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SOUNDTRACK: ERYKAH BADU-Tiny Desk Concert #776 (August 15, 2018).

I remember when Erykah Badu released “On & On.”  It was such a great, catchy song, but it felt really different.  And then I basically lost track of her.  I didn’t realize she was still making music (and she hadn’t made much) until 2008’s New Amerykah Part One was a huge hit.

So I hadn’t followed her transformation into an incredibly iconic and powerful woman.  Back in 1997 she wore large turbans.  Now, some twenty years later she looks amazing but also kind of scary–the pink eyeshadow and pale purple lipstick makes her look almost dead or perhaps reborn.  And when she points at the camera and stares “you tricked me,” watch out!

She sounds almost otherworldly as well.  Instead of the turban she has massive dreads (with butterflies in them).  She looks like an earth goddess.

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

After her self-introduction, which included a rundown of her spiritual and creative aliases: Badoula Oblongata, Sara Bellum,  Silly E, Manuela Maria Mexico, Fat Belly Bella, she introduced her band, including on drums, “that’s my son, Seven.”  I’m just kidding that’s not Seven, his name is Delta 9.

The band, a collection of great jazz players launches into a brief (2 minute) version of 1997’s “Rimshot.”  She does some wonderful improv with it and it sounds terrific–particularly her voice.

For the song, Badu

play[s] with time — stretching it, stopping it, suspending it. Propelled by jazz chords on the piano and the steady pulse of the acoustic bass, the playful performance unfolded in the tradition of the best bebop.

She plays only one more track, a 12 minute panoramic song “Green Eyes.”  ….  It’s wide-ranging in scope and musical arrangement and brilliantly executed by the jazz and hip-hop musicians in her backing band. The story of heartbreak is striking enough, but her interpretation showcases her formidable vocal skills. By the time it was over, we were all just as emotionally and spiritually spent as she was from the experience.

There is so much in this song, it’s hard to take it all in.

It opens with a bouncy piano melody: “My eyes are green because I eat a lot of vegetables–it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.”  A muted trumpet adds to the jazzy feel.  She hits a powerful high note and it feels like another short song, but the piano changes tempo and the song is only just getting underway.

I love the melody and the riff that follows certain verses.  Around 9 minutes into the show, the song feels like its ending again, but a flute picks up and the song moves along with a new urgency.  Until she says Wait and sings

Just make love to me
Just one more time
And then you’ll see
I can’t believe I made a desperate plea
What’s with me?

And the pain and power in her voice as she sings me is wonderful.  As the song nears its conclusion, she hits some incredible notes–showing just how amazing her voice still sounds.

Her music has been described as neo-soul, but to me this felt like old school jazz.  As the blurb concurs

Erykah Badu is an artist for the ages. To old-school jazz fans like myself, names like Nina Simone, Betty Carter and Shirley Horn come to mind as much as Billie Holiday because of Badu’s singular approach to a lyric. They all cut their own creative path and left behind a legacy that you can identify with just one note. Erykah Badu is on that same path, and one day her name will be mentioned along with the other Elders who share her spirit of musical adventure.

Erykah Badu (lead vocals), RC Williams (Keys), Braylon Lacy (bass), Cleon Edwards (Drums), Frank Moka (Percussion), Kenneth Whalum (Sax), Keyon Harrold (Trumpet), Dwayne Kerr (Flute).

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Why Are We in Zefra?”

This excerpt was published in Harper’s.  The blurb about the book gave some basic information, but it was on Karl Schroeder’s website that I found this more detailed explanation of the book:

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  Both the peacekeepers and the insurgents use a range of new technologies, some fantastic-sounding, but all in development in 2005.  Needless to say, the good guys win, but not without consequences; the document explores everything from the evolution of individual soldiers’ kits to strategic considerations in world of pervasive instant communications.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

That’s pretty fascinating.

The excerpt was pretty compelling as well. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  Sarah read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for Sarah to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AHI-Tiny Desk Concert #693 (January 16, 2018).

AHI is apparently, inexplicably pronounced “eye.”  He is an Ontario-based singer.  There’s nothing strikingly original about his sound, but his songs are pretty and thoughtful and his voice has a pleasing rough edge.

Bob says,

AHI’s gruff but sweet voice and openly honest words were my gateway to this young Ontario-based singer. AHI says he sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the end of every set with a sense of hope. It was powerfully moving, without a note that felt clichéd or overly nostalgic. At that moment, I knew he needed to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

With a tasteful band comprised of Frank Carter Rische on electric guitar, Robbie Crowell on bass guitar and Shawn Killaly (a man of a million faces) on drums, AHI put his heart into three songs in just about 11 minutes, all from his debut album We Made It Through The Wreckage, which came out a year ago this week.

“Alive Again” builds slowly, but by the time the chorus comes around and he adds some whoops, the song really moves. I’m quite intrigued at the constant soloing from guitarist Frank Carter Rische.  It’s virtually nonstop and really seems to propel the song along.  It’s a catchy and fun song the way each round seems to make the song bigger and bigger.

About “Closer (From a Distance)” he says, we all have relationships.  Some are good; some are bad and some are just awful.  You may care about someone with your whole heart only to realize that you care about that person more than they care about themselves.  No matter how strong you are your strengths may not be as strong as their weaknesses.  Sometimes the only way to save the relationship is to walk away–“maybe we’ll be closer from a distance.”   This is a really heartbreaking song.  The lyrics are clearly very personal and quite powerful.  And the soloing throughout the song is really quiet and beautiful.

“Ol’ Sweet Day” is bouncy and catchy with a propulsive acoustic guitar and lovely licks on the lead acoustic guitar.  The drums are fun on this song as Killaly plays the wall and uses his elbow to change the sound of the drum at the end of the song.

The burning question that is never addressed is way he is wearing a helmet –motorcycle? horse riding?  It stays on the whole time.  At one point he even seems to “tip” his hat.  How peculiar.

[READ: December 8, 2017] Glorious and or Free

The Beaverton is a satirical news source based in Canada.  It began as a website in 2010 and then added a TV Show in 2016 (now in its second season).  To celebrate 2017, the creators made this book.

They have divided the history of Canada into 13 sections.  As with many satirical history books, you can learn a lot about a country or a time from the kinds of jokes made.  Obviously the joke of each article is fake, but they are all based in something.  Historical figures are accurate and their stereotypes and broadsides certainly give a picture of the person.

Some of the humor is dependent upon knowing at least a little about the topic, but some of the other articles are just broadly funny whether you know anything about it or not.

When we made this book our goal was to transport readers back to grade school to remember what they were taught n Canadian history class.  And so what if your teacher was hungover most of the time?

~30,000 Years of History in About Four Page (3,200,000,000 BCE – 1496)

“What the hell is that?”  –God after forgetting he made beavers. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Reverb, Toronto, ON (August 29, 1997).

This is the final show Rheostatics show from the 1990s that I haven’t mentioned thus far.

I’m not sure what the band had been doing before this show (aside from making he Nightlines show), but they’ve apparently not played live for a while.  This return to performance seems to have brought out the wildness in them.  This show has all kinds of jamming moments with eight songs lasting over 7 minutes.  There’s also some slower moments or songs played differently.  It’s a cool, unique show–very different from their other shows.

There’s even an “opening jam” with a guitar riff explored around some bass notes.  Then a new guitar comes in with some rums.  The whole jam is about 3 minutes but it doesn’t really turn into anything, it’s just a like a warm up jam–I even wondered if it was just the guys messing around until all four of them were on stage.

They play the opening riff to “Fat” but he only plays a clip of it and then stops (allowing Tim to do some bass fills).  During the “bye bye” section they stop the music a few times unexpectedly as well.  It’s an interesting jamming opportunity and runs a pretty long time.

After the song Dave says, “we haven’t played togetehr in a long time well, we haven’t played live in front of people.  We played together at the CBC.”  (the Nightlines show mentioned later).  “So now we got one under our belt.  We forgot our songs had so many parts.”

Dave continues, “There’s a lot of people from Michigan here tonight for some strange reason.  They think the Stanley Cups is here.  But it’s not.  We’ll send this next song out to them.”  It’s “Aliens” At the end, Martin takes off on a wild solo as the band really rocks out.  There’s also an extended jam with someone singing a “dit dit dit” part while Martin plays along on guitar.

“All the Same Eyes” is pretty straightforward except that there’s some real wailing from Martin throughout.

Someone shouts “Are you looking for some fun?” and Martin says “We’ve got a new version of that song we’re gonna play.”  Then Tim says, “Just write your requests on a plate.  Dave: “There’s a private party upstairs and there’s lots of plates outside the door.”  Martin: “There’s a private party for um the three little boys with sandy blonde hair… hamsum?  handsome?”

Then they play the first known occurrence of “Junction Foil Ball.”  Martin introduces it: “we’ll do a kind of a new song”  Don: “its new and we’re kind of going to do it.”  I’m impressed with the interesting sound effects that Martin gets while playing this song.  During the “acoustic tile” section he even distorts his voice like it has slowed down–is that effect of Martin’s singing.

“Four Little Songs” sounds totally different.  It’s got a kind of swinging opening.  The first part is really heavy.   Dave’s part is interesting because while still in the trippy intro section, he begins singing the lyrics to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”  When he finally gets to the song, people sing along to his first lines!  Martin has crazy fun with the riff at the end–lots of squeaking solo noises.

Dave asks: “How are those chamois working out, martin?” “They’re remarkably absorbent for large quantities of liquid.”  When I saw them Martin was very sweaty.  I wonder if he always was.  There’s a solid, slow version of “Bad Time to Be Poor,” which Dave says was written awhile ago…but it’s still a bad time to be poor.

Before “Sweet Rich” Martin says, so I’m going to do this solo, okay Tim.  Just the first bit.”  It’s a great version.

“Joey II” has a long rollicking jam in the intro with Martin chanting “I’m about to fuck up, I’m going to fuck up.”   During the middle of the song he asks if any musicians in the audience have played at the Royal Albert Hall in Winnipeg–well that’s what this song is about.

They play an early version of “Easy to Be with You” which goes to “California” instead of “Harmelodia.”

Dave introduces “Stolen Car” by saying “We’d like to do another new one for you.  We played this at our last concert but we’re going to play it a little differently.  This is Tim Mech one of North America’s greatest unsigned artists.   Seriously, he won a contest in Musicians magazine and was named one of the ten best unsigned artists.   We recorded this for the last Nightlines program.  We recorded about 32 minutes of music.  Old stuff, new stuff and a version of this song.  Dave’s last show is tomorrow night.  Thats 104.1 FM CICZ-FM in the local area!”

As the song starts he says (I assume referring to Mech’s guitar) “this is a Hawaiian guitar that’s autographed by Ben Harper.”  ( I had no idea Ben Harper was noteworthy back in 1997).  There’s a weird electronic drumbeat through the song, and the music is primarily guitars–gentle and smooth.

Martin shouts, “Its’ been great playing in our home town–Toronto!”  They play a long version of “My First Rock Show” with a lengthy introductory instrumental section.  Near the final verse, he whispers the “many years later” section and someone shouts “bird in a cage” at the right time.  As the song ends they play the chorus of Trooper’s “We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time).”

“California Dreamline” is quite extended as well.  After the first verse there’s a dance jam before the second verse begins.  The middle has a kind of vocal jam with a light bass and guitar motif and everyone singing different parts in a fugue state.  It’s a weirdly unique version.  At the end Martin says, “That was ‘California Dreamline,’ we’re going to do ‘Record Horse Count’ next.  They do neither and in fact play a really slow almost country-feeling version of “Claire.”  It’s so different sounding that they kind of mess it up here and there.

Things get quiet and then people start clapping along and you can barely hear them playing an acoustic un-mic’d version of “Bread Meat Peas and Rice.”  Dave says the name of the song “for those of you who could hear it.  You kind of understand why you use microphones.”  Tim starts talking about the band Farm Fresh. “They had a similar kind of thing with their Peanuts and Corn record [what?] and apparently they’re supposed to be releasing a new record, is that right?  They’ve made two cassettes and they are both for sale and are both really good.”  Dave: “Whats with that T-shirt, Tim?”  “Free with every cassette sold.”

Someone shouts again, “We’re looking for some fun.”  Dave: “Are you?”  And they launch into “Fishtailin'” which opens with that lyric.

After the song Dave asks “What is the time, late or early or what?  What time do bars say open til  4?  5?  [Shouts of four and Five] Tim: According to the new mega city law they close at 1 [boooos], so we’ve got half a song left.

They surprise ever one with “Bees,” a short quiet song with Martin making bee-like sounds on his guitar.  It leads to a long, quiet intro for “Michael Jackson” with Martin still doing some cool guitar sounds.  The whole beginning is slow and a little odd, with Dave singing “but an auto-bon would be better.”  And later, “Elvis is king because he’s dead.”  In the middle of the song Dave starts “rapping” and he says “I’d like to call Pip Skid (I assume) to the stage.  Pip Skid from Manitoba does a rap that’s kind of hard to hear.  Then there’s some soaring guitars from Martin.  The whole song is 11 minutes long and ends in a vocal jam that grows ever quieter.  Martin sings “It feels good to be alive” (hitting great falsettos) while the others are singing snippets and oh yeas.

They play an 11 minute “Dope Fiends” which has a bass and drum solo in the middle as well as just a drum solo later.  After 8 and a half minutes the band keeps going with some simple rocking.  At the end Martin says, “Thanks guys for giving me a second chance.” [?].

They leave the stage for the encore with a drum machine blipping away.  They come back with the drum machine still playing and someone plays a slow meandering guitar line. Another instrumental jam for 3 or so minutes before Dave says, “We’ll play one more.”  He also says that they’ll have their live album out by Christmas (stocking stuffers!).  And they end the show with a great non-nonsense version of “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”

This is a wonderfully atypical show for the band.  A real treat for fans and an interesting entry point for fans of jamming shows.

The next Rheostatics show that I’ll mention will be in 2001!

[READ: March 16, 2017]  “The Pickle Index”

This story is written in a fascinating way.  There are newspaper articles from The Daily Scrutinizer (written by Mark Hamper) and with them, there is the Pickle Index, a series of recipes.  In fact, it’s a recipe-exchange network “for citizens by citizens.”   Daily participation is mandatory (though surely that’s unnecessary since the treats within are so tasty).

From the Scrutinizer we learn that the official strike team has captured Zloty Kornblatt,the instigator, conspirator and fomenter. He brought a troupe of “performers” into the village to mock, destabilize and cause anarchy.

The Pickle Index begins with Fisherman’s Dills (by Sarafina Loop)–brine-ing cucumbers in the ocean.  And then comes Hollow Gherkins by Flora Bialy.  Although midway through the recipe, it shifts directions and talks about Zloty.  How he left them last night and the writer, Flora Bialy wonders why–was it their incompetence or was it her?  She says that once, years ago Zloty’s team was a real circus with clowns, a trapeze and roasted nuts, but now they were reduced to an extended residency in Burford. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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   SOUNDTRACK: WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk Concert #321 (November 23, 2013).

Waxahatchee is pretty much Katie Crutchfield.  The band recently played a show near me and I wondered if it was a band or just her.

This might be as intimate as hearing Katie Crutchfield sing in her basement. That’s where she and her sister would play guitar, write and sing songs 10 years ago, when she was 14. Katie and Allison Crutchfield had a band back in Birmingham together, The Ackleys; these days, Katie performs as Waxahatchee, while Allison’s band is called Swearin’.

The songs Waxahatchee brought to the NPR Music offices aren’t just stripped down for this Tiny Desk Concert, this is Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee, spare and exposed; this is what she does. Sometimes there’s a drummer (her sister’s boyfriend Kyle Gilbride) and at other times another guitarist, her boyfriend Keith Spencer (both play in Swearin’), but even on Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, there are plenty of bare-boned songs. This is intimate music for an intimate setting, as we got to stand in careful silence, listening intently and capturing this frail and powerful performance.

And all of that is true.   These are pretty, quiet folk songs.  They are so quiet it almost seems like she doesn’t have her amp on—you can hear her pick striking against the strings.

To me the power of these songs is in the lyrics, and yet the music isn’t boring or simple either.  Her chords are always, if not interesting, then certainly spot on.  But I keep coming back to the lyrics.  Like the end of “I Think I Love You”

I want you so bad it’s devouring me / and I think I love you but you’ll never find out.

Her speaking voice is quiet too, and after the first song she admits, “This is one of the coolest things I have ever gotten to do.”

“Bathtub” has this wonderfully intense line:

And I tell you not to love me
But I still kiss you when I want to
And I lament, you’re innocent
But somehow the object of my discontent
And it’s fucked up, I let you in
Even though I’ve seen what can happen

The entire Tiny Desk Concert is only 9 minutes–which is simply too short.  I know that the Tiny Desk Concerts usually have bands play 3 songs, but when they are mostly short ones like “Tangled Envisioning” (not even 3 minutes), they could tack on an extra one or two.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for this book because it looked frankly hilarious.  The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome.

The book is comprised of the best religion-themes comic from the 13 years that SMBC has been around.  There’s also a whole slew of comics that are exclusive to this book.

We are greeted with this: “For these drawings, the part of God is played by a giant yellow disc.” (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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