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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-“Echoes” (2019).

Rodrigo y Gabriela are amazing guitarists.  Rod plays amazing solos wile Gab plays an astonishing rhythmic counterpoint (both on acoustic).  Although they do play classical and Spanish styles (and so much more) they often mix heavy metal elements into their songs.  I have seen them twice live and they blew me away each time.

They are back with their first album in five years.  And they have just released a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” an 18 minute song that I just love.

And their version is utterly fascinating.  How do two guitarists plan to cover Pink Floyd?  Well, the beginning of the song is a great, recognizable riff, so they play that and Rod plays the vocal line when that comes around.

The middle of the original gets really trippy and kind of dark, with all kinds of synth sounds.  So what do Rod y Gab do?  They embrace what they do best–with Gab playing an incredible rhythm, Rod takes an opportunity to shuffle around in a solo (there’s certainly some looping overdubbing here).  The middle quiets down to them just scraping strings and pounding the guitar and splaying single echoing notes.  It’s not as dark as the original, but it’s still a weird and somewhat unsettling passage.

The song comes out of the middle darkness with  a rollicking solo and a huge buildup from both guitars.

It resumes the song and finishes much like the original in about 18 minutes.  It’s spectacular.

Learn more about it and watch the video here.

[READ: January 25, 2019] Cucumber Quest 2

It has been a while since I read Cucumber Quest 1, so details were a little fuzzy, but the humor of the book is still awesome (especially the way it undercuts hero tropes.

Cucumber wakes up on an island and as he is calling for his friends, he steps on a cell phone.  As he goes to use it, someone shouts NOOO!

It is a young female bunny creature arguing with a crab.  The crab (and all of the crabs) are crabby.  They doubt that she is Princess Nautilus even if she claims she is.  Cucumber takes out his magic wand and it actually works!   He saves her.  Woah.

She says he can call her Nautilus.  He suggests “How about Nautie for sh–” and then realizes what he said. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2018] The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell

I didn’t know this story, nor did I know anything about the Thorne rooms before our trip to Chicago last summer.

So the Thorne Rooms are, well, I’ll let the Art Institute of Chicago’s website describe them:

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

Read more about them and see pictures here.  That description doesn’t really do justice to the rooms themselves.

They are really magical in the way that they fully represent a room from a specific time and place.  The floor, ceilings, walls and furniture all meet exacting standard of detail.  And what makes them somehow even more special is that each room shows rooms out of the side and back doors.  These are lit (and show a painted facade) that indicates what is just beyond the walls of the room you are looking at.  It really adds a lot of depth and character to a scene.

Seeing them in person was really wonderful.

T. and I had started listening to this book before we left for Chicago, but we decided to wait until our trip to save it for the whole family.  Then we wound up not listening to it until the home, after we had seen the rooms.  And I feel like that made it all the more special. Because I could see exactly what the kids were doing in this fun and bizarre adventure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PET SHOP BOYS-“Always on My Mind” (1987).

I certainly have my favorite Christmas songs.  But it never occurred to me to winder what the perfect Christmas song was.

I love music; I don’t care about “perfect” songs or “algorithms” or anything like that.  I just like what speaks ti me.  But there are those who want to figure out things like the perfect song .

So the geniuses at Ostero Music ran their data, crunched the numbers and determined that Pet Shop Boys’ “Always on My Mind” was the perfect Christmas song (even if  it’s not a Christmas song).

S how did hey figure this out?  They analyzed every (UK) Christmas No. 1 from the past 50 years and found the winning combination of four different components – song duration, key, tempo and the artist’s age.

They also found most Christmas hits tend to be ballads and cover versions – and they are almost all about something other than Christmas.

So this is more about sings that are #1 at Christmastime instead of Christmas songs.

At any rate, the perfect formula is

1. Song duration of 3:57
2. In the key of G major
3. Tempo of 114 bpm (beats per minute)
4. Performer is 27 years old

“I think we’re a long way from an algorithmically-generated Christmas number one,” said Howard Murphy, founder of Ostereo. “But certain characteristics do make a song more likely to resonate with audiences at Christmas.”

So why did the Pet Shop Boy win?

If the formula is applied to all the Christmas No. 1 songs from the past 50 years, the song that comes out on top is the Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Always On My Mind’. The duo covered the song in G major at a speed of 125 bpm, and the song lasts 3:55. The duo’s average age at the time of its release was 31.5, a few years off the ‘perfect’ 27, but combine this with the length, key and tempo, and you find the Christmas No.1 sweet spot…apparently.

So be sure to include this song on your next holiday mix and see everyone observe how perfectly it fits.

[READ: December 19, 2018] “In This Fantasy”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although today’s SOUNDTRACK is a special 2018 holiday news item (sort of).

Kim Fu summarizes her story rather well in the Q&A with Kim Fu. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-“Have You Seen My Son” (Field Recordings, September 3, 2014).

This Field Recording [Benjamin Booker: Newport Folk Gets The Summertime Blues] opens with Benjamin Booker taking his tuner off of his guitar and dropping it down a rain grate, never to be seen again.

Like many of the Field Recordings, this one also takes place at the Newport Folk Festival. NPR has a great relationship with the Newport Folk Festival, but they don’t have as much footage that’s available at any time as they used to.

There’s some kind of archway that they seem to use a lot for these Recordings.  Although in this instance, he is not in the archway, but just outside of it.

In 2014, Booker released his debut album.  As of now in 2018, he has quite a following. I know I hear his name on the radio a lot.  Booker has a distinctive voice, raspy and old, even though he himself is young (much younger than I realized).  And, as I thought last time, his speaking voice is so very different from his singing voice.

Even before releasing his debut album last month, Booker’s gravelly voice and bluesy swagger had guitar fans buzzing with anticipation. It didn’t hurt that he’d nabbed a gig touring as the opening act for Jack White, one of his idols.

With a borrowed acoustic guitar, Booker joined us outside one of the secluded secret tunnels in the heart of Fort Adams State Park after his set at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. While we were setting up for this Field Recording, Booker offhandedly mentioned that a few years prior, he’d applied to become an NPR Music intern. He didn’t get that gig, but he told us that missing out spurred his desire to explore another side of his passion for music.

“Have You Seen My Son?” is a quiet shuffle of a song.  Frankly it’s not that impressive as a song, at least you wouldn’t think much of him from just this song.  Except for that voice of course.

[READ: October 7, 2017] I Know What You Read Last Summer

This essay opens with an epigram by Ruth Franklin from Slate, May 8, 2017.

Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.

LeGuin has a lot of fun with this premise.  She begins with a scary opening about something crawly, squelching, stomping–an unknown force smelling of broken rotting flesh: Goddamn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it.

Could he not see that Cormac McCarthy–although everything in his book (except the wonderfully blatant use of an egregiously obscure vocabulary) was remarkably similar to a great many earlier works of science fiction about men crossing the country after the holocaust–could never under any circumstances be said to be a sci-fi writer, because Cormac McCarthy was a serious writer and so by definition incapable of lowering himself to commit genre. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2018] Tuck Everlasting

Normally when we go on long car rides we listen to many audio books.  This summer, we drove to Chicago (12 hours each way) and listened to only two!  Two!  And this one was only three discs long.

I actually didn’t know anything about this story when we started it (somehow this classic children’s book written during my childhood totally escaped me).

What’s fascinating about this story is how little there is to it.  This is not a criticism.  It’s a remarkably compact plot.  Although there is an awful lot of description.  And while Peter Thomas did a great job with the action of the story, the descriptions tended to drag on a bit (you could blame Babbitt or Thomas I suppose).

The story focuses on the Tuck family.  Tuck, whose first name is a rarely used but is Angus, is the father.  Mae is his wife.  They have two children, Jesse who is 17 or so and Miles is 22 or so.

There is also Winnie Foster, a ten-year old girl.  Her family is the oldest family in Treegap, New Hampshire. (more…)

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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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