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Archive for the ‘Maris Wicks’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CHIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #959 (March 13, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Chika, but she proves to be really fun and funny (while rapping some serious topics).

Her band is jazzy and stripped back:

Chika was also the first hip-hop act to anchor her set with just a Peruvian cajón instead of a full, hard-hitting kit. The surprisingly stripped-down performance allowed her lyrics, with all their nuance, to take center stage — and the result was remarkable.

In addition to the band, were her terrific backing vocalists

The impressive harmonies from Chika’s four backup singers brought all the feels right out of the gate.

She starts with “Industry Games.”  Lovely ooohs from the backing vocalists then David Levitan plays an echoing guitar (“both catchy and eerily haunting” that I found reminiscent of the Close Encounters melody).  Up comes that cajon with gentle thumps from Dominic Missana.  Then she starts rapping.

Moving seamlessly between rap verse and melodic hooks, Chika showcased her unusual tonality, multi-cadence delivery and vocal range, with an effortless, double-time lyrical bounce.

She has a fantastic fast flow (smiling as she goes).  It’s interesting hearing the gentle backing vocals that repeat her (sometime harsh) final lines.

She even starts giggling in the middle.  She explains later “I say ‘tightest around’ and they sing ‘hottest around’ and it is hysterical to me.”

Before the next song she says, “Everyone brings nice things to the Tiny Desk, like lights…  I didn’t bring anything, or so you thought.  I brought this Chapstick and I’m gonna place that right here.  Fuck anyone who underestimated me.”

She says that “Songs About You.”  No shade to anyone.  It’s not about y’all. its about you.  The song features more nice backing vocals and then a grooving bass line from Chris McClenny.

Before the third song she sends a shout out to her sister who is there.  “Shout out to our parents… genetics!”  She asks, “What kind of shows are you wearing?”  “Puma…”  “You should have been wearing ‘Balencies,’ which is the name of the next song. She pauses and waits for the laughter.  Then says, “I’m funny.  We’re not gonna argue about that.  You all didn’t want to laugh… something about that felt racist.”

The backing vocals are wild and weird as it starts, Danielle Withers sounds like a perfect loop of an eccentric vocal line.  It’s pretty magnificent–I really hope she goes somewhere with a distinctive voice like that (I see that she has sung with some pretty big names already).

The other singers are (l-r) Jabri Rayford; Darius Dixson and Rachel Robinson (she’s standing on a box).

“Crown” has some great lyrics

I got a habit of rapping ’bout tragic sh-
I think I’m just passionate
Tryna steer the way while in the dark
Hope I ain’t crashin’ it (Woah)
Now my little hobby turned to cashin’ out
Thinking ’bout who I’d be if I listened to doubt
Said I’d never do it, well look at me now

Okay
This is for the kids with depression
The one’s whose parental expectations got them stressin’ (Woah)
The one’s who would rather persevere, bust they ass, tryna make it ’cause-
They ain’t really livin’ in the present

The set ends, oddly enough with “Intro” which is a very quiet song.  Gentle guitars and  a quiet rap.

This was a really satisfying set.  her songs were short and to the point.  The lyrics were powerful and affecting and the music was a nice accompaniment.

[READ: April 2, 2020] Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks worked together on the awesome book Primates.  Now they are back sending some primates into space.

I just love Wicks’ artwork.  She manages to do such amazing things with such simple-seeming drawings.  Her eyes are (mostly) dots, the faces are almost all simple shapes and yet everything she draws is so expressive and conveys exactly what she wants.  It is a pleasure to look at anything she draws.

Ottaviani did a lot of research for this book (obviously) and the end is chock full of resources that you can look at to learn more.

As for the book itself, it is “told” by astronaut Mary Cleave.  It starts with young Mary being told (by the President) that she was too young for the Astronaut Corp.  The letter (from President Eisenhower) did not go on to say that no women were accepted into the Corp, she had to find that out herself.

She was already a practicing pilot at age 14, but that wasn’t good enough.  She then jumps over to another girl her own age over in the Soviet Union.  Valentina Tereshkova was jumping out of planes and training to be a pilot, because the Soviet Union did not have a sexist component in their system.

But in 1959, even though women like Jerrie Cobb were certainly (physically) capable of becoming astronauts, women simply weren’t chosen.  Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart testified before Congress where sexism (and simple, painful examples are provided) ruled the day.  They were even shut down by Jacqueline Cochran, a director at an airline, who said women should not even be pilots because they get married and leave after two years. (more…)

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coralSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-These Last Songs (1997).

lastsiongs Sackville released two full length albums.  This was the first. They’d added a second guitar which gave their songs a bit more texture.  But they still had a kind of gritty folk music sound.  I saw the term “urban country” used to describe them, which is strangely apt.

“Sydney Mines” is a slow folk song with a quiet slow guitar motif.  I love the descriptive lyrics: “In the dead of winter in Sydney Mines they take their cars out on the ice.” The song is accented by a slow, scratchy violin that comes in after the first verse.  But the chorus gets rocking and kind of fun/sloppy with the drums really taking over.  The vocals don’t really change the laconic style but they do get noticeably louder.  “Clothesline” retains that slowness although the verses have a bit more sing-song quality.  And once again the chorus bursts into life with a raw violin and loud drums.

The excellent guitar riff that opens “Good Citizen” is quite a change—the song picks up speed (and the vocals sound very different–clipped and quick).  It’s a great alt folk song.  The chorus is lurching and interesting as well.  “Upstate” has an early 1990s guitar line and pounding chords at the end of each verse.  The juxtaposition of his voice with this electric song works nicely.  “Tie Back Yr Hair” returns to the slow style of the earlier songs although this melody is mostly led by the violin.  “Lines and Barriers” is a slow ballad, mostly guitar—it reminds me of Syd Barrett.

“The Frame-Up’ has more loud drums and quiet creaking violins.  Nearly four minutes in, the violin takes over with a staccato refrain that gets the song sounding more intense.  “Bender” adds a pleasant surprise with guest vocalist Genevieve Heistek taking lead vocals.  The music is much the same but her voice changes the overall style of the music quite a bit.  The addition of fuzzy static at the end adds an alt-rock touch.  “Invisible Ink” has the prettiest violin melody yet, an unscratchy ascending melody that complements the slow guitars.  And just as it seems to be another slow ballad, the 3rd minute ramps up the electric guitar and the song soars for about 20 seconds before returning to that main melody.

“Her Ghost Will One Day Rise Again” has the most country feel of the album—the violin is much more fiddle than violin and the simple melody is very catchy, but in a drunken hillbilly kind of way rather than a country song proper (which means a I like it better).  On “Border Towns” he sounds the most like the lead singer from Social Distortion.  This is a lurching kinda punk y song, although it’s the chorus that really has that Social D feel—a slow catchy chorus in which his delivery is uncanny.  “Pioneers” ends the disc with a downbeat song with really catchy lyrics: “It’s hard to be a pioneer” in the keening voice of the 12-year-old protagonist.

Given the popularity of alt-country, Sackville was sadly ignored.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Coral Reefs

Wicks created the Human Body Theater graphic novel (also from First Second), which I absolutely loved.  This book is part of First Second’s new Science Comics series, in which they take a good hard look at scientific things and present a ton of information in a fun cartoony format–easily digestible chunks with awesome pictures that convey a lot of information.

I loved the dinosaurs one for just how much new information I’d learned from it.

This book has a really inspirational forward about scuba diving which I thought was by wicks (and I wondered how she was so scholarly AND an artist), but it was actually by Randi Rotjan from the New England Aquarium (and is still inspirational).

I didn’t know a ton about coral reefs going into this book and man, is it full of information about them: how they grow and form (yes, they are animals), who lives among them and what we can do to protect them. (more…)

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humanSOUNDTRACK: ROOMFUL OF TEETH-Tiny Desk Concert #404 (November 10, 2014).

teethRoomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song).  The singers  all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style.  As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”

And that’s all so accurate.  Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.

The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.”  There are so many different sections.  It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement.  But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.”  It’s really fascinating.  And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing.  The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.”  That Casio remark is pretty spot on.

Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.”  The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View”  begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like.  Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end).  Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies.  The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.”  When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.

The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells.  “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women.  The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.”   The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs.  And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly.  I love when they throw in some  little “hey ya” mixed in.  But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.”  His voice is really intense.

At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.

[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater

Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates.  I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute).  And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!

But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.

Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work.  It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book.  I know I sure did. (more…)

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