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Archive for the ‘Funny (ha ha)’ Category

Terry Jones [1942-2020]

Terry Jones died last night at age 77 because of complications from a rare form of dementia.

I was a huge Monty Python fan back in the day.  I’ve seen all the episodes (even the German ones) and the movies.  I have the records and the books and just about everything they’ve done.  They influenced me terrifically.

Terry Jones was a founder of Monty Python and while I tended to not think of him as my favorite on screen person, thinking about all of the amazing characters he played over the years, I think I’ve unfairly put him too low.  Especially as I think of some of the most quotable lines and how he either said them or was in the skit that spawned it (wafer-thin, anyone?).  Not to mention he did some of the best women’s voices in the series.

Most of the Pythons have been slowing down as of late, which is to be expected.  I was supposed to see John Cleese live recently but my plans fell through. Terry Gilliam is making some unfortunate comments in the media lately.  Eric Idle seems to always be about.  Michael Palin has been doing fantastic work travelling and writing no-fiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Everything Has Changed” (2020).

I’ve enjoyed most of the Best Coast songs I’ve heard–simple power pop songs from Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno that can be surprisingly dark.

Although Best Coast is a duo, this song is multi tracked with all kinds of overdubs–lots of backing vocals and guitar solos.  It sounds bigger than anything they’ve done before with loud crunchy guitars and a really simple riff.  And it is catchy as anything.

I like this couple of lines

I used to cry myself to sleep/ Reading all the names they called me,
….
Did they think? No, of course they didn’t.

After the big chorus she talks about what has changed

Now I’m walking a little dog on a leash
Now I live in a big pink house
I escape to witch mountain every day

I honestly don’t know if that’s a positive or sarcastic change.  But the chorus “everything has changed and I like it this way” certainly sounds positive.

One thing I particularly like about this song is that while it is all pretty simple verse/chorus, there is a third part that changes the tone and sound of the song, if only briefly, before returning to the catchy riffage.

I have plans to see them this spring and I’m looking forward to hearing this new record live.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “Who is She?”

In this brief story a woman has an existential crisis and her public reaction to it causes others to suggest ways to help her.

She says a long time ago someone told her that it was important to “locate and deploy” your own story.  This theory is put into question when she starts seeing graffiti around that says in white paint WHO IS SHE?

She saw it in a number of places and couldn’t get the idea out of her mind.   As she was crossing a boulevard, she decided to lie down on the grass in the median strip.

It was early on a Sunday and therefore very quiet but soon enough cars began passing.  Across the street from her was a gym and there were people working out with ruthless, glistening intensity,  And then (I rather enjoyed this), (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (2019).

beabadoobee is Beatrice Kristi Laus, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was born in the Phillipines and lives in London.  She has released some six EPs since 2018 and has been played on the radio on WXPN.  I see she’s also headlining a small tour over here in the Spring.

Yesterday I listened to the bedroom version of this EP, and here is the original release in all of its glory.  Interestingly, the sound isn’t all that much bigger, but there is a lot more instrumentation.  And some of these songs definitely rock harder.

“Disappear” is played on a gentle electric guitar with swirling keys and a simple drum clicking sound.  When the bass comes in after the first verse, the song feels really full (with a sprinkling of keyboard sounds added on top, too).  The middle third has a nice little section with bells as everything else fades out for a moment.

“1999”s guitars sound a bit more downbeat, deeper.  The middle has some lovely overdubbed guitar parts. I really like the repeated guitar melody that flows all the way to the end,

“Apple Cider” is wonderfully upbeat in this version.  Bouncy guitars, more bells and her soft vocals make this sound like a perfect 90s alt-rock song.  Just as I was about to say this song was perfect, it added some “oohh la las” which don’t quite fit.  However, the crazy guitar solo(s) are very cool and more than make up for it.

“Ceilings” remains a quiet ballad with some nice falsetto vocals and trippy backing sounds that turn into a synthy solo.

“Angel” sounds different on this record too, with some staggered guitars and a fairly complex drum pattern.  There’s some noisy electric guitar on this song too.  I love the way this song rocks out at the end.  The rocking continues on “You Lie All the Time” (which still sounds a bit like Juliana Hatfield).  It rocks all the way through to the end,

The final song “Soren” is a slow ballad.  With the two guitars it does actually sound quite different from the bedroom version, which is kind of cool since they are for the most part pretty similar.

I enjoyed both versions of this EP, but I like this one more. There’s more variety and the songs rock a bit more.  I’m curious what her first full-length will sound like.

[READ: January 10, 2020] The Babysitters Coven

I don’t usually read books like this, but the cover caught my eye (I love judging a book by its cover) and I’m so glad I read it. It was fun and funny and mashed up ideas from existing stories into something all its own.

Esme Pearl is a babysitter.  She and her best (and only) friend Janis started a Babysitter’s Club back in junior high. There were of course four of them in the club and each girl paralleled one of the girls in the original series.  [I have never read those books, so I don’t know how much is taken from that series.]

I enjoyed Esme as a character for a number of reasons.  She was a believable seventeen year old, but a shy and kind of solitary one.  She uses some abbreviations, but the whole book is not littered with them.  Lines like “the number one perk of babysitting is OPP–other people’s pantries” is a good example.  Esme has a great tone of being above her school while still being unpopular (but not hugely so).  She lives in Spring River Kansas home of the Bog Lemmings (“apparently by the time they’d gotten to Spring River all the good mascots had been taken”).  About the cafeteria food: “I’d never seen a food that wasn’t brown.”  Later she grabs what she things is curry but which turns out to be gravy.

She and Janis coordinate outfits every day.  [I love the detail that Janis’ full name is Janis Jackson].  They don’t wear similar things at all, they just discuss the night before what their fashion choices will be and then show them off the next day,  They both love going thrifting, so their outfits are unique.  If I had one complaint about the book it’s that there’s no way a backwater town like Spring River would have such amazing thrift stores.  Anyway, today “Janis was ‘Denise gets a step-daughter’ and I was “Sylvia Plath goes to prom.'”

Esme loves babysitting and she takes it very seriously–she does not wan any other kind of job, like where you wear a uniform–and she has built up a reliable collection of clientele.  She and Janis really are the only game in town.

As the book opens, Esme is babysitting Kaitlyn, a demon baby.  Not literally.  She is just a wild girl who is high maintenance. But Esme thinks of her as baby Satan (Kaitlyn managed to get a Sharpie and draw all over the wall while Esme was peeing).  But usually once Kaitlyn is asleep, she’s down.  This night things are different.  Esme heard a loud thunk and went upstairs,  The door was locked–Esme would never lock the door.  She somehow got the door open an saw that the bed was empty and the window was open.  She looked out the window and saw Kaitlyn on the roof.  Esme managed to get her back to safety.  When Esme asked what happened, Kaitlyn described a guy who looked like David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth. She knew that Kaitlyn watched a lot of movies so she assumed it was a nightmare. But there was so much unexplained…. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WONDERFUL ESCAPE: Birds (2018).

I was looking for a bird song collection to pair with the book.  I found this 20 minute collection on Spotify.  It turns out that Wonderful Escape has many releases of nature sounds.

I haven’t listened to any of the others, but it strikes me that this recording was made by a person with a microphone who didn’t really know what birdsong CDs sound like.

Normally a bird sound recording is meant to be soothing, a “wonderful escape” if you will.  This recording feels like a hastily compiled collection of nature songs.  I would say it’s cash grab, but I doubt there’s much money to be made in posting bird songs to Spotify.

This collection starts out with “Crowes at the Cemetery” (no idea why Crowes has an e in it–there’s no jam band in sight).  These crows are raspy and rather unpleasant.  They are certainly telling us to eff off.  There’s also a long stretch in the middle with no crows at all.  This seems rather odd for a three minute track.  The end of the track has some church bells which I assumed was from the cemetery but which seems to be the natural segue to “Birds at Saint Birgitta Church.”  This track is much calmer.  The twittering and pretty call of birds sounds rather distant though.  Its really not until 2 and half minutes that you hear some really pretty birdsong up close.  Did the bird just happen to land near the microphone?  It also seems very likely that the recording equipment has just moved to the other side of the cemetery because you can hear those same crows from track one in the background.

Track three is called “Birds at the Graveyard” which I suspect is the same graveyard as the above cemetery since you can still hear the crows in the background.  There is some melodious bird song throughout.

This track differs quite a lot from the similarly named “Birds at the Cemetery” (seriously, did they just walk around the building for 20 minutes?).  The sonic quality is very different.  The cemetery sounds less crowded and the birds are less frequent and further away.  This one actually has a more somber feel, which seems weird to say about a field recording.  For the final thirty seconds or so there’s hardly any birds at all.

The next track is “Birds in Village Park,” so at least there’s some kind of place mentioned.  There is a vast array of birdsong in this track, although it is all very far away and seems once again to be dominated by crows.  Halfway through there’s a raspy sound that sounds more mechanical than avian, but I suspect it is a bird chitting.

The penultimate track is called “Birds Swedish Countryside.”  This makes me wonder if all the recordings are in Sweden, but who knows.  It starts out promising with some interesting noisy birds but once again, it is very quiet in the middle.  Then the noisy birds appear to fly over the recording equipment, getting noisy and then quieter again.  This is a pretty cool treat because it changes things up.  But the majority of the track it sounds like the birds are trying to avoid being recorded.

The final track title seems like a joke.  It is called “Birds Way Out in the Countryside.”  And like all the other tracks, it sounds like the birds are way out in the countryside and we are behind a fence unable to get into the countryside.

This is a weird field recording to be sure.  And there are far better nature sound tracks out there.

[READ: December 31, 2019] Effin’ Birds

I saw an ad for this books and asked for it for Christmas.  I loved the idea of a beautifully illustrated book of birds which tells you exactly what they are really thinking of you.

Every page has illustrations from John James Audubon’s Birds of America or Thomas Berwick’s History of British Birds.  These are lovely mostly black and white reproductions, with a few plates in color.

The book begins

Have you ever listened to the melodic chirping of birds and wondered what they were trying to communicate?

Advances in machine learning over the past ten years have allowed for detailed scenario analysis of birds and their songs, and multiple computer-driven studies* that compiled years’ worth of audio and video recordings came to an astonishing conclusion: most of the time, birds are just saying “Fuck off.”

*I made these up because this book is fake — but keep that as a secret between you and me and the handful of other nerds who read footnotes,

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RONG-“Shrugging at the Dearth of Discourse” (2019).

Every year Lars Gotrich publishes his list of favorite music in an NPR podcast called Viking’s Choice: The Year In The Loud And The Weird.  I always listen to these songs because I’ll never hear them anywhere else (he mostly seems to scour bandcamp for unknown music.

One that he especially liked was by the band Rong from Boston.

He says:

Just bonkers. Boston’s Rong channels the joyous chaos of Japanese punks Melt-Banana and the aggro skronk of Brainiac with a tad of Deerhoof’s weirdo-pop hooks, in what sounds like a swarm of bats fighting a comically large industrial fan… and the bats win. Dissect the noise and you’ll find some truly athletic guitar interplay, held together by a sturdy rhythm section and Olivia W-B’s vocal acrobatics.

This song starts out with Olivia screaming quickly and almost inaudibly while the drummer thrashes away on every surface nearby.  There appears to be two guitars each playing their own riff that seems irrelevant to anything else. It’s a chaotic statement that will likely make most people turn the song off.   After 30 seconds one of the guitars plays a riff and at 35 seconds the riff is actually really catchy and Olivia sings along with it.  Wow.

And the song is not even one third over.

After a few more rounds through similar styles things really slow down around 1:45.  It is just bass and drums and vocals for a bit before two separate solos happen at once.  About five more parts occur before the song ends at 3:11.  This includes a riff that is repeated a few times and a absolutely berzerk ending.

That’s the first of 8 similarly eclectic and, yes, bonkers, songs.  Finding the melody and connections between the parts is rather strangely rewarding.

Incidentally, the final track on the album is called . ༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽   In a bigger font, that’s:

༼ ༎ຶ ෴ ༎ຶ༽

[READ: Summer 2019] The Long Cosmos

The “Long Earth” Tetrology is complete.

This was a series that was pretty much impossible to end.  I mean the very premise is that there is unlimited exploration to be had in the various “Earths.”  So how do you end it?  Well, really you end it by following the main protagonist of all of this, Joshua Valiente to his logical conclusion (or something like that).

This book also serves as a kind of reconciliation for many of the estranged characters, but, thankfully does not resurrect any dead characters (well, except for Lobsang–whatever he may be).

The Foreword to this book answers a question that I had: If Terry Pratchett died in 2015, did he have anything to do with this book which came out in 2016?  Baxter explains that indeed, he and Pratchett had created drafts of the final three books by August 2013.  Terry and Stephen worked on the book together as late as autumn 2014.  Then Baxter dealt with final editorial and publishing stages.  So that makes me happy.

I am, as always with this series, puzzled as to what Terry’s contributions were to the books.  I haven’t read anything else by Baxter, so I don’t know if this is a Baxter book with Pratchett sprinkled in or if it’s a combination of their writing styles   The one thing is that this series is never really all that funny (with one huge exception later).  Not to say that Pratchett had to be funny, but it was certainly what he was known for.  Maybe I’ll try a Baxter book one of these days to see just what his works are like.

But back to the concluding chapter of this long series.

This book opens with the invitation: JOIN US. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: POCHONBO ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE-“Where Are You, Dear General?”

One thing the book does not mention is this song which is played every morning in Pyongyang at 6AM.

There’s a clip of the song being broadcast in front of Pyongyang Station here.

In this clip, the music is creepy and empty, played through exterior speakers and bouncing off of government buildings.  As one person commented, if this music had a color, it would be grey.

This recorded version, by North Korea’s most popular act, is a little different.  It’s much warmer with soft synth not unlike synthy new age from the 70s/80s.

Here’s some detail about the creators of this music (according the BBC):

The Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble were formed by Kim Jong-il in the early-80s and were the first North Korean band to use electric guitars, synthesisers and saxophone, drawing on Korean folk music, but also Chinese, Soviet and, to a smaller extent, Western pop. They take their name from the 1937 Battle of Pochonbo, in which a group of guerrillas were led by Kim Il-sung in an attack on occupying Japanese forces (yet, despite this, they have toured in Japan). They’ve released over 150 CDs.

After 2 minutes of spacey intro, the vocals come in–a big chorus of voices asking “Supreme Headquarters. Where are you? Lead us to you.”

At 3 minutes the lead vocals come in, sung by Hyon Song-wol.  The music stays much the same (with echoing sounds and trippy synths) but Hyon Song-wol’s voice soars over the top and is quite lovely as she sings unabashed propaganda wonder where their supreme general is and when he will keep them warm and safe.

For a longer essay about this mysterious wake up alarm, check out this article from nknews.

[READ: December 29, 2019] Pyongyang

I really enjoyed Delisle’s A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting.  It was very funny and I really liked his drawing style.  Delisle has written several other books (published by Drawn & Quarterly) and I was really excited to see this one come across my desk (it’s a 2018 printing although it doesn’t look like there’s anything added).

The introduction by director Gore Verbinsky sets the stage for what this book is.  In 2001, Delisle was allowed into North Korea to work on an animated cartoon for two months.

In animated movies, there are “key frames” which are sort of the highlight moments.  In between these key frames are where the North Korean animators draw–the in-betweens.  Canadian and Europeans (and some American) directors then supervise the completion–often trying very hard to get the animators to understand simple Western ideas.

Verbinsky says that Delisle “reduces the amplitude to get underneath the narrative and break down a belief system into something infinitely relatable.  He looks at the daily life of people existing in these “in-betweens” and looks at the citizens who “exist in a bubble of fear.”

The book was translated by Helge Dascher.

Delisle’s self-portrait character is a simply drawn man with a big nose, tiny eyes and a very expressive face. As the story opens he is at customs where they ask about the book he brought (1984–with a funny scene about that later) and his music Aphex Twin.  His driver picks him up from the airport–you don’t go anywhere in North Korea without an escort.  Delilse is shocked that the driver is smoking in than air conditioned car with the windows closed:  “Great.  I can’t breathe and I’m cold.” (more…)

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