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Archive for the ‘Yuck!’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: March 2022] Jailbroke

This was the third of three books by Asman that I received at work.  It was also the least enjoyable of the three.

The story is a simple one.  Set in the future when humans are not the greatest species on the planet (they go by Terrans now), a spaceship that is run primarily by AI is ferrying humans around.  Using Asimov’s first principal, the AI, who are now vastly smarter and more useful than thehumans, cannot harm the humans.  Their existence is predicated on the fact that are have to help the humans.

Until, that is, one of them is accidentally fed biofuel that has a human part in it.  This jailbreaks their programming and allows them to kill humans indiscriminately.

Since this is a spaceship (a bottle episode), there’s not a lot that can happen.

In Nunchuck City, Asman delighted in violence.  In this story, he delights in gore.  Like the way he describes in loving detail how the space drill works on someone’s skull. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: February 15, 2022] City of Iron and Dust

Like a bird attracted to shiny things, when I see an interesting-looking book come by my desk at work, I decide to read it–no matter how big my tipping over pile of other books to read happens to be.

I dithered about reading this book and I had a slightly hard time getting into it (probably because I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to read it).  But it got very good and very exciting very quickly.

The book is broken up into chapters and each chapter is broken into subsections about a particular character

Jag.  She is the daughter of one of the big goblin families in the City of Iron.  But she longs for a world where goblins don’t dominate and persecute the rest of the fae.  She’s an idealist who goes to fae bars trying to feel something more than the money and power her family has.

Sil.  Sil is half goblin half Fae.  She is Jag’s half sister.  But she was brought up to be an assassin.  And her only purpose in life is to protect Jag.  Later on, we are shown the brutality she suffered to become such a formidable creature.  She has no opinions of her own. (more…)

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[READ: Summer 2021] The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I loved the name of this book.  The fact that it was put out by Quirk Books was a major plus.

This book was read by Bahni Turpin and she was magnificent.  I was hooked right from the start.  I loved her Southern accents and the way she made each character unique and easily recognizable.

In the preface to the book, Hendrix explains that this novel is a kind of apology for his earlier novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism.   In that novel teenagers were the protagonists and parents were cast as trouble for them.  He felt the need to address the concerns of the parents this time around.

I love the way the characters clearly love their children but are also realistic about them:  “Being a teenager isn’t a number,” says Maryellen. “It’s the age when you stop liking them.”

The story opens in a hilarious way.

It’s 1988 and Grace Cavanaugh had started a book club,  She wanted all of the women in her circle to read the classics.  This month’s book was Cry, The Beloved Country.  Grace was the quintessential Southern woman.  Her house was perfect.  Her thick pile carpets were white and immaculate (the way she inwardly cringes as cheese straws land on the carpet is hilarious).  She did not allow for anything improper.  She expected people to do what was proper.  Like finish the book club book.

The story zooms in on Patricia Campbell.  She needed the book club,  But she did not read the book.

She was given twenty minutes to talk about the book.  And the way she tries to stretch it out is hilarious.  Eventually Grace calls her out on it.  And is very disappointed in her.  Soon enough, though, the other women reveal that they didn’t read it either.

On her way to her car Patricia is stopped by Kitty Scruggs, another book club woman.  She invites Patricia to join the book club that she has just started.  It’s going to be her and Slick Paley, a conservative Christian (with an amazing accent, thank you Bahni) who seems dumb but is far from dumb, and Maryellen, a Yankee transplant (who has a very different accent which is nice to hear).  Eventually, even Grace joins because they are going to be reading the most salacious true crime books they can find.

Each of the women is married and their families are very different.  Patricia’s husband is straight-laced.  Her daughter is just old enough to be sarcastic to her and her son, Blue (that name is explained about 3/4 of the way through the book) has suddenly become obsessed with Nazis.  Basically, she needs these women.

Five years later, the book club is still going and the women feel closer to each other than ever (although Patricia doesn’t feel super close to Grace, because who could, really).  Then one night, a night that Blue didn’t take out the garbage, Patricia walks to where the cans are stored and is attacked.  The assailant is an old woman.  She acts crazy and even though Patricia knows her, she can’t talk sense into her. The old woman bites off part of her ear (which becomes quite a conversation piece, obviously). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: August 2021] World Piece 1

I saw this book at work and thought it looked really intriguing.  I liked Agroshka’s drawing style immediately and then the story really captured me,

It opens in a basketball game. Lucas Densen is a decent (but not great) player for his high school team (the Pulsars).  He makes a nice block, but he threw a terrible brick.  However, he’s really cute and quite popular with the ladies.

However, he’d really rather be spending time at his mother’s archaeological dig.  They haven’t found much stuff in this dig, but while Lucas is there the crew has a small discovery.  Lucas’ mother tells him not to touch anything, but when he sees something, he can’t help but grab it which sends him through a portal to another world where he is left holding the earth like it’s a basketball. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FLOCK OF DIMES-Tiny Desk Concert #246 (August 10, 2021).

Flock of Dimes is a fun band name.  It’s the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner (I thought Wye Oak was a solo project as well–no, it’s a duo).  [Gee, why wasn’t Andy Stack invited to this sing along?]

For this Home Concert, the solo project turns huge with nine people sitting around having a big ol’ sing along (I’ll assume they are all vaccinated and that this was filmed before Delta took off).

The setup is pretty simple: three guitars (I love that the guys on the couch are lefty (Michael Libramento, baritone guitar) and righty (Alan Good Parker, tenor guitar) so it looks appealingly symmetrical). some percussion and a lot of voices (the men on the right of the screen seems somewhat less invested).

The friends who are singing along include the three singers from Mountain Man: Amelia Randall Meath, Molly Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  Meath is also in Sylvan Esso and her bandmate Nick Sanborn is also present (he’s one of the less invested men).  The set is filmed at Sylvan Esso’s new studio in Durham, N.C., called Betty’s.

“Two” is a bouncy number with lots of percussion.  I like the way the backing singers join in from time to time, but not constantly–it introduces new voices throughout.

One of the invested men is percussionist Matthew McCaughan from Bon Iver–he’s got a full complement of instruments at hand.  Joe Westerland (from Megafaun) is the other percussionist, he’s just a bit more subtle in his actions, but you can see him gently tapping through “Two.”

“Price of Blue” is a little slower but it has a wonderful melody.  The harmonies really standout on this song.

I don’t know the originals of these songs, but I have to assume the blurb is correct

These acoustic performances actually shed new light, thanks to radiant and radically different arrangements, while fully capturing the warmth we look for from Tiny Desk concerts.

Whatever the case, the backing vocals are tremendous.  You can really hear Molly Sarlé’s gorgeous harmony vocals.

“Awake For The Sunrise” feels like an old fashioned fire side sing along.  I’ve enjoyed Wye Oak’s music but I don’t know it very well.  I rather like Wassner’s delivery here–but i feel like these songs might not be as good without these harmonies!

[READ: August 12, 2021] New Teeth

I’m guessing that Simon Rich had a baby.

This collection of stories is loaded with stories about little kids.  And that’s all right because he has a very funny take on being a parent.

The other stories tackle the corporate environment and are full of fish-out-of-water stories.

“Learning the Ropes” is about being a new parent.  But it is written from the point of view of two pirates. And hilarity ensues.

What’s odd to me is that in his first books, his stories were really short, but I feel like lately his stories have gotten much longer–sometimes too long.  This one in particular kind of dragged at times, because it’s pretty much a one-note joke: what? pirates raising a little girl?!  One pirate is a concerned parent which means he wants them both to care about the child.  It’s got a few very funny moments, and of course, when the pirates who speak in pirate style (“The only man I trust is me first mate”) say things like “Arr… it be called ‘limit testing.’ She be acting out because she be craving discipline,” well, that’s classic Simon Rich right there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #235 (July 12, 2021).

People love Jack Antonoff and Bleachers.  I feel like I’m supposed to be blown away by him, but I’m not.  In fact I thought that I had seen him live, but it was actually Porches (not the same thing but sort of similar).

Both as producer extraordinaire and artist in his own right, Jack Antonoff has had an outsized impact on the past decade in pop. And yet, even with such maximalist aims, Antonoff clearly understands the effectiveness of scale: that the most enduring tracks are often intimate portraits.

Surrounded by greenery, the footage is interspersed with close-up angles filtered through an old-school finish (scan the wide shot and you’ll spy a video camera perched on the piano, plus one very tiny desk, too).

They play three songs.

The set opens with “91,” the album’s ambitious opening cut.

The songs opens with the two saxophone players standing really close to each other (where’s the social distancing guys?).  This song is a kind of story song with a lot of words.  The whole presentation reminds me a lot of Tom Waits (no bad thing) or Bruce Springsteen (which I guess makes more sense since Bruce sang on a song of his).

It’s followed by a bombastic revision of “Stop Making This Hurt,” which gets a slick saxophone rewrite courtesy of Zem Audu and Evan Smith.

“Stop Making This Hurt” opens in an interesting way with staccato sax from (l-r) Zem Audu and Evan Smith while Antonoff stabs some piano notes.  I suppose I would like this more if it didn’t sound exactly as it does.  Piano and sax are really just not my thing and that’s pretty much all these songs have.  Mikey Freedom Hart adds keys, but it’s mostly bass notes adding depth to the song.

Springsteen sings on the studio version of “Chinatown.”  Interestingly I felt like this version sounded more like Meatloaf than anything else.  Musically I enjoyed this song and Antonoff seems like a nice guy, but I’ll not be seeing Bleachers anytime soon.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Old Faithful”

This essays opens with David finding a lump on his tailbone–never a happy discovery.  It was a cyst or a boil–“one of those words you associate with trolls.”

Just sitting hurt him–and forget about laying down.  He threatened that boil–“I’m going to go to a doctor if you don’t go away.”  It didn’t listen.

He says he didn’t go to the doctor because it would have been very expensive in London (really?  Don’t they have NHS?).  But mostly he was afraid of hearing that he had “lower-back cancer” and they’d have to “remove his entire bottom.”

He suffered with the pain believing he was setting a good example for Hugh who tends to moan and complain–a splinter gets into his hand and he claims to know how Jesus Christ felt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEY LINE-“Oxum” (SXSW Online 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means Ley Line is next.

Ley Line is four women, based in Austin TX, playing an upright bass, a guitar and soft percussion.

The first ninety seconds of this song slowly evolve from a pretty guitar melody and lead vocals, to harmony vocals supporting a lead vocal and a soft echoing drum

And then the bouncing drum is joined by cymbals and a satisfyingly deep bass melody.

Ley Line is four singers, including a pair of twin sisters, who find inspiration in music from Latin America, West Africa, and Europe as well as North America. The simplicity is what I loved most about this Austin-based group, both in its spare percussion and lovely harmony.

It’s fascinating to hear to song shift from Spanish to a wordless language (I think) to English, all while retaining a similar sound.

That is until three and a half minutes when the song suddenly shifts to a a dancey song.  Bouncy bass, a fast rhythm and more of that cheerfully singing (in Spanish once again).  It’s quite arresting.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Understanding Owls”

David asks the universal question, “when does one reach a point in your life when you say ‘I’ve got to weed out some of these owls?'”  We’ve all been there.

Of course, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you can’t get rid of the crocheted owl from your sister.  You keep the owl napkins and candles–those are useful. But trivets and trinkets can go in the trash or to goodwill.

This overwhelming feeling happens when you tell people you like something.  His sister Amy said she liked rabbits and soon enough, she had cushions, slippers, bowls, magnets etc.

Amy’s started with a live rabbit.  But Hugh and David’s owls started with art.  Hugh painted birds on a client’s ceiling.  He painted song birds and then she asked for owls.

It made no sense nature-wise–owls and songbirds work different shifts, and even if they didn’t they would still never be friends.

But it was her ceiling so he did it.

He bought the book Understanding Owls to learn what they looked like.  The book became an inside joke for them–i wish I could see what a barn owl looked like, if only there was some guide nearby to show me.

Then, pushing the joke further, David decided to buy Hugh a stuffed owl.  But he learned that it is illegal to own one in the United States–even if it dies on your property you cant keep it.

he had gone to a taxidermist.  One taxidermist even went so far as to stretch a chicken over an owl form.  It was disturbing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FROM THE TOP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #230 (June 30, 2021).

Here’s three young classical performers playing some amazing piece of music.

From the Top is the radio program (distributed by NPR) that spotlights today’s terrific young players.

Teenagers from three locales around the country – Chicago, St. Louis and Palo Alto, Calif. – invite us into their homes for fresh takes on vintage classics, contemporary sounds and sophisticated pop arrangements.

Up first is a cello from Ifetayo Ali-Landing.  The song is by Yebba called  “Evergreen” (arr. Charles Yang).  I don’t know this song, but I really like it.  The cello sounds fantastic and the melody is delightfully complex and yet not unmelodic. I love the way she occasionally bounces the bow off the strings, for a really neat effect–very percussive.

Ifetayo Ali-Landing, an outstanding 18-year-old cellist from Chicago starts us off. She’s already performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and given her own TEDx talk. One of her calling cards is this propulsive performance of “Evergreen,” a pop song by Yebba, arranged for solo cello.

Up next is a guitar duo by Jack and Elle Davisson.  They play Paulo Bellinati’s “Jongo.” This is their favorite duo performance because of the rhythm and the beat.  Jack opens with some wonderful classical fingering and then Elle follows with a similar melody.  Then Jack plays a lead while Elle taps out a rhythm on the strings.  But from there it’s hard to pick out who is doing what–each player has something special and complicated going on.  Elle plays some lovely harmonics and a kind of bass string solo while Jack picks the complicated lead.  And just when you think you get the whole piece, the two of them play a lengthy percussive section tapping and slapping on all parts of their guitars–a drum solo in the middle of this classical piece.

Pairing up in Palo Alto, the Davisson Guitar Duo features Jack, 16, and his sister Elle, 13. Their signature piece is the rhythmically driven Jongo, which offers flavors from composer Paulo Bellinati’s native Brazil. The siblings finish each other’s musical phrases with startling lyrical precision.

The final piece is solo piano by Jerry Chang.  He performs Franz Schubert: “Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3.”  It sounds amazing and his description of the song that it reminds him of being in a garden, is really interesting.

Seventh-grader Jerry Chang, clad in his comfy exercise shorts, closes this cross-country Tiny Desk from home, playing Schubert’s G-flat major Impromptu like someone twice his age. The gentle, rippling effects he gets from his still-growing 13-year-old hands, and the way he makes Schubert’s wistful melody sing, is astonishing.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Now We Are Five”

Only Davis Sedaris could find humor in his sister committing suicide.  This piece is very poignant and quite moving but there’s still dark humor in there.

I begins by saying that his parents had six children and people were always startled to hear his.  Six kids!  But now that Tiffany had killed herself, they were only five.

Six months before she killed herself David rented a house on Emerald Isle in North Carolina.  The family had gone there when they were kids and he thought it would be a fun way for the family to get together.

When they were kids David always grabbed the master bedroom until he was kicked out.  Then he often wound up staying in the maid’s room–which was usually outside. The others banded together against him, since he was clearly the weakest at this point. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ART D’ECCO “Angst in My Pants” (2021).

I saw Art D’ecco open a show a few years ago and I’ve become mildly obsessed with hi.  I’m delighted to see that he’s getting some promotion and success.

His new album In Standard Definition is a great synth pop retro dance infusion.  But in addition to that he has released two standalone covers.

Art D’ecco covering Sparks is a pretty natural decision.  as his label puts it.

The glam rocker premiered his cover of Sparks’ ‘Angst In My Pants’ via FLOOD Magazine earlier today. Art recalls, “Before making my last record I jokingly said to my band, if one more person or media outlet says I sound like Sparks I’m gonna cover them”.

This is a really faithful to the original, including the strained an jocular vocals in the verses.   And the great emphases in the chorus.  It’s modernized with new sounds and production but overall this is faithful and fun cover.  If it introduces fans of one band to the other, then it has done its job.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Colony

After reading Rob Grant’s Red Dwarf books, I discovered that he has written a number of novels in addition.

  • Colony (2000), a science fiction story about a colony that has long since lost its way.
  • Incompetence (2003), a wry detective story set in the near future where it is illegal to discriminate for any reason, even incompetence.
  • Fat (2006), a darkly comic novel about how the media portrays obesity and its effects on today’s society.
  • The Quanderhorn Xperimentations (2018) [based on a radio show that Grant wrote].

So Colony was his first.  It’s interesting how much it connects to Red Dwarf without having anything to do with Red Dwarf.  It’s a sci-fi novel, set millions of years in outer space, with the fate of the human race in the balance.

But barring that, it’s really quite different.  In this book the human race is aware that it is on the verge of extinction, and it is planning for it.  They are loading the best people on to a space ship (the Willflower) that will fly them millions of miles away to a habitable planet.  Those people will have offspring on the ship and several generations later the human race will survive on the new planet. 

But the book starts off by following Eddie O’Hare, a man NOT meant to be on this ship.  He is not one of earth’s best and brightest.  In fact, he is one of the unluckiest men around.  A computer glitch has caused him to lose millions of pounds for the company he works for.  The company believes he stole it.  And they have sent a couple of thugs to retrieve it.

In fact, the thugs just came to his room with the intent of throwing him out the window to his death.  But when they mention something that seems incorrect, they realize that they have the wrong man.  Eddie assumes he’s on that list, he’s just not next on the list–that would be the man in the room next door.  The hit men are darkly comic until they become just dark.

(more…)

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