.  Belt assures him that Jonboat is tangentially involved in the narrator if at all.

Triple-J asks if Belt will watch his movie  A Fistful of Fists, and read his two papers “On Private Viewing,” and “Living Isn’t Functioning.”

But despite how much Belt would like to engage with Trip’s media, he decided to reread Chapter 9 (the end of part 1–this is also the end of part 1) of No Please Don’t, the first time he’s read it since he wrote it.

Gil MacCabe is 9 years old.  He was given a ring by his father and he suspects it is not real gold.  Like any good watcher of cartoons, he decides to test the realness of the gold by biting it, as any good cartoon prospector would do.  of course he [like me] doesn’t know what the biting is supposed to prove.

He winds up ruining the ring, but doesn’t know what it even means.

Of all the nugget-biters in the Westerns Gil’s seen…not one of them ever even once explains just what the nugget did or didn’t do between his teeth to assuage his suspicions of its being fools’ gold or confirm his hopes of its being real gold.

This leads to Gil remembering back when he was 3 or 4 years old.  Gil thought about how on shows glass would break.  So when his mother served him water in a glass instead of a sippy cup he wanted to know what kind of glass this was.  His mother doesn’t understand and says it’s just glass.  Glass is glass.

But Gil doesn’t believe his mom wasn’t horrible enough to give him dangerous glass.  So he bit the rim.

It hurt. He bled.  It was all her fault.

Triple-J related to this accusing line that it was all her fault, although Belt didn’t mean it the way Trip took it.

Gil was wrong that it was his mother’s fault.  He was just too young to know it.  But Trip must have made a psychological connection because of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent death in a car collision.  Darla Pellmore-Jason, née Field, may not have been an alcoholic when they were married, but she became one after Jon Jon left her for Fondajane Henry.  Presumably Trip felt that Belt also didn’t think very highly of mothers.

On the plus side, Belt takes Triple-J’s misunderstanding as a good sign.  When he was younger, Belt misunderstood J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey) and Kafka (“A Hunger Artist” this time) when he first read them.  Now he sees Trip’s misreading of his book as making him comparable to Salinger and Kafka.

He ends the section by referencing the section above “All Encompassing and Tyrannical” and the time he refused his father’s invitation to go see the Mustangs game and get ice cream.  he promises to mention other times when No Please Don’t was autobiographical in the next few sections.

~~~~

Language is so clearly very important to Levin.  You can see it in misunderstandings–as in No Please Don’t or in getting people’s names wrong.

But also in Levin’s use of exotic words.

He emphasizes the word taction (which the dictionary says is obsolete) as the unexpected word for the act of touching.  Belt says, “It seemed important to recall the word.”

And also in this phrasing after Belt gets beaten up: “I was, somewhat literarily, yards from where I’d lain when my father first taught me all he knew about suffering. [emphasis mine].

The use of literarily hearkens back not only to the meta-novel within a novel but also to Belt’s referencing The Instructions earlier in the section.

~~~~

Aside from Salinger and Kafka and The Instructions, there’s no other stories mentioned, I don’t think.

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

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

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

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

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

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

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

After this song he played

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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516ZKjM2CqL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) SOUNDTRACK: ELISAPIE-Tiny Desk Concert #948 (February 20, 2020).

downloadElisapie (I have no idea how to pronounce that) is a First Nations singer from Salluit, on the Northern tip of Quebec.

She sings in Inuktitut (as well as in English and French).  And her voice is absolutely intense.

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

her life as an adopted child and of meeting her biological mother. Now, as a mother herself, she sings about what it must have meant to her own mother to give up her child.

Elisapie left her birth-village, Salluit, as a teenager and headed to Montreal, leaving her community and her sick mom. The songs she sings, here all come from her album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl and deal with the consequences of her leaving.

These songs are definitely rock, but with a different overall sound.  Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone is fantastic–creating deep low rumbles and otherworldly squawks.

“Arnaq” opens with some chugging guitar riffs (I can’t tell if the guitar is acoustic or electric) from Joe Grass and after a verse or so, some great noisy electric guitars from Josh Toal, who punctuates the song with little solos.  There’s no bass guitar because the bass saxophone covers all of the low ends.

The song, even though it is in Inuktitut is rally catchy with a chorus of “ahhhhhh, I, yi, I” (or something).

The middle section is full of great noises as both guitars and the sax all play some wild solos.

All of this is held together by “the tasteful drumming of Evan Tighe.”

She says the second song, “Una” is the most painful yet the most freeing song.  It is  written to her biological mother.  In Inuktitut the word for mother means “our little bag” because they carried us.

It opens with slow staccato guitar chords and a near a capella vocal before the quiet electric guitar from Josh Toal joins in.  The spareness of the beginning of this song is a great counterpoint to the end of the song when everyone joins in–vocals, guitars, sax and some complex drumming.

Before the final song, she looks around and smiles and says Lizzo was here!  My daughter is very excited.

The final song “Darkness Bring The Light” opens with some great weird sounds from everyone.  Tighe makes scraping metallic sounds as he slides his drum sticks around the cymbals.  Toal plays a synth intro as Grass bows his guitar and Sharp makes waves of gentle sounds to underpin the melody

This one is in English.  She sings a melody that rides over the sounds.  After 2 minutes the drums kick in and after a run through of the chorus, the guitarists join in

Bob Boilen concludes

This is an extraordinary Tiny Desk from an artist with something meaningful to say.

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

[READ: March 10, 2020] Gunnerkrigg Court 4 [32-41]

I really enjoyed the first three books of this series and then promptly forgot about it.  I happened to see this book at the library and was excited to see that I hadn’t read it.  Can it really have been three years since I last read about these characters?

Being away for so long made some of this a little confusing.  I will have to read the whole story again some time.

Chapter 32 shows Antimony returning from the forest and there is a warm welcome with Renard. But Katarina’s welcome is cool–“you kinda make it hard to be your friend.” Antimony tries very hard to make Kat like her again…too hard.  She creates scary situations in which she can “save” Kat,  It doesn’t exactly work, although Kat isn’t really mad anymore, just annoyed.  But then a gigantic creepy monster thing comes out of the water.  Kat is impressed by Annie’s conjuring until Annie says she didn’t do it.  They run out.

Only to learn that this is Lindsey–the creature who helped design most of everything at the court–a giant crablike creature.

All this time Kat has been working on the idea of growing a robot.  Well, not exactly, but kind of.  She imagines using a muscular frame to build a robot body around.  Or something.  She is able to use the smarts of one of the existing robots to give her a hand.  The code they provide is actually a small white cube with no writing on it.  Amazingly Kat is able to read parts of it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUNNY WAR-Tiny Desk Concert #910 (November 13, 2019).

Sunny War says twice that she’s not going to talk.  She saves all of her words for her songs.

Her voice is soft and gentle, but her words are strong.

The first song “If It Wasn’t Broken” features the chorus “how would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?”

Further lyrics in this slow and simple song:

so you lost your baby
so you lost your job
so you lost all faith
in the one you call god.

Dang.

These are words from a young woman who has been homeless, busked on city streets and Venice Beach, left home feeling she was a burden to her distraught mother, had her life complicated by drugs, and yet still found a way to pick up a guitar and bring joy to others.

Her songs aren’t complicated, but they feature some really excellent fingerpicking.  “Got No Ride” has a lot of beautiful interludes (including one part where she is fingerpicking and bending a string at the same time).

Sunny War began learning guitar from her uncle at around the age of seven. One of the early songs she learned was The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” an almost prophetic tune with the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” But it was the fingerpicking that was the attraction for Sunny War. She loved playing guitar that way as opposed to strumming and, as you watch this Tiny Desk, you’ll see what a fluid and remarkable guitar player she’s become.

The song also features some extra bass lines from Aroyn Davis (The first song didn’t really have noticeable bass).

“Love Became Pain” is a lot faster, with some really impressive guitar work.  Clearly from the title, though, this isn’t a happy song either.  I like the shuffle drums that Paul Allen gets using brushes on the cajón.

The final song, “Shell” opens with the lines:

“Before you rip your girl to shreds / Be sure you really want her dead.”

With such a pretty melody, too!

Much like her name, Sunny War’s music is a wonder of contradictions.

[READ: February 2, 2020] Rust: Volume 4

This book concludes the Rust saga.

Like the first book, there are a ton of pages with no dialogue.  This story is wonderfully told with just visuals.  And Lepp’s visuals are really amazing–what he accomplishes with such  limited color palette is really impressive.

The book starts with a flashback to the war 48 years ago.  It’s been awhile since I read the first book but I feel like this intro pages are exactly the same.  We see Jet Jones rescue a man by creating a large shield.  I’m not sure if there;s some more significance.  I’m also not sure if we’re supposed to know who the man is.

But the story quickly jumps back to the Taylor’s farm.  The really menacing robots are closing in.  Oz has a shotgun in ready.  And the engineer is carrying Jet Jones’ limp body away with him.

The robots arrive (why does it amuse me that they open the door) and Oz shoots, which awakens the family.

A terrible battle commences in the house with all of the people getting hurt, but with all of them doing a good job of harming the robots.  Jet comes in at the last second and smashes up some of the robots.  In the process reveals his mechanical arm.  The family is shocked, except for Oz.  Roman is furious that Jet lied. (more…)

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