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Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: YOLA-Tiny Desk Concert #933 (January 17, 2020).

Yola was just nominated for a Grammy for best new artist.  And it does seem like she just came out of nowhere.  But she has been making music for a least a decade (with the band Phantom Limb) and was singing backing vocals for bands like Massive Attack before that.  She finally went on her own a few years ago and then released her Dan Auerbach-produced debut album last year.

This Tiny Desk features Yola singing three songs from that debut album and wow, what a voice she has.

With her bouncy Afro and a big smile, Yola’s presence behind the Tiny Desk was commanding, her energy captivating and, oh, that voice!

I had the exact same reaction as Bob Boilen:

I assumed her background was as a southern gospel singer, until she spoke. Her British accent was a shocker.

She’s very funny between songs as she chugs water and then jokes how she puts it here and it comes out here (on her forehead).

Yola’s affection for American music, from Dolly Parton to Aretha Franklin, is at the center of her character and expression. It’s likely one of the reasons she chose to write and record her debut album, Walk Through Fire, at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, and why it was such a perfect fit for her.

The second song, “”I Don’t Wanna Lie” is a “newie” and it is my favorite song of hers.  I absolutely love the chorus–so catchy and powerful.  It’s a shame it’s only on the deluxe version of her album.  Instead of piano, the keys are a great organ sound and the main riff on bass (from Taylor Zachry) and the great guitar licks (from Andy Stack) make this song a great soulful rocker.

For the last song, “It Ain’t Easier,” she picks up the acoustic guitar and is accompanied by slow guitar lines and that cool organ sound.  Drummer Jamie Dick is using brushes to emphasize the gentleness of this song.

I’m not sure what it takes to get someone to go from backing and guest vocalist to making a way for herself.

Now this singer from Bristol, who once sang for Massive Attack, and sampled by Iggy Azalea and The Chemical Brothers, is front-and-center.

But it was a great decision.

[READ: January 23, 2020] Giant Days Vol. 8

In this book, friendships are fractured and the future of our trip is in doubt!

As Chapter 29 opens we see Esther looking fabulously academic as she heads to her Romantic Lit class. She is the star of the class and always has the right answer. Until today.  McGraw’s ex-girlfriend Emilia has just started taking the class and as Esther rants “It’s not fair to sing that good, look that good, and think that good.”

Meanwhile Ed Gemmell is trying out a new look–overalls and a braid and, boy howdy, Daisy does not like it.  She asks, “Are you ‘fine’ because you joined a cult and they’taken away your pain?”  He says he’s tried so many things but girls are not interested in him.  Daisy sets him up with her friend Kathy with whom he should have lots in common.  She’s geeky and sexy!  But when she tries to move things forward he demurs.  Daisy is furious, “she could not have been any more your type if she’d been the result of a lab experiment to create the perfect Gemmell mate in one of those nightmare sci-fi shows you both like so well.”

The Esther/Emilia issue resolves itself at a literature professor’s soiree.  When one of the teachers gets handsy with Esther. It is Emilia who is there to help her out. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2019] The Schwa Was Here

I know about Neal Shusterman because Sarah really loved his Arc of a Scythe series.  I love the cover design of that series, but I haven’t read the books (yet).

I was looking for audio books for our summer vacation and found that Shusterman had written a lot of books before the series.  Including this one, The Schwa Was Here.

I have always loved the word “schwa.”  I never full understood it I just knew it was represented by the upside down e [like this: ǝ].  The epigram of the book actually explains a schwa pretty well.  So here’s the simple version:

The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound. A schwa sound occurs when a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound.

I also had no idea that this was part a series until I looked it up.  The series is called the Antsy Bonano Novels.  Now I ‘m curious to see where this series goes.

I loved the audio book because Shusterman reads it in his greatest Brooklyn accent. And while the characters aren’t thoroughly diverse is voice, they are diverse enough to keep the characters straight.  But his accent is awesome.  And it’s relevant because Antsy is a Brooklyn boy through and through and he addresses the way they talk.

As soon as his brother says a bad word, their mother “hauls off and whacks him on the head in her own special way… ‘You watch your mout!’  Mom says ‘mout’ not ‘mouth.’  We got a problem here with the ‘th’ sound.”

They also have problems with vowels.  He is Anthony, but known as Antny (which became Antsy).  And, his family are Catlick. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN–“Do You Realize??” (2019).

Here’s yet another cover of a great song by an artist I like a lot.

Sharon Van Etten covered the Flaming Lips’ song for the final episode of the Amazon Series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life On Normal Street.  This show is quite outstanding.  It’s a kid’s show but it has a lot of really great ideas.  T. watched most of it although I think maybe she stopped before the end.

Sharon’s take on the song was

When I was asked to cover a Flaming Lips song for Gortimer Gibbons, I was really nervous. But when I watched the scene and heard from the people involved in the music, they really wanted to hear my interpretation of both the scene and the song.  The show is sweet and smart and family oriented—and that is really important to me.

I can’t exactly imagine how this song, which is simultaneously uplifting and depressing, fits into this show.   I imagine it’s a sad scene, but again I haven’t seen it.

The original of this grows bigger and bigger as the verses continue.  There’s backing vocals, swelling strings/keyboards and a really epic feel.

Sharon’s version pulls all of that back.

It opens with keyboards, but they are quiet and soft, almost like a harmonium or accordion.  As she sings she strums along on the acoustic guitar.  She sings the song mostly faithfully to the original, although she does occasionally alter the melody line a bit.  Just before the chorus, a quiet drum beat enters but that’s really it for changes in the song.

It’s really understated and lovely.  And although I prefer the original because it’s just so darn good, this is a beautiful cover which brings new elements to the song.

[READ: September 25, 2019] Glitch

Scholastic Graphix is pretty consistently one of my favorite publishers for really good children’s graphic novels.  The stories are for kids, for sure, but they are gripping and entertaining for adults as well.

Glitch has a great look and an even better story.

We open with two girls, Izzy and Eric, drooling over a new video game: Dungeon City.  Izzy’s copy of the game is arriving this weekend which means VIDEO GAME SLEEPOVER!  Better yet, Izzy’s parents are not at home, so it will be snacks and games and pizza all night long.

When Izzy gets home, her game is waiting for her.  And while she knows she should wait for the weekend, it couldn’t hurt to see what it looks like.  The graphics are amazing and within seconds, she is sucked into the TV and into the game.  Literally.  After orienting herself, she is greeted by a robot (which is, strangely, missing an eye).  The robot offers to rescue her and Izzy rightly points out that she doesn’t need rescuing.  However, she will accept guidance from the robot who is named Rae.  But when Rae asks to hold Izzy’s hand, Izzy refuses that as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Gumboot Soup (2017).

At the beginning of 2017, KGATLW promised that the would release five albums in the year.  They released four and as the year drew to an end it looked like we might not get that promised fifth release.  And then on the last day of the year, Dec 31, they released Gumboot Soup.

Surely this one–squeezed in on the last day of the year–must be a mishmash of the crap that they didn’t put on their other records, right?  Or maybe acoustic versions of existing songs?  Or something equally lame?

Indeed, not.  For KGATLW are nothing if not full of ideas.

Their previous albums were thematic.  This one is certainly more of a collection of songs rather than an album.  And yet, this collection is not crap.  Mackenzie described thee album as a “place for us to put a lot of different ideas that we’re trying to experiment with in the song, rather than within the whole record. And for me, some of my favorite songs of the year are on [Gumboot]. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

So the album isn’t unified, but that diversity somehow makes it even more compelling.

“Beginner’s Luck” is a beautiful sweet delicate song.  The opening is quiet guitar and the clearest vocals yet from Stu.  It’s a dreamy, gentle song, as if they were influenced by the Mild High Club sessions to write a pretty, retro pop song.  There’s great bass on this song as well and I love that Ambrose adds some lead vocals to the chorus.  There’s some lovely flute and backing vocals.  As the song reaches its end it gets louder and more distorted with a wild wah wah guitar solo and the whole band joining in to rock.  This seems to mock the sweetness of the beginning.

It’s followed by “Greenhouse Heat Death” which reintroduces some microtonal melodies and a rumbling groove.  This song is an environmental song with Stu singing in his darker, distorted voice about the degradation of the Earth (from the Earth’s point of view–“my house has fried, all life has died”).

“Barefoot Desert” comes out of that darkness with a wonderfully bright song–flutes, some terrific bass lines, and Ambrose’s always-chipper vocals.  The riff is dynamite too.  There’s even a very Beatles-esque middle instrumental section before the song lopes off again.

“Muddy Water” is a really catchy fast-paced stomper with some call and response vocals (I love at the end when Ambrose starts singing “I prefer the muddy water” back to Stu).  The riffing is great and it all feels very reckless, like they (or we) can’t stop.  The introduction of (two) saxophones is pretty unusual and a nifty twist on their sound.

“Superposition” is a soft almost robotically smoothed out song.  Everything is high and floaty–the flute, the vocals, the bass.  It’s a pretty different sound for them, although they maintain the vocals-follow-the-musical-melody that they have perfected.  And then of course, they have to upend the pleasantness with some crazy skronking saxophone solos in the middle of the song.  But even those seem almost distant and like they are not exactly part of the song.

“Down the Sink” is a fantastic song that sounds very much unlike anything they’ve done before.  There’s some cool funk and 70s inflections on the riffs and sounds.  The chorus “the street is where people live, the street is where people die” has a fantastic 70s, almost blaxploitation, film soundtrack feel.   I’d love to hear them explore more of this sound.

“The Great Chain of Being” is one of the outright heaviest things they’re recorded, with big heavy riffs and growling vocals.  It’s a bit out of place on this record, but it rocks too wonderfully to complain about.  It clearly seems like it could have been on Murder of the Universe, but maybe they just enjoyed rocking out and wanted to write a new song.

“The Last Oasis” has a delightful cocktail lounge feel, with vibes, languid bass and Ambrose’s gentle vocals.   I love that it gets hazier and sounds more and more like it’s being submerged as the song goes on.  Meanwhile, “All is Known” returns to them microtonal sounds of Banana for the main riff and heft of this pumping song.

One of my favorite tracks is the delicate “I’m Sleeping In.”  I love the interesting and satisfying bass lines that runs through this gentle song about sleeping:

I know within my body
I need rest from muscle ache
I really need a break
So I’m sleepin’ in, in

There’s some quiet harmonica and a really compressed sound.  It seems like sleep will never come because of some random noises that come in to disrupt the chill feeling.  Although by the end, the tape slows down and sleep has finally won.  The disc ends with “The Wheel” a groovy psychedelic track with wavery keys and flute. It’s the least dynamic song on the record but it feels nicely stretched out and trippy.

So the track order definitely makes this feel like an odds and ends assortment.  I’m not sure if they could have made a heavy side and a trippy side, or if it’s just more fun to have this batch of oddments together in the soup of gumboot.

The good thing is there’s not a bad song on it and it really covers every imaginable style.

After five albums in year, the only thing to do was to release no records in 2018 and tour the world.  But 2019 suggests a new disc in on the horizon.  I can’t wait.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “The Arithmetic of Common Ground”

This story had an interesting conceit which I feel it didn’t fully follow through on.  It posits that children have commonalities and looks at what estimated percentage of those commonalities they need to have for friendships to work.  I enjoyed the way it seemed almost like a technical report in the beginning.

At the opening, we see a couple meeting.

Born within six months of one another, within the same medium-sized city, and of comparable socio-economic class, they automatically overlap somewhere between 33 to 35 percent. Make the city Calgary and make them both only children who—as a consequence of their solitudes—have both grown up somewhat unsociable and somewhat bookish. If both dutifully attended music lessons in guitar and piano to complement their school work, their common ground might go as high as 40 to 55 percent.

Despite being different by some 45 to 60 points, they share enough interests (musical) to meet, fall in love, get married and have a child: Benjamin.

But for group dynamics a simple Venn diagram does not suffice because each pairing is its own diagram.  The story proceeds to explore Benjamin and his friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AARON LEE TASJAN-Tiny Desk Concert #817 (January 15, 2019).

Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band play wonderful retro-fueled jangle pop.  There’s terrific gentle harmonies, a chiming 12 string and a dual guitar solo.  He even looks the part

Aaron Lee Tasjan arrived at the Tiny Desk in his fashionable ascot and mustard-colored shirt, sporting reflective, red, rounded sunglasses and mutton chops. As he warmed up, the sound of the middle-and-late 1960s came through his seagreen, Gorsuch 12-string guitar while his voice felt both familiar and fresh.

Aaron Lee Tasjan’s love for this older sound infuses Karma For Cheap, his recent album, with an optimistic THC-veiled sentiment — one that can be heard on “Songbird,” his opening number here at the Tiny Desk. “There’s a songbird singing, I’m laying on the floor. Something feels right that has never felt right before.”

“Songbird” sounds familiar yet new, and wonderfully catchy.

He’s also got a good joke: “My name is Aaron Lee Tasjan. I hope I’m saying that right.”

For the next song he says the band will “boogaloo till they puke.”  It opens with a synth sound. more jangly guitars and even bigger harmonies.  It segues perfectly into the stomp of “Set You Free.”

These are songs of encouragement, and the final tune in this Tiny set, “Set You Free,” invokes that sentiment in plain-spoken language: “You gotta change your mind, you gotta plant the seed and let it set you free.”  All the while, drummer Seth Earnest, guitarist Brian Wright and bassist Tommy Scifres seemingly channeled their love of David Bowie’s 1972 song, “The Jean Genie” (a song mixed in Nashville), in its rhythms and vibes.

You can definitely hear “The Jean Genie” in the song, but never does it sound like he’s stealing from Bowie, just alluding to him–and that three-part harmony makes it all his own.  I love that both guitars play the solo at the end–atop even more harmonies.

This was such a delightful Tiny Desk that I need to find out more about this guy.

[READ: January 18, 2018] Peter & Ernesto

This is an adorable book, the first in a series, I believe, about Peter & Ernesto.  As the subtitle indicates, they are sloths.

The book opens with the pair sitting in a tree watching the clouds go by and naming the shapes.  When Ernesto sees a bear, Peter responds “Scary!” and then goes back to eating his hibiscus.

It is generally believed that sloths are lazy, but Ernesto points out that they are not lazy, just content.  Until, that is, Peter sings about how “We always see what we always see!  Nothing ever changes for you and me!”  And then Ernesto feels discontented.

Ernesto says he likes their piece of sky, but he wants to see all of the sky.  So he must take a trip.  Peter freaks out–there could be bears out there!  It’s too dangerous!  When Ernesto asks if Peter has ever been out there and Peter says no.  Ernesto points out, how would he know? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-“Dream 3 (In The Midst Of My Life)” from Sleep– NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2018).

This piece is remarkable.  And the except provided here (all 8 minutes of it) is but a teeny fraction of the entire 8 hour work.

I had heard about this piece on Echoes a few months ago and was very interested in it, but figured there was no way I’d hear it.  I never imagined anyone would hear it quite like this:

Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter’s eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

Richter has described this piece: “Really, what I wanted to do is provide a landscape or a musical place where people could fall asleep.”

In the video here, you’ll see Richter himself on keyboards and electronics, along with the ACME string ensemble and soprano vocalist Grace Davidson.

What I loved about the story of this piece is not that it is a piece to sleep to exactly but that it is based around the neuroscience of sleep.  He says, “Sleep is an attempt to see how that space when your conscious mind is on holiday can be a place for music to live.”

It’s wonderful and I would love to sleep to it some night.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Old Wounds”

I thought that I had read more by Edna O’Brien but it appears that I’ve read hardly anything by her.

This story was an interesting look at Irish stubborness and the way families can hate each other over small things (or even big things).

The narrator explains that her family had a falling out and for several years there was no communication at all between them.  Even when they attended funerals they did not acknowledge each other.

Finally all of the older people had died off and it was just her and her cousin Edward (both past middle age) they met and put aside the hostilities. They even visited the family graveyard together.  The graveyard was on an island a short boat ride from Edward’s house. (more…)

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