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Archive for the ‘Shapeshifters’ 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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SOUNDTRACKNORA BROWN-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #136/148 (January 14, 2021).

Nora BrownGlobalFEST 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 third artist of the fourth and final night is fifteen year old banjo player Nora Brown.  Nora was born and bred in Brooklyn, but she has a huge affinity for Appalachian banjo music.

30 feet below the surface in Brooklyn, 10th grader Nora Brown brings incredible, surprising depth to the Appalachian music she plays. Over the course of her Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST concert, surrounded by innumerable globes and instruments, she infuses new life and energy into the traditional songs of Addie Graham, Virgil Anderson and Fred Cockerham. Nora weaves together songs and storytelling, speaking of the great history of the music that came before her and at which she excels.

Nor plays three songs. “The Very Day I’m Gone” is an Addie Graham song.  Graham was a singer from eastern Kentucky.  It is a slow piece that is primarily a bass riff with some high notes and very soft singing.

Her dad made the banjo she is playing.  As the song ends you can hear the shuttle train that runs back and forth about every seven minutes.

Nora has her school stuff on her tiny desk, since she’s been doing remote school learning.  And she’s a high school student which means she ends her sentences with, “So yeah”

“Miner’s Dream” is a Virgil Anderson tune.  He is from the Kentucky/Tennessee border and brought a bluesy touch to his banjo playing.  This one is a faster instrumental played on a snake head Gibson banjo, the bowl of which is over 100 years old.

“Little Satchel” is by Fred Cockerham.  The banjo she is playing is from John Cohen’s of the New Lost City Ramblers.   Roscoe Halcomb would use it when touring with John.  John recently passed away and the banjo is on its way to the Library of Congress.   The song has fast playing with a cool lyrical melody.  It’s my favorite of the three.

[READ: February 10, 2021] 5 Worlds Book 4

I had actually forgotten about this series, and was quite happy to see this book at the library.  This is book 4 of 5 (5 due out in May).

The book does a nice job of bringing us back up to speed in the first few pages–reintroducing everyone and reminding us what is going on.

Of all the books, this one was the most straightforward.  There’s not a lot of travels and we understand most of what’s going on by now.

Oona, Jax, An Tzu and Ram Sam Sam land on planet Ambrine in the town of Salassanra (where Ram Sam Sam is from).  They receive a mixed welcome.  Since they have lit 3 beacons things have not been great on all the worlds.  (The task is not completed, and the process is a little rocky).  Oona is met with some hostility although the planet people love her (she brought water to them after all).

But this task (to light the fourth (amber) beacon) seems pretty easy. The beacon is in a pyramid.  It’s right in front of them and they meet little resistance.  As Oona begins to dance she realizes this beacon is encrusted in indestructible amber.  She can’t break it, but old runes pop up and most likely lead to a clue. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEGAN THEE STALLION-Tiny Desk Concert #918/Tiny Desk Fest October 28, 2019 (December 2, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 28th was rap night featuring Mega Thee Stallion.

I’ve heard a lot about Megan Thee Stallion and how she is raunchy and sexually explicit and how what she’s doing is revolutionary.

And I’m for her bragging the way men brag and showcasing women’s needs and desires.  I think it’s fantastic.

Megan’s lyrical content lies in subverting established sexual dynamics, and no matter the level of raunch she deploys, empowering women remains the artist’s manifesto.

But wow, I found that by the middle of the first song I was overwhelmed by the language.  Now, I’m not prudish by any means, and I listen to songs with all kinds of language.  But the barrage of four-, five- and six- letter words was just nonstop.  Honestly it just seemed to lose any impact and seemed pretty monotonous by the third or fourth song.

But clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about because

the brilliant and bodacious rapper has ascended to major festival stages, become one of the most sought-after features on other stars’ songs and electrified late-night television audiences.

I will say that she comes across as really fun and joyful while she’s bantering

Of course, most of her bantering was bragging about which of her songs have gone gold or platinum.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me is that this was her first performance with a backing band.  Because I found her band was everything in this set.  I couldn’t imagine seeing her yell

I keep it realer than real
Fuck all the critics and fuck how they feel
I’m getting money, it is what it is
They wanna know how I did what I did
Don’t worry ’bout why I do what I do (bitch)
‘Cause I ain’t worried bout you (bitch)
Nah, I don’t wanna be cool (bitch)
Still hanging with the same crew (ay)

without a live band to back her up.  I mean, jeez, that would just be somebody standing on a corner ranting.  I got tired of men singing things like that years ago, so even if it’s cool for her to turn it on its masculine head, it’s still just yelling and bragging.

Her band is Phony Ppl, who played a Tiny Desk Concert last March and who I liked quite a bit.  The band is Elbee Thrie on vocals (and genral hype), Elijah Rawk on guitar, Maffyuu on drums, Aja Grant on keys, Bari Bass on bass.  I’m unclear if Ebony Joi is with Ppl or Megan, but she sings some lovely backing vocals.

And I totally agree with this idea (although I won’t compare her without the band)

From “Hot Girl Summer” to the platinum-selling “Cash S***,” Hot Girl Meg’s raunchy hits took on new life thanks to a live backing band, Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl, who seamlessly blend jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

I liked the horror-movie sounding music of “Realer.”  I was amused that she described “Big Ole Freak” as more chill but it’s still raunchy.

Elbee Thrie sings the chorus on “Hot Girl Summer” (and I can’t believe she doesn’t have him singing along all the time).

Midway through the spirited set, Megan and Phony Ppl surprised the audience by premiering an unreleased collaboration, a bouncy banger titled “F*****’ Around.” After the first verse/chorus, the adoring crowd was singing along as if they’d known the song for years.

Thrie sings the lyrics and it really doesn’t seem like Megan does all that much, so I’m nit sure how much of a collaboration it is.  Although she likely wrote the lyrics, since she says “We don’t condone that shit, but sometimes….”

The final song is about how much money she’s got.  There’s some cool guitar licks on it.

So, despite all the raves for Megan Thee Stallion, I won’t be buying any of her mixtapes.  But then I am clearly not the target audience.

[READ: February 28, 2020] Fight Like a Girl Vol. 1

Never has my desire to like a story been so undermined by its execution.

This book was advertised in Princeless and, since it was also by Action Lab Comics and was clearly a feminist story, I was all over it.

But oh, the execution.

The book opens in a kind of black and white chamber.  It looks like a courtroom with the characters are talking to the heroine.

The characters are: Tartarus, Chronos, Apollo, Loki, Mercury, Fortuna, Fulla.  I can’t decide of this Pantheon of gods is meant to be multicultural or if it’s weird that the first four are Greek, Mercury and Fortuna are Roman, and Loki and Fulla are Norse,

And it’s in these pages that the typos begin. So many typos!  Which is weird since I suspect the book is hand lettered.

There’s some missing periods, an errant comma and then this line “and more importantly has the chance to be the next, artisan. [sic].”

But back to the plot, the judges have decided that Amaroso’s wish is acceptable and she will return in five days to enter the wishing well.

Then we flashback. Amarosa is talking to her boyfriend Kaiden saying that her brother is dying.  She has tried everything and her last resort is the wishing well.  Kaiden is concerned about what will happen if she fails but he convinces himself and her that she won’t fail.  She can’t.

Next, Amarosa is in the wishing well with nine trails to attempt.

But the real typo problems come with the fairy that is assisting her on her trials.  From awkward phrasings like “your nine trials awaits [sic] your grand arrival” to “let me run you down with [sic] the rules.”

Typos aside, the rules are simple.  Amarosa chooses a door and fights what is inside.  If she defeats the creature, a new door appears and she moves on through the nine trials. If she loses. Well, you know. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN SCALES FOURCHESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #943 (February 7, 2020).

I assumed that by this name, that this band would be contemporary classical.  I didn’t really consider that they would be jazzy (or that there would be three of them).  I certainly didn’t expect to hear steel drums!

Here’s a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It’s true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales’ virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

The first song “Focus Poem” opens with spectacular bass from E’Lon JD and complicated drums from Maison Guidry.  Then the huge surprise comes when Scales plays the steel pan drums.

Scales’ musical hero, Béla Fleck, happened to be performing in the Washington, D.C. area on the same day as this performance, with just enough time to stop in for one song,”Focus Poem.” It’s a cut Fleck originally played banjo on for the band’s 2018 album Pillar. While the tune is a regular on the trio’s setlist, this performance marks the first time they’ve played it live with Fleck. Scales later revealed that it was a little risky to open with such a technically complicated piece, but the execution was still superb.

Fleck is, of course, fantastic too and he plays a fantastic solo at the end.

So it’s like jazz but with banjo and steel pans.

I assumed that the band was fairly new but

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra has been performing for 13 years, now, redefining the steelpans as a signature jazz instrument. The first iteration of the band was a trio-plus-guitar, hence the “four” in the name. But when drummer Maison Guidry and bassist E’Lon JD joined Scales later, it was clear the trio’s sound was complete. JD grounds the music with powerful bass lines, combined with guitar-like melodic and harmonic embellishments.

The other two songs in this set are also from Pillar. While it’s not his most recent album, Scales calls it his most potent work to date, a quintessential representation of his music.

Introducing “We Came Through The Storm,” he says he’s always wanted to compose for cinema, so for this song he pretended he was writing music for a movie.  There’s a repeating four-beat rhythm (with complex drumming on top, of course) and great lead steel pans and wild bass.

With its heavy arrangement, is one of their most popular tunes, partly because of the dazzling drum riffs Guidry nails with playful proficiency.

The final song they play is “Fake Buddha’s Inner Child” is a lullaby to your inner child.  We have an outer shell he calls the Fake Buddha which says “we can handle this, I’m cool.”  Meanwhile, the inner child is exposed, full of anxiety and depression.  He considers this song to be a “Lullaby to the inner spirit.”  It’s a quieter song with high notes on the bass and a lot of cymbals.

It’s a great quiet ending to a wild set.

[READ: February 10, 2020] 5 Worlds Book 3

The story is magical and fairly complicated with a lot of parts.  But the crux is the dire situation on the five worlds.  Moon Yatta is a desert; Salassandra’s animals are all dying; Grimbo(e) is covered in ocean moss and there are water riots on Toki, where the plant people are dying.  The Mon Domani Elder says that they need to light the beacons on the roof.  The other leaders are less convinced of the need for beacons and some are hostile to the idea.

Behind all of the trouble is a creature known as The Mimic–a super nasty fellow that is able to possess people.

At the end of book two our hero, Oona Lee and her friends An Tzu and Jax Amboy were unable to light the second beacon.  It turns out they have to be lit in a certain order and so they are off to Moon Yatta and the red beacon.

The opening of book 3 is a flashback to what happened to Jax when the escape pod crashed at the beginning of book two.  He was rescued by the Salassi Devoti and one of them put its spirit inside of Jax.  They never thought it would be possible to put a spirit in an android but Uncle Jep had left a space inside of Jax–a space that is perfect for this creature to infuse Jax with life.  Noe Jax is more than he was before.

An Tzu is very excited to go to Moon Yatta because it is the land of the free where they elect their leaders, where hopes and dreams come true.   The citizens hate to break it to him but things are not perfect there–the mimic is there, too.

When they arrive the beautiful lush moon (from An Tzu’s postcard) is now desert wasteland.  It turns out that Stan Moon bought all of the crops.  All water has been diverted to irrigate the Stan Moon fields. Stan Moon also bought the Mon Domani lands which is why Sao Sablo is a slum and why An Tzu’s life has been miserable.

The Red Beacon is in the center of Moon Yatta under a maze of tubes and tunnels.  The beacon is powering everything on the moon. How will they ever get to the beacon through the maze?  An Tzu says an old joke: “The best way to get there is to not start from here.”  Nobody gets it.

When they land on the moon, Oona is a celebrity–the beacon lighter–and they are preparing to introduce them to the Head Citizen.

Felizia is the Head Citizen and she is charming and delightful.  She has a feast for them which makes An Tzu pretty excited.  But she admits that the feast would be even more special if the shapeshifters were allowed to do their transforming dances.  The transforming dances are now illegal–they must wear collars that prevent them from changing shape.  Those who refuse are sent to the ruby desert.

When Oona says she wants to light the red beacon Felizia says, its an election season, they cant go changing things right now.

Felizia’s second in command Brightley whispers that Oona should talk to Eldridge and Derrick Stoak, heads of Nanotex Corporation–they have a bit more sway with the beacons.

The next morning the first order of businesses is getting An Tzu’s disappearing disease looked at.  They find the best doctor in the city and she insists on a large payment before even looking at him.  Moon Yatta is not the land of dreams that An Tzu imagined.

Oona has a similar problem with Derrick Stoak.  He wants to know what she will do for him if he lets her light the beacon–he is a businessman not an idealist.  What he wants most is for Jax A,boy to return to the Starball field–playing for Stoak’s Leaterheads team, of course.  Oon says she will ask Jax but she doesn’t think he’ll agree (and hopes he doesn’t).

An Tzu has started having vision. He comes out of one and believes that Stan Moon is the mimic.

Even Derrick Stoak is concerned is about Stan Moon, but his brother Eldridge thinks that Stan Moon is a great fit for Nanotex.

In order to assist Oona, Jax agrees to play one special Starball game.  But when Jax asks about the beacon, Derrick says too bad.  So Jax refuses to play but Derrick seems to know how to override and control Jax.  Dax still has that spirit in him but Derrick believes his doctors can reset Jax to his original Starball playing self.

Meanwhile, Oona, An Tzu an Ram Sam Sam are in the red maze looking for a way to the beacon and also looking for Etta Zelle, a Yattan Sand Master and shapeshifter.  While they are looking around they meet some street urchins. The urchins recognize Oona as the person who lit the beacons.  Thet tell her that they are rebels although they are all wearing the form-lock collars to prevent them from shapeshifting.

When they try to blast through the maze, they are arrested and sent out to the dessert.  Although it turns out Brightley had them sent to the desert rather than prison so that they could meet Zelle.  Oona confesses to a man there that she needs to find Zelle.  She also weeps a bit that she was in the red maze and couldn’t even summon the fire needed to light the beacon.  The stranger says “perhaps you were too busy–carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”  Then the man transforms into Etta Zelle.

Etta Zelle is great, comforting and instructive.  She also confirms that Stan Moon is the Mimic, but even if they kill Stan Moon, the mimic will live on.

Then Etta Zelle shows Oona how to make a portal (it’s pretty amazing).  Oona can’t actually control the portal yet–to rather amusing results.

Back at Nanotex headquarters, the board are talking about the situation on Moon Yatta and Eldridge reveals that they are basically going to be rigging the election in favor of Stan Moon.  The leaders are outraged and don’t want to undermine Yattan democracy.  Mr Tarney says he quits, but as he does so, Stan shapeshifts into a fearsome creature to frighten Mr Tarney into going along with them.   The only one having any misgivings now is Derrick, but he keeps his mouth shut.

Part of the propaganda for Stan Moon comes in the form of Peet Bowl a fat , sweating outraged TV person–this character is so clearly any one of a number of Fox news anchors–hysterical, unhinged and strangely persuasive.    He shouts things like

Our very way of life, our own Yattan way is under siege.

If only he said they would make Yatta great again.

Meanwhile the police track Oona and her crew to he desert  They storm in with the intent on grabbing them all but Etta Zelle and Oona make portals and everyone escapes except Zelle.

Although Derrick is upset about what happened, he still wants to ensure that Jax Amboy is back on board with him.  Soon we see Jax in a commercial urging criminals and rebels to quit and to turn in the beacon lighter.  But before Oona and An Tzu can get too upset, the person who actually reprogrammed Jax finds An Tzu and says that he an be deprogrammed if he says “Do it for Laaniel.”   And so, during the important Starball game, when Jax collapses, An Tzu is able to shout those magic words to him.

As the book comes to an end we see that Stan Moon and Eldridge have created an army of Jax Amboy look-alikes.

When Stan Moon walks away, Derrick asks Eldridge to try out the cryotech pod.  Which he closes up and sends off to the Y-26 System.

He then apologizes to Jax Amboy and sets a bomb amid all the fake Jaxes.

Oona, An Tzu, JAx and Ram Sam Sam are reunited, but before they celebration the election results are in and Stan Moon has won

And this surely has to do with the 2016 election

An Tzu looks at the screen on Stan Moon talking and shouts “Liar! It’s the Mimic!  They elected the Mimic!”  And Oona says “Most wont believe it. Some won’t even care.”

The security forces close in on Oona and her group but she uses some advice that An Tzu gave her earlier to get to the beacon.

The book end with An Tzu’s eyes glowing in a strange way and when they they ask him what he sees, he says Home!

Continued in the next book!

The illustration style continues to be excellent and very trippy–soft and delicate with fine lines and gentle coloring. It looks very anime and yet it’s not.  It’s hard to know which artist’s style dominates.  I feel like Boya Sun, but they all have a similar aesthetic.  I really like the character design as well.  I found it very refreshing that none of the characters look like superheroes (well except for Jax the athlete).  Oona is a short girl who has wide hips and thighs and An Tzu is a chubby boy.  Even the other creatures are all interesting and uniquely designed.

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SOUNDTRACK: TWIN PEAKS-“Spiders (Kidsmoke)” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

This was the last song on this compilation and it’s my favorite.

There’s a lot of Wilco songs that I like and “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is way at the top.  The song is really long and doesn’t change a lot but the changes are fantastic.  One of the great things about the song is Nels Cline’s insane guitar work throughout–noisy and seemingly uncontrolled, but somehow fitting in perfectly with the 1-2-3- bass line.

This version by Twin Peaks is as good, if not slightly better than the original.  I say that because the band sounds a little fuller during the verses which I like (although it does make the change to the noisier section less dramatic).  And Nels Cline;s guitar work is more interesting than the Twin Peaks version–although they do some cool things too.

I think Twin Peaks has a bit more of the heavy alternative sound the I like.  The vocals are great, the guitars are great.  I’ve now listened to both versions back to back and I like them both!

This cover actually made me investigate Twin Peaks more and I was bummed to find out that they had just played a show in our area after I had listened to this song.

Next time!

[READ: February 20, 2020] Princeless: Volume 5

This book opens with Adrienne and Bedelia enjoying a cleansing bath in a lake (I assume).  While they are getting clean, Adrienne mourns the state of her hair.  How often she has tried to straighten and control the knotty curls on her head.  And after some serious thought, she has Bedelia shave it all off.  I love that when she pops out of the water newly shorn, she looks gorgeous–well done Emily Martin.  On a less great note, there’s a scene in the water where Bedelia, who is a strong and rugged half-dwarf lets not forget, is drawn with a waist that would be about 10 inches across in real life–bad form Emily Martin.

In book two, Devin and Kira are trotting along (with the tough Kira getting nauseous on the back of a horse).  When suddenly Kira smells… an elf.  And it is her duty to kill it.  Kira dives on the elf’s travelling companion, who is Prince Wilcome.  The elf, named Tempest, quickly disarms Devin and takes his sword.  They are at an impasse.

Next we jump to the dwarf kingdom.  There are two male guards out front discussing music and almost come to blows during their argument, calling each other girlie and arguing which one is the real man.  But when another dwarf comes along shouting Dragon, we find out that the dwarf dragon slayers are all women.  They prep themselves and get ready to make dragon stew.  After a kiss between Benna and Gretta they fling the dwarfs through the air from a catapult. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HANDSOME FAMILY-“Capitol City” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

I’ve know of The Handsome Family for a long time, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard them before.  “Capitol City” is also a bit of a mystery.  It appeared on a Wilco bonus disc (for the deluxe edition of The Whole Love).  I assumed it had something to do with The Simpsons, but I guess it doesn’t.

This is a kind of honky-tonk version with banjo and “gadgets” as part of the lineup.   It’s fun with lots of weird sound effects swirling around this otherwise conventional song.

I wish you were here. Better yet, I wish I was there with you.

[READ: February 20, 2020] Princeless: Volume 4

Sir Gahiji the Hunter has learned that Adrienne is actually not dead and is in fact the knight they are all after.  He shares this information with the Black Knight. They instantly fight and the Black Knight knocks out Gahiji (or Cat Hat, since he wears a wolves’ head on his head).

Adrienne and Bedelia are headed for Grimmorium Swamp.  Bedelia tells of some horrible things that live there: flesh eating goblins, swamp creatures, electric fish, squirrels… real live squirrels! (The squirrel revelation is pretty great).

Back at the castle, the King grabs Devin and brings him along to the forest where the encounter the remains of the Queen’s carriage.   The King says he thinks the Black Knight is responsible.  The King then introduces Devin to the wolves (Kira scares the daylights out of him).

Amazingly Devin and Kira soon bond well enough.  The leader of the wolves says that he wishes his daughter were inquisitive like Devin. The King says he’d rather have Kira in battle–he’s seen rabbits with more courage than his son.  In the background we see Kira and Devin climbing all over his mother’s empty chest.  When he comes out he stands tall and says “I’m going on a quest to save my mother!” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUSS N BOOTS-“Jesus, Etc.” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

This was my introduction to Puss N Boots, a group consisting of Catherine Popper, Sasha Dobson and …Norah Jones?  They’ve been getting some buzz lately (of course) and it’s interesting to have my first exposure to them through this cover of one of my favorite Wilco songs.

This has a great slow rocking sound.  It’s got minimal instrumentation (no drums), just electric guitars and bass.  The women harmonize really nicely.

I really like this version, although whoever is singing lead (Catherine or Sasha) has that weird thing that singers seem to be doing now where it almost sounds like a speech impediment on the letter r.  The way she sing skyscrapers so it almost sounds like skyskwrapers.  And cry sounds like cwry.

It’s a thing that I’ve heard a lot lately and I can’t quite wrap my heard around it.  It’s not an accent, but what is it?

Regardless, I do like this version.  The opening electric guitar is great and their voices work very well together.

[READ: February 19, 2020] Princeless: Volume Two

I like the artwork y in this book so much better than the first.  I feel like Emily Martin brings a whole new level of greatness to this series.  The coloring is also much more vibrant.  It’s possible that the printing I had for book 1 wasn’t very good, but this book is fantastic.

The book opens with Adrienne’s father speaking to the bravest knights of the land: Sir Rocks the Mighty; Sir Gahiji the Hunter (who wears a wolf head on his head); Sir Raphael the Handsome (a poet and a vampire); Sir Walsh the Braggart; Sir Zachary the Pure (who serves the gods); and The Black Knight, the king’s fiercest of friends.  They have been summoned to kill the knight who made off with Adrienne’s head and bring the head of her dragon.  Whoever can do so will win his daughter’s hand in marriage.  (Which daughter? someone whispers).

Devon is angry that his dad is doing this so he goes to talk to his mom.  But she has plans–she is leaving and going to visit her parents.  He can’t believe she is running away too.

Back to our heroines.  We see them flying on Sparky, with Bedelia hanging from a rope and swiping food from the cart of a thief who stole the food in the first place.  But Sparky isn’t the most coordinated of fliers and soon enough, Bedelia and Adrienne wind up in a tree.  Again.

They manage to regroup and are sitting near a fire eating their plunder when a dandy prince shows up.  His name is Roderick Lovelorn and he is a poet.  He calls her fair lady and i love that there’s a running joke that she is not fair–fair means pale and she is not pale, she has brown skin (and kinky hair) thank you very much.  He is heading home to his muse.  The lady whom all seek to see but none dare to touch.

As he goes on like this, Adrienne gets annoyed because she realizes that he is talking about…her sister Angelica. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAMES ELKINGTON-“Black Moon” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Elkington is the first person on this compilation I didn’t know.

He plays an absolutely gorgeous, complicated guitar melody to open the song.  I am mesmerized by how lovely it is.  It’s actually so much different from the original–which has a subdued guitar opening–that i didn’t recognize the song at first.

Elkington sings in a quiet, hushed voice through the verses which continue that beautiful guitar melody and add percussion.

When the chorus kicks in with organs and a great electric guitar slide it become catchy just like the original (possibly more so).  But as the chorus dissolves into the verse, the electric guitar soars throughout while the acoustic picked guitar resumes the beauty.

What a wonderful cover and what a fantastic guitar player.

[READ: February 15, 2020] The Hidden Witch

After finishing The Witch Boy, I was really happy to see that we also had the second book in this trilogy, The Hidden Witch.

This book picks up right where the last one left off, although this one includes a map of the area, so we can see how close Aster’s house is to the main town (and the school).

The book opens in with witchcraft class.  Aster is there with the girls (who are looking at him funny).  He is far behind but his Aunt Iris doesn’t seem too happy about the fact that he is in the class.

Aster’s grandmother agrees to teach him if he will help her.  Her special request is to try to save her brother Mikasi–the creature from the previous book who they have trapped.  She believes that because Aster also had an inkling for witchcraft that he could possibly speak to the Mikasi within the beast.

Then we switch to Sterling Junior High where Charlie is showing off that her leg is no longer broken.  But there’s  new girl in school now.  Her name is Ariel and she seems very dark–thick eyeliner, dark clothes, etc,

This is one more reason why I love this series so much.  Charlie walks up to Ariel and tries to talk to her.  Ariel says you don’t have to partner with me just cause you pity me or whatever.  And Charlie replies “I thought you looked cool.  I like your bracelets.” They immediately start chatting and Ariel admits that she is good at art.  She draws something and Charlie is very impressed.  And soon enough they are friends.  I loved that interaction and wish it was that easy in real life.  And maybe sometimes it is.

Later that night, Aster goes to Charlie’s house. Their friendship is out in the open–her dads like him and everything.  They talk about their day and have a family dinner (I love that Charlie has two dads, but it is not a plot point or an issue at all.  It just is).

Then we cut to Ariel’s house.  Ariel is in foster care (you can tell by how different she looks from the rest of the family).  Her “dad” is kind of jerk saying that if she can’t make it in this school, she may have to go back to the foster system (jeez).

Ariel complains that trouble finds her–none of the things that happened in the past were her fault.  But the whole time she is staring at the phone and getting angrier.

Charlie promised she would call that night but she hasn’t..  And by the time she is ready for bed, Ariel goes to her hideout and summons a Fetch which she sends to find Charlie and give her “a scare.”

The Fetch is basically a shadow that sneaks into Charlie’s room and burns her (or something) on the arm.  Charlie runs away and the creature follows.  She runs all the way to Aster’s house and when she crosses through the protection stones, the Fetch can’t follow.

Charlie finds Aster and with his grandmother’s help, he is able to heal her arm.  Then the grandmother looks through the eyestone and they an all see the Fetch.  The grandmother can’t determine who made the Fetch, but she does make a protection spell for Charlie.  As Charlie walks away, Aster agrees to help his grandmother wit her brother.

At school the net day, Ariel is making enemies and sends a Fetch to push the bullies around a bit.  She is also super frosty to Charlie.  That’s when Charlie realizes she forgot to call her and is very sorry.  When she says “You kind of hate me now,” Ariel is taken aback and promises not to hate her.

She asks why Charlie had a bad night.  Charlie says she dealt with whatever it was and Ariel says to herself that that’s never happened before.

The next day, Charlie and Ariel are studying together when Aster comes by to bring Charlie a bracelet of protection.  Ariel gets a little jealous of their friendship.  When Aster leaves, she says boys are mean.  Charlie says everyone can be mean sometimes.  Charlie says that even though she has friends, sometimes she thinks everyone got the message about how to act and she missed it.  That’s why she likes Ariel.

Ariel is offended “Because I don’t know how to act?”
Charlie replies, “Because you don’t think there’s a right way to act.  You’re just doing your thing.”

That night is Charlies basketball game.  Aster goes and on his way Sedge tags along.  Sedge admits he doesn’t want to shapeshift–he’s freaked out about it.  In fact, he thinks that normal school sounds pretty great.

At the game Aster sees that Fetch is helping Charlie in the game–fouling people and assisting with the ball. Charlie is devastated that she wasn’t as good as she thought she was.  But the more pressing concern is who was casting the Fetch.  That’s when she realizes it must be Ariel.

They confront Ariel and she says that Charlie is clearly a witch too–that’s why she wasn’t hurt by the Fetch.  But Aster says it was his family that helped Charlie.  And he wants to help Ariel as well–hes concerned for her because the Fetch could backfire on her.   Being angry all the time can really impact you–When people treat you like a monster you start to act like one.

Soon enough the Fetch attacks Ariel and she is rendered unconscious.

Aster and Charlie bring her to Aster’s house–the only place she can get help.

I loved the way the story was resolved and who it tied so nicely to the previous book.  I also enjoyed the way the story lines twisted together ta the end (no spoilers)

I’m looking forward to book three (which is out already)!

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SOUNDTRACK: JEN CLOHER-“Impossible Germany” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Cloher takes on of my favorite Wilco songs and transforms it in a way that I quite like.  The song opens with some cool buzzing guitar sounds before the main melody resolves with some plinking guitars and keys.

When Cloher starts singing in her quiet, whispering voice, the song builds up a bit and grows really catchy (with cool sound effects swirling around).  The song is really mellow and catchy until the guitar solo in the middle which has a great echo on it as the song ramps up the speed.

I love that the song has picked up the pace and Cloher has vocally as well, although her delivery remains much the same–understated and cool.

It’s a great version.

[READ: February 15, 2020] The Witch Boy

My daughter has had this book for quite some time and she and S. both encouraged me to read it.  I didn’t put it off for any reason, it’s just that there were other things around first.

But boy did I love this story.

I love that it plays with gender roles but in the inverse of a lot of stories.  In this one the boy wants to do what the girls normally do.  And I liked that it’s not that the boys think what the girls do is too girly, it’s just that that is how it has always been done–boys do one thing and girls do another.  So it’s a nice twist on the gender role reversal story.  Plus the story is unyieldingly positive.

We open on a group of young girls learning witchcraft.  I love that they are speaking in runes and that (I assume) Osterberg made up all the symbols?  Or maybe they are classic witchcraft symbols?

Then we see that Aster is in the tree above them eavesdropping.  He is yelled at and told the girls are leaning secrets that he is not privy to.  His mother tries to calm him by saying the magic is not for him, but he insists that he wants to learn it.  But his role, like all the boys, is to learn to shapeshift (I’m glad they each have a cool skill, at least).  But he’s not interested in shapeshifting.  He wants to cast spells.

Then we learn why the gender roles are separated.  Aster’s grandmother had a twin, Mikasi.  Mikasi wanted to learn magic and he eavesdropped as well.  But the spells poisoned him and he lost control.  A darkness came over him, people were hurt and he was cast out. (more…)

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