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Archive for the ‘Set at School’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MILEY CYRUS–Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #161 (January 28, 2021).

I’m quite torn about Miley Cyrus.  I respect her individuality and her desire to push boundaries (and her Happy Hippie Foundation [created to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations] is pretty great).  But sometimes I don’t always love her choices.

In all that time I’ve never given much attention to her music.  She was a pop singer (or worse, a country singer) and that was that.

Now, after getting mixed up with The Flaming Lips, who even knows what she’s up to.

For her Tiny Desk Concert (I can’t believe it’s barely over 11 minutes when so many other have done them over 20) she has built a tiny room, complete with a bed and a window and posters on the wall.  The room itself is probably three feet high and Miley, bedecked in a fascinating array (fake, one assumes) furs an leopard skin pants and a big hat and glasses.

The blurb gives rather an extensive narrative to Cyrus’ video

Here, the scene opens with Cyrus, dressed head to toe in rock-star faux fur, in what looks like a teenage girl’s bedroom. But the perspective in this pink-and-purple space feels a little … odd.  As Cyrus sings, it becomes clear that this is her Wonderland – like Alice full of magical cake, she’s grown to exceed her surroundings. By the end of this three-song set, Cyrus reveals that it’s the adolescent enclave that grew too small for her, not the other way around.

That give a lot of credit to a little video.  But whatever.  First she lounges on her bed and sings a pretty intense version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You.”

The original was pretty chill (and maybe a little boring) and Miley inject some powerful screams in the middle and her voice gets all raw.  It adds some drama to an otherwise chill song.  Or as the blurb says

a hazy psychedelic anthem that she infuses with just the edge of the next day’s hangover.

Up next are two songs from her latest album.

The two songs from Plastic Hearts that follow are her own bids at classic-rock timelessness.

In “Golden G-String” Cyrus assesses her own life in the spotlight with Leonard Cohen-esque charm.

She takes off her coat and hat (the video ifs filmed from different angles and there’s some overlapping edits.

This song is really quite catchy.  I think Id like to hear the album version.

And “Prisoner” is the power ballad that lets Cyrus really break out – as she leaves the tiny room — just a box, it turns out, on a soundstage – and joins her band,

Her poor band is never really on camera. It pans around a little before prisoner–you see some hands and some hair of Stacy Jones: drums; Mike Schmid: keys; Max Bernstein: guitar; Jamie Arentzen: guitar and Joe Ayoub: bass.

“Prisoner” sounds like a classic rock song-maybe from Heart or Fleetwood Mac.  This album is getting some good accolades and I might just have to check it out.

[READ: March 18, 2021] I Text Dead People

We brought this book home from the library for my daughter, but I found myself reading and (sort of) enjoying it.

Annabel Craven and her mother have just moved from Sacramento to this small town.  They moved because Annabel’s Uncle died and left his house to them.  Since they lived in a tiny apartment in Sacramento, her mom figured it was a step up.  Except that their new house is actually a creepy old “haunted” house that is adjacent to a cemetery.

On her first day of school, Annabel took a shortcut through the cemetery where she found a phone.  She had recently broken her phone and her mother was trying to teach her the value of things by making her save up for a new one.

Obviously, she will return this found phone to its owner, but until then, it might be nice to be able to communicate with people  Sadly, the phone has no power so she couldn’t locate its owner anyhow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PICTUREHOUSE-“Sunburst” (1998).

Picturehouse drummer Johnny Boyle was in the Irish Drummers book.  I was unfamiliar with them, but apparently they were pretty huge back in the late 1990s (at least in Ireland).  Boyle played on this album (Karmarama) and the follow up.

“Sunburst” was apparently all over Irish radio when it came out.  After a fun opening drumfill, this song falls into a gentle indie rock vein.  There’s some lovely harmonies, some nice gravelly vocals from singer Dave Brown and a big soaring “what a day” chorus.

The end of the song bops along on series of bah bah bahs and and a tasty fuzzy guitar solo.

It’s a delightful jangly pop song and was understandably a big hit

[READ: March 15, 2021] “Girl with Lizard”

I was sure that I had read this story, or something like it, before.  But this is the first story by this author that I have read.  This story and the resulting short story collection Flights of Love were translated by John E. Woods.

The story concerns a boy and a painting.  It was a painting of a girl looking at a lizard on the beach.  His mother and father called it “The Girl with the Lizard” and his mother referred to the girl in the painting as “The Jewish Girl.”  The painting played a large role in the boy’s childhood.  He napped under the painting every day during nap time.  He became very familiar with the details of the painting, which had a pride of place in his father’s office.

He became so familiar with it that when asked to describe a painting in detail for school, he was excited to write about this one.  He stared at the painting and took in all the details. He marveled that when he was little he had to look up at the girl and now that he was older the two were at eye level with each other.

His father admired the essay but told him that the painting was very important and it would be much better if people didn’t know they had it.  He said it was valuable and din;t want anyone to steal it.  He refused to say anything more about it and over the boy’s life, he never learned the provenance of the painting,  But his father certainly believed it was valuable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #149 (January 21, 2021).

A lot of Tiny Desk Concerts are by bands I don’t know (and then really like).  Some are by bands I don’t like.  And every once in a while they have one by a band I like a lot.

Pup is a hugely popular pop punk band from Canada.  I’m bummed I didn’t get to see them when they played around here, but I wasn’t really aware of them at the time.

I have since come to enjoy their music quiet a lot.

“Rot” (from the group’s aptly-titled 2020 EP, This Place Sucks A** ) opens with some fast drumming from Zack Mykula, then Stefan Babcock starts singing and playing rhythm guitar.  After the first verse, Steven Sladkowski adds higher harmony notes–a simple but cool effect.  It’s not until the (outrageously catchy) chorus that Nestor Chumak adds the bass notes and, suddenly, the song feels huge.  I really like that Babcock adds some noisy harmonics and mini feedbacks into the chaos.

The other fun thing is that everyone except Babcock is wearing a mask–even while signing backing vocals (it’s not hard to wear a mask, people).  For a fast punk song, it’s actually quote long–over three minutes.

“My neighbors hate us, and I don’t blame them,” Babcock said.  The Toronto group refused to dial down the volume, filling Babcock’s neatly-furnished living room – complete with an Ontario pennant – and just maybe making a few enemies down the street in the process.

“Kids” (From 2019’s Morbid Stuff) opens differently–bass and harmonics for the first verse, before the rest of the band crashes in. There’s even a harmonic-filled guitar solo.  I like in the middle when it’s almost only drums and Mykula plays some cool rhythms on the floor tom.

Up next is “Reservoir,” a track off the group’s debut.  It’s full on with lots o crash cymbal, and lots of fast playing from everyone during the chorus.

“Scorpion Hill” runs to almost seven minutes and has several parts.  It opens quietly with just Babcock singing and playing.  After the first verse the whole band joins in including backing vocals.  But it’s still fairly quiet until after a pauses a n a misdirecting guitar strum, the song rockets off with lots of thumping drums and bass  After a couple of lengthy section, there’s pause and then a simple riff during which everyone sings “ah ah ah oh.”

This was a wonderful set.  And the even better news

the handmade “Ceci n’est pas une Tiny Desk” (“This is not a Tiny Desk”) sign serves as a warning: When the Tiny Desk returns to NPR HQ and the U.S.-Canada border reopens, prepare to have your workday interrupted.

[READ: February 1, 2021] “Comfort”

This story seemed rather different from Munro’s usual work.

It is about Nina and her husband Lewis. Lewis was a teacher at the high school left until he left under less than positive circumstances.

Nina met with Margaret (another former teacher who left on good terms) at the high school tennis courts.  Nina had not set foot on high school grounds since Lewis had left

When she returned (victorious from her matches), she discovered that Lewis had taken his own life.  They had talked about Lewis doing this, but Nina always thought she would be there–a ceremonial act of some sort.  But clearly Lewis didn’t want her to see him do this.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 4 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 21 1995).

Darrin at Rheostatics Live added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week

Fourth night of the third annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar September 18-23 1995. Never Forget makes its live debut and Farm Fresh and Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies joins the band for Soul Glue. The 16 minute Digital Beach/Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald/You Are Very Star ending is amazing. The band also talks about “Raise A Little Elf” which would be noted on The Blue Hysteria and several other albums.

This is the first of the shows in which the audience is really obnoxious.  It gets worse later on.  I’m not sure why they get picked up so clearly on the mic, but it ruins some of the songs.

Many of the shows opens quietly, but this one opens with a raw “Feed Yourself” with some different words.  The guys are still figuring out the ending.

There’s a really noisy guy who shouts “sit down!” [This is a big thing tonight].  Tim: I’m not getting involved in that.

They play “All the Same Eyes” which I wouldn’t call the most rocking song in their catalog, but Martin says “we’re not normally this rock n rolly.”  Dave: Only on Thursday.  Only on St. Swithin’s day.  Only on my grandpa’s birthday.

They play “an old song,” it’s “Fishtailin'” and the crowd is stupidly loud during the quiet parts.

Up next is “Four Little Songs.”  There’s a long intro, but they get it right.  During Dave’s part he asks them to play the intro twice and he says Bono’s (?) kitchen.  But by the end, they can’t get the counting part right so they ask the audience to help and they do great.

These songs are “aged like sharp cheese which is what Rheostatics means in Latin.”

Dave finally addresses the shouters: you’re not gonna shout out sit down still are you?  They’re obviously not going to sit down and stuff.  Don: They’re talking to you, Dave, they want you to sit down.

Dave says his “day band” The Medicores” playing tomorrow at Lee’s Palace.  It’s a food bank benefit  Don will be at a benefit on Sunday with the coolest band in the area, Don’t Talk, Dance (a group with Tyler Stewart and others).

Last night was a weird night–felt the ghost of Trooper.  We even broke into “Raise a Little Elf.”  The story behind that is that when Andrew was very young he thought that the Trooper song “Raise a Little Hell” was “raise a little elf.”  He didn’t find out until …1992!  So naive.  He’s Mennonite.  Mennonites believe in elves.

Up next is Tim’s new song “Connecting Flights,” which Martin says is called “Two Flights of Stairs.”

You hear the guy shout “sit down asshole.” Thankfully before the song starts.

Presumably to damp down the jerks, they play their happy theme song (“Introducing Happiness”).  He says they plan to play it at the Grey Cup and the Governor Generals Inauguration (cheers). You like the Governor General? Weird crowd.

Up next is “Claire,” the only time they played it this week.  This time it features a guitar “duel” between Martin and Tim.  Tim obviously loses.  he even messes up his simple part and has to play it twice.  Dave says that the song is from the movie Whale Music which is coming out in the States on October 6 at a place in Santa Monica.

Next up is a brand new, never performed song sung by Don kerr called “Never Forget.”  There’s so much talking during it I can’t believe it.

Dave tells a funny, lengthy story about riding his bike and getting honked at by girls in a van.  He tells them Mississauga’s that way (a burn on Don Kerr).  The punch line is them telling him to “go back to England.”  You know what happens when Italians are mistaken for English….

Don says that if you’re riding a bike in Mississauga, you’ve got to  watch for people in vans with baseball bats.  Their TVs break and they have nothing to do.

A great sounding “Fat” has a rocking ending (Dave reveals that the gum that’s tough to chew was Dubble Bubble).  Farm Fresh gets the shout out in “Fan Letter” And then Martin introduces the next song which is “about working in a gas station.”  Dave: It’s not the ‘Summer of ’69’ is it?  But seriously, who talks through “Self Service Gas Station?”

Then there is clapping for the “contest winner.”  The “play drums on your birthday with the Rheostatics” contest.  It’s Tyler Stewart.  Give him a shot at the big time.

Dave asks about an “eat Kraft dinner with BNL contest” in which the bnl were too busy to eat with th eguys and so there were cardboard cutouts.  Tyler: is that some sorta CHOP?

They got to eat with Tyler’s double: Tarzan Dan.
Tim’s double is Henry Rollins
Dave’s double is Telly Savalas
Martin’s double is Starsky Michael Paul Glaser
Don’s double (courtesy of Janet Morassutti) Richard Manual from The Band.
The guitar tech’s double is William Baldwin–at least you didn’t say Ed Begley, Jnr.

Tyler plays a beat for Farm Fresh.  It’s a wild introduction to “Soul Glue.”  There’s so much cursing!  Whaddya think of Farm Fresh/Rheostatics/Barenaked Ladies  “They suck!”  Tyler also does a rap and then describes “Soul Glue” as a “song about LSD.”  It’s a bit slower, but sounds cool.  When Tim sings the “reapt that mistake” Tyler shots “sorry!” and after the “in the ground” Tyler adds “in the ground, in the ground, in the muthafuckin ground.”

Dave encourages everyone to join the Green Sprouts Music Club if you can.

The encore is “Digital Beach.”  There’s some shushing as Martin starts.  It segues into a slow, powerful “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The song is fantastic–the loud parts are really overwhelming. Then as the song ends and Tim reprises the slow part some some jackass shouts out “Gordon Lightfoot!” which totally ruins the moment.  Jesus.  Dave threw in an “I wish I was back home in Derry” which I thought was something he did much later.

After atmospheric jamming at the end of the song, it ends with a lovely (uninterrupted) “You Are Very Star.”

I hate that these drunken people can ruin quiet moments because otherwise this show is fantastic.

[READ: February 20, 2021] School for Extraterrestrial Girls

The title of this book sounded pretty good and when I saw that it was written by Jeremy Whitley who did the wonderful Princeless I was ready to read it.  I don’t know Jamie Noguchi but he has illustrated Erfworld.

Princeless was a YA book and this series is aimed a little younger.  It starts with Tara Smith, a normal girl going to a normal school.  Well, not that normal.  She doesn’t really have any friends. She just puts her head down and gets good grades.  Her parents are pretty intense.  And they are very busy.  So much so that she never really sees them in the morning.  They give her her daily meds (she has serious allergies) and trust that she will catch the bus (which she always does).

When she gets home they go over her homework, make her do everything that she got wrong over and over again and then tell her to study for tomorrow.   The only free time she has is when she takes out the garbage.

Then one morning she wakes up late. A power failure has messed up her alarm.  In her haste to get to school, she drops her meds and breaks a special bracelet that her parents gave her.  Today she can’t take the mean kids on the bus.  She yells at them and her eyes glow red, which gets everyone to back up.  Later in class, as she is writing on the board, her hand catches fire.  And then her whole body does. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKBITCH FALCON-Staring at Clocks (2020).

Everyone can agree that Bitch Falcon is a terrible name.  Just awful.

Having said that, this album is pretty great.  Drummer Nigel Kenny was interviewed in the Irish Drummers book, and that book continues to introduce me to bands that I like.

Bitch Falcon is a trio who have been together for five years.  They released their debut album Staring at Clocks in 2020.

Their sound touches on grunge and shoegaze, which I rather like, but they move beyond that and  explore really interesting sounds from Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s voice and guitar.  Her guitar shimmers and wobbles and she is excellent at sculpting feedback into sounds that veer into harshness.  Her voice is strong and powerful, hitting and holding notes that ring out.  But also singing in otherworldly styles like almost wordless sound effects.

The album is held together by bassist Barry O’Sullivan’s prominent position–playing the main lines and basic rhythms of most songs and by Nigel Kenny’s not traditional almost lead drumming.

The album opens with a squealing feedback followed by a rumbling bass and some solid thumping.  And it continues in this vein for some 40 minutes.  There’s diversity in the songs–some are softer and some are dreamy–but the overall sound is consistent.  Throughout the album, there are gorgeous  washes of guitars and wicked feedback.

I love the thumping bass and drum and the ringing guitar and voice in “How Did I Know?”  “Staring at Clocks” opens with guitar sounds that are so unguitarlike, it’s wild.  The fast drums and bass propel the otherwise ethereal song along.  The guitar sounds at the end of the song are like out of a sci-fi movie.

The opening bass sound of “Damp Breath” is great and when they throw in the cool guitar rolls over the top it sounds tremendous. I love the lead bass line of “Martyr” while the guitar lays down intricate passages.  And the final song, “Harvester” is 6 minutes long with the final two allowing the guitars to roar until the album crashes to a conclusion.

This album was a great surprise.  I would love to see them live.

[READ: February 1, 2021] Dragon Hoops

Gene Luen Yang’s books are always fantastic.  He has such an excellent way with storytelling, that no matter what his books are about you know they’re going to pull you in.  Even if they’re about basketball!  Even high school basketball.

Mr Yang opens the book explaining that he never like sports–he was never interested. He got his excitement from comic books, He teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School (in California) and has been there for seventeen years (Do his kids know that he’s an amazing cartoonist?  I assume so).  In all that time he never thought much about the school’s basketball team, but in this year 2014-2015, there was talk that their team would go all the way.  It was a big story, and Yang loves stories.

In order to see if this would work as a book, it meant talking to Coach Lou Richie.  They have obviously talked over the years, but not very much.  So Yang takes the first step (a wonderful recurring theme in the book) and approaches Lou.  They talk and Yang has an idea for his next book.

We go back through Coach Lou’s life.  He was a young nerd just like Gene.  He was short and skinny.  But when he went to a Bishop O’Dowd game at the Oakland Coliseum, Lou knew he wanted to do that one day.  So he worked out and grew some and by his junior year he was only 5’8″ (like me) but he was  a formidable player.  Lou’s team made it to the Coliseum that year (some kind of State playoffs) and, cliche of all cliches, he scored the game-winning basket.  But, cliche of all other cliches it was called a no basket because of a penalty. It was one of the most controversial calls in a high school game and obviously Lou never forgot it.  (Despite the cliches that’s all true).

Lou became head coach at O’Dowd, and since he came back his teams have been to state five times, but have never won.

But this year he has two secret weapons: Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin.

Imagine being a high school kid, being great at basketball and then having Mr Yang draw you in his book?  Wow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PILLOW QUEENS-“Liffey” (Live on the Late Late Show, January 13, 2021).

I learned about Pillow Queens from the book about Irish Drummers.  Rachel Lyons, Pillow Queens’ drummer is interviewed for the book and I thought their band sounded interesting.

I had no idea how good this band would be.  They have released a few EPs and a number of one-off songs on bandcamp.  They released their debut album in September.  To celebrate, the band made their American TV debut on The Late Late Show with James Corden performing “Liffey.”

The band has two leads ingers and all four members sing backing vocals.  As this song opens, Pamela Connolly sings an opening verses while everyone else sings harmony and counterpoint until everything comes crashing in–drums, guitars and bass.  (That’s Sarah Corcoran on bass and Cathy McGuinness playing lead guitar).

There are some cool parts in this song.  The bridge has as series of two note punches, while the verses are supported by soaring single guitar notes.  Lyons’ drumming is a real high point.  There’s martial beats and lots of floor tom (in the video you can see that she’s using mallets all the way though).  Noting her sounds expected and yet it all works together really nicely.

The roaring buzzsaw guitar that ends the song is just perfect.

I’m looking forward to listening to the whole album.

[READ: February 10, 2021] Stranger Things: Zombie Boys 

I get to see all kinds of unexpected things at work–books from other countries, books graphic novels in other languages, even popular novels.  One thing I never expected to see was a Stranger Things graphic novel.  In part because I didn’t know there were any.

But here one is.

This book is set right after Will is rescued from the Upside Down.  He’s been drawing pictures of their adventure.

But at school kids are calling him zombie boy.  Which is no fun.

The only bright spot is AV Club.  But even that’s no fun lately because the boys are all behind in school (what with fighting the forces of evil) and their AV advisor is making them do school work.

Until a new kids comes into the picture.  Joey Kim has just moved to town from San Diego.  His mom works for Sony and he has a brand new betamax film camera.

Their AV advisor says that he’ll see if they can make a movie for extra credit.  But what movie will they make?

That’s when Joey pulls out a drawing that Will made (it fell out of his bag).  The boys love the drawing and think it will make for an awesome zombie movie.

Will’s mom isn’t too keen on him drawing scary pictures–she even takes him to the doctor.  (The doctor is affiliated with the bad guys, but that doesn’t have an bearing on this story).  So Will changes the drawings into zombie joke pictures–it’s a pleasure to eat you, etc..  But the guys are having none of it. And Joey Kim says that it’s horror or nothing.

So they play with make up effects (kielbasa for eaten flesh!) and draw on some of their darker moments (of which they have many) to pull out some acting chops.

Lucas has an important demand though–the black guy always dies in horror movies and he wants Joey to know that this black guy is not going to die.

The book is pretty short and aside from a few of the bullies there’s nothing too dramatic in it–except for a moment when Will goes too deep into a dark place.  But the story line is cool and it feels like a setup for more to come.

I have no idea if Joey Kim is coming in the new season or if he is comics only, but he’s a fun addition for this story line.

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 SOUNDTRACKSTEREOLAB-“High Expectation” (1991).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

Stereolab have been around forever (I saw them live two years ago) and their music has gone through several transformations over the years.

This song comes from their second release, an EP called Super-Electric, and was then released on the Switched On collection.  It’s a pretty quiet song, with a kind of soporific feel–muted guitars, no drums, and a kind of gauzy sheen over all the music.

One of the best things about Stereolab is that their lyrics are usually absolutely different from what you think they might be about given the music and Lætitia Sadier’s delivery.  She sings softly and, because French is her native language, her emphases are not always where one might expect, so she can sing a line like: “There is no sense in being interested/In a child, a group, or in a society” (in the song Spark Plug”) and it sounds like a pretty pop song with lovely backing vocals.

In “High Expectation,” she sings gently over this chill-out song:

Do you really want to love someone who does not love you
Do you really want to stab your enemy in the back.  Stab him in front.

and then the understated but still catchy chorus:

I don’t, I don’t, I don’t, I’m sorry.

Stereolab were unique right from the get go.

[READ: June 1, 2020] Check Please Book 2

Check Please is a two-part graphic novel.  Book 1 followed college freshman Eric “Bitty” Bittle through his freshman and sophomore years.  In book two Bitty is now a junior (and senior) Samwell College and is taking on more responsibilities.

The book is written as a vlog from Bitty.  As the opening blurb tells us

I’m a junior on the Samwell men’s hockey team and not only do I have new teammates and responsibilities I’ve got a new beau–remember Jack?  Dating a professional hockey player wasn’t anything I expected to do in college.  My parents don’t know, my teammates have no clue, and Jack and I aren’t sure that we want to keep it a secret.

Jack Zimmerman is now playing pro hockey for the Falcons.  He has a hockey nickname–Zimmboni–and the respect of his team.  Despite the high profile games dn Bitty’s schooling, they do manage to see each other (Zoom meetings before they were what everyone was doing). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FRANCES CARROLL & HER COQUETTES featuring VIOLA SMITH-“Snake Charmer” (1939).

Drummer Viola Smith died a couple of days ago at the age of 107.  ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN (a month shy of 108). That’s pretty fascinating in itself.  But even more fascinating is that she was an amazing drummer at a time when women didn’t play drums.  And not “amazing for a woman” or anything patronizing like that, check out the video of her playing “Snake Charmer.”

Check out her drum kit, check out the speed, check out the power.  Check out the arial toms and the way she hits them without it even seeming like she is. Wow, I wish I’d heard of her sooner.

Here’s some relevant quotes from an obituary in The Guardian

Smith took up drumming as a teenager in Wisconsin, when her father assembled the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra with his eight daughters. Her showcase was “The Snake Charmer,” a jazzy arabesque with explosive drum-fills.

Because she was the sixth daughter in the family, she said, her older sisters got the strings and brass.  “My dad said, ‘Now, we need a drummer!’ Thank God, I was it.”

In 1938, Smith formed another all-female orchestra, The Coquettes, with her bass playing sister Mildred. The band moved to New York in 1942, where Smith studied under the legendary snare-drum innovator Billy Gladstone.

In the same year, as men were being drafted to war and women taking their place in factories, Viola wrote a now-famous article for Down Beat magazine, arguing for the inclusion of women in the big bands of the day.

“Many of the star instrumentalists of the big name bands are being drafted,” she wrote, under the title Give Girl Musicians A Break! “Instead of replacing them with what may be mediocre talent, why not let some of the great girl musicians of the country take their places?

“We girls have as much stamina as men. There are many girl trumpet players, girl saxophonists and girl drummers who can stand the grind of long tours and exacting one-night stands. The girls of today are not the helpless creatures of an earlier generations.

Smith found it difficult to lead the orchestra from behind the drums, so she turned over those duties to Frances Carroll.  But at the height of her success, Smith performed with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb, as well as at the second inauguration for the 33rd president, Harry Truman, in 1949.

I haven’t even mentioned how good The Coquettes are.  They swing big time and this song is really fun.  The only thing worse than hearing about a great musician after they have died is realizing that there are almost no recordings of her playing.

Here’s another page from The Future Heart with lots of videos and interviews with Viola.

[READ: October 26, 2020] “Nettle”

I really enjoyed the way this story opened.  It is about Willie, who, as the story opens, is a young boy.  Willie’s teacher told the class that she would be guarding them and that “not one of them would be lost, except the one who was destined to be lost.”

When the boy told his mother what Miss Rita said, his mother replied,

That happens to be from the Bible… When people take words from the Bible and repeat them to young children, or to anyone, for that matter, they’re nuts.  Don’t pay any attention to her.”

She says that maybe when he’s older he can leave that school and go to the one his daddy went to.

He would visit his daddy often in his room. His daddy was always playing the same piece to music.  He told his daddy about a book he was reading in class. His daddy replied that he had read that same book when he was younger: rewrite the whole thing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE LAST BISON-“Switzerland” (2011).

The Last Bison is a band based out of Virginia.  They seemed to ride the wave of aggressive folk rock that came out with Mumford and the Lumineers.  They described their sound as “mountain-top chamber music” as they added classical elements (strings mostly) to their alt-folk.

This was the the first song I’d heard by them and I found it really compelling.

The song opens with a quiet melody played on an acoustic guitar or mandolin.  It feels pastoral and I loved that the melody was accented with a percussive banjo or guitar strum.

The vocals are high and rustic with nice harmonies.  After the introduction, a quick acoustic guitar propels the verse (in which singer Ben Hardesty sings high enough to be almost out of his range).

About half way through, tehs ong shifts gears to a minor chord and the heavy strings come in–deep cello and a soaring violin solo.  The song slows down to gentle strums and vocals as he sings the chorus once more before everything builds up one more time.

In 2018, The Last Bison released a new album with a new lineup and a reinvented sound with more keyboards and percussion.

[READ: October 20, 2020] “Switzerland”

The narrator’s family moved to Switzerland when she was 13. Her father was a doctor who wanted to specialize in trauma and Switzerland had the best hospital for trauma study (which was ironic given that Switzerland “is neutral, alpine, orderly”).  She was too young to live on campus, so she resided with her English tutor, a Mrs Elderfield.

Two other girls, both eighteen, were also staying there. The girls were Marie who came from Bangkok via Boston and Saroya who came from Tehran via Paris.  The older girls laughed at her naivete but they were always kind to her.

Marie and Saroya were sent to Switzerland because of their troubled past–sex, stimulants, and a refusal to comply.  Their parents hoped the school would “finish” them, but the schools knew they were finished already. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-A Flourish and a Spoil (2015).

A Flourish and a Spoil feels like an extension of The Districts‘ EP. And that’s no bad thing.

It’s got more of the same vibrato guitars and thumping bass all wrapping around Rob Grote’s angsty voice.  The big difference from the EP is that most of the songs are shorter (around four minutes with the exception of the end of the album).

A propulsive bass opens up the super catchy “4th and Roebling.”  The song starts somewhat quietly but turns into a raucous brawl by the end with crashing cymbals, smacking drums, and the whole band singing along.

“Peaches” has a fuller sound as the whole band plays the main parts until the catchy chorus where the guitar gets to play the lead melody along with the vocals.  “Chlorine” starts loud and then slows down for the verses.  Followed by the catchy chorus which is bigger and louder.  “Hounds” is built out of a simple riff that is played with a little delay so that it lurches interestingly until the shambolic ending of “hounds in my head, hounds in my head.”

“Sing the Song” is a slower song with a loud but spare chorus.  It’s got a rousing ending and then a lovely delicate denouement.

“Suburban Smell” is under three minutes. It’s a pretty acoustic song with some lovely guitar melodies and Grote’s more delicate vocals (and yes, there’s a questionable lyric in there). The song ends with a mic shutting off, like a real bedroom recording. It’s followed by a full on echoing drum intro of “Bold.”  The song is full of noises and sounds like a song in search of something.  It finds it with the soaring catchy ending section, fast chords, highs notes and a powerful repetition.

“Heavy Begs” is the last short song on the record.  It features the one thing that has been missing: some “oohs” (although only once).  It’s also got a new sound introduced in the guitar solo–a buzzing that works nicely with their overall sound.

“Young Blood” stretches out to almost nine minutes.  After a siren-like introduction, the song settles into a relaxed lope with catchy vocal melody.  The first four minutes jump back and forth between verses an chaotic crashing chorus.  Then comes a pause followed by a quiet bass line while the other instruments slowly add sounds and melodies (and what sounds like a party in the background).  This instrumental section builds on itself for two minutes until the coda.  The quiet “it’s a long way down from the top to the bottom” which repeats until the drums start pounding  before the final guitar solo takes the song out with a riff that sounds like it came from Built to Spill.

That feels like an album ender to me, but they put in one more song, the nearly 6 minute “6AM.”  This song also sounds like a bedroom recording–it sounds raw and rough–and it never sounds too long.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “Rainbows”

I liked the way this story seemed to be settling into a time frame and then leaped away from it to move on to something else.

The story is told in first person, by an Irish woman named Clodagh.  She came to America when she was twenty-three.  She’d never heard of mentors or office hours or anything like that in an educational system.  She was getting a Master’s Degree in Applied Analytics. 

She decided to audit a class in anthropology just to take her mind off the degree.  The teacher, Paola Visintin, became something of an unexpected mentor to her.  Paola was twenty years older, but cool in a way that younger teachers weren’t.  The bonded in coffee shops and talked about many of Clodagh’s problems.  Paola’s answers were short, direct and sometimes beside the point.

The passage of time is delivered in a fun way:

My kitten grew into a cat, turned into an old lady, died. The obstetrician lifted a red-blue creature from behind a blue paper curtain–and, flash, the creature, Aoife, turned eighteen. (more…)

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