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Archive for the ‘Sara Varon’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NATE WOOD – fOUR-Tiny Desk #818 (January 16, 2019).

This Tiny Desk opens with a flurry of keyboard noise followed by a flurry of rums.  When the camera pulls back we see that all of that noise is made by one person–Nate Wood (who also starts playing bass after about a minute),

I have seen a number of one man (and woman) bands over the years and it is always amazing to watch.

Unlike some of them though, Nate Wood doesn’t loop anything   He’s playing live drums and live bass at the same time.  And his drumming is not standard snare-bass, he’s got a lot of (relatively) complex percussion going on.

His bass playing is also really solid–using only one hand while he plays drums.  Again, it’s not simple two chord melodies, he’s doing proper bass lines.  The synth notes do appear to be on a kind of trigger, but he is actually playing most of the notes, in between drum hits.  Watch around the three-minute mark of “Rabbit,” while he plays the bass with his left hand, hits the snare and cymbals with his right hand and taps out melodies on the keys with that same hand.  His feet meanwhile are stomping out the bass drum and hi-hat (and there must be some kind of foot pedal switch involved).  And the amazing thing is how effortless he looks.

“Rabbit” is an instrumental, but he introduces the next song by saying, “This one is called ‘Better if You Try’ and there will now be singing (!)”.

So who is this guy?

Nate Wood says he only wishes he had more limbs, noting only the limitations of his physical body, rather than his ability to multitask. In his latest project, Nate Wood – fOUR, Wood’s brain splits attention between four synthesizers, an electric bass and a drum kit, all while singing about futurism. He’s his own engineer and roadie, too, who drove himself from Brooklyn to our D.C. office and quietly set up his gear, alone.

His setup is made possible through a long road of ergonomic trial-and-error that includes the precise height of the keyboards, the instrument sequencing and a wearable microphone to minimize physical demand and maximize as many possibilities as he can fit within arm’s reach of a drum throne. It’s a feat of ingenuity, especially considering Wood plays all of fOUR’s tunes in one take. No backing tracks. No overdubs.

“Better If You Try” has a cool bass riff and echoing keys.  It must be said that his singing isn’t anything special, and I find myself tuning out while enjoying the music.

I have to disagree with the final paragraph of the blurb:

But while it’s a thrill to see the multi-instrumentalist wizardry here, his music is perhaps best appreciated with eyes closed. Nate Wood pulls us into an industrial, neon dystopia with tunes that stand alone as headphone music without the accompanying visuals, meticulously crafted and with precise execution. This isn’t novelty music. You’re hearing (and seeing) a mastermind songwriter and mad scientist at work. Just look at that lab coat!

I don’t find his music all that compelling by itself.  I do love the excellent echoing electronic sounds from his bass on the final song.  And I do like the more sinister edge “They’re Coming” gets.  Thematically, “They’re Coming” is interesting enough, but the lyrics are sci-fi standard and when I listened without watching I kept thinking–how is he doing that?

[READ: January 18, 2019] New Shoes

It’s funny that I read this book right after Peter & Ernesto because while they are very different, they share an amazing number of similarities.

This book is set in a fictional, animal-dominated version of Guyana.  The epilogue says that Sara and John visited Johns’ family in Guyana where she took hundreds of pictures as inspiration.  You even see the house that inspired her main character Francis’ own house.

Francis is a shoemaker–he always wanted to be one.  And he is hugely successful.  People come from all over for his amazing shoes. (more…)

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luchSOUNDTRACK: THE CRISTINA PATO TRIO-Tiny Desk Concert #305 (September 21, 2013).

patoI didn’t know who Cristina Pato was or what instrument she played.  So when the show started (without visuals), I assumed she was the accordionist (because the show starts with some wild accordion music).  But in fact, Pato is playing the bagpipe.  Pato’s instrument is the gaita, a Galician bagpipe, and her roots lie in traditional Galician music — though she also boasts graduate degrees in classical piano, music theory and electronic composition.

I love the sound she band gets together with the funky staccato accordion notes and the wild racing pipes.  They are very jazzy and very idiosyncratic.  Her percussionist uses several different types of drums—the ubiquitous box drum and a hand held drum as well as various shakers and other sound makers.

They play three songs.  It’s interesting how much of the first song is taken up without the bagpipes—there’s lenghy sections where the accordion has the floor and she is just happily dancing around.  And the accordionist is amazing.  he plays all kinds of different styles and gets an amazing range of sounds out of that one instrument. He wails!  Of course I see now that the song is actually written by the accordionist: “Victor Prieto: ‘Mundos Celtas.'”  So it’s no wonder that she is happy to sit back and let him shine.  (Prieto , like Pato, is a native of the town of Orense in Galicia).  While he is playing, she whoops and hollers to get everyone pumped.  But once she gets her instruments going she is a nonstop blur of fingers and wild notes.  I particularly like that she has a section where the note is slightly flat and she continues to slowly raise it until it gets in pitch.  I also love–due to the nature of the bag pipes–that she can scream and whoops while still pressing air out of the bags.  And at the end of the song, she is just wild with fast notes.  It’s a very intense piece.

The second piece “Traditional/Cristina Pato: “Alalá Re-rooted” starts with her singing.  She is unmiked so you can’t really hear her, but I don’t really enjoy her singing as much as her playing so it’s okay.  I do love the interesting sounds the percussionist Shane Shanahan (Shanahan is American, but is also a longtime member (with Pato) of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) is making.  Overall, this is a fairly dissonant piece—with her sounding almost like a free jazz players (but on pipes rather than sax).  I do love near the end where she almost seems to get a harmonic overtone on the pipe.  It’s a great moment—but fairly weird how the song just sort of fades away before seguing into the final song.

Victor Prieto & Emilio Solla: “Muñeira For Cristina” this song seems to be all about percussion with lots of drumming and a very noisy tambourine that Pato plays.  She gets the crowd clapping along and then  when she and Prieto play the same awesome riff together,it sounds great.  I love watching her shake the finger part while she’s playing it, to get a cool almost whammy bar sound out of it.  The song totally rocks and the whole set with the unlikely combo of accordion and bagpipe is startlingly wonderful.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Comics Squad: Lunch!

I really enjoyed the first Comics Squad book and I was delighted that a second one came out.  I just recently saw that a third one is coming out the summer–I love that it is called Detention and is coming out on Independence Day.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

But the rest of the line up is quite different this time around, which is cool–allowing other artists to shine.  This time there are stories from Cece Bell (El Deafo) ; Jason Shiga (a great indie artist who does some kid-friendly and some decidedly not kid friendly books) ; Cecil Castelucci & Sara Varon ; Jeffrey Brown and Nathan Hale (his own series of historical stories).

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. (more…)

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oddduck1SOUNDTRACK: SAM LEE-Tiny Desk Concert #470 (September 11, 2015).

samlee Sam Lee has a fascinating voice, it reminds me of Nick Drake, but more… powerful.  He has Drake’s timbre and somewhat unusual delivery–sort of a stage-ready musical delivery.  But aside from his voice, what makes Lee so interesting is that for these three songs, possibly for all of his songs, he “has dedicated himself to preserving centuries-old folk songs of the U.K. and Ireland, particularly from “outsider” communities like the Roma (Gypsies) and the Scottish and Irish Travelers.   He and his bandmates–ukulele player and vocalist Jon Whitten, violinist and vocalist Flora Curzon, and percussionist and vocalist Josh Green–put these ancient songs in thoroughly 21st-century arrangements that feel creative, fresh and surprising, but also deeply human.”

“Over Yonders Hill” opens with that ukulele and Lee’s voice–I was quite surprised when I first heard it all together, but it works quite well.  And then the fiddle kicks in, playing some lovely swirling solos.  Then Lee adds a tiny harmonium, and that wheezy tone adds perfectly to the feeling that you might be out by a campfire   The song keeps building with backing vocals from the drummer.  As the song nears its end the violinist adds her haunting backing voice to the proceedings.

He explains that he goes around the country recording old singers—the keepers of these old traditional songs.  So the second song, “Lovely Molly” he learned from an old Scots traveler—a song of an old plow boy going to war.  They do this one a cappella and their harmonies are beautiful.

He learned the final song, “Goodbye My Darling” from a horse dealer in Kent–an old gypsy man.  It is about men being sent off to penal servitude in the United States and Australia and the injustice done to those incarcerated.  It is also played on that tiny harmonium which looks like a laptop.  As the harmonium fades away the violin plays a sweet pizzicato melody.  After about three minutes the song kicks into high gear, sounding very much like a traditional song—fast violin and quick rhythm.   And yet as the music grows more alive, the lyrics get darker.  As the song ends he does a kind of whistling hum, which I simply don’t understand, but which adds a delightfully strange texture to the music.

I don’t know that I would seek out Lee’s music, but it’s nice knowing he’s out there.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Odd Duck

I love the First Second Childrens’ books.  They are a little bit odd, but ever so fun.   And Sara Varon is a great illustrator so putting her art on anything makes it enjoyable.

I’ve read a number of Castellucci’s other books, and the two seem like good pair for this story about not quite fitting in.

Theodora is a duck.  She likes things to be regular and consistent.  She goes for a swim at the same time every day, with a tea cup on her head–making sure not to spill a drop.  She always has exact change at the store and looks at the stars every night.

But she is also a little different from the other ducks.  She buys mango salsa (which no one else does), she buys fabric squares and reads books that haven’t been checked out in years. (more…)

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sweater SOUNDTRACK: ÁSGEIR-Tiny Desk Concert #397 (October 18, 2014).

asgeirÁsgeir Trausti Einarsson is an Icelandic singer songwriter.  He has a beautiful soft soaring voice.  He released his debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn in Icelandic (it became the biggest-selling debit in Icelandic music history).  A year later he reissued it in English (with translation help from John Grant who was living in Iceland) as In the Silence and finally (the version I have, as a 3 disc set with the Icelandic and English discs as well as a selection of bonus songs.

“On That Day” is a pretty, guitar based song (Ásgeir plays the main melody line and has guitar accompaniment (and backing vocals) from his childhood friend Julius Róbertsson.

For the final two songs, Ásgeir switches to piano.  “Torrent” has gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s interesting how much more deliberate this song feels–not quite staccato, but the piano chords don’t really ring out, letting each note stand on its own.

For this Tiny Desk, he stripped down the songs, getting to their core.  They’re not flashy, they’re just lovely.

The final song he plays, “Higher” is the first song on the record (interestingly “On that Day” is the final song on the record).  It has a very slow, delicate piano melody and is also soothing and beautiful.

And in a cool synchronicity at the end of the show Bob tells Ásgeir  that he’s playing at the same piano that John Grant played on a few months earlier.

[READ: July 2, 2016] Sweaterweather

Back in 2003, Sara Varon published her first book called Sweaterweather.  This collection includes all of the original 8 stories as well as a few more.  Each story gets a brief introduction from Varon which makes me like her even more (she’s quite funny).

Most of the stories are short(2-3 p[ages) and most don’t seem to have a title.  The contents page is actually thumbnails from each story.

When I first saw Varon’s style, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It is so innocent and childlike.  And I have really grown to love it–especially when these sweet animals characters (they’re pretty much all animals) tackle some intense feelings. (more…)

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robotSOUNDTRACK: THE BOTS-Tiny Desk Concert #396 (October 14, 2014).

botsThe Bots are a duo–guitar and drums–who play noisy garage rock.  They are brothers Mikaiah Lei (21) on guitar and vocals and Anaiah Lei (17) on drums.  The Bots put out their first album 6 years earlier (do the math).  You can hear a lot of more famous rock duos in their sound, (fill in the blank with prominent two person rock bands) but despite their rocking noisy sound Mikaiah’s voice sets them apart for being kind of sweet and smooth rather than angular and yelling.

The first song is “All of Them (Wide Awake).”  It has a simple rocking riff interspersed with delicate verses.  The middle section has a wild and raucous solo.  There’s some fun moments in that solo–stops and starts as well as a wall of noise.

Before starting the second song, they chat and say they “didn’t know people were actually here when you watch the videos online–there’s somebody at a desk right there.”  Mikaiah then says, “I’m incredibly chill right now.”

“Blinded” has a great, slow, stomping riff and some backing bluesy keyboards–the drummer (I love that he is using a stick and a mallet) has a synth type of contraption next to him.  The solo is interesting with no other music behind it but the drums.  The chorus of “I I I I I  want to know” is super catchy.

He says “All I Really Want” is an ‘alternative’ version of their song.  Although it’s not really acoustic since he’ll be using distortion.  It opens with a wild synth riff from the synth machine but the song proper is very fast and heavy with a big riff and fast verses.  The chorus gets even more punky with a great riff and vocals.  Mikaiah plays a cool echoing solo and then it’s all over.  11 minutes of great rock.

As the camera fades, Mikaiah says that he’s wanted to play Tiny Desk fora  while and now this was something he could cross off his list.  Bob asks what else is on his list.  He thinks for a minute and then quietly he says “Playing softball with Mariah Carey.”

[READ: May 2, 2016] Robot Dreams

This largely wordless comic is both funny and sad–not bad for a book about a dog who builds a robot.

Varon’s drawing style (which is delightfully unique) complements the sweet but slightly odd contents of the plot.

As the book opens, a dog receives a box which says Tin Robot Kit Build It Yourself.  The dog does so and then he has a new friend.  The two do everything together: take naps, go to the library and then go to the beach. They go in the water and splash around and have a great time.  But after lying on the beach, the robot suddenly can’t move.  He has rusted!

The dog feels embarrassed about it but goes home, leaving the robot on the beach (!). (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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SOUNDTRACK: CORB LUND-“Dig Gravedigger Dig” (2012).

I’m not what you’d call a country music fan.  There’s a lot of reasons for this.  But most of the reasons have little to do with the music itself–some of which (the faster honkier tonkier stuff) I rather like.  Corb Lund is a Canadian country singer who I’ve heard of but don’t know anything about.

This song is a honky tonking, harmonica stomping, group singing song about digging graves.

This is the kind of country I could get used to. Whoo!

[READ: July 19, 2012] Bake Sale

Why not follow a cookbook with a book about cooking.  Bake Sale is a graphic novel about a cupcake who makes cupcakes.  He is friends with an eggplant and all of the residents of his Brooklyn neighborhood come into buy his wonderful baked goods (a bag of sugar loves his brownies and an egg gets coffee every morning).  Cupcake is also in a band with his friends: bagel on banjo, pear on bass, egg on horn, eggplant on trombone.

(After I read it, Sarah pointed out how odd it is that all of the characters are foodstuffs, and that the bag of sugar is eating something that contains sugar.  I noticed that (how could you not?) but I allowed for some cognitive dissonance I think).

Turns out that Eggplant’s Aunt Aubergine knows Turkish Delight, the famous chef.  And Eggplant is traveling to Turkey to visit Aunt Aubergine.  Cupcake would love to meet Turkish Delight, but he can’t afford an airplane ticket.  So cupcake has a choice to make–work longer hours and quit the band or simply not meet his idol.

Cupcake decides to work extra hours.  But not in his shop–he begins selling his cupcakes (and more) on the street.  I enjoyed his table laden with themed items (for a boxing match, for the blessing of the animals at the cathedral, and even dog biscuits for the Westminster dog show). (more…)

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