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Archive for the ‘Boxing’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-Tiny Desk Concert #740 (May 7, 2018).

I had an idea of what Gordi sounded like (a much more rocking band, who was I thinking of?)  Rather, Gordi is Sophie Payten a woman with a piano (and a harmonium and a guitar).  Gordi has a lovely deep voice (dusky and evocative) that is not afraid to break.

The blurb says her voice

usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it’s echoing down a stairwell, or else she’s bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi’s occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. But Payten’s voice is an expressive and powerful instrument on its own, as her debut appearance behind the Tiny Desk demonstrates.

Aside from a bit of looping — in the strangely infectious notes that open “Heaven I Know,” from last year’s terrific Reservoir — Gordi here keeps her voice both unadorned and centered within warm, cool arrangements that include piano, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, a harmonium named Barbara, a saxophone played by Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf, and more. The effect here is rawer than on Reservoir, but that’s part of the point: These songs stand up to being stripped down, every time.

“Heaven I Know” is really pretty with a staggering sense of loss.  She met her backing badn while they were playing with The Tallest Man on Earth.  She plays piano, there an electric guitar and some kind of synths in the back.  And the drums (played by Zach Hanson) crescendo as needed.  The song runs a little long but it’s quite pretty.

For “Can We Work It Out” guitarist Alex Schaaf switches to saxophone.  Gordi pulls out the harmonium.  She says she bought the harmonium on the Australian version of Craigslist called Gumtree.  She bought it from an Indian lady named Barbara so the harmonium’s now called Barbara.

For the final song, “On My Side” she’s on guitar and Ben Les switches from keys to pedal steel.  The song is a little faster with some great harmonies from the drummer.

This is really lovely stuff.

[READ: October 10, 2017] Death of the Pugilist

Okay, so this is a boxing story.  That means that there is going to be a fight and the guy he is writing about is either going to win or lose.

That’s the attitude I took when I started this story–I don’t care for sports stories in general and feel that they have to work very hard to be more than just win or lose.

This story is a little different because each section starts with a question.

Who was Burke? His beginnings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRAVE COMBO-It’s Christmas, Man (1991).

This is one of my all time favorite Christmas records.

I love that it plays around with the styles and tempos of traditional songs and yet it remains very faithful to the spirit of the holidays

Brave Combo is a band who likes to have fun, and they certainly do that here.

This record may have been the first time I’d heard “Must Be Santa” (Polka) back in 1991, and their version is peppy and wild.  In my mind it is the accurate version.  There’s lots of fun percussion and crazy sounds.  It’s got a klezmer beat and a conga session at the end.

“Oh Christmas Tree” (Samba) is a 3 minute nearly all instrumental wild version. The vocals come in about 30 seconds from the end to zip through it.  “It’s Christmas” [Cha Cha] I love this song.  It is catchy and fun and is just the epitome of Christmas to me.

“Corrido Navideño” [Ranchera]  This is a mellower song, sung in Spanish.  That’s an unexpected change, but Brave Combo celebrates all kinds of musical styles.  “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)” [Ska] is upbeat and dancey and so much fun.  Although the vocals at the end are a bit understated for the rhythm.
“Christmas In July” They have some fun with the lyrics: “bells on the ice cream truck” “Rudolph the sunburned reindeer.”  “Have yourself a merry, steamy Christmas.”  It’s fun, fast and dancey.  “Please Come Home For Christmas” is a bluesy song.
“Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” [Hora]  This is fast and punky and a wonderfully jazzy version.
“Frosty The Snowman”  This is a short jazzy version of the song with horns taking the vocal melody.
“The Little Drummer Boy” [Guaguanco]  I love the various styles of drums which makes this song more vibrant to me than many other versions.  It feels calypso to me.  “Santa’s Polka” [Polka] This song is outstanding, funny and sweet.
“Feliz Navidad” [Cumbia] The album kind of slows down a bit at this point.  This is a little too slow for my tastes, especially given the wonderful faster versions that are out there.  It’s not bad it just sounds like it’s designed for older people.
“Ave Maria”  This is a pretty operatic version of the song.  It is just acoustic guitars and the singer’s lovely operatic voice.  It is completely out of place on this disc.  If anything it should have gone last, right?
“Buon Natale” [Waltz]  I never realized how strange this song is until I listened closely to this fun, upbeat waltz.
Far away across the sea
In sunny Italy
There’s a quaint little town
Not a clock has been wound
For over a century
They don’t know the time or year
And no one seems to care
And this is the reason
The Christmas season
Is celebrated all year
“Jingle Bells” is only 45 seconds long and it is zippy and minor key in a klezmer sort of way.  A jolly fun way to end the disc.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Dogs of Cuba”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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cardboardSOUNDTRACK: MARY HALVORSON QUINTET-Tiny Desk Concert #267 (February 25, 2013).

maryI had never heard of Mary Halvorson before.  And that makes sense because she is an avant-garde free-jazz guitarist, a sound I like (sometimes) but one which I do not follow.  So a little background is in order:

As a sidewoman, [Mary Halvorson] is often tapped to play in open improvising situations….  Among her sonic signatures are craggy distortions, bent strings and delay-pedaled blurts through a hollow-body guitar….  Halvorson has now recorded two albums with her quintet, one with alto saxophone (Jon Irabagon) and trumpet (Jonathan Finlayson) up top. (The rhythm section is also among New York’s finest, with John Hebert on bass and Ches Smith on drums.) From the way her songs balance order and entropy, you can hear that she’s studied how golden-era hard bop blended those voices, and how later generations morphed, rephrased and imploded those ideas.

The Quintet plays two pieces.  I would have guessed they were improvised but not only do they have titles, they have sheet music!

“Love In Eight Colors” (No. 21) starts out as a slightly dissonant mellow jazz piece.  Then about 45 seconds in, Mary throws in an unusual guitar lick—a slightly weird note.  And then a minute later things get noisy until a simple trumpet solo takes over.  When the music resumes, Mary is playing some strangely discordant chords over the solo—everyone seems to be doing their own thing.  Around 4 minutes in, it turns into something new with an interesting, mesmerizing guitar solo riff.  When the band resumes, the sax takes over and the trumpeter literally stands stock still like a statue staring forward–it’s almost creepy.  At 8 minutes, they introduce a two-minute drum solo.  It’s fun to watch all the strange things he does—elbow on the drum head, vibrato with his hands changing the sound, clicking the sides of his drum.  Then the band resumes until the end.  And it’s more dissonance.

She introduces “Hemorrhaging Smiles” (No. 25) without smiling.  There’s a lot more melody in this song–the sax and trumpet sound groovy.  Even the guitar is pretty. Then she throws in a bizarre scale which cycles throughout the song.  It’s strangely addicting and I enjoyed hearing it every time it came back–even though it wasn’t exactly pretty.  The guitar has a lot of vibrato on it, although about six minutes in she switches the sound of her guitar to a bit more conventional sound and she plays a wicked solo. The second listen through made me appreciate what was happening a lot more.  Even if the song is pretty out there.

Mary Halvorson’ Quintet is not for everyone.  It might not be for many at all, but if you like your jazz free, check her out.

[READ: June 19, 2016] Cardboard

I’ve had mixed feelings about TenNapel’s books.  I loved Ghostopolis, and didn’t love Tommysaurus Rex.  So I picked this up with some hesitation.

But I found that I really enjoyed this weird book a lot.

For a kids’ graphic novel it’s actually quite long.  And, for a kid’s graphic novels there’s a few adult themes (like unemployment and widowhood) that a kid may not get or care about all that much (or maybe they would, what do I know).

As the book opens we see Mike, a big burly carpenter, begging for work.  But he gets nothing.  And as he walks away we see a very strange-looking man (TenNapel’s book are chock full of weird-looking characters) who offers to sell him a gift for his son.  Mike has no money, so he can’t buy the cool gift.  But the man says that for 78 cents (the exact amount in his pocket) he can have this giant cardboard box.

Mike is appalled at the idea of getting his son a box (even if it can be a creative play toy–ha!), but he’s got nothing else.  So he drives home with this box muttering “worst present ever.” (more…)

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sweater SOUNDTRACK: ÁSGEIR-Tiny Desk Concert #397 (October 18, 2014).

asgeirÁsgeir Trausti Einarsson is an Icelandic singer songwriter.  He has a beautiful soft soaring voice.  He released his debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn in Icelandic (it became the biggest-selling debit in Icelandic music history).  A year later he reissued it in English (with translation help from John Grant who was living in Iceland) as In the Silence and finally (the version I have, as a 3 disc set with the Icelandic and English discs as well as a selection of bonus songs.

“On That Day” is a pretty, guitar based song (Ásgeir plays the main melody line and has guitar accompaniment (and backing vocals) from his childhood friend Julius Róbertsson.

For the final two songs, Ásgeir switches to piano.  “Torrent” has gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s interesting how much more deliberate this song feels–not quite staccato, but the piano chords don’t really ring out, letting each note stand on its own.

For this Tiny Desk, he stripped down the songs, getting to their core.  They’re not flashy, they’re just lovely.

The final song he plays, “Higher” is the first song on the record (interestingly “On that Day” is the final song on the record).  It has a very slow, delicate piano melody and is also soothing and beautiful.

And in a cool synchronicity at the end of the show Bob tells Ásgeir  that he’s playing at the same piano that John Grant played on a few months earlier.

[READ: July 2, 2016] Sweaterweather

Back in 2003, Sara Varon published her first book called Sweaterweather.  This collection includes all of the original 8 stories as well as a few more.  Each story gets a brief introduction from Varon which makes me like her even more (she’s quite funny).

Most of the stories are short(2-3 p[ages) and most don’t seem to have a title.  The contents page is actually thumbnails from each story.

When I first saw Varon’s style, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It is so innocent and childlike.  And I have really grown to love it–especially when these sweet animals characters (they’re pretty much all animals) tackle some intense feelings. (more…)

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10SOUNDTRACK: FATHER JOHN MISTY-Fear Fun (2012).

fjmI can’t get over how much I’ve been enjoying this album for the last two years.  Father John Misty is J Tillman from Fleet Foxes.

This disc is a gentle folk album with vaguely country leanings.  The arrangements are spare and yet the verses and choruses are so great to sing along to. “Funtimes in Babylon” has this infectious chorus: “I would like to abuse my lungs, smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved.  Ride around the wreckage on a horse knee deep in mud.  Look out, Hollywood, here I come.”  “Nancy from Now On” has a great propulsive chorus with oohs and tinkling bells and pianos and Misty’s engaging falsetto.

I was introduced to this album by “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” which opens with the super catchy line, “Jeeeeesus Christ, girl.”  I love the big crashing drum sound he has here.  “I’m Writing a Novel” is a fun romp, with the great line “I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before.”  “O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me” introduces a great organ sound.  It’s a full song at only 2 and a half minutes.

“Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2” opens with a slide guitar and turns into a stomping song with more Ooohs and a great chorus.  “Only Son of the Ladiesman” has a great chorus with the fun couple: “I’m a steady hand, I’m a Dodgers fan.”  “This is Sally Hatchet” has cool guitar blasts and a great bridge.

“Well You Can Do It Without Me” is a countrified 2 minute stomper.  “Tee Pees 1-12” is a big stompin’ honkey tonk song with fiddles and slide guitar.  The disc ends with “Everyman Needs a Companion” a slow ballad with a great piano melody and a fun to sing along with verse and chorus.

I love the lyrics on this album, especially the song “Now I’m Learning to Love the War” a slow ballad with a great story:

Try not to think so much about
The truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record
All the shipping, the vinyl, the cellophane lining, the high gloss
The tape and the gear

Try not to become too consumed
With what’s a criminal volume of oil that it takes to paint a portrait
The acrylic, the varnish, aluminum tubes filled with latex
The solvents and dye

Lets just call this what it is
The gentler side of mankind’s death wish
When it’s my time to go
Gonna leave behind things that won’t decompose

In addition to all of the great music on here, the CD packaging is fantastic with that great cover, done in a cardboard gatefold sleeve including two huge books full of words and drawings and lyrics and everything.  I’m really looking forward to his next release.

[READ: September 14, 2014] Grantland #10

Despite my being in the middle of reading several other things, I was looking for a short article to read the other night and grabbed my Grantland 10.  And, of course, once I started, I couldn’t stop. I put everything else on hold and blasted through this issue.

And so all of my loves and hates are the same with this issue.  I never know how anything they talk about nearly a year ago turned out, which stinks.  And yet I get so wrapped up in the writing that I don’t care.  I’m not sure what it is about the writing for Grantland that i enjoy so much.  It is casual but knowledgeable.  Often funny but not obnoxiously silly. And I suppose that now I feel like I’m in on all of the secret stuff they talk about so I’m part of the club.  I fear that if I were to ever go to the website I would get sucked into a black hole and never emerge.

I often wonder how they choose what goes into the book.  This issue has some new writers and the surprising absence of some regulars.  I wonder what went on there.  And as always, the book could use some editing and maybe actually listing the urls of the links that were once in the online version.  But I think I’m talking to deaf ears on that one.

This issue covers October-December 2013 (that’s ten-twelve months ago!  Some of this stuff feels ancient!)

(more…)

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  grantland8SOUNDTRACK: RALPH STANLEY-Tiny Desk Concert #31 (October 13, 2009).

ralpRalph Stanley is apparently a living bluegrass legend, although I’ve never heard of him.  He plays a clawhammer banjo (and apparently has for 63 years).

The concert lasted only 6 minutes, but in that time he sang three a capella songs: “Gloryland,” “Turn Back, Turn Back” and “Amazing Grace.”

It’s hard to assess a legend based on this performance.  I’ve no idea how good his voice was back in the day.  He sounds fine here, albeit understandably quite old.  I’d have liked to hear his banjo.

[READ: January 3, 2014] Grantland #8

It is becoming apparent to me that Grantland loves basketball.  Like, a lot more than any other sport.  This issue had a ton of basketball in it.  And, I have to admit I was a little tired of it by the end–there was a lot less pop culture stuff, too.  So, it felt especially basketball heavy.  I realize of course that the time frame covered was the playoffs, but still.

BILL SIMMONS-“Searching for a Superman”
A lengthy article about Dwight Howard, discussing the pros and cons of signing him again.

MARK TITUS-“How Did He Get So Good?”
A look at Paul George and Danny Green doing better than expected in the NCAA playoffs.

CHARLES P. PIERCE-“A Dark Day in Boston
Pierce wonders about Boston after the Boston Marathon bombing–he says the city will come back stronger. (more…)

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  grant7SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-The Outer Limits (1993).

voivodouterAfter Angel Rat, original bassist Blacky left the band.  That’s never a good sign.  After the tour for this album, original singer Snake left the band.  That’s an even worse sign.  I still can’t quite figure out exactly why Snake left (personal problems) but he went on to form the band Union Made.  For a very detailed history of the band, check out this very cool timeline at Voivod dot net.

The Outer Limits got a pretty big release.  I have an original copy that came with 3D glasses and all of the illustrations in 3D. But i was a little disappointed in Angel Rat and I don’t think I gave The Outer Limits much of a chance.  It was no Nothingface.  But the band was always morphing.  Since Angel rat went very commercial, this album brought things back into the prog realm (with a 17(!) minute song) but also had a lot of commercial songs.

The album opens with “Fix My Heart” which starts out much heavier than anything on Angel Rat. It’s also got some metal guitar pyrotechnics (squeaks and harmonics).  Snake’s voice isn’t quite as pretty as on Angel Rat either—he growls a bit, but maintains his nicer voice overall.  Nevertheless, “Fix My Heart” is a pretty commercial enterprise (as the title might even suggest).  There’s some good “spacey guitars sounds which bode will for the sci-fi angle of the album (and there’s some cool effects that reward headphone use).  “Moonbeam Rider” starts with a very classic rock sounding riff and then morphs into a kind of pretty, mellow verse.  But the interstitial guitar is all speed.  It’s a nice mix of fast and slow.  This song features some interesting bass work—nothing fancy but for the slow parts it is actually keeping the beat instead of the drums.  The bassist was a studio musician for this album.  There’s also what sounds like a bong during the pre-guitar solo section (the solo is fairly traditional).  “Le Pont Noir” is a mellow, slow guitar song with a very cool delay effect and Snake’s whispered vocals.  The bridge gets heavy with a wonderfully weird Piggy guitar riff.   It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.

Then the band’s second Pink Floyd cover appears. This time it’s the even more obscure “The Nile Song.”  They have rather heavied this one up with crunching guitars and Snake’s distance screaming filling in the void (although in fairness the original vocals are also screamed). It’s not as dynamic or exciting as “Astronomy Domine,” but it’s s till a cool cover.  “The Lost Machine” starts off heavy with Away’s double cymbal work (a noisy splash and a fast ride cymbal). Then Piggy’s guitars have a slight delay on them which makes the opening chords sound especially odd.  The bridge is a place for Piggy to show off some more weird spacey chords and some very cool guitar riffs. There’s even a spoken word narrator in the middle of the song that explains the “mission” “Time Warp” opens with a very bright and up beat sounding verse.  But it quickly disintegrates into (intentional) musical chaos as the narrator gets lost in space.

This all leads up to the 17 minute “Jack Luminous.”  If anyone doubted their prog rock leanings, this should dispel that immediate.  17 minutes, multiple parts, a sci-fi epic, it is prog (but heavy prog) at its finest.  There are some incredibly catchy parts as well as some less catchy parts, and sections seem to change every two minutes or so.  The slow down at 10 minutes is very cool—different guitar effects and the suspenseful bass line.  There’s repeated sections as well, which means if you like some guitar line (the spacey part near the end) it comes back!  It’s not quite as dynamic as say 2112, but it’s a very successful sci-fi epic.

“Wrong Way Street” returns to the normal and more conventional.  The bass that opens the song sounds great and the chords are fairly conventional –the chorus is even really catchy.  “We Are Not Alone” is a break-neck metal song, The drums are super fast, the guitars are relentless and the chorus even has an echoed “Hey!” that gets you to sing along.  The song also features a cool slow, almost jazzy bass and drum section that lets Piggy throw some soloing in before returning to the fast paced verses.

There’s lots of theories about what happened to Voivod after this album.  The success they had achieved earlier was now gone and the band seemed like they couldn’t decide to be metal or prog or is they should go for more pop music.  The problem of course is that they were too weird to get mainstream acceptance anyway.

So Snake left and then there were only two original members.  The next step would be a drastic one.

[READ: July 9, 2013] Grantland #7

This issue seemed to come hot on the heels of #6.  But I enjoyed it just as much.  A few notes: no Jeremy Lin in this issue.  Lots of LeBron James, three articles about soccer!  And a few pop culture moments that I had forgotten about.

REMBERT BROWNE AND DUSTIN PARKER-“The Jeopardy! Teen Tournament JUST. GOT. REAL.
Leonard Cooper didn’t know the final Jeopardy answer but he still won and he made a hilarious joke at the end (in cartoon format);

BILL SIMMONS-“Daring to Ask the PED Question”
Simmons talks a lot about PED’s in this forum.  Of course, to me PED is my initials.  For him (and sports fans) it is performance enhancing drugs.  He asks why sports doesn’t do more about it.  There are so many people who do it that every time we see someone who might be doing it or who suddenly has a good season, we assume they are doing them too.  It would be a service to the players and the fans to have rigorous testing or none at all.

CHRIS RYAN AND ROBERT MAYS-“The NFL Coaches Family Portrait By the Numbers”
A silly analysis of a photo of NFL coaches.

WESLEY MORRIS-“Jodie Foster’s Big Night”
What exactly did Jodie Foster say at the Golden Globes? (This was in January and everybody talked about it and now it’s September and I’ve completely forgotten about it—funny ephemera of pop culture).

JONATHAN ABRAMS-“Out of Africa”
A serious look at trying to bring basketball to Africa. How the culture and language problems make it very difficult to establish any real cohesion in the diverse country.  But there are a few examples of boys coming from Africa and benefiting from host families and then heading back to help those who love basketball back home.  The main focus is on a 15-year-old Alexis Wangmene who came to the States (and left his family!) to try to gain an education and basketball skills.  It’s a heartfelt story.

MOLLY LAMBERT-“Modern Love”
About the show Catfish which just goes to show we can sink even lower as a culture.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN-“Mental Health Protocol”
About Royce White again.  Last time there was a lengthy look at him.  Now we get to hear that he thinks that everyone has some kind of mental health issue.

ANDY GREENWALD-“Eat Bray Love”
How cooking shows have gone from educational to crazy and annoying. He dislikes Top Chef and the new Anthony Bourdain show The Taste (which he says is awful) but he likes a decent show called Chopped.

ZACH LOWE-“The Fragile Science of Basketball Chemistry”
Sure the Heat were great this year, but it’s the way they evolved as a team, creating chemistry, that is so impressive.

RAFE BARTHOLOMEW-“The Pariah”
Timothy Bradley beat Manny Pacquiao in a disputed judges call.  Instead of rising to fame, he has been avoided like the plague.

BILL SIMMONS-“The All-Manti Te’o Mailbag
Remember that crazy story about the football guy with the dead girlfriend who turned out to be fake?  I never really understood the story and while they spend a lot of time talking and theorizing about it I still don’t get it.  Did they ever find out the truth about it?

CHRIS BROWN-“Speak My Language”
When you play for the Patriots, you learn their way of doing things—it is simple and efficient, a streamlined version of what other coaches try to do.

KIRK GOLDSBERRY-“The Evolution of LeBron James”
Using diagrams, we see how much of a different player James is in just the last few years with The Heat.  This article has made me want to watch James in a game while he is at his peak.  So, Heat vs Bulls at the end of October, you’re on my schedule.

SEAN McINDOE-“The Non-Hater’s Guide to the NHL”
Even people who hate everyone in the NHL (which is everyone) can agree that there are some players who are universally admired: Martin Brodeur, Pavel Satsyuk. Teemu Selanne, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews, Martin St. Louis, Gabriel Landeskog, Patrick Elias (Devils get two!), Ryan Smyth, Steve Sullivan, Saku Koivu, Henrik Lundqvist.

ALEX PAPPADEMAS-“God Needs a Hobby”
A look at Dan Harmon and his podcast Harmontown.  Harmon seems like he might be a crazy alcoholic, but he’s also pretty darn funny.

MARK TITUS-“Duke’s Ignominious Son”
Everybody hates Christian Laettner, but that’s only because he’s pretty and he made The Shot

MARK LISANTI-“Three Days in Austin”
Dealing with the craziness of the South by Southwest film festival.  Sounds awful.

HUA HSU-“The Alien Has Landed”
Soccer legend Ronaldo returns to Old Trafford

BILL SIMMONS-“The Greatest Action Franchise That Ever Was”
Live blogging the Fast and Furious 6 trailer.  I admit I may have to see these films after reading this.

ZACH LOWE-“Lights, Camera, Revolution”
There’s some kind of new technology that will change the NBA forever.  I pretty much don’t care.

TESS LYNCH-“Nostalgia Bites”
Watching old Real World episodes shows how much things have changed in reality TV, but also how much certain behaviors are not new.

BRIAN PHILLIPS-“Maradona, Then and Now”
Maradona was an amazing kid—at 15 he was remarkable at his ball control.  Now at 52 he’s a crazy loon. What exactly happened in between?

ANDY GREENWALD-“From Big to Small, From Movie to TV”
Why not make Men in Black into a TV show—with some other film recommendations.

AMOS BARSHAD-“How Soccer Explains Israel”
I didn’t expect to enjoy this but I found it very interesting.  An Israeli soccer team has signed two Muslim players and it has caused incredible animosity and even arson.  How this look at a team is like a microcosm of the whole Israeli situation.

LOUISA THOMS-“Back to School”
Missy Franklin won a  ton of medals in the Olympics.  And then she went back to high school.  What’s it like to be on her team at Regis Jesuit?

WESLEY MORRIS-“Run, Frank, Run”
Frank Ocean apparently wasn’t as huge as I thought he was.

MALCOLM GLADWELL AND CHUCK KLOSTERMAN–“The Lies He Told”
More about Manti Te’o. This discussion was a bit more helpful about what happened and how crazy it is.

CHRIS RYAN AND REMBERT BROWNE-“A List of Possible Reasons for Rob Gronkowski’s Arm Infection”
Hypothetical humor.

JORDAN CONN-“The Invisible Man”
Marc Gasol is extremely respected by scouts and agents, but the fans all think of him as Pau Gasol’s chubby little brother.

REMBERT BROWNE-“French Quarter Lessons”
While in New Orleans for the Super Bowl, Browne decided to go to a bunch of used bookstores.  This is very funny and enjoyable.

JAY CASPIAN KANG-“Fiercely Disputed”
Mike Tyson’s one man show is weird and strangely affecting.

KATIE BAKER-“Do Svidanya to All That”
Several NHL players went to Russia’s KHL during the lockout.  And some don’t want to come back.

CHRIS RYAN-“The All-Star Circus”
NBA All-Star weekend is a crazy circus (and sounds worse than the above SXSW festival).

CHUCK KLOSETRMAN AND ALEX PAPPADEMAS-“The Nobituary”
There was a serious rumor that David Bowie was on death’s door.  Klosterman and Pappademas imagine writing his obituary.

DAVID SHOEMAKER-“Glenn Beck vs. WWE”
The WWE has always had racists as part of the act.  What happens when some goons start acting like the Tea Party?

DAVID JACOBY-“The Pure Heart Meets The Bachelor
Jacoby’s grandmother watches The Bachelor and he feels badly for her.

STEVEN HYDEN-“Is This It?”
The Strokes’ fifth album had just come out [really?].  It could be their last, but Hyden thinks their last two have been quite good.

BILL SIMMONS-“The Heat in Hindsight”
The Miami Heat came close to breaking the longest winning streak in the NBA.  Simmons looks at the fallout and who “wins” and “loses” in the effort.

CHARLES P. PIERCE-“Bleu, Blanc et Rouge
I had no idea that Charlie Pierce was a Canadiens fan!

KATIE BAKER-“The Ethics of a Family Plan”
Is it ethical to pretend that you are married to your roommate to get a family discount a ta gym?  Hell yes.

EMILY YOSHIDA-“A Dark Force”
J.J. Abrams is going to direct the next Star Wars films.  Why, when sci-fi is so multifaceted and so different is everything coming down to J.J. Abrams?

SEAN FENNESSEY-“The Case Against Justin Timberlake”
Timberlakes’s previous album was amazing.  Then he took years off to make (bad) film and (good) TV.  His star would only continue to rise if he stopped making music and only hinted that he would make another album.  But the release of his new album (which isn’t that good) can only hurt him.

BRYAN CURTIS-“Waiting for Bettman”
While many New Yorker’s didn’t care about the NHL strike, Canadian writers camped out waiting for Bettman to announce the strike was over.

WESLEY MORRIS-“30 Rock Landed on Us”
30 Rock was many things, but it dealt with racial issues (at least between blacks and whites) better than any show.

RANY JAZAYERLI-“Fall of the Evil Empire”
The New York Yankees look like they won’t make the playoff this year (this was written in March and as of my writing this they have a slim chance at getting the wild card slot).  It will be the firs time in a while, perhaps, just perhaps, it’s the start of a new drought for the Evil Empire.

BILL BARNWELL-“The Master Raven”
Ozzie Davis knows how to pick players for the Baltimore Ravens.

REMBERT BROWNE AND DUSTIN PARKER-The Best Chappelle’s Show Sketches of All Time”
Done as a series of cartoons (by Parker); Browne picks his eight favorites:

  1. Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories: Prince
  2. Wayne Brady’s Show
  3. Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories: Rick James
  4. Black Bush (especially now that Obama is president)
  5. Clayton Bigsby: Black White Supremacist
  6. Making the Band (P. Diddy)
  7. The Racial Draft (Tiger Woods Now 100% Black)
  8. The Niggar Family (uncomfortable and hilarious no matter how many times you watch it).

Once again, there’s another great issue of Grantland.  Once again, I wish they would follow up on some of their speculative stories.  But it’s fun to have a time capsule of events that occurred just a few months ago and yet which I have totally forgotten about.

And here’s the cover of The Outer Limits in non 3D style (which I haven’t see before)

voivodouter2

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grantldnSOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Killing Technology (1987).

killingAs I said, this album’s art looks much better.  And you can hear from the first notes that this album is better produced and is going to be a lot more interesting than the previous two.  It’s hard to know just how much of a leap this is from Rrröööaaarrr because that album was so muddy–maybe there were gems of guitar chords under all that noise.  Like the previous openings, there’s a sort of prologue to the album.  But unlike the previous album’s swirls, this one is beeping with a computer voice announcing “we are connected”

The opening chords are heavy, but man they sound clear—like they weren’t recorded underground.  You can also hear all of Piggy’s weird higher notes—he’s playing complicated chords, not just solo notes.  And when the chorus of “Killing Technology” rolls around, it offers stop and start rhythms and Snake’s voice even goes up an octave at the end.  But the first real indication that Piggy is on to something new comes in the bridge. Underneath the robotic voice, Piggy is playing some really strange-sounding chords.  The story is that he had been admiring Robert Fripp’s guitar work and so he added some of those King Crimson-y angular weird chords to his repertoire.  And he melds them perfectly with the heavy thrash that the band had been playing.

Lyrically also, this album has moved away from killing and headaches.  “Killing Technology” while having “killing” in the title is a very different subject:

The star wars have started up
The new invention is coming out
Making a spider web over the atmosphere
To make them sure that we can’t get out of here

Computers controlling your functions
Seems like we got electronic alienation
Trading children for a new kind of robot
Waiting for the old people to disappear

Quite a departure from Rrröööaaarr’s “Fuck Off and Die”

Stand up, right now, kill

No pleasure, the pain comes down here
No return, don’t look back, there’s no tomorrow
And if you’re a fucker and don’t believe it
I’d say fuck off and die, fuck off and die

“Overreaction” leans more towards the heavier side—Snake screams a bit more—but the subject (nuclear disaster) is thoughtful.  Then comes their first truly amazing song: “Tornado.”  Not only building like a tornado, this song allows them to talk about violent imagery without resorting to bloodshed. It’s even scientific:

Cumulonimbus storms arrive
Lightning flashes a hundred miles around
Electrical collision course
Creates the elephant trunk

But the best part is the chorus—it’s simple enough (just the word Tornado repeated) but it’s completely catchy and sing-alongable with bright major key chords.

“Forgotten in Space” features some great drumming from Away—he’s really quite underrated both in speed and technique—which explands even more on later albums.  “Ravenous Medicine” is another highlight—an interesting series of uncomfortable chords opens this track about scientific research.  It’s a pretty fast, heavy song.  Although not too complicated except for the occasional breaks as the story progresses.

“Order of the Blackguards” is another fast song, but this one has so many parts that if you don’t like one, just wait a few seconds for the next one.  “This is Not an Exercise” ends the disc proper.  The middle section has a great heavy riff.  But it’s the beginning of the ending sequence which is so perfectly sci-fi that really sets the tone of the album and looks towards the next one.  It’s cool to think of Piggy playing these spacey chords on his guitar.  And when Blacky’s bass rumbles in to resume the song, it’s quintessential Voivod.

By th way, this disc is a concept album as well.  There’s a “Killing Side” (the first three songs) and a “Ravenous Side.”  The strange thing about the CD though is that they have added two tracks from their Cockroaches EP which is nicockroachesce.  But they put one song at track 4 (the end of side one).  How odd to put a bonus track in the middle of a sequenced album.

The EP came out before the album and it has a slightly different feel from the album proper.  Although as a step towards Killing Technology it’s perfectly in sync.  “Too Scared to Scream” is heavy and has some interesting time changes—I love the way the song feels like it is crashing to a halt around 3:30.   “Cockroaches” feels like more traditional metal.  It opens with drums and Piggy playing a typical sounding metal solo.  Then the riffing starts and it’s very heavy indeed. Even the staggered section near the end sounds like a mosh section more than the prog time changes that Voivod uses on the album proper.  The song ends with Snake screaming as the cockroaches are coming.  A good ending to the EP and a pretty good ending to the disc.

The whole album has a very mechanical and robotic feel—the chords that Piggy plays just sound like mechanical failure, it’s very well constructed and foreshadows the music of their future.

[READ: July 9, 2013] Grantland #6

Grantland #6 covers from Sept 2012-Dec 2012.  Despite the short time frame, this is the largest issue yet.  And it maintains all the quality that I’ve come to expect from the book/magazine thing.  Which means, I love the writing (especially about people/sports I’m not that interested in).  And it also means that the editing is typically crap.  In this issue the editing was crap more because they simply forgot to remove mention of hyperlinks.  At least I assume that’s why sentences like “See here for ____” are included in any given article.  But yes, there are some very simple typos that Word would correct pretty easily.

But beyond that, I really enjoyed this issue.  And I’m finding it amusing how much certain people and shows crop up in a given time frame.  So this is a four month period and Kobe Bryant still dominates (there will never be an issue without at least one Kobe article).  But this time Homeland is the big show (since Breaking Bad has been on hiatus I gather).  Basketball remains the favorite sport here (even though they speak of football as being the most popular sport).

Chuck Klosertman and Charlie Pierce continue to write thoughtful (sometimes funny) articles.  And I like how there is still talk of Jeremy Lin even if Linsanity has gone away somewhat. (more…)

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grantlandSOUNDTRACK: The xx–Live at KEXP (July 25, 2012).

I xxkexphave casually seen The xx on a few shows and I’m intrigued by them.  I’ve never really given their albums any time though, so I can’t say anything much about them.

However, I really enjoy the sound they get live (which is funny since in the article below they talk about how much of a perfectionist Jamie, the studio tech guy, is about the recordings).

This set from KEXP (KEXP always has great audio quality) contains four songs “Fiction” “Reunion” “Sunset” and “Angels.”  And I have to say the band sounds amazing.  So close, so clean, so intimate.  Oliver’s voice is right there, whispering in your ears, and Romy’s guitars sound gorgeous–gentle vibrato, chiming chords; her voice is also beautiful.

The thing that throws me about The xx is how spare their music is.  Sometimes it’s almost like there’s no music at all. And I keep thinking of reasons why I wouldn’t enjoy such simple music (it’s usually not my thing). Or that it should only be experienced in a dark room by yourself.  But the melodies are so beautiful that I think they’ve made a convert of me.  I really adore these songs.  And I must have heard “Angels” somewhere because it is completely familiar.

I wonder if they sound this good on record.  You can watch the show here:

[READ: July 9, 2013] Grantland #5

Grantland continues to impress me with articles about sports that I don’t care about.  They style that the writers have (and the humor they impart) is wonderful.  And it goes to show that if you are passionate about something you can make it interesting to anyone.  So, even if I don’t know who some of the people who they’re talking about are, I can still enjoy what they say about them.  Plus, their entertainment coverage is really fun, too.

BILL SIMMONS-“Battle of the Olympic Heavyweights”
I really enjoyed this article which compares Olympic swimming and gymnastics to see which one “wins” in this battle for TV coverage and the hearts of Olympic fans (hint: it’s gymnastics, but Simmon’s categories are very good).

BRIAN PHILLIPS-“The Death’s Head of Wimbledon”
Phillips tries to cover Wimbledon and finds it very difficult to manage because it is all designed for TV, not in person coverage.

REMBERT BROWNE-“I Feel Like a Free Man”
The amazing decision of Frank Ocean to come out and how little it impacted his career. (more…)

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