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Archive for the ‘Explorers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BIG DADDY KANE-Tiny Desk Concert #708 (February 19, 2018).

I remember Big Daddy Kane, of course, although I don’t think I knew any of his songs.  As far as I can tell, Kane hasn’t released an album since 1998.  But his voice sounds great and he seems pretty content to rap his old hits.

The smooth operator, Big Daddy Kane, still emits that same palpable swag he did as a lyrical heartthrob during his heyday. He strides into the room and fully commands it with his presence.

One of the greatest to ever bless the mic, Big Daddy Kane treated Tiny Desk to an office block party in the true essence of hip-hop.  Kane, aka Dark Gable, was a breakout member of the seminal Juice Crew in hip-hop’s golden era during the latter part of the 1980s. He popularized quick-cadence flows and multisyllabic rhyme schemes.

He performed a short set of classics, including “Smooth Operator,” “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” “Raw” and a bonus freestyle. Through his warm, engaging and devilishly self-effacing style, the pioneer used an interlude between songs to address the intergenerational divisiveness defining rap today and the importance of fans of all ages supporting whatever they like, while “focusing on what’s positive and keeping that in the spotlight.”

The Concert opens with a great drum beat and a funky bass line for “Smooth Operator.”  The rather wimpy keyboard riff with the sax is kind of a wasted opportunity to give fuller sound to this song.

It’s interesting that Kane–whose voice still sounds deep and full–keeps the old songs with incredibly dates references like “Freddy Krueger walking on Kane Street.”

Mid song Kane says, “stay right here Ben… gonna make this into a family affair.  Are there any smooth operators out there?”  They sing the riff.  Then, “Let me see whats happening behind me.  Jay Dub (John Williams) on sax, is he a smooth operator?”  He is.  Kane tells him to “Make yourself at home” with a good solo.

While that solo is going on, he says “certain members of the band just can’t wait till their turn (looks at keyboardist who had been playing with the solo).  He says, “He’s been with me a long time, he’s the baby of the crew we call him J Minor (Judson Nelson)–most places we play he’s not supposed to be there, he’s not old enough. If I ask you to play like a grown man, how’s that sounds, baby?  He plays a smooth solo.

Kane: “I forgot there was another verse.  I was having so much fun looking at them.”

We should keep this party going.  I saw a couple of these people looking at their watch.  Some of you all might be on lunch break I don’t want to mess it up

“Ain’t No Half Steppin” starts off with simple sax and some more dated lines:  “Friday the 13th, I’m gonna play Jason.”  (Rappers loved horror movies back in the day).  He gets the crowd into it: “Say it like it’s 6’o clock Ain’t no half steppin’.”

“Let me hear you once more…  I lied, just one more time y’all.”

After the song he says, “I’m enjoying myself.  This is all right for real I might fill out an application for a job here next week.  this ai’iiht.”

“I’m gonna do one more song and then were gonna shut it down and this ain’t got nothing with y’all getting back to work, I’m starting to get hot in here.”

A great drum beat starts off “Raw” which is followed by that crazy squeaky sax.  And there’s this one last pop culture line: “The rhymes I use definitely amuse better than Dynasty or Hill Street Blues.

Mid-song, a cool faster drum beat is added–I love the snare sound Matt Lambert gets and then the whole band kicks of for a great riff on bass and sax to end the song–it’s a shame it ended there as it was really taking off.

People don’t want him to leave, so they do a freestyle.  A cool slide bass line from Benjamin Geis and staccato piano.  It’s my favorite music of the show.  And the speed of his freestyle rap is really impressive.  And he (virtually) drops the mic and is off.

It’s a great old school set.

[READ: Summer 2017] The Long Earth

I have read nearly everything that Terry Pratchett has written (I kind of drifted a bit towards the end, but I’ll catch up eventually).  Anyway, I was in the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA and saw this book.  It’s a series I’ve known about but didn’t know very much about.  I decided to check it out to see what it was all about.  I don’t know very much at all about Stephen Baxter except that he’s a hard science fiction writer, meaning he focuses as much on the science as he does on the fiction.

So how does this pair–a hard science writer and a comic parodist of fantasy work together?  Well, honestly the story is much more Baxter than Pratchett. Although since I haven’t read any Baxter, I guess I can’t say that legitimately, but it’s definitely not very Pratchetty.

Well, maybe some of the character interactions are kind of Pratchetty, but certainly not like any of his Discworld characters.  As with any co-writing experience, I wondered how this story was constructed.  So I found an interview with Stephen Baxter from around the time they finished writing the fourth and final book

How did the idea for the Long Earth series come about?

The whole thing was basically Terry’s idea. He’d started work on this project and short stories set in this world back in the ’80s but he got stuck with it.  He wanted to have a very human, level way to access these words. You don’t need to get there on a rocket ship, you can just walk in.  At the same time, the vision for the end was going to be out on a galaxy somewhere.

We’d known each other for years and [about] five years or so ago at a dinner party, Terry [said he] was going through his archives looking for unpublished short stories and things like that and he came across an aborted project from about 30 years ago.  We were just talking about that and it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.  By the end of that [party] we already had the storylines and Terry was going to send me the material.

Terry was having trouble seeing so Stephen did the typing and then “We fixed each line and each scene together.”

So that’s that sorted.

Baxter also says “it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.”

And that is the truth.  The story can be summed up pretty easily. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DARLINGSIDE-Whippoorwill EP (2016).

This EP is a collection of some B-sides and Outtakes from their fantastic album Birds Say.  There are five songs, included a stunning cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.”

The other four songs are the lovely “Whippoorwill” punctuated by scratches from the mandolin and guitar at the end of each line.  Lead vocals seem to be from Auyon, but there’s very rarely one lead vocalist here.  And just when you think the song is a pretty folk song, the end gets bigger, with a cool bass line and louder harmonies.

“Fourth of July” is all about harmonies and a propulsive chorus.  And “Open Door” is almost a capella.  The only music for a time is the scratching of Harris Paseltine’s guitar strings as a rhythm while all four sing beautifully.  This song is faster than many of their others and even features a whistling solo.  There is some minimal violin on this track but it really feels fully a capella.

“Blow the House Down” is an old song (from their debut–when they had a drummer!) reissued here as a foursome.  What’s notable about it is that vocals are supplied almost exclusively by bassist David Senft.  Rather interesting humming bass backing vocals are supplied by everyone else.  It ends with a wailing (for them) noisy solo from Don Mitchell’s electric guitar and Auyon’s violin (it’s even more intense live).

The final song is their terrific cover of “1979.”  I’ve always thought the music for this song was wonderful.  But hearing their version of it I realized how much Corgan’s voice kinda ruins the song.  Hearing these guys harmonize the verse is pretty great.  But hearing them sing full-out on the chorus “I don’t even care” is utterly gorgeous.  Their version is the gold standard for this song now.  It’s a great EP (and three of the guys signed it for me!).

[READ: November 5, 2017] Castle in the Stars

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

The title is an intriguing one and while initially confusing, it makes perfect scene when you realize the book is about ballooning: “1868: The Age of Progress, an era of industry… beyond the blue of the sky, where the cold freezes the breath, where the air disappears…the mysetry begins.”

For this story is not just about ballooning, it is about The Secret of Aether.

The story is about young Seraphin. As the book opens, his mother is going into the balloon. His father is yelling at her that she is crazy to go up in the is weather (gorgeous ominous clouds fill the full page). He tries to guilt her into not going.  But her balloon is equipped with a bulb that will light when it gets to the aether, which is her quest.  Then she is up in the air writing in her journal.

She rises to 12,000 meters but… nothing. She’s about to give up when at 12,900 meters the bulb shines brightly and then explodes.  She found it! And she is never seen again. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Quilted Bear, Banff, Alberta (February 11, 1997).

I am quite surprised that the Rheostatics Live site doesn’t make a bigger deal about this show, given its unique nature.  This is an acoustic show that sounds like it was played in front of ten people and a lot of beer.

The shows seems to have started with the second song (at least the way Dave introduces it).  But the first track is a romping acoustic “Record Body Count” (sound check? or maybe just put out of place?).  Whatever, it sounds great with some electric guitar squeals but mostly just folk style with lots of backing singers).

The show proper starts with Dave introducing “an Ontario drinking song.”  There’s lots of shushing as people keep talking over him (although those people might be Tim an Martin).  Dave says, “a drinking song, there’s got to be some drunks talking.”.  Dave tells the story behind the sons and then they launch into a spirited rendition of Stompin’ Tom Connor’s “Midnight Ride of Red Dog Ray.”

Next comes “Christopher.”  It’s hard to believe they used this version for Double Live because it is so imperfect.  Martin coughs in the beginning and his voice cracks a bit.  But it sounds great and is a wonderfully unique version, especially for the live record.

It’s followed by a folksy rendition of “Chanson les Ruelles.”  Although Tim is too quiet.  mid song, you can hear someone in the crowd says “is it in French?  Yea!”  The version of “Wendell Clark” that comes next is only the second part.  But it is stompin and rompin (with someone yelling “yeeeha”).  At the end someone shouts Wendell broke his back.  “He didn’t really break it.”  “Well, he hurt it.”

Someone shouts for “Palomar” (or “Alomar” that seems less likely).  But they play “Take Me in Your Hand” instead.  It is also a folkie version and the end features a percussion addition of wood blocks.

Dave shouts “Hey, Mike, you wanna do Noah’s Cage?”  I have to assume this is Mike O’Neill from The Inbreds (the song is an Inbreds song).  They play the song although Mike forgets the second verse so he repeats the first.   He says its been a while since he played it.

Martin introduces “Introducing Happiness: as “this is a song about being happy.”  Dave says, “I hope so.”  It’s followed by a surprising acoustic version of “P.R.O.D.”  Surprising only because the song tends to get noisy and out of control, but it’s not in this version.  Towards the end, Dave shouts “all percussion solo–whatever you got.”

Martin busts into the melody of “Dope Fiends” but instead they play a long funny version of “Desert Island Discs.”

Dave: AC/DC-Back in Black; Ramones-Rocket to Russia; Martha and the Muffins-Danseparc.
Tim: The Inbreds-Hilario; The Inbreds-Kombinator ; The Inbreds-It’s Sydney or the Bush.
Donny: Randy Newman-Creates Something New Under the Sun; Grace Jones-Nightclubbing; Herbet von Karajan conducts Beethoven’s… “Last Waltz?” (Dave: could you believe he said the classical one?)
An audience member: Kiss-Dressed to Kill;  The Beatles White Album, and… someone says Billy Idol-White Wedding.  Dave: Billy idol?  Gigs over.  And a later line: I’m going to get me to an island not with that guy though, he wants to bring Billy Idol. I don’t even think White Wedding’s the name of the album (it’s not)–although the fans argue the point).
One last guy: Pink Floyd-The Wall; Led Zeppelin-IV… how many picks? How many picks!?)  ZZ Top-Degüello.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is sung my Tim, Dave sings “I wish I was back home in Derry” at the appropriate moments.

They end with a piano-based version of “Jesus was Once a Teenager Too.”  He has to start again (“it’s just that that thing fell over”), but when he does it sounds really good–very different.

What a fun show to have been at.  There’s a lot of interaction with the band and fans–I really wonder how many people were there.

[READ: April 3, 2017] “Girlfriend on Mars” 

This story is probably my favorite Lucky Peach story (even if it had nothing to do with food).  Although the end seemed to maybe spiral out of control a little bit–with a finale that was, possibly, a little trite (although, not exactly).

This plot is simple.  Amber Kevinn, the narrator’s girlfriend is going to Mars.  Well, maybe.  She has (unbeknownst to Kevin) entered a reality show contest in which two winners will be selected to travel to Mars on MarsNow.  They will live on Mars until they die–no hope for returning.  This story intersperses the contest with just how Amber’s boyfriend feels about the whole thing.

Amber and Kevin are drug dealers.  Well, not exactly–they sell drugs, but only to family and friends.  They grow them hydroponically–this skill with plants was one of the reasons she was accepted for Mars in the first place.  But why didn’t she say anything to her boyfriend (of twelve years!) until it got to this point?

She made a video, she sent in an essay she even met with the TV people–all without him knowing.  Of course, Kevin’s a pretty heavy stoner at this point so he doesn’t notice much. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Trouble with Twins

I grabbed this book because it seemed kind of interesting.  I see also that this book was released in the UK as Missing Arabella, which I think is a slightly better title).  I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d like it.  I mean, we don’t have twins and this is about twins and I wasn’t sure that our 12-year-old boy would like a book about twin girls.

But holy cow was this book outstanding!  It was utterly hilarious and the way it was read aloud was genius.

The book begins with this wonderful setup:

And so it begins in front of the fire, the story of two twin sisters.  One remains with her family in their lovely country house, where yellow roses perfume the air.  The other waits for her in another house, where she stands alone at huge arched windows.  She is restless, pacing wooden floors that creak in the night when a cat jumps down from the bed to chase at shadows.

And then in different typeface:

“What are their names?” the girls asks.  “The sisters.”
“Arabella and Henrietta.”
“Are they lonely,” asks the girl.
“They belong together,” says the mother.  “And it makes them sad to be apart.”
“Can’t you tell a happy story?” the girl asks.
“With puppies and a garden?”
“Yes!” says the girl.
“I’m only telling it the way my mother told it to me,” the mother says.
“And will there be puppies?” the girls persists.  “Or only gloomy girls at windows?”

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Diamond of Darkhold

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

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

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

So what happens in it?

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

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SOUNDTRACK: 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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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #545(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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