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Archive for February, 2015

axe2SOUNDTRACK: REINA DEL CID-“The Cooling” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

coolingLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, so I don’t know if this is Reina del Cid’s normal band or what.  But I love the sound of this orchestral chamber pop.  There are plenty of chamber pop bands, but there’s something about the melody of this song that works so perfectly with the strings.

There are seven people in the video (Reina is the singer).  I love the way the song starts out with some pizzicato guitar and slowly building violin strings.  I also love the starts and stops that the song has–very dramatic.  And it all works so well with Reina’s voice which doesn’t soar or hit super high notes, rather it is just powerful and strong and very pretty (even when she does an occasional mmm mmm).

When the song builds to its climax, the violins switch to pizzicato and the drums grow louder.  It’s quite lovely and I’d like to hear more from her (them).  I gather that the new album is coming out in May!

[READ: February 19, 2015] Axe Cop Volume 2

I enjoyed Axe Cop Volume 1 so much I couldn’t wait to jump into Volume 2.  But something was different.

This book was made for Dark Horse as a three issue arc.  It’s in color and it’s all one long story.  Ethan is super proud of it, and I think he should be, it’s pretty impressive that he and his brother (now aged 6) were able to come up with such a huge story.

But I found that like the longer stories in volume 1, I got a little bored by the end of this book.  Indeed, I let Clark read the first book (it was placed in the YA book section, but I figured if it was written by a  5-year-old, my nine-year old could read it).  He liked the first book but only gave this one a few pages before he gave up.  He likes Ask Axe Cop best too. (more…)

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axw1SOUNDTRACK: COLD BLUE MOUNTAIN-“White North” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

cbm Last week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, and I seriously hope that the guys from Cold Blue Mountain look like this when they play all the time.

This may be the best set up and reveal of a joke that actually contains an awesome song.  The video is 4 and a half minutes long, but the music doesn’t start for nearly a minute and a half as the set up proceeds.

When the music starts it is heavy, like really heavy, but beyond heavy there’s a great riff mixed into the music on the second guitar–it’s a great sound.

But the “joke” isn’t over, since at 2 minutes the music stops for 20 seconds until the next reveal comes in.  It’s pretty awesome.

My only gripe is that I don’t like the vocals (growly cookie monster type)–they work pretty well with the music, but it’s not something I want to listen to, which is shame since the song really really rocks.

And the video is awesome.

[READ: February 15, 2015] Axe Cop Vol. 1

After watching Archer on FX the other week I saw a few minutes of an animated show called Axe Cop which looked weird and silly and starred Nick Offerman as Axe Cop.  I only watched a few minutes of it and then went to bed.  A few days later I was in the library and saw four volumes of Axe Cop books.  Well, I had to check that out right away.

And here’s what I learned.  Axe Cop is a web comic that was drawn by Ethan Nicolle.  But the best part is that Axe Cop was written by Ethan’s younger brother who was 5 at the time.  That’s right, five.  So Axe Cop comes from the delightfully twisted imagination of a (rather precocious in my opinion) five year old.

This book collects the beginning web comics, including the first slew of Ask Axe Cop, perhaps my favorite feature of the comic.  It also has a forward by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Kevin Murphy!

In the beginning, there was Axe Cop.  No, in the beginning Ethan tells about how he was visiting his younger brother over a Christmas break and they started playing with action figures and what not.  And one of the guys was a firefighter with an axe.  Malachai didn’t want to play fireman, so he called this guy Axe cop.  Ethan decided to make a comic out of it and it all started from there. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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?” (more…)

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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. (more…)

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