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Archive for the ‘Set at School’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TRUPA TRUPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #44 (July 3, 3030).

Trupa Trupa is a band from Poland who play some really great indie rock.  They were supposed to be touring the U.S. and doing a Tiny Desk, but instead they are home.

In a little dirty rehearsal room basement in Gdańsk, we find Poland’s great rock band Trupa Trupa on lockdown. Had it not been for COVID-19, this band would have been behind my desk this week, but as it is, they’ve settled into their rehearsal space.

Their songs are pretty intense, but this Home Tiny Desk features lighter versions of the songs.

They open their set with “Another Day,” from the 2019 record Of The Sun.  It has a great throbbing bassline Wojciech Juchniewicz while singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski plays acuostic guitar.  He says its the first time he’s played the acoustic guitar in a really long time.

There’s a cool theremin-type sound that is coming from Rafał Wojczal.  The credits say the instrument is called an ondes Martenot, but this is a homemade device–and it sounds pretty cool.

I’ve seen them perform this; it’s always had an apocalyptic feel, but now the words “another day, waiting for another,” prompts Grzegorz to mention how this has turned into a quarantine song.  Grzegorz tells us that life in Poland has been difficult in this young democracy, but they are staying optimistic and playing music.  There’s darkness in the basement, yet their music is a bright beacon.

“Dream About” starts with a snappy drum from Tomasz Pawluczuk.  Kwiatkowski plays as scratchy rhythm on the guitar before  Juchniewicz plays a great rolling bassline that runs throughout the song until it abruptly stops for a some single notes.  Then it resumes again.  Wojczal adds some guitar before bringing that Martenot back.

“None of Us” is slow and deep basslines.  Initial vocals come from Juchniewicz who has switched to guitar.  The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this song.  And Juchniewicz’  fuzzy electric guitar sound is deep and menacing.

Their U.S. Tour was cancelled, but they weren’t going to play near me.  Maybe when they come back they can squeeze in a Philadelphia date.

[READ: June 20, 2020] Bagombo Snuff Box

This is a short story collection that I read when it came out.  When I read all of Vonnegut’s books a few years ago, I decided to re-read this collection.  It has only taken me several years to get to it.

But what a great bunch of short stories.

The Preface explains that these stories were written in the 1940s and printed in magazines before he had written his first big novels.  After the War, there were many magazines that featured fiction, so Kurt was able to make some good money on the side while he worked at General Electric.  He left the company in 1950.

Vonnegut has an introduction as well.  He talks about the beneficial effect short stories can have on a person.  He also says he generally feels good about these stories although he feels a bit badly for the way some (many) of the women are treated–not that Vonnegut specifically treated them badly, but that was sort of the way it was then. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #5 (April 4, 2020)

I feel like Ben Gibbard released the first new quarantine song.

On March 26 he released “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s the first song he plays in this Home Concert: “Hello, this is Ben Gibbard, welcome to Tiny Desk, Seattle style.”

Some of the other Home Tiny Desk Concerts were uplifting and lighthearted, but Ben’s mood is pretty down.  He lives in Seattle where things were very bad first.

And with that, the heavy-hearted Death Cab for Cutie frontman performs his newly written song from America’s first coronavirus hotspot, Seattle. The song is called “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s not only portrait of his city’s current state; it’s a gift to that city. Ben is donating money from streaming and purchases to Aurora Commons, a self-described “welcoming space for our unhoused neighbors.”

It’s a pretty song, but very sad (as you might imagine).  And Ben is not planning to cheer us up for the rest of the show.

And as if there weren’t enough sadness, Ben performs an homage to songwriter and musician Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne, who passed away on April 1 from complications due to COVID-19. Ben was a long admirer of Adam’s music and sings us one of his favorite Fountains of Wayne songs, as well as a song Ben wrote for The Monkees’ Good Times album, a record that Adam produced.

“Me & Magdalena” (The Monkees song) is slow.  It’s similar to The Monkees’ version, although Ben’s delivery makes the song sound even sadder.

He talks about Fountains of Wayne and how he and Chris Walla took a road trip San Francisco and listened to the debut FoW record the whole way down and back.  His favorite song was “She’s Got a Problem.”  Even though I think of FoW as being poppy and cheerful, this song, in keeping with the mood, is not.

I really like Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Gibbard, but this is one show I won’t be listening to again, it’s just too much of a downer.

[READ: April 10, 2020] Black Canary: Ignite

I believe S. brought this home because Meg Cabot wrote it.  I haven’t read any of Cabot’s books, but S. is a fan. This is Cabot’s first graphic novel (it somehow seems odd that it’s a DC book).  I don;t know if Black Canary is a familiar character (I’ve not heard of her, but then I’m not much of  DC fan).

This book is part of DC’s Zoom imprint which means its written for younger kids (which also means I’ll like it more than standard DC fare).

Dinah is the daughter of Detective Lance.  She is thirteen and is in a band.  She wants to try out for the Gotham City Junior Police Academy (during Career Week).  Both of these things make her father angry.  She believes its because she’s a girl, but he says that Gotham is just not a safe place to live. [So why not move?].

The Joker has escaped [again].  One thing I dislike about DC is that it seems that everything is about The joker and Arkham Asylum, must have no security at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG-“I Think We’re Alone Now” (2020).

This quarantine has already brought out a ton of creative work from musicians.  If not new items, exactly, then certainly a lot of home concerts.  And also a lot of cover songs.

Billie Joe Armstrong released the first cover that I heard about that was specifically quarantine themed (even if jokingly).

It includes a homemade video (of what one might do at home with a lot of time on your hands).

So, yes it’s a cover of the song by Tommy James and the Shondells.  It’s about 2 minutes long and it’s terrific.

A simple. formulaic Green Day pop punk take on a simple, formulaic pop song.  It’s instantly recognizable as Billie Joe.  He recorded the song in his bedroom.  I feel like it sounds like it’s not the full band (the drums are really simple and the bass isn’t as prominent as usual).  But it’s a really short poppy song, so the spareness is understandable.

Whatever the case, it’s a fun cover and one of the, by now, dozens of fun things musicians have done to keep busy.

[READ: March 20, 2020] Comics Squad: Detention!

I really enjoyed the first two Comics Squad books and I was delighted when T. got this third one.  I wanted to read it when she brought it home, but I forgot all about it until I saw it the other day.

And what a better time to read a book about detention than during a quarantine.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

This book has comics from Krosoczka, George O’Connor (the Olympians series), Victoria Jamieson (Rollergirl), Ben Hatke (many many great books), Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre, Lark Pien, Matt Phelan and the Holm siblings.

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. Like that Babymouse is in detention and Lunch Lady is going to slide her some cookies (no cupcakes?). (more…)

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

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

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

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Boilen concludes

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

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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81HkprYowjLSOUNDTRACK: SNOH AALEGRA-Tiny Desk Concert #947 (February 18, 2020).

maxresdefault (2)In what seems to be a new trend at the Tiny Desk, here’s another artist whom I’ve never heard of somehow and who manages to cram five songs into 16 minutes.  (I won’t complain about the length of this show because it’s not that long, but everyone knows you get three songs).

The most fascinating things about Snoh is that she is Iranian-Swedish.  And that her band is enormous.  And that they all have great names like: O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer on keys, George “Spanky” McCurdy on drums and Thaddaeus Tribbett on bass.  There’s also Jef Villaluna on guitar whose name isn’t that crazy,

Unfortunately her songs and albums have terrible names.

Her new album is called Ugh, those feels again and her previous album is called Feels. (and she’s not even millennial).  And then the third song is called “Whoa.”  Good grief,

“Whoa” is a sweet love song that is detailed but not explicit.  Except the chorus which is “you make me feel like, whoa.”

The rest of her songs have a very delicate soft-rock vibe.  Especially with the string section of Ashley Parham on violin, Johnny Walker, Jr. on cello, Asali McIntyre on violin and Brandon Lewis on viola.

But apparently that’s not what her music typically sounds like.

On this day in particular, Aalegra’s tracks were stripped of their punchier, album-version kick drums and trap echoes. In their absence, it’s Aalegra’s delicate vocal runs and chemistry with her supporting singers that resonated most. “I Want You Around” and “Whoa,” which usually rest on a bed of glitchy, spiraling production, felt lighter thanks to the dreamy string section.

All of the songs featured her backing vocalists Ron Poindexter and Porsha Clay,  but they were especially prominent on “Fool For You” which ran all of two minutes.

Snoh seemed a little too cool up there, which did not endear me to her.  Her voice is certainly pretty though, even if I didn’t like her songs.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Best Friends

This book is a sequel of sorts to Real Friends.

It continues the story of young Shannon in sixth grade and how she deals with the minefields that middle school can present.

The same cast is back–the good and bad friends, the girls and boys and all of the insecurities that are practically a character in themselves.

As the book opens, Shannon realizes that she and her friends are not really in sync. She can’t keep up with the pop songs that they like–how do they always know the newest cool song (her family doesn’t listen to pop music so she is way out of the loop).

But aside form that, things seem good.  Shannon is best friends with Jen, the most popular girl in their class.  And since they are the oldest grade in school, Jen is therefore the most popular girl in school.

But the girls are always sniping at each other or trying to get Shannon so say nasty things about one of the other girls behind her back (while the girl was listening).  Shannon never did, though, because she is really a good person.  Something the other girls could use some help with, (more…)

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2020_03_16 (1)SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-Tiny Desk Concert #945 (February 12, 2020).

maxresdefaultI’ve heard of Mount Eerie, but I didn’t really know that much about them. And when I say them, I really mean him, Phil Elverum.

Phil Elverum’s songs come full circle, swooping down like vultures and floating up like ashes from flames. Throughout his work in Mount Eerie and The Microphones, idealism comes up against realism, existence entangles with impermanence and love discovers new forms. So when he sings, “Let’s get out the romance,” in close harmony with Julie Doiron at the Tiny Desk, there’s a history going back nearly two decades to an isolated cabin in Norway where he first wrote the phrase.

I have never really enjoyed quiet, sad music.  It’s just not my thing.  So this Tiny Desk is definitely not my favorite.  Although I can appreciate the intensity of his lyrics and the beautiful way his and Julie’s voices combine.

They recorded an album, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, last year.

the sparsely decorated, deeply felt album meditates on a heart still breaking and mutating, but also gently reckons with a younger version of himself. That refrain on “Belief” is performed here with only an electric guitar and a nylon-string acoustic bought in Stockholm during that Scandinavian trip many years ago.

“Belief” opens with quiet acoustic guitar and then the two of them singing together.  And it’s pretty intense:

Elverum remembers himself as a young man who begged “the sky for some calamity to challenge my foundation.” We then become the Greek chorus, witness to the unfolding tragedy: first, the death of his wife and mother to their child, the musician and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, in 2016; then the marriage to actor Michelle Williams in 2018 and their divorce less than a year later. “‘The world always goes on,'” Doiron sings in answer, quoting a Joanne Kyger poem, “‘Breaking us with its changes / Until our form, exhausted, runs true.'”

Doiron’s guitar contributions are so minimal, she doesn’t play for most of the song.   The song runs almost seven minutes and does seem to end mid-sentence.

When “Belief” suddenly ends, seemingly in the middle of a thought, Elverum’s eyes search the room. The audience responds with applause, but a version of this dynamic plays out everywhere he’s performed for the last three years — long silences broken up by tentative claps, nervous laughs struck by grief and absurdity.

The second song, “Enduring The Waves” is only three minutes long.  He begins it by speak/singing “Reading about Buddhism” and I wasn’t sure if it was a lyric or an introduction.  It’s a lyric.  This song features Julie and Phil singing seemingly disparate lines over each other until their final lines match up perfectly  The construction of this song is really wonderful even if it is still a pretty slow sad song,

“Love Without Possession” Julie sings the first verse and after her verse, Phil starts strumming his guitar in what can only be described as a really catchy sort of way.  They harmonize together and Doiron includes minimal electric guitar notes.  This is my favorite song of the bunch.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “My High-School Commute”

Colin Jost is one of the presenters on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update.  I think he’s very funny and has a great sarcastic tone.  Although, I have to agree with the title of his new memoir: A Very Punchable Face.

This is an amusing essay about his daily commute to high school, in which he took “a journey by land, sea and underground rocket toilet.”

His grandfather always told him about the value of an education–protect your brain! was his constant refrain.

It was his brain that got him out of Staten Island.  It got him into a Catholic high school called Regis* *Regis Philbin was named after my high school but went to Cardinal Hayes High School which was full of kids who beat the shit out of kids who went to Regis.

Regis is one of the best schools in the country and it is free–tens of thousands of kids apply for 120 spots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (2019).

beabadoobee is Beatrice Kristi Laus, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was born in the Phillipines and lives in London.  She has released some six EPs since 2018 and has been played on the radio on WXPN.  I see she’s also headlining a small tour over here in the Spring.

Yesterday I listened to the bedroom version of this EP, and here is the original release in all of its glory.  Interestingly, the sound isn’t all that much bigger, but there is a lot more instrumentation.  And some of these songs definitely rock harder.

“Disappear” is played on a gentle electric guitar with swirling keys and a simple drum clicking sound.  When the bass comes in after the first verse, the song feels really full (with a sprinkling of keyboard sounds added on top, too).  The middle third has a nice little section with bells as everything else fades out for a moment.

“1999”s guitars sound a bit more downbeat, deeper.  The middle has some lovely overdubbed guitar parts. I really like the repeated guitar melody that flows all the way to the end,

“Apple Cider” is wonderfully upbeat in this version.  Bouncy guitars, more bells and her soft vocals make this sound like a perfect 90s alt-rock song.  Just as I was about to say this song was perfect, it added some “oohh la las” which don’t quite fit.  However, the crazy guitar solo(s) are very cool and more than make up for it.

“Ceilings” remains a quiet ballad with some nice falsetto vocals and trippy backing sounds that turn into a synthy solo.

“Angel” sounds different on this record too, with some staggered guitars and a fairly complex drum pattern.  There’s some noisy electric guitar on this song too.  I love the way this song rocks out at the end.  The rocking continues on “You Lie All the Time” (which still sounds a bit like Juliana Hatfield).  It rocks all the way through to the end,

The final song “Soren” is a slow ballad.  With the two guitars it does actually sound quite different from the bedroom version, which is kind of cool since they are for the most part pretty similar.

I enjoyed both versions of this EP, but I like this one more. There’s more variety and the songs rock a bit more.  I’m curious what her first full-length will sound like.

[READ: January 10, 2020] The Babysitters Coven

I don’t usually read books like this, but the cover caught my eye (I love judging a book by its cover) and I’m so glad I read it. It was fun and funny and mashed up ideas from existing stories into something all its own.

Esme Pearl is a babysitter.  She and her best (and only) friend Janis started a Babysitter’s Club back in junior high. There were of course four of them in the club and each girl paralleled one of the girls in the original series.  [I have never read those books, so I don’t know how much is taken from that series.]

I enjoyed Esme as a character for a number of reasons.  She was a believable seventeen year old, but a shy and kind of solitary one.  She uses some abbreviations, but the whole book is not littered with them.  Lines like “the number one perk of babysitting is OPP–other people’s pantries” is a good example.  Esme has a great tone of being above her school while still being unpopular (but not hugely so).  She lives in Spring River Kansas home of the Bog Lemmings (“apparently by the time they’d gotten to Spring River all the good mascots had been taken”).  About the cafeteria food: “I’d never seen a food that wasn’t brown.”  Later she grabs what she things is curry but which turns out to be gravy.

She and Janis coordinate outfits every day.  [I love the detail that Janis’ full name is Janis Jackson].  They don’t wear similar things at all, they just discuss the night before what their fashion choices will be and then show them off the next day,  They both love going thrifting, so their outfits are unique.  If I had one complaint about the book it’s that there’s no way a backwater town like Spring River would have such amazing thrift stores.  Anyway, today “Janis was ‘Denise gets a step-daughter’ and I was “Sylvia Plath goes to prom.'”

Esme loves babysitting and she takes it very seriously–she does not wan any other kind of job, like where you wear a uniform–and she has built up a reliable collection of clientele.  She and Janis really are the only game in town.

As the book opens, Esme is babysitting Kaitlyn, a demon baby.  Not literally.  She is just a wild girl who is high maintenance. But Esme thinks of her as baby Satan (Kaitlyn managed to get a Sharpie and draw all over the wall while Esme was peeing).  But usually once Kaitlyn is asleep, she’s down.  This night things are different.  Esme heard a loud thunk and went upstairs,  The door was locked–Esme would never lock the door.  She somehow got the door open an saw that the bed was empty and the window was open.  She looked out the window and saw Kaitlyn on the roof.  Esme managed to get her back to safety.  When Esme asked what happened, Kaitlyn described a guy who looked like David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth. She knew that Kaitlyn watched a lot of movies so she assumed it was a nightmare. But there was so much unexplained…. (more…)

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30SOUNDTRACK: RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK-“Volunteered Slavery” (live March 1972).

kirkI had never heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk before reading this story.  This surprises me since i rather like avant garde jazz. I looked him up and was blown away by this live recording from Paris.

The song starts with a catchy saxophone riff.  The band (Ron Burton on piano, Henry Pearson on bass, Richie Goldberg on drums and Joe Texidor on percussion) interacts throughout the song–chatting, laughing.  Then they sing the simple, catchy lyrics:

Volunteered slavery has got me on the run
Volunteered slavery is something we all know

Then at two minute the magic begins.  He starts playing three horns at the same time.  I can’t quite tell what they are from this video, but he puts all three in his mouth and is able to play melody and harmony on separate instruments.  It’s amazing, if all too brief.

Then he starts playing a proper saxophone solo.  It runs for the next seven or so minute with the main melody being fun and bouncy, a perfect representation of 60s/70s jazz.

The band is very into it–“you got it!” and lot of encouragement all around. The song ends with a cacophony of percussion and whistles. What a fun set.  Wish I could have seen him live.

[READ: December 30, 2019] “Super Goat Man”

The end of the year issue is called the Cartoon Takeover: A Semi-Archival Issue.  So there’s a lot of cartoons, but there’s also some old stories. Like this one.

This was originally published in the March 29, 2004 issue of the New Yorker.  I don’t recall reading it then, so it was new to me.

When the narrator, Everett, was ten years old, Super Goat Man moved into the commune down the street from his house in Brooklyn.  Super Goat Man had fallen out of the world of superhero comics because he spoke out against the war and now he was living in a commune. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOONCHILD-Tiny Desk Concert #925 (December 16, 2019).

Here’s another band that I’ve never heard of.  I rather assumed with a name like Moonchild, that the band would be kind of trippy.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  What they are, though, are amazing musicians.  It’s almost comical when the camera cuts back to each one who always seem to be playing a different instrument.

Amber Navran, Max Bryk and Andris Mattson joined forces in 2012 at the University of Southern California and their debut album, Be Free soon followed. This year, they released their fourth album, Little Ghost, intricately meshing jazz, R&B and hip-hop sounds under Amber’s subtle vocal feats.

I love so many parts of these songs, that it’s a shame I don’t really like the songs themselves.

“Money” has some quietly funky music with cool bass sounds from Andris Mattson’s keyboard.  There’s also some interesting echoing sounds from Max Bryk’s keys.

But Amber Navran’s voice is just too 70s soft rock for me.  Even Efa Etoroma Jr. on the drums seems kind of wasted with the simple beat he is providing.  I really didn’t like the song once she started singing.  But then Bryk played a flute melody and Navran played a second flute melody at the same time (and I’m very much into flutes at the moment), so that was great.  There was also a very cool keyboard/bass line later in the song from Mattson.

The backing vocals from Erin Bentlage, Michael Mayo and Micah Robinson are very pretty.  But I really wasn’t digging it.

And then Bryk stops playing the keys and plays a saxophone melody.  Then they cut to Mattson and he is playing the fluegelhorn and the keybaord bass at the same time.  Then they cut back to Amber who is also playing a saxophone.  Wow.

I was blown away by them. I just didn’t like the song.

For “The Other Side” Mattson switches to acoustic guitar (is there anything he can’t do?) and Erin Bentlage picks up a ukulele.  They pay a lovely acoustic melody with nice piano sounds from Bryk.   It’s a shame this song went in the direction it did (the repeated lyric “the grass is always greener on the other side” isn’t terribly inspired either).  It’s so soft and gossamer that it could just float away.

After the is song, Amber

took advantage of the moment and amplified a cause near and dear to her heart. She asked us to “spend our privilege” and do more in the fight for people of color in the United States. They closed with a jam from 2017’s Voyager.

She spoke for a minute or so about finding a good cause that is helping people of color (even though she is not a person of color) and saying that if you earned something because of privilege it isn’t yours anyway, so it’s time to give it back.  I love the quote that “it’s not charity, its solidarity.”

The final song, “The List” is a jazzy number.  And once again I wish I liked it more, mostly because Amber is so nice.  As the blurb notes:

From the moment Amber walked into the building and throughout the performance, she wore a smile on her face and expressed sincere gratitude for the Tiny Desk platform.

I enjoyed the end of the song with the whistling.  There’s also an amusing moment when she says “give em some bass”  (there is no bassist) but Mattson plays a really funky bass line to take the song out.

[READ: December 5, 2019] “Old Hope”

I had been putting all of the New Yorker stories on the day the issue came out.  However, with the Short Story Advent Calendar taking up all of the Mondays in December, I figured I’d throw these pieces at the end of the year.

This is the kind of story that I really enjoy.  I’m not sure what about it speaks to me, but I enjoyed everything about it.

I like the vaguely specific opening of “When I was about halfway between twenty and thirty.”  The story is also chock full of details that I need to quote.  Like “I lived in a large, run-down house that other people thought was romantic.”  Her roommates are boys (not men, not really) who were often shirtless and smoked bongs that they didn’t clean.

One afternoon the narrator wrote an email to her high-school English teacher “because I remembered him as handsome in a remote way.”  She believed he went to a prep school, although “in college I learned that going to these schools entailed a lot of lacrosse and furtive blow jobs.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHARLY BLISS-“All I Want for Christmas is You” (2017).

For some reason I though this Christmas cover song came out this year.  It actually came out two years ago!

Charly Bliss do a fun power-pop version of this Mariah Carey song

It starts off quiet;y with just Eva Hendrick’s voice and a gentle guitar.  After the first verse, the whole band kicks in with a rocking pop version of the song.  There’s some great backing vocals from the guys (their oohs and ahhs are really great) and even a set of jingle bells from time to time.

Eva gets to rock out in the middle third with some loud high notes and then the band rocks out after that with some loud guitars a and a few screeching solo notes before the pleasant guitar solo that takes the song out.

There’s a lot of great versions of this song, and this is one of them.

[READ: December 20, 2019] “The Unbeatable Deck of Ronan Shin”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story was remarkably sad, but with, maybe, a small glimmer of hope.

Despite that overall tone, I loved the way it was created.  And that the main character plays a role-playing game.

The story is about Ronan Shin and his fantastic deck for the game Aftermath. Aftermath is a knock off game… sort of like Magic: the Gathering, but more nebulous.  It’s this vagueness that appeals to Ronan.  The cards

are made with a fraction of the budget of the card titans, and it shows.  The ink work is scratchy.  The faces are sometimes disconcertingly unfinished, askew, the expressions wrong, like they were meant for a different card, or a different game altogether.  …  Even the universe of the game is sketchy.  The game never attempts to explain who the player is within its world.  Nowhere in any of the flimsy game materials is the calamity that has befallen the planet described

It’s this shoddy strangeness that first hooked Ronan.  Of course, none of this matters in competition–it has nothing to do with the rules, which are concrete-but it’s the vague backstory that he likes.

His best (and really only) friend is Nima Tehrani.  Nima has theories about what the backstory is supposed to be–he spends time imagining an explanation for where they are playing. But Ronan knows the truth.  There is no secret mythology.  The company that makes Aftermath bought unused concept art from a few other failed role playing game and cobbled them together.  The game was made in a boardroom by people with no imagination.

But he still loves the game and he has an unbeatable deck. (more…)

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