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Archive for the ‘Futility’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: GURR-“Christmas Holiday” (2018).

I really enjoyed Gurr when I saw them live this year.  I wanted to see what their studio music sounded like and I found this release called the Christmas Business EP.  There are two songs that feature Eddie Argos from Art Brut.

This first track has a very B-52’s vibe to it.  With Eddie Argos doing his thing and the women from Gurr singing lovely backing vocals, it sounds like a punkish update to their style.

A thumping beat introduces Eddie speaking (in his own distinct way) “Silent Night, holy night everything is gonna be alright.  Silent Night holy night, maybe not but lets pretend it might.”

Then the Gurr women sing a line (with lovely ahhs behind it).

The chorus is simple and catchy “We’re on Christmas holiday / sat around with nothing left to say / We’re on Christmas holiday / you don’t have to stay if you donb’t want to.”

The song is short (less than three minutes) and it continues with more great Eddie Argos lines like “We’ve got something cooking in the kitchen / it doesn’t fit in with your dietary restrictions” (this sounds the most like the with B-52’s since both women do the ahhs.)

After another chorus, Eddie ends the song with this heartfelt Christmas wish

I’ve gathered you all here today to say … I  hope you are all enjoying Christmas exactly the same amount as … I am enjoying Christmas.

Check it out here.

[READ: December 1, 2019]Beginnings

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

The story it is told in many different parts–22 numbered sections.  Number 1 is called “The Beginning” and in its entirety, it consists of

 I find you impossibly beautiful, the man tells me. Give it a year, I tell him, and you’ll find me impossible

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-“Don’t Mention the War” (2019).

The Divine Comedy contributed a song to the Amazon Prime series Modern Love.

I don’t know anything about the show, but I was delighted to hear a new song from Neil Hannon.

This is a much quieter songs than he has put out recently. It features acoustic guitars and strings and over a slightly bouncy melody, he gently sings.

Do you remember when? No I don’t either
All this remembering we’re none the wiser
It’s time to let go and say

The chorus is similarly bouncy but more nostalgic than happy.

Don’t mention the war
Don’t talk of those days
What good is it for?
Don’t mention the war
Let history lie
Kiss the old days goodbye
They’re no help anymore
Don’t mention the war

This song isn’t mind blowing (an apparently is a left over from something else). but it’s a delightful slice of chamber pop.  I’d like to think it might introduce him to a whole new audience who will love him, but realistically, I think it will get some nice plays on Spotify and that’s good enough.

[READ: November 29, 2019] “Hurricane Season”

Sedaris says that when you grow up in North Carolina, you know not to get too attached to a beach house. If this year’s hurricane doesn’t get you, next year’s will.  And so it was in 2018 that Hurricane Florence took away their house, the Sea Section.

While Hugh was devastated David could only think to mock the old fashioned hurricane names “they sound like finalists in a pinochle tournament.”  Where’s Hurricane Madison or Skylar? Category 4 Fredonté?

They were in London when the hurricane hit, so their friend, owner of the Dark Side of the Dune checked on their house for them.  The pictures made  the place look so tawdry he was embarrassed to share them.

Luckily for them they had purchased the house that’s next door to the Sea Section as well –preemptively avoiding a McMansion (eight bedrooms were common, spread over three or  four stories).  The place is ancient by Emerald Isle standards (vintage 1972).  But what you really didn’t want next door to you was a swimming pool.  All you hear is Marco Polo over and over. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #913 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JON BENJAMIN JAZZ DAREDEVIL–Well, I Should Have…* *Learned How To Play Piano (2015).

In 2015, H. Jon Benjamin released a jazz album on which he played piano.  He did this despite not knowing how to play piano.

This album should be a trainwreck.  However, he has employed the talents of Scott Kreitzer (saxophone), David Finck (bass), and Jonathan Peretz (drums) to assist him.  And they are really good.

It’s hard to believe that Benjamin has never played at all before, because while he’s not good by any definition, he certainly knows how to press the keys on the piano in a reasonable way.  Meaning, when he plays a solo he is at least trying to sound like he’s playing a solo.  It’s not like cats on a piano playing utterly random crap.  He’s certainly bad, but he’s bad within the ballpark, which makes this amusing to listen to and not intolerable.

Obviously, part of the joke is that Benjamin hates jazz and this pretty much mocks improv piano.  And yes, his playing sometimes sounds like an improv pianist deliberately plying wrong notes until the right ones come back into focus (although Benjamin’s never do come back in to focus).

The disc is quite short.  It’s under 30 minutes.  It includes a skit at the front called “Deal with the Devil.”  It is a really funny introduction in which H. Jon tries to sell his soul to the devil.  Kristen Schaal as the secretary get a very funny joke or two, but the devil (Aziz Ansari) explains that usually selling your soul is a last resort, not a first step.  There’s a vulgar joke (which I found really funny), but which makes the track unplayable for family gatherings (if you were to do such a thing).

There are four main pieces on the disc “I Can’t Play Piano” Parts 1-4.

“I Can’t Play Piano Part 1” (3:39) starts off with a rollicking sax solo and some bouncing jazz and then Jon’s tinkling at the high end of the piano.  The band even pauses a few times to give him a proper solo or four.  All of the solos are horribly inept and pretty funny.  Midway through the song, bassist David Finck takes a cool upright bass solo and you can hear Jon shout “play it Joe” or something like it.

Part 2 (3:09) has a riff that Jon tries to follow and fails to play spectacularly.  There’s less “soloing” in this one and more “playing with the band.”  At times you almost don’t quite realize that he’s playing with everyone else–something just seems slightly off.  There’s also some nice drum soloing from Jonathan Peretz.

There’s a hilarious skit [not on this record] by Paul F. Tompkins in which he talks about jazz as “a genre of music that is defying you to like it.”  He talks about going to a jazz show (by accident or because you lost a bet) and just at the point when you’re almost asleep, you think the bass player is going to play [blanhr] but instead he plays [blownhr].  And next.. this is the worst thing that jazz guys do.  The other guys on stage start laughing like it was the funniest thing they ever did see.  And you’re sitting in the audience thinking “I don’t get the jazz joke Why is that note so hilarious?  You’ve played many notes this evening, none of them particularly side splitting.”

This album is pretty much a musical rendition of that joke.

“It Had to Be You,” is a pretty conventional cover of the song (at least for the saxophone).  Jon clearly knows how the song goes, he just doesn’t know how to play it or which notes should even be in the song.  The middle of the song is a saxophone solo (no piano) and once again, you are kind of lulled into thinking the song is pretty straightforward, and then Jon comes back for a solo.  It’s a slow solo so at first it doesn’t seem so bad, but once he starts going, you realize how bad he really is.

“Soft Jazzercise” is a skit. Jon talks over a slow piano piece (presumably not by Jon as it is actually melodic).  Jon says that his soft jazzercise is very very very very very very very low impact.  You have to do it slow.  Like a turtle slow, like an opiated panda slow.

Back to the improv with “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 3” (4:57).  The song starts as a kind of call and response between the saxophone and the piano (hilariously bad every time).  Jon also gets a solo in the beginning.  He even slides his hand up and down the keys a few times–almost convincingly.  In the middle of the song you can hear Jon really getting into it shouting almost audible encouragement and saying “here we go!” and “dig this!” then the saxophone starts playing a response to what Jon is playing–can he even play that badly?  Jon even says “you can do better” at one point.  The sax almost plays “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” twice before the riffing ends.

The final improv piece “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt. 4 – (Trill Baby Trill)” (5:25) starts with Jon’s piano and the rest of the band apparently trying to follow or keep up.  Once again it’s not as horrible as you might expect.  It’s not good, but it almost seems like it could be a serious improv.  There’s a lengthy bass solo (no funny notes that I can hear).   Then, after the drum solo when the sax takes the lead again, you kind of forget that Jon is even playing.

The final track is a funky/rap about anal sex.

The five instrumentals would be hilarious to mix into any dinner party to see what people thought or if they even notices.  The other three tracks are definitely NSFW.

[READ: June 1, 2018] Failure is an Option

I love H. Jon Benjamin.  Or, more specifically I love his voice.  He has voiced some of my favorite characters over the years including Archer and Bob Belcher.

But I have found that when I watch things that he has created, I don’t enjoy them quite as much.

So, which way would this ode to failure go?

It’s a mixed bag but overall it’s quite funny.

It has an introduction with this appropriate line:

I am writing this at the dawn of the Trump presidency, particularly apropos of failure being an option.  A very horrible and dangerous option in the case of a entire country’s future.

The opening talks, as many of these memoirs do, about how exhausting it is to write a memoir (“when I was saddled with the task of writing a book”). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #843 (April 22, 2019).

Whenever I hear a wonderful string quartet, I yell at myself for not listening to more classical music.  I’m not sure why I don’t–I just like my rock too much I guess.  But these 18 minutes of strings are really fantastic.  And I’m adding The Calidore String Quartet [Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello] to the list of quartets I particularly admire.

The blurb is great for unpacking what’s going on, so I’ll let it do just that.

The [string quartet] genre was born some 250 years ago and pioneered by Joseph Haydn, but composers today are still tinkering with its possibilities. Consider Caroline Shaw. The young, Pulitzer-winning composer wrote the opening work in this set, First Essay: Nimrod, especially for the Calidore String Quartet [back in 2016].

Over a span of eight minutes, the supple theme that opens this extraordinary work takes a circuitous adventure. It unfolds into a song for the cello, is sliced into melodic shards, gets bathed in soft light, becomes gritty and aggressive and disguises itself in accents of the old master composers. Midway through, the piece erupts in spasms that slowly dissolve back into the theme.

I love the pizzicato on the cello–there’s so much of it, from deep bass notes to very high notes.  Including the final note.

Their new album explores composers in conflict.  In the case of of the next song, loveless marriage.

The Calidore players also chose music by the quirky Czech composer, Leoš Janáček who, in 1913, set one of his operas on the moon. He wrote only two string quartets but they are dazzling. The opening Adagio, from “String Quartet No. 1, ‘Adagio'”, is typical Janáček, with hairpin turns that veer from passionate romance to prickly anxiety.

This piece is much more dramatic with powerful aching chords ringing out.

Reaching back farther, the ensemble closes the set with an early quartet by Beethoven, who took what Haydn threw down and ran with it. The final movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, Allegro – Prestissimo” both looks back at Haydn’s elegance and implies the rambunctious, even violent, risks his music would soon take.

2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.  They are celebrating by playing all of his string quartets in various cities.  He says that this piece is the most exiting part.

I love the trills that each instrument runs through in the middle of the song.

All of these pieces sound amazing.

[READ: April 22, 2019] “Cut”

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSNorthlands Coliseum Edmonton AB (November 12 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.

This is the 4th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

For this show their opening music is the Wizard of Oz’s Munchkins singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”  Martin follows with some lovely noodling that segues into a lovely “Song of Flight.”  The band sounds a little bit sloppy, surprisingly.

The song segues into “California Dreamline” and the crowd is appropriately responsive.  “All the Same Eyes” follows, sung by Tim in what seems like a casual way.

“Fat” sounds especially great.  Martin starts the song asking “What are you saying, who are you talking to?”  I wonder if it was directed at someone.  The band sound great and everyone seems really into the “robot/zombie” part.

As the song ends, Dave notes, “There’s a bit of banging going on over there but it was in time to the next song.  If you could do that four times….  Not whooing, banging.  Rumor has it that there’s a hockey team that plays out of this rink.  We’re from Toronto and in the 1980s the Leafs sucked and the Oilers were winning cup after cup and we see the banners and it motivates us.  Tim: and it motivates us to move to Edmonton–for the summer only, of course.

There’s more Tim as he says that “Bad Time to Be Poor,” was a true story.  Then its more Tim with “Claire.”  Martin does some great Neil Young sounding solos in the introduction.  The song sounds great with some cool ripping solos from Martin.

“Dope Fiends and Booze Hounds” always sounds great.  This one has a pretty intro and a small stumble before they rock out.  There’s great backing vocals here.  Martin does a weird ending for the “dark side of the moon” part–it’s more growling and he doesn’t quite hit the awesome high note at the end.

“Feed Yourself” is dedicated to The Tragically Hip.”  Tim: “You can all go get a coffee of something.”  The opening is utterly chaotic in a not so great way.  But they settle down and really rip through the song.  Tim seems to be mucking about near the end.  Dave does go dark and creepy with the end part but in a much less dramatic way than he would if they were the main band.  They absolutely destroy at the end and the crowd is very responsive.  What a fantastic opening set.

[READ: March 4, 2019] The Adventure Zone 1

I loved this book.  It is a graphic novel realization of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  It is based on a podcast called The Adventure Zone.  The podcast is fun and is a real scenario of friends (in this case brothers) playing a new game of D&D (with new characters).  The podcast is pretty funny if  a little unedited.

The graphic novel is certainly edited.  It’s fun to have a visual accompaniment and the illustrations by Carey Pietsch are terrific with a wonderful comic-fantasy feel. .  If you wanted to hear the comparison from podcast to book, Page 18 syncs up to minute 100:00 in chapter 1 podcast.

But I have one MAJOR complaint.  Why is there so much cursing?  I get that this is a real adventure and that is literally the way people talk when the play the game.  But it is really off putting in this book.  Especially in the beginning when we don’t know these characters well.  Reading them cursing is not nearly as enjoyable as hearing them cursing in the podcast.

PLUS, this book, aside from the voluminous amount of cursing, would be suitable for just about all ages.  The adventure is PG (with maybe a couple of gentle tweaks) and the violence is comedic.  But the point is that this book would be such a great introduction to Dungeons and Dragons to any age and it’s a shame that they blew it.  (more…)

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