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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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SOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-“Astral Plane” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 15, 2017).

I have been hearing a lot about Valerie June lately, but I actually didn’t know her music before this lullaby.

For this song it is just her and her guitar sitting on a wall underneath some fairy lights.  “Astral Plane” is a 3/4 time song (with a kind of plucked strumming) .  The melody is simple and comforting, call it “a softly swaying, country-tinged soul song.”  But I  feel like it’s her voice that stands out.

Her voice is unique, and based on it I have no idea where she is from.  It sounds accented but also almost cartoony.  But there’s nothing funny about this song–it’s a pretty song about dancing on the astral lane.  I found that I didn’t really like her voice at first, but it slowly grew on me.  And I find myself somewhat addicted to this song now.  Must hear more.

[READ: January 28, 2017] Cleopatra in Space Book Three

I ended the previous review by saying I couldn’t believe I had to wait forever to read the next book.  And here it is almost a year later and book three is out.

As with the previous books in this series there is a lot of action–a lot of fighting sequences.  But Maihack once again does a great job in keeping the action easy to follow even while lasers and knives are zapping all over the place.

As the story opens, we see Cleo’s ship surrounded by Octavian and a massive Xerx fleet.  Cleo’s team is obviously afraid but we hear Octavian tell his crew that he wants everyone on Cleo’s ship alive.  Unfortunately for Cleo, Zaid, a rather impulsive youth has joined them and fires on one of the ship’s lasers.  This causes all kinds of chaos and a chase sequence. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJEALOUS OF THE BIRDS-“Goji Berry Sunset” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 14, 2017).

Jealous of the Birds is, I believe, just the two women in this video.  This song is a beautiful, short, sweet song.  Naomi Hamilton, a singer from Northern Ireland sings (and whistles) and plays the guitar while backing singer Hannah McConnell sings the deadpan-ish lines in the response two the lead vocals.  But when the chorus comes in their harmonies elevate the song just a little higher.

This video was filmed under a soft, glowing light installation. The Amsterdam-based audiovisual design studio Circus Family conceived TRIPH as an immersive experience — as people enter the room, the lights change color, and as people leave, it falls to sleep.

So, while the song is lovely, it’s really satisfying to watch this video as the colors change and the camera moves all around.  And the sound is great, too.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Cleopatra in Space Book Two

I really enjoyed book one of this series a lot.  So I was delighted to see that Book Two had come out.  I brought it home and Clark enjoyed it and so did I.  Tabitha enjoyed it too.  So much so, that I brought home book one for her to read so she could get all caught up.

This book follows the day after the previous book ends.

The only problem I had with the book is one that I tend to have with action  stories.  The first chapter was almost entirely action/fighting.  Typically I find this sort of plot development hard to follow and unsatisfying. Fortunately, Maihack has an excellent artistic style and very clean lines and coloring, so there was nothing confusing about the action at all.  But I had enjoyed the dialogue in the first book so much that I wished there was more in this one. (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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dragonpunchjohnny SOUNDTRACK: PEDRO SOLER AND GASPAR CLAUS-Tiny Desk Concert #216 (May 14, 2012).

edrogasparPedro Soler and Gaspar Claus are father and son.

Soler plays a delicate, intimate version of flamenco guitar, while his son turns the cello into an exquisitely expressive voice.

I feel like the two could not play any differently and yet their styles meld to create some beautiful music.  The blurb continues:

Though 45 years separate them, pay attention to how they communicate. Music as a living language, and an invisible emotional exchange, is clearly apparent in these improvisational compositions.

The two are pretty fabulous to watch and hear.  Pedro plays so many different styles with his guitar–finger picked flamenco delicacy all the way to aggressive powerful strumming.  Gaspar can also play beautiful soaring melodies–both low and high notes– and then at times he will bow so hard that you can hear the pressure he’s putting on the strings.

They play two pieces.  “La Petenera” is a new song which talks about a woman who was very beautiful.  She had a “love crisis.”  In order to get revenge she had all of the men in the village fight and they all killed each other over her.  Pedro also tells us that Federico García Lorca wrote  three poems about her.

About 4 minutes into the song he plays some crazy noisy stuff that would make any noise band proud. And then he comes out of that chaos with some incredibly delicate bowing.

Gaspar is also not afraid to make serious noise—sliding up the strings to the highest notes and squeaking them or sawing gently while Pedro plays some beautiful melodies.

But Gaspar also plays beautiful passages as well and he seems to be watching hm all the while

Bob asks if they can remember the earliest times they played together.  Pedro (in very broken English) explains that he was giving a flamenco guitar class and Gaspar was watching and then he repeated the exercises on the cello and Pedro says his eyes bugged out.

“La Graneña” is a kind of music from Grenada.  It starts slowly and is a beautiful piece with a lot of lovely guitar playing and Gaspar’s beautiful cello.  It’s very different from the noisy passages of the first piece.   There are some amazingly high soaring notes he plays on the cello, too–almost touching the bottom of the instrument.

About half way through the song it builds and builds with steady chords until it settles down into a quiet picked guitar and plucked cello melody.  It’s delightful and so very different from the rest.

[READ: February 11, 2016] Johnny Boo Meets Dragon Puncher!

It took four years for a new Dragon Puncher book to come out.  And it’s a crossover with Johnny Boo!  (You could also say it took one year for a new Johnny Boo book to come out and its a crossover with Dragon Puncher, but whatever).

This book is set in the winter and Dragon Puncher is looking for the Ice Dragon.

She demands silence as she prepares for battle.  Spoony-E is getting majorly impatient waiting for her to prepare.  And then while “meditating,” Dragon Puncher falls asleep. (more…)

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20SOUNDTRACK: ARTURO O’FARRILL-Tiny Desk Concert #303 (September 14, 2013).

arturo Arturo O’Farrill is not, as I expected, an Irish traditional musician.  He is, in fact, a Latin jazz pianist.  And the blurb states:

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O’Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O’Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-’40s New York.

The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don’t think I didn’t try to get the whole band behind Bob Boilen’s desk — and dedicated to both preserving the legacy of the elder O’Farrill and documenting the younger musician’s efforts to move the music forward.

The octet includes trombone, trumpet, sax, bongo, conga, drums, bass and of course, piano.  And they play three pieces (for quite a long set).

“In Whom…” has a good swinging feel with O’Farrill’s piano running wild.  At one point they cut to the conga player and the lady behind him is checking her phone (rudeness even in 2013!).  But it’s not all about the piano, there s sax solo and then a fairly lengthy bass solo.  Indeed there are many bass solo moments in this concert–Arturo certainly shares the spotlight.

The second song is “Compay Doug.”  He explains that “compay” means some who is not family but who is as close as family or maybe even closer.  The main melody has a cool fast/slow riff and then there’s another long bass solo.  There’s some great conga work in the middle of the song ( you can hear the percussionist use a rain stick, too).  Late in the song there a trumpet solo.  So even though this is ostensibly a pianist’s performance, there is much more–but don’t be fooled, his piano playing is intense!

The final song is called “Mass Incarceration Blues.” He says many years ago it was called “Blue State Blues,” then it became “Stop and Frisk Blues” and now it’s called “Mass Incarceration Blues.”  NPR’s Felix Contreras joins them (he ha so many cameos!).  There’s a super fast series of opening piano runs.  Then there’s a surprisingly fun (given the name) staccato melody and lots percussion.  And, as if to get everybody a moment to shine, this song includes a trombone solo, a sax solo and Felix even gets a conga solo.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Goes for the Gold

This book came out in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Babymouse joins the swim team!

The book begins with her doing a fantastic dive (called the Reverse Messy Whisker Dive) only to wake up in her backyard kiddie pool.

Despite her fantasy of doing dramatic dives, she actually spends all of her time after school reading and eating cupcakes.  Her parents insist that she do something–join a team or whatever.  She chooses to join the school swim team, “The shrimps.”  She figures how hard can it be, “I mean, swimming’s not even a real sport.”

Well not when you wear the suit that Babymouse has on.  She is encouraged to wear a proper swimming suit and goggles and a cap (to much amusement of everyone).

But swimming proves to be hard–between trying to go straight, the way the chlorine dries out your fur and the whale living in her locker (Moby-Dick, anyone?), it’s more than just splashing in a pool.

Especially when we see the other team–actual sharks!  And is that a giant squid at  the bottom of the pool?

But The Shrimps are very good and when Felicia Furrypaws dismisses swimming as not even a real sport, Babymouse has second thoughts–or at least would rather stay up late eating cupcakes.  Will she feel guilty about letting her team down?  Of course, she will.

But what will she do about it?

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