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Archive for the ‘Cory Doctorow’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE RUSSELL-Tiny Desk Concert #288 (July 15, 2013).

I read the name Alice Russell and pictured some kind of folk artist.  Boy, was I surprised to see a woman with  bleached blonde hair, a leather jacket and a funny t-shirt.  And then her band started playing low groovy soulful music.

Turns out:

Russell is a classic soul-infused singer — close your eyes and it’s easy to hear a Southern drawl, but truth be told, she’s a Brit. American-style R&B from Britain has a long history dating back to the 1960s with Dusty Springfield and on up through 21st-century artists like Adele. As for Alice Russell, she’s been making great soul music for 10 years, and her arrangements on To Dust often include a dose of electronics.

I didn’t love her voice when the first song “To Dust” started.  But as soon as the chorus kicked in I was hooked–wow, what a great voice she has and with the full band playing behind her it sounded amazing (the sampled backing singers was a bit flat, but otherwise OK).  And by the second chorus, man she is belting out the song—it’s great.  The Adele comparisons are spot on.

Then she hit Bob’s gong at the end of the song and told us that it was an ode to the taxman.

“For a While” is a great big soul song.  The drummer gets some great sounds out of that one drum he has.  And they keys sound great too.  I love the middle part where there’s some seriously long pauses in between beats–they are all wonderfully in sync.  At the end of the song she yells “I didn’t gong!” and then makes a peculiar hand gesture about a turtle.

“Heartbreaker” has such a classic-sounding riff it’s hard to believe it’s a new song.  I like it a lot (although I don’t care for the chanted “when it falls, when it breaks” by the guys).

I have to agree with this blurb about her:

To Dust is Russell’s fifth album, but the hiatus that followed 2008’s Pot of Gold may be the reason too many people don’t yet know what she’s doing. This stuff is as powerful as the work of any American singer making soul music in the 21st century. If you haven’t heard of her yet, think of this as a well-overdue introduction.

[READ: May 15, 2016] I Kill the Mockingbird

I bought this book from the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA.  I don’t buy too many books these days but I saw this one in the PA authors section (and it was 20% off) and the title sounded intriguing.  So I grabbed it.

And I’m I glad I did. This book was outstanding.  I loved it from the first chapter and was thrilled that the ending was also very satisfying–not easy given the way the story was heading for a conclusion that could have gone in many different directions.

So what’s this about?  Well, there are three kids, Lucy Elena and Michael.  They are at the heart of the story.  I loved loved loved that these three were great friends who’d known each other forever.  And they were all big big big readers. Such an awesome start to a story. (more…)

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kokoSOUNDTRACK: CAR SEAT HEADREST-Tiny Desk Concert #506 (February 8, 2016).

carseatI only know of Car Seat Headrest from NPR.  They have really liked some of his previous songs and both Bob and Robin raved about his new song “Vincent” (which is really good).

For this Tiny Desk Concert, Will Toledo (who is kind of the only guy in the band, although not currently if you know what I mean) plays acoustic guitar on a tall stool.  Accompanying him are two friends from Leesburg, Va, who don’t actually do anything, and his two band mates who also don’t do anything (well, the drummer plays a toy “desktop” drum set for the song “The Drum”).  And yes, they all sing along during the sing along at the end of song three.

It’s worth mentioning that Toledo has released some 12 albums under the name Car Seat Headrest since 2010 (and Toledo is only 23).  Find them at bandcamp.  Unlike someone like Robert Pollard who has written hundreds of songs that are about 30 seconds long.  Most of Toledo’s songs are really quite long, with multiple parts.  And amazingly, all the parts are pretty catchy,

He plays three songs in this set.  His voice is a little creaky and high-pitched, but it is really-spot on for the kind of songs he writes.  By contrast,. it’s funny to hear how deep his speaking voice is.

“The Drum” opens with a riff that is almost out of tune seeming (like his voice).  The melody lines in the verses are simple but often unexpected.  And lyrically, the song is quite interesting (“the drum reads James Joyce,” “the drum’s in debt”).  And just when it seems like the song could end, it switches to a slower middle section, after which it all comes back to that catchy chorus.  By the end of the song it’s totally grabbed you.

For “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” he pushes his falsetto pretty high.  The  song starts out rather slow but once the verses start properly it picks up.  I love the way in the drunk drivers part he adds vocal melodies that are not in the music to make the song even fuller.   And then unexpectedly, the song shifts gears from the melancholy drunk driver section to the powerfully sung (and I’m not exactly sure how it’s related) “Killer Whales” part. It runs to 6 minutes and is constantly shifting and always stays interesting.

“Sober To Death” is also about 6 minutes long. There’s some great lyrics in here as well “every conversation ends with you screaming.  Not even words just ah ah ahhhhh” (with his voice breaking during the ahhs).   The sing along part at the end has a neat intro where the first guitar line is plucked slowly and the second line picks up speed.  And when everyone sings along it really elevates the song.

After just two listens to this show I was totally hooked and I’m really looking forward to hearing his last album, which is reworking of his earlier songs for Matador Records, and his soon to be released new album with “Vincent” on it.

[READ: February 25, 2016] Koko Be Good

I absolutely adored the art in this book.  I really thought it was outstanding and it has made me search out more of Wang’s stuff (she has a number of online comics at her website).  I also didn’t realize that she drew In Real Life–with Cory Doctorow–her style is similar there but a but less wild as it is here.  And the story is pretty great too.

So this is the story of two main protagonists and a third character who plays a smaller but pivotal role.  Koko is a wild Chinese girl who is carefree and careless.  Jon Wilgur is a tightly wound young man who is planning to change his life pretty drastically.

koko2The story opens with Jon–he is drawn so perfectly, I can’t get over it–a great combination of realism and cartoon style.  He is listening to an audiotape sent by his girlfriend (I love that he is listening to an audio cassette).  He and his girlfriend are planning to move to Peru together very soon. She is currently there and he is about to pack up and head down there himself. (more…)

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information_cover_FINAL_webSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Vertigo, Victoria British Columbia, (January 21, 2000).

21Jan2000I recently learned that the Rheostatics Live website has added dozens of new (old) shows.  It has been almost exactly a year since I last did a tour of some of these live shows, so it was time to move into 2000 (with one new show added since I last looked).

As of 2000, the band is still touring the Harmelodia album, and the set has a lot of songs from that album.  I recently relistened to the album (something I don’t listen to all that much).  I was surprised to hear how many songs had narration–which pretty much precludes them from playing them live.  So that explains why they focus on just a few songs live.

Lucky’s notes for this show state: The Rheos were on a short west-coast swing and they played in Whistler the night before this show. In fact, the inspiration for ‘Satan Is The Whistler’ (from their following album) came from this trip, as Martin remarked something along the lines of ‘They are a bunch of Fascists in Whistler!’.

This is a really good set.  The sound quality is excellent and the band is in very good form.  There’s some great harmonies on “Loving Arms” and Martin really rocks the guitar on “I Fab Thee.”  “Junction Foil Ball” sounds awesome here–a good breakdown in the middle.  And it’s a rare sighting of “Oneilly’s Strange Dream” and a replay of “Good Canadian.”

It’s always fun when the band is feeling chatty.  In this show they joke about the Crash Test Dummies and even sing, “Superman never made any money saving the world from Crash Test Dummies.”  They also have fun with “My First Rock Show” with talk of blood on the seats.

The band has some technical failures, and they play a Stompin’ Tom song (“Bud the Spud”) while they get fixed.  But it doesn’t mess them up as they play a killer version of “Stolen Car” with a great solo.

Luke Doucet (now of Whitehorse, then of opening act Veal) plays during “Legal Age Life” and the band jokes about the Vealostatics.

The whole show ran for nearly two hours.  It’s a great set and the first of two nights at Vertigo.

[READ: February 10, 2015] Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free

This short book is Doctorow’s plea for Copyright common sense, Net Neutrality and internet freedoms (among other things).  Of course Net Neutrality just passed–hurrah!– which makes this book less urgent but no less spot on and worth remembering while going forward.

Doctorow starts each section by stating his three laws:

  • “Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.”
  • “Fame Won’t Make You Rich, But Yo Can’t Get Paid Without It”  (or as Tim O’Reilly said “The problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”)
  • “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, People Do.”

(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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SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010).

Three minutes of noise and pounding drums.  Monotone bass notes that hit as hard as the drums. An air of foreboding.  Yes, Swans are back.

The opening track of their new album is called “No Words/No Thoughts.”  The first part, the four minutes of instrumental, is clearly the No Words.  When M. Gira’s voice finally comes in, he’s not much happier than he was for his last Swans album.

The sounds of Swans are back, but the really big difference is that the menace is tempered somewhat.  I’m almost tempted to call it better production values. Early Swans was really scary…slow, ponderous and heavy.  And while those same qualities are here, it’s not quite as ponderous or heavy, and the pace is rather brisk on this first song.

But after this cacophony, we get the two minute a cappella “Liars.”  The music is only humming background vocals, but it is no less intense, especially when Gira’s sonorous voice reads a spoken section.  It’s very catchy (practically a first for Swans), but no less spooky.

“Jim” has some more cool harmonized backing vocals: a whole bunch of “Na Nas” which again, does not lessen the intensity of the song.  Although for old school Swans style, it’s track 4, “My Birth” with its creepy piano opening and bludgeoning noise for four minutes that shows that Swans are reaching back.

“You Fucking People Make Me Sick” opens with a Jew’s harp and then features guest vocals from Devandra Banhart and a child singing call and response.  While not as scary as some other tracks, it’s very creepy and not quite Devandra’s usually hippie fare.  It’s really good.  Especially the end instrumental part with dissonant piano and horns (!)

“Inside Madeline” is another song with 4 minutes of instrumental introduction before settling down into a relatively quiet song (more horns) that is far less sinister than most of these tracks.  “Eden Prison” has a wonderful circle high pitched guitar swinging around the background of the clattering noise.  It’s 6 minutes let up only briefly but the really convey claustrophobia.

The disc ends with the quiet “Little Mouth.”  It’s a slow ballad with whistling (!) and acoustic guitars in the background.  There’s a beautiful guitar solo which ends with Gira’s a cappella voice ending the disc.

I keep referencing Swans early music.  It’s true that their later stuff was far less scary and intense (“Can’t Find My Way Home” was a beautiful ballad which should have gotten more airplay than the original).  But this disc is certainly a call back to Swans’ roots.  Another thing is that Jarboe is not present on the disc (a first since their early days).

It’s a great return of a New York institution.

[READ: February 15, 2011] “Truncat”

This story is set in the same world as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, although it does not take place in The Magic Kingdom at all.  Rather, it is set in Toronto and is considered a quasi-sequel to the book even though none of the characters are the same either.  Although all of the elements of that novel are in place: deadheading, whuffie, and apparent age among other things.

Interestingly, this story gives more details about the world than Down and Out did.  Or at least it spells it out more clearly.  So we get:

Adrian’s father was apparent 22, hardly older-seeming than Adrian himself, though his real age was closer to 122.

It doesn’t explain everything, but it spells things out pretty clearly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MONEEN-The World That I Want to Leave Behind (2010).

I’ve liked Moneen’s discs; they played an interesting mix of grungey noisey rock and incredibly poppy emo.  And their song titles were really long and often funny (“The Frightening Reality Of The Fact That We Will All Have To Grow Up And Settle Down One Day,” “There Are A Million Reasons For Why This May Not Work… And Just One Good One For Why It Will”).

The first sign that The World I Want to Leave Behind is different is that their song titles are all really short.  The longest one is the title of the album–which is the shortest song: a 2 minute quiet intro that features some noisy guitars at the end.   The rest are 1-3 words long.  Now, perhaps you can’t judge a band by that; however, their music, like thier song titles, has eschewed complexity and embraced pop.  (“Believe,” “Waterfalls,” “Lighters”).

Okay Moneen always had this component to it.  So it’s not like suddenly the band is all pop.  Take “Are We Really Happy with Who We are Right Now?” from the album of the same name .  The song is all emo vocals (including harmonies) but the music is punky and noisy.  It’s also got a lot of dissonance.  Similarly, “The Start to this May be the End to Another” (from their debut), opens with really blasting noise and then turns into a heavy emo track with loud and quiet sections.  They are certainly poppy, but there’s at least nods to noise.

This album removes all of that noise and chaos and settles into to some tried and true emo.  If you hate emo, you will hate this album.  There’s virtually no dissonance on the disc at all.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  The second song, “Hold That Sound” opens with some noiy aggressive guitars (and interesting noisy effects) and “The Long Count” has some noisy heavy opening chords which propel through the track.  But unlike earlier records, the noise gets pushed to the background pretty quickly.  “The Monument” also shows some remnants of heaviness–there’s even screaming vocals at one point.

And yet, the aforementioned “Wateralls” and “Lighters” sound like Guster-lite (and I like Guster quit a bit).

The final song, “The Glasshouse” does rock pretty hard (although the harmonies are all still there and the emo certainly seeps in by the end with a piano break and the final 2 minutes being all gang vocals).

Okay so in fairnes to the band, they haven’t smoothed off all the rough edged, but the polished bits are really polished now.  The thing is, I kind of like emo, so despite my tone, I don’t really dislike this record.  I’m always diasppointed when a band moves more commerical, especially if they cut off their more interesting bits, but Moneen make good emo (if you allow that such a thing exists).  I don’t like all emo bands, but there’s still enough interesting stuff here to keep me coming back to it.  In fact, for all of its poppiness, “Believe” is a really fantastically catchy alt rock song which should be in heavy rotation somewhere, if it’s not already.

[READ: February 13, 2011] A Place So Foreign and 8 More

When I saw that Cory Doctorow had a book of short stories out, I was intrigued. I’ve enjoyed two of his books quite a bit, so what could he do with short fiction?

This is some of his earliest work and I found it a mixed bag.

The first story “Craphound” was great (and the origin of his website name).  It concerns going to flea markets and buying all kinds of crap.  When you do it a lot, you become a craphound.  But when you take a fellow craphound’s crap of choice for yourself, you break the unwritten rule.  That’s all well and good.  But in this story one of the craphounds is an alien, like from another planet.  And what he trades for his crap is pretty wild.  But why would he break the unwritten rule?  The story is a fun look at what happens when extra-terrestrials are a part of your life.

“A Place So Foreign” was my absolute favorite story in the book, and one of my favorite short stories in quite some time.  I’m happy to say that I read it last, so it totally ended the book on a high note. Despite the cover picture with an “alien” hand holding a suitcase, the story has nothing to do with that at all. (more…)

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