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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WIRE-Tiny Desk Concert #976 (May 27, 2020).

I feel that it is something of a failure on my part that I never really got into Wire.

Although I don’t know why, I will never forget that their 1988 album is called A Bell is a Cup … Until It is Struck (I was working at a radio station when it came out and “Kidney Bingos” was a minor hit).  But I never really followed through with them.

Bob Boilen, on the other hand, is a huge fan.

For me, it was beyond surreal to watch Wire performing at my desk, in broad daylight, in 2020. I spent many an evening over the past 40 years, listening to their original, artful bursts of noise and imagery, seeing them in dark clubs in the ’80s and beyond. From the time I first heard them in 1977, few bands have encapsulated my musical aesthetics like Wire.

There have been some hiatuses for Wire since their debut in 1977 (from 1981-1985 and 1993-1999) but each time they reunited, it was the original four person lineup.

It was only ten years ago that guitarist Bruce Gilbert officially left the band.  But at the Tiny Desk,

there they were, with three original bandmates: Colin Newman, singing his enigmatic poetry, and those driving rhythms of Graham Lewis on bass and Robert Grey (aka Robert Gotobed) on drums. Matthew Simms was the “new” bandmate, having now played with the band for the past 10 years.

Thankfully, Wire plays four songs (they still only play for 15 minutes and they are Bob’s favorite band).

What’s most remarkable is how the sound of songs such as “Cactused” from their 17th album, Mind Hive, sit so well next to “French Film Blurred” from their 1978 album — and one of my favorite records ever made — Chairs Missing.

“Cactused” has a cool chugging rhythm and bass.  Newman sings in his deadpan, almost spoken delivery.  Newman plays the little guitar leads while.  It stops on a dime.  This band is tight.

“Be Like Them” is also new.  I love this song.  It’s got a slinky guitar riff which is  accompanied by three loud thumps (drums and bass) to accent the verses.  Simms plays a really cool noise-filled “solo” (really just some noisy chords) in the middle of the song.  Newman is once again kind of deadpan reciting his lyrics.

“French Film Blurred” is from 1978. It’s got an unusual riff and Newman sings a bit more than speaks, although he is still restrained.  They make great use of the two guitars with Simms adding all kinds of sounds while Newman plays the main melody.

Everyone tunes and then Newman says they’re going to play “an obscurity from the 80s that we revived into the current set.”  “The Offer” is from 1989’s ITABA.  It’s slower and rather quiet.  There’s even some gently picked guitar parts from Simms. But as it nears the end the song gets louder and louder with Sims adding a distorted and a flanging guitar.   The songs seems like it’s over, but while everything is ringing out, Newman pays a few ending chords.

Try and imagine your favorite artist today, playing a concert in someone’s office in 2062 and still having an emotional impact with extraordinary new songs. As I said, it’s beyond surreal and genuinely thrilling.

Wire played their Washington DC show on March 9, so that’s probably when this concert occurred (and therefore MUST have been the final Tiny Desk Concert before the quarantine].  Wire were playing Philly on March 10.  I had considered going but I had a lot of other shows to see in March so I didn’t want to overload.

This set was so good, I wish I had gone to see them. Maybe they’ll be back in 2021.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #10

This is the final issue of Five Years (I think).

It was supposed to be released during the Coronavirus epidemic.  But Abstract Studios offered a special cover (so I don’t know what the proper cover looks like yet).

NEWS: We’re going to release a tiny print run of Five Years #10 for subscribers, & anyone who wants one really. This is for those reading the single issues who don’t want to wait months to read the final chapter. If not a subscriber, you can pre-order a copy in our store now. Just CLICK HERE.

The rumor is Diamond Comics will reopen this summer and we will be able to stagger release issue 9 and 10 to the general public then. 9 is sitting in their warehouse, waiting like a rodeo bull. For the small number hooked on the single issues, we feel you deserve 10 now, because without your monthly support the series couldn’t have happened at all.

So I bought the limited edition cover because I wanted to finish the series.  I didn’t think he could possibly end the series with this issue as it seemed like there was too much up in the air. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CLEM SNIDE AND SCOT AVETT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #26 (May 23, 2020).

I’ve never given a thought to Clem Snide.  Well, my thought is that he was a country guy that I didn’t want to listen to  Turns out, Clem is not a guy but a band founded by Eef Barzelay, who had a solo Tiny Desk back in 2010.

I do know Scott Avett from The Avett Brothers (although I never really know which brother is which).

Barzelay and Avett not only maintained social distancing throughout their set, but also rigorously enforced it with the aid of a visible tape measure.

This is my favorite Tiny Desk Home concert so far since it is done in a barn–and the sound is great!

Recording a Tiny Desk concert at home naturally subtracts a lot of familiar elements…. But when Clem Snide (the three-decade-old project of singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay) and special guest Scott Avett (the Avett Brothers co-founder who produced and performs on Clem Snide’s latest album, Forever Just Beyond) performed together in Avett’s barn, they added a few new features you’ve never gotten to hear at the Tiny Desk — most notably a noisy flock of birds and the unmistakable cries of a nearby rooster.

We’ve had a few disruptive animals at the Tiny Desk over the years, from the occasional dog to Bob Boilen himself, but this had to be our first rooster.

Their voices blended warmly as they tackled three spiritually searching songs from the (great) new record, Forever Just Beyond.

For the “The Stuff of Us” they both play guitar.  Eef’s is a full size while Scott’s is a smaller one (I can’t tell how many strings).  Avett sings the rather impressive high notes.

After encouraging everyone to brew their own fermented ginger beer for the immune system.

He introduces “Jews for Jesus Blues” by saying “A doubtless faith is a dead faith.”  The song from Clem Snide’s 2005 album End of Love, is a bouncy folk number.  Avett plays banjo.  The lyrics are interesting: “Now that I’m found, I wish I was lost” and “now that I’m saved, I wish I was dead.”  When the song’s over, Eef says, “not too offensive.”

Before “Some Ghost” the roosters start crowing.  Clem jokes, tell them chicken to shut the hell up.  Avett plays a full sized guitar and even sings some lead vocals.  Their harmonies are wonderful, too.  As the song ends, the rooster crows: “chicken go it right that time.”

Clem picks up a different,smaller, guitar for “Roger Ebert,” a song based on Ebert’s actual dying words: “This is all an elaborate hoax.”  Avett provides only percussion and vocals on this lovely song.

[READ: May 22, 2020] Five Years #8

Terry Moore seems like a very nice guy.  He draws people in love so wonderfully.  He draws adorable children and he specializes in a mischievous grin.

It’s easy to forget that he can be incredibly violent.  Well, I don’t know about him personally, but his art sure can be.

This issue has two violent deaths in it.  One is bloody, the other is not.

The one that is not is Stephanie.  The woman who wrapped Katchoo up in the mystery.  In several pages of wordless panels, Stephanie breaks into a secure building. She walks through a series of rooms activating secret panels.

She gets what she came for and heads out.  But when she steps outside, an unkindness of ravens swarms on her.

She drops her satchel and one of the ravens picks it up and flies off. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SYLVAN ESSO-Tiny Desk (home) Concert #24 (May 21, 2020).

Is it possible to make dance music while sitting on a couch?  Is it possible also to dance to that music while sitting on a couch?

These pressing questions are answered in this Tiny Desk Home Concert

Sylvan Esso, the Durham, N.C., couple of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn gives us three songs from their home couch using modular synths, a rhythm machine and Amelia’s heartfelt vocals.

Sanborn sits in front of box with all kind of wires patched into it. It’s an unholy mess and he manages to make the melody by pushing the buttons between those wires.

Meath sits in front of another box and supplies most of the beats. It’s neat watching her sing verses and then push a button as the drums enter or leave “Die Young,” a fun dancey song.  She answers one of the above questions in the middle of this song which has a “dance break” as Meath waves her arms and gently bounces on the couch.

“Rewind” is a slower song.  Sanborn walks off camera while Meath starts the simple drum rhythm.  I assume he’s playing a synth, although midway he picks up a guitar (how frustrating that he’s off camera–c’mon Esso!).

In keeping with Tiny Desk tradition, bands I actually like–like this one–do a set that is less than 15 minutes, while artists I’ve never heard of or don’t especially like ramble on for over 20.

So they have only one more song.  But before playing it, they plug their new release

This home concert stands in sharp contrast to Sylvan Esso’s remarkable new film, WITH, which features a host of their dear friends reshaping and reimagining their brilliant catalog of songs during the duo’s 2019 tour. Add that to your list of things to do while sitting on your couch, hopefully with someone you like.

After some technical troubles (the sound is totally wrong), they start “Radio” a very familiar dance song.  There’s more couch dancing and even some dancing from Sanborn as his finger move all over that cluttered machine.

[READ: May 20, 2020] Five Years #6

This issue makes everything seem like things are going according to plan, there’s even a lot of levity.

We see Rachel in Russia. The morgue attendant, Yana, has brought her home.  They speak Russian, although Rachel’s Russian “sounds ancient, like something she only heard at university once or twice.”  Yana wonders why she is not dead.

Rachel doesn’t die.

Then some short scenes: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAHAN ESFAHANI-Tiny Desk Concert #970 (April 27, 2020).

I love the sound of the harpsichord but always assumed that one played the harpsichord in addition to the piano, like for extra flavor.  That may be true, but Mahan Esfahani is not only “the instrument’s most ardent advocate,” he is also hilariously cocky about it.

For this Tiny Desk,

Esfahani, who grew up near Washington, D.C., but is now based in Prague, chose a double manual harpsichord — meaning two keyboards. This one was built by specialists Barbara and Thomas Wolf in 1991, but is based on a famous French instrument from 1770.

The harpsichord is a beautiful but notoriously fussy instrument. After we wheeled one behind Bob Boilen’s desk, it took the bulk of an hour to get the tuning just perfect for the very first Tiny Desk harpsichord recital. Given that our guest was Mahan Esfahani we were willing to wait.

His set began with classics: a pair of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, which share the same key but couldn’t be more opposite in personality. With elaborate curlicue ornaments in both hands, the opening sonata “Sonata in D, K. 534,” presents a sober, regal outlook. Its partner “Sonata in D, K. 535” is a flamboyant rocker, with the hands chasing each other across the two keyboards like a cat and mouse.

Before the next song Esfahani makes some wonderfully funny comments about the superiority of harpsichord players.

He says people thing harpsichordists take piano pieces and transcribe them for the harpsichord.  No, pianists take enough of our music; we’re a much classier bunch than them.  We have our own music.

He also tells us that there are many modern composers making harpsichord music.

But he also tells us that there modern composers making harpsichord music.  Composers are the best people as we all know.  It goes composers then harpsichordists, I think, then everyone else.

Mel Powell was a jazz pianist who worked with Benny Goodman. he then became a composer of “proper music” (as it was called in the 1950s).  he studied with Hindemith but unlike Hindemith, he’s not boring.

Angular and slightly jazzy “Recitative and Toccata Percossa,” from 1951, is a tour de force in this artist’s hands. It drives home a point he likes to make — that while the harpsichord had its heyday in the 18th century, it’s still a vibrant instrument and very much alive. “There are over 50 modern concertos for the harpsichord,” he told the audience.

He closes with a lesser known piece by a famous composer.  After giving the proper pronunciation of Pachelbel, he tells that Pachelbel was good enough to teach Bach’s brothers.

Esfahani closed with a little-known chaconne by Johann Pachelbel. Its steady bassline and colorful variations were a pleasant reminder of the composer’s one-hit claim to fame, “Pachelbel’s Canon.”

I’ve never seen a harpsichord that looked like this before.  It sounded great.  I love that there are muted passages in the Pachebel piece–I’ve nevee heard a muted harpsichord before.  This was another great Tiny Desk.

[READ: May 3, 2020] “What to Watch During the Lockdown: Month 38”

I used to really look forward to Nick Hornby’s (mostly) monthly columns in The Believer. I’m not really sure what he’s been up to since, but it’s great to see a new column from him.

This one features his delightfully obscure references to entertainment and football.

My wife and I are apparently the only people who will come out of this quarantine with even more shows to watch than we started with.  We have so much to do during the day–house fixing, yard prepping, reading–that we barely watch an hour of TV a night.  And there’s about 35 shows that I would like to binge.

So, I appreciate this essay intellectually, but not on a practical level (even if it is hilariously absurd). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MARLING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #10 (April 16, 2010).

I have become a huge fan of Laura Marling over the last few years.  I was so looking forward to her solo performance this past March. It was one of my bigger coronavirus disappointments that the intimate show is not going to be rescheduled.

Marling has been doing regular guitar lessons about her own songs (her tunings and playing style is unique and wonderful to see demonstrated).  You can see the past (and future) ones here.

(While many artists have postponed the release of their new music in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura Marling rushed to change the release date of her album from late summer to April.

As of right now her album is only available digitally. The physical release is slated for summer.

On this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we find her in her living room, with an intimate performance of songs from her just-released record Song For Our Daughter. The album is an homage to a future generation of women and to Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter, a collection of essays addressed to a fictional daughter. The warm, home setting makes room for Laura Marling’s extraordinary voice to shine.

“Held Down” has a lot of backing vocals and arrangements on the record and this stripped down version sounds amazing without it all.

“Strange Girl” demonstrates her deeper singing style in a fast and bouncy song.

“Song For Our Daughter” is a slower song, beautiful and thoughtful.

I just cannot get over how beautiful her voice is.  These personal performances almost make up for not seeing her live.

[READ: April 20, 2020] Mac B. Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime

This is the second book in a new series illustrated by Mike Lowery.  It begins

My name is Mac Barnett.  I am an author.  But before I was an author, I was a kid.  And when I was a kid, I was a spy.  An author’s job is to make up stories.  But the story you are about to read is true.

This actually happened to me.

It’s 1989 and Mac is at the mini golf course.  But he is there not for the mini golf but for the video games. He is playing Spy Master 2–the arcade update to the home game.  Mac was just about to beat the big boss–something no one else had ever done before.  People were cheering him on. Except for Derek Lafoy (who did not invite Mac to his birthday party in the previous book). Derek called him Mac Barn Head and chanted “Choke!”

But this book isn’t about video games, its about the Queen of England who called Mac at the golf course to tell him that she thought the Crown Jewels were going to be stolen again.  (In the previous book Mac helped rescue the Crown jewels for the Queen). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MELLOTRON VARIATIONS-Tiny Desk Concert #954 (March 3, 2020).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts list the musicians and what instrument they play.  So I got a kick out of this lineup:

John Medeski: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron; Robby Grant: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron.  [that’s the lineup left to right].

Indeed, Mellotron Variations are four guys standing behind Mellotrons making a universe of sounds.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It’s a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you get the idea.

We’ve never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it’s big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

Pat Sansone introduces the band and gives a fascinating history of the Mellotron and how it works.  Each of the 35 keys plays a magnetic tape like on a reel to reel player (I remotely understand that and it is cool to see the mechanism at work).  The modern ones, still made by Mellotron are all digital.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn’t fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The band plays three songs.  The first, “Agent Cha Cha” sounds like a trippy spy movie.  It’s really fun watching Medeski play the original machine and seeing him kind of forcibly make the sounds do what he wants–I guess he is literally slowing down the tape that’s playing?

Robby Grant seems to handle all of the drums and percussion.  It’s then fun to watch as Sansone holds down one key to get a 60’s cartoon melody mid song.

Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant play some real spacey, synthy sounds as they segue into the next song.

“Dulcimer Bill” opens with some dulcimer sounds.  It is trippy and spacey sounding for a bit and then Sansone plays what S. immediately recognized as the opening to The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill.”  I assume Sansone has simply sampled the guitar as he plays it with one key.  The end of the song sounds so incredibly 70s (Pink Floyd all over the place)

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It’s a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, “it was a trip.”

The trip concluded with “Pulsar.”  The song opens with industrial space sounds from Kirkscey while Medeski plays flute loops. Grant adds the drums while Sansone plays a kind of harpsichord in space.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Futures”

This is a story about tennis.

It reminded me a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer.  Not because it was like it in any way, but because the one character felt about Federer the way Wallace did.

But that aspect is somewhat minimal in terms of the plot.

The story Toby lives with his father.  Toby was supposed to become an professional tennis player, but he was never quite good enough.  But Toby’s father insisted upon hosting a young Asian tennis player every year–in part to bet upon his success (Toby’s father was a gambler) but also to have a tennis pro around to help Toby get better. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK UHURU-Tiny Desk Concert #917 (November 29, 2019).

I don’t have a very good overall feeling about reggae.  As a person who listens to a lot of music that people have said “all sounds the same,” I can’t help but admit that to me all reggae sounds the same.

Or, perhaps all of Bob Marley’s reggae sounds the same and that’s the only reggae I’ve really been exposed to.

Because this Black Uhuru concert is clearly reggae, but it sounds new and exciting to me (even if the band has been around for 40 years).

I’ve been aware of Black Uhuru forever–they always seemed to be in the Columbia House 20 albums for a penny ads back in the day (along with Boz Scaggs, another artist I’ve heard of since I was a kid but have never actually heard a note from).

Considering the state of global politics, there’s never been a better time to get reacquainted with the righteousness of Black Uhuru. The iconic reggae band, whose name means “Black Freedom” in Swahili, is still going strong after more than 40 years, and they brought their much-needed songs of solidarity to the Tiny Desk. Fittingly, the set begins with “Here Comes Black Uhuru,” a telling and literal re-introduction to the group’s legacy for audiences that may be unfamiliar with their extensive catalogue.

This song is clearly one that I needed, as I didn’t know anything about their music.

While most-known for their late-’70s and early-’80s classics — years defined by a game of musical chairs within the group as played by founding members and/or collaborators Michael Rose, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, Sandra “Puma” Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and even Junior Reid — this incarnation of Black Uhuru, with frontman and co-lead Andrew Bees, has been touring and recording since about 1997 or so, longer than any of the configurations that precede it.

“Here Comes Black Uhuru” has some groovy bass from Daniel “Axemon” Thomson (who plays a white five-string Steinberger).  The verses feature some cool synth sounds from Horace “King Hopeton” Campbell and the drums are chock full of fun percussion from Rolando “Phanso” Wilson.  The biggest surprise to me was the ripping guitar sound from Frank Stepanek.

The vocals are shared between Derrick “Duckie” Simpson and Andrew Bees, with additional backing vocals from Elsa Marie Green.

This song has simple but catchy riff and it ends with a big powerful rocking sound.

“As The World Turns” comes from their new album of the same name.  “As The World Turns, is an album that was mired in issues around its master recordings, was finally released in 2018 — six years after it was recorded — and earned a Grammy nomination for best reggae album.” The song opens with the stereotypical Egyptian riff while Duckie and Elsa Marie Green sing the main verses.   I love that there’s spacey effects from the keys and Stepanek plays a blistering solo (twice).

“I See You,” is a love song “led by Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, a co-founder and the only steady member of the group since its beginnings in the early ’70s.”  It has the most conventional reggae sound and I like the way Andrew Bees works as a kind of hype man in this song,

“What Is Life” is their most well-known song.  It

explores the hopelessness endemic to those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and explores the complexities of the human experience — what life could be, versus what it is. Despite being written and recorded in 1984, you can probably recognize the endurance of its themes.

Andrew Bees sings lead which adds a very different tone to the song.

While I really liked the first two songs, the second two weren’t quite as exciting to me.  Maybe I don’t need more reggae in my life, but I’m glad that there are different style out there.

[READ: February 1, 2020] DPR Korea Tour

I was really surprised to see this book at work.  I didn’t realize that North Korea sent propaganda to English-speaking countries  I assume this isn’t meant for American eyes specifically, more likely to European eyes, but who knows.

The book is written in English, Chinese and Cyrillic, but the writing is all just captions for the photos.

And I have to say that the landscape of North Korea is absolutely gorgeous.  I had no idea their land was so lovely.

Mt Paektu shrouded in clouds is striking.  And Lake Chon underneath the mountain is crystal clear and beautiful.  Taehwa Peak on Masikryong Pass has chair lifts that look like they are thousands of feet in the air (no people on them in the picture though).  It is a large skiing mountain–I didn’t know they skied there.

There are also wondrous waterfalls like the Hyongje Falls at Mt Paektu and the Rimyongsu Falls with a mansion atop them. Isonnam Falls is peaceful and serene while the Saja Falls are roaring (its hard to get a sense of scale though).  I’m also very impressed by Kuryong Pool and Eight Pools Under It. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (2019).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: January 10, 2020] The Babysitters Coven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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