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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 22, 2022] In Beta_

I saw this book at work and was grabbed by the cover (yes, clearly covers do signify something about the book).  I decided to read it before reading much about it.  I didn’t understand the accolades until I read the acknowledgments at the end.  The book was self published through Inkshares, but it then went on to win (or at least do very well in some Nerdist/Inkshares Contest.  Which I guess is a big deal, maybe.

The book is set in a small town in the rural Pacific Northwest in 1993.  The town of Bickleton is boring.  Super boring.  There are like three businesses in town, one is a restaurant and grocery store together.  Everybody seems to work in the mines.  And there’s like a curse on the high school.  No a single person has ever gone to college.

And people aren’t exactly sure why–their grades are good, they just apparently aren’t good enough for even community college.

The main characters are Jay Banksman and his best friend Colin Ramirez.  They are nerdy boys who love video games and probably won’t be going to the prom.

Their school is a strange set up in which Jay and Colin and some of the other brainier kids are in a special classroom set apart from the rest of the school.  I have no idea if this is even remotely realistic, but who knows.  There was A-Court, the largest building which was close to the main parking lot and seemed to house all of the cool and popular people.  C-Court was smaller and shabbier and was where the dumber kids went–the burn outs.

Jay and Colin felt that A-Court was too vanilla and C-Court was too raw.  So they stayed in their trailer area called Tutorial.  Their teacher was Miss Rotchkey.  She had asked to teach these kids as a kind of experiment.  The school principal rolled his eyes at the whole thing but allowed it.  Miss Rotchkey was cool, teaching them existentialism and allowing them to use the school’s computer.  She was convinced that her class would be  the first to go to college.

But then came rejection day.  Everyone in the class was rejected from all of their schools, even their safeties.

Things were pretty much the same every day at school.  Then one day a rumor spread that there were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pies in the A-Court vending machine.  And Jay wanted to get one.  So he and Colin snuck down to the A-Court and managed to evade detection from the jocks and the cheerleaders when suddenly there was Jeremy and the Johns.  Jeremy McCracken was the most popular boy in school.  A handsome jock and star of the baseball team.  The Johns were everyone else on the baseball team (I love this little joke that literally everyone else is named John with no last name just initials).

When they see Jay, they crush his pie and punch him in the face.  The principal sends Jay to the guidance officer because, hey sometimes life isn’t fair.

Jay’s only solace is in video games.  He gets a lot of video game and computer magazines and is always looking for new games to try out.  One day he gets a game called The Build.  When he puts t into the school computer, the graphics look like just like Bickleton.  It’s 8-bit graphics, but there he can see the whole town.  Including people walking around.  He mouses to his class room and when he raises his hand, the pixel version of himself raises its hand too.

He can’t believe this.  He tries to tell people about it, but every time he starts to talk about it to someone, they glaze over and seem to forget everything he just said.

Then things start to look up for him.  Liz Knight, the most popular girl in school (who he has known since like first grade when they were actually friendly–the held hands once) breaks up with Jeremy and asks Jay to the prom.

Liz’s best friends (who only like to talk about Beverely Hills 90210) don’t seem to be on board with this–they look down their noses at Jay like everyone else does.  So what gives?  Is it a prank?  It’s hard to know because Liz has been acting really strangely lately (in addition to asking him to prom that is).  Has she has a breakdown?  Or a breakthrough?

The next day Liz and Jay are talking when Jeremy approaches and asks her to go for a ride with him.  She does and Jay is very jealous.  He looks at The Build and sees the red Mazda Miata driving away with a little heart above it.  He clicks around the screen and sees a menu for disasters.  So he clicks on tornado.

And within minutes a tornado appears on the screen.  And in the town–a town  that has never had a tornado in its history.

There’s a lot going on in this story (although it’s a very fast read).  I don’t want to give any kind of spoilers away, but I do like to mention that Jay finds out his avatar’s stats: Strength; Speed;  Hit Points; Intelligence.  And at some point he moves them all up to ten.

This allows him to take sweet revenge on the Jeremys and to have access to intelligence and memories that he’s never known before.

The story sounds like an all boys story and it kind of is, but as the story moves along, two women become essential to the story.  There’s Liz of course, and there is also Stevie, a computer nerd who has mad programming skills.

Having the book set in the nineties means that Harvey overloads the book with 90s pop culture.  It goes a bit overboard.  He throws in some good music cues (Beck, My Bloody Valentine) and some bad ones (the bullies drive around playing Kriss Kross’ “Jump” all the time.  I’m also curious, since I didn’t go to school in the 90s, but would they have played Rage Against the Machine at a prom and would the kids have slam danced?  I cannot imagine.

So this was a fun story and one that I read very quickly.

And, if you’re wondering, as I was, about its similarity to other popular culture books and movies, he says in the acknowledgments that he started it about a decade ago and was about a group o seventh graders who found a magic VCR that brought 80’s movie clichés to life.  While he was finishing it up, Ready Player One, The Lego Movie and Free Guy (I don’t know this last one) all came out.  So he changed his tactics a bit.

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus.

[READ: December 26, 2021] Skiing Tales of Terror

My daughter T., got this book for me for Christmas.  She bought it at a flea market.  She told me that she thought I’d like it because it looked like the kind of cartoon books that I like (she is referring to the original editions of The Far Side that came in the short but wide comic style).

A fair guess.

Except that the content is entirely about skiing.  Which is something I have done maybe three times in my life.  And which I’m terrified of.

So, content-wise it’s not really my wheelhouse.

And yet, this book turned out to be pretty fascinating.  It is a mix of jokes about skiers and genuinely helpful skiing tips.  Indeed, if I had read this book before the first time I Went skiing I would have probably enjoyed the experience a lot more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: August 2021] World Piece 1

I saw this book at work and thought it looked really intriguing.  I liked Agroshka’s drawing style immediately and then the story really captured me,

It opens in a basketball game. Lucas Densen is a decent (but not great) player for his high school team (the Pulsars).  He makes a nice block, but he threw a terrible brick.  However, he’s really cute and quite popular with the ladies.

However, he’d really rather be spending time at his mother’s archaeological dig.  They haven’t found much stuff in this dig, but while Lucas is there the crew has a small discovery.  Lucas’ mother tells him not to touch anything, but when he sees something, he can’t help but grab it which sends him through a portal to another world where he is left holding the earth like it’s a basketball. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLOCK OF DIMES-Tiny Desk Concert #246 (August 10, 2021).

Flock of Dimes is a fun band name.  It’s the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner (I thought Wye Oak was a solo project as well–no, it’s a duo).  [Gee, why wasn’t Andy Stack invited to this sing along?]

For this Home Concert, the solo project turns huge with nine people sitting around having a big ol’ sing along (I’ll assume they are all vaccinated and that this was filmed before Delta took off).

The setup is pretty simple: three guitars (I love that the guys on the couch are lefty (Michael Libramento, baritone guitar) and righty (Alan Good Parker, tenor guitar) so it looks appealingly symmetrical). some percussion and a lot of voices (the men on the right of the screen seems somewhat less invested).

The friends who are singing along include the three singers from Mountain Man: Amelia Randall Meath, Molly Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  Meath is also in Sylvan Esso and her bandmate Nick Sanborn is also present (he’s one of the less invested men).  The set is filmed at Sylvan Esso’s new studio in Durham, N.C., called Betty’s.

“Two” is a bouncy number with lots of percussion.  I like the way the backing singers join in from time to time, but not constantly–it introduces new voices throughout.

One of the invested men is percussionist Matthew McCaughan from Bon Iver–he’s got a full complement of instruments at hand.  Joe Westerland (from Megafaun) is the other percussionist, he’s just a bit more subtle in his actions, but you can see him gently tapping through “Two.”

“Price of Blue” is a little slower but it has a wonderful melody.  The harmonies really standout on this song.

I don’t know the originals of these songs, but I have to assume the blurb is correct

These acoustic performances actually shed new light, thanks to radiant and radically different arrangements, while fully capturing the warmth we look for from Tiny Desk concerts.

Whatever the case, the backing vocals are tremendous.  You can really hear Molly Sarlé’s gorgeous harmony vocals.

“Awake For The Sunrise” feels like an old fashioned fire side sing along.  I’ve enjoyed Wye Oak’s music but I don’t know it very well.  I rather like Wassner’s delivery here–but i feel like these songs might not be as good without these harmonies!

[READ: August 12, 2021] New Teeth

I’m guessing that Simon Rich had a baby.

This collection of stories is loaded with stories about little kids.  And that’s all right because he has a very funny take on being a parent.

The other stories tackle the corporate environment and are full of fish-out-of-water stories.

“Learning the Ropes” is about being a new parent.  But it is written from the point of view of two pirates. And hilarity ensues.

What’s odd to me is that in his first books, his stories were really short, but I feel like lately his stories have gotten much longer–sometimes too long.  This one in particular kind of dragged at times, because it’s pretty much a one-note joke: what? pirates raising a little girl?!  One pirate is a concerned parent which means he wants them both to care about the child.  It’s got a few very funny moments, and of course, when the pirates who speak in pirate style (“The only man I trust is me first mate”) say things like “Arr… it be called ‘limit testing.’ She be acting out because she be craving discipline,” well, that’s classic Simon Rich right there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #206 (May 6, 2021).

I’ve been a fan of Negativland since 1987 when I discovered Escape From Noise.  I even saw them live back in 2000–a very unusual concert, indeed.  I should have known that Bob Boilen knew of Negativland–he knows everything–but it’s always a surprise when someone has heard of them.

It may at first seem that Negativland’s sound collage is an unlikely candidate for a Tiny Desk concert, but honestly, how many bands can you think of making music since the late 1970s while sitting pretty much at their desks? Formed in the Bay Area, Negativland are proud subverters of culture, causing trouble while having fun.

Negativland are provocateurs, taking aim at the media and how technology alters our perception of the world. You can hear that on their 2020 album, The World Will Decide. This Tiny Desk (home) concert looks frightfully similar to the way many of us work these days — on video conference calls, reacting in real-time to our colleagues, dissecting our interactions … but also occasionally having fun.

Negativland create four tracks in 18 minutes–it’s samples and original music looped and repeated.

The found sounds of Negativland come from original members David Wills, Mark Hosler, and Jon Leidecker (from left to right on the bottom of the screen), with visuals by Kevin Slagle [digital images] and Sue Slagle [print images–you can see her hands] (top of the screen).

I don’t know if these songs come from an album or if they were made just for this Concert.  The first track “It’s Normal” opens with a sample saying “It’s normal for something to come to your attention/you’re watching live music online/the national anthem is being sung to a click track that you can’t hear.” And another saying “It’s Ok, ask me if it’s gong to be okay.”

Then a beat starts and all five start waving their finger to the beat.  Holser was wearing a pug mask.  When he takes it off he is wearing a Coronavirus mask, but he takes that off too–but all you can see is his gear.  Davd Willis (The Weatherman) has one of the more notable recorded voices in “music.”  I’m delighted to hear him speak, although he doesn’t just yet.  To start with he’s just playing with a mirror.

Then Jon asks what year is that Booper from?  Willis answers “2010 it never leaves Seattle.”  “It never leaves Seattle?” “Damn right.”

Samples continue, “we’re goin to verify every single experience.  Of course you can’t record everything that happens.”

The noise segues into “No Brain” with a sample “the simple fact is the world is trillions of times more complicated than we experience it.”  Samples of “meaningless data” and David playing with a remote that’s making buzzing sounds.  David: “my favorite remote control.”

The sample says “the world turns to meet your gaze” as it segues into “Reality Game.”   The sample: “we’re going to verify every single experience.”  And “You don’t have to pay people to participate.  Participation is its own reward.”

Throghout the clips there’s been all kinds of visuals floating around.  Scenes from movies and random patterns, as well as words that float around on pieces of paper.  Then comes a clip of whales floating in space.

Sample: “Patterns.  We think that they mean something.  Transparent bowling balls with monkeys inside them hooked up to the biometric monitors floating in outerspace.”

A new sample, “What does subaltern mean?”  (Willis laughs… “angry guinea pigs, hee hee”.  “You will have no idea who else is playing the game” (“I don’t give a damn”)  “Got it?” (Nope).

Then Jon asks David, are you in the mood for singing?  I might be.  Yea ,I’m getting a bit more excited.  I feel like I might want to sing.”  This is all intro to “I’m Going To Sing Now.”  of course his singing is just mumbling incoherent nonsense and making silly noises, including “I’m singing at the Tiny Desk.  I have no idea what that means but I’m doing it.”  I alwyas wondered if The Weatherman was crazy.  This des not help in my decision.

The song ends with the sample, “So this person can in fact sing.”

After some silence, David asks, “Is that it?” and then someone triggers the sample: “Shop as usual…. and avoid panic buying” (as heard on Escape from Noise).

O doubt this Concert gained them any new fans, but it’s always great to see them doing stuff.

[READ: June 1, 2021] “Atlanta”

The June 11 issue of the New Yorker had several essays under the heading “Summer Movies.”   Each one is a short piece in which the author (many of whom I probably didn’t know in 2007 but do know now) reflects on, well, summer movies.

The title of Miranda July’s essay is not about a feature film, but about a short film that she made.

When she moved into a new apartment, she found a copy of the Thunderball soundtrack wedged in a drawer.

Great, she decided, this would be the soundtrack to her movie (which she hadn’t made yet).

Her movie was inspired by the 1996 summer Olympics (it was 1996). The movie was an interview with a 12 year old Olympic swimmer and her overbearing mother.  Miranda played both roles.  She set some scenes at the YMCA–but no swimming scenes because she didn’t swim. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YASSER TEJEDA & PALOTRÉ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert Meets SXSW #188 (April 6, 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.

Yasser Tejeda, a New York-based guitarist from the Dominican Republic, started his musical career on the Dominican cuatro (a folkloric guitar-like instrument) and has incorporated guitar stylings that have made him a “go-to guy” for Dominican artists looking for passionate elegance in their sound.

They play three songs in fifteen minutes.  And as with much music from this part of the world, the drums (Victor Otoniel Vargas) and percussion (Jonathan “Jblak” Troncoso) are unstoppable.

Yasser Tejeda and his band Palotré begin their set behind a home desk with “Amor Arrayano,” weaving a vaguely Caribbean feel with a killer R&B hook.

“Amor Arrayano” is a smooth love song gently echoing guitars and a smooth grooving bass.

After a brief introduction of his bandmates Tejeda launches into “La Culebra,” the track that caught my attention from their album Kijombo. Palotré is a powerful groove machine behind Tejeda’s virtuosic guitar playing and his playful dance moves.

“La Culebra” (The Snake) opens with percussive rattlesnake sounds from “Jblak.”   Kyle Miles plays a bouncy bass while Tejeda plays a cool virtuosic lead.  This (mostly) instrumental rocks on in various tempos for the duration of the song.

Tejeda has stated one of the goals of this project is to explore the crossroads between Afro-Dominican musical traditions with anything else that pops onto their radar. Their final song here,”Nuestras Raices,” [Our Roots] has become one of my favorites because I hear the essence of Africa mixed with jazz and maybe a hint of heavy metal, as Tejeda steps on his distortion pedal to kick the band into overdrive with guest tenor saxophonist Mario Castro in tow.

“Nuestras Raices,” opens with a ton of drums and Castro playing the intro melody on the sax.  The songs shifts gears to a quiet verse and then Tejeda stomps the distortion pedal for a brief foray into ripping guitar before pulling back for another quiet verse.  After some faster sections, the song slows down to a kind of moshing feel with all kinds of wild time changes, jazzy sax and heavy metal chords.

It’s pretty fantastic.

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the first book in the Charlie Thorne series. I read the second one last month.  I don’t like to read things out of sequence, but it didn’t really impact this story all that much.  The only thing that I “knew” was that Charlie escaped at the end of the story.  But that’s pretty obvious since there was a second book.

This book was also good for some of the background information I was seeking.  Although, it turns out that Gibbs didn’t include a ton of background info on Charlie.  We learn just enough to understand how she is the way she is without getting bogged own in details.

The story starts with a Prologue set in Princeton, NJ in 1955.  It’s the evening of Einstein’s death and after being given some (unwanted) painkillers, he starts muttering something.  By the end of the night the secret service are all over his small house trying to uncover whatever it was he muttered (in German) about.

The book properly starts at CIA Headquarters as Dante Garcia is heading a team.  He is insisting that they call in the help of Charlie Thorne, a super-smart 12-year old girl with a potential criminal past.  His boss is skeptical but trusts Dante, so she agrees.  he also says he wants to work with Milana Moon, one of the best agents in the force.

Cut to a ski slope in Colorado where we are introduced to Charlie and her amazing mathematical mind.  She is able to picture the angles and speed she needs to conquer Deadman’s Drop.

The way she does it is pretty cool and it also sets up the first exciting chase.  She recognizes Dante and his partner as agents.  She doesn’t know why they are here but she knows she needs to evade them.  This leads to the first of many exciting chase scenes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAE KHALIL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #171 (February 18, 2021).

Rae Khalil was a contestant on Netflix’s music competition show, Rhythm + Flow.  I distrust anyone who wins a music TV show, but I really liked Khalil’s music.

She is recording in Harun Coffee in the historic Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles.  Khalil’s set is a colorful explosion of talent, perfectly complimenting the funky patchwork and textures of her attire.

She calls her band The ill, and they are pretty great, in particular the fantastic bass work from both Dominick Cruz and special guest Kelsey Gonzalez of The Free Nationals (they switch mid set).

“Way Down” opens with retro keys from Elyzr and grooving bass (from Gonzalez) and a fiddly guitar solo from Takoda Barraza (on a nifty green Steinberger guitar).  Khalil has a great delivery throughout–quiet, understated and yet powerful too.  Drummer Nico Vasquez sets a killer rhythm throughout, too.

“Tiny Desk! Happy Black History Month!,” rapper, singer and songwriter Rae Khalil exclaims before gliding into “FATHER,” from her LP Fortheworld.

“FATHER” has a lengthy jazzy keyboard intro from Elyzr.  When Khalil sings, her delivery is understated on this one as well, although she occasionally lifts her voice into a kind of croon.  Dominick Cruz plays a jazzy guitar solo.

Sticking to the “inspiration” theme of our Black History Month celebration, she recites an excerpt from Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” The 86-year-old words still read painfully relevant for many Black people in this country today.

Her reading of this poem is really good.  I wasn’t familiar with it and I can’t believe it is 86 years old.  I thought it was quite possible she had just written it, it felt so disturbingly contemporary.

The Torrance, California native’s musical theater background shines through here; she exudes an array of emotions in a span of minutes on tracks like “UP LATE” and “MARIA,” making it impossible to look away.

“UP LATE” has an outSTANDING bass line from Dominick Cruz.  Rae starts the song singing softly , but with speedy delivery.  Then she takes off!  Dramatically singing/rapping/laughing/pausing and then on a drop of a hat, “MARIA” shifts tones and she starts scatting along to the gentle jazzy music.

Vasquez get a few mini drum solos in the middle before the song takes off again and then ends with a jazzy bass solo from Cruz.  It’s fun watching her dance in he big bell bottoms.

This was a really great Tiny Desk and while it won’t get me to watch any reality music programs, I will acknowledge the success of this performer (although she didn’t even come in the top 8, so the heck with that).

[READ: March 30, 2021] Charlie Thorne and the Lost Island

This is the second book in the Charlie Thorne series.  I had not read the first one but S. told me that I would love it and that the first book wasn’t necessary for the enjoyment of this book.  And that was absolutely true.  This story does follow that one, but it is wholly independent and anything that needs to be filled in from the previous adventure is dealt with pretty handily.

So who is Charlie Thorne?  She is a genius.  She is a fugitive.  She is not yet thirteen.

I have not read any Stuart Gibbs before (except for one short story), but I understand his Spy School is a great series.  I have to hand it to him right away for writing such a cool and compelling protagonist for this series.  And also for having a story with so much fascinating information included.

As the book opens, Charlie is surfing off a small island near the equator.  She chose this location because it is very remote.  She needs to be remote because of what happened in the previous book (she has a piece of information that everyone from the CIA to a dozen other international cartels would kill for).

She assumed she was safe, but knew she wouldn’t be for very long–nowhere was totally hidden.  But while she’s here, she’s going to learn to surf.

Gibbs using surfing to show off Charlie’s brain power.  She has never surfed before but because she is so smart–so good at using numbers to read nature–she never misses a wave and never wipes out.  The locals think she might be a demon.  I enjoyed the way he uses her skill at figuring out angles and pacing and such in several later scenarios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKGABRIEL GARZÓN-MONTANO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #147 (January 19, 2021).

Gabriel Garzón-Montano did a solo Tiny Desk Concert a few years ago, as the blurb quickly points out

If Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s solo Tiny Desk back in 2017 was an exercise in restraint and vulnerability, his home set is the polar opposite. It beams ingenuity and unveils multiple layers, figuratively and literally.  In this performance he brought the full band, sporting all white from mask to toe and bringing to life all the sonics we hear on the record, last year’s genre-snubbing Agüita.

They play three songs.

Garzón-Montano morphs into three different characters from Agüita and stretches the boundaries even more, adding salsa flavor to “Muñeca” and delivering some bonus bars on the set opener, “With A Smile.”

“With A Smile” opens with just his face surrounded by flowers as he plays a pretty acoustic guitar.  The flowers move away as the Gracie Sprout’s harp adds more pretty notes.  As the song moves along with Gabriel’s soft and sexy voice, Itai Shapira’s bass and Lenny “The Ox”‘s drums come thumping in.

Like the rest of his band, Gabriel is in all white, including white Uggs and a long white coat with tails.   The only color is from the sweater underneath.

At the end of the song he raps in Spanish, which has a really nice flow.

Taking advantage of of the rare opportunity to gather musicians in quarantine times, he says “It’s like being a child who’s allowed to do what they always wanted to do when they didn’t wanna get up for school, and it’s also felt like an adult who didn’t know what to do at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. I’m focusing on oscillating between those states with ease.”

For “Muñeca” he takes off the big coat and shows off the colorful sweater which has a fascinating cut, including tails.  For this song, it’s a trio of bass and Daniel Rodriguez on drums. Rodriguez plays a funky middle with conga and cowbell as Gabriel gets up and dances.  He picks up the guitar again at the end of the song for a little strumming outro.

Before the final song, Gabriel moves to the piano.  He takes off the colorful sweater to reveal a sleeveless shirt underneath (which shows off his tattoos).

“Tombs” features the KROMA Quartet and everyone else on synths.  Nicholas Semrad plays the lead, but everyone else adds melody.  It’s a delicate song with an interesting and slightly creepy synth melody.  About half way through this six minute song he gets up and picks up an electric guitar.  He and  Justin “Jhawk” Hawkins play a harmony solo together, which sounds pretty cool.

I am quite intrigued by this singer, and I love the description of genre-snubbing.

[READ: February 28, 2021] Pops

I have often said I wanted to read more books by Michael Chabon.  And after finishing this I realized that the only novel by him that I’ve read is Kavalier and Clay and that was 21 years ago.  So maybe it’s time to get into some of these other books.

Pops is a collection of (very) short essays.  Most were written for Details Magazine (which folded in 2015), one for GQ and a final one I’d already read in the New Yorker.

“Introduction: The Opposite of Writing”
It’s not too often that you really enjoy an introduction, but this one was pretty great.  In it, Chabon talks about when he was an up and coming writer and he met a well-established Southern writer.  This writer told him that the secret to being a good writer was not having children.  That for every child you have, you will lose one book.

Chabon had no children with his first wife but has had four with his second wife (the writer Ayelet Waldman).  So clearly they have lost eight books between them.

The writer’s argument was that children take away time from novel writing and that novel writing takes away time from children.  Chabon had always felt that his father was not very present (as one of the essays says) and he promised to be much more involved in his children’s lives).  These essays suggest that he was.  So how did he find time to write?  He does not say. (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: THE REDNECK MANIFESTO-The How (2018).

Despite a terrible name that would keep me away from wanting to see them, The Redneck Manifesto are a very interesting and complicated band.  I discovered them through the book of Irish drummers.  TRM drummer Mervyn Craig is in the book.

The How is the band’s fifth album (and first in eight years).  The album is chock full of instrumentals that touch all genres of music.

There are jazzy elements, dancey elements and rock elements.  There are solos (but never long solos) and jamming sections.  Most of the songs are around 4 minutes long with a couple running a little longer.

“Djin Chin” has jangly chords and quiet riffs that switch to a muted melody.  All the while the bass is loping around.  It shifts tempos three times in the first two minutes.  Around three minutes the bass takes over the lead instrument pushing the song along with deep notes.

“The Rainbow Men” has a circular kind of riff with swirling effects that launch the song during the musical pauses.  After a minute and a half it drastically shifts direction and the adds in a cool solo.

“Sip Don’t Gulp” starts with a catchy bouncy guitar riff and bass lines.  At two minutes it too shifts gears to a staggered riff that sounds great.

“Kobo” is the shortest song and seems to tell a melodic story.  The two guitars play short, fast rhythms as call and response while the bass rumbles along.

“Head Full of Gold” is over 6 minutes with a thumping bass, rumbling drums and soft synths.  “No One” is nearly 7 minutes and feels conventionally catchy until you try to keep up with the beats.  After a middle series of washes from various instruments, the back half is a synthy almost dancey rhythm.

“Sweep” is a pretty song until the half-way mark when it just takes off in a fury of fast drumming and complex chords.  The end builds in upward riding notes until it hits a calming ending

“We Pigment” is a poppy staccato dancey number.  The second half turns martial with a series of four beat drum patterns and a soaring guitar solo.  More staccato runs through to the end.  “The Underneath Sun” also has a lot of staccato–fast guitar notes interspersed with bigger chords.  The end of the song is just littered with sweeping guitar slides until the thumping conclusion.

This album is great and I’m looking forward to exploring their other releases.

[READ: January 10, 2021] A History of Ireland in 100 Words

This book looks at old Irish words–how they’ve evolved and how they show the way Irish history came about.  The authors say:

our store of words says something fundamental about us and how we think.  This book is meant to provide insights into moments of life that may be otherwise absent from history books.  The focus is on Gaelic Ireland throughout as Gaelic was the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of the island for the last 2000 years. It yielded its primacy to English only in the last 150 years.

We selected words with the aim of illustrating each of our themes as broadly as possible.  We wanted the words in all their richness to tell their story … like how the word that originally meant noble came to mean cheaper (saor).

Almost all of the entries reference The cattle raid of Cooley (The Ulster Cycle) which features the hero Cú Chulainn.  This story is at the heart of most of historical Ireland and it’s pretty fascinating how many of these Gaelic words either originate with that story or get their foundation from the story.

There’s a general pronunciation guide although I wish each word had a phonetic guide because anyone who speaks English will look at Irish a if it is just a jumble of nonsensical consonants.

The book is broken down into sections, although the authors insist that there is no correct way to read the book.

  • Writing and Literature
  • Technology and Science
  • Food and Feasting
  • The Body
  • Social Circles
  • Other Worlds
  • War and Politics
  • A Sense of Place
  • Coming and Going
  • Health and Happiness
  • Trade and Status
  • Entertainment and Sport
  • The Last Word

There are also delightfully weird wood carving-like drawings from by Joe McLaren scattered throughout the book.

The words are listed below with either a definition or an interesting anecdote included. (more…)

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