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Archive for the ‘Science’ 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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SOUNDTRACKADITYA PRAKASH ENSEMBLE-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135 (January 13, 2021).

Aditya Prakash EnsembleGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the third night is the Aditya Prakash Ensemble.

Performing from their home base in Los Angeles, Aditya Prakash Ensemble highlights songs borne from South India’s Carnatic tradition. Prakash uses his voice as an instrument to tell powerful, emotive stories — which he reimagines in a fresh, dynamic way. Aditya Prakash Ensemble’s modern take on traditional music mixes in jazz and hip-hop and features a diverse L.A. ensemble.

The Ensemble is a quintet.  With Julian Le on piano, Owen Clapp on Bass, Brijesh Pandya on drums and Jonah Levine on trombone and guitar.

As “Greenwood” starts, I can’t quite tell if he’s actually singing words (in Hindi or some other language) or if he is just making sounds and melodies.  It sounds great either way.  He sings a melody and then the upright bass joins in along with the trombone.  He displays a more traditional singing and then Le plays a jumping piano solo which is followed by a trombone solo.  The ending is great as he sings along to the fast melody.

“Vasheebava” is a song about seduction.  Levine plays the guitar on this song.  It starts with gentle effects on the cymbals (he rubs his fingers on them).  Prakash sings in a more traditional Indian style and Levine adds a really nice guitar solo.

“Payoji” is a traditional devotional song and Prakash sings in a very traditional style.  But musically it’s almost a kind of pop jazz.  It’s very catchy with a nice trombone solo.

This conflation of Indian music with jazz is really cool.

[READ: January 11, 2021] Fearless.

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”-Malala Yousafzai

This book begins with this wonderful sentiment:

Not long ago, a wave of exciting books uncovered stories of women through history, known and unknown, for young dreamers around the world.  Women who had been warriors, artists and scientists.  Women like Ada Lovelace, Joan of Arc and Frida Kahlo, whose stories changed the narrative for girls everywhere. Readers around us were thrilled to discover this treasure trove. But there was something missing. They rarely saw women of color and even fewer South Asian women in the works they were reading.

It’s a great impetus for this book which opens with a timeline of Pakistani accomplishments (and setbacks) for women.  The timeline is chronological in order of the birth years of the woman in the book.  Interspersed with their births are important events and the year they happened.

Like in 1940 when women mobilized and were arrested or in 1943 when the Women’s National Guard was formed. In 1948, a law passed recognizing women’s right to inherit property.  In 1950, the Democratic Women’s Association formed to demand equal pay for equal work (it doesn’t say if it was successful).

In 1973 the Constitution declared there could be no discetrmaton on the basis of race, religion, caste or sex.

But in a setback in 1979, the Hudood Ordinance passed which conflated adultery with rape, making it near impossible to prove the latter–and the punishment was often death.

And yet for all of the explicit sexism in Pakistan, the country accomplished something that America has been unable to do–elect a woman as leader. In 1988 Benazir Bhutto became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The woman in this book are given a one-page biography and a cool drawing (illustrations by Aziza Ahmad).  They range from the 16th century to today.  (more…)

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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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