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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mc mcSOUNDTRACK: CHEYENNE MIZE-Tiny Desk Concert #289 (July 20, 2013).

Cheyenne Mize is yet another musician I’d never heard of performing behind the Tiny Desk.  The blurb tells us:

Behind Bob Boilen’s desk at the NPR Music offices, Mize — a multi-talented singer, instrumentalist and music therapist — reduces her band to a duo for three songs from Among the Grey. Naturally, this entailed showcasing some of the album’s quieter, moodier moments (the slinky “Raymaker,” the dreamy “Whole Heart”) before closing with the more forceful “Wait for It.” But along the way, Mize’s voice rings out assertively in every style and setting.

As it turns out, her voice was the problem for me and I can’t really place why.  I like her voice and I like her music I just feel like they don’t go together somehow.

For “Raymaker,” it’s just her on a 4 string guitar and her partner on a box drum.  I really love the sound she gets out of that little four string guitar and he gets some great sounds out of the box drum.  I can’t decide if maybe with a fuller musical sound I’d like her singing more.

For “Whole Heart” she plays a hollow-bodied electric guitar and the drummer plays an electric guitar.  The song is quieter (presumably because of no drums).  I like this song a bit more–the chorus is especially nice–and I feel like her voice works a bit better here.  The guitar interplay in the middle is really delightful as well.

For the final song, “Wait for It,” she switches to violin.  She says it’s both a blessing and a curse I’ve never been able to decide which instrument to play.  “Sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes it just means I have to carry a lot of instruments around.”   She gets a great raw scratchy sound out of the violin.   The drummer stays on the same guitar and adds little background notes.  This song has a great rocking vibe.  And again, the chorus is a neat chord change.  And yes I think her voice works good here too, so it must have been that first song.

And yet for all that I really like the sounds her instruments make more than anything else .

[READ: April 27, 2016] A True Story Based on Lies!

I was unfamiliar with the artists McDermott & McGough.  But I really liked the cover and title of this piece.  I have since learned from Wikipedia that

David McDermott and Peter McGough are best known for using alternative historical processes in their photography, particularly the 19th century techniques of cyanotype, gum bichromate, platinum and palladium. Among the subjects they approach are popular art and culture, religion, medicine, advertising, fashion and sexual behavior.

This particular collection plays around with time–they create works that seems like they are older than they actually are.  And in fact, this is something the artists did in their daily life as well:

From 1980 through 1995, McDermott & McGough dressed, lived, and worked as artists and “men about town”, circa 1900-1928: they wore top hats and detachable collars, and converted a townhouse on Avenue C in New York City’s East Village, which was lit only by candlelight, to its authentic mid-19th century ideal. “We were experimenting in time,” says McDermott, “trying to build an environment and a fantasy we could live and work in.”

This collection looks at advertising from the 1950s and updates it with contemporary additions.  I assume that they are actually painting and re-creating the earlier ads and not simply using the originals.  In their titles they indicate the date that the painting could have been created and then the date that it was created. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKINNY LISTER-Tiny Desk Concert #286 (July 8, 2013).

I had never heard of Skinny Lister.  And that’s kind of a surprise because their music fits right in with the group folk rock of bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers–they could be huge!.  Back in 2013, they were a newish band and Bob Boilen explains where he first heard them.

I was coming back to my hotel during SXSW 2013 in hopes of grabbing a short nap when I saw Lorna Thomas winning the hearts of a gathering crowd with her flirtatious, cheer-me-up style of singing and dancing. Then my eyes and ears found a punkish band with accordion, upright bass, guitars, and vocals from Dan Heptinstall. I couldn’t leave, I never napped, and I fell head over clicking heels for their reels and jigs and whatever else they tossed our way.

When it was done, I shook their hands, gave them high-fives and hugs, and handed them my card. Months later, they showed up at my desk early in the day bearing lots of beer, some mysterious alcohol in an even-more-mysterious jug, and an assortment of instruments. After watching this Tiny Desk Concert, when you’re ready for more and you can’t find Skinny Lister playing your local pub, you can check out its debut album, Forge & Flagon — it’ll tide you over until the band makes it back to your town.

As the set opens, Lorna Thomas has a giant flagon of that mysterious liquid.  She explains, that it is a flagon and that she learned the proper technique of drinking it over the shoulder.  Which she demonstrates to us.  Although she can’t “play” it.  But that’s where their album title The Forge & Flagon comes from.  They play three songs which really showcases their range.

“Trawlerman” is a rollicking fun song with lots of bawdy singing.  It’s a party atmosphere with a really fun rowdy chorus of “haul away haul away.”  After the song, Lorna drinks from a bottle of beer (which is almost empty).  remember this is like 10AM.

“Colours” drops the tempo down a bit.  It is a mellow but pretty song.  It’s a song about the sun coming out–something that doesn’t happen very often [in England] but when it does we have to cherish it and then write songs about it. The accordion player (it’s actually a melodeon) switches to a mandolin.  The song builds to a fun conclusion with the mandolin shouting “here we go!” as the end takes off on a chorus of “flash before us.”

“Rollin’ Over” continues that wild rollicking vibe.  I love that it starts with raucous guitar playing and then a cool melodeon riff to start out,  This is a fast peppy song with an infectious chorus.

I fins it interesting that the guys are dressed kind of town—sleeveless shirts and sleeveless denim jackets (the bassist is covered in tattoos) and yet Lorna is in a very pretty dress.  As the concert ends, she takes a swig from the jug straight on and says “that’s the other way to do it.”

I was trying to figure out just who was in this band.  But there were personnel changes aright around this show.  The only people I’m pretty sure of are

  • Dan Heptinstall – lead vocals, guitar, and stomp box (July 2009–present)
  • Max Thomas – melodeon, mandolin and vocals (July 2009–present)
  • Lorna Thomas – vocals (July 2009–present)
    • Then I’m sorta sure:
  • Sam “Mule” Brace – guitar, concertina, vocals
  • Michael Camino – double bass and vocals

Then, according to the Wikipedia site in the fall after this show they added a drummer, but honestly I’m not sure they need it, as their guitar playing is already percussive (what with that stomp box and all)

[READ: April 17, 2016] The Oopsatorium

I love Shaun Tan. His works are funny and often absurd.  And his drawing style is consistently fantastic,

When I saw this book at work, I was immediately struck by the great name.  And when I saw that underneath the title it said Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, I assumed that this was going to be a hilarious collection of failed inventions.

And it is, sort of.

Tan has created a book which melds truth and fiction.  The Powerhouse Museum is real.  The inventions in the book are actually in the museum, (there are photos of a dozen or so cool contraptions).  However, Mintox, a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor and author of the never published Eat, Pray, Invent, is fictional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-Tiny Desk Concert #279 (June 10, 2013).

I rather like The National and yet I haven’t spent much time really listening to them.  This Tiny Desk Concert really shows them off well.  It is extremely winning and enjoyable.

I enjoyed this part of the introduction:

we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.

Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments.  It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song.  This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part.  The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together.  It’s a wonderfully full song.

“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars.  They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here.  This song is a bit more mellow.  In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.

The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals.  But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone).  And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.

Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.

Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore.  The blurb notes that the band:

even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.

Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk.  Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.

Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.

The full band sings and it sounds terrific.  I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic.  And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”

The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.

[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers

Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers.  And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.

The story opens with a bright white city in the distance.  In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses.  And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze.  And in this Maze live the poor.  Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze.  And then there’s a man with a beard.  The man finds a baby in an alley.  The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.

The scene jumps to eleven years later.  The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden.  He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him.  People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK Go-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA AINSWORTH-“Afterglow” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 23, 2017).

I was unfamiliar with Lydia Ainsworth, but I was instantly struck by the setting of her lullaby.

We asked Lydia Ainsworth to perform in Raum Industries’ Optic Obscura installation. Surrounded by dim, long-hanging optical fibers that look like an infinity room of cat’s whiskers, she sings a stripped-down version of the slow-burning “Afterglow,” accompanied only by an upright bass and light percussion.

I’m not sure what the original song sounds like, but this version is moody and intense.  The upright bass opens the song as Lydia’s whispered, sensual vocals come forth.  She has a beautiful voice and it is especially haunting in this setting.  It reminds me a bit of someone else although I can’t decide who.

The starkness of the silence when she stops singing is intense.  And I really like the way the song ends, not abruptly exactly, but rather unexpectedly.

[READ: March 21, 2016] T-Minus

Jim Ottaviani did the amazing graphic novel Feynman, and in the blurb about him in that book, it said that he also wrote T-Minus.  Coincidentally I had just brought T-Minus home for Clark and I to read.  He read it quickly and said it was very good.  It took me a little longer to read (I’m sure he didn’t read all the details) because Ottaviani jam packs this book with interesting facts.

As the title says, this is about the race to get a man to the moon.  It begins 12 years before the actual date occurred.  And it toggles back and forth between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On the margins of many pages there are drawings of all of the various attempts each country had to get a rocket into the air.  The drawings show the design and then at the bottom it states the duration of the flight, the date and some other details.  The USSR’s first rocket (1957) lasted all of 20 seconds before exploding.  The U.S’s first rocket lasted about 7 seconds.

We meet a handful of people who were instrumental in the design and origination of these rockets.  (Ottaviani explains that many of these people are composites of real people involved–if he wanted to include everyone, there would be 400 people in every panel). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-“Smoke Signals” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 22, 2017).

Bridgers’ “Smoke Signals” is a beautiful haunting song that reminds me a little of Liz Phair in her delivery.  I had heard this song before and really liked it–I especially loved the arrangement, which had echoing guitars that reminded me of Twin Peaks.

“For this Tiny Desk, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen’s hotel room just before midnight to play the striking ‘Smoke Signals.'”  The music is great with Bridgers’ open chords, and Vore’s suitcase percussion, children’s toy bells and vocal harmony.  The cho and vibe are removed in this version which means you must really listen to the words–which are pretty intense.

I like how she talks about musicians in such an interesting way:

Singing ‘Ace of Spades’ when Lemmy died / nothing’s changed LA’s alright

and then later

Its been on my mind since Bowie died/ just checking out to hide from life

The toy bells and harmonies are a really nice touch, but again, it’s those lyrics:

I went with you up to
The place you grew up in
We spent a week in the cold
Just long enough to
“Walden” it with you
Any longer, it would have got old

This song is a little too slow for my preferences, but it’s very beautiful. I’d like to hear more from her.

[READ: February 5, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kin

This book was on the new shelf at my library.  And since I like Black and Naifeh I was grabbed it.  Then I saw that it actually came out in 2008. Whatever.

It also turns out that my library has book two of this trilogy but neither had book 3 (which came out in 2010).  What gives?

Holly Black is best known (by me anyway) as having written The Spiderwick Chronicles.

This story is actually a YA graphic novel and it definitely skews older.  But like Spiderwick, it deals with a normally unseen world coming into contact with out own. (more…)

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