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Archive for the ‘Aliens’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAKHABRAKHA-“Kolyskova” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2017).

I loved DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful.  And so the performers came to SXSW and did a lullaby.  And as the blurb says, they brought their “cello, keyboard, accordion – and tall, wool hats! — to the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel.”

This lullaby of “Kolyskova” quiets things down a bit.  The song opens with simple keyboard notes.  One of the women sings, and when they reach the end of the verse, the male accordionist sings a falsetto that matches the women’s tone.  The woman on drums makes a strange sound–like a baby crying or animal yelping.

Then he winds up singing lead on the second verse in that falsetto with the women singing backing vocals.  Then the cello and drums kick in to build the sound.   The third verse is sung by the cellist as the keys play a pretty melody.

The song is upbeat with lots of bouncy vocals, even though the lyrics seem rather dark.  ‘The band only ever calls it “Lullaby.” It’s a quiet, contemplative song that the band says is a “connecting of several lullabies” with “philosophical lyrics that [say] we have time for everything — time to laugh and cry, time to live and die.’

I love at the very end as the song slows down to just the keyboardist singing because the drummer adds a very cool breathing as a kind of percussion accompaniment.  And then as the camera pulls back the two attack the keyboard making a cacophony of fun notes.  I bet they’re a lot of fun live.

[READ: June 2 2016] Explorer: The Hidden Doors

This is the third (and I assume final) in a series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

I really enjoyed the first one a lot and was pretty excited to read the rest. As with the other two I was delighted by the authors involved and the quality of these stories.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This book revolves around the theme of “hidden doors.”  I like the way each author takes a concept that seems like it would be pretty standard and turns their stories into things that are very different indeed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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 socks kronosSOUNDTRACK: KRONOS QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #322 (November 25, 2013).

2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet.  I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.”  And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.

I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).

Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).

They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky.  In other words, typical Kronos.

For more info:

The musicians —  David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.

Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.

“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”

I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members.  There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest.  The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads.  But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques.  In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.

Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes.  The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and  half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.

“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola.  “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.”  It is slow and moody and beautiful.

Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.

“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”

There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound.  While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together.  In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.

I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.

[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks

I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books.  And this just adds another layer of confusion.  This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007.  The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well.   But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.

The book also leaves some of the strips out.  It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip.  Weird.

So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).

I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.

And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)

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sardine6SOUNDTRACK0 Tonne Seize [CST bonus] (2016).

tonne0 Tonne Seize is a bonus compilation of three tracks each from Off World, Automatiste and Jason Sharp.  The collection is 41 minutes of music (not too shabby) and came with a pre-order of the three records (and is available on Soundcloud as well).

The first three songs are by Off World and the first two of those are remixes.  The original “Wonder Farm” is dominated by popping drum sounds.  There are some other sounds that go through the track but the base is mostly a kind of slow Asian melody.  The “Wonder Farm (Summer Crop)” mix removes those snaps and percussion entirely.  It focuses just on the music, which I have to say is far more enjoyable without the bangs.  “Primitive Streak” is a slow droning piece, while this compilation’s “Primitive Streak (Silver Mix)” doesn’t sound all that different.  It also removes the drums, and highlights the squeaky synth sounds and the overall drone tone.  It seems to emphasize and de-emphasize different instruments but otherwise sounds pretty similar. The final track  “Lost Meadow” is a pretty, delicate piano based piece with some twinkling of spacey synth notes.  It’s easily the prettiest piece.

The three Automatiste tracks do not quite follow the same naming convention as the actual disc, although the first track is called “Simultanéité 5.” It has slow beats and is basically two-note washes building on top of each other.  “Fragments continus” is a noisy piece with layered thudding drums (like heartbeats especially around the 1 minute mark) and drone noises that wash in and out.   About half way through what sounds like a melody appears amid the din, but it feels like it formed organically around the synths and drums which is pretty cool.   “Le Silence 3” opens with some jackhammer sounding drums and then almost easy listening synths.  The juxtaposition is interesting and by the end the song feels nicely dancey.

The final three songs are from Jason Sharp.  These three are quite different from his album because they really feature the saxophone to a larger degree.  “Plummeting Veins” opens with a heartbeat and some rumbling sax (that sounds like the opening of the Speed Racer TV show).   This track is under 2 minutes, the shortest he’s done by far, and the way the heartbeat speeds up as the sax plays some low rumbling notes is pretty cool. “Hear a Fading Cry” is a much longer number.  The heartbeat is quieter but the sax is much louder.  It sounds a lot like Colin Stetson in the low rumbling and noisy barking that the bass sax can produce.  It ends with some rather high-pitched squeaky sounds that I assume come from the sax, but which I can’t imagine coming from such a bass instrument.  It’s 7 minutes long although it takes almost 2 minutes to really get going.  And it swerves between loud and rumbling and then sort of menacing by the end,  “Ride On Into the Sweetening Dark” is perhaps the most conventional of Sharp’s songs.  It is a series of sax solo lines over a gentle tinkling backing drone.  Some of the solos lead to noisy wailing, but for the most part the line are pretty and jazzy.

It’s interesting how different these bonus tracks tend to be from the actual releases.  I enjoyed listening to these variants to see what else these artists are capable of.

[READ: April 9, 2016] Sardine in Outer Space 6

Sardine is a children’s book published by First Second.  It was originally published in France (and in French) and was translated by Sasha Watson.  There are six Sardine books out.

The inner flap says “No Grownups Allowed (Unless they’re pirates or space adventurers).”  This is the final Sardine book.  And while I didn’t enjoy the first book much, by now I’m sorry to see the series end.

This book also has the fewest stories in it (only 9). (more…)

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sardine5SOUNDTRACK: JASON SHARP-A Boat Upon Its Blood [CST119] (2016).

Layout 1Constellation records had been rather quiet this year in terms of new releases.  And then back in August they announced three new discs with this intriguing blurb:

Constellation’s three new fall releases by Off World, Automatisme and Jason Sharp are dropping on September 30th…  These new releases are wildly different yet satisfyingly leftfield albums that share an electric thread of sorts.  Electronic music strategies, technologies, histories and sensibilities come into play, in very diverse ways, with each of these debut records – making them stand out a little differently in the context of the Constellation catalogue perhaps, but also informing one another and making a lot of sense to our ears as an album trio (somewhat in the spirit of our Musique Fragile series).

This is the third of those three.

Jason Sharp has written this disc as “music written for amplified heart & breath,” and Sharp is credited with “playing” amplified heart, feedback, synthesizers and bass saxophone.  Other instruments listed are Pedal Steel Guitar, Violin and various percussive instruments.

From the Constellation site: “Using custom-built equipment to translate breath and heart rate into variegated sonic triggers, along with other modes of signal processing and in tandem with traditional instrumentation…[the album] deploys the human metronome of amplified pulse as a recurring undercurrent, with compositions that incorporate electro-acoustic and musique concrète strategies, drone, noise, electronics, methodical dissonance, tone poem, layered rhythmic and melodic figures, and improvisation.”

The disc opens with a trio of songs: “A Boat Upon Its Blood Pt.s 1, 2 & 3”  Part 1 begins with some quiet drones and pulses and what sounds (if you think about it) like water running through pipes or blood through veins.  It also like plectrum hitting strings or a musical rain stick.  The songs build in intensity until a pulse that sounds a lot like a heart beat (which it should) ends the track. This heart beat segues into Part 2 which is dominated by violins.  The violins seem to alternate between drones and dissonance with the pulses seeming to beat a bit faster in parts.  As this track ends, a martial beat takes over the drums, and that segues into Part 3 which has more drone sounds.   About midway through, new percussive sounds come in, changing the tone of the piece entirely.

Track 4 is “In the construction of the chest, there is a heart” is the most interesting of the bunch.  It has what I assume are several different heart beat sounds modified to create different percussion under various droning sounds. It really exemplifies the “heartbeat” aspect of the piece, which I thought would be more prominent in the disc overall.  The second half of the song is full of swishes and scratchy sounds which I certainly hope are the sounds of his blood pulsing through his veins.

“A blast at best” is a noise piece which sounds almost like the heart beats have been put through an autotune.  Midway through the song comes the bass sax playing some farting and pulsing sounds that add an interesting  melody to the sloshy noises.

Tracks 6 and 7 are another multi-part song “Still I sit
with you inside me Parts 1 and 2.”  Part 1 opens with a much more pleasant, albeit somber violin.  Slowly the heartbeats grow louder and more prominent.  The pulses increase and decrease although not necessarily with the intensity of the music.  The violins swirl and ebb, growing louder and more intense and then fading and seguing into the last track which opens with pretty guitars and accompanying violin.  About halfway through the song, the heartbeat resumes.  It come pulsing into the song louder and louder, dominating the whole thing.  And then with a few seconds left it builds a wall of feedback and noise that gives way to a cathartic echo.

This would be another string candidate for NPR’s Echoes.  Have you heard this, John Diliberto?

The disc notes that the piece was inspired by the Robert Creeley poem, “The Heart,” which I have included at the end of the post.

[READ: April 9, 2016] Sardine in Outer Space 5

Sardine is a children’s book published by First Second.  It was originally published in France (and in French) and was translated by Sasha Watson.  There are six Sardine books out.

The inner flap says “No Grownups Allowed (Unless they’re pirates or space adventurers).”  For the first time, Sardine was created without the help of Joann Sfar.  And I found this one to be my favorite one yet!

It seems like Sardine has really hits its stride with Book 5.  The author is having a ton of fun playing around with pop culture and with the idea that the characters know that there are books about them. It’s still a little weird that Supermuscleman is really the only bad guy and that he is always coincidentally where they show up, but that’s clearly not the point of the comic, right? (more…)

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sardine4 SOUNDTRACK: AUTOMATISME-Momentform Accumulations [CST118] (2016).

Layout 1Constellation records had been rather quiet this year in terms of new releases.  And then back in August they announced three new discs with this intriguing blurb:

Constellation’s three new fall releases by Off World, Automatisme and Jason Sharp are dropping on September 30th…  These new releases are wildly different yet satisfyingly leftfield albums that share an electric thread of sorts.  Electronic music strategies, technologies, histories and sensibilities come into play, in very diverse ways, with each of these debut records – making them stand out a little differently in the context of the Constellation catalogue perhaps, but also informing one another and making a lot of sense to our ears as an album trio (somewhat in the spirit of our Musique Fragile series).

This is the second of those three.

From the Constellation site: “Automatisme is the electronic music project of Quebec-based producer William Jourdain, who has been self-releasing a brilliant series of albums and tracks under this moniker since 2013, exploring various intersections of drone, dub techno, electronica, ambient, electro-acoustic, and noise.”

This album is, indeed, very drone, dub techno, electronica, ambient, electro-acoustic, and noise.  There are six tracks: Transport 1, 2, and 3 and Simultanéité 3, 1, and 4.  The Transport tracks are all about 5 minutes and the Simultanéité tracks are all about 9 and they are interfiled on the record.

“Transport 1” seems to be all about the thumping drums. The synth lines are fairly simple and serve to propel the song along as almost an ambient dance track.  “Simultanéité 3” opens with some mechanical drone sounds and a beeping almost like a heart monitor.  The beeps change and then a new drum beat is added while fiddling synths tickle along the top of the song.  Things slow down and speed up and the track reminds me a lot of something you’d heard on NPRs awesome Echoes program.

“Transport 2” is more about drums. There are several different percussion themes going on–fat repeated drums, the main steady beat and then some low synth that runs through pretty much the whole thing.  “Simultanéité 1” is a drone song with a drum sound that is like a heart beat.  About a minute in the note changes and 30 second later the song takes on a different texture and pulse.  It remains largely ambient for most of the song.

“Transport 3” has more percussive sounds that make this track much faster than the others. The final track “Simultanéité 4” has what sounds like voices (although I assume they are not) echoing underneath the slow pulsing rhythms.

While the track listing alternates between drum heavy tracks and more mellow tracks, the whole disc has a very chill vibe.

[READ: December 5, 2014] Sardine in Outer Space 4

Sardine is a children’s book published by First Second.  It was originally published in France (and in French) and was translated by Sasha Watson.  There are six Sardine books out.

This time the inner flap says “No Grownups Allowed (Unless they’re pirates or space adventurers),” and this book had some of my favorite cartoons yet.

“Under the Bed” has the kids getting lost under Little Louie’s bed and finding all the monsters that hide there.  But Sardine’s adventures are so scary that the monsters don’t stand a chance trying to frighten him–they’re even a little afraid of Sardine, too.  Of course the kids have someone who they can go frighten. (more…)

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