Archive for April, 2017

SOUNDTRACK: KEATON HENSON-Tiny Desk Concert #293 (August 3, 2013).

Keaton Henson is a quiet guitar player.  He plays delicately (although his amp is turned up pretty loud so we can hear everything clearly).  He sings quietly as well.

After the first song, he even speaks quietly and apologizes for bringing everyone down on a Friday afternoon.

The blurb jokes:

The day before Keaton Henson arrived to play the Tiny Desk, we hosted a group called The No BS! Brass Band, a nearly dozen-piece horn section with an almost brutal (and totally amazing) sound. It was one of the loudest and most thrilling, heart-pounding Tiny Desk sets we’ve ever had.

Keaton Henson’s performance could not have been more unlike the show the day before. When a cozy crowd of curious listeners showed up the next day to see him play, I asked everyone to get as close as they could, without freaking out the admittedly shy singer from London. Don’t let the presence of this fantastic recording (by our engineer Kevin Wait) fool you. Henson’s voice was so fragile and hushed, if you were 10 feet away you would have barely heard a peep from him.

Remarkably, Henson has only been playing music for a couple years; he took up the guitar to help heal his broken heart after a failed relationship. He’s also a poet and illustrator who’s released one graphic novel called Gloaming and is already at work on another. For this Tiny Desk performance, Henson performed three songs from his new album, Birthdays.

“You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” opens with some pretty, vibratoed harmonics before the guitar strumming comes in properly.  “Sweetheart What Have You Done To Us” has a very cool section in which the chords shift up by a half step which changes the tone of the song quite a bit.  It’s interesting that he’s recorded so closely and loudly that you can hear everything–mildly errant strings or unexpected note playing (he uses his thumb as a pick).  You can also hear how carefully he is miked for this set because you can practically hear the water going down his throat as he drinks it.  “You” plays with a rising and falling melody as it rumbles under Keaton’s delicate voice.

[READ: June 20, 2016] Sidekicks

I recognized Santat’s style from the fun picture book Oh No!  Sarah brought home this book and I thought it looked really fun.  And it was.

The premise is by now familiar (although since he did it 5 years ago, this book might be more original than it seems).  And it does take the whole idea of superheroes at home in a rather new direction.

The book opens on Roscoe, a large dog, waiting for his master to get home.  His fellow pet, a hamster named Fluffy, is chowing down on snacks while they watch TV.  Roscoe gets mad at Fluffy since Harry will be home soon and they are just sitting around.  Then Harry appears on the TV, crashing to the ground.  For Harry is in fact Captain Amazing.  He ensures the TV viewers that everything is under control.

But then he sees that he has crashed into a Nuts cart.  And he freaks out because he is allergic to peanuts (a hilarious premise for a superhero weakness). (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: GUARDS-Tiny Desk Concert #290 (July 29, 2013).

Guards play a simple, almost naïve, kind of pop music.  I’d almost call it bubblegum.  Particularly in the lyrics: “I wanna build a happy home a home for you and me…I wanna live for ever I don’t care.”

The blurb explains:

Guards’ music captures the pop sound of the late ’50s and early ’60s, but with more power and polish. It’s hard not to hear a bit of Buddy Holly’s melody and spirit — think 1958’s “Rave On” — when you hear Guards play “Silver Lining,” the first song in this Tiny Desk Concert.

I also found this factoid interesting:

I also hear a contemporary band like Cults, a band inspired by ’60s dreaminess and power pop, when I hear Guards. When I first saw this group in concert, I was struck by its physical similarity to Cults: a whole lot of long black hair, for starters, with a man and woman at the front of each band. It all made sense when I learned that Richie Follin of Guards and Madeline Follin of Cults are brother and sister, and that Richie played guitar in Cults for a bit. In fact, the first set of songs he wrote and demoed were meant for Cults.

I found all three songs to be fairly similar. I really like the guitar line of the first song, “Silver Lining” which yes, is quite Buddy Holly-esque.  I also like that the woman (no names given, sadly) is playing some kind of electronic contraption that’s generating twinkles and other effects [I see that it’s called a Qchord].

“Not Supposed To” has a similarly simple poppy melody, although it’s a little slower (switching the lead instrument from guitar to keyboards also softens the sound).  I really like the backing vocals on this song–it really flashes it out.

Richie Follin also seems really nice and cheerful and his voice is quite clean.  Before the final song he says that John needs his coffee first, and then John starts playing the opening keyboard notes of  “Coming True.”  It’s a straightforward love song, simple and pretty.

Guards are pretty much a poppier, sweeter version of Cults.  It would be a fun double bill.

[READ: June 16, 2016] Lucky Penny

Sarah brought this book home and I was instantly drawn to the art style on the cover (and the fact that it was by Oni Press).

This is the funny story of a young adult named Penny who has the worst luck imaginable.

As the book opens she gets fired. This means that she has to move out of her apartment.  Even the soda machine won’t give her a soda.

She decides to move into her roommate’s storage unit (her roommate is moving and was going to sell the unit, but it’s much cheaper too live there than to pay rent).  Even if it is against the rules.  The only things she still has to her name are a grandfather clock (what a pain to move) and her grandmother’s steamy romance novel collection (I love that she arranged it according to hotness).

Her roommate’s parents own a laundromat and Penny asks if she can get a job there.  She shows up but the only person there is her roommate’s younger brother David. And he is a cold unwelcoming figure (and he’s only 11 1/2).   He says she can’t have a job because he doesn’t like her. With some cajoling, he changes his mind and gives her the job. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 28, 2017] Pinegrove

I first heard Pinegrove on NPR and then I saw their Tiny Desk Concert.  I really liked them and when they announced that sales of their online music would send all proceeds to Planned Parenthood, I knew I had to buy their tunes.  I was also swayed by the fact that they are from Montclair, NJ, a town not to far from where I grew up.

They have been getting fairly popular as of late which I think is wonderful.  And I hope that they continue to thrive and get bigger and bigger.  So that when they are opening for someone at Madison Square Garden, I can say I saw them in a church basement with 600 other people (tickets sold out pretty quickly and I saw people were offering their first-born children for a ticket).

I have never been to a concert where the audience knew and loudly sang every word to nearly every song.  By my reckoning, everyone knew every word to every song on Cardinal, their full length debut.  There are 8 songs on it and the band played 7 of them–not in order–during their 16 song set.  In fact when they opened the show with “Old Friends” the first song on the disc, the room erupted singing along to every word.  And since it was such a small place–with particularly low ceilings–it was the loudest singalong I’ve ever heard.  Check out these clips from “Cadmium.”  It was very cool.

Even more cool was how great the band sounded.  I mentioned before how great the sound was. I want to say it sounded great for a church basement but it was great for almost any room–the band sounded big and loud and perfect.  And that’s good because Sarah and I were simply incapable of pushing our way closer to the stage. It was packed, it was 95 degrees in there and while we did buy some water bottles we were not willing to fight the crowd to get closer.  That means that I never really saw the band.  I did see singer Evan Stephens Hall a  few times, and when I held my camera up (there was literally no one behind me) I was able to see more of the band.  That plus the dark panelled room did not encourage good photos.

I was honestly surprised at how hard it was to see the stage given how small the place was, but in fact the basement was pretty long, so I guess it makes sense.

But the overall vibe was so great, it didn’t matter.  There were people in the back by us dancing, there were a few guys singing a long so loud and emphatically pumping their fists to the words.  I was shocked at how much people love this band who literally have one 30 minute album and a new collection of all their old stuff as recorded output (between the 2 discs it’s a total of 29 songs).  It was really a great experience.

And Hall mentioned a few times how unique this was and how memorable the venue was and how the band was clearly excited by how into it we were.  And I can’t help but thing the fed off of that.

For an encore, they joked that they would walk over there for about ten seconds (they had an 11 o’clock curfew and finished with a couple minutes to spare).  Hall talked about the People’s Climate March in DC that the band was going to the next day (and playing in DC that night).

And they encored with “Recycling” (how many songs mention ocelots?) and a totally crowd singing along version of “New Friends.”

I’m told that the band often hangs around and chats and takes pictures, but it was so hot we could not wait to get out of there.  And after the show we went to Shoo Fry for poutine, which was delicious.

I certainly hope they come to another local venue (they’ve been to Philly 3 times in a year).  I’d love it if it was a nice Jersey venue, mind you.  But I would absolutely see them again, hopefully in a venue where I can actually see them!


  1. Old Friends*
  2. Aphasia*
  3. Visiting*
  4. Over My Shoulder
  5. V
  6. Waveform
  7. Angelina
  8. Easy Enough
  9. Cadmium*
  10. Size of the Moon*
  11. Paterson + Leo
  12. Problems
  13. Need 2
  14. The Metronome
  15. Recycling
  16. New Friends*

*from Cardinal


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[ATTENDED: April 28, 2017] Hovvdy

I thought that I had heard of Hovvdy (that’s 2 v’s but pronounced “Howdy”), but it’s possible I was thinking of other bands with 2 Vs in their name.  But when I looked up information about this concert, I saw that a lot of people were excited to see them (and that their latest album had been reviewed (positively) by Pitchfork.

We waited in the stifling heart for them to go on–and really should have sacrificed our spot to get water (only $1/bottle a the door!).  Unlike a more “polished” show, where you know that bands will take forever in between sets, this seemed like it would be a pretty quick turn around–the band even came out right away to set up.

Although when all was said and done it was nearly 30 minutes by the time Hovvdy went on.  And boy, did I wish we had taken advantage of the First Unitarian Church’s very generous reentry policy.  Because man, was it hot.  Like unpleasantly hot.

So we stood and sweated and waited for Hovvdy (we didn’t want to give up our semi-decent spot–although truth be told, it was hard to see from just about anywhere).

When the band started I was surprised by how great it sounded.  Birdwing sounded fine, but they must not have been hooked up to the PA, because when Hovvdy’s drummer hit a drum, it was like going from mono to Dolby.

Charlie Martin and Will Taylor are the main force behind Hovvdy (not sure who is who).  They record as a duo.  Each guy sang and played guitar.  From what I can tell Hannah Read (from Lomelda) was on bass.  [Lomelda opened for the show instead of Birdwing in NYC].  And I can’t find the drummer’s name (although all reviews of the band mention that Martin and Taylor were both drummers before they started playing songs on guitar, so I’ll mention it too).

Hovvdy played a kind of noisy lo-fi rock (I see they call it pillowcore).  Both singers’ voices and musical styles were fairly different which kept the music constantly shifting. The rhythm section kept the groove nicely while the two guys (split far apart on the stage) did their thing–sometimes singing backing vocal for the other one.

I found pretty much all of their songs to be catchy–catchy enough to grab their CD on the way out (which is a bit lower key than their live show).  The CD, Taster, had apparently just been released that day (it was download-only previously).

I have no idea what their setlist was as I can;’t find it anywhere, although evidently many of the songs were from Taster.

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[ATTENDED: April 28, 2017] Birdwing

Birdwing opened the show for Hovvdy and Pinegrove.  I wasn’t familiar with their music, but I had listened to a few songs on bandcamp and I was interested to see them live.

This concert was being held at the First Unitarian Church in Philly, which I’d never been to.  I had heard a lot about this venue and the really legendary bands that have played there (usually a few years before becoming legendary).  I was under the impression that the venue’s capacity was like 100 people, but that is clearly not true.  One source suggests that it is closer to 600. So I was surprised by just how large the basement proved to be.

But the one thing that I had heard for sure was that it was hot.  And holy cow was it ever hot.

We went on a mild April evening (temp low 70s) and we arrived a few minutes before Birdwing went on.  By the time they started we were both wet from sweat.  There is virtually no air circulation (the ceiling fans may have been spinning only because of people fanning themselves). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE 1975-Tiny Desk Concert #302 (September 10, 2013).

I sort of know The 1975 but I can’t decide if I like them or not.  It seems like every song sounds different.  But I did really like this stripped down Tiny Desk Concert.

The blurb notes the distinction:

The 1975 knows its way around bigness, [with songs of full of brash-but-winsome, electronics-tinged pop-rock]. But, when asked to strip his band’s sound down to fit the intimate confines of the Tiny Desk, Healy didn’t hesitate to transform both his songs and himself. Performing solo with a guitar — he even goes fully acoustic for his two hits — he’s reborn as an earnest troubadour, while his songs now register as melancholy musings. They’re remarkably sturdy in any form, as this bit of left-field sweetness amply demonstrates.

This performance is just Matthew Healy singing and playing guitar.  And he turns these songs into little folkie ballads, with Healy’s cracking and accented voice (you can really hear his accent when he sings) making the songs sound more earning and aching.

The original of “Sex” is pretty rocking, with a middle section that strums pretty hard.  This version slows it down dramatically, making it much more poignant.

“Chocolate” is a bouncy electronic song with an angular sound, radically different from this stripped down acoustic ballad (I much prefer this version).  He introduces this song by saying “I’ve only done this twice so I apologize if I mess it up.”  I’m not sure what he means by that.  Surely he has played this song more than twice.  Anyhow, it too has a yearning quality and his whispered vocals work perfectly with his gentle playing.

He finishes that by saying “Those two songs are like our singles.  I didn’t know what else to play so this song is called “Woman.”  It’s about that prostitute… but she was lovely [chuckles from the audience] and I was far too young–so nothing happened.

He switches to a gently echoed electric guitar.  It doesn’t vary too much from the original–a plaintive yearning song about sex.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Sex Criminals Volume 3

Book three of the series seems to have polarized some readers.  There’s not a lot of plot advancement,which upsets many, and there’s a lot of meta-jokes which also upsets many.  Of course, I really like that sort of thing and happen to think that this book was outstanding.  So pffft.

The book opens with someone we’ve never seen before.  He takes care of his mom, he works in an old folks home.  He’s a pretty decent guy.  But he has a secret.  It’s related to the whole time-stoppage thing (although it proves to be a bit different).

And there’s a few amusing panels.  Like when Matt states that Chip would being drawing all kinds of funny Pan-Asian jokes in the Pan-Asian supermarket.  The panels would be full of double entendre puns.  But rather than making him do all of that hard work, we’ll jut have to imagine them. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN-Tiny Desk Concert #323 (December 2, 2013).

I always think that The Dismemberment Plan is a loud punk band (understandably with that name).  But this Tiny Desk Concert sees the band with acoustic guitar, keyboards and brushes on the drums.  What I didn’t realize was that the band had broken up and reunited and had made a new album in 2013:

When the newly re-formed band finally did make its way to our offices — on the heels of Uncanney Valley, its first album in 12 years — it unsurprisingly made for an odd fit.  According to the group, these particular arrangements of songs from Uncanney Valley were sorted out just a day before this Tiny Desk Concert.

“Let’s Just Go To The Dogs Tonight” is a fun bouncy song full of mildly amusing wordplay and naughtiness.  There’s a call and response section: “when I say ‘Outta’ you say ‘Luck’ and when I say ‘Cluster you’ say ‘Fuck'” (singer Travis Morrison flubbed the call-and-response portion of “Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight,” he professed nervousness at making the NPR staff holler F-bombs. (No one seemed to mind)).   I like the simplicity of the guitar chords, but I really like the fun bass line–not funky exactly, but just meandering around in a really tuneful way.

“Lookin'” is a slow ballad with a simple guitar melody.  It’s a plaintive song that’s lightened by a bouncy bass line and some cool synth sounds near the end.

For the final song, “Daddy was a Real Good Dancer,” Morrison switches to keys and the keyboardist switches to guitar.  They say that the guitar is brand new for the show–“we went to Guitar Center for you guys.”  Bob says they need to break a string to break it in.  This song is lighthearted and a bit goofy, about a dad who used to dance until he had him.  Once again, the bass line really makes the song (and the drums are pretty great, too.

It’s a lighthearted and fun concert–surprisingly so for a band with dismember in their name.

[READ: June 6, 2016] Sex Criminals Volume 2

I really enjoyed Volume One of this series.  I was shocked to see that it had been almost two years since I’d read it.  And I was thrilled to see Volume 2 in the library.

The only problem with Volume 2 is that it assumes you have just finished volume 1, so there’s no playing catch up if you read it two years ago.

Especially since Book 6 opens with Suzie saying “So I’ve been digging in to pull off a fundraiser to make up the difference and keep the place open, so uh… The end?”  But of course it is not the end.  And when Jon tells us that things aren’t over, he pulls down his pants to show that he has nothing there–he’s like a Ken doll.  What happened?  In book 1 these two were going at it like rabbits.

It turns out that the Sex Police had a kind of tracking device–a Cumpass–that monitored everyone who had an orgasm and entered The Quiet (see book 1 review to figure out what the hell I’m talking about).  Things get really stressed out for Jon over the next few days and he begins seeing symptoms of something–which he looks up online and decides is canceraids (it isn’t). (more…)

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