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Archive for the ‘Sci-fi’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE BIG TOWN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #91 (October 6, 2020).

Little Big Town is a country band that has been around for a while.  I feel like I’ve heard of them, but I’m not sure.

Evidently the band is really the four main singers, but they have added more touring members for this Concert.

They open with “Nightfall.” It has nice folkie guitar and Karen Fairchild sings with a strong folksinger style. The snaps from Hubert Payne’s drums really ring out in a cool way.  Thee upright bass John Thomasson adds a nice anchor to the melody.

I thought maybe they weren’t all that country after all.  But as soon as the chorus jumps in and the accents start flying–especially the high notes from Kimberly Schlapman–the country has come into the house.  The song is catchy though.

Up next guitarist Phillip Sweet jokes is the “most profound thing” they’ve done.  “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” opens with a surprise trumpet intro from Jacob Bryant.  Although songs about drinking are about as cliché as they come, the stompin,’ dopey tone is quite fun and Jimi Westbrook’s lead delivery sells it well.

They apparently use some songwriters known as the Love Junkies who came up with “Girl Crush.”  There’s some nice harmonies on this track.  You really can’t hear keyboard player Akil Thompson on the other songs, but his chords ring through here.  Westbrook puts down his guitar while Sweet plays.

They end with “Boondocks” their first hit about where they come from.  I like the bowed bass and Evan Weatherford’s slide guitar lead, but the thought of thousands of people stompin’ along to these lyrics is a tad disturbing.

[READ: October 5, 2020] Parable of the Talents [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African -America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

I first looked at the date of 1998 and thought it was so current, not exactly realizing it was 22 years (and a lifetime) ago.  Without even reading the story, just reading the above paragraph, it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Reagan wrought.  He really was the beginning of the end for the country.

And Butler could totally read the writing on the wall.

Not much happens in this excerpt.  A farm is burned and most people killed. the refugees take shelter with the narrator at their farm/commune.

It’s the details below that are so chilling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LINDA DIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert (October 5, 2020).

In the past I’ve been quite aware of the Tiny desk Contest winner.  But this year, with the pandemic , it passed me by completely.

So I don’t know anything about Diaz or any of the other competitors, except for what I just looked up now.

And I find it a little cheaty that she won because

Diaz actually made an appearance at the Tiny Desk last year, as a backup singer for Jordan Rakei.

However, she seems very nice and I’m happy for her that she won, especially after reading the blurb she wrote for this concert.

At one point, we finally had everything set and ready to go. Then, days before the shoot, I tested positive for COVID-19. I will spare you all the details (lots of tears, lots of phone calls), but I am so grateful for my band, the NPR Music team and the Javits Center for going above and beyond for me, the human as much as me, the musician.

That’s right, the Javits Center.  This set is filmed on op of the Javits Center fifty days before the election.  That’s September 15–potentially a chilly day to be on top of a New York City building.  Also, who knew the top of the Javits Center was green and lush?

But more important than any of that is this quote that she reiterates in the set and mentioned earlier this year, that “Black joy is radical.”

“I do think it is a radical thing to be like, ‘I’m happy and I’m focusing on my joy and I’m focusing on my purpose and I’m not necessarily focusing on an audience or what other people want from me,’ ” she says. “But truly, I am recognizing the things in my life that are good, and many of those things are coming from my community. I think in that way, it’s super radical to love yourself as a Black person in this time.”

She sings three songs from her Magic EP.  She says that the EP was inspired by her favorite book The Ten Loves of Nishino Paperback by Hiromi Kawakami.  I find it a little strange that he favorite book came out only last year but whatever.

I don’t know a lot about R&B (duh), so I can’t honestly see what would have set her apart from the 6,000 other entries.  Her voice is lovely.  Her songs, like “Magic” are gentle and sweet.  But I don’t find her any more memorable than many other singers.

Having said that, her Tiny Desk Contest winning song “Green Tea Ice Cream” is really catchy and of the three is the most musically interesting.  It opens (like the other two songs) with sprinkling of gentle keys from Jade Che and a mildly funky bass from “Fat Mike” Mike Fishman (who co wrote and produced the record).  Her backing singers, Bianca B. Muniz and Jacqueline A. Muniz (the only two who aren’t socially distanced up there because they are sisters) really shine in their backing vocals here.

Throughout the set drummer Andrés Valbuena plays some cool drums and percussion sounds, but they really stand out on this song.

After showing some of the personal effects she brought with her (I wonder if doing the Tiny Desk here instead of at the actual desk with the in house audience was less nerve-wracking), she encourages everyone to vote.

Then it’s on to the final song “Honesty” which is about “speaking your mind and talking about what’s important to you and communicating with others and how that’s a really scary thing to do.”

The set is pleasant and enjoyable, but far less memorable than past winners.

[READ: October 2, 2020] “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

In this story an imprisoned Black woman is forbidden to speak because her words are too powerful.  I’m including it here for two reasons. First, because it captures my central theme of predicting not just individual pieces so technology, but also what t feels like living in 2020.  I read this story an I recognized its truth: that a woman’s words can be powerful, but they can just as often be viewed as dangerous.  The second reason I included it is because it is really, really good.

Romney is right, this story is really, really good. It is also pretty simply summed up by her first sentence.

The story is written as a report for The National Journalists’ Association for the Recovery of The Freedom of the Press.

The report is from the journalist who was able to meet Margaret A. in prison. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JHENÉ AIKO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #89 (October 1, 2020).

This is the 89th Tiny Desk Home Concert (if I’m counting correctly) and I am really surprised that this is probably the 40th one (not counting at all) in which I’ve never heard of the artist even though they are referred to as a star or at least wildly popular.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, R&B star Jhené Aiko coasts through an eight-song medley that plays like the ultimate nod to her legions of fans — fans who’ve been begging for a Tiny Desk for a long time.

Is “star” warranted?  I don’t know.  But here’s her raving blurb:

The Los Angeles native’s star status is a result of her music’s versatility and vulnerability. Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo has carved out a space of her own over the past decade, despite a rapidly changing R&B landscape. As a songwriter, she leaves no stone unturned, explicitly expressing her struggle, joy and sexuality while always administering the vibe.

The set begins with Aiko stirring a singing bowl, which I admit is pretty nice. I have a tiny one, but it’s nowhere near as cool as hers are.

Backed by an ensemble of masked players, Aiko bookends her set with a sound bath of singing bowls that’s peace personified through sound.

I appreciated the way the note of the singing bowl segues perfectly into Julian Le’s opening piano for “Lotus (Intro).”  Aiko has an old-fashioned vocal style–deep and breathy.

The short song fades out and in comes Brain Warfield’s thumping percussion and a gorgeous harp trill from Gracie Sprout that signals “Stranger.”

It is also short and as it fades and she drinks some tea, the bass from Bubby comes sliding in to open “Do Better Blues.”  The song pauses and she says she wants only three things in a relationship:

Eyes that won’t cry ; lips that won’t lie ; love that won’t die

Things slow down to the piano and chimes as the band jumps into “To Love & Die.”  Iam quite impressed wit her vocal restraint.  There’s a few moments of R&B diva wailing, but mostly, she sings very nicely and prettily with no histrionics.

This works especially well on “Born Tired” which opens with just a harp.  It’s impressive how well this acoustic setup works with these songs.

This medley of songs is disconcerting because everything is so short. She only plays two minutes of “Born Tired,” before Bubby’s high chords on the six string bass introduce “W.A.Y.S.” which has the most R&B styled-vocals so far.

“Summer 2020” opens with harp and piano and a spoken introduction from Jhené  as she introduces the “quarantine edition” of her band.  After a verse she throws in a verse from “Everything Must Go” without changing the music.  I do have to wonder about the mindset of someone who writes the lyrics:

I am no god or messiah
But here’s what I know

Three chimes on the singing bowls introduce “Eternal Sunshine” as she sings almost a capella.  The band comes in to flesh out the song and she ends with a lengthy R&B warble which quickly fades out as the song comes to an end.

I’m still not sure if she’s a star, but I am really impressed with her voice and musical choices in this set.  Often, I have found that when I really like an R&B performer’s Tiny Desk, it’s because of the way it is stripped down–both instrumentally and in production terms.  So I’m not going to listen to her album because this set was a perfect introduction to her and just enough for me to enjoy.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “The Intensive Care Unit” 

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

When I first thought about stories for this collection, I knew J.G. Ballard had to make an appearance.  Initially, I had chosen an entirely different piece.  Then COVID-19 came to the United States and I learned how very bad I was at predicting the future.  ‘The Intensive Care Unit’…is a story about living entirely in isolation: no human-to-human contact, ever. Even families live together through screens, not physically in the same space.

Frustratingly, she ends with

I’ll leave you to guess which other Ballard story this one replaced.  [I don’t know him well enough to even hazard a guess].

I haven’t read many J.G. Ballard stories, but I have it in my head that all of his stories are very dark and very violent.  The few that I have read certainly were.  And this one is no exception.

It’s starts off with a violent sentence: “Within a few minutes the next attack will begin.”

The room he is in is filled with his wife’s faint breathing, his son’s irregular movements, marked by smeared hand prints on the carpet, and his daughter’s limp body under the fallen lamp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARCIA PEOPLES-Hear Here Presents (2020).

Sometimes it takes a band you like to introduce you to something you didn’t know about.

Like Hear Here Presents, a non-profit studio in Wisconsin that records bands in a small setting with great audio quality.  And there are some fantastic bands (and yes, many many more that I haven’t heard of) on their page.

The band just released their session from this live show on bandcamp.

Back in January, Garcia Peoples went into the studio at Hear Here Presents for a session.

I’m not sure how long the sessions usually are, but this one runs about 35 minutes and consists of two songs.

Up first is what they are calling “Hear Here Jam.”  It’s 12 plus minutes of  a jamming instrumental.   It’s impression how tight these guys are that they can improv for 12 minutes and not only not step on each others toes, but actually make a composition that sounds interesting.

There’s a raging guitar section at around three minutes and an impressive build to a peak around 8 minutes before finishing up a few minutes later.  Having the three guitar of Tom Malach, Danny Arakaki, and Derek Spaldo allows for terrific interplay and a depth of sound.

That depth of sound is really evident on the second song, which opens with the introduction to “One Step Beyond.”  Of course, before they start that, there’s some tuning to be done, with some snippets of recognizable riffs:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Hey Joe,” “Sweet Child of Mine.”

But once everyone is ready, it’s down to business.  It’s fun picking out which guitars are playing what in the complex intro to “One Step.”  It’s impressive the way the three guitars can keep the looping melody original and changing while bassist Andy Cush more or less take a lead role.

It’s also important to keep an eye (or an ear) on drummer Cesar Arakaki because he can keep a beat and keep it from being dull as well.

Then after nine and a half minutes of intro, the band shifts gears into the rocking “Feel So Great,” a terrific song with a fantastic musical bridge.  Ringing guitars and a super cool bass line propel the song before the chill chorus.

Not content to let a short, catchy song end their set, they proceed to stretch of “Feel So Good” starting around 15 minutes.  Multi-instrumentalist Pat Gubler trades his keyboard for flute as the psychedelia commences.  After some raging guitar work up until about twenty minutes, the band slows things down to ring to a close.

The only thing disappointing about this set is that when the song is over, you can hear them talking and someone says, “we can do another one,: just as the audio cuts out.  What else did they play????

[READ: September 24, 2020] We All Die Naked [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

[In 1896] Svante Arrhenius first calculated the increase in Earth’s surface temperature caused by increases in industrial carbon production — what we now know as the greenhouse effect. …  As far as I know, James Blish is the first science-fiction writer to imagine an apocalypse caused by climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s a biting satire, simultaneously bleak and gregarious, that catches the characters on the brink of catastrophe through climate change.

To me, this story felt a little preachy.  But then, I’m reading it after fifty years of this kind of story already existing.  I imagine it was pretty impactful back in the era of Silent Spring (if sci-fi ever had an impact on anything).  And, indeed, it’s still pretty impactful given how many things he gets right.

The protagonist, Alexei-Aub Kehoe Salvia Sun-Moon-Lake Stewart, Sa. D., is forty and set in his ways.  He is the General President of Local 802 of the International Brotherhood of Sanitation Engineers.

Blish was eerily prescient to 2020 in one aspect of the story

Adjusting his mask–no matter how new a mask was, it seemed to let in more free radicals from the ambient air every day–he put the thought aside and prepared to enjoy his stroll and his lunch.

But some things are more grim.  The roads around Times Square, Wall Street and Rockefeller Center are all canals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUCLEAR POWER TRIO-“A Clear and Present Rager” (2020).

Today was one of the best days America has seen in four years.

Because here’s an EP to rock your politics off.*

Nuclear Power Trio is a band made up of Vladimir Putin on bass, Kim Jong-un on drums and Donald Trump on guitar.  And they totally rock. This first song from their new album is an absolutely rager, as the title says. It’s a three and a half minute instrumental that starts off with a monster riff and some really hightech fretwork from Putin on the bass.  When the main “verse” comes in, Trump shows his amazing dexterity on the eight string guitar.  He plays surprisingly tasteful licks in between the shredding. This is some pretty classic rocking instrumental stuff ala Joe Satriani, but with the whole band totally keyed in.

A big surprise comes a minute and 45 seconds in when an unnamed fourth member (in the video he appears as a secret service agent) plays an gentle acoustic guitar break, allowing Trump to do some gentle volume-controlled notes. This quiet section happens twice and after the second one, Putin just goes mental on the bass while Kim Jong-Un shows what impressive double bass capabilities he has.

The video for this song is rather disturbing.

But I gotta say, I’d much rather have these three nutcases in a kick ass band than in charge of any country.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, which was translated by Andrea L. Bell, Romney writes

the wonders of robot-controlled automation allow people to live in ease within the perfect mechanism of a programmed city–but in the end lead to ineffable discord within the mind of the protagonist.

This story was a little hard for me to wrap my head around.  The story follows P. as he makes his way through his daily life in Arconia.

P. is an evaluator.  But P. was distracted.  Not only did he not mind having evaded his work, he felt euphoric about it. This was not normal. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL & AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #88 (September 30, 2020).

I can’t decide if I like Jason Isbell or not.  I like his songs quite a lot and after watching this set I like him a whole lot. But I find his voice unpleasant–too twangy and country, which just rubs me the wrong way.

And yet the chorus of “Dreamsicle” is wonderful.  The way he and Amanda Shires harmonize is just fantastic.  I’ve heard the song on the radio, but it sounds amazing here.

The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Spring release, Reunions. “Dreamsicle” shares the story of a child seeing his family falling apart all around. Reflecting on those times, he finds fond memories, and the chorus of the song — “a Dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding lawn chair” — conjures up bright light even amidst the darkness.

Between songs, Jason is very chatty, making a lot of humorous observations, like that he’s been to the Tiny Desk and “The Tiny Desk Desk is not tiny, it is larger than average for a desk….  It’s a tiny concert at a desk.  [Call it a] cluttered desk concert.”

The next song “Overseas” is a louder song (it think it even distorts their sound equipment some).  Introducing the song he says, “Lets do ‘Overseas.’ Because we cant go overseas were gonna sing ‘Overseas.’  There’s a lovely lead violin and more terrific harmonies in the bridge.  They have this back and forth at the end

JI: That’s Amanda Shires playing the fiddle.  That’s really good.
AS: Thanks for having me.
JI: That was so good.
AS: I like to the play the fiddle, man. It’s a violin though.
JI: We should do this more often.
AS: Yeah we should.

This interchange is all the more funny because

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires feel fortunate. They have their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, a wonderful home, and each other.

Jason says that Mercy “tells me that she is an expert yodeler…. And it’s good, especially for a four year old who is not Scandinavian or Jimmie Rogers.  But then she says can you send that video to Jewel?   Jewel seems very nice but I’m afraid she’s going to come to our house and say “you can’t yodel for shit” and I want to be the barrier between my daughter and the cutthroat world of yodeling.

Amanda says they got a new rooster who is learning to crow.  Mercy named their new rooster Captain Love Heart. He has a lot of love in his heart and he is a captain. Makes me think of Captain Beefheart and makes me think of the chicken crowing “Upon the Me Oh My” or something from Trout Mask Replica.
The final song, “It Gets Easier,” deals with Jason’s drinking demons, with a refrain filled with such stark truth: “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.” These words could be an anthem for all those in recovery. It’s the nature of Jason Isbell to sing the truth.
I really enjoyed their banter and it made me like their songs even more.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Birth of a Gardener”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

the story works because the woman’s husband is a mansplainer.  He loses her to another dimension simply because he assumed he understood the principles of physics better than she did. Not to worry: that isn’t a spoiler.  …  [Pitkin Buck shows that] even as we are simplified into the roles that prioritize our relationships — mother, wife, sister, daughter, partner — over our individuals identities, women in 2020 (as with women in 1961, and women in 1861, and…) have to fight to retain our own rich interior experiences.

In this story, Payne is a physicist–Fermi Research at the Droxden Foundation, famous for his work on anti-matter.  His wife, Lee, is not.  And he hates to see her “spraining her mind” over books about physics. Why did she waste her time with books like that when she has such a green thumb.

He is so frustrated with her that he finally says she should just give it up “If you would be happy for life, plant a garden.”

She replies “That wasn’t why I evoked you.”

He doesn’t understand what she means, even when she says, “I just thought very hard and–finally one day, there you were.”

He says “Stop playing around with a rigorous logic that isn’t your style.”

She retorts: “Rigorous logic!  Rigor mortis!”

Finally, she says she wants him to teach her to see physics.  It would help them both.  She says she can already see neutrinos.  

He gets angry and asks why she keeps talking fairy tale when he has serious work to do.

After more back and forth he ends the discussion with, “Darling, you bore me.”

The next morning Lee was dead. It was shocking to him, but he felt closer to her now than he ever had while she was alive.

Suddenly he started seeing her–as if she were down at the end of a tunnel looking at him. He sees that she is looking at book. It is called The Validity of Thought Patterns as Determined by Their Elegance. He sees that she is the author of the book.

Then she starts demonstrating a diagram on a black board. She made a beautiful arabesque–it was the work of a clear and intelligent mathematical. But he had to laugh because she had gotten one thing crucially wrong–of course she would be confused in the end. 

Then he realized the mistake was his own.  She was not drawing matte but anti-matter.  His own field of study!  He and Lee were even closer than he’d ever realized.  He must try to communicate with her.

The end of the story is outstanding.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GOOD ONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #87 (September 29, 2020).

I love when a music critic, like Bob Boilen, picks an album for his top ten lists that (I assume) no one else has heard.  So it’s no surprise to learn that 

In 2019, The Good Ones’ album RWANDA, you should be loved was one of my top 10 albums. They were to play a Tiny Desk concert in May of this year, but the world had other plans.

The blurb continues, “this is the tiniest of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, a single song.”  The song “Soccer (Summer 1988)” is simple, with a pretty guitar melody and wonderful harmonies.  But read what they’ve been through.

Adrien Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana know endless hardships. The night before this recording was made, a flood in Rwanda killed more than a dozen people and destroyed homes. Muddied water was more than waist high in Janvier’s one-room hut. That next morning, Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli showed up to record the duo; she had the camera and he handled the audio. And though Janvier had been up all night dealing with the mud, they all took a two-hour drive to Adrien’s hilltop farm. Janvier tapped out the rhythm with a key on a thermos; the jug was filled with milk — milk from a cow Adrien was able to purchase courtesy of a 2019 U.S. tour.

The performance is a song they’d just learned to play together: “Soccer (Summer 1988).” It’s a nostalgic tune of a favorite soccer team, Rayon Sports F.C., from the days before the genocide in Rwanda took too many lives nearly a quarter of a century ago. Support means a great deal to these people, and if you like what you hear, their Bandcamp page is a good way to help The Good Ones.

It’s worth checking out their page to hear what they sound like when their world hasn’t just been turned upside down.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that it is one of her all time favorite books

Imagine a tongue-in-cheek spin on Mad Men, but set in a future when corporations have largely taken the place of governments.  …  This is mind-boggling in the number of predictions it gets right about the effects technological developments have had on capitalism over the past fifty years.

I also loved this story, or at least this excerpt, and will absolutely read the whole story to see what happens.

As it opens, we meet the narrator heading to work at Fowler Schocken Associates.  The company is a very successful advertising firm, headed by Fowler Schocken.  

As their meeting starts Fowler wonders aloud if they are getting soft.  The room is full of yes-men, but they are also correct.  They have not been getting soft.  They just secured the Coffiest account (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIGHT EYES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #86 (September 28, 2020)

I was never a fan of Bright Eyes.  Something about them just never quite appealed to me.  And since Conor Oberst was so prolific, I got tired of him too.

But then he made better Oblivion Community Center with phoebe Bridgers and I really liked the album and the live show.  So I’ve rethunk Bright Eyes.

They were supposed to play a show in Bethlehem this summer with Lucy Dacus.  I was more interested in seeing Lucy, but I would have certainly gone.

So here’s Bright Eyes with their first new album in almost ten years.

They recorded this Tiny Desk (home) concert with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis at ARC Studios in Omaha, Neb., while Nate sits 1,500 miles away at Lucy’s Meat Market, a well-equipped studio in Los Angeles filled with sweet-sounding vintage keyboards. Singing and seated behind him is Becky Stark, better known as Lavender Diamond, along with their daughter.

The three songs they perform from Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, are intense, with stripped back rawness and lyrics that are not always decipherable, filled with struggle and hope.

They open with “Mariana Trench” in which Mogis is on pedal steel, Walcott is on piano and Becky and daughter sing backing vocals.  Oberst’s voice sounds as strong and confident as ever.

Up next is “Pan and Broom.”  Nate starts the drum machine and then plays the organ.  Meanwhile Mike is playing the Marxophone which is a kind of tiny echoing sounding zither machine.

“Persona Non Grata” is about being insane enough that people don’t want you around. Conor sits at the Moog, while Nate stays on the organ and Mike goes back to the pedal steel.  Oberst plays a cool-sounding solo while Mike plays a pedal steel solo along with him.  It sounds really good.

“Shell Games” is an older song.  Mike switches to the guitar and Nate jumps over to the Casio.  The guitar is quiet but adds a cool fuzziness underneath the synth sounds.  This song also seems to be a bit more intense than the others.

This feels like a stripped down sound, but I don’t actually know what the recorded versions sound like.

[READ: September 26, 2020] “A Logic Named Joe”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

Murray Leinster was one of the most prolific writers in the heyday of science-fiction pulps. … It reads like a creative exercise in conditional statements, with just a touch of black humor thrown in. … My favorite aspect is the implication that AI is evil because we, humans, make it evil, not because some robot has gone rogue.

The other stories in this collection so far have been more of a detailed explanation of a utopian future.  This story is an actual story–and an exciting one.

It’s a shame that the central motivator of the narrator is a sexist trope, but otherwise the story is really cool and amazingly prescient when it comes to technology.

The story jumps right in and doesn’t fully explain what’s going on just yet.

The narrator works at Logic Company as maintenance worker.  On August 3rd, a Logic called Joe came off the assembly line.  Two days later Laurine came into town, and that’s when the narrator saved the world.

The narrator is married and Laurine is the woman he dated before he met his wife  Laurine “is a blonde that I was crazy about once–and crazy is the word.”  She dumped her exes and even killed one of them.

So, yes, a sexist underpinning to this story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I was supposed to see The Districts play at Union Transfer on March 12.  COVID-19 had just found its way into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I was being very cautious so I decided to skip the show.  It was a safe decision, but one that I now regret as it would have been a pretty great final show of the year.

Last year I went to one night of the Philly Music Fest and it was terrific.  This year, the Philly Music Fest was all virtual.  The live shows were played at Ardmore Music Hall and there were some prerecorded shows as well.

If this were a show I could have attended (apparently, some “golden tickets” were given out to a few people, but I have no idea how), the two live bands are exactly who I would have wanted to see.  The Districts opened for Japanese Breakfast.  And in the live stream, Arnetta Johnson & Sunny played before The Districts and Zeek Burse played in between them.

So here was my chance to see The Districts playing live.  I’m actually not sure if I would have gone had I gotten a golden ticket (I have read that 25 people were in the place including the band).  When they played Union Transfer, they played 26 songs in what must have been quite a long show.  For this show, they only had about 45 minutes.  So they played 10 songs from their last two albums and a new song.

They opened with “My Only Ghost,” which opens the new album.  It’s a quiet song with a nifty bassline and a lot of atmospheric keys.  It’s an unusual song for them, with a lot of gentle falsetto singer.  But it works as a good opener.

Up next was “Nighttime Girls,” a 2018 single that I didn’t know.  It rocks with echoing whammy bar guitar chords.  The band really started having fun with this song.  When the song ended a slow drum beat thumped as they prepped for the next song.  They thanked everyone for coming out and talked about how excited they were to play live again.  a

Then they launched into “Fat Kiddo” from Popular Manipulations.

The camera came up behind them to show that there was a video monitor in front of them where they could see the people watching online.  After shouting out to a few people, they started the ripping “Sidecar” with the really fun “hoo hoo hoo” singalong part.

After some more chatting with more of the “zoomers” and acknowledging the few people in the audience whom they cannot see, they play the wonderful new “Hey Jo.”  It was great to hear this live.

As the band tuned up there were samples of tweeting birds and a slow rumble of bass and drums.  Singer Rob Grote says, “someone’s putting on quite the show on zoom,” before jumping into a great sounding “If Before I Wake.”  The band sounds really tight as they jump between the quiet verses and the loud ones.

Then one of them looks at the screen and says “hey that’s my apartment!  that’s my girlfriend.”  She says “you guys are great. Love you!” It’s nice they unmuted her for that.  They play the moody “And the Horses All Go Swimming” (which they did not play at UT) and there’s some wild soloing at the end.  I think the band would have been bouncing around if there was an audience, but they are pretty animated.

Up next was the slow whistling opening of “4th of July.”  It was followed by the faster “Salt” complete with gang vocals during the chorus.

The set was nearing the end and they played their fantastic new song “Cheap Regrets.”  This is one of my favorite songs of the year.  I love that it’s totally retro sounding but not retro at all.  It’s got a great bassline and keys.  They rocked this out to a roaring ending.

They ended the show with a new song that is quiet and pretty with a flute-like keyboard and mellow guitar.  There’s some great changes in the song and some really cool guitar parts.  It might be called “Do It Over.”

And that was it.  Was it as good as being at a live show?  Not really.  But it was still petty great seeing them play live and have a good time.

My Only Ghost [¥]
Nighttime Girls [single]
Fat Kiddo [¶]
Sidecar [¥]
Hey Jo [¥]
If Before I Wake [¶]
And the Horses All Go Swimming [¥]
4th of July [¥]
Salt [¶]
Cheap Regrets [¥]
Do It Over [new]

¥ = You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020)
¶ Popular Manipulations (2017)

[READ: September 24, 2020] Light Ahead for the Negro (an excerpt)

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that this is an early example of Afrofuturism and of utopianism.  It follows in the tradition of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward in imagining a future society that has changed for the better due to a vastly different political climate.  As with most such vision, Johnson’s world manages to be both too optimistic and too pessimistic.

In his 2006, news outlets no longer produce racist content, yet there are only 11,000 Bloack doctors…. The main characters’ conversations about “now and then” are in reality, a survey of cutting edge political thought on issues of major concern to Black citizens of 1904: voting disenfranchisement, lynchings, reconstruction, employment, poverty, education and more.

Johnson was a practicing attorney when he wrote this and he later became the first African American to be elected to the New York State legislature in 1917.

The book opens in 1906 with the narrator flying in a dirigible to the South.  He is planing to help the Negroes in the South adjust to their new citizenship.  But the dirigible hits bad weather and he is lifted up into the atmosphere only to come back to earth in the year 2006.  (more…)

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