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Archive for November, 2015

eggersSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzMartin Tielli has been prolific both as a solo artist and with his “side project” Nick Buzz (named after his love of smokes).

Nick Buzz’ first album came out in 1996 (during a time when the Rheos had just wrapped up their album The Blue Hysteria) and was ignored.  It was reissued in 2002 to a bit more fanfare.  I reviewed it once before and while I thought I was more dismissive of it then, it turns out that I wasn’t.  That I enjoyed it and felt mostly the same as I do now.

“Spilling The Wonderful” starting out with a mellow piano intro, the song jars into a noisy/drunken waltz melody and a violin solo before returning to the cabaret/waltz style that opened the song. It is deliriously catchy. The song ends with some tape manipulation before seguing into “That’s What You Get For Having Fun.” This song opens with some slapped and scratchy guitar sounds with a refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear.”  There’s a super catchy guitar riff that is sung along to—this song really shines live.

“Just Because” mellows things down a lot, with a jazzy sounding guitar and Martin’s delicate vocals.  The music for his one was written by pianist Jon Goldsmith which might explain the mellowness. It’s a sweet ballad.  Although the segue after this song is some clips from the radio (possibly sung by Tielli?) which are distant and crackling.   There’s a saxophone playing as well.   This merges into an announcer introducing the band for their (live) cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” It’s a beautiful, delicate version with Hugh Marsh’s electric violin solo swirling around.

Some dissonant sax segues into Sane So Sane which is actually a pretty gentle piano song. They play with the recording sound as the drums get muffled and dense and there’s more backing vocals thrown over the top.  But it remains largely conventional.  “Hymn to the Situation” is a creaky somewhat creepy song that Martin described as being about a self-centered jerk. who says things like “I’d suicide for you.” There’s a canned crowd cheering at a particularly funny line and even a cow mooing as the song ends

“Fornica Tango” is a wild weird song.  It is tango (Tielli speaks Italian), but the rhythm is kept by a squeaky sound (which is likely Marsh’s violin).  The song is interrupted throughout by a crying baby or, even stranger, a screeching chimpanzee (fornica translates as ant). The song ends with some crazy sounds from Marsh’s electronic violin.  The highlight of the record is “Love Streams’ a beautiful ballad based largely around a piano melody and Marsh’ keening violin. It’s followed by “Aliens break a heat” which is more tape manipulation and all kinds of weird effects (backward vocals I believe) for 2 minutes. Until it’s replaced by sounds of traffic (European) and horns honking.

The final song is the amusing “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick The Buzz” It starts slowly with some plucked strings and Tielli’s voice. There’s some spoken sections and lots of staccato music until the gentle ending which resumes the melody from “Just Because.”

It’s a peculiar album but one that gets better with each listen (and hearing him play some of these songs live has really introduced new aspects of them to me.

[READ: October 10, 2015] The Circle

I put this book off for a while but with no real reason for doing so.  And I’m sorry I waited so long because the book is really good–it’s thought-provoking and questions a lot of established ideas but is also really kind of fun and utopian.

What’s most impressive to me about the way the book is written is that the story itself is really quite simple.  It is a gradual building up of intensity.  At the end of which the main character has to make a decision which proves to be very important both for her and everyone else.

The story is about Mae.  Mae had been working at a dull and dispiriting job in civil service at her home town.  The job was dull, the people were dull, there was zero energy in the place and even her boss was depressing.  It sucked.  She had been there for 18 months and when her boss joked about her getting a promotion, she’d about had it.

She contacted her friend Annie.  Annie was her college roommate and boon companion for a few years.  And Annie worked at The Circle, the coolest most awesome place in the country to work at–think google, but better).  Was there any way that Annie could help out Mae?  Indeed there was.  Annie got Mae a job at The Circle, just like that.  Annie was one of the Top 40, the influential crowd at The Circle and Mae was in (her first day is hilarious, because Annie plays a wonderful prank on her). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 28, 2015] My Morning Jacket

2015-11-28 23.28.16After seeing My Morning Jacket this summer, I was definitely psyched to see them again.  My friend Jay is a fan who had never seen them before.  So we jumped at the chance to see them at the Beacon.  I bought tickets for the fourth of four nights (I would have picked the earlier night had I realized that Strand of Oaks was opening, but that was the night before Thanksgiving, which is not exactly a good going out night for some of us).

We decided to blow off the opener, Craig Finn, but unfortunately because of a delay on the 1 train, we missed the first ten minutes of MMJ as well.  This proved to suck hard because we missed “Victory Dance” and most of “Compound Fracture.”  It sucked even more because the rest of this first set had a very mellow feel to it and Jay and I were looking to rock out.

2015-11-28 21.57.23So this brings me to a pretty weird sensation at a show.  Can you say that you totally enjoyed something but were somehow disappointed at the same time?  And then retroactively realize that what you saw was pretty amazing, but you didn’t realize it in the moment?  Because I think we both felt that way.  The band was in top form, the music sounded great. The audience was totally into it.  And the songs themselves were good, we just wanted different songs.

It turns out that the four nights at the Beacon Theater were designed as a cool package–each night they’d play different songs and dip into some rare tracks.  I had no idea that that’s what they were planning.  I was just psyched to get tickets.  What this meant is that they had played a lot of the big songs earlier in the week (of course, they saved some great ones for our show as well).  So when Jay and I looked at each other after the first set and thought, huh I expected to hear more songs that I knew, well, now we realized why we didn’t.

It turned out to be an awesome show for old time fans who had seen them a lot. (more…)

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percy3SOUNDTRACK: TROMBONE SHORTY-Tiny Desk Concert #162 (September 29, 2011).

tromb Trombone Shorty is from New Orleans and his backing band is called Orleans Avenue.  I can’t think of too many bands that are fronted by a trombone player.

This is a super fun set.  It opens with “Dumaine St.” a short (just over 2 minutes) jazzy number that comes from his then recent album For True.  There’s some great rhythm in the low end–the baritone sax and bass guitar keep a great groove, especially during the trombone solo (!).  It’s short, but it’s great.

Dan “Uncle Potato Chip” Oestreicher, opens the second song with a great bass line on the baritone sax.  The song is called “Lagniappe which is “a little gift you get for buying something. It’s an especially common practice in certain corners of the world, including Louisiana, where the term originates.”  It’s an improvisational piece built around the great bass line.  It features a trombone solo and great tenor sax solo by Tim McFatter.  The song builds (for about 5 minutes) to an exciting  conclusion (“a light workout,” Shorty calls it).

The final song has lyrics sung by Shorty. It’s probably my least favorite of the three as the lyrics aren’t that great (although his voice is good).  It’s got a good funky rhythm, but it slows things down when he is singing.  And I just want to hear him play.  Once he picks up the trombone again, the song springs to life and is a super amount of fun–with another great melody.

I wasn’t sure I’d like this set but I enjoyed it a lot.

[READ: November 22, 2015] The Titan’s Curse

The good news was that I could get both the second and third graphic novels at the same time (both with art by Attila Futaki).  The bad news is that apparently the fourth (and fifth) books were never made!  I don’t know if there are plans for them to get made but as of right now, we’re stuck at a to be continued.

Of the three, I found this book to be the most confusing because so many characters looked alike.  There was also the addition of several new characters (and as with the previous book, there was very little in the way of introduction).

We don’t know why, but Percy and Annabeth have gone to a specific place to rescue two orphans, Bianca and Nico.  They are both half-bloods, unbeknownst to them.  Bianca is initially suspicious of the heroes, but Nico is right on board.

In terms of action, there’s quite a lot.  We meet Artemis, goddess of the hunt who has arrived with her hunters.  She speaks formally and is suspicious of men.

After careful consideration Bianca decides to join Artemis’ hunters (which gives her immortality–death may only come in battle–as long as she forswears romantic love, which she has no problem doing).  Meanwhile, Nico decides to return to the camp with the others.

Oh and Annabeth, while fighting a manticore, is thrown over the side of a cliff, presumably lost forever.  Percy is freaking out but they convince him to head back to camp for reinforcements.

A new quest is decided upon, but Percy’s first goal is to rescue Annabeth.  Although we soon see that she is not dead, she just has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Literally.

And then Apollo shows up in his golden chariot (which is a sports car naturally).

Back at camp, the director has them don helmets for more training, this time hunter against half-blood.  The hunters win every time.  This was a hugely confusing scene since everyone is in battle gear. The book is also hugely confusing because several of the scenes are done with characters in close up and Zoe (whose origin I can’t even recall) and Percy look quite a lot alike

But there’s some really wonderful scenes, like when the horse speaks to Percy and later when Percy rescues the Ophiotaurus (which he calls Bessy).

I liked that the middle section takes place in the Museum of Natural History–which allows for some cool details.  The dinosaur teeth are actually dragon teeth and the lion is really the Nemean Lion.  And when the bad guys get some skeletons to rise from the earth, they are sent on a single mission–to destroy Percy.  And they cannot be stopped by half blood weapons.

There’ a great scene with a large flying statue and then a cool scene at the Hoover Dam.

I typically enjoy when the scenes turn mystical but I was confused a bit when Artemis returned to her sisters.  I think the character of Zoe perplexes me too much, even when she reveals her true identity.

And speaking of true identity, Nico’s reveal is pretty fantastic, too.

The final scene shows a meeting of the Gods again, which I liked.  Unfortunately it seems to set the stage for book four, which we won’t seem to ever get.

More reason to rad the actual novels, then, right?

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percy2SOUNDTRACK: JENNY LIN-Tiny Desk Concert #160 (September 6, 2011).

linJenny Lin is an amazing pianist.  So it’s slightly disconcerting that she is playing these beautiful pieces on a Korg keyboard.

The write up says

It’s rare to see a world-renowned pianist willing to make such a sacrifice, but that’s how strongly Lin feels about getting the music out there, knowing that (with even more downsizing) folks could watch her perform this Tiny Desk Concert on their iPhones.

And while I wouldn’t think that a great pianist would have a problem playing an electronic piano, I had to wonder if the keyboard weight impacted her at all.  It sure doesn’t seem like it.

She plays five pieces altogether.  And they are all modern pieces.  I don’t know a lot about Shostakovic, but the blurb says that  Shostakovich, inspired by Bach wrote his own set of Preludes and Fugues in all 24 keys in 1950.  I would have guessed they were Bach, but you can hear differences in his more modern style (and not just because of the keyboard).  The notes are fast and furious (and beautiful).

I don’t know Federico Mompou at all, but the blurb says  “Barcelona-born Federico Mompou was a contemporary of Shostakovich’s, but that’s where the comparisons end. In the 1960s, he completed four volumes of piano music he called Musica Callada, or “Silent Music.” Mompou’s sound, [features]  austere beauty and emphasis on the spaces between notes.”  And you can really hear the way the notes ring out (I’ll bet even more so on a grand piano).

The final song is an arrangement of Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” which has been “souped up by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild. His arrangement turns the Gershwin song into a kind of stride-jazz extravaganza.”

Watch Lin’s hands fly around the keyboard.  It is hard to comprehend.  I don’t know which hand I am more impressed by.

It’s amazing to be able to watch a master so closely.

The setlist:

  • Dmitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in A minor, Op. 87
  • Dmitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in A major, Op. 87
  • Federico Mompou: Musica Callada — Nos. 1, 15
  • Gershwin (arr. Earl Wild): “Fascinatin’ Rhythm”

[READ: November 22, 2015] The Sea of Monsters

Clark really liked the first graphic novel and asked me to get the rest.  So I did.  And then I had to see how the story continued, too.

Book two of the graphic novel series (also with art by Attila Futaki) begins with Percy at home.  He is told he shouldn’t return to Camp Half -Blood, but his mom won’t say why.  At “regular” school, he is still picked on, but he now has help from a huge boy known as Tyson.  The bullies make fun of Tyson too, calling him a retard, but Percy sticks up for him. [The one problem with the graphic novels is they have to edit down so much, there’s no real introduction to Percy’s school or to Tyson].

On the next page, though, we learn that the bullies are actually demons and that Tyson is able to fight them off because he is …a cyclops.  (It must be very hard to create a cyclops–visually, they are just so wrong–where do you put that eye?  Do the normal eye sockets still exist? I always find them disconcerting to look at). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOpercy1CAL NATIVES-Tiny Desk Concert #113 (February 21, 2011).

localI’ve decided to cherry pick some Tiny Desk shows for the end of the year–order be damned.

Local Natives are from L.A.  They play (in this Tiny Desk Concert anyway), a folkie alt rock which really emphasizes the band’s gorgeous harmonies.

For this set there are two acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, a drummer and some cool extra percussion.  It also makes me laugh to see them all packed so tightly in that little space.

The first song “Wide Eyes” has lovely harmony vocals by the guitarist and the percussionist.  But when the backing vocals kick in, the sound really soars.

“Cards & Quarters” has a lovely guitar intro and fantastic three part harmonies.  I love the way the songs builds and builds to the end–it’s very dramatic.

For the final song, “Airplanes,” the percussionist switches to guitar (and sings lead vocals) and one of the guitarists plays the mandolin.  This song is very personal, with lots of details about the singer’s grandfather.  Again, the harmonies are gorgeous.

I’ve heard a lot about Local Natives and now I need to check them out more closely.

[READ: May 23, 2015] The Lightning Thief

I have seen the Percy Jackson movie and now I’ve read the comic book, but I have yet to read the actual novel (or series).  I figure I will some day.  But for now I’ve had this cool graphic novel to flesh out the movie.

It’s interesting how the movie and graphic novel (with art by Attila Futaki) emphasize different things.  It felt to me like the movie spent more time on introducing the characters once they got to “camp,” while the graphic novel seemed to gloss that.  But there were some other adventures that the group went on which were different between the book and movie (which may have just been for expenses).

Okay, so the brief summary of the book is that Percy Jackson is a boy in school.  He has trouble reading and his teacher gives him a hard time.  As we open, the class is learning about ancient Greek myths and the teacher is emphasizing how important they will be for Percy.  On the next page, one of Percy’s teachers turns into a demon and attacks him.   But no one else is aware of it.  Except maybe his best friend, Grover.

When school ends, Percy heads home to his mother’s house.  His mother is living with a totally awful guy (there was more about this in the movie) and explains that Percy’s father left before he was born.  But just as they settle in, Grover shows up and tells them they have to go.  Now. (more…)

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olymmp SOUNDTRACK: TORRES-Tiny Desk Concert #461 (August 10, 2015).

torresI’ve really enjoyed a lot about Torres’ music this year.  Mackenzie Scott has an interesting delivery which reminds me of certain aspects of PJ Harvey, and her songs are angry but measured.

Her songs seem to have a lot of low-end in them (without being bass heavy exactly–in fact in this Tiny Desk, there is no bassist).  And her singing voice is often rather low (and sometimes growly).  There’s a moment in the first song “New Skin” in which the music drops out and then Mackenzie Scott starts playing her guitar anew and it’s a sound unlike any in the song before (even though she has been playing all along).

Guitarist Cameron Kapoor adds cool sounds to what I think is her best song, “A Proper Polish Welcome.”  Erin Manning provides wonderful harmony vocals along with keyboards on this song which is as powerful as it is understated.  The song gives me chills.

“The Harshest Light” is a slow song that has glimpses of light as she sings slightly higher notes in the chorus.  And when her voice breaks near the end, you can hear the intensity in her singing.

It’s a great three song set that only leaves you wanting more.

I had resisted getting this album, but realizing just how good these songs are might tip the tables to a purchase.

[READ: Summer 2015] Olympians 1-6

While I imagined that I might read all of the First Second books this year, I paused about mid way through (more for me next year).  But one of the last things I read from First Second was this series of outstanding mythologies about the Greek Olympians.  It also turned out that a few years back I got these books for Clark, not realizing they were under the First Second imprint.  I was intrigued by them then, but I’m really glad that I read them now.

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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mannersSOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-Hugh’s Room Toronto, ON (September 27, 2009).

hughsThis is the final solo show from Martin Tielli on the Rheostaticslive site.  And it’s a great final show.  The sound quality is excellent and the crowd is also really into it.

Martin says that it is the fourth show ever with this band which includes Martin Tielli – vocals, guitar
Selina Martin – acoustic guitar, vocals, bowed saw
Monica Guenter – piano, synth, viola, vocals
Greg Smith – bass, vocals
Ryan Granville-Martin – drums, vocals, glockenspiel

(That’s a lot of Martins).

They open with a Rheostatics song, “Dead is the Drunkest You Can get,” a mellow song that works really well and has outstanding backing vocals from Selina and Monica.  Then they play two Nick Buzz songs, “That’s What You Get for Having Fun” and “Love Streams.”

“Something Wild” introduces a lot of vocoder–his vocals sound very different from on the Danny Gross record.  “Underbrush” is very slow and dramatic.

There’s something about this band that really brings out the best of these songs.  “Voices from the Wilderness” is lovely and “I’ll Never Tear You Apart” is also lovely, done in a slower tempo.  Although Martin keeps correcting himself when he messes up the words.

When they get to “Hymn to the Situation” (an old Nick Buzz song) he says it was an audience request and he thought it was funny.  He asks that the audience cheer wildly when he says the word “axe” (which is what happens on the record).  His description of the song is very funny, saying that it is about love.  Not sex, which is disgusting and which is all you hear in the media.  He concludes, “Never confuse the savory and the sweet.”  The song is played entirely on the piano.

“Saskatchewan” is great.  Big and loud.  Although Martin plays some amazingly bad chords at the end of the song–presumably intentionally.  The guitar solo is played on a violin, which is also pretty neat.

The set list says that the song “Our Keepers” was supposed to be next, but it is not included.  Indeed, the set ends with “Saskatchewan” making this show only 55 minutes.  Nevertheless, it’s a great recording and a wonderful spanning of Martin’s solo career.

[READ: October 10, 2015] The Importance of Manners

I found this book at work and was intrigued by the blurb: a Dali-esque fable, and that it was “in the vein of Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse.”  I was committed to the book when I saw that the print was huge and that the chapters were really short.  Not the best recommendation for reading a book, but if you’re looking for quick read, those are some good markers.

The story is a travelogue farce that involves religion, sex, more religion, death and the end of the world.

There are several main characters, although I suppose the main protagonist is Burt Darwin.  Darwin is concerned for his afterlife and he cycles through a different religion multiple times during the day to make sure he has all of his bases covered.  He also keeps a journal in which he must tell the truth because this will lead to a successful afterlife (according to some healer or another).

We next meet Lady Chanel Malory.  Chanel was a hand model, is quite pretty and is looking for adventure (sexual if possible).  But she is married to Lord Percy, an old stuck up aristocrat who says all the things you’d expect someone like him to say.  He also believes that Lady Chanel is French and she is happy to play up the charade of being French for most of the story (it cracks briefly).  The final main character is Sister Mary.  She is an exiled nun, but she dresses like Mother Theresa, blesses everything and everyone and considers everything including flossing to be blasphemous.

They are all on a cruise ship traveling to Africa (you can probably see already the kinds of jokes and scenes that are going to appear).  They meet angry Kings (one who calls Lord Percy “Hitler”), they meet a talking (at least to us) snake who is mad to be stepped on, we encounter Vodun gods (and sellers of Authentic African knickknacks (most likely made in China) and a spell that makes Sister Mary forget that she is a nun and remember the past that brought her there.

There’s even a couple of authorial interruptions.

While most of the book is made of comic episodes (and some are indeed very funny) there are also some intriguing subplots.  Like Lady Chanel’s connection to pirates (which is sadly never explored fully), there’s even the exorcism of a demon.

Oh, and there’s someone who is about to set off a nuclear bomb destined to blow up the whole word.  Although none of our cast know that, somehow one of them saves the entire world.

H.G. Watt is also known as Hande Zapsu Watt.  She was born in Istanbul but now lives in Scotland.  According to some information, she has published four more novels and four children’s books which have all been translated into several languages, but I can’t find any of them.

So this book was a little broad, with some fairly easy targets, and yet I enjoyed it quite a bit.  There was a lot that made me laugh including  the acknowledgments in which she thanks her editor “who edited all the way to page 42 before writing in the margin: “umm, isn’t this a bit racist?”  [The book is, but it attacks everyone mercilessly, so no one need feel singled out].

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