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SOUNDTRACK: TYPHOON-Tiny Desk Concert (October 26, 2013).

As the show begins, you hear Bob inviting all the short people up front.  Bob suggests the band could organize something like that at their shows: Height night–order everyone as they come in where to stand, that way everybody meets different people and people who never get to see a show in their lives could finally see.  The lead singer says he hates to go to shows for that reason (he seems quite short), although the drummer is way over 6 feet tall.

I first heard Typhoon from NPR, where the song “Young Fathers” was strange, somewhat disjointed and incredibly catchy.  I loved the full band sound and big backing vocals.

The blurb notes: The group from Portland, Ore. crafts rock anthems like emotional tidal waves, propelled by the stories of frontman Kyle Morton. His deeply personal tales are often full of grief and loss. But just as often they celebrate and praise life’s simple wonders. Morton himself is a very grateful (and lucky) man who writes songs as if he were living on borrowed time. That’s because a random bug bite when he was a child left him with a monstrous case of Lyme disease that led to multiple organ failures. Morton’s own father donated a kidney to save his son’s life.

I love when Bob gets excited by a band, as when he talks about Typhoon:

At 27, with a backing band of a dozen musicians, Morton and the rest of Typhoon are making some of the most poignant pop tunes around. We’ve been following this group for a few years now, but Typhoon has never done anything quite like what you can hear on its latest album, White Lighter. The songs are by far the best arranged and most compelling of the group’s nearly 10-year run.  Somehow everyone in Typhoon not only managed to fit behind the Tiny Desk, but also managed to shine in this performance.

The opening of “Young Fathers” is so distinctive, the way the chords start and then pause completely for a second before starting again. When I first heard the that opening section, I was hooked.  The drama is still here in this Tiny Desk, although it’s acoustic so a bit less so.  But the backing vocalists sound great.  The whole band is really tight and it’s impressive that a dozen or so people can be and so quiet when they need to be.   And then singing in harmony and loudly!  Mid song the sound drops out and the two women sing a quick and gentle melody. As the song gets near the end all of those clappers and singers pick up their horns and add a cool melody.

“The Lake” has a simple and beautiful melody all the way through.  I also really like the guitar’s sliding low/high “solo.”  When the vocals join in singing some ooohs, it’s quite lovely.  The end of the song slows down to some staccato horn blasts,  almost martial, which leads to a dramatic ending.

The final song is the surprisingly named “Dreams of Cannibalism.”   There’s another gentle guitar introduction with some cool drums and cymbal buildups.  Once again, there are some dramatic moments where things grow quiet and it’s just him and his guitar and then he gets to belt out the lyrics (his voice is so interesting–raspy and powerful with a slight Oregonian accent).

I’ll leave the last word for Bob: “If you’re looking for music that touches your heart, that helps you appreciate the everyday, sit back and get ready for Typhoon to carry you away.”

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Ten

Book Ten covers issues 46-50.  And it open with Poyo in hell.  He has everyone there running scared.  Although there is a Disclaimer: “this doesn’t happen.”

Tony is furious with Colby and refuses to work with him.  So instead he is paired up with D-Bear.  Their first assignment is to look into a destructive candy scene. A CEEOSAKARER who can turn anything with glucose and fructose into machinery.  He appears to have gone insane and destroyed a town with gummi tanks and a jaw-breaker cannon.  And his message was about the coming dominance of E.G.G.  But he proves to be under the spell of the MINTHAMPERIOR who can hypnotize with peppermint candy.

D-Bear turns out to be a surprisingly good detective, and they work well together, even taking down a VECTUCIBORUTARE who can produce a noxious eruption (A fancy-assed word for “burps”) based on the age of what he eats.  But then Tony gets news that Mason has escaped from the hospital and taken Tony’s daughter Olive and Tony’s wife Amelia with him.  That’s the last straw.

Book 3 opens with FDA director Mike Applebee and special agent Cesar Valentino returning to duty.  The doctors have each been given one mechanical enhancement.  Caesar’s is a big claw while Mike’s is more dramatic.

But it turns out that Olive wasn’t kidnapped, she was the one in charge of this “mission.”  She didn’t want to talk to her dad so she was just laying low. But now that Mason was awake, she decided it was time to go after the Collector (remember him?).  Their first step is the Jellassassins who can do amazing things with gelatin-based foodstuffs.

And when Tony realizes all of this, he apologizes to Colby and they decide to find Olive and to find the missing Poyo!!!

The next book opens with Colby begging Tony’s brother Chu to cook a chicken as a matter of national security. Chu is intrigued.

There are some excellent fight scenes with Olive, Mason and Amelia.  I normally don’t like fight scenes because they are usually really confusing, but I love the way Guillory renders them–funny and exciting and dramatic all at the same time. And most importantly–clearly evident who is doing what to whom.

Tony realizes his error, forgives Mason and tries to reconcile with Olive, now that he acknowledges just how powerful she has become thanks to Mason’s help.

The final chapter in this book is primarily a fight between Tony and the Collector,with some great flashbacks and more funny food terms: CIBOINVALESCOR who can eat to enhance strength;  CARALEPUSCELER, for whom eating rabbits gives lightning fast reflexes; PROPELIUPHALUNATUS eats boiled lima beans to excel at 2 dozen forms of hand to hand combat; CIBOINIMICAS can identify weakness in any enemy and VICTUMEDICUS can heal quickly from any injury.  And Tony must fight the guy who has all of these powers.  But he has help from Poyo!!! who is “just really really bad-ass.”

The book ends back in hell with the feel good ending of Poyo!!! ruling the netherworld.  But they say that the real ending is next.  And that real ending concerns the death of a beloved character.

SOUNDTRACK: SUPERCHUNK-Tiny Desk Concert #309 (October 7, 2013).

I’ve been a fan of Superchunk for years and I was excited to hear this Tiny Desk Concert.  Superchunk is a band full of manic energy.  Sorta punk, sorta poppy but mostly just fast, catchy songs.  So I was a little surprised to see them play an acoustic set for this concert.

I appreciated some context for this show from the blurb:

 The North Carolina band got its start in 1989, and here it is in 2013, with a new record called I Hate Music that demonstrates an undying passion for punk-fueled story songs with catchy phrasing. The band recorded its 10th album with a lineup that has held for most of its history: Mac McCaughan on guitar and vocals, Laura Ballance on bass, Jim Wilbur on guitar and Jon Wurster on drums.

At the Tiny Desk and on tour, it’s a shame not to have Ballance in the fold — her hearing problem worsens on tour and in loud venues — though Jason Narducy fills in admirably here. This set in the NPR Music offices includes songs from I Hate Music and 2010’s Majesty Shredding, but the group also digs deep to perform a song from 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In. All in all, it’s a joy to have Superchunk translate its electric sound to acoustic instruments in such an intimate way.

It’s fascinating to see Mac sing so close up—you’d never expect that voice to come from him.  “Out Of The Sun” is so mellow.  I have I Hate Music, but I don’t actually know the original very well.  “Digging For Something”  I know this song well. I like the original of this so much that I find the slower acoustic version a little less fun than the original rocking version.  And yet it is still supercatchy and fun.  I love that the drummer has his wallet on the drum head—muffling the snare?  “Animated Airplanes Over Germany” is a great fun old song, I was really surprised when they started playing it and it sounds great regardless of the speed.  “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” is a fun catchy song from their news album and it is well served acoustically.  Although the song title is pretty odd and I never could figure it out.

I’ve never seen Superchunk live and I assume I never will, so while this is a good look at the band, it probably doesn’t really capture their full live show experience.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Chew: Volume Nine

Man do I like this series.  It is so gross and yet so compelling.  Book Nine covers issues 41-45.  And it features a lot of Poyo!

I hate reading these books so far apart because it takes me at least an issue to get up to speed and by the time I’m flowing with the story again, it ends!

Chapter 1 opens with The morning after in Las Vegas.  And as Tony Chu is being woken with news of an emergency, we see that he and Amelia are in the honeymoon suite having just gotten married.  Then we flash back to the day before at the FDA convention.  Chu is being hailed as a hero, except by Director Applebee (who still hates Chu).

And then we flash to a bar in which Tony & Amelia are drinking together and Applebee and Colby are drinking together.

Tony answers the phone and hopes to not have to go on assignment.  Why not send in Poyo! (he is on special assignment–double splash pages–vs Unisaurus Rex).

Tony is called downstairs where everyone is covered in deadly fudge.  And we meet Professor Anazani, the FDA’s lead Armavictologist–he deals with weaponized food.  But this attack is not from the egg cultists, it is from the Collector.  Tony quickly solves that case and is even more of a hero much to Applebee’s eternal consternation.  The final page ends with a hilarious surprise. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: AGNES OBEL-Tiny Desk Concert #598  (February 15, 2017).

Agnes Obel recently played a show near me, but it wasn’t until after I watched this show that I realized I should have gone to see her.

Agnes Obel, a Danish singer and writer of deeply alluring music, brought her work into what you could call its opposite — an office in the daylight. While the setting is a bit contrary to her carefully plotted, vocally dense songs, she mapped out a strategy which included her own reverb and monitor mix in the (successful, I think) hope of giving the Tiny Desk an aesthetic more suitable to these focused and powerful songs.

Obel plays three songs from Citizen of Glass alongside her band, keeping it sonically spare.  “It’s Happening Again” opens with fairly standard-sounding piano chords.  Then Obel’s voice kicks in and it’s unique–not weird, but with a cool almost detached delivery.  Accompanying her is a cellist and keyboardist.  They each sing backing vocals (along with a third backing vocalist).  When they all sing together, it is magical–sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful.  The song builds to the end with all of the strings growing louder as the cello plays some wild, sliding sounds.  It is quite striking.

For “Golden Green,” the cellist switches to percussion (which is a kind of clacky ball that she throws in the air).  The main melody comes from the mellotron.  Once again when the backing vocalists kick, in everything is magical, especially the way the final note ends with a dramatic rise in pitch from all of the singers.

On “Stone,” the mellotron player switches to (electric) ukulele.  The melody comes from the uke and it is quite quiet until the chord when the cello and keyboard adds some deep bass notes that seem to overwhelm the room–quite dramatic and quite lovely.

[READ: December 1, 2016] Bandette Volume Three

Bandette Volume Three is just as much fun as books one and two.  It opens with Bandette getting shot at as she gives her little dog Pimento an important note for Daniel.  Daniel calls her and she proceeds to tell him about an upcoming heist (while she is still being shot at).  She says that there is a fabulous emerald on display.  An emerald that was once owned by Madame Presto: fabulist, mesmerist, woman of impudent morals.

And later that night (after she easily dispatches the bad guys) she goes to that special event and steals… a film about Madame Presto.

The next night several people (and a dog) are hit with sleeping darts from a new villain–Dart Petite. Continue Reading »

  SOUNDTRACK: DANA FALCONBERRY-Tiny Desk Conccert #292 (July 29, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert introduced me to Dana Falconberry:

Dana Falconberry’s songs are gentle, almost invariably delicate, sometimes mysterious and frequently feather-light. But her music’s sweet, intricate softness never stands in for strength: This is a confident songwriter, whether she’s ambling through six- and seven-minute epics (“Leelanau,” “Dolomite”) or chirping sweetly in the bouncy “Crooked River.”

The compositions on Falconberry’s most recent album, last year’s Leelanau, are sturdy enough to be stripped down for a space like Bob Boilen’s desk at the NPR Music offices. But each benefits immeasurably from the broad assortment of lovely flourishes she re-creates here with the help of five instrument-swapping backing players. What makes Falconberry stand out in a crowded field of singer-songwriters is her music’s unfailing impeccability, and this Tiny Desk Concert finds her and her crack band hitting every immaculately crafted mark.

I tend to agree with the blurbs, but this one really is spot on: delicate, impeccable, sturdy.  These are words I would absolutely use to describe these songs.  I would also use fantastical–not suggesting that there might be fairies floating around during these songs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one made an appearance.

“Dolomite” is a beautiful 7 minute song with many different sections.  Falconberry’s delicate (but not wimpy, it must be said) voice works perfectly with the capoed guitar she’s playing.  After the first verse, she’s joined by a cello, banjo and backing vocals, and the song builds.  Then after almost 2 minutes the bass and drums jump in and the song, while staying basically the same, gets a whole new feel (the bassline is staccato and unexpected while everything else is so smooth).  At around 3 and a half minutes the keyboards start adding these pretty little runs that make the song seem even more magical.  The middle of the song has the three female singers rotating through a  series of oohs and ahs as they make a cool-sounding fugue.

For “Crooked River,” the bassist switches to melodica.  Once again there’s a great sequence where each of the female singers sings one note in a very complex melody–it’s quite enchanting.  The cello is plucked giving the whole song a very different feel from the first.

Before the final song Bob asks if she has had any desk jobs.  She says she has had her fair share.  “I currently have a desk job…I hope. We’ll see when I get home.”

For Leelanau, the keyboardist switches to accordion, and there is prominent banjo and delicate melodica.  The verse is really quite catchy, and after the verse there is a gently rocking section where everyone joins together–it bursts forth in contrast to the rest.  It is repeated a few times throughout the song, and each one is more fun than the previous.  The middle has a kind of slow break down with the cello scratching and the melodica and accordion sounding like they are running out of breath.  Dana even hit’s Bob’s gong.  The accordion is even “breathing” without making a musical note.  The song returns to that super catchy verse and jam section and just as you think its going to fade to an end, there’s very cool chime that echoes and then a huge buildup to the conclusion.

I was so entranced by Falconberry’s music that I need to hear more of it.

[READ: September 19, 2016] Bandette 2

Two years ago I wrote about Bandette Volume 1: “The book was very exciting and sweetly charming as well.  I’m looking forward to Volume 2.”  And I waited and waited for it to come out.  I even saw Vol 1 the other day and wondered when we’d get volume 2.  Well, apparently this has been out since 2015, but the library just acquired it.  So I’m happy to say it’s not my fault it took two years for me to get around to reading it.

Even though I didn’t exactly remember how book 1 had ended, Tobin & Coover added a helpful “Previously” section to get us caught up.

The wit and charm of the first book is back in spades. Bandette continues to be seemingly immune to the world around her–she says what she wants and does what she wants and no resistance will get in her way–whether it is verbal sparring or her uncanny gravity-defying stunts.  Her love of chocolate remains as well, of course.  And the tone retains that agelessness.  It feels like this book could have been written in the 1950s but for the cell phones and scooters.

Chapter One reminds us that Bandette is a civilizan as well  She has dark hair and a love of pastries–she even gives the bakery owner priceless urn (from where) as payment for the delicious sweets.

Then she gets a call from Daniel who is checking in with her.  While she is talking she hears some tell-tale footsteps on his end and knows that he is in danger, but she convinces him to flee and all is well.

Then the story shifts to Absinthe’s house.  He still has on his bad-guy green sweater and red sunglasses.  But Margot, the beautiful lady in his house, seems fed up with him.  And we actually see her steal a smooch from the other bandit, Monsieur.

But Abstinent has other things on his mind, like the henchmen who disobeyed him.  He has sent Il Tradici, The Strangler to kill the men.  And the police are too late to stop it.

In the previous book, in addition to fighting the crime of Absinthe, Bandette made a bet with Monsieur to see who could steal more stuff and become the greatest thief.  That continues and Bandette even gets her hands on something priceless in an airplane–narrowly avoiding Il Tradici two times.  Bandette escapes on a pig truck and takes an adorable piglet as a souvenir which leads to one of my favorite scenes of the year:  She gets into a good fight with Il Tradici and after three dodges and a flip says Voila, I have placed a pig upon your head (and the pig is very cute standing up there).

Inspector Belgique is not easily dissuaded from the case thopugh.  And, even more wonderfully, neither is Matador.  Matador (the masked heroine whom Absinthe was sure was killed) is very much alive and ready to fight.  Bandette steals bit of her thunder but Matador still shines and uses her weapon with exquisite precision.

And of course, Daniel and the urchins are always there to help her out.  Will his love for her ever be consummated?  For now we’ll never know.

There is so much bonus material in this book too!  The Foreword is very funny as they write of the sympathy we should feel for the average policeman.  Think of the poor police ma who had to “go up on the roof of Apple Corps–that’s six flights of stairs, in case you didn’t know–and tell The Beatles to stop playing their historic, final, live, free public performance ever as a band?” or “having to chase drunk naked soccer fans that streak across the pitch (meanwhile soccer players who are good at chasing people, who are already wearing the right shoes for that surface, stand by and let the poor cop to do it.  The poor man must not only participate in an impromptu Benny Hill sketch in front of forty thousand fans and a world video audience but is also expected to cover up the naked guy’s junk with their own personal police helmet as they drag him offstage.”

There are also some extra bonus strips in the back.

The first one “Freckles and Dalton in The Distress Call” (art by Jonathan Hill) focuses on Bandette’s helping Freckles and Dalton actually talk to each other.  “Absinthe in Let the Chips Fall Where I Say” (art by Ron Randall) actually shows Absinthe beating someone (unfairly) at cards. Commander Pippins in “The Medal” (art by Lucy Bellwood) shows an old solider as he is prepared to award his final medal.  But why does he seem to be just wandering aimlessly?  He must have a plan.  Pimento, the dog gets a brief story called The Jewle of My Eye (art by Sheli Hay).  Simone in “The Stumble” shows Bandette “accidentally” helping a poor person in need (art by Emi Lenox).  Daniel gets his own section called Its All in the Timing (art by Patrick Sherberger) in which Daniel’s timing is perfect, just not for what he imagined.  And finally a short Bandette story called “Fellow Thieves” (art by Ron Chan) in which she makes friends with a feline who is not easily swayed.

After these short stories, there is a long prose story called “Daniel’s Story.”  It is a 13-page saga of how Bandette assists Margot to escape from the hands of Absinthe. Even though the main story involved Margot and Bandette, this story provides a different storyline–one that must have happened in the middle of the  “real” story?  Bandette is able to sneak things past Margot–a keen thief herself and reunites her with people who are very important.  It’s a great story and I feel like Tobin writes prose just as well as he writes comics.  There’s incidental art by Coover, which is pretty cool, too.

Next is a small history of actual items that Bandette has stolen in the story called What’s Bandette Stolen Now?

The final two sections are “Writing Bandette” which shows the original writing script of three pages from chapter 8.  and “Designing Bandette” which is several very detailed pages of the inspiration behind Bandette’s style.  She says she was inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Audrey Tatou (for Bandette) Peter Falk and Herbert Lom for the look of Belgique.  Monsieur has a dash of Cary Grant and Peter O’Toole.  And Il Tradici was inspired by Henry Fonda with a splash of James Coburn.

This series is delightfully fun and still filled with tension.  I love it.

[ATTENDED: May 19, 2017] Laura Marling

I first heard about Laura Marling from All Songs Considered—they raved about her album Once I Was an Eagle.  Sarah bought it for me for Christmas, and I couldn’t get enough of it.   Since then, Laura has released two more albums, the awesome Short Movie and the newer, more introspective but equally gorgeous Semper Femina.

Normally I like to see bands that have a great stage show, but for Laura, I just wanted to hear her voice live.  I didn’t think she’d do much in terms of stage work, and she didn’t, but her voice (and her guitar) sounded fantastic.

I had checked her setlists ahead of time to see what albums she was playing most of her songs from.  It turned out she was playing almost all of Semper Femina, and then a few other songs from her other albums.  I’m glad I knew this going in or I would have been bummed not to hear some of my favorite older songs of hers.  because even though she did play songs from the other albums, she didn’t play the more obvious tracks.

But that also meant that I listened a lot to her new album and got to really appreciate it. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: May 19, 2017] Valley Queen

I recently watched Valley Queen on a Tiny Desk Concert.  Initially, I  enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away.  Although I was blown away by singer Natalie Carol’s voice.  And as I listened to their set a few more times I got really hooked by them.  So I was pretty excited that they were opening for Laura Marling.

I arrived during their first song (TLA is in the center of the city and I wound up parking about 12 blocks away–cutting it way too close).

I walked in on the right side, enjoyed the first song and then had to get water (it was a stupid hot day) and then I wended my way to the front left, where I had a great view of the band.

Valley Queen have released an EP (Destroyer) and they played about half of the songs off of it.  They played a few other songs too, but I can’t find a setlist to confirm what they were. Continue Reading »

agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. Continue Reading »

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