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Archive for the ‘Drawn & Quarterly’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE TEA-PARTY-“Everyday is Like Sunday” (2020).

The Tea Party recently released a cover of Joy Division’s Isolation.  They have now followed it with this cover of a fantastic Morrissey song.

I prefer the guitars in the original just because of the very cool sound that Morrissey’s guitarist got.  But The Tea Party’s guitars are a nice blend of acoustic and electric.  They also add strings (like the original).

Jeff Martin’s vocals couldn’t be much further from Morrissey’s, but they work perfectly with the subject matter.

Morrissey’s been more than a little bit of a horrible person lately, so it’s nice to have another solid version of this great song to listen to.

[READ: May 25, 2020] Department of Mind-Blowing Theories

Tom Gauld is consistently one of my favorite cartoonists. Even though most of his people are stick-figurish, he conveys so much with them.  But more importantly, the content of his cartoons is unfailingly clever and funny.  Some you have to think about to get, which makes them even funnier.

These cartoons are all science-themed and were originally published in New Scientist.

Some examples include Darwin posting The Origin of Species on social media with these comments:

  • MrTomHuxley OMG! This is Amazing!!
  • BishopWilberforce1805 LOL! Totally Fake
  • MorphineEmprium: For the relief of coughs and colds [this post has been flagged as spam]

One of my favorite jokes (which relies on the visual) has a scientist saying “No wonder today’s results have been so poor.  This isn’t growth serum: it’s hand sanitiser!”  The visual it outstanding.

Some pieces that work without seeing them: Comparing covers of the new issue of Utopian Science Quarterly and The Journal of Dystopian Science.  Or seeing the new classic fiction with binary Numbers: The 11 Musketeers; 1100 Angry Men; Catch 10110. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LANG LANG-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #11 (April 17, 2020).

Lang Lang is a superstar pianist whom I have never heard of.  But I agree with the blurb that it’s neat to see a fantastic pianist playing at home.  He seems relaxed and loose.  And the camera angle allows us to see his fingers (and his whole swaying body) pretty clearly.

Here’s something unique: a chance to eavesdrop on the superstar pianist Lang Lang at home.

The 37-year-old pianist, who typically plays sold-out shows to thousands, says he’s taking his recent solitary time to learn new repertoire at home in Shanghai, China. And home is where he thinks we should all be.

He opens with Chopin’s calming “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.”  I loved watching him slowly and deliberately play that last note.  It seems like he holds his finger above it for minutes, but it fits in perfectly.

Lang Lang’s latest passion is Bach – specifically the Goldberg Variations, a 75-minute-long cycle of immense complexity grounded in the composer’s durable beauty. Lang Lang offers the “18th and 19th variations,” pieces that in turn represent the strength of logic and the joy of the dance. It’s music, Lang Lang says, that “always brings me to play in another level of artistic thinking.”

These pieces are just magical.  Even if I don;t know them well, I can tell pretty immediately that they are Bach.  Lang Lang’s fluidity is wonderful, as is the way his whole body seems to be absorbing the music as he plays.

[READ: April 11, 2020]: Carnet de Voyage

From March 5 thru May 14, 2004 Craig Thompson was on an international book tour celebrating the success of his (fantastic) book Blankets.

This journal was his visual diary (no cameras were used, only his memory) of his trip.  His editors thought it would be interesting for him to document his trip (and it is).

He flies into Paris then a 2 hour plane trip to Lyon.  He draws pictures of where he has been and the people he has met (and some of their fascinating stories).  There’s some wonderful sketches of rooftops from hotel windows.

He does interviews for radio and magazines. He laughs that one of the photos shoots was in the streets of Paris, where he is all dressed up.  But really he’s a county bumpkin from Wisconsin. The drawing of himself as a glamorous guy and his bumpkin alter ego together is pretty hilarious.

On March 15 he left for Marrakesh, Morocco and this exotic location rally sets the stage for most of his artwork and what is sort of the only “plot” in the book.

He had also just broken up with his girlfriend which weighs on his mind quite a lot on the tour. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SOCCER MOMMY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #1 (March 21, 2020).

Since the quarantine began, many many many musicians have been playing shows at home.  There are so many online home recordings that it is literally impossible to keep up with them.  I have watched a few, but not many.  I’m not sure how many of the online shows are going to be available for future watching, but at least these are saved for posterity.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

On Monday March 30, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, was to perform a long awaited Tiny Desk concert at my desk. Now the world has changed, and with the coronavirus keeping us at a distance, we’re taking a break from filming Tiny Desks at the office for a while.

Sophie wanted to share her music and her thoughts with you. So we’re kicking off our Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts series with Soccer Mommy from her home in Nashville.

Soccer Mommy was supposed to play a show in Philly on March 31. I had a choice between this show and a show from Vagabon.  I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to go to.  Well, now I get this home concert instead.

This Home Concert (as most will be) is Sophie and her acoustic guitar.  Since I don’t really know (most of) the originals, I can’t compare them.

All three songs have catchy melodies.  It’s cool watching her hands up close to see he playing modifications to the chords in “Bloodstream” so it’s not as simple a melody as it seems.

Her voice is soft and high (although a little hard to hear in this mix).

“Circle the Drain” has been getting some airplay and I rather like it.  It reminds me of a Lemonheads song in style.  This acoustic version is nice, but I prefer the studio version (that extra guitar line is a nice touch).  She says it’s about being depressed and staying inside all day.  “I’m sure some of you can relate to that right now.”

Before the final song, “Royal Screw Up” she asks if anyone can guess what tuning she is going from and into.  My guess is that she is going into standard E tuning, although I’m not sure from what.

Most of her melodies remind me of the singers I liked in the 90s, and I think with a slightly better production I would have really enjoyed this set.  I might have to check out her album a little more closely.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Customer is Always Wrong

I enjoyed, Mimi Pond’s first memoir(ish) book, Over Easy, but I grew tired of it by the end.  It was an look at late 1970s San Francisco and all of the low-level drug dealers and users who worked and ate at the restaurant where Madge was a waitress.

And yet, I came away from it with enough good vibes that I was interested in reading this second volume.  And this second volume had the heart and soul that I felt the first one lacked.

The story begins with some of Mimi’s past boyfriends (good boys whom her mother loved).  Then it moved on to bad boys who treated her like crap.  Finally, she meets Bryan, a nurse who treats her kindly–and the sex is amazing.

But the shine starts to wear off and a turd is slowly revealed–the way he breaks up and gets back together (he loves the drama), the way he watches the World Series at her house even though she doesn’t care about baseball (or own a TV–he brought his own).  Oh, and the way she finds out later that he lied about nearly everything.

The drug dealer characters from the first book are still there of course.  The most prominent one is Camille, a “straight looking” and pretty young woman who has hooked up with Neville, a real dirtbag (but one who tells great stories).  She has big dreams–they will sell a ton of coke, make a ton of money and go to Paris.  Of course that never happens.

And then there’s Lazlo.  Lazlo is the real main character of the story.  Even though it is Madge’s story, it all more or less revolves around Lazlo.  Lazlo runs the diner where Madge works and he is always around–wearing his cool hat, telling great stories (he is a poet).  It’s hard to remember that he is married.  Hard for him to remember too, apparently. (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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SOUNDTRACK: OPEN MIKE EAGLE-Tiny Desk Concert #687 (January 3, 2018).

I had seen Iron Mike Eagle’s album on a lot of Year End Best of lists, but I hadn’t heard of him before.  Well, I absolutely loved his Tiny Desk Concert and I’m ready to get his album as well.

I love that the “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home” starts with a live trumpet and the rest of the band is there playing live, too–two synths, a live bass and Mike on some kind of techie gadget.  But the great thing about this Concert is Mike’s delivery.

He sings/raps and he’s got an uplifting style of rapping combined with the spare but cool/weird music that fit with the lyrics.

And it’s really the lyrics that won me over.

Everybody’s secrets inspire all of my scenes
I write in all of my fantasies and I die in all of my dreams
My superpowers I maintain
I take control of my scene

and the hook:

I done told
Some goofy shit that sounded like a poem
I spun around in circles on the globe
So who the hell could ever feel at home

I could tell that  the lyrics were pretty interesting, but I was surprised to read:

Open Mike Eagle may have released one of the most political albums of 2017, but Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is also among the most personal. It comes across best in his live performances. For only the second time during his recent tour cycle, the LA-based artist played a set aided by the live instrumentation of musicians Jordan Katz (trumpet, keys, sampler), Josh Lopez (keys, sampler) and Brandon Owens (bass) for his Tiny Desk debut.

He performed two songs from the stellar Brick.  The title comes from:

It’s been a decade since the last brick fell from the Robert Taylor Homes, the old Chicago Housing Authority project personified on the record. Yet, when it comes to excavating the politics of place, and all the racial implications inherent in cultural erasure, there is no project released in recent years that comes close.

“Daydreaming in the Projects” is, like the other songs, political but warm:

(This goes out to)
Ghetto children, making codewords
In the projects around the world
Ghetto children, fighting dragons
In the projects around the world

and then this seemingly nonsensical rhyme that speaks volumes

Everything is better when you don’t know nothing
I’m grown so I’m always disgusted
All these discussions online is mayonnaise versus mustard
Mayonnaise people think French can’t be trusted
Mustard people think eggs is all busted
But fuck it
We in it for the pattern interruptions

I love that it is accompanied by a simple but pretty trumpet melody while Jordan is also playing keys.

The set ender “Very Much Money,” from his 2014 album Dark Comedy, is tremendous.

What a great verse:

My friends are superheros
None of us have very much money though
They can fly, run fast, read Portuguese
None of us have very much money though
They know judo and yoga, photography, politics
Some of them leap over buildings
Writers, magicians, comedians, astronauts
None of it mattered when niggas was hungry

All to a catchy, cool beat that is in the spirit of bands like De La Soul, but far more modern and powerful.  Great stuff.  And if “Very Much Money” is representative, I need to check out his old stuff too.  And maybe even the other three (!) bands he’s with: he is a member of the hip hop collective Project Blowed. He is also a member of Thirsty Fish and Swim Team.

 

[READ: October 20, 2017] If Found

Tabitha had this book and I thought it looked really cute so I grabbed it not really knowing what it was.

Basically, it is the blank notebook of Montreal artist Elise Gravel.  She says:

At night, when my daughters are asleep, I draw in my blank notebook.  I draw complete nonsense   Whatever comes to my mind.  When I draw in my black notebook, it feels good–it’s as if I let out all the ideas that are bouncing around in my head.  I never critique the drawings in my black notebook. I give myself the right to fail.  To mess up, to create ugly drawings.  I’m kind to myself. (more…)

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melvin3-cover_SOUNDTRACKCREOLE CHOIR OF CUBA-Tiny Desk Concert #192 (February 6, 2012).

creoleThis concert was something of a surprise for me.  The blurb seems to think that it should be a surprise, especially if you are familiar with Cuban music.  I’m not, so I’m even more surprised.

Just when you think you know Cuban music, along comes the Creole Choir of Cuba. This group sprang from the ashes of Grupo Vocal Desandann, a small vocal outfit created in the late 1990s to celebrate traces of Haitian culture in eastern Cuba.  That history dates back to the late 18th century, when slaves from Haiti were delivered to Cuba to harvest sugarcane after successful slave revolts in Haiti. A long-lost culture was revitalized by the group through music performed largely a cappella and entirely in Haitian Creole.

As with other forms of music associated with the African diaspora, The Creole Choir of Cuba’s work resonates with songs of resistance and celebration of community life, which offered hope and relief from the bitter realities of slavery.

The choir sings three pieces.  And it’s cool the way it is a choir for certain, but that they throw elements into it that are not normally associated with choirs.  For “Marasa Elu” their voices are beautiful, with a great bass voice underpinning the soaring lead voice.  It’s fairly astonishing that she starts to cry at the end of the song (whether fake or not it’s hard to tell).

“Ayiti Krye” has a different lead singer with a very different voice.–although the rest of the choir still sounds great with her.  It comes as quite a surprise about half way through the song when the drums and percussion come in–it really changes the feel of the song and of this choir.  Suddenly the piece is a more dancey song, especially as the percussion picks up speed.  A guy with a wonderfully raspy voice takes over lead.  And the rest of the group really starts to get into it–dancing and singing a beautiful backing vocal that sounds much less like a choir and more like a Cuban dance song.

For “Lumane Casimir” the first singer is back.  There are quiet congas keeping the beat.  While the backing vocals sound a lot like a choir, the lead singer sounds more like a conventional singer.  By the end, they are having a ton of fun and she invites two of the audience members to dance with her (including Felix, the host).  And as any music like this should, the end of the song introduces a whistle keeping a beat.

This is a very different kind of choir–at once sacred and fun.

[READ: January 22, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 3

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  This book contains the final Melvin Monster comics.  The title page says “Collected from the issues seven to nine of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).

In the first issue of the book, Baddy tries to get Melvin a job as a babysitter.  The baby is actually a huge giant which leads to all kinds of amusing scenes of Melvin fleeing from the giant.  Although Stanley was never concerned about being PC, the fact that he set his strip in Monsterville certainly allowed him to get a way with a lot of rather un-PC dialogue.

I’m not sure why Stanley only made nine issues (if it was Dell’s decision or his), but there’s a lot of repetition in the premises.  Melvin trying to go to the school and Ms McGargoyle not allowing him in is a very common joke.  Although in fairness, she does think up many new ways to keep Melvin away.

Little Horror is always a fun character.  In this one she does a spell which turns Melvin into a half frog.

There’s a joke about Cleopatra, the family’s alligator, trying to eat him. And the one with Damon constantly giving him bad advice would be funny whether they were monsters or not.

“Blackout” is an interesting strip as it shows Baddy getting ready to watch wrestling –“the first four rows of human bean lady fans armed with cement filled handbags an shish kabob skewers.”

Book 8 opens with “Supermonster” in which a huge monster living nearby is getting ready to destroy Monsterville.  And it’s up to Melvin to help out.

I enjoyed seeing him integrating snow into a few of these strips (although not sequentially in any way).  There’s a good one that involves digging to the school.  There’s a short one that involves Little Horror breaking ice with her high-pitched shriek and another short one with a giant snowball (that I don’t quite get).

Speaking of un-PC, there’s an entire story that involves a Native American totem pole monster–I guess since it’s a monster its okay, although the way it talks is pretty awful.

Book 9 starts with a monster that frightens Baddy.  I enjoy that Baddy is actually quite a coward despite his size and demeanor).

Little Horror returns with a broken magic wand which is pretty fun.  The punchline where a tiny Baddy is afraid of Mummy is outstanding .

I also really enjoyed the way that McGargoyle got rid of Melvin in the final schoolhouse joke–by having him learn C-A-T and B-A-T and then telling him he graduated.  Of course Melvin redefines high school for us all.

The final strip in the book is the one I knew from the D&Q 25th anniversary book.  In it, Melvin drinks a potion that turns him into a normal-looking boy. Which would of course freak out the whole family.

I also like that the final pages of this book include all of the original covers from the Dell comics (12 cents each!)

I’m fascinated at the publishing schedule of these issues

  • Apr-Jun
  • Jul-Sept
  • October
  • December
  • July
  • October
  • January
  • Apr
  • May
  • August

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all though is his biography which states that John Stanley “bitterly left comics sometime in the late 1960s never to return.”  Woah, I want to hear more about that!

Maybe when I read the Nancy books.

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melvin2-cover_SOUNDTRACK: GLENN JONES-Tiny Desk Concert #188 (January 23, 2012).

glennI’d never heard of Glenn Jones.  The blurb says that he only recently took up the banjo (which I assume means he has played the guitar for a long time?).  Also, how funny is it  that there are two banjo players in a row.

Jones plays 3 instrumental pieces  “Tinka Marie” is a very pretty banjo instrumental (although I can’t help but feel that his high string is slightly out of tune—I find it a little jarring throughout the song).  The banjo also sounds very compressed or tight or something.  It’s unusual especially when compared to the expansive sound of the guitar in the other two songs.

Before “The Great Pacific Northwest,” he says that if he plays it right, “Mt. Rainier should burst right through the floor of this room.” He has a very interesting playing style.  He has capoed the three bass strings, but not the higher strings.  He then plays chords up and down the fretboard (leaving the capo where it is).  The beginning of this song is a series of slowly played chords, which allow each individual string to sound.  Then it picks up as he begins playing fast finger-picked (with a  thumb pick for the bass strings) melodies.

“Of Its Own Kind” continue with that half capo style and finger picking.  It has a really lovely melody, as do all three.

[READ: January 17, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 2

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  The title page says “Collected from the issues four to six of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).   (more…)

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