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Connell Dr.Black jacketSOUNDTRACK: KODAGAIN-“King of Curls” (2014).

supernaturalWhen I looked for a picture of this book cover, I was connected to Connell’s blog which has links to many songs by Kodagain. After some more work, I learned that Kodagain features music by Saša Zorić Čombe and lyrics by Brendan Connell!

It was hard to find any real details about Kodagain (they have a media presence, but it is rather abbreviated), until I saw their soundcloud page which gives these nuggets of information

  • Kodagain formed in 1985 in Knjazevac, SE Serbia, where it’s hard to be alternative but easy to be alone.
  • Kodagain writes and records songs with English lyrics because English is more musical than Serbian.
  • Kodagain has a miniaturist approach to pop music, channelling influences from Henry Purcell, through Dean Martin, to Roxy Music, into short compositions combining a bubblegum-pop concern for melody with lo-fi experimentalism, resulting in songs as soulful as they are playful.
  • Many of the lyrics have been provided by the existing poetry of famous poets such as Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Chu-I Po (Bai Juyi), Lord Byron, Ogden Nash, Sara Teasdale, Louisa Stuart Costello and Robert Creely.
  • Since 2007, Kodagain has also been using … original lyrics from the writer Quentin S. Crisp; since 2012, Kodagain has similarly collaborated with the writer Brendan Connell.  Brendan Connell says: “My ultimate goal is to write a vast number of lyrics about natural wonders, public parks, lost watches, Indian villages, hidden love, birds, trees, mountain passes, fake Taoists, imperceptible colors, rhetorical mysteries, and flowers. Ideally these would be compounded into a ‘Guide for Modern Life’ which could be used to build better relations between workers and their bosses, the various sexes, and those whose religious beliefs differ.”
  • Their songs and videos can be found in generous supply on YouTube and SoundCloud. Albums include: Speed Up, The Nowhere Land’s Echoes, A Drink With Something In It, 000, Vranje, Letters From Quentin, Time to Get Ready for Love, My Fear of His Fear of Death, and Supernatural.

Since encountering Kodagain, I have become totally transfixed by them.  The melodies are simple and lovely and Zorić Čombe’s voice is gentle but wise.  Lyrically the songs are certainly all over the place, and most of the songs are under 2 minutes long.  The instrumentation is simple–usually a gentle guitar, steady drums and multi-tracked voices.

It was really hard to pick a song to talk about because there are so many.  But I decided to pick “King of Curls,” in part because the video is fantastic, and so are the lyrics

If I ruled the world
I’d call myself
The King of Curls

If I were king
I’d change damn near
Everything

If I ruled the world
My army wouldn’t fight wars
But rather eat chocolate bars
And move to the beat
In shorts
While my advisors wise
Would do jazzercise

(and that’s just the first part!)

Zorić Čombe’s voice sounds a bit to me like a smoother Jens Lekman (although that could just be the enunciation style).  I find his songs utterly enchanting.

And if you look on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of videos–most of which are masterpieces of found footage.

[READ: February 20, 2015] The Metanatural Adventures of Dr Black

About 7 years ago, I read a novella called Dr Black and the Guerrillia and I liked it quite a lot.  I liked that Connell created this character, with no apparent context (at least none given in the story) and that it was so amazingly detailed and “real” and yet so seemingly unreal–an unsatisfying word which Connell has corrected for me with the title of this collection–Metanatural.

This book is something of a collection of short stories about Dr. Black, but it is far more than that.  It collects some of the adventures that Dr. Black has been on as well as some of the patents and other ephemera and fashions a kind of narrative (although a very sketchy narrative) about the life he leads.

Before I even get to the “plot” of the book, I need to say just how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was absolutely captivated by Connell’s voice.  Over the years I have known that Connell was an accomplished writer with an unparalleled attention to detail and to choosing the precise word.  But somehow in the Dr. Black stories Connell’s details and specifics push the narrative to real heights.  Perhaps it is because Dr Black seems so real that when anything “metanatural” happens to him, it is entirely believable–drawing you into his exploits even further.  I really wanted to read more and more.

Having said all that, while this book is certainly his most accessible, it is still not light reading.  Connell challenges the reader with his extensive vocabulary, his lack of compunction about throwing in some obscure sections of text (that I won’t pretend I understood, but which didn’t bother me at all) and his willingness to defy reality, which may lose some readers.  But the rewards of the stories are worth it. Continue Reading »

brain campSOUNDTRACK: LESLIE HALL-“Tight Pants/Body Roll” (2010).

lesliehallA friend of mine posted this video on Facebook and I had no idea what it was.  Another friend filled me in that the singer is Leslie Hall (check out her site, which is full of wonderfully gaudy design).  I think her band is called Leslie and the LY’s (or some variation) and they are from Ames, Iowa.

There’s something absolutely wonderful about not knowing a thing about them when you watch this video as it is so out there.  She does have a wikipedia page in addition to her website, so if you need to fill in unanswered questions, you can do that there.

In the meantime, just enjoy:

[READ: January 8, 2015] Brain Camp

Camp Fielding is a place for losers–people who can’t get into any other camp.  They often go in because they are stupid and yet after just a few months they come out like geniuses.  It is the perfect place for a couple of misfits like Jenna, a girl who is lost in her own imagination (while her 14 year old sister just got accepted into Harvard.  Heck, even her younger sister is embarrassed by her).  Or like Lucas, a boy who we first see breaking into cars and whose mother has basically given up on him.

Neither one is terribly excited to go and neither one is pleased about the other one (they share a ride together).  But once they get to camp and the boys are bullies, the girls are worse and the food is so disgusting as to be deemed completely inedible, they form a reluctant bond (with a dorky boy who is the butt of everyone’s jokes).

The weirder think about the camp is that they don’t actually teach anything–they just put kids in a classes and talk at them assuming they’ll just pick it up.  And they seem to. Continue Reading »

ny216SOUNDTRACK: JEFF The Brotherhood–“Black Cherry Pie” (2015).

jeffJEFF the Brotherhood is back with a new album.  The first song I’ve heard from it is called “Black Cherry Pie.”  It is a slow, heavy, nihilistic track with slightly more instrumentation than the usual duo set up.

And then at 40 seconds, there’s a FLUTE SOLO!

The lyrics are crazy–glass in my teeth, driving vans off cliffs, knives in eyes, with the simple chorus of “black cherry pie.”

And then just as you sorta forget that here was a flute solo (although it is hard to forget), a second one comes up at around 3 minutes.  And since you can’t help but think it sounds like Jethro Tull, I’ll tell you that that flute solo is by Mr Jethro Tull himself–Ian Anderson!  Huzzah!

As you can see by the photo, the Brotherhood has always been fans of Jeffro Tull, so this is a nice flourish.

[READ: February 15, 2015] “Labyrinth”

This is the first story I’ve read by Amelia Gray.  Now, any story that is called Labyrinth pretty much invokes the idea of a maze and a minotaur.  In this short work (only two pages) Gray takes these basic ideas and twists them in an interesting way.

Dale is a local farmer who holds and annual Pumpkin Jamboree to raise money for the fire department.  It features a hayride, face painting and a corn maze.  The narrator, Jim, tells us that Dale had recently been reading about Hellenic myths, and that this year he wanted to do something different with his maze. So he’s made a labyrinth.  The difference?  In a labyrinth, there’s only one road and it leads to only one place.

The folk are disappointed saying that there’s no point if you can’t get lost.  And they’re even more upset when he says that each person must go in alone–there’s no way folks are letting their kids go in alone.  Even when Dale says that people believe the center of the labyrinth possesses magic, allowing you to discover the thing you most desire, the folk start to wander off.  But Jim, feeling bad that Dale went to so much trouble, volunteers. Continue Reading »

whatifSOUNDTRACK: SON LITTLE-“The River” (2014).

sonlittleI don’t like the blues.  I find it dull and repetitive.  I also don’t really like singers who are described as “soulful.”  And yet here is Son Little with a soulful blues stomper that I really like a lot.  WXPN has been playing this song pretty often, and I like it more with each play.

It’s a fairly simple set up with handclapping and a two note guitar riff.  Even Son Little’s voice doesn’t seem all that special at first.  But there’s some way that all of the elements combine that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.

And with each verse, more elements are added, a synth sound, some guitar lines, even some bass riffs, building the song’s intensity.

But it’s that chorus–so catchy and ominous at the same time with interesting harmonies that just sound like he is echoing himself.  I really can’t get enough of it.

[READ: January 31, 2015] What if?

This book was just entirely too much fun.  Well, actually I thought it would be a bit more fun, but Munroe is so scientific that at times (when he got really factually scientific) I just felt dumb.  Which lessens the fun.  In fact, the first couple of pieces are really heavily sciencey, unlike some of the later ones which are really funny.

But what am I talking about?  This book is a collection of the “what if’ section of the website xkcd. There’s no real guidelines on the site for what kind of question you can ask, and many of them are quite strange (and often hilarious). They are hypothetical (what if?) questions and, depending on the arcane rules that Munroe follows he will answer them to the best of his scientific scrutiny.  And he will take the questions very very seriously–no matter how stupid your question may seem, he will try to answer it scientifically.  It’s fun!

But it’s also serious, and seriously scientific–Munroe is a former NASA roboticist.

So the first one “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity” almost seems to be put in the front to scare off those who might not want to be too scientific.  And the second question comes more down to Earth (but also destroys the Earth): “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” Continue Reading »

oatmealSOUNDTRACK: KATAMARI DAMACY SOUNDTRACK (2004).

katamari In the xkcd post from yesterday Munroe made a joke about driving to Katamari Damacy.  I didn’t know what that was (well, I figured it was a video game, of course). It turns out to be a puzzle type game for PS2.  Since we have a Wii, I’ll never get to play it.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the groovy soundtrack.

The soundtrack to this game incorporates real, interesting music instead of an 8-bit-sounding theme (it won awards back in 2004).  And it is really wild and fun.

I’m focusing on the first two tracks, because there’s just too much to deal with here, but the whole things is trippy and interesting (and most songs are over 3 minutes).

“Nanana Katamari” is the opening song.  It’s upbeat and bouncy, with a simple Nanana vocal line (with some mild beatboxing in between).  It introduced the melody that runs throughout the disc (in various permutations).  After the first few lines, an 8-bit synth line comes in, making it seem like it’s a typical video game soundtrack.  But this is just the intro–and it lasts for just under 90 seconds.  But when “Katamari on the Rock” opens, with some weird glitchy sounds and drums, you have no idea what you’re in for.  Soon, the music turns The music is jazzy and boppy with a kind of Esquivelish “wha??” feeling.  There’s singing, there’s big flourishes and little comments (yea!) and it just sounds fantastic.  I can’t even imagine how this works in the game.

“The Moon and the Prince” is also glitchy sounding, but with some fun spoken (Japanese?) words and a fun beat.  There’s also tracks called “Katamari Mambo” and “Last Samba” showing a vast diversity in musical styles.  And, this being a (Japanese) video game, there’s also some really weird things like the 3 minute “You Are Smart” which is just a synthetic robot saying the title words over and over on top of an electronic riff.  Or “Katamari March Damacy” which sounds like a Wendy Carlos synth song with electronic voices.  Or “Wanda Wanda” which is mostly people saying Wandubadubaduba over and over with some really weird and cool synth music accompanying it.  And yet “A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic” opens with the drums of a classic jazz song (the one that Woody Allen uses all the time) and even seems to reference “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”  The Japanese female singer could be singing in Japanese or just scatting, but it doesn’t matter because it sounds great.

There’s even a pretty love song (sung in English) called “Que Sera Sera (not that song, no).  I saw someone on a forum say that he wanted to play it at his upcoming wedding (wonder how that worked out).  It opens with a pretty piano melody and some nonsense syllables before the lyrics come in:

I know you love me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let’s roll up to be a single star in the sky

I hear you calling me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let’s lump up to make a single star in the sky
To you, to you

The fact that on different tracks, the singers sing in both Japanese and highly accented English adds an incredible quirkiness to the mix.  As does “Cherry Blossom Color Season” which is sung by children.  The penultimate song “Katamari Love” song is probably a cheesy pop metal song but since it’s sung in Japanese (which means I don’t have to know what the lyrics are) and has a total ROCK STAR feel, I love it.

It’s a fascinating soundtrack, one that was not intended to be listened to with out the game (I assume) and yet one which works quite well on its own.  And opens up some interesting cultural mash ups.

[READ: February 11, 2015] 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

This weekend is all about old(ish) books of things compiled from the internet which you can already find for free online.

I love The Oatmeal.  Or, as I found out when reading this book, I love the Oatmeal when people send me their favorite jokes.  Because The Oatmeal has some simply outstanding jokes, but there are a lot of jokes in this book that I thought were just okay–not as hilarious as his best stuff.  Which makes me a judgmental jerk, and I acknowledge that.  But the titular joke about punching dolphins is so poor compared to the rest that aside from the shock value, I can’t imagine why it would be chosen for the title.

The best The Oatmeal jokes are linguistic and/or angry.  But there is a whole side category of surprising informative cartoons about various subjects: beer, coffee, cheese (disgusting and true) and many other subjects. Continue Reading »

xkcdSOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-No Regerts (2013).

regertsChastity Belt’s debut full length returns to the lineup of the first EP: Julia Shapiro (guitar, vocals), Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), and Gretchen Grimm (drums).  But it retains some of the more full sound of the second EP.  It’s a really interesting album with a lot of diverse styles that are all held together by Shaprio’s voice.

I love the complexity of “Black Sail” which has some jangling guitar and an interesting lead riff at the same time–and which exudes a more psychedelic feel.  “Seattle Party” is up next and between the two songs, they clock in at 8 and a half minutes, which is funny since the next four songs total less than that.

“James Dean” (re-recorded from that first EP) sounds better here–you can make out the lyrics better and it’s less staticky.  It really highlights their great short song writing skills.  “Healthy Punk” has a quick sound, with an almost ska-like rhythm.  “Nip Slip” is a funny song about wanting some chips and dip (with appropriate sound effects–the whispered chorus is really quite funny too).  “Full” is a rather spare song that changes things up a bit.

“Happiness” is a slow song that I don’t love, but it’s followed by the awesome “Giant (Vagina)” which takes PJ Harvey’s “Sheela na Gig” to an even more unexpected place–it’s funny and funnier.  “Pussy Weed Beer” is about well, pussy weed and beer–a fun song for one and all.  “Evil” ends the disc with a bright happy guitar sound–belying the “evilness” of the narrator.

Not every song is great, but there’s plenty to like about this weird album.  And the new single from their soon to be released album sounds even better.

[READ: February 10, 2015] xkcd volume 0

After reading Monroe’s What If? [which, in a cool, utterly intentional time bending way will be posted two days from now], I saw that he had a previous book called xkcd.  This is also the name of his website. I had passing familiarity with xkcd, but didn’t know all that much about it.  I’ve mostly been sent links to it rather than actively going there.  And it turns out it’s not that friendly of a site anyhow.  But there is a lot of funny to be had there.

xkcd is primarily a bunch of stick figure characters getting involved in a few kinds of situations: romantic (or unromantic), mathematical and sci-fiction/sci-reality issues.  Or as he sums it up:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

It helps to know that Munroe used to work for NASA (although not as like an astronaut or anything), and that he has a very scientific/mathematical brain.  So much so that a liberal arts major such as myself found many many of these comics to be waaaaay over my head.  Of course, he also has cartoons about Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, so we can’t all be smug bastards, can we?

I laughed a lot at this book, and of course I scratched my head in confusion a lot too, but that’s okay, the ratio of humor to huh was high (there’s some basic math, right?). Continue Reading »

chew8SOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-“Dude” (2012) and “Seattle Party” (2013).

chasdudeThe Dude EP is 3 songs recorded after the first EP and with some dudes in the rhythm section.  On this record: Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Peter Richards, Andrew Hall.

The record sounds a bit less trebly, which I like.  And there are loud backing vocals which is interesting (especially on “Pony Tail”: “cut it off cut it off” and “Alines” : “put your tentacles inside me.”

You’ve got a long pony tail and you look like my mom (another verse: you look like Steven Segall and the great rhyme: you look like Thomas Jefferson/Jennifer Aniston).  “Aliens” has a fun riff and an interesting guitar sound.  “Cadaver” sounds really full, with Shaprio’s voice fitting right in to the more bass driven sound.

chas seattle“Seattle Party” is a single from their debut full length No Regerts, which I’m only including here to show the album cover.  It’s something of a maturation (using the term loosely) musically–with a slow, unshouted chorus, although I don’t think it’s the most likely single on the album.

[READ: January 25, 2015] Chew: Volume Eight

Book Eight of the series (the last one I have until book nine comes out later this year) reminds us that even when people die in fiction they can still come back–especially with a supernatural story like this.  Well, come back is not the right phrase.  Show up again is more suited. Because in this book Tony Chu is able to imbibe a (revolting) concoction and speak to a dearly departed deceased person.

But before we even get to that we see how it was possible.

We also meet Tony and Toni’s baby sister Sage.  Sage also has food related “gifts” but she hates hers.  Sage is Cipropanthropatic–she can see the memories of anyone who is sitting near her if they are eating the same thing–so she goes to great lengths to try to avoid eating what others may also be eating.  It turns out that Sage has just discovered that the person eating next to her is a murderer and also the head of a crime family.

Chapter two introduces us to Ken Keebler, the eroscibopctaros, who can take pictures of food which arouse sexual desires in the viewer.  This all ties in with people in jail reading Food Luv magazine (ha).  Currently in that same jail is Mason and that’s when we realize that someone whom we thought was on Tony’s side is actually working with Mason.   And their escape plan involves Ray Jack Montero–the man behind the ban on chickens

In chapter four, Tony’s daughter Olive–an even more powerful Cibopath than her father helps to get on the case.

In chapter five we get to see the fascinating thing that Tony eats.  It has psychotropic powers as well which makes this whole chapter trippy and hilarious.  When Tony sprouts rabbit ears, that’s just the beginning.  And when the final page shows Olive screaming “Holy Shit…cool” you know something big is coming for book nine.

I can’t wait

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