reject2SOUNDTRACK: ODDISEE–Tiny Desk Concert #451 (June 26, 2015).

oddisee Oddisee is a positive rapper.  That photo of him smiling really conveys the tone of his songs–well, that and the fact that the first song is called “That’s Love.”  He raps really quickly.  He also gets a wonderful call and response going on “That’s Love” where he has the NPR staff sing along to his chorus.  (The opening scene shows him practicing with the audience).  And he really gets everyone going.

I don’t know what his recorded output sounds like, but in this Tiny Desk, he’s with only a keyboardist and a drummer.  The live drummer is a great addition.

“Contradiction’s Maze” has a few sung choruses (he has a good singing voice too).  They don’t really modify the keyboard sound for the songs, which isn’t all that interesting.  It sets a nice background for all the songs, but it does make things sound a little samey.  “Belong To The World” is similarly uplifting, but I honestly had a hard time distinguishing it from the previous song.

Despite that, his positive attitude and generally upbeat personality were quite infectious.

[READ: July 24, 2015] The Rejection Collection 2

The Rejection Collection is back!  Presumably the first collection was successful enough that Diffee was prepared to do another one.  He gathers many of the same cartoonists (although at least a half a dozen did not return) and he gathered some new folks as well (for a total of 38 this time).

Returning: Leo Cullum, Pat Byrnes, Sam Gross, Mike Twohy, C. Covert Darbyshire, Drew Dernavich, Christopher Weyant, Kim Warp, John O’Brien, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Danny Shanahan, Mick Stevens, Mort Gerberg, Michael Crawford, P.C. Vey, Gahan Wilson, Glen LeLievre, Alex Gregory, J.C. Duffy, Carolita Johnson, Ariel Molvig, Michael Shaw, Eric Lewis, P.S. Mueller, David Sipress, Jack Ziegler.

New additions include:  Paul Noth, Roz Chast, Marshall Hopkins, Nick Downes, Robert Leighton, Julia Suits, Zachary Kanin, Harry Bliss, Jason Pattrson, J.B. Handelsman, Sidney Harris, Jack Ziegler, Robert Weber. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: July 25, 2015] My Morning Jacket

2015-07-25 22.10.21I had made a list of bands that I really wanted to see.  My Morning Jacket was pretty near the top of it.  My friend Jay and I marveled over singer Jim James’ use of a cape (which sadly he did not wear at this show).  Of course, it wasn’t just the cape we wanted to see, it was the whole band.

So when they were announced to headline the XPNFest, I knew I had to get tickets (the fact that St. Vincent was co-headlining was a huge bonus).

While the crowd was good for St. Vincent, they were ecstatic for MMJ.  Everyone was on their feet the whole show.  And what a show.  The band played for 2 and a half hours, running through much of their new album as well as classics from their past few records.

I had heard that MMJ were a big time jam band, and indeed they were.  In fact, even though Neil Young did some amazing jamming and soloing during his recent set, this was the first real “jam band” show I’ve been to.  Where the band takes a song in different directions, wending through different moods and styles like the 20 minute “Deodato”–more on that later.

2015-07-25 23.27.05In fact, each song was extended by some impressive soloing.  Interestingly, Jim James took a number of solos that were just himself on stage.  And I felt like his solos weren’t really that impressive.  There was a bluesy one that was very cool and one or two others that were more textural than “impressive.”  It’s clear that lead guitarist Carl Broemel can solo amazingly, but he didn’t get any features, just wailing solos during the songs.

I was pretty excited that they started with “Off the Record” which had some pretty impressive jamming in the middle.  Jim James was wearing an awesome jacket with neon stripes all over it and a pair of sunglasses that he never removed.  It was 90 degrees out that day.  How did he stand it? Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: July 25, 2015] St. Vincent

2015-07-25 20.41.29I’ve enjoyed all the St. Vincent records–each one more than the previous one.  This past year Bob and Robin from NPR both claimed that the St. Vincent live show was the best that they saw that year.  Since then, I have been hell bent on seeing her (she played NY right after they raved about her but it was sold out).  She has been touring Europe for a while now so I never expected to see her anytime soon.

And then it was announced: St. Vincent AND My Morning Jacket, another band that I’ve been dying to see, would headline this years XPNFEST.  As with last year’s fest, we considered going to the all day show–again, $45 for a 3 day pass (and when I found out that kids can get a day pass for $5–jeez!).  So maybe next year if we don’t like the headliners, we’ll go for the day (I wouldn’t keep the kids up till midnight watching headliners).  But as we saw this year, the venue is shaded, there’s lots to see and lots of free stuff (which the kids love) they even have a Kids Corner section, so next year, if there’s some good bands like this year (Calexico, First Aid Kid, Fly Golden Eagle), it would totally be a fun day out.

But never mind that, we were there for St. Vincent. Continue Reading »

reject1SOUNDTRACK: HOP ALONG–Tiny Desk Concert #450 (June 22, 2015).

hopNot too long ago a friend asked if there were bands that we wanted to like but didn’t.  Some people just said no, of course not, you either like a band or you don’t.  But I knew what he meant.  There are a lot of bands that I’d like to like.  And Hop Along is one of them.

Lead singer Frances Quinlan has the kind of raspy voice that is practically iconic (think Janis Joplin after a rough day).  And their music, which is kind of folky, also has a rawness that should combine with her voice to make me listen all the time.

And yet, for all of that, I really don’t like her voice.  It should be right up my alley but it, well, isn’t.  And that goes a long way to me not really liking the band.

They play three songs and although the blurb about the band talks about the music being more than her voice, I really can’t get past it.

None of the songs is bad, although they all sound a bit the same to me (her voice again).  “Horseshoe Crabs” has a folky feel and some soft/loud sections.

“Well_Dressed” has some unusual dissonant chords thrown into the mix. It’s especially interesting given the pleasant acoustic guitar that accompanies this song.

“Sister Cities” has some lyrics about shooting your dog which is a bit of a turn off.

So yes, I would like to like Hop Along more, but I just don’t.

[READ: July 20, 2015] The Rejection Collection

I heard about this book because it was listed under Matthew Diffee’s books in his bibliography.  I enjoyed his Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People so much that I wanted to see what else he’d done.  Well, I didn’t quite understand the premise of the book.  Instead of it begin a collection of his rejected cartoons, he had edited a collection of cartoons that were rejected by thirty of the New Yorker’s regular contributors.

Which means there’s a lot more variety and a lot of funny stuff in here.

He gives us some context: each issue of the New Yorker has about 15-20 cartoons.  There are some 50 cartoonist vying for these spots.  Each of these 50 artists brings 10 cartoons each week and the editor pick the few that will make it (and those that are chosen are the only ones who get paid).

So that means that there are dozens of really good cartoons that just aren’t going to make it.  Many of those cartoons will be saved by their creators and submitted somewhere else or even back to the New Yorker in case the editors have a change of heart.

There are many reasons why cartoons are rejected.  Some aren’t very good, some aren’t appropriate for the magazine, and some just aren’t as funny as others this week (but may seem even funnier in two weeks’ time).

If you’ve read the new yorker (or ever been in a cubicle) you have seen the work from most of these people (even though you probably don’t know their names):

Leo Cullum, Pat Byrnes, Sam Gross, Mike Twohy, C. Covert Darbyshire, Drew Dernavich, Christopher Weyant, Kim Warp, William Haefeli, John O’Brien, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Danny Shanihan, Tom Cheney, Mick Stevens, Mort Gerberg, Michael Crawford, P.C. Vey, Barbara Smaller, Arnie Levin, Gahan Wilson, Glen Le Lievre, Alex Gregory, J.C. Duffy, Carolita Johnson, Ariel Molvig, Michael Shaw, Eric Lewis, P.S. Mueller, David Sipress, Jack Ziegler.

Continue Reading »

handdrawnSOUNDTRACK: STRAND OF OAKS–Tiny Desk Concert #449 (June 15, 2015).

soaI didn’t know anything about Strand of Oaks when I first heard them last year.  I assumed from the bio info that I’d heard that he, Timothy Showalter, had been in a a band and that this was his solo project.  But no.  His history is actually far more interesting.

The Wikipedia summary is pretty simple and shocking:

While Showalter was on tour, his wife had an affair. Escaping his detrimental relationship, he moved back to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 2003. A couple of months later, he came home to find his house burned down.  [WHAT??].  Showalter spent his nights in hotels and on park benches with a borrowed guitar while working at an orthodox Jewish day school. Despite the turmoil, he was able to find inspiration to continue writing music that would later be released.

He released three self-produced albums and then made Heal.  Which ALSO has a shocking tale attached to it:  On Christmas Day in 2013, Showalter and Sue were driving back to Philadelphia from Indiana when they hit a patch of ice and crashed into two semi trucks. Showalter suffered a concussion and broke every rib on his right side. The near-death experience gave Showalter a boldness during mixing sessions while creating HEAL with John Congleton, just days after the crash.

Yipes.  I don’t know his earlier records, but I really like Heal.  It’s got an interesting sound, with some great guitar work.

For the Tiny Desk, he plays three songs.  The first is the single from his album, “Goshen ’97”.  This version is just him on his black electric guitar with lots of echo.  It’s very slow and kind of broody.  I prefer the original, but this is a very interesting version.  And his voice sounds really good in this stripped down style.

After the first song he says how nice it feels to play this gig–just what he imagined it would be like. He says he could play there a long time and when someone says “Ok” he say they’d get sick of him: “Oh that bearded guy is still here.”

“Plymouth” has even more echo on the guitar–this one a hollow bodied steel string guitar.  It sounds lovely and since I don’t know the original as well, I like this slower more meditative version.

“JM” is for Jason Molina and for this track, he switches its back to the black electric.  I love the album version of this song a lot, as the soloing is just fantastic.  This version is quite different.  Again, it’s slow and broody, and really good. I still like the album version (because of the solos) but this is good too.

I’m fascinated by Showalter now, and plan to see what his earlier albums sound like.

[READ: June 15, 2015] Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People

Although I was unfamiliar with Diffee’s name, I was familiar with his cartoons from the New Yorker.  Diffee has three other books out (under the Rejection Collection moniker–he’s great with book titles).  I certainly loved the title of this book.

There are 16 chapters in the book–each is devoted to a particular topic and has a rather amusing introduction in which Diffee goes off on that subject: Medical Professionals, Lumberjacks, Relationships, Pet Owners, Old People, Utensils, Real Jobs, Indians and Eskimos, Food, Sex, Prison, Religion, Wealth, Children, Sports and Tattoos.

What I really enjoyed was that the cartoons that fill the introductory sections look very different from his more “official” style (which I recognized immediately from the magazine).  It’s cool that he has a distinctive style but is not pigeonholed into that style.

matthewOccasional cartoons have an accompanying silhouette (presumably himself) with an extra bonus joke tangentially related to the topic.  Sometimes these are funnier than the original cartoon.  (Does a polygamist refer to his wives as his “better eighths?”).

It’s hard to mention favorite cartoons without describing the cartoon, which is never funny, but there are few punchlines that work with out a visual, like:

“Therapist: “These feelings of inadequacy are common among the inadequate.”

Waitress: “Sorry, we don’t serve the Lumberjack breakfast to accountants.”

Drug sniffing dog: “I’m starting to really like the smell of cocaine.”

And this one which is not from the New Yorker: “Wade Greenberg, wearing his hemp blazer, inadvertently became the life of the party when he stood too close to the menorah.”

He also really loves to hate sporks: (50% spoon, 50% fork, 85% useless).

All of these are funnier with the accompanying cartoon of course, and I really like his drawing style.

By the way, the section on tattoos was capped off by “knuckle tats you’ll never see” like FLAU TIST or ALAN ALDA.

I enjoyed this book a lot and will certainly look for his previous collections.

milkSOUNDTRACK: ANNA & ELIZABETH–Tiny Desk Concert #447 (June 8, 2015). 

annaelizAnna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are from different parts of the country but share a love of old stories and songs.  This Tiny Desk features three songs and one story (with visuals), and it’s quite different from pretty much anything I’ve ever seen.

“Long Time Traveling” is an a capella song that has a very olde sound of what I can only call “mountain music.”  The women have lovely harmonies reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

And just when you think you’ve got these two figured out, they do “Lella Todd Crankie.”  This is a spoken word piece.  Anna (the taller one) explains that they would go into archives and listen to blank CDs of people telling stories from the old days.  And this is one that they memorized.  But just telling the story isn’t enough.  They have resurrected the “crankie” which is like a mural on a spool.  Each one is drawn and crafted to be hand-cranked and unfurled at the pace of a song.  This visual accompaniment (hand cranked by Elizabeth) follows the story as it is told, with visuals that relate perfectly to the story (I’m not sure who created those either).  Part of this story tells of how Miss Lella played fiddle, and as they get to that part, Anna starts playing the fiddle, and it is magical.

“Goin Cross The Mountain” is a war-based song on banjo and guitar with, again, great harmonies.  “Little Black Train” is a judgment day dark song sung with great harmonies and Anna’s twangy guitar.

I don’t think I could do a whole concert with them, but this little fifteen minute show is mesmerizing.

[READ: May 25, 2015] French Milk

I had gotten this book out at the same time of Age of License.  But since that one couldn’t be renewed (someone else wanted it) I read that first.  So, out of sequence, I now read this, her first book.  I’m kind of glad I did read it out of sequence, because the events of Age of License shed some light on this book, which is pretty neat.

This book looks at the trip that Knisley and her mom took to France back in 2007.  They lived in a rental apartment for New Years and much of January.  The book sets the standard for her other books–lots of (really good but simple drawings–the sample faces on page 78 are really amazing–and belie the simplicity of her other “simpler” drawings ), many photos–rather blurry frankly, which is weird (see page 8 for an example), although the non blurry one of her mom in front of a nudie magazine is very funny.

We see some of her life before the trip.  We meet John, the awesome boyfriend (spoiler: she has broken up with him by Age of License).  She describes the airport, airplane (complete with kicking child) and arrival.  (The descriptions in License are more enjoyable–she had become a better writer by then).

Knisley is a foodie.  She talks a lot about the food they eat, including a bunch of foie gras and baguettes, sausages and the delicious French Milk (which she says is the best milk she’s ever had).

I enjoyed her descriptions of her apartment (and the creepy half-cat head on the door).  The strange standing screen which blocks nothing and has hunting fabric.

There’s also talk of them not paying attention to the world around them (like the execution of Saddam Hussein–although honestly if you’re on vacation for a month in France I think its okay to be oblivious although by 2015, it would be virtually impossible to be so oblivious).

They spend a lot of time in art museums, and she says by the end that she is basically sick on naked women, even if her favorite painting is “L’Origine du Monde.”  And I loved her disappointment to find out that famous Moulin Rouge is “a papier-mache windmill on the roof of a strip joint”

But as the book hits its final third, Knisley gets really bummed out.  She starts thinking about failure and that fact that she is turning (gasp) twenty-two.  And that’s when I wanted to throw the book against the wall.  A 22 year-old being whisked around Paris has no right to complain about financial responsibility–nor even does her mother have a right to talk to her about it on the trip.  The quote on page 125: “Even though I’m in my 20s, because I’m an only child, sometimes I feel a little like a spoiled brat…”  Well, it has nothing to do with being an only child if you can spend a month in France.  And when she says that her pie chart of her time management is spent 50% worrying 30% eating and 20% thinking about sex?  No, I will not accept that.  Go out and enjoy Paris for Christ’s sake.

I think its’ nice that her divorced parents are still friends and that he came to visit in France (how can a former English professor afford that?).

And then after a few more meals they are wending their way back home.  The flight back is hilarious and I love that they punished the person who complained about their DVD player by talking really loudly instead.

I can’t help but feel that each book has gotten progressively better.  And while I didn’t enjoy this one as much, I feel like each book has gotten better.  But how much more can she travel?

[ATTENDED: July 20, 2015] Modest Mouse

2015-07-20 21.06.16Just as I had seen Neil Young less than a year ago, so I had seen Modest Mouse less than a year ago.  The last show I saw with them was a sort of preview of the then unreleased new album.  Now the album is out and there’s a single from it and everything.  This show was announced very quickly and it was in the Levitt Pavillion at Steelstacks, a venue I didn’t know, but which I will certainly return to.

It was awesome being about seven or 8 people away from Isaac to really watch him go nuts.

Modest Mouse can be really catchy, but they are often dissonant and Brock is known for being prickly.  So, imagine starting off your show with the third from the last song from your new album.  And from there, Brock sang and raged and jumped around and was a total maniac.

He seemed to get shocked twice (from sweating a lot?–it was 85 degrees at night) and said “Did you see that?  That hurt so much!”  And man can he yell. Continue Reading »


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