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Archive for the ‘Dreams’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHABAZZ PALACES-Tiny Desk Concert#661 (October 23, 2017).

Shabazz Palaces is really nothing like anything else I’ve heard.

“On the ground we have leopard skin carpets Only the exalted come in and rock with us.”

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces‘ Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group’s metaphysical headspace.

And, man, talk about being transported to the other side. It’s impossible not to envision the Seattle studio, Black Space Labs, where Shabazz’s otherworldly soundscapes emerge to provide the ideal backdrop for shining a light on the fake.

 It’s the perfect proxy for the growing sense of alienation we’re all suffering, to some degree or another, in today’s space and time.

Shabazz Palaces is perhaps the most unusual rap band I’ve heard. There are hardly any beats. The songs are trippy with washes of synths and other sound effects.  There’s no heavy bass, it’s just up to Palaceer Lazaro to keep the flow.

There’s an 80 second intro in which Palaceer Lazaro introduces the band and talks about their sacred study, safe from the “Colluding Oligarchs.”

The first proper song “Colluding Oligarchs”says that “sacred spaces still exist / safe from colluding oligarchs.”  Theirs almost glitchy (but pretty) synth melodies (which I think Palaceer Lazaro triggered before he started rapping).  His partner Tendai Maraire plays a hand drum and congas (as well as some synth triggers).  And all the while he is singing echoed backing vocals.  Meanwhile, Otis Calvin plays an intertwining, slow, almost improved bass line.

For “They Come In Gold” there is no bass.  He says “this one we wrote to our phones.”  There’s a weird repeating melody that sounds like  snippet of vocals. Once again there’s lot of percussion–shakers, cymbals etc.  Half way through, he puts a filter on his voice to slow it down (a cool spacey effect) and then speeds it back up.

“Shine A Light” includes some squeaky synths and Palaceer Lazaro singing into a different mic.  When the music starts formally, the melody is a looped sample from Dee Dee Sharp’s 1965 song “I Really Love You.”  The bass is back playing some simple but groovy lines.  That second mic is connected to a higher-pitched echoed setting when he sings shine a light on the fake.

[READ: March 15, 2017] Punch

I don’t know much about Pablo Boffelli aside from that he is an Argentinian artist–he creates music as well as visual arts.

This book is a collection of line drawings (which remind me a lot of things that I draw when I am doodling).

Since the book is published in Spanish, with no English information anywhere (it’s not even on Goodreads), I couldn’t get a lot of information about it.  So from the publisher’s website I got (in translation):

In the PUNCH world, space is a character that unfolds and unfolds in millions of scenes. Cynicism and the absurd coexist with hints of synthetic humor.

Punch is the book drawn by Feli. His imprudent stroke runs through the pages building a city in which everything can happen. In the Punch world, space becomes a character that unfolds and unfolds in millions of possibilities. The urban landscape eats everything, the exteriors become interior and the fantasies materialize in the most unforeseen forms. The cynicism and the absurd coexist with hints of humor: the joke to discover for that spectator who contemplates in a disinterested way.

Punch is tender and corrosive, is infinite and minimal. It reverses the logic of physics and plays with the scale: stacked things, types or giant landscapes, a springboard that does not point to the pool, soccer balls in a refrigerator, humans without head, debauchery and micro-obsession. Put another way: this book is crazy. We recommend looking with a magnifying glass.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHOVELS AND ROPE-Tiny Desk Concert #304 (September 16, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert starts with the most fun opening of any—the duo of Shovels & Rope brought their dog along, and as they are warming up, the dog roams around, getting pet by people and sneaking treats.

As the blurb notes:

But once Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent showed up, the office quickly lost sight of the approaching performance, as the murmurs began: “There’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office!” You could practically see our coworkers’ brains short out from a combination of cognitive dissonance and canine adoration.

I’ve enjoyed Shovels and Rope’s punky folky country music, But I didn’t know much about them:

As endearing as our new friend was, Shovels & Rope soon won back the crowd’s attention [with] the husband-and-wife duo’s mix of rowdy folk-rock and rootsy balladeering. After opening with the plaintive ballad “Carnival,” the South Carolina duo ripped through one of its signature rockers — “Birmingham,” during which the pair held eye contact sweetly while singing in unison — before closing with “Bad Luck,” a clattering gem for which the two swap instruments (he on guitar, she on drums). The song, originally from a Michael Trent solo album, most recently appeared on a deluxe version of Shovels & Rope’s 2012 debut, the winning and appropriately titled O’ Be Joyful.

The band’s music is definitely steeped in country and yet there’s something about it that I like—they have country spirit without all the twang—or perhaps it’s just the gorgeous harmonies that elevate it above pedestrian country fare.

“Carnival” is a slow, sweet song.  She plays guitars, he plays keys and he gets a harmonica solo.  For “Birmingham,” he jumps up and switches to drums. And it’s amazing how much power that simple drum beat puts into these songs.  This is a hootin’, hollerin’, country stompin’ song.  There’s a punky element to it- sort of an X vibe (although I think its more like The Knitters than X) with their voices mingling.

As that song ends, they switch places–he takes guitar she takes the drums.  Before starting, he asks, “Where’d our dog go?  Anyone got a line on a hound dog?”  She jokes, “If your ham sandwich is half eaten?”  Then corrects: “He won’t half eat it, he’ll get it all.”

The final song “Bad Luck” is a big stompin’ fun song. There’s simple loud punky drums and she hollers the vocals for extra fun

The dog even gets an on-screen handshake at the end (and then the duo shake each others’ hands, too).

[READ: July 30, 2016] The Metamorphosis

I’ve been enjoying the art of Peter Kuper lately.  So I found a few of his older books, like this adaptation of The Metamorphosis, which is pretty great.

I don’t know if this is meant to be a complete telling of the story.  I’ve read it a few times, but I don’t know all of the details.

I liked that he clearly doesn’t include all of the dialogue or text–it’s not a comprehensive version of the story.  Rather, he uses a the art to move the story along.

The cockroach is drawn in Kuper’s very blocky, very robotic style–it’s cool and creepy.  But not bug-creepy just inhuman-creepy.

As the book opens, he flashes back to his life and job as a traveling salesman .  He hates the work–it is exhausting–and if his parents didn’t need the money he would have quit a long time ago.

But while he’s thinking all this he realized that he is late for work.  He tries to get up and that’s when the limitations of being a cockroach really hit him.

His supervisor comes to tell him that he is fired because of poor performance and when his family sees him, they are disgusted by him.

Only his sister Grete treats him kindly–bringing him scraps of foot (real food at first and then rotting food, since he is a bug). We learn that in the family only Grete and Gregor are close–their father is distant and cold.  The father is really annoyed at Gregor the bug still being in the house–how do they even know he is that creature or if he is even still “in” there.  He throws an apple at Gregor and it gets embedded in his back (ew).

Without Gregor’s income the family must take in lodgers, who are bossy and inconsiderate  Gregor wants them out but when they see him, they freak out and storm out without paying.

Can a story like this find any happiness at the end?  Well, sort of, in a very unexpected place.

Even though this is primarily a visual work, it really conveys the horrors of the original in a very clever way.

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SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: ARBOREA-Tiny Desk Concert #218 (May 17, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

arboreaArborea is a totally captivating band.

The band consists of Shanti and Buck Curran.  They play three songs and each one is really different, but all with in a spooky, mellow Appalachian feel.

“Song for Obol” features Buck playing an electric guitar with an e-bow and a slide—creating single-note sirens that roar and fade.  The sounds are magical.  But they’re not the most interesting part of this song.  Because Shanti is playing the Ban-Jammer–“a sweet little hybrid that’s part banjo, part mountain dulcimer.” Shanti also sings and her voice is high and delicate—sometimes almost a whisper.  The Ban-Jammer is such an interesting and compelling sound and those washes of electric guitar so enticing that I didn’t want this song to end—even if I never really paid attention to what she was singing about.

For the second song Bob Boilen himself goes behind his desk to play harmonium with them.  Shanti plays acoustic guitar and tells us that the harmonium is

Inspired by the tales in Maine about fishing boats that were lost to the ocean—this song is about a woman who loses her lover to the sea—the harmonium is the ocean and the wind.

The harmonium isn’t very loud, but it keeps constant background while Buck pays the electric guitar (with slide, but no e-bow) and Shanti picks out the acoustic guitar melody.

The final song “A Little Time” is played on an acoustic tenor guitar.  Both Shanti and Buck sing for this track.  At first I wasn’t crazy about his voice accompanying hers, but he really gets the same tone very nice;y.  And her oh-hoos are beautifully haunting.

I’d really like to hear more from these guys.  And it is pretty fun to actually see Bob behind his Tiny Desk.

[READ: December 6, 2016] “Dream Girl”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I wasn’t aware of Katie Coyle before reading this story.  Perhaps the only reason I might have known about her is because she is a YA author from New Jersey.

But I’d like to know more about her because this story was wonderful.  The point of view of the story was fantastic and the whole concept was weird and cool.

The narrator is never revealed, but I love this beginning:

This all started when Winston’s girlfriend Sheila dumped him at his high-school graduation party.  Or maybe it started when Sheila began to notice that Winston didn’t understand her.  Certainly it never would’ve happened had she not turned to Winston in their Modern Conflicts class nine months earlier and said, “It’s Winston, right?”

Such intrigue! (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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[LISTENED TO: December 18, 2015] A Christmas Carol

gaimanchristmasJust like two years ago when we saw A Christmas Carol, a few days later I listened to the audio book.  This year, I found a different reading of it by Neil Gaiman.  This one comes from the New York Public Library podcast, and is available on Soundcloud and iTunes.

What makes this reading unique (and now different from Patrick Stewart’s awesome reading and from the McCarter production (which is different from the book as well) is that the version Gaiman read was hand-edited by Dickens for his own performances.  What?

Yes, evidently Dickens performed this story live a few times.  As the NYPL site explians:

Charles Dickens could not only write a crackling good story, he could perform it. And so in 1853, he took his Christmas Carol show on the road, first in Britain and then in the United States. Audiences loved it. Dickens didn’t simply read from his book. He transformed it into a stageworthy script—cutting, pasting together pages of excised passages, adding stage cues for himself, rewriting, then cutting some more…. Indeed, there is only one such copy of A Christmas Carol, created by Dickens himself, and The New York Public Library has it.

Gaiman read the “as the great author intended, following edits and prompts Dickens wrote in his own hand for his unique readings 150 years ago.” (more…)

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nymarc22SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tormato (1978).

TormatoTormato might be Yes’ most hated album (I think people grudgingly respect Topographic, but they hate Tormato).  I mean the cover is weird and, well, weird.  The songs are not bad but they sound so far from Yes of old, that it could possibly not be the same band.  And then there’s those lyrics.  I find myself blaming Jon Anderson for this middling period style of Yes music.  It seems like he was the impetus behind topographic and he has a number of songs that he wrote on the last two albums.  If Anderson is the flighty stratosphere, Squire and White are the ground.  And the ground is sorely lacking on the last two albums.

There’s no Roger Dean on this album either (more Hipgnosis with a giant tomato spill (get it, Tormato?  No I don’t really either.)  Wikipedia sheds some light, kind of:

Howe pitched the album’s original title of Yes Tor, referring to the highest point on Dartmoor, an area of moorland in Devon, England. Wakeman claimed to have thrown a tomato at the pictures taken for the album as he was disappointed with its design. The album’s title and cover was changed accordingly. Howe said it was someone at Hipgnosis who threw the tomato on purpose, something that he felt insulted about.  According to White, the band “couldn’t decide on the cover. I think Po … put a picture of a guy with divining sticks on the front.  He took it home one night and decided it wasn’t working. So he threw a tomato at it”. 

I always thought it was drumsticks not divining sticks.  Oh well.  So there that in no way clears up the tomato business.

So what about the music?Even though Squire shows up a bit more here, the overall sound of the album is really tinny—a problem that to me plagued Yes throughout this period—there’s just no low end to speak of, even when Squire does some rumbling lines.

“Future Times/Rejoice” opens with an interesting riff and some cool bass lines from Squire.  The song itself is bouncy and jaunty, moving along briskly with some wild riffs from Howe.  It’s kind of refreshing.  At 3 minutes the song slows down with some counting and replies from Anderson. The next section has a pretty classic Yes build up and then a return to the beginning of the song. There’s a very 70s sounding keyboard solo from Wakeman as the song reaches the end—which is a coda called Rejoice (starting at 5:44), which is mostly harmony voices until the repeat of musical themes from earlier.

Next comes the divisive “Don’t Kill the Whale” This is one of those major heart-on-your-sleeve songs.  Musically it’s pretty interesting with some wild soloing from Howe, but those lyrics: “don’t kill the whale, dig it.” It’s hard not to agree with the sentiment but it’s hard to sing along to at the same time. The synth solo is also astonishingly dated and kind of nauseating at the end.

“Madrigal” is a ballad played on a harpsichord with vocals from Anderson. By the end some classical guitar is played with it. It’s a pretty piece.

“Release/Release” is probably the most interesting track on the disc. It’s got a great riff from Howe and although (some of) the synths feel dated it rocks along like a good mid 70s rocker should. I like the audacity of having a “live” drum solo tacked into the middle of the song. It reminds me in style of a King Crimson track with the staccato voices, although it is not produced anywhere as well.

“Arriving UFO” is, indeed, about seeing UFOs.  The narrator is incredulous about them at the beginning of the song (which comes with very “eerier” keyboard notes) but I believe is a believer by the end. I do like the way the music builds for the bridge, although the chorus is bit much (as is the dreadful synth middle section). The solo section has some really bizarre sounds that I take to be “alien” conversation. Whether its made by guitar synth or voice I cannot say.

“Circus of Heaven” might just be the worst Yes song ever. It is all high notes (even the bass is high notes). Around 2 and a half minutes in the song shifts from its whimsical circus feel to a slightly more serious tone that hearkens back to better Yes moments, but it does not remain there.  Rather, the narrator asks his son what he thought of the circus of heaven and then Anderson’s actual son tells him that he’s not impressed. It’s hard to listen to I have to say.

There’s more high notes in “Onward” which is more orchestral washes and Anderson’s vocals over the top. It’s not really much of a song, frankly, even with the string arrangement.

“On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is nearly 8 minutes long.  It tries to hearken back to longer classic Yes songs but it never quite makes it.  It opens with some loud basslines, some fiddly Howe guitar bits and a lot of synths. But none of it sounds as interesting as previous long song intros. Even the wah wah bass sound isn’t as interesting as the early 70s bass sound. Anderson comes in almost 3 minutes in and around 3:30 the song picks up speed and the elements gel in a really good way. Around 4:45 the song slows down to an interesting instrumental section with bass and percussion.   After a return to vocals the fast part picks up again, although with a synth solo that is less than stellar.  There’s a lot of “la la las” in the song and a mention of “celestial seasons” which I hope came out before the tea brand.  The song isn’t bad, and if Yes didn’t have such a great catalog behind them I might actually say it ‘s quite good, but like the rest of the album it pales with their peak.

And that’s probably why Wakeman left again and, shocking, Jon Anderson split from the band too (which i find surprising since I feel like the past two albums were all about him).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   With the middling success of Going for the One, this line up stayed in place for a second album!

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keybaords
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: March 22, 2015] “Sleep”

This story was written in direct address, from an “I” narrator to a “you” subject.  It really personalized the story and was interesting to watch as the story that started as one thing was able to travel to another thing entirely.

It begins with the narrator, an older man, talking in his mind to his young lover.  The younger man’s parents are concerned that the narrator is older, but they do like him.  I loved the way it was constructed with him reminiscing about how they met and about how the world allowed them to be together: “Germany, Ireland, the Internet, gay rights, Judaism, Catholicism, they have all brought us here.”  The beginning of the story really stresses their differences, which he finds charming:

“Like a good American you wear a T-shirt and boxers in bed.  I am wearing pajamas like a good Irishman.”

They have been sharing living space for a while, but the younger man is concerned that the older man’s dreams are plagued by nightmares.  The nightmares are so strong that the older man often screams out loud –but does not wake up. (more…)

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