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Archive for the ‘Culture Shock’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NONAME-Tiny Desk Concert #608 (April 3, 2017).

Noname (born Fatimah Warner) is a wrapper and crooner.  her voice is pretty and her demeanor is infectiously upbeat.  Although I don’t really love her songs, I find her attitude infectious.

The blurb says

It’s in the way she’s able to muster a smile while performing a heartbreaking tale of abortion. It’s those sometimes bleak, melancholy lyrics over brilliant, colorful production.

“Diddy Bop” is a strange mix of gentle music (delicate guitar lines from Brian Sanborn meld with synthesized flutes) and rather vulgar lines:  There’s a line “you about to get your ass beat” and lots of “my niggas” thrown around.  Phoelix (bass) sings a verse as well.  The song is only two minutes long.

After it she says she has watched many Tiny Desk Concerts and she “Just wants to be as good as T-Pain.”

The second song is actually a medley.  It begins with “Reality Check” and then segues into “Casket Pretty,” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

She says “Reality Check” is her most straightforward song, but “it would be shitty if you were like ‘damn that made no sense either.'”  I normally speak “in like, scramble-think, so hopefully you guys follow it.” “Scramble-think” refers to the clever metaphors she weaves in detailing the many ways she’s dodged destiny.

Akenya Seymour (keys, vox) takes a verse in this song and Phoelix gets some backing vocals.

“Casket Pretty” is quite an evocative expression but she repeats the lyric an awful lot during the song.  The drums by Connor Baker are interesting throughout the set, but especially in this song.

She says that “Yesterday” is her favorite song on the tape.  It’s the first song she made.  It’s vulnerable and honest and she was surprised how much people liked it so she decided she had more sadness and vulnerability for her album.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Constructed Worlds”

I enjoyed this story very much.  It is the story of a girl who is off to Harvard.  The story is set in the early 1990s–in the time of Discman and the beginning of e-mail.  It even opens with the fascinating line:

I didn’t know what e-mail was until I got to college. I had heard of e-mail, and knew that in some sense I would “have” it. “You’ll be so fancy,” said my mother’s sister, who had married a computer scientist, “sending your e-mails.”

The girl, Selin, has been hearing all about the World Wide Web from her father. He described that he was in the Met and one second later he was in Anitkabir in Ankara. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: ASHLEY MONROE-Tiny Desk Concert #317 (November 3, 2013).

Ashley Monroe is a country singer.  She’s part of the new way of female country singers, most of whom I don’t really like.

But some of the folks at NPR music love country, so I’ll let the blurb do the talking for me:

The title track from Like a Rose tells an optimistic story of survival, the ambivalent ballad “You Got Me” chronicles ill-advised romantic obsession, and, of course, the Top 40 country hit “Weed Instead of Roses” functions as a playful, fun-loving mission statement. Speaking of “Weed Instead of Roses,” which closes this charming performance, Monroe says the straitlaced [Vince] Gill insisted upon the song’s inclusion on Like a Rose — even going so far as to declare it a condition of his producing the album. The guy knew what he was talking about, both in his support of the song and of Monroe herself.

“Like a Rose” is almost comical in how stereotypically country it starts out:  “I was only 13 when daddy died /Mama started drinking and my brother just quit trying.”  Good lord.  At least it has a positive message.

She says that the melody for “You Got Me” came to her in her sleep and woke her up.

“Weed Instead of Roses” is a song she wrote as a joke when she was 19.  She says her grandpappy first heard the lyric as “give me weeds as well as roses” and he thought that was right on because the weeds are just as important as the roses.

The song is definitely fun (and funny) but the whole set is way too twangy country for me.  And IO find her back up guitarist/vocalist to be even more whiny/twangy than her.  Yipes.

[READ: February 26, 2015] Gunnerkrigg Court 2 [15-22]

I was originally mixed on Volume 1 of this series, but I jumped right into this one and loved it from start to finish (even if I admit to not understanding everything that was going on).

The book, which compiles chapters 15-22 and some extras, doesn’t begin with any kind of recap, so you kind of have to catch up as you go along.

We meet the fairy from beyond the river who was turned into a girl.  She is very upset that her friend is no longer friends with her.  She assumes it’s because of her hair (which is now long).  In an amusing sequence, she believes that if she cuts her hair short and spiky she will be friends again (with some other girl).  She is delighted to learn she can cut her hair and it doesn’t hurt (then she attempts to cut off her finger).

But these cute one-off chapters are strategically placed between the more serious arc, which involves the awesome looking Muut (an owl head on a hunky man’s body) and the introduction of a short-haired woman who might be a teacher and who goes by the name Jones. She is a wise woman and an amazing fighter (she shows off by beating a man wielding a sword while she is unarmed). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK
: BATHS-Tiny Desk Concert 300 (September 4, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Baths and I am impressed by their busy-ness in this set.  There are only two guys playing, both play with various computer gadgets and then switch to keyboards and guitars.  They layer more and more music on this fairly dancey and very electronic sound.

Baths, a.k.a. Will Wiesenfeld, plays mysterious and textured electronic music. When Wiesenfeld came to the Tiny Desk, I expected contemplative tones and a laid-back performance; he does, after all, call his project Baths. But what sets him apart from the vast majority of like-minded performers is that his music doesn’t get buried behind the buttons or lost in a hypnotic glaze.

Wiesenfeld is an extrovert live, and at the Tiny Desk, he sounds vibrant and compelling as he performs songs from this year’s Obsidian. His partner Morgan Greenwood, an accomplished music-maker in his own right, keeps the music dense but frees up Wiesenfeld to sing with few distractions; there’s a mind-meld between the two that’s undeniable. They’re not accustomed to playing in the light of day, but they enchant in this perfect introduction to their work.

Wisenfeld’s vocals are a lot of wordless sounds (ba ba ba, na na na) that get looped and mixed around.  He sings in a rather high register, especially when making the looped sounds.

“Miasma Sky” builds with layers upon layers of sounds and vocals.  The sounds are manipulated in great ways with those little knobs and sliders. And just as you think it’s going to end with a series of delicate synth and guitar notes, he begins looping them which create the building blocks for the rest of the song.   It’s primarily keyboards and glitchy drums until the end.

“Phaedra” begins with some heavy drums and them playing around with all their gadgets.  This is a fast, pumping, dancing song.  Greenwood sings backing vocals in an equally high register.

“Ocean Death” has deep thumping drums and an opening with lots of na na nas and la la las in a textually rich soundscape.  It all fades down o just drums before building back up again.

[READ: July 9, 2016] Ruins

Seven years ago I read a book called Diario de Oaxaca, a sketchbook by Peter Kuper that I really enjoyed.  When I grabbed this book of the shelf the other day I didn’t realize it was the same guy.  But I can see that that sketchbook informed this excellent graphic novel.

The Diario covered his two-year stay in Oaxaca where he drew a lot, studied insects (and saw the monarch butterflies) and experienced both chaos and contentment.

This fictionalized account of the story places two characters into a situation that sounds similar to what he experienced, but with enough difference to keep it purely fictional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALPINE-Tiny Desk Concert #295 (August 12, 2013).

I was unfamiliar with Alpine before this show, so the blurb helpfully notes:

The Australian sextet crafts busily impeccable pop music with a danceable sway, prominent synths and the charming shared lead vocals of Phoebe Baker and Lou James. That’s a lot of ingredients to strip down to a semi-acoustic set in the NPR Music offices; there’s virtually no margin for error.  Thankfully, the two women at the band’s heart possess gorgeously interlocking, harmony-intensive voices that require no sweeteners.

Each of the women is fascinating in her own way.  I can’t not mention that Lou James, the dark-haired singer’s outfit is light blue two piece with the top and bottom attached by crossing strands of fabric (so technically it’s a one piece).  While the blonde-haired singer, Phoebe Baker is wearing a flowery dress over a long-sleeved shirt.  Her hair looks like if she unclipped it, it would be a huge nimbus around her head.  But appearances aside, their voices work perfectly together.  They do a lot of singing one note in a pretty staccato fashion (almost like horns).  Their voices meld beautifully, whether singing in harmony or chorus.

I love the little fiddly, interesting guitar chords of the first song, “Gasoline.”  The song doesn’t deviate that much from the beginning—it’s bouncy and catchy–because all of the focus is on the two singers.  It’s really a fun song that I can’t stop listening to.

the second song, “Villages,” opens with a gentle acoustic guitar.  It’s interesting that Baker’s voice is noticeably accented in this song.  Like when she sings “Why don’t you come,” or in the really groovy middle part when James is singing, “I can’t believe I’ve seen this love,” Baker sings “Ah Oh” but you can actually hear her accent in these single notes.

They mention that they were walking around D.C. but it was way too hot.  They saw the White House and the Lincoln memorial.  The guitarist went to the Air and Space Museum (but he’s English) and the drummer is jealous.

I really like the way the third song, “Hands” opens with the vocals singing in an enchanting staccato, “It’s okay to feel the rain on my hand my love.”  And again once the verses start the vocals are very Björk-like

The final song, “Softsides,” is one they’ve never done acoustically before.  It’s also the first time their drummer has played keyboards live.  Once again the vocals are fascinating and really engaging, with each singer doing little pieces of the delicate vocal line.

[READ: July 19, 2016] Dan vs. Nature

I judged this book by its cover and title and deemed it worthy of a read.

I loved the idea of “vs. nature” and didn’t really have any sense of what the book would be a bout but the blurb “an outrageously funny and wicked raunchy romp in the woods” sounded promising.

So I was very surprised that the book began with Dan getting beaten up by jocks (the scene was funny if not a little violent) and then going home to have dinner with his mom and the man he is meeting for the first time–who his mom says just asked her to marry him.

The reason he is getting beaten up by jocks is because of his best friend Charlie.  They have been friends forever and Charlie is super smart.  He’s also a major germaphobe and has been reading everything science-related since he was little.  Charlie is also the school photographer and when he tries to get the jocks to pose for a picture he calls them uriniferous homunculi. They don’t know what that means, but Charlie explains it to them.  So Charlie and Dan both get beat up for it. The gym teacher hears the ruckus and comes out and tells them to save their fighting for the wrestling meet.  Ugh. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ATTACCA QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #579 (November 18, 2016).

The Attacca Quartet are a fascinating group. The group consists of Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga (violins), Nathan Schram (viola) and Andrew Yee (cello).  And they play a huge variety of music (and really get into what they are playing).

The first two pieces are modern and a little wild, so I assumed that that was the kind of music they played.  But then they told us about a Haydn quartet that they loved as well.   The blurb says:

They revere the old school, having recently completed a performance cycle of all 68 string quartets by Joseph Haydn, the man who invented the genre. They also hunger for the new, exploring the music of three living composers each year in a project called Recently Added.

The composer of the first two pieces is John Adams, who I know a little because of the Kronos Quartet.  But I like the blurb’s comment:

One contemporary composer the group continues to champion is John Adams. The head-banging pulsations of “Toot Nipple” (titled after a character in an Annie Proulx story) contrast with the slippery and funky episodes in “Alligator Escalator.” Adams has said he imagined such a creature waddling up and down the floors of Macy’s department store. The two movements belong to John’s Book of Alleged Dances from 1994.

I love the beginning of “Toot Nipple” as the cello is sawing away furiously and then passing off that fast sawing to the viola.  The piece is only a minute and 13 seconds long.  The second piece plays with quiet squeaky sounds as the strings progress up and down the fretboard almost randomly.  When things settle down I enjoy watching how aggressively the cellist plays the heavy notes before returning to some smooth notes high up the fretboard.  The violins also show some really fast fingerwork near the end.  This piece is all of 4 and a half minutes long.

Haydn seems really traditional when compared to Adams, there’s still some intensity on his piece:

Next to Adams, Haydn sounds positively genteel, but you needn’t look far to find the composer’s own feisty side. Sunny skies suddenly turn threatening at the turn of a phrase — a trend in Haydn’s time known as Sturm und Drang, or “Storm and Stress” — when moods can swing wildly with impunity.

Of all of the 68 string quartets, this is their favorite part to play.  It is pretty with a lot of really fast fingerwork as well.  I’m most surprised by the note it ends on–it doesn’t go down a note as you might expect.

The concert ends with “Smoke Rings.”

Measured by the cello’s tick-tock pizzicato, the mood of Michael Ippolito’s Smoke Rings is languid, even a little trippy. Inspired by a 14th-century French song about a smoking society, the composer employs long, slow strokes and light bow pressure for a hazy texture. The music heats up dramatically midway through, only to drift back into the smoke.

While the blurb talks about the cello, I was more taken with the pizzicato violin that ends the piece.  But after listening as second time I see that the pizzicato passes around to different musicians, beginning with the cello and the moving from one violin to the next.  But it’s not all pizzicato, there is a an aggressive middle section with notes the gradually ascend and grow more rapid.  It’s when this section ends that the pizzicato violin comes in to bring us home.

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 1

Judd Winick is a cartoonist whom I have liked for a really long time.  He has done a bunch of really funny cartoons and a very serious graphic novel called Pedro and Me.

Winick (and Pedro) and Winick’s wife Pam were all on The Real World San Francsico.  I don’t believe that that has anything to do with Winick’s success as a cartoonist (how could it, really?), but it is fun to remember him from the show.

Anyhow, this story is outstanding.  Winick has an amazing sense of comic timing and pacing.  He uses repetitive jokes to excellent result here.  On top of that, the story is compelling, funny and bittersweet.  It’s a great start to what I hope is a long series. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WESTERLIES-Tiny Desk Concert #575 (November 2, 2016).

The Westerlies call themselves “an accidental brass quartet,” (two trumpets and two trombones).  I don’t know if a brass quartet has a “standard make up,” but having only two instruments seems to make for an unexpected sound–one that feels more like a marching band than a swing or big band, but which is clearly not playing marching band music.  “Trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch can blow hard — after all, this is a brass band — but the surprise comes in their soft tones and subtle phrasing.”

The band doesn’t only play standards either.  For this Tiny Desk, they play three originals:

Clausen provides two tunes, beginning with “New Berlin, New York,” which sports a snappy theme, standing out like a bright tie on a smart suit. A scurrying pattern of interlocking notes furnishes the underlying fabric.  [I really like the staccato trombone notes which are really fast and bouncy.  Mulherkar  gets a pretty cool solo in the middle of the piece, but it sounds best when the two trumpets play together.  And yet there is another moment later on where it’s just one trumpet and one trombone and it sounds very cool.  I love watching the trombone play all of those fast notes].

Hensler’s “Run On Down” evokes the calm beauty of Washington’s San Juan Islands, north of the band’s former home base. [I love that he can get a different sound out of his trumpet without seeming to do anything different in his playing style. The song opens with two lonely sounding trumpets.  Midway through Clausen plays a sound like a person talking or humming.  I didn’t know you could change the tone and sound of a trombone like that].

Clausen ‘s closing number, “Rue Des Rosiers,” conjures up the circus-like vibe of a Parisian street scene. A whimsical theme gradually coalesces from fragments and grows into a rollicking amusement. [He introduces the piece by saying it was “inspired by a crazy old man riding a tricycle down the street of Paris. It was a giant tricycle and was wearing a beautiful bejeweled vest and there were windmills and horns and was something straight out of the circus.”  And boy, does this ever evoke circus music with the opening bass notes and the screaming trumpet.  The song slows down before building up into a rollicking circus piece.  And when one trumpet and one trombone put a mute on the sound gets all the more wild.  The piece ends with a variation on the traditional circus music before concluding].

[READ: June 2, 2016] Copper

After enjoying Kabuishi’s Explorer series I saw this book by him.

Copper was his first “comic strip” creation.  The story follows a boy named Copper who is quiet adventuresome and his dog Fred who is practical–and tries to keep him out of trouble.

In the introduction, Kabuishi says that the first comic (called Rocket Pack Fantasy) reflected his inner life at the time.  This proved to be his first published comic.  It was pretty dark (and black and white).  In that first one, he imagines wearing a rocket pack and then dropping bombs on a city.

But after a few more strips, Copper became more optimistic and Fred was there to question that optimism.  Kabuishi also added color. (more…)

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