Archive for the ‘Randall Munroe’ Category

nov2014SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS BATHGATE-Tiny Desk Concert #167 (October 14, 2011).

bathgateI’d never heard of Chris Bathgate before this Tiny Desk Concert.  Bathgate is a singer and guitarist.  For this show he has a band of five—another guitarist, bassist, violinist and drummer.

The first song, “Everything (Overture),” opens with a lovely slow echoing guitar sound.  And then Bathgate and the violinist sing a lovely, slow duet—their voices play off each other very nicely and the lovely repetitive guitar riff is perfect background.  The song picks up a bit for the chorus (which is mostly them singing do do dos) and the rousing chorus is a nice contrast to the quieter verses.  I really like at the end when the second guitarist switches to the floor tom and adds to the intensity of the song.

He says that “No Silver” is “about living in Michigan and being broke.”  The song is faster and a little heavier.  There more good harmonies and a nice play between the loud acoustic guitar and the fiddle (this song is much more bluegrassy sounding).  When the music drops off and its only drums and fiddle—the song booms.

He introduces “Salt Year” with “Think about the first person you ever had a crush on. so maybe not first crushes but…first lustses”

The slide guitarist messes up on the opening of the song and asks if they can do trainwrecks—his mother will never forgive him.  Bathgate says they should leave it in. So they begin again, with that mournful slide guitar and Bathgate’s delicate vocals.

He tells a lengthy story about the final song “Levee.”  He was in Maine (he had lobster ice cream for the first time–don’t try it, it’s terrible) and he was on an all night drive with a crying friend.  She was inconsolable until the turned a corner and saw a gigantic harvest moon the filled the windshield.  What’s odd about the story telling is that he seems to be telling the violinist rather than the audience.  But that doesn’t matter because this song is fantastic.  It begins with some more great harmony vocals (the violinist has a really great, slightly unusual voice.  I loved that after each line, the violinist and the second guitarist play the floor tom with a great pounding rhythm.  And the bass/guitar riff between verses is great too.

As the show ends, they reveal that they band brought pie for everyone!

[READ: February 5, 2016] “Climbers”

This story is about writers and the publishing world.  But it comes from a wholly unusual angle that I liked a lot

The story begins with Gil raving about the world of Peter Dijkstra.  Peter Dijkstra is a Dutch author who spent some time in an asylum.  He wrote five novels in Dutch and recently had a novella and some short stories translated into English.

Gil works in publishing and says he would do anything–anything–to get Dijkstra published in the States. (more…)


Read Full Post »

whatifSOUNDTRACK: SON LITTLE-“The River” (2014).

sonlittleI don’t like the blues.  I find it dull and repetitive.  I also don’t really like singers who are described as “soulful.”  And yet here is Son Little with a soulful blues stomper that I really like a lot.  WXPN has been playing this song pretty often, and I like it more with each play.

It’s a fairly simple set up with handclapping and a two note guitar riff.  Even Son Little’s voice doesn’t seem all that special at first.  But there’s some way that all of the elements combine that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.

And with each verse, more elements are added, a synth sound, some guitar lines, even some bass riffs, building the song’s intensity.

But it’s that chorus–so catchy and ominous at the same time with interesting harmonies that just sound like he is echoing himself.  I really can’t get enough of it.

[READ: January 31, 2015] What if?

This book was just entirely too much fun.  Well, actually I thought it would be a bit more fun, but Munroe is so scientific that at times (when he got really factually scientific) I just felt dumb.  Which lessens the fun.  In fact, the first couple of pieces are really heavily sciencey, unlike some of the later ones which are really funny.

But what am I talking about?  This book is a collection of the “what if’ section of the website xkcd. There’s no real guidelines on the site for what kind of question you can ask, and many of them are quite strange (and often hilarious). They are hypothetical (what if?) questions and, depending on the arcane rules that Munroe follows he will answer them to the best of his scientific scrutiny.  And he will take the questions very very seriously–no matter how stupid your question may seem, he will try to answer it scientifically.  It’s fun!

But it’s also serious, and seriously scientific–Munroe is a former NASA roboticist.

So the first one “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity” almost seems to be put in the front to scare off those who might not want to be too scientific.  And the second question comes more down to Earth (but also destroys the Earth): “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” (more…)

Read Full Post »

xkcdSOUNDTRACK: CHASTITY BELT-No Regerts (2013).

regertsChastity Belt’s debut full length returns to the lineup of the first EP: Julia Shapiro (guitar, vocals), Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), and Gretchen Grimm (drums).  But it retains some of the more full sound of the second EP.  It’s a really interesting album with a lot of diverse styles that are all held together by Shaprio’s voice.

I love the complexity of “Black Sail” which has some jangling guitar and an interesting lead riff at the same time–and which exudes a more psychedelic feel.  “Seattle Party” is up next and between the two songs, they clock in at 8 and a half minutes, which is funny since the next four songs total less than that.

“James Dean” (re-recorded from that first EP) sounds better here–you can make out the lyrics better and it’s less staticky.  It really highlights their great short song writing skills.  “Healthy Punk” has a quick sound, with an almost ska-like rhythm.  “Nip Slip” is a funny song about wanting some chips and dip (with appropriate sound effects–the whispered chorus is really quite funny too).  “Full” is a rather spare song that changes things up a bit.

“Happiness” is a slow song that I don’t love, but it’s followed by the awesome “Giant (Vagina)” which takes PJ Harvey’s “Sheela na Gig” to an even more unexpected place–it’s funny and funnier.  “Pussy Weed Beer” is about well, pussy weed and beer–a fun song for one and all.  “Evil” ends the disc with a bright happy guitar sound–belying the “evilness” of the narrator.

Not every song is great, but there’s plenty to like about this weird album.  And the new single from their soon to be released album sounds even better.

[READ: February 10, 2015] xkcd volume 0

After reading Monroe’s What If? [which, in a cool, utterly intentional time bending way will be posted two days from now], I saw that he had a previous book called xkcd.  This is also the name of his website. I had passing familiarity with xkcd, but didn’t know all that much about it.  I’ve mostly been sent links to it rather than actively going there.  And it turns out it’s not that friendly of a site anyhow.  But there is a lot of funny to be had there.

xkcd is primarily a bunch of stick figure characters getting involved in a few kinds of situations: romantic (or unromantic), mathematical and sci-fiction/sci-reality issues.  Or as he sums it up:

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

It helps to know that Munroe used to work for NASA (although not as like an astronaut or anything), and that he has a very scientific/mathematical brain.  So much so that a liberal arts major such as myself found many many of these comics to be waaaaay over my head.  Of course, he also has cartoons about Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, so we can’t all be smug bastards, can we?

I laughed a lot at this book, and of course I scratched my head in confusion a lot too, but that’s okay, the ratio of humor to huh was high (there’s some basic math, right?). (more…)

Read Full Post »