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Archive for the ‘The Future’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: AURORA-“Cure for Me” (2021).

Aurora seems to be a lot more prolific these days.  Or, at least, she’s more visible–releasing playlists and lots of other online items.  She has also released this new single.  I was delighted to hear it get some airplay on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation.

Starting with a slinky synth sound and a pulsing beat, Aurora sings in a whispery voice.

I run from the liars, the fuel on the fire
I know I created myself

As the bridge comes in she sings an uncharacteristic deep note (accentuating her accent a bit) and then after 45 second the super catchy chorus bursts forth

It’s the most dancey song she’s done so far (even more so than the dancey “Queendom”) and it’s positive and self-affirming:

I don’t need a cure for me
I don’t need it

If you don’t feel like moving to this song, you need to listen again–it’ll get you.

About this song she writes (from NME):

Like always, I got inspired by a really huge, dark and horrible thing that happens in the world. The first seed of inspiration came from thinking about the countries where it’s still legal to do conversion therapy for gay people and lesbians. I just thought that’s so pointless. The first idea was me saying, ‘I don’t need a cure for me – just let me live, man!’”

She continued: “Why is it so difficult for people to just let others be themselves? Then I thought that it could mean many other things. People tend to believe quite quickly that something is wrong with them if they’re not like the people they see in front of them. It’s so sad that it doesn’t take much for us to really doubt ourselves.”

Right on.

[READ: July 20, 2021] “Wealth of Memory”

This story comes from a book called Alien Stories.  This title has multiple meanings, obviously.

I love the way the story is set up:

One of the things he found most fascinating about America was that there were memory Stores on almost every street corner.  A person could simply walk into any of the stores and sell heir memories for money.

What a wonderfully succinct introduction to this world.

There were other things he liked about America–twist off beer bottles!–but he was most intrigued by the Memory Stores. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILAL HASSANI-“Roi” (France, Eurovision Entry, 2019).

I was going to be done with Eurovision, but then I read this graphic novel.  And since it was called Paris 2119, it seemed worth tying it to the 2019 French Eurovision entry.

This song is a remarkably powerful ballad sung in both English and French.  It opens with a quiet piano melody as Bilal sings

I am me
And I know I will always be
Je suis free oui, j’invente ma vie
Ne me demandez pas qui je suis

The pre chorus turns minor

You put me in a box, want me to be like you
Je suis pas dans les codes, ça dérange beaucoup
At the end of the day you cannot change me, boo!
Alors laisse-moi m’envoler

but the chorus swells.

I’m not rich but I’m shining bright
I can see my kingdom now
Quand je rêve, je suis un roi

I like the restraint Bilal shows in the chorus, downplaying potential soaring notes with dramatic effect  The second time through the song is bigger, but again, they are downplaying their singing until they comes to the last line

Moi je les cala pas, you can never remove my crown

When they show off what a powerful voice they have by holding that “crown” for an extended note.

The first listen through I thought the song was okay, but a second listen revealed quite a great song.  I am pretty surprised this came all the way down in 16th place.

[READ: May 27, 2021] Paris 2119

I saw this book at work and wanted to read it.  The cover was quite dramatic.  This book was written by Zep and translated by Mike Kennedy.

The story is quite simple.  Possibly too simple.  But its very compelling.

The book opens on Tristan Keys as he heads into the Metro.  He is scanned by a face recognition drone.  The subway is virtually empty asides from tourists, junkies and woman who looks like she is totally zombied out.  She sits next to Tristan and drools.

He arrives at his girlfriend Kloé’s apartment–she is very glamorous.  They have sex and discuss the possibility of having a baby.  But Kloé dismisses it saying that was how babies were born before–not anymore.  But maybe one day they can request a reproduction visa.

Kloé prepares to leave. She is off to Beijing to meet with clients.  She tells him to be careful while she’s gone.  His latest text post has his boss calling him in for a talk about his future as a writer.

When Kloé leaves she climbs in the Transcore machine–a teleportation device that everyone uses.  Tristan will be walking–he says he’ll never get in one of those contraptions. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MR. BUNGLE-The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (2020/1986).

In 1986, Mr. Bungle released a demo tape called The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.

In 2020, after a reunion tour of sorts, the band rerecorded the album, with some slight personnel changes. Original singer Mike Patton was still there as was masterful guitarist Trey Spruance and bassist Trevor Dunn.  But they had two impressive guests stars (who also performed live with them), Scott Ian (from Anthrax) on rhythm guitar and Dave Lombardo, drummer extraordinaire.

And thus they re-recorded the initial demo.  Fans of Mr. Bungle’s later genre bending work would be a little disappointed because this was pretty much a heavy heavy metal record.  But it is Mr. Bungle so you know there’s gonna be some weird stuff too.

The only song they don’t play from the original is “Evil Satan” which is more or less a goof anyway.

“Grizzly Adams” opens the album with a very pretty guitar instrumental. Spruance really shines with this moody, weird piece.  But even when the full band joins in in the last 30 seconds, it doesn’t prepare you for the heaviness to come.

“Anarchy Up Your Anus” is old school metal–heavy guitars with an Anthrax/Slayer vibe.  There’s even a lengthy scream after the opening drum fills.  This song has an opening narration by Rhea Perlman.  Yes.  Rhea Perlman.  The narration comes from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House Disney album (on the demo they just played the audio from the record).

“Raping Your Mind” is out of sequence from the demo (it was originally song 6).  It continues with the heavy Anthrax-like riffage and some serious drumming.  There’s a cool middle moment where there’s two guitar solos and just bass and drums in the back–there’s some seriously wicked guitar soloing going on.

“Hypocrites /Habla Español o Muere” was originally a longer song, but they decided to shorten it and add this humorous cover of the Stormtroopers of Death song.  The title is mentioned in the first few seconds, then after 30 seconds, the song jumps into a bit of “la Cucaracha” and then segues into “Speak Spanish or Die.”

“Bungle Grind” is really heavy with some classic mosh sections and faster riffage.

“Methematics” is a new song.  It’s a bit more standard heavy metal and not so much early thrash until the double bass drums kick.  There’s lots of parts including a classic punk style in the middle.  This is more akin to the later, adventurous Mr. Bungle, but at 8 minutes it is a little long.

“Eracist” is another new song.  This one is great.  Really catchy with some good old fashion metal riffs and chanted chorus.  There’s a seriously heavy middle section, too.

“Spreading the Thighs of Death” was the third song on the demo.  It’s some good fast thrash with wicked chord changes and massive double bass drum.  There’s some really wild guitar soloing too.

“Loss For Words” is a Corrosion of Conformity cover.  It’s a pretty serious cover version.  Patton’s vocal delivery is even a little different.

“Glutton for Punishment” is another new song that fits into the classic riff an thump thrash.  There’s a whispered vocal part where you can actually hear the words!  And a fascinatingly fiddly guitar solo that left me wondering how he did it.

“Sudden Death” ended the demo and ends this as well.  A heavy chugging riff and super fast thrashing–it’s impressive that they can keep it up for seven plus minutes.  I rather liked the “yes/no” chanting at the end.

This album isn’t for everyone (as most Mr. Bungle albums aren’t).  But it does show off some quality old school metal and some serious skill for a band covering themselves 30 years later.

[READ: March 24, 2021] Zed

I saw this book in Barnes & Noble and fell in love with the cover.  I made sure to look for it at the library and was pretty psyched when it came in.

And I was pleased as soon as I started reading.

Set in the not too distant future, one tech company, Beetle, dominates the world.  I thought that Beetle was pretty inspired name.  It could be Apple (who have a connection to The Beatles, with Apple Records) and it looks a lot like the word Google, although I suppose it is probably closest to being about Amazon–with their online assistant Athena.

Nearly every citizen (the book takes place in London, but Beetle is global) wears a BeetleBand which monitors everything you do–like a Fitbit or Apple Watch on steroids.

It tells you when you are stressed or when you should hydrate or that you shouldn’t have that donut.  Indeed, everything is now really “smart”: fridges, doors, cars.  Everything in your house is monitoring you. And everyone has a Veep, a personal assistant who does everything for you (except for physical things, since it has no body). You pay for all the best stuff in Beetle bucks–the cryptocurrency that replaced actual  money as the dominant currency.  If you didn’t convert your pounds, euros or dollars, when the rate was good, you’re just stuck.

When the book says everyone, it’s really mostly everyone. There are some people who can’t afford such extravagance.  People who don’t work for Beetle get paid in regular money which isn’t very useful.  There are also neo-Luddites who want nothing to do with Beetle.  But they are carefully monitored by Beetle.

Most people work and communicate in a virtual world with avatars that are some version of themselves.  And most importantly, every person has a Lifechain–the algorithm that determines the longevity and happiness you should experience.  This predictions are pretty much never wrong and everyone uses them to judge people–employers, police, etc. Everything you do, every decision you make changes our Lifehchain, which changes you likelihood of doing x y or zed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-3rd Annual Green Sprouts Music Week Night 5 (Ultrasound Showbar, Toronto Ontario September 20 1995).

It has been a while since I’ve listened to a live Rheostatics show.  Darrin at Rheostatics Live has added a number of new shows in the last eight months.  Like this full week of shows from the Third Green Sprouts Music Week.

Fifth night of the third annual Green Sprouts Music Week held at Ultrasound Showbar September 18-23 1995. The first song is Tim Vesely performing a rap he wrote along with Farm Fresh and Rheos and then perfected the following night. If you ever listened to or attended all the shows of a GSMW run you know how the band kind of builds through the week and really hits a stride a few shows in – this is one of those types of shows. Interesting to hear how even within single songs they were working on the transformation from night to night as they worked them out in front of a crowd – Desert Island Poem aka Drumheller is a great example. Song Of Flight/California Dreamiline/Digital Beach/Earth is a particularly great run from this show. Don sings Never Forget for the second time and also second time ever singing lead at a live show. Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine features Tamara Williamson who co-wrote the song. All in all a great show. It is funny looking back at shows that have the impression of classic setlists but in fact half of the songs had not even been recorded yet and were pretty unfamiliar to fans.

This recording opens with a freestyle rap from Farm Fresh.  I’m assuming that’s Tim on bass, and maybe someone else joining them?

Farm Fresh (Tyler, Pat and Ronnie) does “Space Song” and then Tim does a great story-rap about touring and listening to the Farm Fresh cassette and really loving it.  is tim playing bass with them

Then Farm Fresh does some more rapping and when they leave someone (Don?) says that seriously they fought over the Farm Fresh tape–which van would get to listen to it.

When everyone leaves there’s some weird swirling music that lingers while martin starts “A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream.”  He can’t reach the high note at the end–his voice kind of craps out but it’s still good.  The jam at the end makes up for it.

There’s a raw “Feed Yourself.”  Dave has changed “like a box of chocolates or a Beatles song” to “like Preston Sturges or a Beatles song.”  But they get the crashing end part perfect.

Tim’s “All the Same Eyes” has some fun harmonics on the second guitar.

Dave says: Friday night is rock night.  Each night is a like a snowflake–each one is unique.  Like, Martin’s guitar did not break down last night during that song.  And the new songs we have not yet worked out our dance moves yet.  Donny was playing the lower drums with his hands and the hi-hat with his feet.
Tim: and the crash cymbals with his teeth.
Dave: I aspire to have all gold teeth like Sticky Thompson in Ziggy Marley’s group.

They begin “Aliens” which I thought would make everyone pretty excited.  But there’s a lot of chatter.  At the end, Dave says, “that was nearly my chance to grab the brass ring of lead guitar.”

There’s a screaming person in the crowd again and Dave says, “nice scream. We hear you.”

There’s a long tech delay so they do “My First Rock Concert.”  Dave asks, “Does everyone know who ELO was?”  When it’s done Martin says that was the mystery song.  We’ve never rehearsed it, we just let it develop live.  Dave then talks about the five flash pots and asks if the guy from the Yardbirds died when a flash pot blew up in his face.  Or is that like the pop rocks guy story.  Someone shouts Same guy!

Dave asks, Martin, if we play “Four Little Songs” will that cheer you up?  It will.  During Dave’s part he asks, “who votes for a guitar solo?”  The 4321 at the end is perfect and at the end (“now they’re gone”) he asks several people if “you took them?”

The noisy crowd continues to irritate.  Dave wishes there was a button you could use to highlight something or other and then Don says, a button to eject screaming fan.  Or let them live?  Someone shouts “make them buy beer.”  Then as Tim starts the next quiet song someone shouts “shut the fuck up!”

Tim get a few songs now.  “Connecting Flights” and “An Offer” (It’s only the third time we’ve played this, so be gentle).  The falsetto seems a bit of a struggle.

Then comes Don’s song, “Never Forget.” Dave asks if he ever sang in his old new wave band.  Only backing vocals.  “Last night was the first time I was completely naked in front of the people.”  So Dave introduces: Second time for the Don Kerr Band.

Dave invites Tyler from Farm Fresh on stage, but they are doing an interview.  They play “Drumheller” (or “Desert Island Poem” as it’s also called).  Drumheller’s a weird place man.  We had great Greek food there once and terrible Greek food in the same restaurant.

As Martin plays a gorgeous “Song of Flight” he makes cool whale sounds.  (Whales lived in Canada once).  It segues into a lovely “California Dreamline” and then into “Digital Beach” and then into a wild “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds.”  It’s, as Darrin says a great sixteen minutes.

Someone asks if “Earth” is about Dave’s family.  Bidinis were the first humans.

Someone shouts “Winnie Cooper.”  Dave: “The Wonder Years? I don’t follow.   Lets meet outback later and talk about it.”

A ripping “Queer” come next with a “riff so nice, play it twice.”  Dave messes up some words (which hardly ever happens).  There’s a jam of the intro to “King of the Past” but no vocals.  Did Tim just not want to play it?

Tamara from Mrs. Torrance is invited up, and while Dave is talking he says to someone “Hey don’t fuck with me” (!) [What happened?]  Dave: I wish we wouldn’t swear as much, but we don’t swear as much as the guys in Farm Fresh do.

Tamara wrote the chorus to “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  The two of them singing this together gives me goose bumps. Martin says: “That song was for Winnie Cooper.”  Dave: How do you know about The Wonder Years?  Martin: “Late at night, lonely, kind of lukewarm depressed.”

Dave: Was she like the Miss Beedle? [from Little House on the Prairie].  Martin: No, she’s like Jan.

Up next is “Fat” with a great jam at the end.  Martin says “You hurt me with your rocking.”  And then proceeds to rock out a cover of jane Siberry “One more Colour.”

The recording cuts off after about a minute of “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson,” so who knows what else happened on this Friday night. 

[READ: February 12, 2020] Ready Player Two 

I really enjoyed Ready Player One quite a lot.  It was certainly one of my favorite books of the year.  I didn’t know there was supposed to be a sequel, but when I heard about it, I imagined it might be a lot of fun.

And while the book is largely the same in structure, the tone of it was really disappointing to me.

Set several years after the events of the first book, Wade (Parzival) and his helpers Aech, Daito, and Art3mis are all in charge of the empire that controls the OASIS.  They have bought out their competition and are basically a giant monopoly.  They are the only company making legit equipment to access the OASIS and each of them multi-billionaires.

They do a lot of philanthropic activities, especially when it comes to giving poorer people access to the OASIS.  And each one of them his his and her own pet causes to which they donate millions of dollars.  But primarily they (or at least Wade) is taking care of himself.  His house is palatial and costs billions of dollars.  He has made everything fit his heart’s (nerdy) and he wants for nothing.  Much of his money and energy is spent on building security measures for himself. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE BIG TOWN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #91 (October 6, 2020).

Little Big Town is a country band that has been around for a while.  I feel like I’ve heard of them, but I’m not sure.

Evidently the band is really the four main singers, but they have added more touring members for this Concert.

They open with “Nightfall.” It has nice folkie guitar and Karen Fairchild sings with a strong folksinger style. The snaps from Hubert Payne’s drums really ring out in a cool way.  Thee upright bass John Thomasson adds a nice anchor to the melody.

I thought maybe they weren’t all that country after all.  But as soon as the chorus jumps in and the accents start flying–especially the high notes from Kimberly Schlapman–the country has come into the house.  The song is catchy though.

Up next guitarist Phillip Sweet jokes is the “most profound thing” they’ve done.  “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” opens with a surprise trumpet intro from Jacob Bryant.  Although songs about drinking are about as cliché as they come, the stompin,’ dopey tone is quite fun and Jimi Westbrook’s lead delivery sells it well.

They apparently use some songwriters known as the Love Junkies who came up with “Girl Crush.”  There’s some nice harmonies on this track.  You really can’t hear keyboard player Akil Thompson on the other songs, but his chords ring through here.  Westbrook puts down his guitar while Sweet plays.

They end with “Boondocks” their first hit about where they come from.  I like the bowed bass and Evan Weatherford’s slide guitar lead, but the thought of thousands of people stompin’ along to these lyrics is a tad disturbing.

[READ: October 5, 2020] Parable of the Talents [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African -America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

I first looked at the date of 1998 and thought it was so current, not exactly realizing it was 22 years (and a lifetime) ago.  Without even reading the story, just reading the above paragraph, it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Reagan wrought.  He really was the beginning of the end for the country.

And Butler could totally read the writing on the wall.

Not much happens in this excerpt.  A farm is burned and most people killed. the refugees take shelter with the narrator at their farm/commune.

It’s the details below that are so chilling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LINDA DIAZ-Tiny Desk Concert (October 5, 2020).

In the past I’ve been quite aware of the Tiny desk Contest winner.  But this year, with the pandemic , it passed me by completely.

So I don’t know anything about Diaz or any of the other competitors, except for what I just looked up now.

And I find it a little cheaty that she won because

Diaz actually made an appearance at the Tiny Desk last year, as a backup singer for Jordan Rakei.

However, she seems very nice and I’m happy for her that she won, especially after reading the blurb she wrote for this concert.

At one point, we finally had everything set and ready to go. Then, days before the shoot, I tested positive for COVID-19. I will spare you all the details (lots of tears, lots of phone calls), but I am so grateful for my band, the NPR Music team and the Javits Center for going above and beyond for me, the human as much as me, the musician.

That’s right, the Javits Center.  This set is filmed on op of the Javits Center fifty days before the election.  That’s September 15–potentially a chilly day to be on top of a New York City building.  Also, who knew the top of the Javits Center was green and lush?

But more important than any of that is this quote that she reiterates in the set and mentioned earlier this year, that “Black joy is radical.”

“I do think it is a radical thing to be like, ‘I’m happy and I’m focusing on my joy and I’m focusing on my purpose and I’m not necessarily focusing on an audience or what other people want from me,’ ” she says. “But truly, I am recognizing the things in my life that are good, and many of those things are coming from my community. I think in that way, it’s super radical to love yourself as a Black person in this time.”

She sings three songs from her Magic EP.  She says that the EP was inspired by her favorite book The Ten Loves of Nishino Paperback by Hiromi Kawakami.  I find it a little strange that he favorite book came out only last year but whatever.

I don’t know a lot about R&B (duh), so I can’t honestly see what would have set her apart from the 6,000 other entries.  Her voice is lovely.  Her songs, like “Magic” are gentle and sweet.  But I don’t find her any more memorable than many other singers.

Having said that, her Tiny Desk Contest winning song “Green Tea Ice Cream” is really catchy and of the three is the most musically interesting.  It opens (like the other two songs) with sprinkling of gentle keys from Jade Che and a mildly funky bass from “Fat Mike” Mike Fishman (who co wrote and produced the record).  Her backing singers, Bianca B. Muniz and Jacqueline A. Muniz (the only two who aren’t socially distanced up there because they are sisters) really shine in their backing vocals here.

Throughout the set drummer Andrés Valbuena plays some cool drums and percussion sounds, but they really stand out on this song.

After showing some of the personal effects she brought with her (I wonder if doing the Tiny Desk here instead of at the actual desk with the in house audience was less nerve-wracking), she encourages everyone to vote.

Then it’s on to the final song “Honesty” which is about “speaking your mind and talking about what’s important to you and communicating with others and how that’s a really scary thing to do.”

The set is pleasant and enjoyable, but far less memorable than past winners.

[READ: October 2, 2020] “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

In this story an imprisoned Black woman is forbidden to speak because her words are too powerful.  I’m including it here for two reasons. First, because it captures my central theme of predicting not just individual pieces so technology, but also what t feels like living in 2020.  I read this story an I recognized its truth: that a woman’s words can be powerful, but they can just as often be viewed as dangerous.  The second reason I included it is because it is really, really good.

Romney is right, this story is really, really good. It is also pretty simply summed up by her first sentence.

The story is written as a report for The National Journalists’ Association for the Recovery of The Freedom of the Press.

The report is from the journalist who was able to meet Margaret A. in prison. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JHENÉ AIKO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #89 (October 1, 2020).

This is the 89th Tiny Desk Home Concert (if I’m counting correctly) and I am really surprised that this is probably the 40th one (not counting at all) in which I’ve never heard of the artist even though they are referred to as a star or at least wildly popular.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, R&B star Jhené Aiko coasts through an eight-song medley that plays like the ultimate nod to her legions of fans — fans who’ve been begging for a Tiny Desk for a long time.

Is “star” warranted?  I don’t know.  But here’s her raving blurb:

The Los Angeles native’s star status is a result of her music’s versatility and vulnerability. Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo has carved out a space of her own over the past decade, despite a rapidly changing R&B landscape. As a songwriter, she leaves no stone unturned, explicitly expressing her struggle, joy and sexuality while always administering the vibe.

The set begins with Aiko stirring a singing bowl, which I admit is pretty nice. I have a tiny one, but it’s nowhere near as cool as hers are.

Backed by an ensemble of masked players, Aiko bookends her set with a sound bath of singing bowls that’s peace personified through sound.

I appreciated the way the note of the singing bowl segues perfectly into Julian Le’s opening piano for “Lotus (Intro).”  Aiko has an old-fashioned vocal style–deep and breathy.

The short song fades out and in comes Brain Warfield’s thumping percussion and a gorgeous harp trill from Gracie Sprout that signals “Stranger.”

It is also short and as it fades and she drinks some tea, the bass from Bubby comes sliding in to open “Do Better Blues.”  The song pauses and she says she wants only three things in a relationship:

Eyes that won’t cry ; lips that won’t lie ; love that won’t die

Things slow down to the piano and chimes as the band jumps into “To Love & Die.”  Iam quite impressed wit her vocal restraint.  There’s a few moments of R&B diva wailing, but mostly, she sings very nicely and prettily with no histrionics.

This works especially well on “Born Tired” which opens with just a harp.  It’s impressive how well this acoustic setup works with these songs.

This medley of songs is disconcerting because everything is so short. She only plays two minutes of “Born Tired,” before Bubby’s high chords on the six string bass introduce “W.A.Y.S.” which has the most R&B styled-vocals so far.

“Summer 2020” opens with harp and piano and a spoken introduction from Jhené  as she introduces the “quarantine edition” of her band.  After a verse she throws in a verse from “Everything Must Go” without changing the music.  I do have to wonder about the mindset of someone who writes the lyrics:

I am no god or messiah
But here’s what I know

Three chimes on the singing bowls introduce “Eternal Sunshine” as she sings almost a capella.  The band comes in to flesh out the song and she ends with a lengthy R&B warble which quickly fades out as the song comes to an end.

I’m still not sure if she’s a star, but I am really impressed with her voice and musical choices in this set.  Often, I have found that when I really like an R&B performer’s Tiny Desk, it’s because of the way it is stripped down–both instrumentally and in production terms.  So I’m not going to listen to her album because this set was a perfect introduction to her and just enough for me to enjoy.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “The Intensive Care Unit” 

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

When I first thought about stories for this collection, I knew J.G. Ballard had to make an appearance.  Initially, I had chosen an entirely different piece.  Then COVID-19 came to the United States and I learned how very bad I was at predicting the future.  ‘The Intensive Care Unit’…is a story about living entirely in isolation: no human-to-human contact, ever. Even families live together through screens, not physically in the same space.

Frustratingly, she ends with

I’ll leave you to guess which other Ballard story this one replaced.  [I don’t know him well enough to even hazard a guess].

I haven’t read many J.G. Ballard stories, but I have it in my head that all of his stories are very dark and very violent.  The few that I have read certainly were.  And this one is no exception.

It’s starts off with a violent sentence: “Within a few minutes the next attack will begin.”

The room he is in is filled with his wife’s faint breathing, his son’s irregular movements, marked by smeared hand prints on the carpet, and his daughter’s limp body under the fallen lamp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARCIA PEOPLES-Hear Here Presents (2020).

Sometimes it takes a band you like to introduce you to something you didn’t know about.

Like Hear Here Presents, a non-profit studio in Wisconsin that records bands in a small setting with great audio quality.  And there are some fantastic bands (and yes, many many more that I haven’t heard of) on their page.

The band just released their session from this live show on bandcamp.

Back in January, Garcia Peoples went into the studio at Hear Here Presents for a session.

I’m not sure how long the sessions usually are, but this one runs about 35 minutes and consists of two songs.

Up first is what they are calling “Hear Here Jam.”  It’s 12 plus minutes of  a jamming instrumental.   It’s impression how tight these guys are that they can improv for 12 minutes and not only not step on each others toes, but actually make a composition that sounds interesting.

There’s a raging guitar section at around three minutes and an impressive build to a peak around 8 minutes before finishing up a few minutes later.  Having the three guitar of Tom Malach, Danny Arakaki, and Derek Spaldo allows for terrific interplay and a depth of sound.

That depth of sound is really evident on the second song, which opens with the introduction to “One Step Beyond.”  Of course, before they start that, there’s some tuning to be done, with some snippets of recognizable riffs:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Hey Joe,” “Sweet Child of Mine.”

But once everyone is ready, it’s down to business.  It’s fun picking out which guitars are playing what in the complex intro to “One Step.”  It’s impressive the way the three guitars can keep the looping melody original and changing while bassist Andy Cush more or less take a lead role.

It’s also important to keep an eye (or an ear) on drummer Cesar Arakaki because he can keep a beat and keep it from being dull as well.

Then after nine and a half minutes of intro, the band shifts gears into the rocking “Feel So Great,” a terrific song with a fantastic musical bridge.  Ringing guitars and a super cool bass line propel the song before the chill chorus.

Not content to let a short, catchy song end their set, they proceed to stretch of “Feel So Good” starting around 15 minutes.  Multi-instrumentalist Pat Gubler trades his keyboard for flute as the psychedelia commences.  After some raging guitar work up until about twenty minutes, the band slows things down to ring to a close.

The only thing disappointing about this set is that when the song is over, you can hear them talking and someone says, “we can do another one,: just as the audio cuts out.  What else did they play????

[READ: September 24, 2020] We All Die Naked [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

[In 1896] Svante Arrhenius first calculated the increase in Earth’s surface temperature caused by increases in industrial carbon production — what we now know as the greenhouse effect. …  As far as I know, James Blish is the first science-fiction writer to imagine an apocalypse caused by climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s a biting satire, simultaneously bleak and gregarious, that catches the characters on the brink of catastrophe through climate change.

To me, this story felt a little preachy.  But then, I’m reading it after fifty years of this kind of story already existing.  I imagine it was pretty impactful back in the era of Silent Spring (if sci-fi ever had an impact on anything).  And, indeed, it’s still pretty impactful given how many things he gets right.

The protagonist, Alexei-Aub Kehoe Salvia Sun-Moon-Lake Stewart, Sa. D., is forty and set in his ways.  He is the General President of Local 802 of the International Brotherhood of Sanitation Engineers.

Blish was eerily prescient to 2020 in one aspect of the story

Adjusting his mask–no matter how new a mask was, it seemed to let in more free radicals from the ambient air every day–he put the thought aside and prepared to enjoy his stroll and his lunch.

But some things are more grim.  The roads around Times Square, Wall Street and Rockefeller Center are all canals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUCLEAR POWER TRIO-“A Clear and Present Rager” (2020).

Today was one of the best days America has seen in four years.

Because here’s an EP to rock your politics off.*

Nuclear Power Trio is a band made up of Vladimir Putin on bass, Kim Jong-un on drums and Donald Trump on guitar.  And they totally rock. This first song from their new album is an absolutely rager, as the title says. It’s a three and a half minute instrumental that starts off with a monster riff and some really hightech fretwork from Putin on the bass.  When the main “verse” comes in, Trump shows his amazing dexterity on the eight string guitar.  He plays surprisingly tasteful licks in between the shredding. This is some pretty classic rocking instrumental stuff ala Joe Satriani, but with the whole band totally keyed in.

A big surprise comes a minute and 45 seconds in when an unnamed fourth member (in the video he appears as a secret service agent) plays an gentle acoustic guitar break, allowing Trump to do some gentle volume-controlled notes. This quiet section happens twice and after the second one, Putin just goes mental on the bass while Kim Jong-Un shows what impressive double bass capabilities he has.

The video for this song is rather disturbing.

But I gotta say, I’d much rather have these three nutcases in a kick ass band than in charge of any country.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, which was translated by Andrea L. Bell, Romney writes

the wonders of robot-controlled automation allow people to live in ease within the perfect mechanism of a programmed city–but in the end lead to ineffable discord within the mind of the protagonist.

This story was a little hard for me to wrap my head around.  The story follows P. as he makes his way through his daily life in Arconia.

P. is an evaluator.  But P. was distracted.  Not only did he not mind having evaded his work, he felt euphoric about it. This was not normal. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL & AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #88 (September 30, 2020).

I can’t decide if I like Jason Isbell or not.  I like his songs quite a lot and after watching this set I like him a whole lot. But I find his voice unpleasant–too twangy and country, which just rubs me the wrong way.

And yet the chorus of “Dreamsicle” is wonderful.  The way he and Amanda Shires harmonize is just fantastic.  I’ve heard the song on the radio, but it sounds amazing here.

The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Spring release, Reunions. “Dreamsicle” shares the story of a child seeing his family falling apart all around. Reflecting on those times, he finds fond memories, and the chorus of the song — “a Dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding lawn chair” — conjures up bright light even amidst the darkness.

Between songs, Jason is very chatty, making a lot of humorous observations, like that he’s been to the Tiny Desk and “The Tiny Desk Desk is not tiny, it is larger than average for a desk….  It’s a tiny concert at a desk.  [Call it a] cluttered desk concert.”

The next song “Overseas” is a louder song (it think it even distorts their sound equipment some).  Introducing the song he says, “Lets do ‘Overseas.’ Because we cant go overseas were gonna sing ‘Overseas.’  There’s a lovely lead violin and more terrific harmonies in the bridge.  They have this back and forth at the end

JI: That’s Amanda Shires playing the fiddle.  That’s really good.
AS: Thanks for having me.
JI: That was so good.
AS: I like to the play the fiddle, man. It’s a violin though.
JI: We should do this more often.
AS: Yeah we should.

This interchange is all the more funny because

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires feel fortunate. They have their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, a wonderful home, and each other.

Jason says that Mercy “tells me that she is an expert yodeler…. And it’s good, especially for a four year old who is not Scandinavian or Jimmie Rogers.  But then she says can you send that video to Jewel?   Jewel seems very nice but I’m afraid she’s going to come to our house and say “you can’t yodel for shit” and I want to be the barrier between my daughter and the cutthroat world of yodeling.

Amanda says they got a new rooster who is learning to crow.  Mercy named their new rooster Captain Love Heart. He has a lot of love in his heart and he is a captain. Makes me think of Captain Beefheart and makes me think of the chicken crowing “Upon the Me Oh My” or something from Trout Mask Replica.
The final song, “It Gets Easier,” deals with Jason’s drinking demons, with a refrain filled with such stark truth: “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.” These words could be an anthem for all those in recovery. It’s the nature of Jason Isbell to sing the truth.
I really enjoyed their banter and it made me like their songs even more.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Birth of a Gardener”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

the story works because the woman’s husband is a mansplainer.  He loses her to another dimension simply because he assumed he understood the principles of physics better than she did. Not to worry: that isn’t a spoiler.  …  [Pitkin Buck shows that] even as we are simplified into the roles that prioritize our relationships — mother, wife, sister, daughter, partner — over our individuals identities, women in 2020 (as with women in 1961, and women in 1861, and…) have to fight to retain our own rich interior experiences.

In this story, Payne is a physicist–Fermi Research at the Droxden Foundation, famous for his work on anti-matter.  His wife, Lee, is not.  And he hates to see her “spraining her mind” over books about physics. Why did she waste her time with books like that when she has such a green thumb.

He is so frustrated with her that he finally says she should just give it up “If you would be happy for life, plant a garden.”

She replies “That wasn’t why I evoked you.”

He doesn’t understand what she means, even when she says, “I just thought very hard and–finally one day, there you were.”

He says “Stop playing around with a rigorous logic that isn’t your style.”

She retorts: “Rigorous logic!  Rigor mortis!”

Finally, she says she wants him to teach her to see physics.  It would help them both.  She says she can already see neutrinos.  

He gets angry and asks why she keeps talking fairy tale when he has serious work to do.

After more back and forth he ends the discussion with, “Darling, you bore me.”

The next morning Lee was dead. It was shocking to him, but he felt closer to her now than he ever had while she was alive.

Suddenly he started seeing her–as if she were down at the end of a tunnel looking at him. He sees that she is looking at book. It is called The Validity of Thought Patterns as Determined by Their Elegance. He sees that she is the author of the book.

Then she starts demonstrating a diagram on a black board. She made a beautiful arabesque–it was the work of a clear and intelligent mathematical. But he had to laugh because she had gotten one thing crucially wrong–of course she would be confused in the end. 

Then he realized the mistake was his own.  She was not drawing matte but anti-matter.  His own field of study!  He and Lee were even closer than he’d ever realized.  He must try to communicate with her.

The end of the story is outstanding.

(more…)

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