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Archive for the ‘Supernatural’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAVE-Tiny Desk Concert #908 (November 8, 2020).

Usually if you go by a mononym, your name is unique.  This British rapper goes by “Dave,” which seems rather bold since it’s hardly unique.  It also seems like it would be very hard to find in a search engine.

Perhaps the understated name applies to his understated delivery.  He has a lot of great things to say, but he’s not grandiose about how he says them.

He also seems very nervous (you don’t mind if I steal one of these waters, do you?).

 Dave made a special trip all the way from the UK just for his Tiny Desk performance. If that isn’t proof that it was a big deal, his nervousness before the show confirmed it. But he powered through in a performance that puts his gift for making the personal political on full display.

“Location” is first.  Tashera Robertson sings the introduction. There’s quiet but somewhat complex guitar work from Markelle Abraham.  Daves’ rapping is very understated almost quietly rhymes.  His delivery is almost mumbly because it is so quiet, but her remains clear.

He shares the inspiration behind the aptly-titled song “Black” from his opus of a debut. “It’s just about the black British experience,” he says. “Everyone’s experience of being black is a little bit different, but this is my take on it. I wanted to deliver it to the world and here it is for you guys.”

“Black” starts with a spooky piano melody Aaron Harvell and a very simple drum beat Darryl Howell based around rim shots.  The bass from Thomas Adam Johnson punctuates the melody.  There’s cool scratching sounds from Abraham on the guitar which add a spooky texture.  Robertson sings backing oohs and ahhs.

But the lyrics are fantastic

Look, black is beautiful, black is excellent
Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident
It’s workin’ twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than
‘Cause you need to do double what they do so you can level them

With family trees, ’cause they teach you ’bout famine and greed
And show you pictures of our fam on their knees
Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens
Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children
Feelin’ sick, like, “Oh shit, this could have happened to me”

Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it
Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it

Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it
Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit
Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit

Black is my Ghanaian brother readin’ into scriptures
Doin’ research on his lineage, findin’ out that he’s Egyptian
Black is people namin’ your countries on what they trade most
Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast, and the Grain Coast
But most importantly to show how deep all this pain goes
West Africa, Benin, they called it slave coast

Black is like the sweetest fuckin’ flavour, here’s a taste of it
But black is all I know, there ain’t a thing that I would change in it

The song builds slow and dramatically with more guitar work as Dave’s delivery gets more powerful.  It’s really intense.

But the climax here comes near the end, when Dave takes a seat at the piano to accompany himself while rapping his 2018 hit, “Hangman.” In the moment before he plays the opening keys, he pauses to take a breath before channeling the weight of the world through his fingers.

“Hangman” is more of the intense personal political storytelling.  His delivery is so perfect for this power of his lyrics.  This song has a few extra musical elements–some cool bass lines and guitar fills.  It also has an instrumental interlude at the end which allows Robinson to sing wordlessly.

I’m not sure if he has earned his mononym, but it’s a great show.

[READ: April 30, 2020] Bitter Root

I was drawn to this book by the outstanding cover art.  A 1920s era family dressed to the nines standing around a robot-like creature.  It’s sort of steampunk, but with a Harlem Renaissance twist,

In the essays in the back, the style of this book is described with a bunch of awesome phrases: cyberfunk (black cyberpunk), steamfunk (black steampunk) and dieselfunk (black dieselpunk).  There’s also EthnoGothic and ConjurePunk.

This story starts in 1924 indeed, during the Harlem Renaissance.

The story opens with music and dancing in full swing until something terrifying happens.

Next we see some police officers.  The black officer saying that “these people” give me the creeps.  A white police officer says “these people?” and the black officer says “The Sangeyre family ain’t my people. My people don’t mess with this mumbo jumbo.”

So then we meet the Sangeyre family.  Blink Sangeyre says she doesn’t like it that the police just bring them to their store. But Ma Etta Sangeyre says it’s better they bring them in before the kill someone.

We cut to the roof where Berg Sangeyre, a very large man with a wonderfully expansive vocabulary says “Cullen, might I offer you a bit of sagacious insight to your current predicament.  My assistance would hardly prove heuristic to your cause.”

Cullen Sangeyre is a skinnier, younger gentleman and he is fighting a bright red, horned demon known as the “Jinoo.” (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-Tiny Desk Concert #964 (March 30, 2020).

What’s worse?  Liking someone’s personality and disliking their music or liking their music and thinking they are a bad person?

In this Tiny Desk Concert, I learned that Allen Stone is a super nice guy, sweet and funny.  But boy do I dislike his music–and his singing voice.

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

His three graceful background singers L-r: Moorea Masa, Jessica Childress, Raquel Rodriguez) and piano player ( Michael Elson) provided the perfect compliment, but this set proved undoubtedly that his voice belongs right up front.

And yet, lyrically, “American Privilege,” which addresses his internal guilt about everything from materialism to being born white, is really powerful.

Between songs he is a delightful sweetheart.  He says that playing Tiny Desk is a, “breath of fresh air that this is how people want to hear music.  It’s not pyrotechnics, its stripped down songs in their purity.”

After this song he played

a trilogy of Building Balance songs dedicated to his wife (who he said he’s “face first in love” with)

He says he got married a year and a half ago.  And he is still married, which is great.

“Give You Blue” (I don’t quite understand the metaphor) is played on an acoustic guitar with gentle piano and the backing singers providing a lot of the backing sounds.

He says say that being so in love has meant that he got a lot of great tunes out of it.  Although “Brown Eyed Lover” seems a questionable title given the Van Morrison classic.  Plus, it seems odd to dedicate a song to your wife that goes, “I’ve got a brown-eyed lover on the other side of town.”

I acknowledge that Stone has a strong, powerful voice–his vibrato is impressive.  I just don’t care for it.

But again, he is so nice between songs.  He says playing a big room is fun and so much energy but with ear monitors in your head you feel isolated.  However, the best part of music is the people and this is so much fun for musicians.

He wrote “Consider Me” before he asked his wife to marry him.  It’s a sweet song, but I’m surprised that a sweet, romantic song has this verse

If you’re looking for somebody who
Will put up with your shit

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 5

Book 5, the army is more intent than ever on finding Hilo. But because he is a child (and not from here) they can’t find any matches in any database.

It will also be hard to find Hilo because he has returned to his home planet Jannus (along with DJ who put on Hilo’s suit and ran through the portal at the least second).

Their absence means that Izzy needs to create replicas of the two of them.  Which she does easily, although the first attempts are way too smart (hilariously so).

Meanwhile Gina has been practicing her magic and accidentally opens a a portal to let two giant dogs in the room.  And they are not friendly dogs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK CROWES-Tiny Desk Concert #963 (March 23, 2020).

I didn’t really like The Black Crowes when they dominated the airwaves in the 90s.  They weren’t really my cup of tea.  In hindsight I like them more.  Although I am very puzzled that the Robinsons are part of the jam band scene as their music seems a little too straightforward for jamming.  But then I haven’t heard any of his jam stuff.

This show is just the two Robinsons, Chris singing and Rich playing some beautiful acoustic guitar –lovely riffs and fills and harmonics.  (Rich’s beard looks better).

It’s somehow been 30 years since the singles “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” (their Otis Redding cover) received constant radio play, and the brothers have reunited for the 30th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut platinum album, Shake Your Money Maker.

The newly reunited Brothers Of A Feather decided to open their Tiny Desk concert with “She Talks To Angels.”

This song is stripped down so much, that its sounds really quite different (I like the acoustic playing more than the original).  But I guess it is more of a jam band song since it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes.

The second song is another big hit in a very different format.  Although I feel like “Jealous Again” doesn’t quite work as well as an acoustic song.

It’s no secret that the brothers haven’t always gotten along, and Chris and Rich Robinson have had musical successes outside their collaboration as The Black Crowes. But the combination of Chris’ instantly recognizable raspy belt and Rich’s catchy guitar riffs was always going to be the duo’s legacy.

Chris’ voice does sound recognizable, although perhaps a little worse for wear.

“Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica) is about constantly being in motion.  Rich plays a beautiful 12 string guitar (it sounds so full!)  They both sing in harmony for much of the song and their voices sound wonderful together.

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 4

In Book 4 we get to see just how awesome Hilo’s sister Izzy is.  Hilo is from another world and Izzy is his “sister.”  He rescued her at the end of Book 3 an now that she’s on Earth, she is just the cutest thing.  They are on earth hanging out with DJ and his best friend Gina.

Izzy makes things from parts and scraps and she is constantly making things (and hilariously, nonchalantly mentioning what they do).

The first thing Izzy makes is a chicken out of the broken toaster.  The chicken speaks Portuguese (what else is she going to speak?) and when she gets mad, her butt falls off.  The chicken shouts estar frio aqui alguem me dar um casaco and indeed it does fall off.

In the last book they went to Oshun, the planet of Polly the warrior cat.  Gina learned magic there and she is learning to control it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARTHUR MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #962 (March 20, 2020).

Arthur Moon is exactly the kind of weirdo band that I never would have heard of if not for Tiny Desk Concerts. I’m so happy that Bob Boilen enjoys the offbeat, because there’s no other way I would have heard of these guys.

This band, the project of singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud has the quirky freshness I first heard from New York artists such as Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and more recently with Dirty Projectors. It comes off in the starkness of the sound, a spaciousness that leaves room for me to hear the storytelling in the songs, but always surprising me with aural delights.

They play three songs (here’s another Tiny Desk I wish was twice as long).

All three songs in this performance come from their brilliant self-titled 2019 album, an album too many missed, in my opinion. And this band pulls off these odd, unpredictable twists and turns with simplicity and charm.

The first song, “Homornormo” starts with an lopsided five-note acoustic guitar riff from Martin D. Fowler and hugely processed vocals Lora-Faye Åshuvud (I guess it’s a vocoder).  There’s backing vocals and hocketing from keyboardist Cale Hawkins and Aviva Jaye (who is credited with “toys” and vocals).  There’s a guitar solo form Åshuvud which is as weird and abstract as the rest of the song.  The only thing vaguely conventional about the song are the drums from Dave Palazola because the rhythm has to be consistent when every thing else is chaotic.  But even his sounds are oddball, like the reverse snare drum sound he plays at the end.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

The opening song at the Desk, “Homonormo,” begins with a kiss-off to the very city that birthed their sound, and a search for something normal, yet twisted.

“Hello
Send my kindest regards to New York
I’m gone, woo
I think I want to settle down
But weirder”

Even the end of the song is unconventional.  It ends with a series of claps: 4, 5, 6 and then a few random numbers that they all know perfectly.  It’s like getting people to clap for you.

“Reverse Conversion Therapy” opens with the mini Mellotron from  Cale Hawkins, who was last at the Tiny Desk with Raveena.  This song is slower, with Moog bass sounds from Fowler.  When the chorus kicks in the guitars launch out like a St. Vincent song, but it quickly settles back down.  The middle turns down nearly all the music as Ashuvud sings while others provide ooohs for backing vocals.  It ends with some awesome hocketing from all three vocalists.

There’s anxiety in these songs, even when the chorus is “I Feel Better,” but there’s a creative spirit in this anxiety, and then, of course too, there’s the tin foil.

“I Feel Better” opens with drums and a sprinkling of sounds as she sings.  Then comes the chanted chorus of “I feel better” that everyone sings. Aviva Jaye (who brought a table of toys) gets a brief lead vocal line before everyone else joins in again.

The song ends with a pretty piano solo and Åshuvud pulling out a roll of aluminium foil )I only wish I could see what she was doing with it).

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 3

At the end of book two, Gina was sucked into a portal and DJ and Hilo were surrounded by army tanks.  How would they ever get out of this?  In the most hilarious way ever (by acting like the little kids they appear to be).  I love that there is a recurring joke that dogs love Hilo and even they get in on the act.

Hilo takes advantage of being in the military base to hack into the computer system to learn about possible portals that he can open to get Gina back.  They were also given an orb by Polly which causes everyone on earth to forget the last two days–an outstandingly easy way to get everyone to forget everything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #960 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KIRILL GERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #958 (March 11, 2020).

I can’t really keep track of classical pianists. There are so many who are truly amazing.  But I love hearing them.  I also like it when they have a good sense of humor, which most of them seem to have.

The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. “What will you ask me to play the next time,” he quipped, “a toy piano?”

Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I’m sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin’s lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein’s agile hands.

What sets Gerstein apart?  Perhaps its his connection to jazz.

The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents’ record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.

He opens the set with Chopin: “Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42.”  It is fast and amazing with some slow, jaunty parts.  Near the end, wow, doe he pound out those bass chords.

Before the second piece he says that it hasn’t been heard on a recording yet–it’s a newly written piece by Thomas Adès.  Two lovers want to hide in the closet and … sleep with each other.  They emerge dead in the morning, so its lascivious and morbid and a very beautiful piece.

The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk.

It is slow and beautiful, full of sadness and longing.  Until the end when the bass comes pounding and rumbling, full of ominous threat and dread.  And listen to how long he lets those last bass notes ring out!

Up next is a piece by Liszt who I am particularity fond of (even if I only know a few of his pieces).  Gerstein says that Liszt is perhaps the greatest composer that ever touched the instrument.  There are several hundred not famous pieces.  This is a late piece called “A quick Hungarian march.”  Technically it’s called “Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch”

Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it’s been recorded only once.

It is jaunty and spirited until the middle where it goes back and forth between fast runs and bouncy melodies.

Since I hadn’t read about his jazz background the first time I listened to this concert I was really surprised when he said he’d be playing the Gershwin-Earl Wild standard “Embraceable You” which he says is for dessert at this lunchtime concert.

Gerstein’s jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.

Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he’s making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.

It really does sound like he is working on the fly–playing beautiful runs. It’s hard to imagine transcribing and learning all of those notes instead of just improvising them, but that’s what make a great pianist, I guess.

[READ: November 2019] The Abyss

I saw this book at work and thought, a turn of the 20th century Russian author writing about the Abyss?  What’s not to like?

I had not heard of Leonid Andreyev, perhaps because much of his work has not been translated into English.  He died in 1919 and is considered “the leading exponent of the Silver Age of Russian literature.”

This book was translated by Hugh Aplin and it is remarkable how contemporary these stories sound (aside from obviously nineteenth and twentieth century details).

Bargamot and Garaska (1898)
Bargamot was a policeman–a big, thick-headed policeman.  His superiors called him numskull.  But the people on the streets he looked after were quite fond of him because he knew the area and what he knew he knew very well.  This story is set on Easter Saturday night.  People would soon be going to church.  But he was on duty until three o’ clock and he wouldn’t be able to eat until then. The day was going smoothly and he would soon be home until he saw Garaksa, clearly drunk, heading his way: “Where he had managed to get sozzled before daylight constituted his secret, but that he had got sozzled was beyond all doubt.”  Bargamot threatened to send Garaska to the station, but Garaska talked to him about the festivities of the day and was about to present to him an egg (a Russian custom).  But Bargamot’s rough handling smashed the egg.  This story turns surprisingly tender and sad, with a rather touching final line.

A Grand Slam (1899)
This has nothing to do with baseball.  It is about a card game called Vint, which is similar to bridge.  For six years these four people have been playing it: fat hot-tempered Maslennikov (whose name is Nikolai Dmitriyevich, we find out about five pages in) paired with old man Yakov Ivanovich and Yevpraksia Vasilyevna paired with her gloomy brother Prokopy Vailyevich.  Dmitriyevich desperately wanted a grand slam but he had been paired with Yakov Ivanovich who never took risks. Ivanovich was very conservative and never bet more than four–even when he ran an entire trick, he never bet more than four–you never know what might happen. They speak of news and local happenings (like the Dreyfus Affair), but Dmitriyevich stays focused on the game because his cards are lining up for a Grand Slam.  As he goes for that last card, he falls out of his chair, presumably dead.

Silence (1900)
This story is divided into sections.  Fr. Ignaty and his wife need to speak with their daughter Vera. They have a fight and Fr. Ignaty refuses to speak to her any more.  Soon enough she goes out and throws herself under a train [I would hate to be a train conductor in Russia].  In Part II silence has fallen over the house.  In Part III he tries to talk to his wife about his feelings and his sadness over their daughter, but she remains silent.  In the final part, Fr Ignaty finally breaks down.  But is it the silence that has gotten to him?

Once Upon a Time There Lived (1901)
Laventy Petrovich was a large man. He went to Moscow for someone in the city to look at his unusual illness.  He was a silent and morose man and he specifically asked for no visitors.  The hospital assigned Fr. Deacon to him.  Fr. Deacon was another patient, unfailingly positive.  He and Petrovich were at opposite sides of the spectrum.  But even as it became clear that Fr. Deacon was deathly ill, he remained positive.  Until Petrovich told him that the doctors said that Fr. Deacon has a week to live.  There was also a young student who was daily visited by the girl he loved.  They liked Fr deacon and did not like Petrovich. I’m not sure if the ending is a surprise, but it is certainly sudden with happiness doled out in very specific ways.

A Robbery in the Offing (1902)
That night there was to be a robbery and maybe a murder.  A man, alone with his thought is scared by nearly everything–he is very jumpy because he is the one about to do the robbery.  The man was frightened by a noise until he saw it was a little puppy.  The puppy was shivering and the man tried to frighten him to get him to go home. But the puppy seemed too ignore him.  So began the battle of wits between a big strong man and a tiny freezing puppy.  Imagine a man with a robbery in the offing worrying about a little puppy.

The Abyss (1902)
Two young lovers went for a walk.  Zinochka was 17 and very much in love.  Nemovetsky was 21 and similarly in love.  They wandered into an area they didn’t recognize and happened upon three men.  The men punched Nemovetsky and knocked him out then they chased Zinochka . When he came to, he found her body, naked but still alive.  This was a hard story to read.

Ben Tobit (1903)
This was one of the first stories in the book that I really really liked.  It is set on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.  On that day, Jerusalem merchant Ben Tobit had a terrible toothache.  Ben was a kind man and did not like injustice, but it was hard to be kind with this much pain.  His wife tried to help by giving him various medicines (like purified rat droppings). She then tried to distract him when the thieves came trudging past on their way to the crucifixion site.  It distracted him somewhat but mostly didn’t interest him.  She said, “They say he healed the blind.”  He replied, “If only he’d cure this toothache of mine!.”  The next day he felt better and they walked to the site to see what they missed.

Phantoms (1904)
Yegor Timofeyevich had gone mad so his relatives collected money to send him to a clinic.  He knew he was in a madhouse but also knew that he could make himself incorporeal and walk wherever he wanted.  He was exceedingly happy. There was a patient who would continually knock on any locked door.  He would walk through all the unlocked doors but when he got to a locked one he would knock and knock and knock.

There was a doctor’s assistant the hospital named Maria Astafeevna, whom Yegor was certain liked him.  He thought very highly of her.  But another man Petrov could say nothing nice about her.  He felt that she was like all women: debauched deceitful and mocking. This attitude upset Yegor tremendously.  Maria was actually in love with Dr Shevyrov. But she hated that he went to Babylon–where he drank three bottles of champagne each night until 5 AM.  She imagined that one day she would ask to be his wife bit only if he stopped going there.

The man Petrov was also terrified of his mother, believing that she had bribed officials to lock him up. He would become hysterical when she would visit.  It was only Yegor’s assurances to her that her son was a decent man that made her feel okay.

Most days things went on exactly the same, the same faces, the same conversation and the same knocking.

The Thief (1904)
Fyodor Yurasov was a thrice-convicted thief.  While on the train, even though he had plenty of money, he stole a gentleman;s purse.  As he tried to blend in, he imagined everyone thought he was an honest, young German (he came up with the name Heinrich Walter).  But when he tried to be civil, everyone ignored him.  Some were downright rude to him.  Later when he hears that the gendarme are looking for someone, he assumed it is he.

Lazarus (1906)
This story looks at what Lazarus’ life was like after he came back–appearing a few days dead and with a shorter temper.  People understood and forgave him, but still.  Soon, however, people began to avoid him and claimed that all of the madmen in the village were people whom Lazarus had looked upon.   It’s such an interesting (if exceeding dark) tale that no one bothered to investigate before.

A Son of Man (1909)
As Fr. Ivan Bogoyavlensky grew older he grew more disatisfied with his role in life.  He wanted to remove his surname and replace it with a five-digit number (The church elders assumed he’d gone mad).  He then bought a gramophone and listened only to stories of Jewish and Armenian life.  His wife hated it and it drove their puppy mad (?!).  Indeed he kept trying to get the puppies to listen to the gramophone and they consistently went crazy and eventually died.  The church sent a deacon to help Fr Ivan through this but he the deacon and Fr Ivan butted heads immediately.  Fr Ivan began mocked everything about their religion.

Incaution (1910)
A priest arrived at a railway station and saw a steam engine for the first time. There was no one around, so he climbed aboard.  It wouldn’t be dangerous to flick some switches and pull some levers.  Would it?

Peace (1911)
A dignitary was dying and an devil–an ordinary devil–came to his bedside offering him eternal life in hell.  The man didn’t want to suffer but the devil said that suffering was terrible until you got used to it and then it was nothing.  The devil makes a stronger and stronger case if only the man would take this pen and sign.

Ipatov (1911)
Nikolai Ipatov was a rich merchant who went bankrupt. Soon he became silent and despondent.  The local priest chastised him saying that the house of god was a house of joy.  He refused to let the merchant back in until he grew happy again.  Which he didn’t.  Eventually his children took over the situation and and put his house up for sale.  But when someone came to look at the house, they heard Ipatov’s moaning and grew existential realizing that a man without guilt could still be afflicted this way.

The Return (1913)
The narrator had been in a cell n St Peterburg for three years because of a political incident.  His wife, who was supposed to be waiting for him in a hotel room had stepped out with another man.  He hired a cab to follow them.  They kept driving around and around, some streets seeming to stretch on endlessly.  Then the cab driver told him that they had been at the same intersection many times.  He finally arrived at the gate and when he banged on it, who should open the gate but his prison guard.

The Flight (1914)
Yury Mikhailovich was an experienced pilot.  Twenty eight flights and no troubles.   He always felt, “If I crash, I crash, nothing to be done about it.”  Despite everything he had on earth, he longed to be up ion the sky…possibly forever.  It’s incredible that Andreyev wrote a story like this in 1914!

 

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SOUNDTRACK: INDIGO SPARKE-Tiny Desk Concert #951 (February 26, 2020).

I was sure that I had heard of Indigo Sparke before–in some kind of NPR context.  But I can’t find any evidence of that.

The only thing I can figure is that I must have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert when it was first published, because I remembered her telling the story about driving a car (before the second song).

Indigo Sparke is an Australian singer-songwriter.  She sings quietly and plays an electric guitar almost without amplification (aside from occasionally loud drone sounds).  Bob says,

I asked everyone to gather a little closer than usual around my desk for this one.

“Colourblind” starts the set off as she quietly strums and sings.

Up next is “the day i drove the car around the block.”  She introduces the song by telling about

trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road while in Los Angeles, with a huge vehicle and a stick shift.

After that introduction, you might think the song was amusing.  But it is not

It is a tale of defeat and solace:

“Take off all my clothes, kiss me where the bruises are,” …
“Love is the drug, and you are in my blood now.”

Sparke sings a little too slowly for my liking–the kind of stretched out vocals that make it hard for me to follow the thread of the song (or maybe that you need a few listens to fully appreciate).

Before the final song, she invites her partner, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief up to play guitar with her.  She tells us that the song is so new it has no title–if you think of one while she’s playing it, let Bob know.  It has since been named “Burn.”

Lenker’s addition of chords (and lovely harmonics) add a nice extra layer to the song.

[READ: March 21, 2020] Paradox Girl: First Cycle

Who doesn’t love a story that begins: “Do you know what happens when you violate causality?”

Paradox Girl is a time-traveler who has changed her past so many times she doesn’t know what he truth is.  She also lives with about a hundred copies of herself.

Her partner in crime-fighting is Axiom Man.

This book had so much that I love in a superhero story–strong female characters, wild humor and all kinds of time-travel paradoxes.  It even had fantastic artwork from Yishan Li–I love the light purple lines that indicate some time travel magic.

But I guess I learned that this is something of a one-note premise.  Which means that most of the stories are variants on the one idea that she can appear anywhere at anytime and that her other selves will be there as well.

Often this works pretty well, but I guess reading six comics in a row gets a bit samey. (more…)

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

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

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

Her songs are very personal–she sings of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Boilen concludes

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

He is absolutely correct.  This set is fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: LESLIE ODOM, JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #909 (December 2, 2019).

I knew I had heard of Leslie Odom Jr. but I couldn’t remember from what.  Apparently I have heard of him from….everything.

A Tony- and Grammy-winning star, Odom has added a slew of achievements to his portfolio since 2016, when he left his role playing Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton. He’s continued his work in television and film, written a book and released jazz and Christmas albums. He co-wrote most of the songs on his latest project, Mr; out earlier this month, it’s his first album of original material.

Dang.

His singing voice is fantastic and these songs that he wrote are really wonderful.

“Cold” is a hopeful ballad with a beautiful melody and a hint of contemporary musical theater.  It opens with a lovely acoustic guitar from Jeremy Ting and piano from Tommy King.  Odom’s voice is powerful and strong and he hits some nice falsetto notes.  This is all accented by rim shots and cymbal taps from Garrison “G-Beats” Brown.

His backing vocalists, Christine Noel Smit, Nicolette Robinson (Odom’s wife) and Astyn Turr add some nice calla and response and then harmony voices. There’s a pretty acoustic guitar solo as well.

And all the while Odom’s voice and lyrics are fantastic.

When it’s finished he says, “you are the second group of people to hear that song.”

Then he

recalled advice he’d received from a friend: “You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City,” Odom said, before quipping, “I feel so blessed to be a part of … Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons.”

Up next is “Foggy,” which he says is the most personal song on the album.  It’s much more spare, a love song filled with the regret of failed good intentions.  It’s almost entirely just he and the piano.  Although half way through some xylophone notes add a cool echoing sound.  As the song nears its end, Astyn Turr sings along with him.

Introducing the final song, “Hummingbird,” he says “This song is admittedly… I think it’s a bop, but it’s an odd little bop.  But it has been tested by my 2 year old and it is her favorite song on the album.  For this song Tommy King and Theron “Neff-U” Feemster switch places so “Neff-U” (who worked with him to make the record) is now playing piano.

The song features some wonderful violin from Andrew Joslyn.  It’s a fun boppy song and I love that everyone raucously sings the “you’re my hummingbird” line.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this set, but Odom has a fantastic voice and his songs are really very beautiful.

[READ: August 2019] Gods Without Men

I had read a review of this book by Douglas Coupland on two occasions and each time it made me want to read the book.  So I decided to read the book.  And what a book.

Coupland had warned, in a sense, that there were UFOs and aliens–but not to be put off by them.  And he’s right.  The book centers around aliens and such, but there are no “little green men.”

Rather, the book looks more at a location and the spiritual power it has had on people throughout history.

The book bounces back and forth between various eras and the present.  In most summaries of the book, the present takes prominence–and it is the most often visited timeline in the book.  But at times I found the story in the present to be less interesting than those in the past.

The book begin in 1947 with a man named Schmidt.  Schmidt drove out to the Pinnacles “three column of rock that shot up like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky.”  He used his diving rods and sensed the power here.  He paid $800 to a woman who owned the property and then settled in.  Schmidt built an underground structure to live in.  He bought an Airstream trailer and set it up as a diner.  Then he put in an airstrip and a fuel tank.  Soon enough pilots were stopping in for fuel as they sailed across the desert.  Schmidt is an interesting character (with a reprehensible past).  He also, every night, lit up the lights on top of his property that said WELCOME.

One night a ship descended from the sky. (more…)

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