Archive for the ‘Completed Series’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Diamond of Darkhold

The end of the previous book (the prequel) left me in very good spirits about this final book.  This one had not come out while I was working at the public library so I didn’t know about it and the title and cover puzzled me.

But whatever, it was time to see how this series ended (I assume its over).

But, oh no!  Another new audio book reader!  This time Katherine Kellgren.  Kellgren has the unenviable task of following up Wendy Dillon’s establishment as a reader.  It was a little disconcerting hearing Doon and some other characters who had very distinctive voices portrayed differently.  In fact, I wasn’t all that impressed by her reading at first because the characters kind of sounded the same.  But as soon as new characters entered the picture I was really thrilled with her reading.  The diverse voices she brought to the story were outstanding.

So what happens in it?

The story picks up about nine months after the Emberites left Ember.  Winter is coming upon them and things are very hard.  People are also getting sick (some people have died).  (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #611 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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sept2015SOUNDTRACK: RIVER WHYLESS-Tiny Desk Concert #501 (January 19, 2016).

whylessRiver Whyless is an interesting band, at least during this Tiny Desk Concert.  They have several singers, different instruments and a whole bunch of interesting percussion on hand–including a typewriter!

The band has one EP out, from which the first song “Life Crisis” comes.  The female singer (none of the players’ names are given) says that this was their tiny desk submission.

On this song the male singer (actually everyone sings) plays typewriter and presents his typed document at the end of the show–although the audience never gets to see it–I imagine it’s gibberish, but it would be amazing if it wasn’t).  The female singer plays a violin solo in the middle of the song (which was unexpected since she doesn’t have it as the song opens).

Under the typewriter is a pump for a harmonium which has an accidental vibrato on it.  Shes says that one day it started doing that and they love it and hope it never fixes itself.

The other two songs are new–not on their EP from last year.  “Sailing Away” starts with violin and harmonium.  There’s also a guitarist who sings leads and a percussionist (who has all manner of gadgets and drums and mallets around him).  The harmonium player/typist also plays a melody on the toy piano.  All of these items may seem like novelties or goofs, but their songs are quite lovely and these little accents just add to the overall feel.

“Baby Brother” opens with a buzzy acoustic guitar and a whole landscape of percussion.  And this time the harmonium player switches to guitar while he sings lead (everyone sings lovely harmonies by the way).

I love everything about this band…except their songs.  All three songs are quite nice, and while I’m listening to them I certainly enjoy them, but they are really not that memorable.  There’s no hooks in them.  Despite the fact that all of their accouterments are not really gimmicks, those are the things I will remember most about River Whyless.

[READ: January 18, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 4”

This is the final part of the 4 part essay.  A series like this is bound to be anticlimactic because presumably if his solo didn’t go well, he’d be dead.  And if he didn’t do the solo, there likely wouldn’t be a part 4 (unless he talked about chickening out instead).

But Ferris takes an interesting tact for this end section.

He opens the essay by explaining that he was commissioned by Popular Mechanics to write this essay.  This makes sense but is something  hadn’t thought about–they asked him to do it.

He says that he was full of anxiety the entire time–which we knew he would be.  He was terrified to fly–a wobbly commercial airplane takeoff would totally freak him out.  Plus, being a writer, he had an overactive imagination. (more…)

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nola3SOUNDTRACK: BECK-The Information (2006).

infoAfter Guero, Beck released Guerolito, a remix album.  I’ve basically given up on remix albums, so I don’t know anything about that one.

His next proper album was The Information which I have recently read was recorded at the same time as Guero. I remember when it came out that it had a whole bunch of stickers that you could put all over the cover (which was made like graph paper) so that each cover could be personalized.  Sadly I remembered that more than the music.  I hadn’t listened to the album in a long time either.  So when I played it the other day, after the first song I was afraid I didn’t remember any of it.

And even after a few listens, that first song, “Elevator Music” just never grabbed me.  Then came “Think I’m in Love” which was a reasonably big hit (surprisingly, not the first single from the album).  It’s what you expect from Beck–a cool bassline, catchy vocals and a great melody.  This one is a mid-paced song, but the chorus has a lot of bounce.  The next song, “Cellphone’s Dead” sounds a bit like “Hell Yes” with that watery staccato funky bass.  It’s definitely a fun song, and there’s a “sample” that I have to wonder if it’s not a sample at all–a neat idea to have something that sounds like sample but actually not be one).

“Strange Apparition” is a folkie song.  And this is the first song which made me realize what’s wrong with the album.  The sound quality of the whole disc is really flat.  It’s very sleek and smooth, so even though there’s some great guitars on this track, it’s the same loudness as the vocals.  And the drums are kind of lost in the mix too, it renders it really bland.  Which is shocking coming from Beck.  It’s also a shame because with a better mix this would be a great song.  Same with “Soldier Jane.”  The bass line is really fun, but it just gets lost in the muddle of everything else–which is not to say it sounds muddied, it’s just all the same.  “Nausea” was the first single from the album and I can see why–it’s funky and bouncy and has a catchy chorus an a cool bass.  But then it slowly dawns that this is basically a slightly less successful version of “Black Tambourine.”

“New Round” sounds pretty different for a Beck song–there’s layered waves of vocals and a lot of different sounds going on, including an interesting piano.  And I want to like it more, but it also seems to get lost in the washes of sound.  “Dark Star” rises above the washes with its slow and sultry sound.  It’s got a very cool 70s bass sound.  I wish there were a few more peaks on the song, but then it probably wouldn’t be so spacey.  “We Dance Alone” has some great sounds as well–again, that bass is very cool, but it just feels too smooth.

“No Complaints” brings back Beck’s old slightly out of tune guitar sound.  It stands out in this muddy middle of the album and is definitely a highlight.  “1000 BPM” is one of Beck’s weird skittery songs. There’s wild sounds and a seemingly improvised rap.  This would have probably sounded great on Odelay, but it feels odd to me here.  “Motorcade” has more acoustic guitar but by the time the chorus comes in, the only melody is on Beck’s vocals, while the strange music is almost a distraction from the melody.  There’s some cool sounds in “The Information” which is certainly an enjoyable song (and a lengthy end section of weird trippy vocals that foreshadows the very long bonus track).  “Movie Theme” opens with keyboards.  It’s nice, but just sort of meandering.

Which leads to the 10 minute final track “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton.”  This is sort of a recap of the whole album, with samples from different songs, long drawn out instrumental passages and dialogue.  There’s some interesting riffs, especially in the middle section (about 3 minutes in).  The third section of the song is dialogue between Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, talking about space and other things.  One wonders where Beck got this or if he just asked them to talk for the record.  It’s a weird ending and feels like a bonus track but actually isn’t.

There’s a bonus version of the disc which I do not have.  It has some more songs and a DVD.

So overall this is the first Beck CD that I just didn’t love, especially coming on the heels of the excellent Guero. There’s definitely some good songs here, I just want it to be crisper.

[READ: March 14, 2014] Nolas’ Worlds #3

Nola’s World concludes with this book, which was also translated by Erica Olson Jeffrey and Carol Klio Burrell.

I loved the first two books of this series quiet a lot, but felt like the third one fell a little flat.  The ending felt like it was solved too quickly especially after the hugely lengthy set up.

The first nearly 50 pages are all a way to lead up to the ferrets finally meeting Damiano and Ines (with the inevitable we-can’t-tell-you-everything delays.  Then we finally get the explanation that Alta Donna is a town between the Human World and the Land of Stories.  Since Damiano and Ines escaped from the Land of Stories, they have messed everything up.  We learn all about how the ferrets control Alta Donna (the details of this are quite neat).

But the big thing missing from all of this is Pumpkin.  And Nola knows it, too. (more…)

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nola2SOUNDTRACK: BECK-Odelay! (1996)

220px-OdelayAfter the success of Mellow Gold (and those other releases) we didn’t hear from Beck for a while (there’s a joke about the title of this record referring to the delays in production).

Beck quickly went from one hit wonder to wunderkind with this release which had 5 singles and is generally considered a masterpiece of the 1990s.

I haven’t listened to it in a long time, and I was surprised to hear that “Where’s It’s At” is not the lead track (it’s actually #8).  Rather it’s “Devil’s Haircut” that opens the disc.  And it still sounds fresh and fun (and, it must be said, rather weird–the guitar solo and that screaming at the end are not typical “single” material.  “Hotwax” returns Beck to his folkier roots.  Although it is folk done Beck-style, with funk keyboards and rapped lyrics.  There’s a ton of interesting styles of music in the background (old timey pianos, distorted guitars, even a weird little trippy ending).  While not trying to ape “Loser” at all, there are even lyrics in Spanish.  It’s a simple song that might have been a hit if there weren’t so many other hit-worthy songs on the disc.  “Lord Only Knows” is a fairly conventional song, catchy and simple.

“The New Pollution” was another single.  It’s also pretty unusual for a single–the opening samples (it must be a sample, even though I don’t see credits for it) an old sounding do do, do do do vocal line, (the listed sample is the sax solo from Joe Thomas’ “Venus.”  It’s so hard to know what’s original and what’s sampled with Beck.  “Derelict” is a slow, unusual song which I quite like, although I can see it being the first song on the disc that people didn’t love.  The backing music sounds like it’s played on an old music box.

“Novacane” is a funky rap-style track.  It’s noisy but fun and has some great samples.  “Jack-Ass” was another single.  I especially like this song.  It’s a slow and fairly conventional song with s simple melody and Beck’s mellow vocals–it cuts through the clutter of Beck’s usual cacophony and shows that he can do simple as well (and hints at Mutations).  Even if he does throw in the donkey sounds at the end.  And then there’s 2 turntables and a microphone.

“Minus” has a big noisy bass and guitar–a punk song, if you will.  “Sissyneck” has a great whistling opening which comes from “The Moog and Me” by Dick Hyman.  I really enjoy this country-infused number (it’s strange that I enjoy the less weird songs more, given that the other singles were so much bigger) .  “Readymade” is a slow meandering song with some interesting elements, although it’s probably my least favorite song on the disc.  Especially since it’s followed by the raucous “High 5 (Rock the Catskills), which has some great samples (including Shubert), a noisy chorus (“rocking the plastic like a man from a casket”) and (apparently) a recreation of some old rap (I love the “Ooh, La La Sassoon” and “Sergio Valenti” call outs).

The disc ends with “Ramshackle” a simple folk song that feel slightly out of tune.  It’s a mellow end to this all over the place disc (well, aside from the obligatory “bonus” track which is less than a minute of repeated noise).  Although it is well-known for its sampling and pop creations, it also shows the real diversity of Beck’s songwriting.

Check out the Moog and Me, which has Dick Hyman playing the Moog synthesizer and whistling along.

[READ: March 9, 2014] Nolas’ Worlds #2

Nola’s World is a three-part graphic novel series.  I just noticed in this book that it was originally (in French) called Alta Donna.  This book was translated very naturally by Erica Olson Jeffrey and Carol Klio Burrell.

The book picks up right where book one left off.  Nola is wondering why, after the crazy events at the end book one (which involve a roller coaster and aliens) Damiano hasn’t called or texted her and Pumpkin can’t remember anything that happened.

I felt like the beginning of the book was a little too pre-teen angsty for me, but it quickly snapped out of it and moved on the to fun and weirdness that this series presents in spades. We basically learn that Damiano and Inez are avoiding Nola because she can’t know their secret.  We also learn (and I guess we knew this already but I missed it) that the man controlling the aliens at the end of book one is Nola’s father. –WHAT??! (more…)

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nola1SOUNDTRACK: BECK-“Loser” singles (1994).

loserBeck has a new album out so I decided to listen through his back catalog for some context.  Which meant going back to “Loser” and beyond.  The first few things he put out all came around the same time.  So even though there are dates for when things were recorded, it’s not always clear what really came first.  Since the three full lengths all came out in 1994 and this single came out before Mellow Gold, I have arbitrarily decided to start here.

I own two “Loser” singles.  They both have the same cover, although one was an import.  The first one was the obligatory “this song is huge” single.  The second was because it had the delicious B-side “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack.”

The US CD features 4 B sides, which really demonstrated the variety of styles that he would bring to the album.  They don’t quite span the gamut of the things he had recorded on his other records, but you hear the catchiness and the weirdness as well as the utter chaos (at the end of “Fume”).

All of the songs are well-produced but not glossy.  “Corvette Bummer” seems like it should have been on the album.  “Soul Sucking Jerk (Reject)” is a different version than the album version.  It’s less interesting musically (it’s quite stripped down) and the chorus is really quite different.  I prefer the album version, but it’s interesting to hear this variant.  “Fume” is a funny song about huffing fumes (I thought Scientologists were anti-drugs).  It’s a silly song that is kind of anti-folk until the screaming noise that takes up the large portion of the end.

My UK single also has “Corvette Bummer” but it includes the mellow folky song “Totally Confused” which really shows the more folky side of him that he demonstrated before releasing Mellow Gold (and later on subsequent albums).  “MTV” is a bizarrely wonderful song. It starts off as a kind of spontaneous (so many of his early lyrics seem spontaneous) dis of MTV.  After a verse, the song stops, the engineer asks, what’s the matter, and then the song morphs into a lounge piano song also called “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack.”  Beck totally morphs his singing voice into a lounge lizard style and the song just gets goofier and weirder  It’s a wonderful B-side.  And these two singles really show what early Beck would be all about.

[READ: March 9, 2014] Nolas’ Worlds #1

Nola’s World is a three-part graphic novel series. I never would have guessed it was originally French (true, author Mathieu Mariolle’s name should have clued me in, but you never really know).  Anyhow, it was translated very naturally by Erica Olson Jeffrey.

The book is set in Alta Donna, a beautiful peaceful paradise on the water.  Which is utterly boring.  Nola’s parents are divorced and Nola’s mom works so much that Nola barely sees her.  (her parents are peripheral to the story but essential to Nola).  No unrelated, she also tends to be late for school a lot.

There’s a new boy at school named Damiano.  He’s a good-looking and interesting guy.  He also has a sister Ines, who seems to get away with whatever she wants–in school, out of school, everywhere.  And Nola makes it her mission to find out what is going on with them. (more…)

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apocaSOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Never Too Loud [US edition bonus tracks] (2009).

nevertooloudI reviewed this disc a few posts ago.   Since then the disc has finally been released in the States.  And, naturally, since I bought the import version there are three bonus tracks added on this one.  The three tracks are “My Problems (Are Your Problems Now);” “Sugar High”; “R.I.P. RFTC”

The tracks aren’t radically different from the rest of the disc.  However, the first track is notable for having a lot of backing vocals (yeah yeahs and other things).  It’s a bit weird.  As is the fact that the song sounds less bass heavy than most of their other songs–it’s still loud, but it seems a bit tinny.

The second track “Sugar High” sounds like Danko for a kids show.  In just about every other song I’ve ever heard that was about “sugar,” the sugar was a metaphor for sex.  And yet, this song’s chorus quite proudly proclaims, “ice cream cakes and candy cars, I’m the kind of guy who likes a sugar high” and “cotton candy and caramel I’m that type of guy.”  It’s almost too comical to be considered a real song, and yet it rocks really hard.  Some cartoon absolutely needs to use this song in its soundtrack.

The final song is about Rocket From the Crypt, obviously.  It’s also the first Danko song where I’ve had a hard time deciphering all of the lyrics.  But, suffice it to say that it’s a blistering fast track about the sad news that RFTC broke up.

Just three more interesting reasons to track down the CD now that it’s available in the States.

[READ: November 6, 2009] The Apocalipstix

The premise of this graphic novel is that a nuclear explosion has hit the U.S.  Our heroines are a kick-ass band comprised of three women (like Josie and the Pussy cats only really bad ass).  And despite the global destruction, they are still going to play their gigs.  Call it the “End of the World Tour.”

The main characters are: Mandy, a bad-ass black woman on guitar and vocals; Dot, a rather sweet (until she’s pushed) blonde bombshell on bass, and Megumi, a Japanese cowgirl (!) on drums who is mostly silent (she speaks Japanese) but who is very intense.

There are three short stories in this volume.  (more…)

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