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Archive for the ‘End of the World’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TORRES-“Dressing America” (2020).

I’ve really enjoyed Torres’ music over the years.  I have seen her in concert twice and her live set is riveting.

Her earlier music was very intense and it seems as though her newer music is a bit more poppy.  This new song has a wonderfully catchy melody and her voice sounds fantastic.

Over a gentle guitar, she sings quietly in her lower register.  The song slowly builds up with keyboard swells and a quiet drum.

As the song heads into the chorus, she hits a lovely falsetto “to you” before the sweet chorus

I tend to sleep with my boots on
should I need to gallop over dark waters
to you
on short notice

The chorus has a fantastic delay between the falsetto “to you” (like in the bridge) and the “on short notice” that adds some nice drama.

It’s remarkably catchy (and the video is really sweet too).  I’m looking forward to the album and to seeing her live this Spring.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “The Sail and the Scupper”

This story begins with an epigram from The Canadian Press:

Massive numbers of dead starfish, clams, lobsters, and mussels have washed up on a western Nova Scotia beach, compounding the mysterious deaths of tens of thousands of herring in the area.

Ohm takes this idea and makes an unexpected story out of it.

The story is set in a bar.  A lobster named Homer enters and the bartender (a clam named Lewis) tells him he missed happy hour.

This sounds like the set up to a joke, but it is not.  Lewis looks around his empty bar that only last summer was brimming with herring–slapping fins, endlessly chattering.  The herring were always hanging around the newspaper reporters (like Homer) who were always stationed in this bar.  They were always trying to get scraps of information about what was happening to the water.

Soon enough they were itching for Direct Action. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RONG-“Shrugging at the Dearth of Discourse” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by the band Rong from Boston.

He says:

Just bonkers. Boston’s Rong channels the joyous chaos of Japanese punks Melt-Banana and the aggro skronk of Brainiac with a tad of Deerhoof’s weirdo-pop hooks, in what sounds like a swarm of bats fighting a comically large industrial fan… and the bats win. Dissect the noise and you’ll find some truly athletic guitar interplay, held together by a sturdy rhythm section and Olivia W-B’s vocal acrobatics.

This song starts out with Olivia screaming quickly and almost inaudibly while the drummer thrashes away on every surface nearby.  There appears to be two guitars each playing their own riff that seems irrelevant to anything else. It’s a chaotic statement that will likely make most people turn the song off.   After 30 seconds one of the guitars plays a riff and at 35 seconds the riff is actually really catchy and Olivia sings along with it.  Wow.

And the song is not even one third over.

After a few more rounds through similar styles things really slow down around 1:45.  It is just bass and drums and vocals for a bit before two separate solos happen at once.  About five more parts occur before the song ends at 3:11.  This includes a riff that is repeated a few times and a absolutely berzerk ending.

That’s the first of 8 similarly eclectic and, yes, bonkers, songs.  Finding the melody and connections between the parts is rather strangely rewarding.

Incidentally, the final track on the album is called . ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽   In a bigger font, that’s:

༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Cosmos

The “Long Earth” Tetrology is complete.

This was a series that was pretty much impossible to end.  I mean the very premise is that there is unlimited exploration to be had in the various “Earths.”  So how do you end it?  Well, really you end it by following the main protagonist of all of this, Joshua Valiente to his logical conclusion (or something like that).

This book also serves as a kind of reconciliation for many of the estranged characters, but, thankfully does not resurrect any dead characters (well, except for Lobsang–whatever he may be).

The Foreword to this book answers a question that I had: If Terry Pratchett died in 2015, did he have anything to do with this book which came out in 2016?  Baxter explains that indeed, he and Pratchett had created drafts of the final three books by August 2013.  Terry and Stephen worked on the book together as late as autumn 2014.  Then Baxter dealt with final editorial and publishing stages.  So that makes me happy.

I am, as always with this series, puzzled as to what Terry’s contributions were to the books.  I haven’t read anything else by Baxter, so I don’t know if this is a Baxter book with Pratchett sprinkled in or if it’s a combination of their writing styles   The one thing is that this series is never really all that funny (with one huge exception later).  Not to say that Pratchett had to be funny, but it was certainly what he was known for.  Maybe I’ll try a Baxter book one of these days to see just what his works are like.

But back to the concluding chapter of this long series.

This book opens with the invitation: JOIN US. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FALHA COMUM-“Film Do Mundo” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by this band Falha Comum, a duo from Brazil.

He says:

The Brazilian post-punks scaled down to a duo, but opened a festering third eye. The psychedelic noise receptors of a previous decade (think Raccoo-oo-oon and Gowns) run throughout Rakta’s Falha Comum, but in levels below, the sinister grooves and cackled reverb inhabit a life all their own with primal incantations to spirits unknown.

The album is like a few things and nothing else that I’ve heard.  There’s elements of krautrock–but not sterile and efficient, more groovy and cool, with a warm bass and seemingly wild, improvised vocals.

This particular song is 7 minutes long and opens with a spoken word section (presumably in Portuguese).  There are synths and screams behind the speaking and then everything starts pulsing as the vocals echo and echo.   The music–a simple repetitive drum and bass (I guess) line, keep a terrific groove going while on top, the high notes (vocals and other synths) skitter and flit about.

Midway through, the song goes through a phase shift–it sounds like it’s been transported somewhere else, and that’s when the bass gets cleaner and the vocals grow a bit more intense.  But the groove remains.

Somewhere around 6 minutes, the groove changes slightly–a brief shift in notes suddenly gives the song a brief moment of extra melody.  The following keyboard frenzy keeps it from getting too comfortably melodic though.

It’s an unexpectedly interesting and cool record.

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Utopia

This was the fourth book in the Long Earth series.  I brought it along on vacation thinking it would be a fairly slow and leisurely read like the others—something I didn’t mind putting down and picking up a few days later.  But this book changed that pattern entirely.  It was fast paced and quite exciting and my favorite book of the series so far.

The previous book about the Long Mars seemed to be more than anything else, a distraction.  Not a lot happened, although there were some cool ideas in it.  The one big thing that book 3 did that effects book 4 is the cable/elevator thing—which I still don’t understand [see yesterday’s post about book 3].

This book also introduces a new concept in Stepping.  Typically Stepping is described as moving left or right, east or west through the Earths.  But suddenly, in this one world, it seemed like a person could move…north.  Into an entirely different world—night instead of day:  “No stars exactly, it was like he could see the whole galaxy…from outside.”

This book is set in 2052.  Protagonist Joshua Valiente:

will be 50 years old. He has been stepping for 35 years and has been all over the Long Earth.  But some things are still unsettling—things that he can feel in his bones or his head.

The reason for his feelings date back to 2036 in New Springfield.  Cassie Poulson had been digging a basement for her house when she hit some kind of opening.  Not a cave or anything natural, but some kind of manufactured tunnel or the like.  When she poked her head in,  what poked back was a humanoid metal beetle.  Obviously she freaked out and covered up the hole. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIRE-TOOLZ-“mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by this band Fire-Toolz.  He says:

When I try to describe the simultaneously fantastical and obliterating sounds of Fire-Toolz to folks, I usually throw my hands up — not out of frustration, but from awe. Angel Marcloid has clashed New Age synthscapes, clubby raves, jazz fusion and metal shrieks for a few years now, but Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) goes beyond the mash-up, into an idiosyncratic master’s pure creation.

The album credits indicate: Angel Marcloid: voice, drums, electric & acoustic guitar, fretless bass, virtual studio technology, field recordings, circuit-bent junk, composition, lyrics, recording, production, mixing, mastering.

The only other musician is Ian Smith: who plays what can only be described as a smooth-jazz saxophone solo.  Oh, and her cat, Breakfast, gets a vocal turn.

I have listened to some of the whole record, (a lot of tape manipulation on track 2), but nothing sums up the project like the first song, “mailto:spasm@swamp.god?subject=Mind-Body Parallels” (yes, that’s the title).  In 2 minutes and 11 seconds, she includes more genres than I can name.  And the amazing thing is that unlike other artists who squeeze many genres into one song (there are those who do this well and those who do not), these shifts feel at once hairpin but also natural. 

The song starts with a skittery electric melody that almost sounds like digital pipe organ.  It’s very new-agey, but with heavier drums than you might expect.  The quiet death metal growling is certainly unexpected, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place (and is low enough in the mix to feel more like another sound than vocals–I have no idea what she’s saying).

After the first verse the music shifts to a kind of jazzy new age followed by a punishingly fast electronic drum and a scorching heavy metal solo and the song devolves or crescendos with inhuman growls.

Welcome to 2020!

[READ: May 2019] The Long Mars

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

I found the second book less compelling on a story level, but no less compelling on a conceptual level.  There was still some cool stuff going on.

Joshua Valienté has settled down in a town called Hell-Knows-Where.  He has a wife, Helen, and a child, Daniel, and lots of regrets about what happened at the end of book one.  He is embedded with the rest of the community.  They show off what a successful community can be way out in the Long Earth.  It is more or less cut off from Datum Earth, which means that everyone needs to work for the community to survive.  Since trust and companionship are key to survival, people don’t really try to take advantage of others and crime is pretty much nonexistent.

This independence is a major concern for the governments of Datum Earth.  In fact, some of the more thriving distant communities (like Valhalla) want to declare independence from Datum Earth altogether.

Another issue is human (or alien) rights.  The trolls from the first book have become a part of most communities at this point.  And yet, the way they are treated seems largely dependent on who they are with.  Some are welcomed like family members, other are treated like animals, slaves or worse.   And the mistreatment of a mother and son troll are what set a series of events in motion.   Maggie Kauffman is a new character introduced to speak on behalf of the trolls.  Before their otherwise peaceful nature gets pushed too far.

Another plot line (and there are quite a few) concerns Roberta Golding, a young genius who goes on an exploratory mission with the Chinese.  The Chinese are exploring the “East Earths” (most of the other travelers went West).  Roberta is an odd child, who anticipated jokes and therefore finds nothing funny. She is cold and emotionless.  Her story remains unresolved by the end of the book.  But her crew managed to get to Earth East 20,000,000 with the crew.

When Sally tries to get Joshua involved in an adventure once again, he is reluctant, but Helen is the one who spurs him on–as long as she and Dan go with him. This adventure is a bit of backtracking, though–an attempt to use Joshua’s name and status back on Datum Earth–where he is not welcomed by everyone.  He tries to prevent the government from harming trolls–because he knows what is at stake if the trolls grow angry.

In their adventure, they also encounter a race of beings known as Beagles.  It is a pretty dark and disturbing world, with Joshua getting tortured and Sally and Monica being the only things keeping him from a brutal death.   There’s a lot of brutality now, which is not unexpected given the reality of the situation, but it does often seem rather harsh

That’s a lot of summary to prepare for Book Three.  But book three does continue the saga, just another twenty years or so later.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FIONA APPLE-“The Whole of the Moon” (2019).

I’m rather a fan of a good cover song.  I don’t really like when bands play covers live–I’m here for your music not someone else’s–but a studio recording is usually welcome.

It’s especially helpful if it’s an artist I like doing a song I like.  Such as with this one.

I learned about The Waterboys back in college.  I hung out with Irish musicians and they introduced me to Irish bands.  Although we were more Fisherman’s Blues than This is the Sea, I still really enjoyed “The Whole of the Moon.”

Lyrically the song is simple but very clever.  It works through many comparisons about how “I” see things less completely than “you” do.

I was grounded
While you filled the skies
I was dumbfounded by truth
You cut through lies
I saw the rain dirty valley
You saw Brigadoon
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

I also always like the part where the line “you came like a comet” is followed by an explosion–satisfyingly over the top.

The occasion of Fiona Apple covering it has to do with the show The Affair which I’d never heard of.  Evidently the season finale opens with The Waterboys’ version and ends with this new Fiona Apple version.  Fiona Apple’s song “Container” is used in the opening credits, so she already has ties to the show.

I can remember “discovering” Fiona Apple through an issue of New Music Monthly about two months before her debut came out.  I really liked “Shadowboxer” and then the whole album.  It was quite a surprise to me when she became a huge star soon thereafter.  And by the time she toured where I lived, the crowd was full of screaming girls.

Nevertheless, I have stuck with her because her music is always terrific.

Her voice has always been kind of raspy and deep–with a quirky range.  But she really pushes herself on this version.  She sounds worn out and it really works for these lyrics.

It stars with gentle synths and a drum pattern.  After the first verse, a full band comes in, with a trippy slide guitar (rather than the 80’s synths of the original).  But it stays pretty simple–this song is about the lyrics.  The middle instrumental section is similarly horn-based, but with a bit of piano and more slide guitar tossed in.

As the song goes on, Apple’s voice gets more and more intense.  The way she sings: “I sighed / but you swooned” will give you chills.

The Waterboys version has a cute musical ending which Apple removes. She also refrains from the comet explosion.

It’s stripped down and really fantastic.

[READ: September 23, 2019] Herbert’s Wormhole Book 3

I accidentally read Book 3 before Book 2.  I am embarrassed that that happened because I am a librarian and I should know better, but I double checked to see which came out first, but I must have read a paperback reprint with a later publishing date and though that book 3 was in fact book 2.

So I read book three and on many occasions I thought “How daring and surprising and hilarious that the Peter Nelson is referencing things that we did not see.”  I assumed that between book 1 and this one, the kids had had many adventures that we didn’t know anything about.  They would just casually refer to them.  This does happen in TV shows all the time, but I guess not in children’s books.  So I should have known better, but I was excited about the prospect of this rather author twist.  I do admit by the end that there were a number of things where I thought…hmmm…. this is referencing something that I think I should know about.  But I was far enough along at that point not to stop.

Turns out, at the end of Book 2 (I found out later), we see that GOR-DON’s plan for destroying the AlienSlayers is not his own.  It is actually  the plan of an evil mastermind.  An evil mastermind who we learn is called Aerostar.

But the real crisis is in the Filby household.  Because Alex’s dad is going to knock down the jungle gym (that they put up for Alex just last year) to make room for a huge playhouse for his bratty little sister, Ellie (“some serious assembly required”).  This will effectively destroy the wormhole!  What will they do now? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSH RITTER with AMANDA SHIRES and JASON ISBELL-Tiny Desk Concert #895 (September 27, 2019).

I enjoyed Josh Ritter’s previous Tiny Desk Concert.  I liked his voice and found his lyrics to be quite thoughtful.

For this Tiny Desk he is accompanied by “musical soulmates,” Amanda Shires on fiddle and Jason Isbell on acoustic guitar who both play on Josh’s 2019 album Fever Breaks.

The three songs he plays in this concert are even more thoughtful, they are also pointed, powerful and painful.  The songs are not enjoyable, exactly.  They are accomplishing something other than joy.

As the blurb says

Honestly, it was a draining concert with challenges to who we are and who, as a country and a people, we wish to be.

The music is quiet and subdued and are there to lift up the lyrics, which are clearly the most important part of these songs.

“All Some Kind of Dream” is

filled with frustrations regarding the treatment of refugees, immigration, politics and our hearts…. He sings, “There was a time when we were them / Just as now they all are we / Was there an hour when we took them in? / Or was it all some kind of dream?”

Every word his sings is one that should change the way Americans view what is going on, and yet some will never be convinced by lyrics like

I saw the children in the holding pens
I saw the families ripped apart
And though I try I cannot begin
To know what it did inside their hearts
There was a time when we held them close
And weren’t so cruel, low, and mean
And we did good unto the least of those
Or was it all some kind of dream?

Ritter took a moment to encourage everyone to fight back

When the song ended, Josh stared into the NPR crowd. “I feel like the big thing that we all have to fight against is this notion that we’re not all human beings,” he said. “And they’re trying to break us in every number of ways, all different little groups, and that we have no power, but we have power!”

The next song “The Torch Committee,” is slightly more cryptic in construction but hardly cryptic in intent

Wait, suppose that we untie
Your hands to sign upon this line
To pledge that you have always been
A patriot and citizen
Please ignore the legalese
Lawyers are my right now see
Why we’re so happy that you came
Appendix three and list of names

It features a nice solo from Isbell and a raw violin solo from Shires.

They ended the set with a new song,”The Gospel of Mary.”

This is a long song ().  Like the other two it is something of a story song which “imagines Joseph, Mary and their child as refugees.”  The verses are interspersed with solos from Isbell and Shires.

As the applause faded Josh hugged his bandmates, thanked the crowd, smiled and said, “America, we love you, but you’ve gotta change!”

Ritter is an amazing songwriter and I hope that these songs hit the ears of those who need to hear them.

[READ: August 9, 2019] Labor Days Volume 2

Book 2 picks up a little over a month after Book 1.

Bags and Vanessa are still on a quest for the Face of History (which suspiciously keeps leading them to bars).  But they know that the Face of History is a leader of a vast conspiracy.  And of course Rick Stryker is hanging about being rather useless and hilarious as always.

Vanessa is annoyed with Bags for dawdling and wasting their time.  Bags is annoyed at Vanessa because she keeps hurting people in extraordinarily violent ways.  She seems to have no compunction about doing the violence she does.

A chance discovery sets them aboard a ship.  The captain makes Bags do grunt work and makes Vanessa something of a captain’s aide (much to Bags’ dismay). (more…)

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