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Archive for the ‘Shaun Tan’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SKINNY LISTER-Tiny Desk Concert #286 (July 8, 2013).

I had never heard of Skinny Lister.  And that’s kind of a surprise because their music fits right in with the group folk rock of bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers–they could be huge!.  Back in 2013, they were a newish band and Bob Boilen explains where he first heard them.

I was coming back to my hotel during SXSW 2013 in hopes of grabbing a short nap when I saw Lorna Thomas winning the hearts of a gathering crowd with her flirtatious, cheer-me-up style of singing and dancing. Then my eyes and ears found a punkish band with accordion, upright bass, guitars, and vocals from Dan Heptinstall. I couldn’t leave, I never napped, and I fell head over clicking heels for their reels and jigs and whatever else they tossed our way.

When it was done, I shook their hands, gave them high-fives and hugs, and handed them my card. Months later, they showed up at my desk early in the day bearing lots of beer, some mysterious alcohol in an even-more-mysterious jug, and an assortment of instruments. After watching this Tiny Desk Concert, when you’re ready for more and you can’t find Skinny Lister playing your local pub, you can check out its debut album, Forge & Flagon — it’ll tide you over until the band makes it back to your town.

As the set opens, Lorna Thomas has a giant flagon of that mysterious liquid.  She explains, that it is a flagon and that she learned the proper technique of drinking it over the shoulder.  Which she demonstrates to us.  Although she can’t “play” it.  But that’s where their album title The Forge & Flagon comes from.  They play three songs which really showcases their range.

“Trawlerman” is a rollicking fun song with lots of bawdy singing.  It’s a party atmosphere with a really fun rowdy chorus of “haul away haul away.”  After the song, Lorna drinks from a bottle of beer (which is almost empty).  remember this is like 10AM.

“Colours” drops the tempo down a bit.  It is a mellow but pretty song.  It’s a song about the sun coming out–something that doesn’t happen very often [in England] but when it does we have to cherish it and then write songs about it. The accordion player (it’s actually a melodeon) switches to a mandolin.  The song builds to a fun conclusion with the mandolin shouting “here we go!” as the end takes off on a chorus of “flash before us.”

“Rollin’ Over” continues that wild rollicking vibe.  I love that it starts with raucous guitar playing and then a cool melodeon riff to start out,  This is a fast peppy song with an infectious chorus.

I fins it interesting that the guys are dressed kind of town—sleeveless shirts and sleeveless denim jackets (the bassist is covered in tattoos) and yet Lorna is in a very pretty dress.  As the concert ends, she takes a swig from the jug straight on and says “that’s the other way to do it.”

I was trying to figure out just who was in this band.  But there were personnel changes aright around this show.  The only people I’m pretty sure of are

  • Dan Heptinstall – lead vocals, guitar, and stomp box (July 2009–present)
  • Max Thomas – melodeon, mandolin and vocals (July 2009–present)
  • Lorna Thomas – vocals (July 2009–present)
    • Then I’m sorta sure:
  • Sam “Mule” Brace – guitar, concertina, vocals
  • Michael Camino – double bass and vocals

Then, according to the Wikipedia site in the fall after this show they added a drummer, but honestly I’m not sure they need it, as their guitar playing is already percussive (what with that stomp box and all)

[READ: April 17, 2016] The Oopsatorium

I love Shaun Tan. His works are funny and often absurd.  And his drawing style is consistently fantastic,

When I saw this book at work, I was immediately struck by the great name.  And when I saw that underneath the title it said Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, I assumed that this was going to be a hilarious collection of failed inventions.

And it is, sort of.

Tan has created a book which melds truth and fiction.  The Powerhouse Museum is real.  The inventions in the book are actually in the museum, (there are photos of a dozen or so cool contraptions).  However, Mintox, a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor and author of the never published Eat, Pray, Invent, is fictional. (more…)

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birdkingSOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-“Sun Down” (2014).

trickI really liked Tricky’s first few albums.  He came back with a good album last year and now he has a new one called Adrian Thaws.  It is currently streaming on NPR.

I listened to the whole album and I like it quite a lot.  There’s a decent variety of stuff, most of which is really fantastic.  There’s a few tracks I’m not so sure about.  But one of the key things is that Tricky’s claustrophobic and slighty off-kilter style is at the forefront here.  Especially in this song.

It begins with a kind of tribal sounding beat and then some distorted bass notes.  There’s a clock ticking in the background as Tricky’s voice (sometimes doubled) speaks/raps his slow style.  It feels close up and dark.  When guest vocalist Tirzah sings the female parts, she continues that slightly echoed, slightly muffled style that doesn’t really shed any brightness on the song.

Sure, there’s a chorus, but it’s not the reach out and grab you kind.  Rather, it just pushes the song along to its inevitable conclusion.  The keyboards noises that end the song create an uneasy feeling as the beat continues until the song ends with a ticking clock.

It’s great to have Tricky back in form.

[READ: July 1, 2014] The Bird King and other sketches

I’ve been marveling over Shaun Tan’s work this summer, so I was delighted to see this book as well.  The Bird King is, as the subtitle says, a collection of Tan’s sketches. He gives a brief introduction about how he was unsure whether or not to publish them as they are clearly unfinished, but so many of them are so beautiful in their “what might be” stage, that it’s hard to deny their value.

I mean, the very first picture, called “Bee-eater” is magnificent (it’s at the bottom of the page here).  It is part of the first section called Untold Stories.  This includes several of the pages from the comic Flinch that I read back in June.  I said I didn’t love the pieces then (I didn’t realize he did the cover of that book as well).  But I see now that I like the drawings better out of the context of that book, which was more about spooky and unsettling things.  I don’t think of Tan’s work as spooky or unsettling, rather it’s more magical, so seeing this series of titled pencil drawings together was really cool.

The second section is called Book Theatre and Film (I didn’t know that he was a creative consultant for Wall-E), and it includes samples from his books (like Eric and The Red Tree) as well as stills from movies that were made of his books like The Lost Thing as well as earlier books which I don’t know like John Marsen’s The Rabbits and covers of other books (like Tender Morsels). (more…)

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ericSOUNDTRACK: JAKE BUGG-Tiny Desk Concert #342 (March 10, 2014).

buggJake Bugg is the least charismatic person I’ve ever seen at the Tiny Desk. He doesn’t look up, barely says anything and when he’s not singing, he seems bored out of his mind. It’s amazing he has any energy at all to sing the songs.  But he does, and his voice is deceptively strong and his songs, while simple, are really rather fun.

He plays four songs.  “Slumville Sunrise” is punky and fast–his voice is very British and a little abrasive, perfect for punk folk.  But in the chorus, he can really belt out the lyrics. “Me and You” has a nice melody and is a good change of pace from the first song.  “Storm Passes Away” is a more folkie song, mellower than the others and almost upbeat sounding.  The final song, “Lightning Bolt” is apparently one of his big singles.  It is fast and rollicking and has an unusual and rather catchy deliver style.

I came away from this concert thinking that Bugg was a real jerk, but I was impressed by his voice and his song writing chops.

[READ: July 1, 2014] Eric

Eric is a very simple children’s story done with the great exacting style of Shaun Tan’s best artwork.  The narrator explains that Eric is a foreign exchange student.  Eric is very curious about so many things; however, since Eric is only a few inches high, most of the things he is curious about are tiny incidental things that we take for granted–buttons, the shapes of drains, plastic wrappers, etc.

The narrator’s mum says it is a cultural thing, and it must be, because Eric doesn’t do things that most normal people do (probably because he is only 3 inches tall).  The end of the story is a wonderful surprise. (more…)

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flinchSOUNDTRACK: HAUSCHKA-“Improvisation,” “Random Gifts” and “Mt. Hood” in the NPR studios (2010).

hausckaHauschka is German composer Volker Bertelmann and he plays the prepared piano.  What that means is that he places things on and in the piano to alter the sound of it.  (Nothing he does creates any permanent damage).

Mostly he creates percussive sounds with things like bottle caps,Tic Tac boxes and skewers.  And while it sounds simple, it is really quite ingenious.

This Vimeo link shows him talking to Guy Raz at NPR about the random materials that Raz has given him and then demonstrating how they change the sound of things.  Then he plays the “Random Gifts.”

The Youtube Video below shows another improv piece from the same day using different items.

This Vimeo link to him playing “Mt. Hood” shows off his use of ping pong balls.

All of his songs are fairly simple and fairly slow, primarily because the preparations add resonances and percussion that would overwhelm if he played faster.  Thus his pieces are often moody and reflective

Hauschka has a new album out as of this month called Abandoned City.  Every track on the new CD is named after a city that has been abandoned, that is vacant.  And his spare oftentimes eerie music goes very well with that theme.

There’s lots more videos of him on YouTube which are worth checking out.

[READ: June 23, 2014] Flinch

I was grabbed by the cover of this graphic novel.  The book is so short that I was really surprised to see that it was actually a collection of short stories.  As you can tell from the subtitle, this work is going to be dark and more than a little creepy.  And it is.  And while there are some similar visual styles, it’s interesting to see just how different these 13 stories can be.  Most of the stories use very few words, relying instead on the power of the visuals.  And it works pretty well.

I didn’t think any of them were especially creepy or dark, although the first one is kinda gross.  I enjoyed them for what they were, short stories that revel in the darker side of life.  I hadn’t heard of most of the artists.  The only one I knew was Shaun Tan. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TV ON THE RADIO-Nine Types of Light (2011).

I loved most of TV on the Radio’s releases.  On this one they scaled back some of their sound and they really highlight their assets, namely the vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone.  This album feels like something of a continuation of the style from Dear Science.

Indeed, some of the songs are downright simple. “Second Song” is completely straightforward; I really enjoy the falsetto vocals on it.  “Keep Your Heart” is so straightforward it has almost no music in the verses.  It’s very much back to basics. “Killer Crane” is also very simple, with a gorgeous melody.

But don’t count uberdude Dave Sitek out of the game, he throws in some very interesting sounds and textures on a number of tracks.  “No Future Shock”  introduces all kinds of wonderful sounds and repeated lyrics which work as a mantra.  One of my favorite songs is the weird and wonderful “New Cannonball Blues” great synth sounds, cool harmonies  (that falsetto is on fire here!) and a nice staccato chorus.  “Repetition” has some cool repetitions (it’s in the title after all) that really becomes a mantra, with some great musical accompaniment.  And the drums sound amazing.  And “Caffeinated Consciousness” has some more cool sounds: orchestral hits and the like followed by a very mellow bridge.

And then there’s “Will Do” a perfect blend of the two styles–rich melodies, cool effects and great vocals (which is why it was the single).

The simple songs are a good introduction to the kind of stuff TV on the Radio is capable of, but it’s clear they have a love for the unexpected and that’s why I enjoy them so much.

[READ: February 5, 2012] Tales from Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan is an Australian author/artist who drew the amazing wordless The Arrival (it is stunning!).

This book is a collection of fifteen (very) short stories that come chock full of drawings.  Some drawings add to the story, some drawings tell the story and some drawings tell a kind of parallel story.  As with The Arrival, his artwork is weird and wonderful.

The library filed this book under YA Graphic Novels.  I’m not sure it’s either of those (The Arrival was filed under kids picture books).  While there are pictures, it is certainly not a conventional graphic novel.  And while the themes and idea aren’t risqué or anything, I feel like the ideas are more adult than teen oriented.  Of course, having said that, most of the protagonists are young, so maybe teens do enjoy stories about existential confusion! (more…)

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