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Archive for the ‘Jen Wang’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: ÌFÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #736 (April 29, 2018).

ÌFÉ is from Puerto Rico.  Creator Otura Mun has a fascinating history as to how he wound up creating this band:

Otura Mun started out in the world as Mark Underwood, a Goshen, Ind., native whose parents were Mennonites and who managed to snag a coveted spot on the University of North Texas’ drumline. But that was before a flight mixup landed the percussionist, composer, DJ and producer with a free trip to Puerto Rico. Two years later, he moved permanently to the island, became a Yoruban high priest and began creating electronic music that channeled the African diaspora.

Woah.

So ÌFÉ (pronounced ee-faye) combines traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting with a kind of Jamaican dancehall sound.  Midway through the set, Mun explains that he drilled holes into the traditional acoustic drums and has attached electronics to them, essentially making them triggers, but with the traditional acoustic sound as an overtone.  It’s pretty amazing.

The group’s debut album, IIII+IIII, (pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh”) is a fresh electronic take on tradition that’s winning over even the most devout practitioners of the western African-based spiritual ceremonies that form the base of their music. That’s hard to do with ritual music.

Although interestingly, for the first song “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun),” they play acoustically.

For their turn behind the Tiny Desk, Otura Mun and his ensemble unplug their drums for their first tune, an acoustic version of their “House of Love (Ogbe Yekun)”.

This acoustic sound is quite compelling in itself.  Yaimir Cabám plays a beautiful acoustic guitar (pretty, simple chords) and sings, I believe wordlessly.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band plays various percussion: simple electronic percussion and shaker and various hand drums.  Anthony Sierra on congas keeps the rhythm.

After a verse, Otura Mun joins in on vocals (with deep backing vocals from Beho Torrens).  It’s a quiet, soothing song with occasional punctuation from the drums.  When the melody finally changes after 4 minutes, it sounds like a massive shift even if it’s just a few notes.

“Prayer for Oduduwa (Para Meceditas)” opens with bells and shakers and some interesting electronic splashes before the massive amounts of electronics take over the song.  I believe Rafael Maya joins them and was not their for song one.

The sound of the second song here is what startled me when I heard the band’s debut CD last year: the parts normally performed on Afro-Cuban bata drums and chekeres are electronically treated for a traditional prayer for the deity Oduduwa.

They sing in a traditional chanting style including an awesome low chant (from Torrens) that sounds otherworldly.

By the last tune, “Bangah (Pico Y Palo),” the electronics have created a sonic playground that plays perfectly against the battery of Afro-Cuban rhythms.   “Bangah,” focuses on a reflection of the Orisha Ogún, the owner of war in the religion, whose main tool is the machete.

Mun says he wanted to play urban music you could improvise and to use percussion as the basis–Cuban rumba combined with Jamaican dancehall.  He demonstrates some sounds and then a deep rumbling bass: “we got your nasty subs that you know from that the stuff that’s nasty.”

The song is a shout out to those struggling against the vestiges of colonialism still prevalent in Puerto Rico.

They begin the song with a “breathe in” [inhale] let it out Ahhh!

I love the way the various voices are processed.  Torrens sound deeper and Cabám’s voice sounds alien and like it is three voices at once.  The various lines are interspersed with interesting vocals sounds: grunts and screams that punctuate the verses.

It’s a very cool set.

[READ: March 19, 2018] The Rat with the Human Face

In 2014, Angelberger’s first book The Qwikpick Adventure Society was reissued as Poop Fountain.  He then wrote two more books in this trilogy.

This is the second book (written in 2015) and it opens with this

This is the second of three stacks of papers this guy found in a storage room at the old Qwikpick gas station in Crickenburg.  The guy, who asked me not to use his name, called me because one of my old newspaper articles was in the first stack.  (You know I was a reporter before I wrote the Origami Yoda books, right?)

Then he reminds the readers that this book is set in 2000–kids didn’t have iPhones or smartphones.  They didn’t have phones at all and cameras took forever to charge the flash and they drained the batteries fast.

So the entire Qwikpick Adventure Society: Lyle, Marilla and Dave is back, but this story begins with bad tidings–the Qwikpick Adventure Society was disbanded after this adventure.  (more…)

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nurserySOUNDTRACK: FRANK FAIRFIELD-Tiny Desk Concert #445 (May 29, 2015).

frankFrank Fairfield and friends Tom Marion (who plays mandolin on the third song) and Zac Sokolow (on guitar) play old-timey music (marches, polkas and mountain tunes).  Fairfield plays banjo and plucked cello (and apparently fiddle, although not here).

The first song “Tres Piedras” is an upbeat instrumental.  The second song “I Ain’t A Goin’ To Weep No More” was written by Harry von Tilser whose brother wrote “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

The final song “Campanile De Venecia/Sharpshooters March” has an overwhelming Italian feel (that mandolin, I gather).  I like that Fairfield yells “take it, Tom” so that Marion will play a lengthy mandolin solo on the for the final song.  There’s also a “traditional” Italian melody in the song that I know more from cartoons than elsewhere.

The songs feel like they leaped out of a 78 record (even Fairfield’s voice seems suitably “old” on “Weep” (although it appears that they were up playing late last night so he may not quite be up to par).

This was a fun Tiny Desk by an artist I’d never encounter anywhere else.

[READ: January 21, 2015] Nursery Rhyme Comics

This is a collection of Nursery Rhymes as drawn primarily by First Second artists.

The 50 nursery rhymes includes here are the traditional rhymes which remain unchanged.  So this was an opportunity for these artists to draw interesting visuals to accompany the traditional stories.  Some artists stayed traditional, while others went in a totally new direction.

It was fun to see that while I knew most of the nursery rhymes, there were quite a few that I didn’t know.

I always wanted to get a  collection of nursery rhymes for my kids when they were younger, and I feel like I never got one that would have been as satisfying as this one. (more…)

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irl  SOUNDTRACK: THE DUCKWORTH LEWIS METHOD-Sticky Wickets (2013).

stickyThe cricket-loving songwriters are back with their second disc.  Although I bought their first disc because I love Neil Hannon, I found myself enjoying the songs by Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh even more.  (Which led me to get some discs by Pugwash, a great, sadly unknown band).

I’m inclined to say I like Walsh’s songs better on this disc as well–his title track has a groovy classic ELO-inspired guitar riff and Walsh’s great falsetto vocals.  But I also love the bouncy fun of “Boom Boom Afridi” (written by Neil Hannon). So maybe I just like the two of them together.

These are followed by the amusing “It’s Just Not Cricket” which features a group of rowdy indignant cricket fans singing along. See the awesome accompanying picture below which shows the kind of sort of naughty but not really way the sport is portrayed on the disc.  cricket“The Umpire” gives some real sympathy to the Cricket umpire (who eats his eggs and soldiers) as his position is taken over by machines.

I don’t know much about cricket, so I don’t claim understand what most of these songs are about, but the awesomely bouncy and catchy “Third Man” is a total mystery to me.  But that doesn’t stop me from singing along. It’s like a classic lost Pugwash song.  It even has a (weird) narration from Daniel Radcliffe.  “Chin Music” is a pretty, carnivalesque instrumental.

“Out in the Middle” is a slower Walsh song which is also very pretty.  “Line and Length” is a silly song which (in spoken word) explains how line and length are used in cricket. It has a very discoey chorus which differs nicely from the formality of the verse. “The Laughing Cavaliers” is a march with a big choral vocal line. “Judd’s Paradox” has a lengthy spoken section by Stephen Fry (at his most formal). It’s a very enjoyable song with an interesting perspective on cricket and history.

“Mystery Man” is a pretty, sixties-sounding song with bouncy jaunty keyboards and a catchy chorus–except that the verses are all about how he’s a tough bowler.  It’s also got a hilarious spoken word section read by Matt Berry “trod on wicket.”

“Nudging and Nurdling” ends the disc and is more or less 5 minutes of people saying the words “Nudging and Nurdling” set to a boppy silly melody.  The list of contributors is extensive, although I’ve only heard of Daniel Radcliffe, Neil Finn, Joe Elliott, Matt Berry, Graham Linehan, an Michael Penn (!) who sounds so American. I love they way they build something so simple (and kinda dumb) into such a big song by the end.

Hannon and Walsh know how to write gorgeous songs (even if they can be rather silly).  This is a great collection–even if you don’t know anything about cricket.  You too will soon be shouting along with the Laughing Cavaliers.

[READ: November 9, 2014] In Real Life

I was pretty excited when I saw this book.  I really like Cory Doctorow and here was a comic of his published by First Second, one of my favorite graphic novel publishers (I need to make a category for them…there, done).  I didn’t know Jen Wang’s artwork, but that hardly mattered as the cover was gorgeous.

So the story is an interesting one.  It begins simply enough with Anda, a young girl who has moved from San Diego to Flagstaff (of course, we don’t learn that she moved to Flagstaff for a few pages, so the fact that we are introduced to Flagstaff by a snowfall was confusing to me–I assumed she was on the East Coast).  However, this was not as confusing to me as the other character in the book who doesn’t know where Flagstaff is.  What high school aged person doesn’t know that Flagstaff is in Arizona?

Anyhow, we see Anda in school and her class is given a presentation by Liza the Organiza, a woman who is introducing the class to an online virtual game called Coarsegold (I’m also confused as to why this woman would be allowed to give this presentation in school, but maybe I’m too nitpicky here?).  Incidentally, I really enjoyed most of the art in the book, but the picture of Liza the Organiza on this same page is quite disturbing to me.  In fact, a few pictures in “real life” seem a little “off” to me, and I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the visual aspect of the book.  But when we get into the game, the pictures are simply fantastic, so I don’t know what that’s all about. (more…)

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