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SOUNDTRACK: OLIVER ‘TUKU’ MTUKUDZI-Tiny Desk Concert #307 (September 30, 2017).

The blurb says that this guitarist is a legend, which makes me feel bad that I’ve never heard of him.

He seemed so casual — sitting on a bar stool behind the Tiny Desk, acoustic guitar in hand — but when you hear that husky voice, you’ll know why he’s a legend. Oliver Mtukudzi, or “Tuku” as his fans lovingly call him, plays spirited music, born from the soul of Zimbabwe. He’s been recording since the late 1970s, with about as many albums as his age: 60.

But Mtukudzi’s new record reveals a heavier heart than before: Sarawoga is his first recording since the loss of his son Sam. He and Sam — also a guitar player, as well as a saxophonist — had a special relationship touring together. But in March 2010, Sam Mtukudzi was killed in a car crash at the age of 21. Oliver Mtukudzi recently told NPR’s Tell Me More that “the only way to console myself is to carry on doing what we loved doing most. Sitting down [to] cry and mourn — I think it would have killed me.”

All three songs, “Todii,” “Huroi” and “Haidyoreke” are all gentle, with Tuku’s guitar playing mellow meandering melodies and his gravelly voice being soothing at the same time.  It’s interesting that for “Todii,” a more upbeat song he is clearly singing not in English, but the chorus (sung by the backing musicians) is “What Shall We Do.”  The backing musicians are there for percussion–congas, and maracas–and backing vocals.  And their vocals are done in a traditional way.

[READ: January 2, 2017] Volcanoes

This Science Comics book was very different from the previous two.  It was designed as a fictional story full of with factual information.

At first I found this really weird and off-putting, but by the end, I thought the story was pretty compelling and that the factual information was presented in an interesting and informative way.  And what I realized afterward was not that I didn’t like the fictional aspect but that I really didn’t like the illustrations.

For some reason, Chad chose to have the main characters with very distinctive and unusual features.  Aurora, the main character had a line of black hair down her forehead.  Her sister, Luna, has really really big eyes and their guardian, Pallas, has a block of gray hair.  I found all of these choices to be unsettling and unpleasing to look at (although it does allow us to tell them apart quite easily).  However the volcano and other nature images were really fantastic. (more…)

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tyrantSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTINE SALEM-Tiny Desk Concert #326 (December 14, 2013).

As with many artists behind the Tiny Desk, I had never heard of Christine Salem.  So who is she?

Christine Salem sings songs that are old: They’re work songs and chants from the maloya tradition on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. I first heard her in New York City as she shook a flat board called a kayamb, made of cane reeds, with two percussionists flanking her to provide rhythm.

Salem makes powerful, strongly focused music in which all the elements are essential, with nothing superfluous. She says it feels like the spirits move through her when she plays, and though you may doubt her if you’re a nonbeliever, you’d be hard-pressed to deny her your attention once you hear her.

And that’s pretty spot on.  She sings like a woman possessed–but in a good way–serious catharsis for these intense pieces which are amazingly musical for songs with no instruments except percussion.

“Listwar” showcases her strong, powerful voice when she sings by herself but the whole thing grows amazing when the other voices come in.  But even that doesn’t even prepare you for the wonders of the percussion that come next—that kayamb is mesmerizing, the big drum is so deep and the percussive sticks (which seems like he’s hitting what might be a lectern) all work perfectly.  All of the melody comes from their voices.  The backing guys also seem possessed by the music and the drummer is even laughing he’s so filled with joy.

“Alouwe” begins with claps and rhythmic chanting, which is pretty cool, but again, when the drums come in its even better. Halfway through the tempo picks up and she grabs that kayamb again and the intensity ratchets up.  There’s chanting from the men with lots of laughing and clapping at the end.  The final song is “Komor Blues.”  For this one, she is just by herself playing the drum.  While not as big as the other songs, it is just as intense, especially when the pace speeds up about halfway through.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Tiny Tyrant

I read this book last year, never even imagining that it could somehow be comparable to our then highly unlikely leader.  Reading back on it now, I can’t get over the similarities between this fictional character and our television-inspired president.  I mean, look at how King Ethelbert is described: “Selfish, short-tempered, unscrupulous, stubborn, and willing to do anything to get what he wants.”

This book collects all of the Tiny Tyrant stories into one volume (Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus & Volume Two: The Lucky Winner) were published by First Second with six stories each).  They were originally collected into four books in French (and translated into English by Alexis Siegel).

First Second had a lot of books by Lewis Trondheim in their earlier publication days but that seems to have gone by the wayside somewhat this decade.

Perhaps it is because his books are hard to classify.  They are basically kids books but they are pretty dark kids books–there’s usually death and blowing up and horrible things happening to people.

Tiny Tyrant is one of the sweeter Trondheim books that I’ve read.  Because even though the Tyrant is a tyrant, he is mostly unsuccessful  in his demands and nobody blows up [let’s hope we are so lucky with our country’s current wanna-be-dictator]. (more…)

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marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

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curswedSOUNDTRACK: MAYA BEISER-Tiny Desk Concert #283 (June 29, 2013).

mayaMaya Beiser is an Israeli-born American cellist.  And the blurb tells us that:

Maya Beiser’s Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She’s a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she’s tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove.  Time Loops, her 2012 album, is one of that year’s hidden gems.

The music feels experimental in that she’s using an age old instrument (and age old tuning) mixed with technology.  But the two songs she plays here are simply beautiful and the technology only serves to make the songs all the more enticing.

I don’t know what these pieces are “meant” to sound like.  In fact, I don’t even know the composers.  But her version of these pieces (with the wonderful drones and echoes of what she is playing) are terrific.

Osvaldo Golijov: “Mariel” One of the fascinating things about this piece is that it is impossible to tell what she is looping (especially since we miss the very beginning to see if she clicks any pedals).  But is she looping what she has played or is there some other music being added in?  This is a mournful piece with some great sounds (looped) accompanying her.  It’s seven and half minutes of beautiful cello music.

She introduces the second piece “Just Ancient Loops” Mvt. 1 by saying that Michael Harrison wrote the piece for her.  She plays 6 minutes of the 25 minute epic piece, or what amounts to the first movement (called Genesis). She also tells us that it was written in “just intonation” which is an ancient way of tuning the cello, but it is natural for the instrument which is all about pure fifths.

It opens with some plucked bass notes which are immediately looped and run through much of the piece (how is she controlling the loops?  I can’t see her feet at all).  By the middle, the piece is in full swing with different cello sounds echoing and looping. It sounds full and fantastic and over all just really wonderful.

I typically enjoy cello music, but there is something especially cool about this performance.

[READ: September 2, 2016]. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I wasn’t all that excited about this book.  It was a play.  Did Rowling even write it?  (I actually still don’t understand the provenance of the story)?  And did I really want to read about a grown up Harry?

Well, first Tabitha read it and then Sarah read it and they both said it was great.  So I read it.  And I flew through it (and stayed up too late reading it, too).  And, man was it enjoyable.  More than enjoyable.  I immediately got right back into the Potterverse and I loved seeing the famous characters grown up.

So, what’s this book about, exactly?

Well, without giving spoilers (to those few to whom it applies), the plot starts off 19 years after the action of the last book.  (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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 quirkSOUNDTRACK: PACHA: Affaires Étrangères [CST090] (2012).

pachaPacha has the second of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set.  Pacha is the solo work of percussionist Pierre-Guy Blanchard and this disc is made of rhythm-heavy instrumentals, propelled by Middle-Eastern synth lines and sprinkled with guitar, bass and oud along with the odd looped field recording. It’s like electronic music with an Arabic pop fixation.  And the instrumentation is really interesting:

“L’Aeroport De Charlo” is mostly thumping drums and a buzzy synth.  There are some synth solos with distinctively Middle Eastern tones.  I like the way the basic rhythm alters throughout the nearly 5 minute track.  About half way through it turns to nearly all percussion a great rumbling drumming with one middle eastern instrument playing over the top (it sounds like a buzzy clarinet).   “Macedonian Mind” has some great, complex drumming behind a simple synth riff.  The music feels slightly menacing as the synths are quite buzzy, but the drums are just a lot of fun.   The middle of the song uses that Middle Eastern sound with a melody line (I can’t tell if its voice or instrument or what) that works perfectly with the main Rockies riff.

“Modern Malaise” opens with a vocal choir, singing while there’s a simultaneous, seemingly unrelated bass line.  And then a very cool funky section with more great drums and a kind of sneaky sounding riff.  As the song progresses some spacey synths enter the song amid a clatter of echoing drums before it all resolves to that initial cool riff.  In “La Gare De Podgorica” slow synths play over some complex drumming with a bunch of what sounds like hand drums.  “Tunel” has some great hand drumming and low droning synths.   And then comes the most middle eastern sounding riff of the disc.  This track is my favorite–catchy and funky with some great hand drumming.  The keys sound very later 60s.

“Ankara” is a fast song with complex hand drumming and an almost drone with vocals samplings, and a lot of the instrument listed below (Omar Dewachi plays saz and oud) and a warbly synth line.   It is one of the longest songs on the disc and has the most going on it.  “Starcevo” opens with some deep hand drums and what sounds like violins or maybe sampled voices or both.  It’s kind of a disconcerting track with the drums the only thing keeping things steady.  “Le Soviet” is played on a bunch of synths with a kind of carnivalesque feel to the sound.  There’s a Middle Eastern riff and some interesting solos that sound almost classical.

From the Constellation site:

Blanchard received a BA in music in 2003, majoring in percussion performance, and then escaped the ‘new music’ trajectory by traveling extensively and immersing himself in Middle Eastern and Balkan traditions, studying under various masters and playing with a wide range of regional groups. During his periods back in Canada he performed as guest percussionist for Black Ox Orkestar … has also performed regularly with Sam Shalabi’s jazz/psych/arabic orchestra Land Of Kush.  … Constellation re-sequenced and remastered the Affaires Étrangères CD-R for vinyl and is proud to be giving this album a more substantial life. It marks Blanchard’ first attempt at a definitive musical statement of his own and we think it succeeds wildly.

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fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled:

[READ: October 31, 2016] Quirk’s Quest 1

This story threw out so much disconnect for me that I never really determined if I liked it.

The artwork is adorable–the characters look like Fraggle Rock creatures–soft and furry with big round ping pong ball eyes.  Even the bad guys (much taller with four eyes) don’t look all that fierce.

And yet.

In the first 30 pages, these monsters kill and eat some of the cute Fraggle Rock creatures. What?!

This book looks ostensibly like a children’s book.  It is really cute.  But the diary entries of the Captain are written in a cursive that even I had a hard time reading (particularly because the captain’s named is Quenterindy Quirk and he is sailing on the H.M.S. Gwaniimander (hard enough to read that, imagine trying to figure it out in cursive!).

So just what’s it about? (more…)

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jack SOUNDTRACK: KANADA 70-Vamp Ire [CST089] (2012).

vampKanada 70 is the first of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set.  The set is primarily electronic instrumentals, highlight little known bands or collaborations.

From the Constellation site:

Kanada 70 is the home-recording project of Toronto’s Craig Dunsmuir, who started giving away CD-R micro-releases under this moniker in 2006. There have been over two dozen K70 titles issued since then… where the repetitive and cyclical nature of mostly loop-based tracks is conditioned by the fact that Dunsmuir plays and punches everything by hand; returns of phrase contain odd stutters and variations, intention and accident collide, and there’s an organic immediacy throughout. Vamp Ire spans a wide range of influences, from abstract techno, industrial and noise music to prog-rock, African funk, no wave and metal. The hardest part was selecting only 45 minutes worth!

There are fifteen tracks on the disc.

“Ignore Dub I” a droning keyboard and analog synth noodling.  There’s some ringing metal sounds too. For a  song with dub in the title there is no dub or bass or drums, it’s just an electronic soundscape.  “Mou” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc, with an interesting pulsing synth line and a cool noisy descending bass riff.  It’s only a minute and a half but it’s really neat.  “Krankqui” has a slow, pulsing bass line which plays under a quiet series of notes.  “Molle” has a neat retro sound.  It begins with some noisy staticy percussive sounds and out of the rumble comes a neat  outerspacey echoing guitar or synth riff. It seems like it could lead some where but since its only 2 minutes long.  It sets up something interesting and then disappears just as quickly.

“Delivery” is a fun piece with a high-pitched series of rapid notes.  This track is the longest on the disc and after a series of 2 minute songs a four minute track feels really long.  “Gnaer” runs through a series of repeated guitar lines, kind of staccato and fractured. With some of the chords being unconventional it sounds a little like 1980s King Crimson.  “Errora High II” is a series of rumbling noises–more effects than song.  About half way through an interesting riff comes out of the noise sounding like an 80s sci-fi movie.

“Chimura” has a series of guitar lines which overlap and make an interesting fugue of music.  At only a minute and a half this song feels like it has much more to explore.  “For T.O. (Perish)” is primarily drums and percussion, playing a  simple rhythm.  Of all the songs to be 4 minutes, this is certainly the least interesting–it’s all just a simple drumming rhythm with no real diversion.  “Annoyo I”  is a slow bass piece.  About 30 seconds in a series of horn blasts plays a staccato melody over the bass.  “Redrag” is a bunch if high pitched synth notes.  The song adds some staccato guitar licks and it eventually resolves into a kind of fast, inelegant guitar solo.

“Thumas” has a great riff and sounds like it could be any kind of jam band introduction (including some wha wah guitars in the background).  Why are the best songs the shortest?  “Redsidled” is a series of guttural noises that sound like car horns over a series of crashing percussion.  “Scorpi” features repeated noises with a series of sound effects whizzing through the background.  “Doubles” has  harmonics and echoed percussion.  I like the way the echoed guitar runs through a series of creaky notes to make this song spacey and grounded at the same time.  The drum beat is simple but cool and the background guitar make this whole song one of the better ones on the disc.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Mighty Jack

Ben Hatke continues to make me very happy with his books.

When the blurb on the back said that Jack’s job was to stay at home and watch his autistic sister, Maddy, I was afraid that this story was going to have a Message.  But it doesn’t.  It doesn’t exactly address her autism at all, which is great–it doesn’t make a big deal out of it, which allows the story to flow naturally.

Indeed, Maddy’s autism isn’t spelled out exactly, she is just introverted and doesn’t really speak.  Until, that is, jack comes across some magic beans.

I love that Hatke is playing with the jack and the Beanstalk story without retelling the story at all.  So he is touching on a lot of things without explicitly using those story parts. (more…)

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