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Archive for the ‘Charles Darwin’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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mar

SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE-“Saidi Swing” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

I really enjoyed the Silk Road Ensemble’s Field Recording, so I was delighted to see that they did a second recording from the same session [A Field Recording Bonus Track: The Silk Road Swings].  I have no idea how they cleared everyone out and cleaned up the place for this video (how long did these four guys have to hang around?), but it was worth it.

What I find so magical about this piece is that it is four percussionists and yet they make such beautiful music.

They’re playing a piece written by Shane Shanahan called Saidi Swing. While it’s inspired by a traditional rhythm from Upper Egypt called saidi (which goes “dum tek dum dum tek” in its simplest incarnation, for those of you who want to find its seeds sprinkled through this piece), Shanahan uses that pattern just as a launching point. And with such fantastic collaborators — from left to right, Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla, Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, Mark Suter on daff frame drum and Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek — Shanahan can really let his imagination take flight.

The piece begins with the four drummers playing together.  Then comes the individual moments

First comes a solo by Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla. I love that it’s mostly finger tapping–the tabla is a fascinating instrument.

Up next is Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek.  To start his solo, he plays the side of the drum which rings out almost like a tambourine before returning to the proper method of playing.

The third solo comes from Mark Suter on daff frame drum (I assumed it was a bodhran, I wonder what the difference is…ah, the daf has metal rings inside of it and can be made of fish skin (!)).  Suter bangs it for a big open sound but then he rubs his fingers along the skin to create even more fascinating sounds.  It’s awesome.

Then they return to the main rhythm.  All four play loud then quiet and then it’s time for each of them to get a very brief (2 seconds, maybe) solo in order left to right.

Then it’s time for Shane Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, to get a solo.  It’s the most conventional instrument except it seems quite different from the one that we see in folk bands.  He does some pretty nifty tricks with it too.

In the last part they each play a solo that’s about a second.  Again, left to right, which sounds cool and probably sounds even better in person.

World music percussion is really fascinating and I’m glad it gets showcased in this way here.

[READ: February 7, 2018] “The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace”

I never understand why people write fictionalized accounts of true stories.  There must be a reason for doing it–maybe you can’t write a five-page biography and have it get published anywhere?  I don’t know.

This is the true (I assume) account of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace was a student of nature–it filled whim with an ecstasy that sometimes felt like lust.  He was not one for theory–he was all about the search.

He collected specimens and he wrote letters home to his mother about his joyful expeditions.  He traveled endlessly, exhaustively.  Even when wracked with malaria he continued. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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dino SOUNDTRACK: NATHAN SALSBURG-Tiny Desk Concert #213 (May 3, 2012).

nathanI had never heard of Nathan Salsburg until the Joan Shelley Tiny Desk Concert (posted about yesterday).  Salsburg in a fingerpicking guitarist and his accents and trills sounded wonderful in Shelley’s folk songs.  Well, this show from three years earlier has Salsburg playing two gorgeous instrumentals (which maybe explains why he didn’t sing backup with Shelley).  The blurb notes that “he’s been playing guitar for 22 years, yet he’s only played out publicly for a few months.”

Were it not for the blurb, I never would have guessed that the first song, “Affirmed” celebrates the Triple Crown-winning horse Affirmed. It has a slow easy pace (not racehorse-like at all) but it is full of lovely riffs and lines and sweet melodies.

The blurb continues, “when Salsburg picks up the guitar, what comes out is a mix of blues and ragtime, but these are 21st-century rags from an old soul with new energy.”  And that’s quite apt.

The second, song “Eight Belles Dreamt the Devil Was Dead,” tells the tragic story of Eight Belles, who in 2008’s Kentucky Derby tripped across the finish line, coming in second place, and tragically broke both her front ankles. The horse had to be euthanized on the field.”  Despite this horribly sad tale, this song is not sad, it is also pretty, measured and upbeat–a celebration rather than a dirge.

I feel like there aren’t many people making music like this anymore–delicate acoustic guitar instrumentals with complex phrasings and lengthy passages.  It’s quite beautiful, all of it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Science Comics: Dinosaurs

The first Second non-fiction comics are some of my favorite books that they have put out.  And this new series called Science Comics proves to be just as outstanding as I could have hoped.

I started with this dinosaurs book first.  It opens with a testimonial from Leonard Finkelman a professor of philosophy at Linfield College.  He talks about how he used to draw dinosaurs as a kid and he thought he was being so outrageous because he gave them stripes!  No one knew any better back then, but now we think that many dinosaurs had all kinds of marking and some even had feathers!

Okay so my son is 11 and when he was 5 or so he went through a dinosaur phase. I thought I knew everything there was to know about them back then.  I learned the ones he liked but never really went any further in my knowledge (despite all of the books in the house).  Well, this book showed me just how dumb and ignorant I was about dinosaurs (in a really fun way). (more…)

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