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Archive for the ‘Airlines’ Category

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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

I don’t really know all that much about John Paul White, except that he was in the fabulous duo The Civil Wars, and that he writes intelligent but downbeat folk music.

For indeed, his songs are not cheery by any stretch.  But they are very pretty.

I know the first song, “Black Leaf,” from his Tiny Desk Concert.  I loved it then and I love it now. After the song, he asks, “How are you?  Are you well?  You should be well.  No one should be complaining, least of all me in this black suit.”

And, despite his tone, he is not above making jokes with his audience.  Like when he introduces the second song, “Martyr,” he says, “We’ll be doing  while lot of death metal covers. I figured this would be the place. This song is by a band called Sepultura.”  [Nervous titters from the crowd before he starts playing a pretty JPW song that sounds not unlike a contemporary Barenaked Ladies song, especially his delivery of it].

“The Once and Future Queen,” is a slow, quiet song with a big chorus full of pretty harmonies.  When it ends, he says:

I guess it’s probably my duty to warn you….  You came to a folk festival so you probably weren’t looking for happy songs anyway…  If you came to this set looking to be cheered up, you’re screwed.  Let’s get that out of the way.

I loved “Hate the Way You Love Me,” during the Tiny Desk Concert, but when the backing singers accompany him on the chorus and the gorgeous fiddle from Kelli Jones fills the song, it’s really wonderful.

He jokes, “Glad you’re enjoying the death metal.  I didn’t think it would go over as well as it has.”  But he then plays “Fight for You,” a fairly rocking song–with some rocking distortion on his guitar and a snarl in his voice (and a pretty heavy chorus).

I tend to think of JPW as kind of a mellow singer with a great voice, but he really lets loose in the middle of “Hope I Die.”  In addition to a really powerful singing section, there’s a pretty wild solo going on (violin or guitar or both).  He introduces Adam Morrow over here on the guitar, so I assume he had something to do with it.

He says, “I’m not gonna pretend that all of you have any idea who I am.” [cheers]  He jokes, “That’s called fishing for a compliment.”  But he continues,

To those of you who do I apologize.  It’s been awhile.  it took a lot to get me out of the house.  I was incredibly happy sleeping in my bed and going to dance recitals and football games and the lot. And then these melodies started coming back in my head.  And if I gave into it I’d be back out here doing this.  I and I didn’t want that at all.  No.  No offense, but I didn’t want of see any of your faces.  But once I wrote these songs I wondered if people would connect with them…  and I still doesn’t know why I did that.  So thank you.

In introducing the slow ballad “I’ve Been Over This Before,” he says “This is one of the first songs that came to me. I was obviously listening to a lot of old country music, because that’s where it all starts for me.”

He continues, “I promise you I won’t bore you with song meanings because most of the time I have no idea what they mean most of the time.  But this one is personal for me.”  He says “Simple Song” is indicative of the folk spirit of telling stories and passing them down to further generations.

This came from my grandmother.  When my grandfather passed away he was battling many demons that everyone was having to battle alongside him.  She was raising 14 kids because of those demons.  So… I thought he was perfect, I though that he was always happy, but that was not true and when he passes away, she didn’t cry.  I asked her why  and she said ‘I cried so much for your grandfather when he was on this earth, there’s no way I’m gonna cry for him now that he’s better off.’  And so I thought, ‘Number 1, I want to punch you  in the face.  And then 2 much later in life, that that is a song waiting to happen.’  So this will also cheer you up.

The song and sentiment are beautiful with plaintive lap steel guitar: “I will remember I will remember I will remember you… but I will cry for you no more.”

He continues, “So it’s said that festival crowds… this quiet does not happen.  This is beautiful I really do appreciate it.  I’m a very dynamic performer and I need this kind of environment so…  Festivals scare the shit out of me.  I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  This is an unbelievable atmosphere to play in.

before the final song, the rocking “What’s So,” which I also know from Tiny Desk, he says “This is the first time Newport for all of my band so they’re geeking out pretty hard.”  In addition to Jones and Morrow, there’s Reed Watson on drums and Matt Green on bass.

“I need more band members so I have time to tune.”

“What’s So” has an aching descending chorus line that is just terrific.

I really like John Paul White’s music and I’d love to see him live in a quiet sit down club..

[READ: June 24, 2017] “It’s a Summer Day”

I know Andrew Sean Greer from a few McSweeney’s books.

This was a simple story but told in a really cool style.  It concerns Arthur Less, a writer, who has been called to an international conference where he is in the running to win a prize.  But the prize is minor and no one–not he nor his agent–thinks he has a chance.  In fact, the only reason he went was to get out of going to a wedding of an old flame, Freddy.

Freddy had once given him advice about international flights: “They serve you dinner, you take your sleeping pill, they serve you breakfast, you’re there.”

I love the narrator’s voice in this story.

He had been to Italy before. Once when he was 12.  And the second time with Robert Brownburn (Yes, that Robert Brownburn, the famous poet).  They had been dating for a while and were at a good point in their relationship.

He did as instructed with the pills, but woke up in the middle of the night–only two hours having passed!  He takes out another pill and then it’s time for breakfast.  He is in a fog and the first few pages are an amusing comedy of him possibly going the wrong way.  He barely makes his local flight (and is shocked to see ashtrays in the airplane seats–charming or frightening?) And then… was it a mistake to get in the car marked for Sr. Ess?  The driver speaks no English and it sure looks like he is heading in the wrong direction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MVULA-Tiny Desk Concert #284 (July 1, 2013).

I don’t know Mvula’s music (I know her because her name is unmistakable and I feel surprised that her debut came out only 4 years ago).  The blurb talks about her big powerhouse soulful pop.  But that is not in evidence here at all.  As they say:

with the help of a small string section, she forgoes some of her flashier songs (“Like the Morning Dew,” “Green Garden”) in favor of Sing to the Moon‘s most brooding ballads.

“Father, Father” is almost entirely her singing and playing a very spare keyboard–with just a few seconds of string help near the end.  Her voice is quite lovely in what is practically an a cappella setting.

She introduces the second song by saying: “If we had the bigger band we’d do the more upbeat things.  I usually write in six-part harmony.  But it’s just the three of us so I’m going to do another more intimate one called ‘Diamonds.'”  There’s more strings on this song, which add to the song (the keyboard is quite thin, I fear).

The set ends with “She,” a song with a bit more complex keyboard parts which I rather like.  This song is my favorite, probably because it sounds the fullest.

The whole set is a little too mellow for my tastes, but I am curious to hear what her big poppy six-part-harmony songs sound like!

[READ: April 21, 2016] The Right Here Right Now Thing

I found this graphic novel at work. What was so funny about it is that the title is in English but the publisher is German.  I flipped through the book and saw the English dialogue so I decided to read it.  Imagine my surprise then that the first few and the last few pages are in German!

Google Translate is a good thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do as well with idiom and vulgar phrases, and there are a few in this book.  But I got the gist.

Plus, quite a lot of it is wordless, too.

The story begins with hands putting drugs (I assume cocaine and pot from later sections) into a condom.  And then we see our heroine on the toilet…doing something.  Her plane ticket says Frankfurt-Krakau.  She says goodbye to the guy lying in bed and she heads to the airport. (more…)

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sky  SOUNDTRACK: MITSKI-Tiny Desk Concert #467 (August 31, 2015).

mitskSome recent Tiny Desk Concerts have been running long, but Mitski Miyawaki plays 3 songs in 8 minutes.

Her songs are simple—three chords at most.   And she is unaccompanied here (her recorded versions are much more fleshed out)–just her voice and her electric guitar.  But it’s the intensity of her lyrics and her delivery that really dominate the show.

“Townie” is the most rocking song  The way her voice rises and almost breaks as she sings “I’ve tried sharing and I’ve tried caring and I’ve tried putting out” is really heartbreaking.  And the follow-up “but the boys keep coming on for more, more, more.” It’s all of 2 minute long but it packs a punch.

“Class of 2013”  is almost a capella.  She plays a chord and lets it fade away while she sings.

Mom, am I still young? / Can I dream for a few months more? / Mom is it alright if I stay for a year or two…and I’ll leave once I can figure out how to pay for my own life too.

Interestingly, se plays an open-stringed guitar (it must be a special tuning).  One loud chord that rings and fades.  Even in the most unsettling moment, when she plays a chord and then screams the lyrics into the pick-up of her guitar–giving it a far-away and tinny quality as the chord echoes to a close.

The final song “Last Words Of A Shooting Star” has some simple opens string finger picking (again, must be an alternate tuning).  As she sings quietly she seems to be exposing every ounce of herself.

One would be concerned for her psyche and yet she seems pretty happy and smiling when the show is over.

[READ: October 19, 2016] Understanding the Sky

This book is a long-format version of a short article/essay/something-else-entirely that was published in Afar in 2015.

This book reminds me of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s This is Water in that it is a brief essay/story spread out over hundreds of pages.  Most often with one line per page.  The difference between this and Water is that Water felt like a weird cash grab and this feels like a chance to show off more of Egger’s photos (there are not many in the article).

There is a photo on each page–most often with text–but sometimes without.  And it works rather well.

The narrative is structured as a dialogue–each “person” is on a facing page, so the right page answers the left page.  And it is done in a kind of removed third person.  Thus it begins: “Who is this man?”  “He wants to fly.”  In this opening section the pictures are presented very thin–less than an inch wide in total but stretching from top to bottom of page in the center of the spread. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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sept2015SOUNDTRACK: RIVER WHYLESS-Tiny Desk Concert #501 (January 19, 2016).

whylessRiver Whyless is an interesting band, at least during this Tiny Desk Concert.  They have several singers, different instruments and a whole bunch of interesting percussion on hand–including a typewriter!

The band has one EP out, from which the first song “Life Crisis” comes.  The female singer (none of the players’ names are given) says that this was their tiny desk submission.

On this song the male singer (actually everyone sings) plays typewriter and presents his typed document at the end of the show–although the audience never gets to see it–I imagine it’s gibberish, but it would be amazing if it wasn’t).  The female singer plays a violin solo in the middle of the song (which was unexpected since she doesn’t have it as the song opens).

Under the typewriter is a pump for a harmonium which has an accidental vibrato on it.  Shes says that one day it started doing that and they love it and hope it never fixes itself.

The other two songs are new–not on their EP from last year.  “Sailing Away” starts with violin and harmonium.  There’s also a guitarist who sings leads and a percussionist (who has all manner of gadgets and drums and mallets around him).  The harmonium player/typist also plays a melody on the toy piano.  All of these items may seem like novelties or goofs, but their songs are quite lovely and these little accents just add to the overall feel.

“Baby Brother” opens with a buzzy acoustic guitar and a whole landscape of percussion.  And this time the harmonium player switches to guitar while he sings lead (everyone sings lovely harmonies by the way).

I love everything about this band…except their songs.  All three songs are quite nice, and while I’m listening to them I certainly enjoy them, but they are really not that memorable.  There’s no hooks in them.  Despite the fact that all of their accouterments are not really gimmicks, those are the things I will remember most about River Whyless.

[READ: January 18, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 4”

This is the final part of the 4 part essay.  A series like this is bound to be anticlimactic because presumably if his solo didn’t go well, he’d be dead.  And if he didn’t do the solo, there likely wouldn’t be a part 4 (unless he talked about chickening out instead).

But Ferris takes an interesting tact for this end section.

He opens the essay by explaining that he was commissioned by Popular Mechanics to write this essay.  This makes sense but is something  hadn’t thought about–they asked him to do it.

He says that he was full of anxiety the entire time–which we knew he would be.  He was terrified to fly–a wobbly commercial airplane takeoff would totally freak him out.  Plus, being a writer, he had an overactive imagination. (more…)

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