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booksSOUNDTRACK: YO LA TENGO-Tiny Desk Concert #271 (April 15, 2013).

y-o-la-tenI’ve enjoyed Yo La Tengo’s music for years and years.  I have many of their records, although I’d never consider them a favorite band. They’re just a reliable band I like.   This Tiny Desk Concert sees the venerable band in acoustic format (with no drums!).  Ira Kaplan sings and plays guitar, drummer Georgia Hubley sings backup and bassist James McNew plays an acoustic 12-string guitar.

Yo La Tengo has a lot of diversity in their records.  And even here, their songs sound quite different.  I had never before considered that on “Is That Enough” Kaplan sounds like someone out of A Mighty Wind (Harry Shearer perhaps?)  I also never considered how much they sound like The Velvet Underground (which I guess others have, but I especially noticed when Hurley sings her slow song).  McNew also adds some lovely high-pitched harmony vocals (compared to Georgia’s deeper harmonies).

After the first song, Kaplan says, “You in the back will never hear this one”  They start “Tears Are In Your Eyes” from their 2000 album (and I can’t help but hing that McNew’s 12 sting is out of tune).  Georgia sings and sounds incredibly like Nico on this song.

It’s strange how Ira keeps whispering to Georgia (you can kind of hear him) throughout the song–the microphone is really sensitive.

“Ohm” is one of my favorite songs from their album Fade. Its simple, but with some great harmonies and I love the way the song–which is fairly straightforward–goes up an octave during the “say goodnight “ part.  That little melody shift really makes this song wonderful.  And it sounds terrific here.   I also love how the end is a repeating of the same chord and chanting vocals while Ira plays a wild (but acoustic) guitar solo.

I’ve never really considered seeing Yo La Tengo live (they tour all the time), but maybe I should.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Don’t Be Evil”

Before Simon Rich started writing longer pieces for the New Yorker, his Shouts & Murmurs pieces were usually pretty short–and he crammed a lot of funny into that short space.

This piece is all about Google.  It’s kind of one-note, but it’s still pretty funny.  And its brevity prevents it from wearing out its welcome.

So it begins with him saying how much he loves the Google Dictionary feature.  It’s really convenient, but sometimes the results can be strange.  Then he gives some examples: (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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felciaiSOUNDTRACK: FREDRIK-Tiny Desk Concert #57 (May 3, 2010).

fredrikFredrik are a Swedish band.  They were a duo, then a sextet and then a duo again.  In this concert, they are in that duo state–Fredrik Hultin on vocals and guitar and Ola Lindfelt on electronics and percussion.

Their then new release was a dark album called Trilogi and was just the two of them.  They play two songs from that album and one form their debut.

“Ner” is quite dark, with the whispery vocals and the minor chord progression.  The simple thudding drum beat also keeps the song somewhat ominous.  Speaking of the drummer, he is using a microphone (into which he later whistles) as a drumstick (he hits the cymbal with it later).  But his main “drumstick” is a maraca.

“Locked in the Basement” is a bit louder but with the same percussion set up.  It maintains that ominousness (just see the title of song).  Although in the middle it quiets down to just a thumping drums and gentle guitar noises with Ola’s backing oohs.

“Black Fur” is a bit more upbeat (in the blurb Robin says it is a soaring song on their debut).  It is stripped down here and it quite catchy–almost upbeat and positive.  It’s quite different from the other two songs. You can hear their recorded version of it (when they were a sextet) here.

I enjoyed these songs, and wonder if Fredrik has continued as a duo in the last five years.

[READ: September 7, 2015] You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) 

Like most geeky folks, I love Felicia Day.  The Guild was an awesome show and her creativity behind it is really masterful.  And she was in Dr Horrible, which is how I found out that she was one of the slayers in the final seasons of Buffy.

So Felicia has the geek cred.  But I didn’t know anything about her.  And I wasn’t sure that I cared all that much.  I mean, Felicia is the bomb but do I need to know how she got to be that way?  Nevertheless, I was curious to see what she would put into this book.

If you’re looking for salacious stories about working on Buffy, you won’t get them.  Aside from an intro by Joss Whedon, there’s very little information about her time on Buffy.  Rather, she talks about her childhood (which is fascinating) and her Guild making days and her post-Guild success.  And there’s a rather dark turn near the end.

But really, this book is all about empowerment (as the title hints at)–all about embracing your inner loves and following what you want to do.  In the book, which is chock full of pictures, she calls these coffee mug moment sand Photoshops her aphorisms onto mugs for our edification.  There’s also a lot of very funny pictures of herself from throughout her life. (more…)

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soda_logoSOUNDTRACK: 魔法少女になり隊 [MAHOUSYOUJO-NI-NARITAI]-“Re-bi-te-to (floating magic)” (2014).

bandMahousyoujo-ni-naritai (which translates roughly as I Want to be a Magical Girl) are, no surprise, from Japan.  And, since I am talking about them, they must be pretty unconventional.  Their bio explains: “Formed in 2014 as a five-piece commercial and creative team, this genre-less band travels the world to not only to have the vocalist become a magical girl, but also to entertain audiences wherever they go.”

This song begins with some skittery dancey noises.  It quickly (12 seconds) turns into a raging rocker (with the same skittery bits).  By 37 seconds the female singers (auto tuned) begins singing a verse and by 48 seconds, the song turns into thrash metal as a guy with scary growly vocals take a verse.  By 1 minute the chorus enters with a sweetly poppy super fast vocal line by the female singer.  And by 1:15 the whole business repeats.  At around 2 minutes there a new section, a bridge, that is somewhat calmer, and the music even fades out into a kind of pop heavy metal guitar solo, before returning to the chorus.  By 2:30 the growly vocal guy sings backing vocals under the poppy chorus.  And the last 30 seconds is a high energy instrumental version of everything you just heard.

I am exhausted listening to it, and can’t even imagine what it looks like live.

The band have an EP out.  I can’t find this song anywhere online except this NPR site.  But here’s a live video of another song (which isn’t quite as insane, but is still pretty nuts).

Enjoy!

[READ: March 26, 2015] Soda Pop Comics

I deal mostly with books from Latin American countries.  Which means most of the books I see are in Spanish or Portuguese.  And while I’d love to say that I read all of the cool books that come by in those languages, I can’t read either language well enough to enjoy anything.  But once in a while I get some books from these countries in English.  Sadly most of them are about human rights or crop rotation.  But this week I received a pile of comic books from Puerto Rico that were in English!  Better yet, they were published by a small press.  And better better yet their slogan is “Comics made by girls for everyone.”

Soda Pop Comics is a small comic book publishing company created by Carla Rodríguez and Rosa Colón.  And on the inside of their first issue they say “We did not make this new ‘Comic Company’ in order to fill the void left by Veronica Mars…”  They created it “in order to motivate more girls into making and publishing their own comics.”

They have a website http://sodapopcomicspr.com, where you can get all of the comics listed below as well as some cute crafts like magnets and plushies with mustaches.

There appear to be 15 comics available at their store.  I was lucky enough to read three of them (and to get 4 of their mini-mini bundles). (more…)

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oatmealSOUNDTRACK: KATAMARI DAMACY SOUNDTRACK (2004).

katamari In the xkcd post from yesterday Munroe made a joke about driving to Katamari Damacy.  I didn’t know what that was (well, I figured it was a video game, of course). It turns out to be a puzzle type game for PS2.  Since we have a Wii, I’ll never get to play it.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the groovy soundtrack.

The soundtrack to this game incorporates real, interesting music instead of an 8-bit-sounding theme (it won awards back in 2004).  And it is really wild and fun.

I’m focusing on the first two tracks, because there’s just too much to deal with here, but the whole things is trippy and interesting (and most songs are over 3 minutes).

“Nanana Katamari” is the opening song.  It’s upbeat and bouncy, with a simple Nanana vocal line (with some mild beatboxing in between).  It introduced the melody that runs throughout the disc (in various permutations).  After the first few lines, an 8-bit synth line comes in, making it seem like it’s a typical video game soundtrack.  But this is just the intro–and it lasts for just under 90 seconds.  But when “Katamari on the Rock” opens, with some weird glitchy sounds and drums, you have no idea what you’re in for.  Soon, the music turns The music is jazzy and boppy with a kind of Esquivelish “wha??” feeling.  There’s singing, there’s big flourishes and little comments (yea!) and it just sounds fantastic.  I can’t even imagine how this works in the game.

“The Moon and the Prince” is also glitchy sounding, but with some fun spoken (Japanese?) words and a fun beat.  There’s also tracks called “Katamari Mambo” and “Last Samba” showing a vast diversity in musical styles.  And, this being a (Japanese) video game, there’s also some really weird things like the 3 minute “You Are Smart” which is just a synthetic robot saying the title words over and over on top of an electronic riff.  Or “Katamari March Damacy” which sounds like a Wendy Carlos synth song with electronic voices.  Or “Wanda Wanda” which is mostly people saying Wandubadubaduba over and over with some really weird and cool synth music accompanying it.  And yet “A Crimson Rose and a Gin Tonic” opens with the drums of a classic jazz song (the one that Woody Allen uses all the time) and even seems to reference “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”  The Japanese female singer could be singing in Japanese or just scatting, but it doesn’t matter because it sounds great.

There’s even a pretty love song (sung in English) called “Que Sera Sera (not that song, no).  I saw someone on a forum say that he wanted to play it at his upcoming wedding (wonder how that worked out).  It opens with a pretty piano melody and some nonsense syllables before the lyrics come in:

I know you love me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let’s roll up to be a single star in the sky

I hear you calling me
I wanna wad you up into my life
Let’s lump up to make a single star in the sky
To you, to you

The fact that on different tracks, the singers sing in both Japanese and highly accented English adds an incredible quirkiness to the mix.  As does “Cherry Blossom Color Season” which is sung by children.  The penultimate song “Katamari Love” song is probably a cheesy pop metal song but since it’s sung in Japanese (which means I don’t have to know what the lyrics are) and has a total ROCK STAR feel, I love it.

It’s a fascinating soundtrack, one that was not intended to be listened to with out the game (I assume) and yet one which works quite well on its own.  And opens up some interesting cultural mash ups.

[READ: February 11, 2015] 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth

This weekend is all about old(ish) books of things compiled from the internet which you can already find for free online.

I love The Oatmeal.  Or, as I found out when reading this book, I love the Oatmeal when people send me their favorite jokes.  Because The Oatmeal has some simply outstanding jokes, but there are a lot of jokes in this book that I thought were just okay–not as hilarious as his best stuff.  Which makes me a judgmental jerk, and I acknowledge that.  But the titular joke about punching dolphins is so poor compared to the rest that aside from the shock value, I can’t imagine why it would be chosen for the title.

The best The Oatmeal jokes are linguistic and/or angry.  But there is a whole side category of surprising informative cartoons about various subjects: beer, coffee, cheese (disgusting and true) and many other subjects. (more…)

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harpjuneSOUNDTRACK: みっちりねこマーチ – MitchiriNeko March (2013).

mitchiBecause Lewis-Kraus mentions “the most important internet cat band of our day” in this article, I did a search for such a thing and came across this.  This is an adorable cartoon of cats marching (and playing along to the music).

I didn’t look into this too hard, and I don’t really know MitchiriNeko, although the video says that “MitchiriNeko” is a cat-like cartoon character who is always in a group to hang out so closely with each other wherever they go.

I’ve listed below more stuff about MitchiriNeko, but really I just enjoyed watching the video.

Evidently there is a web comic for this fella:
Manga Box! English editions are coming soon.
https://www.mangabox.me/
https://www.mangabox.me/reader/247/

There are apps for this character:
iPhone
https://itunes.apple.com/jp/app/mitch…
Android
https://play.google.com/store/apps/de…

And this song “MitchiriNeko March” is now on sale.
https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/mit…

[READ: November 17, 2014] “Story A”

I enjoyed Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ previous Harper’s essay about Japan: “Sleeping Together.”  I thought it would be fun to tie it to this one which is also about Japan.

He says that for a time, he was drawn to “particular breeds of the Japanese trivial” like “the “most important internet cat band of our day” and the cafe that he describes in “Sleeping Around.”  Thus he was immediately drawn to the Japanese hole-digging contest.  He decided to go see it, which would also allow him to visit his brother Micah in Japan.

The title of the article, “Story A” refers to a journalistic practice in which “essays purport to be about one thing but reveal themselves to be about some other, profounder thing.  Story A might be about the game of Monopoly but its real role is to give cover to Story B which is about the decline of the American city.”  He imagined that the nonsense of hole digging could lead to something incredibly profound. (more…)

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dumbSOUNDTRACK: WALT DISNEY-Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House (1964).

hauntedJust in time for Halloween, I link to Disney’s 1964 LP Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.

I was unfamiliar with this record, but I gather a lot of people grew up being frightened by this.  The premise is simple–the narrator talks to you, yes you, as you are prepared to be scared by, well, everything you can imagine.  For 26 minutes, various sound effects are designed to scare you.

You go into a haunted house…and never come back.  Although despite the title, that’s all there is of a haunted house.  For there are more things to scare you….

There’s screams and creaks.  Gunpowder and dogs barking. A trip to Mars.

Tree limbs falling, cats going crazy.  A racist Chinese segment.

The back half of the disc is sound effects–I have no idea what that’s supposed to be around 20:49, though.

Basically every fear a kid could have (Disney was quite the sadist, huh?)

I imagine that if you were a kid (in 1964) this could be pretty darn scary.  Enjoy the whole thing…if you dare!

[READ: October 25, 2014] The Dumbest Idea Ever

I was pretty excited to see this book from Jimmy Gownley, creator of Amelia Rules, one of my favorite kids comic books.  I see that the books have been reissued, and that some new ones have been published since I last checked, so I’ll have to look for those.  He also has a new comic strip called Gracieland.

Anyhow, this book is a memoir about Jimmy growing up as a kid obsessed with comic books in a world where comic books were not appreciated (specifically: Catholic School).

It opens with young Jimmy being interviewed on TV–a seeming fantasy for any writer.  But this happens to be true (it’s local TV coverage of this young boy who has self published a comic book).  But before we get ahead of ourselves, we jump back two years earlier.

Jimmy lives in Girardville, PA.  He’s a great basketball player, an excellent student and a budding artist.  Sadly Girardville, PA is not the place for an artist–there’s not even a half way decent art store.  So, Jimmy relies on the few stores that carry comic books as his sole outlet for creative fun.  Even a good student can’t convince his teachers that a comic books is appropriate in school.  He even volunteers to do an oral report on the value of comic books.  He gets an A on the report but is still forbidden from having them in school. (more…)

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