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Archive for the ‘Stephen Colbert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: J.S. ONDARA-Tiny Desk Concert #936 (January 24, 2020).

WXPN has been playing J.S. Ondara quite a lot since his album came out.  And while the DJs would often give some details about his life story, he gives a bit more here.

J.S. Ondara’s journey to the Tiny Desk is a fascinating one. From his home in Nairobi, he listened on his sister’s radio to American artists, including Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Death Cab For Cutie and, most importantly, Bob Dylan. He wanted to be a folk singer, so he moved to Minnesota, Dylan’s home state.

In between songs he narrates his life in a wonderfully comically understated style.

Ondara told us his story. “I remember, at one point, someone told me about this contest that you guys do called ‘the Tiny Desk Contest.’ And I was, at the time, desperately trying to be a folk singer. And I’m not quite. I’m not a big fan of contests, but I like NPR. So I figured I’d give it a shot. And I’d just written that song, ‘Lebanon.’ So I made a video of me playing that song, and I submitted it. And I suppose that things didn’t go quite in my favor. So I figured I’d find a bit of a roundabout way to get here, which involved making a record and touring it relentlessly and stalking Bob [Boilen] all around South by Southwest. (I actually didn’t do that part.) I was thinking about it. And now I’m here. The journey would have been a lot shorter had I just won the bloody contest. It’s on me, not you, I suppose, I should have written a better song.  But in the very wise words of Miley Cyrus, ‘it’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about the climb.’  I can’t stop quoting that song, it’s one of those words even when I don’t want to.”

“Lebanon” is a slow ballad with Ondara’s unique singing style (S. and I genuinely didn’t know if Ondara was a man or a woman upon hearing his song “Saying Goodbye” because his voice is so multivaried.  I really like the passion of the lyrics and how it is countered with the slowness of the music.

In the water, fire
I’ll go wherever you go
In the valley, in the canyon
I’ll go wherever you go
Hey, love, I’m ready now
Can’t you see this riot
Inside of my veins
Hey love, I’m overcome
By desire
How must I wait?
Up next is “Days of Insanity” with this fascinating lyric

There is a bear at the airport, waiting on a plane
There is a cow at the funeral, bidding farewell
There is a goat at the terminal, boarding the C-train
There is a horse at the hospital, dancing with the hare
Somebody call the doctor, from the university
Somebody call upon the witch and the wizardry
Somebody call the rabbi, the pastor and the sheikh
Coz we are coming on the days of insanity
The days of insanity.

In talking about this song he says it is such a rich time to be a folk singer in America.  He wrote the song while making the record.  He was watching videos of kittens and puppies as he does every night before bed and the video suggested watching Stephen Colbert with John Mulaney.  Mulaney took a trip to Japan and described things in America as being like seeing a horse loose in a hospital.  It’s like something no one’s ever seen before.  Ondara encourages us to watch the clip and he is right–it is hilarious!

“Saying Goodbye” is the song that’s been getting the airplay.  It’s passionate and powerful and when he sings in the higher register it really is otherworldly.

This live version is quite a revelation.  His delivery is different–much more slow and deliberate.  But he can still hit that glorious high notes..

Amazingly, Tales of America was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Americana Album (not bad for a guy from Kenya).  Sadly it didn’t win.

[READ: June 2, 2018] Cleopatra in Space Book Five

It took Maihack seventeen months to make this book!  He says that sixteen of those months were spent growing the bear on his author picture.

This story is action-packed with some fascinating twists and turns.  Consequently, seventeen months is a long time to go between books.  Fortunately, Maihack’s quality of illustration and storytelling has maintained its high standards.

The book opens with a flashback to the moment when Cleo first disappeared from Gozi while they were having target practice (back in book 1).

The actual story has followed Cleo on her adventures.  But now we see what happened to Gozi.  He was attacked by … someone … and imprisoned.  Gozi believes that whatever happened to Cleo–it was her choice not to return and help him.

I have to admit I was more than a little confused as to just what happened next, [Gozi explains things later on].  IN the montage of events, there’s a spaceship and lots of cats (I suspect that if I had read the other books more recently this would be more clear).  In whatever happened, Gozi is badly burned and the pain never goes away.  He was wrapped in bandages but that didn’t really help at all.  Then we see exactly what happened to make Gozi tun into Octavian and to agree to use the Lion’s plasma to carry out the ruin of the galaxy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EMPTY POCKETS-Snow Day (2018).

The Empty Pockets have sent me two offers to get their CDs for free (plus a nominal shipping charge, of course).  This second one was a Christmas CD.  I hadn’t listened to their first CD yet but I do love a Christmas CD, so I thought why not add it to the pile.

There are five songs on this CD and after listening to this I’m wondering if I don’t really like The Empty Pockets.  It’s hard to bass the sound of a band on their Christmas collection, but I was pretty bummed by this disc.

The first song is called “Snow Day” and it says it was written bu Daniel McCormick although I can’t find out who that is.  It has got a  kind of smooth rock feel which is okay for a Christmas song but doesn’t bode well beyond that.

Next up is a version of “Silent Night.”  And they commit a few atrocities in this song right off the bat.  You can make the song more rocking, but you cannot mess with the vocal melody.  And they do that right off the bat.  The thing that rally bus me though is Erika Brett’s voice which is just super loud and yelling and kind of all over the place.  Never out of tune or anything like that just waay over the top.  This is just too much.  The guys also join in on verses, although I don’t know who is who [Josh Solomon, guitar and lead vocals; Nate Bellon, bass and lead vocals; Danny Rosenthal, drums].  But honestly, no one needs to sing “talking ’bout heavenly host sing alleluia.”  One of the men sounds like Darius Rucker which is just kind of unfortunate.

“One More Kiss” is a big powerful song from Brett with good backing vocals.  She overdoes it a bit, but its poppy and catchy and is not tampering with a classic beautiful so, so that’s okay.

“Eskimo Lady” is a little cheesy (not to mention offensive).  It’s a little discoey and grows cheesier with each listen.

“All Eight Days” has a fun guitar riff–like they are doing a heavy metal solo, but the song is far from heavy metal.  I like that it’s about Hanukkah, and the lyric “Just like a Maccabee, i have to wait and see,” is pretty funny.  But the song just veers too far into pop singing I guess.

“The Tree That Refused to Grow” seems like a retelling of A Charlie Brown Christmas from the point of view of the tree.  Except we see into the Charlie character’s future.  I really want to like it but it just comes off as maudlin.

I’m especially bummed by this disc because they quoted Caddyshack in the note that accompanied it.  Sigh.

[READ: December 8, 2018] “Festive”

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.

I read this short piece and thought it was incredibly sad.

Then I watched a reading of it (on the Stephen Colbert show) and the audience was laughing quite a lot.  Perhaps it’s his delivery?  But I hate the clipped style of writing (probably true for a diary but awful to read or hear). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JON BATISTE AND STAY HUMAN-“Believe in Love” (Field Recordings, November 6, 2014).

I had never heard of Jon Batiste and Stay Human until he became the bandleader and sidekick on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

It’s always fun to read about a famous person from before they were famous.  But this blurb doesn’t say much about him (that’s him in the yellow suit and melodica).  But the story about this Field Recording [Jon Batiste Leads A Private Street Parade Atop A Fort] was too good not lead the whole thing in.

Jon Batiste is from New Orleans, where a street parade might assemble around the corner on any given day. Evidently, he likes a good walkabout: He’s liable to lead his band at a guerrilla concert in the New York City subway, or out of a venue, or — as he did at the Newport Jazz Festival — off stage and into the audience.

After playing a set at Newport, he and the Stay Human band kept walking. They walked past the backstage trailers, through the quad stage and up onto an overgrown rampart of Fort Adams — the 190-year-old edifice that houses the festival. After a long day of travel, interviews and a headlining performance, they were there to give us a special and private encore.

The song they played, “Believe in Love” which is upbeat and pleasant.   It is a pretty New Orleans-inflected  (must be the sousaphone bass) poppy/jazzy song.  It’s a lovely understated song, with simple instrumentation: Jon Batiste, voice/melodica; Eddie Barbash, alto saxophone; Barry Stephenson, bass; Ibanda Ruhumbika, tuba; Joe Saylor, tambourine; Jamison Ross, cowbell/backing vocals.

The keyboardist and bandleader calls his portable performances “love riots”: attempts to generate instant community through music.

I love at the end, before they finish, they simply turn around and walk off (even the upright bass), still paying as the music fades from the microphone.

[READ: October 9, 2017] “The Proposition”

This story is about a successful immigrant to Toronto.  His success is more or less everything he hoped for himself, but he wishes he had just a bit more.

Roman Berman had, like many Jews, migrated to this area of Toronto and because he was successful, he was always asked for various avenues of help.  He wanted to sell his old car, but before he could, a friend called and asked if he would sell this car to Svirsky.  So he waited in his office, but of course Svirksy (who bought a lemon of a car previously) did not show at the appointed time.

Berman was sympathetic to his plight but still angered about the delay.  But he knew that when he first arrived he was also looking for help from anywhere.  He worked very hard to get hat he had–and still worked very hard–to the point of irritating the people he relied on for referrals.  But it was necessary if he wanted to provide a good life. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OKX: A Tribute to Ok Computer (2010).

OK Computer is one of the best records of the 90s.  Every time I listen to it I hear something new and interesting.  So, why on earth would anyone want to cover the whole thing?  And how could you possibly do justice to this multi-layered masterpiece?

I can’t answer the first question, but the second question is more or less answered by this tribute which was orchestrated by Stereogum.

The answer is by stripping down the music to its bare essentials.  When I first listened to the songs I was really puzzled by how you could take a such a complex album and make Doveman’s version of “Airbag,” which is sort of drums and pianos.  Or gosh, where would you even begin to tackle “Paranoid Android?”  Well Slaraffenland create a bizarre symphonic version that excises many things–in fact half of the lyrics are missing–and yet keeps elements that touch on the original.  But it’s an interesting version of the song and shows  a bizarre sense of creativity.  And that is more or less what this tribute does–it makes new versions of these songs.

Mobius Band make a kind of Police-sounding version of “Subterranean Homesick Alien.”  Again, it radically changes the song, making it a fast and driving song (although I don’t care for the repeated “Uptights” and “Outsides” during the verses).

Vampire Weekend, one of the few bands that I actually knew in this collection (and whom I really like) do a very interesting, stripped down version of “Exit Music, for a Film.  The “film” they make is a haunted one, with eerie keyboards.  Again, it is clearly that song, but it sounds very different (and quite different from what Vampire Weekend usually sound like).

“Let Down” (by David Bazan’s Black Cloud) and “Karma Police” (by John Vanderslice) work on a similar principle: more vocals and less music.  The music is very stripped down, but the vocals harmonize interestingly.  Perhaps the only track that is more interesting than the original is “Fitter Happier” by Samson Delonga.  The original is a processed computer voice, but this version is a real person, intoning the directives in a fun, impassioned way.  There’s also good sound effects.

Cold War Kids take the riotous “Electioneering” and simplify it, with drums and vocals only to start.  It’s hard to listen to this song without the utter noise of the original.  “Climbing Up the Walls” is one of the more manic songs on this collection, with some interesting vocals from The Twilight Sad.

There are two versions of “No Surprises” in this collection.  Interestingly, they are both by women-fronted bands, and both treat the song as a very delicate ballad.  Both versions are rather successful.  Marissa Nadler’s version (the one included in sequence) is a little slower and more yearning, while Northern State’s version (which is listed as a B-Side) is a little fuller and I think better for it.  My Brightest Diamond cover “Lucky.”  They do an interesting orchestral version–very spooky.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble (a side project of Chris Funk from The Decemberists) do a very weird electronic version of the song (with almost no lyrics).  It’s very processed and rather creepy (and the accompanying notes make it even more intriguing when you know what’s he doing).

The final B-side is “Polyethylene (Part 1 & 2),”  It’s a track from the Airbag single and it’s done by Chris Walla.  I don’t know this song very well (since it’s not on OK Computer), but it’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  This version is probably the most traditional sounding song of this collection: full guitars, normal sounding drums and only a slightly clipped singing voice (I don’t know what Walla normally sounds like).

So, In many ways this is a successful tribute album.  Nobody tries to duplicate the original and really no one tries to out-do it either.  These are all new versions taking aspects of the songs and running with them.  Obviously, I like the original better, but these are interesting covers.

[READ: November 5, 2011]  McSweeney’s #8

I had been reading all of the McSweeney’s issue starting from the beginning, but I had to take a breather.  I just resumed (and I have about ten left to go before I’ve read all of them).  This issue feels, retroactively like the final issue before McSweeney’s changed–one is tempted to say it has something to do with September 11th, but again, this is all retroactive speculation.  Of course, the introduction states that most of the work on this Issue was done between April and June of 2001, so  even though the publication date is 2002, it does stand as a pre 9/11 document.

But this issue is a wild creation–full of hoaxes and fakery and discussions of hoaxes and fakery but also with some seriousness thrown in–which makes for a fairly confusing issue and one that is rife with a kind of insider humor.

But there’s also a lot of non-fiction and interviews.  (The Believer’s first issue came out in March 2003, so it seems like maybe this was the last time they wanted to really inundate their books with anything other than fiction (Issue #9 has some non-fiction, but it’s by fiction writers).

This issue was also guest edited by Paul Maliszewski.  He offers a brief(ish) note to open the book, talking about his editing process and selection and about his black polydactyl cat.  Then he mentions finding a coupon in the phonebook for a painting class  which advertised “Learn to Paint Like the Old Masters” and he wonders which Old Masters people ask to be able to paint like–and there’s a fun little internal monologue about that.

The introduction then goes on to list the 100 stores that are the best places to find McSweeney’s.  There are many stores that I have heard of (I wonder what percentage still exist).  Sadly none were in New Jersey.

This issue also features lots of little cartoons from Marcel Dzama, of Canada. (more…)

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wiredMany many years ago (1995), while I was in Boston, I bought my first copy of Wired magazine (how could I forget the absurd cover to the right (yes, there IS a picture there) [And I’m very impressed that you can easily link to all of their back issues, just as I did with the link above].  I’m not sure how long it had been in print , but I think it was still young and buzzworthy. [Research shows that this was its 3rd year].  I remember thinking the magazine was very difficult to read.  Literally.  Text ran across pages, the colors were all wild.  The ads blurred completely with the content (by design).  And it was very “techie.”  I don’t remember if I subscribed exactly then, but I did subscribe eventually.  And then I stopped (sometime in 1999).

Recently I got an offer to re-subscribe, for a dollar an issue.  (This is where my idea that I will cancel a magazine once I stop getting a dollar’s worth from it).  I wasn’t sure if I should subscribe, but I figured what the hell.

Not a resounding chorus of cheers for this publication, huh?

Well, since I’ve subscribed I have been pleasantly surprised by the magazine.  And interestingly, the cover story almost never interests me.  In fact, and my brother in law Tim first pointed this out: the cover stories and the big articles take themselves very seriously.  Everything is always The Future Of This.  The New That.  Don’t Be Left Behind!  It’s over the top in its wanting you to take them seriously. (more…)

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tekSOUNDTRACK: RUSH-Retrospective 3 (2009).

retro 3This disc filled a hole that the public had been really clamoring for: a collection of the most popular songs by Rush from the 1990s until today.  [cue crickets chirping]. Okay so this period isn’t exactly the best selling Rush era, and many people probably didn’t even know that they were still around (they weren’t for a while, but then they came back with an amazing vengeance).

Back in the 1980s I was a huge Rush fan. They were hands down my favorite band. I don’t like them any less than I used to, I just like a lot of other bands more now.  And yet this era of Rush’s music has some of my favorite of their songs, and they’re pretty much all here.

Disc One is a selection of tracks and Disc Two is a DVD of all of their videos. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that if you compare the videos track list to the audio tracklist, they don’t jibe as much as you might think.  This leads me to believe that the band doesn’t think that their original singles were the best songs from the discs (and I agree, I think the track listing of the CD is much stronger than that of the videos).

Presto is one of my favorite discs of this era, as are their two most recent releases Vapor Trails and Snakes and ArrowsTest for Echo, on the other hand is one of my least favorite discs of theirs.  The last time I listened to it I thought it was pretty terrible (and yet I am very surprised to see how well liked it is by Rush fans in general).  Nevertheless, all of these discs are well represented here.

And speaking of their videos, I have to say that Rush has some of the w(and every one was directed by someone different it seems) they’re just terrible.  They always seem to have a “plot” of some sort, yet it is elliptical and lacking in specifics.  It frequently involves a teenaged boy, often shirtless, in some kind of peril.  The only parts I like are the band scenes, because it’s fun to see a) Alex’s hair b) Geddy’s hair and c) Neil’s scowl.

One of the major selling points of this disc is that the two tracks from Vapor Trails are remixed.  Anyone who knows Rush knows that their releases are definitive.  You don’t get remixes or even B-sides out of this band.  So for them to release a different version of these songs is pretty amazing.  I wonder what’s up with that.  Research suggests that the band was never happy with the quality of Vapor Trails, and there are rumblings that they’d like to remix the whole disc.  I hope they do, as these sound great.

But the real selling point is the bonus video: a live interview/recording from The Colbert Report.  As I mention below, I simply don’t watch the Report as often as I ought, so I had no idea the band was even on.  I wish that Colbert had let them speak a little bit more, even if the fawning and funny questions are really great and show what a sense of humor the band has (as does the “cheering fans” that Alex has on his board).  And “Tom Sawyer” (which, I get as it’s their hugest song, but really they had to play a song that’s 27 years old?) sounds great.  And they clearly have fun with it.

If you’re on the fence about getting this disc, those two items should convince you to pick it up.

[READ: June 30, 2009] Tek Jansen

I enjoy the Colbert Report.  Quite a lot.  And yet, I don’t watch it very often.  I find the idea of committing to a daily show (like The Daily Show) is just impractical.  And so, even though Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are queued up on my TiVo, I rarely have the time to watch them.

And so, it was news to me that Colbert had the character of Tek Jansen on his show. I heard about this series via Oni (who publishes it, and all good comics).  I also just learned, (thanks Wikipedia) that there are animated shorts of this character which I must track down.  In fact, heck, for the hilarious background of the origin of this comic, just read this. (more…)

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