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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-“asia” (2015).

Back in 2015, Boris released three albums on the same day all under the “new noise literacy” banner: “urban dance” “warpath” and “asia” [according to their label numbers, this is the order they go in, but I’m posting them out of sequence].

All three records are experiments in abrasive noise.  Despite the adorable child on the covers, these records will scare children.

This album has three songs.

“Terracotta Warrior” Runs for 20:38.  It opens with quiet, slow rumbling–almost inaudible for the first 30 seconds or so.  Then the pulsing sounds start bubbling up under a hissing, mechanical sound.  Around seven minutes the rumble stays pretty steady, but the higher noises–hissing, clanging, horror movie sounds, start to grow more intense.  At 8 minutes, some discernible guitar chords ring out (heavily distorted, but clearly guitars).  It turns into a lengthy drone with squeaky feedback noises throughout.  At 17 and a half minutes the feedback gets louder and louder until it abruptly cuts off and after moment of silence distance guitars start ringing out again.  There’s even the first sign of drums (a gentle hi-hat).

“Ant Hill” is half as long, but similar is tone.  It is primarily pulsing electronics and high pitched squealing electronic manipulation.  There’s also some digital glitching sounds. After 8 minutes the song fades to a pause only to resume a few seconds later with some more digital glitching and manipulation.  With 30 seconds to go, a drum beat comes in and the distortion takes on a more melodic sound including what sounds like someone sawing in the distance.

“Talkative Lord vs Silent Master” is also ten minutes long and it is the most unpleasant of the three songs.  It is full on static and noise with what sounds like a monstrous voice growling in the distance.  By the end of the song it sounds like being in the middle of a howling winter storm.  And as it closes up there is some serious digital glitching.  Not for the sensitive of hearing.

The album is credited to: takeshi: guitar & bass / wata: guitar & echo / atsuo: drums & electronics.

[READ: January 19, 2017] “The Very Rigid Search”

Jonathan Safran Foer has become something of a more serious writer over the last few years, so I’m alway happy to read one of his earlier funnier works (himm, that sounds familiar).

This story is written from the point of view of a Ukrainian tour guide named Alexander Perchov.  He is writing this tale in English, although his English is slightly off (as the title hints at).  He speaks very good English, but his word choices often eschew idioms for literal translation (and much hilarity ensues).

Alex’s family own a Ukrainian branch of an international travel agency and it is his job to pick up and translator for an American traveller.

Alex refers to the traveler as the “hero” of the story.  And the hero’s name is Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jonathan Safran Foer is not having shit between his brains  He is an ingenious Jew.

JSF was travelling from New York to Lutsk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARCO BENEVENTO-Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010).

This is the third album by Marco Benevento and his trio: Reed Mathis on bass and Andrew Barr on drums.

It’s hard to put this release into any genre because of how fluid Benevento is.  He has some poppy songs, some jazzy bits and some experimentation.

Most of the songs are pretty long (over 6 minutes) and none of the songs have words (well, one has a aspoken section).

“Greenpoint” flows around a very simple bass line as Marco plays a poppy piano throughout the song.  There’s also some synthy blasts that move the song beyond a simple piano motif.  Around the four minute mark, the song shifts gears, growing a little faster and little more intense as the drums crash through.

“Between the Needles” is a slower song with a pretty bass line and slow piano chords.  After a minute and a half it takes off a bit with bigger piano chords and a more dramatic tone.  But then it all slows down to just piano before building up again, this time with even more evocative lead bass.  “Two of You” is quieter, with a waverly keyboard line that lays under the lead piano  The main piano line acts like a lead vocal line and is really pretty and quite catchy as well.  It builds into a nice bouncy song by the end.

“Numbers” is a slow song with a lead bouncing bass and simple keyboard intro chords.  The song builds in layers until it is a loud, almost-crashing sound with some jazzy piano soloing on top.  “It came from You” is a super catchy piano melody with some complicated electronic drumming. It turns into a bouncy and fun romp by the end.

“Ila Frost” is one of the catchiest things on the album–a lively piano melody both in the repeated background and the main lead line.  It’s followed by the even catchier “RISD.”  In addition to the fun pulsing bass, the main echoing keyboard melody is simple but instantly catchy.

“You Know I’m No Good” is the shortest song on the disc.  It’s a slinky torch song that is actually written by Amy Winehouse. Knowing that, you can hear it in the delivery.  There’s a sort of crashing drum section in the middle.  This song also has the only vocals–worldless “da da daing” toward the end.

“Music Is still secret” is a lovely, slow jazzy ballad. While “Wolf Trap” is the opposite.  There’s some loud clangy drums and a big fuzzed up bass that matches perfectly with the really noisy piano melody.  Once the song starts going, there is some ferocious soloing from Marco as the rest of the band jams behind him.

The disc ends with “Snow Lake” an electronic kind of processed sounding track that mixes some interesting synths and some low ringing bass.  It ends with a wild cacophony of sounds–electric and otherwise–and then abruptly ends.

There’s not a lot of earworms on this disc.  But everything sounds great.  The musicianship is top notch and the songs are all pretty fun.

[READ: September 14, 2010] “Lucky Girls”

In this story, the narrator is an American woman living in India.

As the story opens she says she always imagined what it would be like meeting Arun’s mother for the first time.  She pictured a fancy restaurant with herself looking stunning.

But in reality, Mrs Chawla showed up at the apartment one day, unannounced.  The narrator had been living there for five years and had yet to meet the mother of the man who owned the place.

The narrator was in her painting clothes when Mrs Chawla showed up.  The narrator considered changing, but decided against it.  Mrs Chalwa was shorter than expected; she looked at the narrator as if she too were not what was expected. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JACOB COLLIER-Tiny Desk Concert #48 (July 9, 2020).

collierI had never heard of Jacob Collier until his recent Tiny Desk Concert.  He was an impressive fellow to be sure.  He has an amazing vocal range and he can play just about any instrument you can think of.

So it should come as no surprise that Collier’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is over the top as well.

But even knowing all of that, it is a still mind-blowing.  Because he has seamlessly spliced four videos of himself together.  So you have four Jacobs in four outfits playing everything in a room that is full of instruments.

The set starts with “All I Need.”  Lead singer Jacob is sitting on the floor in front of a steel drum.  This Jacob also plays the melodica solo.  On the left is keyboardist Jacob who plays the organ and, of course, mid song switches to piano and back again.  On the right is bassist Jacob who plays some excellent bass–including a nice solo at the end.  Way in back is Jacob on drums.  You can’t see him all that well, but you can hear his contribution perfectly.

Polymath musician Jacob Collier has been championing this style of one-man-band music videos since 2012, singing every note and playing every instrument. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”earned him a devout YouTube following at the age of 19, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The London wunderkind owns four Grammy Awards already, including two at the age of 22 in 2017…. Now 25, and with nearly a decade of experience producing every aspect of his own music from his home, Collier is uniquely positioned to crank out his best work from quarantine. In this video, each of the four parts was recorded in a single take. Pay close attention ; it’s easy to get tripped up inside Jacob’s head as he arranges this Rubik’s Cube of a video production, which feels both like a magic trick and a no-strings-attached bedroom session.

Introducing the next song, one of the Jacobs (they fight over who is the actual Jacob), says that “Time Alone With You” is a little funky–hope you don’t mind.  It’s groovy bass line and smart snapping drums.   The end of this song is a wonderful musical freakout with a vocal section that leads to a series of four fast drum hits (including Jacob banging on the piano and some bass rumblings as well).  There’s even a jazzy breakdown (real jazzy bass lines) which allows one of them to whisper “jazz.”  Because even though he is super talented and a very serious musician, he’s also goofy (look at his clothes).

He’s in the middle of releasing his ambitious four-volume record, Djesse. The last song in this video is the premiere of his new single “He Won’t Hold You,” which will appear on Vol. 3, due out later this year.

When piano Jacob changes the mutes in the piano bassist Jacob talks about the record.  “He Won’t Hold You” song starts a cappella in four part harmony (with himself). He can ht some really deep notes and the harmonies are super.

The only problem for me is I don’t really like his style of music.  Which is a shame because he’s so talented, I want to watch him all day.  It’s just not my musical scene.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “Immortal Heart”

This is a lengthy, somewhat complicated and ultimately devastating story.

The story is quite long and it revolves around a woman and her Precious Auntie living in the Western Hills south of Peking.  Their village is called Immortal Heart and The Liu clan (her family) has lived there for six centuries.  They were ink stick makers. They had expanded to a shop in Peking–a sign of great success.

Precious Auntie was born across the ravine in a town called Mouth of the Mountains.  The village was known for dragon bones, which poor men collected from the Monkey’s Jaw cave.  Precious Auntie’s father was a renowned bonesetter and he used these dragon bones as part of his work.

Precious Auntie could not speak.  She communicated with the narrator. Lu Ling, through sign language which only the two of them knew.  Precious Auntie was rather naughty and their silent language allowed her to speak her mind freely (she disapproved of bound feet for instance). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-“Honey” (2020).

honeyA new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard song is never a surprise (few bands are as prolific) but it is always a delight.

After the seriously heavy metal of their last album and accompanying live records (I do wish they’d release a live show that’s not so heavy metal-dominated since they have such a wonderfully diverse catalog), this song drifts back to their more psychedelic sound.

Stu Mackenzie says he wrote it a few years ago.  It starts out with a middle eastern microtonal acoustic guitar (I’ve never seen an acoustic microtonal guitar).  It’s lovely melody, fluid and open.  After about a minute, the bass comes in and rumbles the song along adding a complex texture to this mostly mellow song.

Stu’s guitar is simple but has some tasty bending notes.  But since nothing is simple, there some wild drum fills and unexpected falsetto vocals.

The third part shifts gears a little with what I think is a (processed?) flute solo.  and because no KGATLW can be traditional, there’s another part in the middle that’s almost  a bass solo with a few sitar-like strummings.

It’s always exciting to get more music from KGATLW and this promises some great new stuff in the near future.

[READ: July 10, 2020] “The Constant Muse”

This issue of the New Yorker has a series of essays called Influences.  Since I have read most of these authors and since I like to hear the story behind the story, I figured I’d read these pieces as well.

Although I have never read anything by John Le Carré.  I don’t even really know what he writes–spy novels?

Anyhow, as I started this I recognized the name of his novel The Constant Gardener, although as I say I don’t know anything about it.  He says the novel follows a British diplomat as he searches for the people who killed his wife, Tessa.  The story opens with Tessa dying on the shores of Lake Tukana in northern Kenya.

When he finishes a novel, John asks where the ideas came from–a stupid question, but one he likes to ask himself.  He says he got the initial idea for this story twenty years earlier when he saw a man come into the restaurant where he was eating and begin handing out flowers to everyone–refusing to accept any money.  The proprietress gave him a glass of wine and a kiss. She told John that they call him the mad gardener.  He had suffered a great loss and he felt better handing out the flowers from his large garden. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #12 (April 22, 2020).

I had a mixed reaction to Nick Hakim”s Tony Desk, although the blurb writer says he loved it.

Whenever I’m asked to name my favorite Tiny Desk concerts, Nick Hakim’s 2018 performance sits near the very top. He and his four bandmates reset the bar for intimacy at the Desk with their hushed groove.

Hakim plays three songs from his upcoming album WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD

from the corner of his dark bedroom with a keyboard, guitar and stacks of audio components.

His vocals on all three tracks are quiet and echoing, as if he is whispering down a long hall.  In fact all of the music sounds muted and soft, with a feeling of hazy smoke floating around,.

“QADIR,” is a haunting dedication to a fallen friend.  He plays guitar–mostly slow muted echoing guitar chords.  When the song ends, he activates a mini applause effect box which is pretty funny.

He takes a few loud slurps from his drink and gives a big “ahhh,” before starting the next song. For “GODS DIRTY WORK” he switches to the keys.  His singing style is exactly the same, although the song may be a little slower.

He adds a little more fake applause and then a somewhat creepy echoing laughter as he switches the drum beat for “CRUMPY.”

Honestly, all three songs sound a lot alike and seems really slow and hazy. It’s weird how upbeat and smiling he is, in contrast to the music.  I wonder how he makes everything seem so quiet.

[READ: April 15, 2020] Nicotine

I really enjoyed Nell Zink’s two other novels, but somehow I missed this one entirely when it came out.  I couldn’t imagine what it was about with that title and boy I never expected it to go where it did.

I actually had a slightly hard time getting into the book. That may have been because it was Quarantine and it was hard to ficus or it was because the opening of the book was so puzzling.  And yet by the end I was totally hooked.  But the beginning:

A thirteen year old girl stands in a landscape made almost entirely of garbage, screaming at a common domestic sow.

Then a white man comes and takes the girl away.  Her name is Amalia. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[READ: February 1, 2020] DPR Korea Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: LIAM KAZAR-“Sunloathe” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

I don’t know Liam Kazar (he was in Kids These Days and Marrow).  This song is a simple folkie version of the song with some nice slide guitar and some cool keyboard sounds in the middle.

Kazar’s mellow singing with these instruments makes this cover sound not too different from the original.

[READ: August 23, 2019] The Adventurist

I was intrigued by the title of this book.  I didn’t know a thing about it or the author, but the title and the blurbs were promising a funny and thought provoking novel.  And they were right.

Henry Hurt is a surprisingly likable narrator given his general disposition.  He thinks we need a war in this country–not exactly, but when he looks in the rearview mirror and sees “a glare from my fellow citizen…a look of such opprobrium, such astonished offense (I change lanes too abruptly) that I would have the nerve, the gall to interrupt even for a moment her progress in the world…. Yes: tank treads and the tromp of boots, here on our courteous soil.  It is the only remedy.”

He also loves work. Not just his own work but work in general.  Unlike his sister:

in her mythology a corporate job is a necessary evil, to be tolerated only until a person finds what he was Meant To Do.

He felt that way once as well, when he first got his job at Cyber Systems but

what changed my mind was love. Of money.  I am only partly joking.  It’s no good avowing one’s regard for money.  You set yourself up as a satirical creature.  [but] it didn’t take long to see that acquiring a skill, linking arms with others to fix problems, fulfilling one’s duties with aplomb, all toward a commercial end, is its own kind of nobility.

His sister works for a non profit.  He admires the mission but finds all her coworkers too self-satisfied.

So how could one enjoy this person as a main character?  Because hes funny and insightful and because he presents a perspective that you don’t often see in literature–a non-caricatured business man. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

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

You can find that link here.

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

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

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

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

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

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

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

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #916 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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