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SOUNDTRACK: ANIMAL MASKS-EP (2017).

Animal Masks is a band based out of Somerville, NJ (almost my home town).  They have an EP out (buy or stream on bandcamp), and it’s a great four song collection that melds a 70’s glam rock feel with a kind of 80s pop punk.

They are a trio and have the thick, meaty sound that trios do so well.  The disc doesn’t give a lot of details, but the band consists of Dave DeCastro, Dan Zachary and Ronny Day (not sure who does what).

The last three songs of the Ep have more of the punk edge–the songs are faster and shorter (“Tear It Down” is just over 2 minutes), but they are in no way hardcore.  There’s a distinct  major label Hüsker Dü vibe to these latter songs.

“Sad Day” has some nice harmonies in unexpected places and I love the gritty minor key guitars.  The chord progression in the bridge is also a nicely unexpected change up for an otherwise simple melody.  It’s a sweet touch to get a fuzzy wah wah sound in the second half of the (not at all flashy) guitar solo as well.  The “Ohhs” at the end of the song are pure Mould/Hart/Norton.

“Tear It Down” is a bit more upbeat (surprisingly given the “when everything falls apart, it’s time to tear it down” lyrics).  I love the thumping drums (and the screamed harmonies) in the chorus.  “Used By the Universe” is a bit muddier than the other songs–I can’t tell if it’s the same singer on all the songs–he’s harder to hear on this track.  He sounds a bit deeper, gruffer on this one.  There’s some great bass lines in this song, and once again, the drum has some great fills.

The glam comes to the fore on the first song, “For Real.”  The singer’s voice sounds a bit less snarly and the guitars are wah-wahed and echoey in a way they aren’t on the other three.  There appears to be some other kind of interesting overdub sound floating behind the guitars, which is a nice addition.  The song is slower, but I really like the way the drum plays a fast four beats in the middle of the chorus.

One thing that tickles me about this song is that the main body of the song has a chorus of “is it always… now or never” the “for real” of the title doesn’t come until after four minutes (the song is just under 5) with a coda that repeats “are you for real.”

I wish the recording was a little crisper, but that’s probably personal preference.  I definitely wish the drums were mixed differently–they sound kind of flat–which is a shame because the drumming is outstanding.  All of this just speaks to how great they probably sound live.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Cool Japan Guide

After enjoying Diary of a Tokyo Teen, I saw that Tuttle Publishing also put out this book. I got it out for Clark but wound up reading it before he did.

Abby Denson is a cartoonist (the other subtitle is A Comic Book Writer’s Personal Tour of Japan).  She and her husband (Matt Loux–who did the Salt Water Taffy stories) love Japan and Japanese culture and they travel there a lot.  So this is her personal guide book to visiting the wild world of Japan.

While it has some of the same features as Tokyo Teen, this book is far more of a guide book for travelers than a personal memoir of one girl’s travels. The book opens with a pronunciation guide (very helpful) and each chapter has a list of useful phrases and expressions all introduced by the very helpful Kitty Sweet Tooth.

Denson is quite thorough in this book.  Starting from before you leave–getting a passport, making reservations, getting rail passes, everything.  Even what to expect in each of the seasons.  Upon arrival there’s all kinds of fun things to see immediately–train stamps (you get a stamp for every station you go to) vending machines (and how to understand them) and even what kind of (apparently delicious) food you can buy on a train in the country. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: SNAIL MAIL-Tiny Desk Concert #649 (September 15, 2017).

It’s always encouraging that young musicians are still picking up guitars and writing catchy and interesting songs.  I’d never heard of Snail Mail, but finding out that lead singer/guitarist Lindsey Jordan graduated high school last year is pretty cool.

I think that it helps to have some connections, though:

Jordan started Snail Mail at 15 and released the quietly stunning Habit EP via Priests’ in-house label last year. She’s quickly found fans in Helium and Ex Hex’s Mary Timony (who also happens to be Jordan’s guitar teacher) and just went on tour with Waxahatchee and Palehound.

They play three songs.  On one it’s just her, but on the first two, she is joined “by what’s become her consistent live band (drummer Ray Brown and bassist Alex Bass).”

“Slug” has a propulsive verse and a cool thumping bridge.  It’s an ode to a slug, in fact, but it also looks internally: “I have waited my whole life to know the difference and I should know better than that.”  I really like the way the song builds and builds and then drops out for a second for a few curlicues of guitar.

Her lyrics are wonderful mix of maturity and teenager (I do like the “my whole life bit,” but I really like this couplet from the next song “Thinning.”

I want to face the entire year just face down / and on my own time I wanna waste mine.
spend the rest of it asking myself is this who you are / and I don’t know it just feels gross.  (And her delivery of the word “gross” is wonderful).

From her reaction and this blurb, I guess the band is a bit louder than what they play here:

Because we often ask bands to turn down for the office space, she jokes, “I guess I don’t really know what we sound like because we’re so loud. Now we’re quiet and Ray’s using the mallets and my guitar’s all the way down — I was like, ‘We sound like this?'”

For the last song, the guys leave as she re tunes her guitar:

Jordan closes the set solo with a new song, “Anytime.” It is, perhaps typically for Snail Mail, slow and sad, but the alternate guitar tuning and Jordan’s drawled vocal performance gives this song about a crush an aerial motion, like acrobats sliding down a long sheet of fabric.

With just her and her guitar this song is far more spare and less bouncy but it works perfectly were her delivery.  I also like watching her bend strings with her third finger while playing a chord–she has learned some mad skills from Timony for sure.  I wish I had seen them open for Waxahatchee, that’s a bitchin’ double bill, for sure.

[READ: October 20, 2016] Diary of a Tokyo Teen

Sarah brought this book home and it seemed really fun.  It’s a look at Japan through the eyes of a girl who was born there about 15 years earlier but then moved to the U.S. with her family.  She is older and somewhat wiser and is delighted to have a chance to explore what is familiar and unfamiliar.

And it’s all done in a simple comic book style diary which she self published at age 17.

So Christine flies to Kashiwa, a small city outside of Tokyo to stay with her Baba and Jiji (grandparents).  She says the best reunion (aside from her grandparents) was with her favorite fast food chain unavailable in America: Mos Burger (you eat the wrapper because it would be messy to take it out of the wrapper).

What I love about this book is that unlike a more formal guide book, Christine is a typical teenager with typically American experiences.  So she notices that the people who work fast food are happy–or at least appear to be.  She’s also aware right form the start how trendy the other kids are.  And while an adult might not care, for a teen aged girl, that’ pretty devastating. Continue Reading »

  SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-Tiny Desk Concert #647 (September 13, 2017).

I know about L.A. Salami exclusively from NPR.  They played “Day to Day (For 6 Days a Week),” a while back and I really liked it.  Then L.A. Salami performed an SXSW Lullaby for them.  And now he;s back for a Tiny Desk Concert.

Bob says that Salami is a bit like Dylan.  It’s a fair comparison in one way–particularly Salami’s lengthy narrative style.  But Salami is British and is delivery is radically different–alert and agitated instead of slow and almost disaffected like Dylan.

But here’s the blurb:

Lookman Adekunle Salami, who writes and records as L.A. Salami, is a storyteller and a poet. His songs are deliberate meanderings on the mundane and the poignancy in everyday life. And in the way Bob Dylan took his guitar and harmonica to accompany his rarely repeating ramblings, L.A Salami embraces a similar aesthetic, albeit as a black Englishman instead of a white Minnesotan.

His opening song at the Tiny Desk, “Day to Day (For 6 Days a Week),” runs about six minutes, with over 600 words. He seems to rattle them all off effortlessly, with compelling, complicated rhymes that never repeat and phrases such as:

“Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.”

And the blurb is right–he is effortless in the way he sings-speaks these complicated ideas.  The words are sophisticated and the ideas are powerful.  He plays this song on acoustic guitar, a simple, sweet melody that supports the multifaceted words.  When it’s over he says, “that song was dedicated to anyone who has a job, or doesn’t have a job, or anyone who needs a job.”

For the second song, “Terrorism (The ISIS Crisis),” he switches to electric guitar.  He says, “I’m guessing you guys have heard of the terrorist attack in Westminster.  This next song “Terrorism (The ISIS Crisis)” is about this.”  This song has a pretty radically different sound.  Especially in the chorus (the other two songs don’t even have one) which features a loud, ringing, sharp guitar lick and Salami screaming (mostly) “the ISIS crisis.”   It’s effective the first time through but it seems kind of limited after a number of verses.  The verses are, once again very powerful, especially the quiet middle section:

“This song is called ‘My Thoughts, They Too Will Tire open brackets, sigh, close brackets.'”  This song has a lovely melody (the acoustic guitar is on capo 8 so it’s mostly high notes).  It’s another lengthy pointed but meandering song, a style that Salami does very well.

[READ: April 28, 2017] Ms Marvel: Civil War II

I was puzzled as to why this was called Civil War II.  I actually thought that it was a sequel to a book I hadn’t read yet as it seemed to come out of nowhere.  But I don’t think I missed anything in the Ms Marvel universe.

What I did miss out on was an overarching storyline called Civil War II about which Gizmodo has a lot of very negative things to say.  So I gather this series is part of a bigger thing which I don’t care about.  Sigh.  According to Wikipedia:

Functioning as an allegory about the nature of determinism versus free will the story sees opposing factions of superheroes led by Captain Marvel and Iron Man come into conflict when a new Inhuman named Ulysses emerges with the ability to predict the future. The debut of the series was scheduled to capitalize on the release of the 2016 Marvel Studios film Captain America: Civil War.

As the book opens, Kamala and her friends are involved in the Tri State Ultra Mega Science Fair.  They are squaring off against NY and CT nerds.

Jersey starts with Skyshark (a shark in a floating bubble of water) which Connecticut says is cruelty to animals (because CT is full of lawyers, ha).

NY makes the Re-aktron which is able to absorb all of the static electricity in the air and use it to power electrical grids.  No contest.

But for round 2, Jersey brings put the Fusion Master2000 a pocket-sized nuclear generator.  (What could go wrong?)

Well, when it does go wrong, it turns out that Spiderman (in the black outfit–no idea what that means) is already on the scene–we see hes actually one of the kids in the fair) and then superhero Nova arrives–all three there to help out. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #647 (September 12, 2017).

I didn’t realize that Jack Antonoff, lead singer of Bleachers, was the lead guitarist (but not singer) for the band fun.

I really don’t like the lead sax by Evan Smith on two of the songs.

I particularly don’t like the sound of the sax on “Everybody Lost Somebody.”  When the sax is gone, the song which is otherwise just piano (Mikey Hart) sounds pretty great.  Antonoff’s delivery is quite interesting on this song, it reminds me of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle–an almost-speaking, somewhat arch style..

After the song ends, Antonoff asks, “How often you guys do this?”
Bob says, “We got another one in an hour.”
Then he continues, talking about how NPR seems like a nice place to work.

For the second song, “Don’t Take The Money,” Antonoff says: “If you ever see Bleachers live, it’s two drum sets and it’s big and it’s kinda like this big statement that I could hide behind the tears with this big rock show. But the songs are written like this.”

This is kind of funny since the drums are played on a boombox and are quite loud.  The synths really fill the room, too.  Oddly the song segues into the chorus of Queen’s “Radio Gaga.”  Of the threes songs this is my favorite.  There’s no sax and Smith is playing along on a second set of synths to really make a full sound.

My favorite part of the song is at the end when he tries to get the boom box to stop.  He hits the button (trying to get a percussive sound), but it doesn’t turn off.  He and the pianist turn it into a cool improvised ending.

He says, “that’s cool we’ve never played that song like that.  That’s how it’s meant to be.  In some ways.  That’s what I love about playing live is to trick people–trick them into getting really sweaty and then going home and having weepy moments.”

After the song, Antonoff talks about the live show.  The blurb helps out:

“My manager says, ‘When you play for 1,000 people, don’t talk to one person. It’s only cool for them,'” Antonoff said. It was offered as an apology — he had just finished aiming a monologue about the link between dancing and crying at a single NPR staffer in the audience — but it was also a perfect encapsulation of the connection Antonoff’s songs create. Bleachers makes truly conversational pop, songs that sound expansive but retain a sense of intimacy, even when aimed at the masses.

This final song is called “Foreign Girls” and he tells the band, “I guess we’ll do it… like we talked.”  The sax is back and is almost obscured by him “la la la’ing” but it does peek through.

It’s interesting hearing them like this, but I don’t know what they sound like all big and dancey, so I can’t really compare.

[READ: October 1, 2016] Ms Marvel: Super Famous

Confusingly, this book collects issues 1-6, but they are definitely not the first issues one to six.  This is a whole new story line which follows the previous books and is listed as Volume 5.  The book has three artists: Takeshi Miyazawa (issues 1-3) , Adrian Alphona (part of issue 1), and Nico Leon (issues 4-6).  And it starts off almost where the last series ended.  Except it’s 8 months later and a few things have happened.

Like Ms Marvel has officially become an Avengers (there’s a cool two page spread of them coming down the alley (although I don’t recognize some of them, actually).  And Ms Marvel is doing pretty well.  However, Kamala, the girl who is Ms. Marvel is having a hard time keeping up with schoolwork, friends and family while fighting crime at night.

Oh and somehow in the last 8 months, her best friend/crush Bruno has started dating a wicked cool girl named Mike.  How did she not notice this romance blooming?  And can she take it out on Bruno?  Well, she can until she looks up and sees her image (well Ms Marvel’s image) on a billboard.  And this has her fighting mad, even more so when she finds out who is responsible for the billboard.

Turns out it is a bunch of developers creating Hope Yards–a plan to clean up Jersey City by making it unaffordable for undesirables.  And what’s worse is that the people protesting the unannounced building of Hope Yards are naturally associating her with the project. Continue Reading »

 SOUNDTRACK: FRANCES CONE-Tiny Desk Concert #646 (September 8, 2017).

Frances Cone is a relatively new band (their second album is due out soon).

There’s keys, drums guitars and lots of harmonies.

Christina Cone sings primary vocals but Adam Melchor sings lovely hrmony vocals  The keys dominate on the first song “Unraveling” until the gentle acoustic guitarists add a nice texture.  What’s interesting is that once the acoustic guitars kick in, Andrew Doherty, on bass, gets to play a more prominent lead riff and also takes over on lead vocals while keys and guitar do the oohs an harmonies.  It really changes the texture of the song and when Christina takes leads back again, it’s really something else,

The song is simple but really catchy with a powerful chorus. and Christina’s occasional high notes are a very nice accent.

I really enjoy when a band gushes to be on Tiny Desk, and Christina seems really overcome with joy (so does Adam later).

I love the keyboard sound she chooses for “Arizona”–an old fashioned organ sound. She sings lead but he guys are right behind her with low harmonies and oohs as needed.  Andrew switches to lead guitar (with the keys handling the low end) which adds a whole new sound to their repertoire, and the chorus is really catchy with Christina’s soaring vocals.

before the final song, Adam says, “I was watching that Shia LaBeouf “Just Do It” video–don’t let your dreams be dreams–and that what this feel’s like.
Bob: “I wondered where you were going with that.”
Christina: “Are you referencing Shia LaBeouf right now?”

Adam switches from acoustic to electric and there’s some great buzzy bass sounds out of the keys.  The guys sings some gorgeous harmony vocals on this song.  I love that the spare use of guitars comes in with some neat harmony melody lines mid-verse.

There’s also a drummer who I haven’t mentioned–he did a lot of interesting sounds–sometimes using mallets but playing a rim shot with each stick, or using the mallets properly.

Christina Cone (keys, vocals); Andrew Doherty (electric bass, electric guitar, vocals); Adam Melchor (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals); Alex Baron (drums).

[READ: October 1, 2016] Ms Marvel: Last Days

This book collects books 16-19 of the Ms. Marvel series and kind of wraps up the story (sort of, there’s another series that has come out and starts with issue #1–so confusing!).  This book also includes a 2 issue crossover with Amazing Spider Man-7 & 8.

This book opens with yet another amazing crossover–Kamala gets to meet the original Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers (who is now Captain Marvel and, confusingly to me, is dressed in a strange suit with what looks like a mohawk).  Kamala is worried thay Carol will be mad that she copped the Ms Marvel name, but Carol is cool with it–Kamala has earned the title. Continue Reading »

 SOUNDTRACK: JIDENNA-Tiny Desk Concert #645 (September 5, 2017).

I had never heard of Jidenna despite all of his apparent hits.  I was rather turned off by the initial song, “Trampoline.”  The chorus of “Bounce Bounce Bounce like a trampoline” was dumb enough and the music was cheesy enough that I didn’t like this at all. Although the lyric “the lady ain’t a tramp just coz she bounce up and down like a trampoline” is at least female positive.

So who is this guy?

MC Jidenna is Nigerian-American: he rocks thrift-wear tailored to a T.  Jidenna and his band recently visited NPR to perform three reworked selections from The Chief–A tribute to his father, a Nigerian chief, the record is peppered with African rhythms and themes.  They excitedly explored every nook and cranny of the Tiny Desk in search of props, eventually settling on a toy, the magic microphone, a tambourine and a bottle of whiskey.

But then he said some eloquent words about NPR–“a beacon of light of information in this information age,” and I was impressed that it wasn’t just all bouncing asses.

For then he began”Long Live the Chief.”  This rap song has some great sounding rough guitars.  His delivery is sharp and fast and the lyrics are fantastic. But its the music that really won me over–the sound of the guitars, the unexpected rhythm and some great drumming.  It was like a 180 degree turn.

But I love these lines:

Ridin’ for my niggas gettin’ locked up in the slammer
Elders saying everything’s a nail to a hammer
And niggas can’t spell but we know our Instagrammar
Well done’s better than well said
I read niggas well, a nigga well read
Really I ain’t met nobody smarter
That’s why I got admitted but I still rejected Harvard
I’m the fresh prince, in a school where they couldn’t read
Mama put me in a school with the Kennedys
When I met Bill Clinton I was seventeen
But dead presidents is all my niggas need
Dining with the governor’s daughter
And her father say I remind him of Obama
I’m the chief diplomat, every day
And I’m black and white, Janelle Monae

And then in another 180 degree turn (but not full circle, more like 180 degrees in the opposite direction) came “Bambi.”  This is a gentle lullaby–a sweet song to a lost a love.

The women among the tribe
They will be jealous of this lullaby
I’ll drink alone in my hotel and cry
‘Cause now they know you are love of my life

It sounds like a sweet reggae song or a proper doo-wop 50s song.  he seems to have a Jamaican accent (or is that a Nigerian accent?) as he sings the chorus “Bahm-bee.”

I really can’t get over the diversity of these three songs.  And by the end, his charm really impressed me (although i still don’t like “Trampoline.”

[READ: October 1, 2016] Ms Marvel: Crushed

This book collects books 12-15 of the Ms. Marvel series and includes a bonus of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2.

There’s yet another crossover moment in this book because we start book 12 in the Kingdom of Asgard where Loki, who is apparently a good guy now? is punished for his bad idea and is sent to earth to help out Ms Marvel.

I love how Loki flairs to blend in on earth and is called a hipster viking dude.  This first story is light-hearted because Kamala’s friend Bruno admits out loud (but Kamala does not hear) that he is crazy about her.  He even asks her to the dance but in such a lame way that she thinks he is joking.

Loki overhears this and decides to write her a love letter instead.  It is over the top and outrageous and Kamala thinks it is from a crazy stalker.  But she is still curious to see who it is so she goes to the Valentine’s Day dance. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL-Tiny Desk Concert #644 (August 28, 2017).

Everybody seems to love Jason Isbell.  I’d heard the songs that people liked and I didn’t really think all that much of them.

This Tiny Desk Concert made Isbell sound much more country than I’d realized (I didn’t know he was with the Drive-By Truckers, either).

I was a little resistant initially, but the first song “Chaos and Clothes” really won me over with the words and melody.  By the end of the song when the fiddle and violin are in full swing and the bassist is playing a cool bass line on that weird tiny fake-looking bass guitar the song really takes off.

But it was Isbell’s playful and funny side that made me rally enjoy him and his band.

He asks the drummer how he is dong and then comments on the hat that they wished they could have worn (they point to tiny top hats).

Isbell says, “Abraham Lincoln had a tiny head, it turns out.  Where’s you’re novel about that, George Saunders.”

Then he jokes about the bass guitar: “that’s’ why you need the hat,  your bass is so small.  Abe Lincoln played a tiny bass.

When they finally get going, the second song “Molotov” has a false start-“I spent so much time on that word and then I said the wrong one.”  The violinist says its alright she didn’t do the best either.  I love the dramatic melody and delightful swing to this song.  It’s really good.

They have a lengthy amusing discussion about babies’ defense mechanisms. The whole banter section between the second and third song is really funny.  Jason leans into his guitarist who jumps and says “thank you.”  This makes Isbell laugh, “if you scare Sadler, he says ‘thank you.'”  Sadler says it’s a defense mechanism from when he was a baby.  Isbell looks at him: “Why would you have o defend yourself when you were a baby?” They talk about baby defense mechanisms and Isbell determines that saying thank you is a good idea: if you were going to kill someone and they said thank you, you’d pause–wondering if you fell into their trap.

He jokes, “we shouldn’t have taken all that acid before Tiny Desk.”

There’s a lot of laughter and then Amanda worries that she has boogers.  It’s quite light-hearted (she doesn’t, by the way).

There’s another false start for “Last of My Kind.”  He pauses the song and then invites an audience member up on “stage” to play.  He says that when he was younger he always imagined that this would happen to him–that someone would have once just asked him to come up and play.

The final song is really good, with a lot of great details in the words, and Ashwin, “a guest in the building who got more than he’d likely expected from his visit to NPR headquarters,” makes good use of his special performance.

His band is The 400 Unit: Sadler Vaden (guitar); Amanda Shires (fiddle, backing vocals); Jimbo Hart (bass); Derry deBorja (keyboards); Chad Gamble (drums); Ashwin Wadekar (guitar on “Last of My Kind”).

[READ: March 15, 2015] Ms Marvel: Generation Why

This book collects issues 6-11 of the Ms. Marvel series. I really enjoyed the first collection a lot, but I hadn’t seen any of the follow ups.  So I was pretty excited to see that my library had gotten all of the published volumes.

In addition to having a great story line about a Pakistani-American teenager who received superpowers, Ms Marvel has a lot of fun with inside-Marvel jokes (which I know some people get tired of, but which I like and which I think works very well here).  Ms Marvel is Kamala Khan.  She is a huge fan of the Marvel Universe (which of course is real), and she had taken the name of Ms Marvel in honor of Carol Danvers, the first Ms Marvel.

Jacob Wyatt drew books 6 & 7 and Adrian Alphona did 8-11.

The book opens with Kamala’s parents–god-fearing Muslims, sending her to Sheikh Abdullah.  She is obviously concerned with talking to this religious leader. Her new career as Ms Marvel has kept her from doing most of the things she should be doing as a decent Muslim girl. But the Sheikh is surprisingly cool.  She doesn’t reveal her secret but he senses that she is doing good and perhaps she just needs the help of someone–a teacher?  She heads downtown where suddenly there is a sinkhole in the ground.  As Ms Marvel, she jumps in and discovers gigantic crocodiles.  The person who has carted these gigantic creatures proves to be a human-cockatiel hybrid who IS NOT A BIRD.  He is bad guy named The Inventor.  And just as things start to get really intense, a teacher of sorts comes to help out–Wolverine!  It cracks me up that she takes a selfie with him. Continue Reading »