Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-“Neon Knights” (1980).

There was no way I could read this book about Plasma Knights, Oxygen Knights and, yes, Neon Knights, and not think of this song.

This was the lead off track to the first Black Sabbath album in which Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne.   It is a great song and a huge testament to Dio’s ability to revive a flagging band.

It’s really catchy, too.  Geezer Butler’s thumping bass riff opens before Tony Iommi’s chords add a nice rhythmic juxtaposition.  And with Dio’s voice you can hear that Black Sabbath sounds rejuvenated.

Dio’s crooning goes really well with the fast chords and propulsive beat.

This is a great song from a great album.  Although it’s hard to say that the Dio era of Black Sabbath was better than the Ozzy years, the two Dio albums are really fantastic.

[READ: February 27, 2019] Chasma Knights

Although this book was satisfying in the end, I thought it was kind of weirdly unsatisfying overall.

Perhaps it’s because there no real context to the story aside from a rhymed poem that introduces it.  It tells us that if you catalyze toys your powers grow.  And everyone loves to do it except Neon Knights, because they can’t catalyze anything–they don’t have the power.  Aside from that there is no explanation of the setting or the people or anything.

Weird huh? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HOLLY MACVE-Tiny Desk Concert #630 (June 23, 2017).

If you were to ask me to pick all of the things I dislike about country music and put them into one artist it would be Holly Macve.

Her songs are slow, really slow (her three songs last sixteen minutes and she’s not chatty between them).  She sings with a thick country accent (which is especially strange since she is from England (!).  She’s got a yodeling quality to her singing which I also don’t care for.

I don’t like to bring appearance into a music criticism, but in this video, I can also say that it bugs me that he hair never moves and her mouth barely opens, which I find very disconcerting.

So she sings three songs.  On “No One Has The Answers,” and “The Corner Of My Mind” she plays guitar and sings.  “Corner” also features a slide guitar. For “Golden Eagle” she plays on piano which gives it a slightly different tone–more gospel than country, but good lord it was endless. I thought it was over and saw there were three more minutes left in the song.

She sang a South X Lullaby for NPR a few years back and I was on the fence but favorable.  But I said she might be too country for me.  And I was right.

The band: Holly Macve (vocals, guitar, piano); Tommy Ashby (guitar); Michael Blackwell (bass); David Dyson (drums)

[READ: June 26, 2017] “The Size of Things”

I really enjoyed this story although I found it surprisingly sad.

This is translated from the Spanish by one of my favorite translators Megan McDowell, but I’m not exactly sure where it is set.

The story is from the point of view of a toy shop owner.  He says that he knew Enrique Duvel had inherited a lot of money but also that he still lived with his mother.  He would often drive around in his convertible looking self-absorbed.  But then one night the narrator caught Duvel peeking into the toy store.

Eventually Duvel did come in the store and he bought a model plane kit.  Then he proceeded to come back every few days to buy another kit.  After some more time, Duvel appeared at the door as the narrator was closing up and, looking at he narrator, he said, “It’s best if I stay here.”  Duvel said his mother doesn’t want to see him again and repeated “I’d best stay here.” (more…)

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witoy SOUNDTRACK: JUANES-Tiny Desk Concert #172 (November 3, 2011).

Juanes is a Colombian superstar (he’s really juanesquite hunky).  This performance consists of Juanes singing and playing electric guitar (mostly solos) and his accompanist playing acoustic guitar.

The blurb says that he usually plays arenas and large venues, so it’s a treat to see him up close like this.  He was in town to receive an award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.

His voice is great and powerful and while he is singing in Spanish, his phrasings don’t sound Spanish at all.  Perhaps its the blend of Colombian roots-folk and rock ‘n’ roll.

“Hoy Me Voy” begins with some acoustic guitar playing and Juanes singing.  It’s a bouncy and upbeat folk song.  And while I don’t understand the words, I feel like I can make sense of the song.

For “Yerbatero” he opens the song with a guitar riff while the other guy plays percussive chords.  The “yeaaaaaaaaaaaah” section is catchy in any language.  And the solo he plays is pretty fun.  There’s also a fairly wild guitar solo near the end of the song.

“La Camisa Negra” was requested by someone in the audience–it was one of his bigger hits.  Juanes plays a cool intro riff (and some complex chords) before launching into the song proper.  I love the middle section with the warm guitars and catchy vocals that counter the staccato verses.

[READ: September 24, 2015] Wars in Toyland

There have been many books about toys coming to life, but I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this before.

And the artwork is so good that it made the whole story even more compelling.

This book is geared towards YA readers and I can see why… although there’s no bad words (one “bastard”), the subject is very dark.  As it opens we see that young Matthew’s brother Adam is missing.  There’s even Missing posters on the fridge (it’s pretty dark).  Matthew and Adam used to play war with their toys all the time (I love the way the toy soldiers are drawn).

But now that Adam is missing Matthew doesn’t feel like playing war anymore.  And that’s when the toys drag Adam into the toy box and into Toyland, where things are very bad indeed. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: March 30, 2013] Knucklehead

knuckleheadWe were looking for a good audio book for the kids and I stumbled upon this, an autobiography from Jon Scieszka.  We love Scieszka’s books (Stinky Cheese Man and the Time Warp Trio among others) and figured that this autobiography had to be good for a few laughs too.  And we were very much correct.

This is a funny book about what it was like to grow up as the second oldest of six brothers in Flint, Michigan.  It’s not really about being an author (although he does talk about where he gets ideas), it’s really about his childhood.  Most of the anecdotes in the book are things that he and his brothers got up to and how his father used to affectionately call all six of them knuckleheads.

The book has almost 40 chapters, all of them very short (as befitting the author of books for reluctant readers).  And each one has a pretty good set up and punchline.  Like how the older brothers used to tease the youngest ones or how Jon and his brother burnt a dry cleaning bag because it dropped little plastic bombs onto a battlefield–in the basement.  Or how he and his brother peed on the space heater because they thought that would put it out (that seems suspect, but it could have happened. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 8, 2012] The Russian Nutcracker

nutcrackWe decided to take the kids to see The Nutcracker this year.  Fortunately, it was being performed at our beloved RVCC by the Moscow Ballet!  I saw The Nutcracker performed by the Boston Ballet about a dozen years ago, and the performance was stunning (it was also expensive).  This performance was definitely scaled down compared to that one, and it was also shorter (which was good for our kids).

I honestly don’t remember all that much from the Boston Performance (except that when the tree gets bigger, I was blown away).  There wasn’t much blowing away with this show.  As I say, it was scaled down tremendously–the stage itself was about half the size.  But that said, it was charming and the performers–especially the men–were amazing.

I really enjoyed the opening which was quite simple, with the families approaching the castle for the Christmas party–it was fun seeing the adults dressed as kids skipping about while the proper adults strolled casually.  Typically the first act is longer than the second and it’s certainly less exciting.  I don’t know the ballet well enough to know if they cut any of the scenes, but it didn’t seem quite as long as I remembered.  The kids were a little less excited by the grown up fancy ball dancing, but they held up very well.

I enjoyed the sequence where Masha (she’s not Clara in The Russian Nutcracker–I wonder just how different the two are) and her brother have a fight over the Nutcracker.  Masha’s brother was quite funny and the broken Nutcracker was amazing in his life-less-ness.  Indeed, all of the “toys” were incredible. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TV ON THE RADIO-Nine Types of Light (2011).

I loved most of TV on the Radio’s releases.  On this one they scaled back some of their sound and they really highlight their assets, namely the vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.  This album feels like something of a continuation of the style from Dear Science.

Indeed, some of the songs are downright simple. “Second Song” is completely straightforward; I really enjoy the falsetto vocals on it.  “Keep Your Heart” is so straightforward it has almost no music in the verses.  It’s very much back to basics. “Killer Crane” is also very simple, with a gorgeous melody.

But don’t count uberdude Dave Sitek out of the game, he throws in some very interesting sounds and textures on a number of tracks.  “No Future Shock”  introduces all kinds of wonderful sounds and repeated lyrics which work as a mantra.  One of my favorite songs is the weird and wonderful “New Cannonball Blues” great synth sounds, cool harmonies  (that falsetto is on fire here!) and a nice staccato chorus.  “Repetition” has some cool repetitions (it’s in the title after all) that really becomes a mantra, with some great musical accompaniment.  And the drums sound amazing.  And “Caffeinated Consciousness” has some more cool sounds: orchestral hits and the like followed by a very mellow bridge.

And then there’s “Will Do” a perfect blend of the two styles–rich melodies, cool effects and great vocals (which is why it was the single).

The simple songs are a good introduction to the kind of stuff TV on the Radio is capable of, but it’s clear they have a love for the unexpected and that’s why I enjoy them so much.

[READ: February 5, 2012] Tales from Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan is an Australian author/artist who drew the amazing wordless The Arrival (it is stunning!).

This book is a collection of fifteen (very) short stories that come chock full of drawings.  Some drawings add to the story, some drawings tell the story and some drawings tell a kind of parallel story.  As with The Arrival, his artwork is weird and wonderful.

The library filed this book under YA Graphic Novels.  I’m not sure it’s either of those (The Arrival was filed under kids picture books).  While there are pictures, it is certainly not a conventional graphic novel.  And while the themes and idea aren’t risqué or anything, I feel like the ideas are more adult than teen oriented.  Of course, having said that, most of the protagonists are young, so maybe teens do enjoy stories about existential confusion! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN ZORN-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (2011).

Wild skronking horns, screamed vocals, chaos chaos cha–.  No.

Piano and vibraphones with some gentle guitars thrown on top.  This is a beautiful, gentle jazz rendition of this song.  What makes this so strange is well, frist, because John Zorn loves death metal and all things noise.  But also because John Zorn revels in Jewish culture.  So what’s up with this holiday album?

Evidently he always wanted to make a holiday album.  And he’s using most of the same guys who have played with him for years. 

That’s a real Christmas miracle! Read more about it here.

[READ: December 16, 2011] Children, Gender, and Social Structure

Our director sent us a link to this article to get us in the holiday spirit (you have to subscribe to JSTOR to read it).  Although he spoiled it in his email (boys and girls are different), I still enjoyed reading the contents here.  At least somewhat.  The article was really quite dry and relied on some scientific terminology which I found confounding.  Nevertheless, the results were easy enough to follow, and that’s what really matters.

The most interesting thing was the setup.  They read all of the letters mailed to Santa that were received in the Seattle post office in 1978.  (I wondered why it was so long ago before I confirmed that this was written in 1982, so that makes sense).  They received 855 letters that year.  And I found this breakdown as interesting (if not moreso) than the rest of the article: 63% were from within the state; 29% were from out of state (how did they get there??); and 8% were from out of the country (what?? how, why?–no answer is given, sadly).  31 letters were illegible, so they were out.  The rest were assessed by gender of the names based on a baby naming book (from 1966!).  This yielded 359 from boys, 391 from girls, 46 gender ambiguous (what percentage would there be today??) and 28 with no name. 

I was also fascinated by  the age breakdown: 24%: 5 or under; 41% 6 or 7; 29% 8 or 9 and 7% were ten or older! (more…)

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I used to not like Christmas songs very much.  Mostly because they;re unavoidable at the holidays but also because if you subject yourself to radio and mall versions, you get a really really bad selection of tunes.  The lowest common denominator of low denominators.

Sarah is a huge fan of Christmas music (even intentionally putting on Magic ninety-eight point threeeeeeeeee) during the holiday season (which may indeed be 50/50 when it comes to music and commercials and which tends to play quite a bit off my least-favorite song list, but they at least mix it up).  And, buying some of our own Christmas music (including alternate versions and new songs) has really helped get the monotony out of our mix.

This is a list that I created in 2008 and I see that it hasn’t really changed much at all.  There are some albums that we have recently acquired which I haven’t digested enough to see if they rank here or not.  But perhaps by the end of the holiday I’ll have a new post about new favorites.

Sarah’s comments are in red.  And, interestingly, she has created her own favorites list on her site.  Let’s see if anything has changed for her.

So, here’s my favorite Christmas songs circa 2008. (more…)

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