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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AGNES OBEL-Tiny Desk Concert #598  (February 15, 2017).

Agnes Obel recently played a show near me, but it wasn’t until after I watched this show that I realized I should have gone to see her.

Agnes Obel, a Danish singer and writer of deeply alluring music, brought her work into what you could call its opposite — an office in the daylight. While the setting is a bit contrary to her carefully plotted, vocally dense songs, she mapped out a strategy which included her own reverb and monitor mix in the (successful, I think) hope of giving the Tiny Desk an aesthetic more suitable to these focused and powerful songs.

Obel plays three songs from Citizen of Glass alongside her band, keeping it sonically spare.  “It’s Happening Again” opens with fairly standard-sounding piano chords.  Then Obel’s voice kicks in and it’s unique–not weird, but with a cool almost detached delivery.  Accompanying her is a cellist and keyboardist.  They each sing backing vocals (along with a third backing vocalist).  When they all sing together, it is magical–sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful.  The song builds to the end with all of the strings growing louder as the cello plays some wild, sliding sounds.  It is quite striking.

For “Golden Green,” the cellist switches to percussion (which is a kind of clacky ball that she throws in the air).  The main melody comes from the mellotron.  Once again when the backing vocalists kick, in everything is magical, especially the way the final note ends with a dramatic rise in pitch from all of the singers.

On “Stone,” the mellotron player switches to (electric) ukulele.  The melody comes from the uke and it is quite quiet until the chord when the cello and keyboard adds some deep bass notes that seem to overwhelm the room–quite dramatic and quite lovely.

[READ: December 1, 2016] Bandette Volume Three

Bandette Volume Three is just as much fun as books one and two.  It opens with Bandette getting shot at as she gives her little dog Pimento an important note for Daniel.  Daniel calls her and she proceeds to tell him about an upcoming heist (while she is still being shot at).  She says that there is a fabulous emerald on display.  An emerald that was once owned by Madame Presto: fabulist, mesmerist, woman of impudent morals.

And later that night (after she easily dispatches the bad guys) she goes to that special event and steals… a film about Madame Presto.

The next night several people (and a dog) are hit with sleeping darts from a new villain–Dart Petite. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DANA FALCONBERRY-Tiny Desk Concert #292 (July 29, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert introduced me to Dana Falconberry:

Dana Falconberry’s songs are gentle, almost invariably delicate, sometimes mysterious and frequently feather-light. But her music’s sweet, intricate softness never stands in for strength: This is a confident songwriter, whether she’s ambling through six- and seven-minute epics (“Leelanau,” “Dolomite”) or chirping sweetly in the bouncy “Crooked River.”

The compositions on Falconberry’s most recent album, last year’s Leelanau, are sturdy enough to be stripped down for a space like Bob Boilen’s desk at the NPR Music offices. But each benefits immeasurably from the broad assortment of lovely flourishes she re-creates here with the help of five instrument-swapping backing players. What makes Falconberry stand out in a crowded field of singer-songwriters is her music’s unfailing impeccability, and this Tiny Desk Concert finds her and her crack band hitting every immaculately crafted mark.

I tend to agree with the blurbs, but this one really is spot on: delicate, impeccable, sturdy.  These are words I would absolutely use to describe these songs.  I would also use fantastical–not suggesting that there might be fairies floating around during these songs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one made an appearance.

“Dolomite” is a beautiful 7 minute song with many different sections.  Falconberry’s delicate (but not wimpy, it must be said) voice works perfectly with the capoed guitar she’s playing.  After the first verse, she’s joined by a cello, banjo and backing vocals, and the song builds.  Then after almost 2 minutes the bass and drums jump in and the song, while staying basically the same, gets a whole new feel (the bassline is staccato and unexpected while everything else is so smooth).  At around 3 and a half minutes the keyboards start adding these pretty little runs that make the song seem even more magical.  The middle of the song has the three female singers rotating through a  series of oohs and ahs as they make a cool-sounding fugue.

For “Crooked River,” the bassist switches to melodica.  Once again there’s a great sequence where each of the female singers sings one note in a very complex melody–it’s quite enchanting.  The cello is plucked giving the whole song a very different feel from the first.

Before the final song Bob asks if she has had any desk jobs.  She says she has had her fair share.  “I currently have a desk job…I hope. We’ll see when I get home.”

For Leelanau, the keyboardist switches to accordion, and there is prominent banjo and delicate melodica.  The verse is really quite catchy, and after the verse there is a gently rocking section where everyone joins together–it bursts forth in contrast to the rest.  It is repeated a few times throughout the song, and each one is more fun than the previous.  The middle has a kind of slow break down with the cello scratching and the melodica and accordion sounding like they are running out of breath.  Dana even hit’s Bob’s gong.  The accordion is even “breathing” without making a musical note.  The song returns to that super catchy verse and jam section and just as you think its going to fade to an end, there’s very cool chime that echoes and then a huge buildup to the conclusion.

I was so entranced by Falconberry’s music that I need to hear more of it.

[READ: September 19, 2016] Bandette 2

Two years ago I wrote about Bandette Volume 1: “The book was very exciting and sweetly charming as well.  I’m looking forward to Volume 2.”  And I waited and waited for it to come out.  I even saw Vol 1 the other day and wondered when we’d get volume 2.  Well, apparently this has been out since 2015, but the library just acquired it.  So I’m happy to say it’s not my fault it took two years for me to get around to reading it.

Even though I didn’t exactly remember how book 1 had ended, Tobin & Coover added a helpful “Previously” section to get us caught up.

The wit and charm of the first book is back in spades. Bandette continues to be seemingly immune to the world around her–she says what she wants and does what she wants and no resistance will get in her way–whether it is verbal sparring or her uncanny gravity-defying stunts.  Her love of chocolate remains as well, of course.  And the tone retains that agelessness.  It feels like this book could have been written in the 1950s but for the cell phones and scooters.

Chapter One reminds us that Bandette is a civilizan as well  She has dark hair and a love of pastries–she even gives the bakery owner priceless urn (from where) as payment for the delicious sweets. (more…)

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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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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: LET’S EAT GRANDMA-“Deep Six Textbook” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 16, 2017).

Let’s Eat Grandma is a duo consisting of two girls from England–Jenny Hollingworth (17) and Rosa Walton (16).  I love that they took their name from the grammar joke about removing a comma.  But the somewhat sinister reality of the name is representative of the somewhat sinister tone of their pop songs.

Not all South X Lullaby venues are worth describing, but this one sure it.  It takes place in an airstream trailer. The setting is wonderful–all wood-paneled and streamlined. And it seems to make the sound echo perfectly.

The song begins with an electric drum–much louder than one might imagine–and then the girls do a little hand clapping game before the music starts.

Rosa on the keys has really long hair.  She sings lead and has an incredible, unique voice–a heavy accent and a menacing but childlike delivery.  Jenny sings occasional lines (they intertwine very nicely).  When the verses end, the chord change is fairly dramatic before it returns to this pretty and slightly creepy melody.

After 3 and a half minutes Jenny pulls out a saxophone and plays a short, weird muffled solo.  And then the song continues on to the end. It is utterly mesmerizing and as fascinating as the duo are.  I’m really excited to explore more of their music.

[READ: January 27, 2017] Cleopatra in Spaaaace!

While looking up Book 3 on Goodreads I saw this book called Cleopatra in Space Book .5 (that’s point five).  It is the original webcomic that inspired the series.  if you’re thinking about reading it, I’d wait until after Book 3 of the graphic novel.  You’ll see why.

Maichak introduces us to the series by saying he wrote it from August 2009 to October 2012 and that it ends abruptly because he began working on the graphic novels.

These pages will never appear in printed form because while they are the basis for the comic, they are a little different and, as he says, they are aimed at a slightly older audience.  But most of the elements are in place like Khensu The Space Kitty, the humor, the pacing and the great hieroglyphics that the aliens speak.  She’s even got her Sphinx space scooter.  Although Cleopatra herself is a bit older (and sexier). (more…)

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