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Archive for the ‘First Second :01’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“Ma Vie en Rose” (2019).

Lucy Dacus has been on a roll lately.  Her album Historian is fantastic.  She has put on some amazing live shows (I’ll be seeing her again in March), she did some amazing work as 1/3 of boygenius and now she has made a delightful version of “Ma Vie en Rose.”

The original is swooning and slow, allowing for the words to linger and tickle every inch of the listener’s ear.  But sometimes love isn’t slow and languorous.  Sometime, it hits you hard and runs fast with your heart.

So Lucy has recorded a version with this tempo in mind.  She says

I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love.

Musically the song is pulsing beat and piano–electric guitar and bass and it is just relentlessly chipper.

She sings the song first in French and then in English in her gorgeous quiet(ish) voice in under 3 minutes–that’s a minute faster than the original which is only in French.

And she released it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

[READ: February 11, 2019] The City on the Other Side

The book begins on the other side of the veil that separates our world from the fairie realm.  It is a very thin but very powerful veil and virtually no one can cross it.

This is a story of fairies and humans.  And how our worlds impact one another.  When we build buildings, the fairies feel the digging and when the fairies had a war, it caused earthquakes,   The massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906?  That was caused by a massive fairie war.  That fairie war started when the Seelie (the creatures who bless brightness–birds, ferns, humans) and the Unseelie (who celebrate darkness-worms, rotting logs etc) couldn’t agree on a ruler.  They are expected to rule the underworld in equal parts–six months at a time.  But recently there had been trouble. The leader of the Unseelie didn’t like the way the Seelie seemed to be taking over (because humans were becoming so powerful) so he captured the Seelie leader’s daughter and waged war.

Back on earth we meet a young girl, Isabelle.  She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who wishes her to be perfect–clean, respectful, and quiet.  In the summertime, she is shunted off to her father–an artist who is more interested in his work than his daughter.  But at least she can relax and play and get dirty.  It is while she is here that she sees a Seelie with a magical necklace. The Seelie is supposed to get that necklace to the kidnapped daughter of the Seelie leader.  But he has been wounded.  Since Isabelle is allowed to cross dimensions he pleads with her to help the Seelie.

While heading into the city with a helpful talking mushroom named Button, Isabelle’s necklace is stolen by…another human?  This young boy is shocked to discover that she is a human.  When he tells his story they agree to work together.

It turns out that the earthquake killed his parents and his discovered a rift between the worlds when the ground opened up.  He was rescued by the now-missing Seelie daughter which granted him the power to cross the veil. But no one has seen the daughter for many years so he–who is not welcomed in Fairlieland and has nothing waiting for him in human land–has become a simple thief.

The thief knows his way around the fairie world and has made something of a name for himself.  But that also means that Unseelie warriors are aware of what he does and where he goes.

How will these two humans find a princess in the fairie realm?  And will they ever even want to go back home?

This story was a little to fast for my liking–everything seems to be very truncated.  Maybe that’s because it’s a children’s book?  And while I am glad that it wasn’t stretched into two books, it just felt like it took on a lot and resolved it all really fast.

I also didn’t love the artwork.  I really didn’t like the fairie characters at all–they seemed hastily drawn and I didn’t really like the main characters all that much either.  The whole book felt like it was done very quickly.

Having said that, it’s a good introduction for kids to know about the Seelie and fairie stories–there are so many they can explore later on.  I did like how the final pages with Button the mushroom (my favorite character) were informative both about the story process and the history of San Francisco and the earthquake.

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SOUNDTRACK: LAU NOAH-Tiny Desk Concert #823 (February 11, 2019).

Lua Noah is a Spanish singer/guitarist with a fascinating story.  She sings mostly in Spanish (with subtitles!).

Lau Noah’s journey as a songwriter and guitarist occurred by happenstance. She was born in Reus, Spain barely a few hours drive from Barcelona. She speaks and now sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew. She’d played piano growing up (never guitar) and left Spain for New York City five years ago while in her late teens.

On a visit to Montreal in 2016, Lau hoped to go to a Patrick Watson concert with friends. But the performance sold out and she was left alone in an apartment while her friends went to the show. Then a snowstorm ensued. The apartment had two guitars and, with nothing else to do, she picked one up and began to play. She wrote her first song, “Pequitas,” which means “Little Freckles.”

Her songs are quite short.  “El Jardinero (The Gardener)” is barely 2 minutes long.  She plays complex chords but not in an elaborate way–just making lovely sounds in beautiful patterns.  The speed of her singing is somewhat at odds with the gentle playing, but it all works, as if she needs to get these passionate words out.

There’s a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool. As melodies pour from the strings, she sings these words in Spanish: “On the verge of the soul, there is a red petal, attached to the skins of mortals.” A few lines later in the song she continues, “a fragile petal that drinks the water of the most cruel stories: children who have never heard a fairytale, lovers who love, dressed in regret.” This is the sort of poetic tale that captured my heart amongst the thousands of entries I watched during the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Her song she submitted for the contest is called “La Realidad.”

I love the way in “La Realidad (The Reality)” she returns to a part where she plays a low note that rises and falls while everything else stays the same as she sings.

She says thats she is from Catalonia and was always afraid to sing in Catalan, so she sang mostly in English.  She is very happy to sing the next song “L’Adéu (The Goodbye)” in Catalan.  It has a beautiful melody and sounds very differrent from the other two songs.

She re-tunes her guitar for “La Belleza (The Beauty)” which has a very different fingerpicking style–faster and a bit more intense.  The melody rises and falls both from her fingers and from her voice.  It’s a mesmerizing song.

Before she played her final song, “Red Bird,” (in English) she quoted Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from his novel Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies,” Lau said, reading from her notes. “Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams is madness. And maddest of all: to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

She sounds just as lovely singing in English as she does in her other languages.

[READ: February 11, 2019] One Day a Dot

I don’t normally post about children’s picture books.  But this one has two things going for it.  It’s published by First Second and it’s pretty awesome.

This is, as the cover says, “the story of you, the universe, and everything.”  All in 40 pages.

It begins: One day a dot appeared.  And it was so excited to be there that it burst.

And that is the children’s version explanation of the big bang. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Float Along-Fill Your Lungs (2013).

In 2013, KGATLW released a Western narrative record and this record which opens with a 16 minute psychedelic epic called “Head On/Pill.”  It’s got everything, including a sitar.

There’s a cool, simple riff that lends itself to some groovy jamming.  After 3 and a half minutes the song takes off in a rocking/psychedelic avalanche of sounds.  Around five minutes it settles into a two note sing/play along.  By 7 and a half the sitar is back and the two-note melody has expanded somewhat.  By ten minutes its just bass and drums before the band starts to rebuild the song again.  It’s a very cool exploration of a style that the band hadn’t really toyed with before.  And it would really go on to define one aspect of the band (minus the sitar).

The rest of the album is largely shorter tracks.

“I’m Not a Man Unless I Have a Woman” is a weird little nugget with a soul feel and falsetto vocals.  But with sitar and harmonica.

For the first minute or so of “God is Calling Me Back Home” its sounds kind of goofy and lo-fi.  It’s just a guitar and lots of vocals.  But after a minute, it rocks out with full distortion.  It’s a wild ride for a couple of minute before it degenerates into just feedback and noise by the end.

“30 Past 7” is slower with sitar and a soaring psychedelic feel.   While “Let Me Mend the Past” has a classic Motown sound with piano and falsetto vocals from Ambrose.  Keeping with the jumping around, “Mystery Jack” is a short, fuzzy, garage rock song.  Then comes “Pop In My Step,” which was created by guitarist Cook Craig.  It’s a simple poppy song with fuzzy guitars and a trippy synth.  The middle has a very cool riff that separates the parts.

The disc ends with “Float Along – Full Your Lungs” which returns to the psychedelia.  This song is shorter but even wilder with the sitar and trippy sounds. It’s a fantastic bookend to this wild collection of songs.

[READ February 7, 2019] Animus

This is a creepy story set in Japan.

It opens on a police detective discovering that yet another child has gone missing.  That makes 40.  Luckily the press hasn’t gotten word yet so there’s no general sense of panic, just upset parents and frustrated police.

We cut to two kids in a playground.  A boy playing with a soccer and a girl reading.  It gets dark and the kids are still there.  When the boy kicks his soccer ball, another child, a boy in a mask, shows up and kicks it into the sandpit.  The boy yells at the strange kid and goes for his ball.  But when he steps in the sand, it turns to snakes and the boy runs off.  The girl gets angry at the kid in the mask.  She acts very mature with him and she goes for the ball.  But when she walks in the sand, arms reach out and grab her.  She grabs the ball and flees while the kid in the mask laughs.

The next day the kids return to the park to talk to the weirdo in the mask (in the daytime).  He says that nothing that happened was his fault–it was all the park.  The sand pit shows your greatest fear, the swings show you other people’s dreams and the statues of animals are the ears of the area…they hear everything.  Then he reveals that he was taken from this world a long time ago.  He was buried and never found and now he must haunt this area until he is freed.  His name is Toothless. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAT POWER-Tiny Desk Concert #821 (February 4, 2019).

I remember when Cat Power was a buzz artist who had signed to Matador.  I bought her album in 1996, but I guess it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me.

Since then, she has been a buzz artist for performing and then for not performing and then for performing again.  All the new music of hers that I have heard seems to get slower and softer.

The biggest surprise about the Tiny Desk Concert was how full of smiles she was and yet the blurb makes her sound uncomfortable:

Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance. She intermittently steadied herself by resting a hand under her chin while clutching a cup of tea, and she ran through three songs without a break, making her set sound more like a Cat Power medley than a series of distinct songs.

So I don’t know any of the songs she played here and when I first listened I actually assumed she’d only played two songs because the first two blended together.

Regardless, the music was arresting and beautifully orchestrated, with simple piano lines and brushed drums backing a voice that could only be hers.

Opening with “Wanderer,” the title track to Cat Power’s latest album, Marshall sang of restless love and yearning with a nod toward motherhood and her 3-year-old son: “Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind, now your soul is in between.”

It has a quiet, simple piano melody (from Erik Paparazzi) and a gentle guitar (from Adeline Jasso) that imperceptibly pushes it forward.  After a minute, the brushed drums (from Alianna Kalaba) come in to add a little snap to the song.

“Woman,” another track from Wanderer starts immediately.  She had recorded this song with Lana Del Rey and I recall liking it. This version sounds so much like the previous song that I don’t even recognize the original in it.  The differences between the two songs are that the piano notes have changed a little (but since they repeat all the way through, it’s not hugely noticeable) and the guitar now uses a slide.  Otherwise the beat is I believe unchanged.

She segues right into “The Moon,” from her 2006 album The Greatest.  The only distinction here is that the guitar and drums stop briefly while the newly repeating piano picks up a slightly different melody.  This song sounds so much like the previous one because she sings the word “Moon” so much like the word “Woman” (often given Moon more than one syllable) I couldn’t tell that she was saying something different.

I suppose if I were in the right mood I would have found this mesmerizing and enchanting.  But mostly I just found it rather dull.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Speak

I hadn’t read this novel and, in fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about (although I knew it was intense).  The only reason I picked it up was because I thought it was a First Second publication and I plan to read all of their books.  This was listed in their 2018 publication list, but it ultimately wasn’t published by them, it turns out.

S. knew the book from her work with teens and said she didn’t want to read the graphic novel version.  So I expected a harrowing, potentially unreadable story.

But Anderson has created an excellent and compelling story built around a harrowing incident.  She also doesn’t detail the harrowing incident until later in the story, so by the time we hear about it we are even more sympathetic to Melinda.

I will say that as the story opened (because I didn’t know the timeline), I thought that the kids were being unrealistically mean to her.  I thought she was a new student at the school (it’s her first year in high school) and I couldn’t imagine why people really had it in for her.  It seemed hard to believe.  Especially as we realize pretty quickly that the incident has already happened.

Then it gradually comes out that kids are mad at her for something she did.  It is connected to the incident, but clearly isn’t about the incident because she hasn’t told anyone about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Willoughby’s Beach (2011).

After releasing five new albums in 2017, KGATLW spent 2018 re-releasing their first five releases.  These were out of print and hard to find.  And now they’re back.

Back in 2011, KGATLW was more of a goofy side project (hence the name).  But they coalesced as a seven-piece band and proceeded to make an EP–Willoughby’s Beach.  At nine songs in about 25 minutes, this garage rock/dirty blues project pretty well flies past.  Lyrics are an afterthought (most songs repeat one line) and most of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes.  It is great zipping fun with fuzzy guitars, fuzzy harmonicas, fuzzy vocals and an all around DIY feel.

“Danger $$$” is a fast, crazy blues with a wild harmonica solo and the repeated shouted lyrics of “danger money” between lots of whoops and screams.  “Black Tooth” opens with a similarly fast riff but it immediately slows down into a slower but still rocking riff.  “Lunch Meat” is a crazy fast and catchy song with the full lyric: “They made me get up in the morning morning morning morning.”

“Let it Bleed” is the longest song on the disc at 3:14.  It’s slower and the repeated lyrics are far more comprehensible (I want to see my lover again).  The wonderfully titled “Crookedile” has a kind of a spy theme for its music dark with echoing squealing guitars and chanted vocals.  What “just say god is on your side, he’s on your side” has to do with the title I have no idea.  “Dead Beat” is also (relatively) long, but it is much faster with lots of whoops and a simple but addictive guitar line.

“Dusbtin Fletcher” is a fun punk song with lots of big backing vocals–like The Monkees doing punk.  Oohs and oh ho ohs make this an incredibly poppy song.  “Stoned Mullet” has two sets of lyrics: “jack it” and “green out.”  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s fast and catchy with a wonderful chorus.

“Willoughby’s Beach” is quick and catchy, a wonderful end to the disc.  The song is the definition of three-chord rock and features the lyric: “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”  Superb stuff.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Secret Coders: Monsters & Modules

This book ends the Secret Coders storyline.

It begins with the boys feeling very calm as they work out a code that will get them to travel to Flatland.  But Hopper doesn’t understand why they aren’t freaking out since as soon as they work out the code they will be travelling to a world with one fewer dimension!

Using a simple repeating code, the turtle makes the opening and they fall into the second dimension.  Eni turns into a square, Josh turns into a triangle and Hopper turns into a line!  And we learned in the previous books that lines (and women in general) were considered nothing.

They are immediately bothered by circles–the most superior shape in Flatland.  After some altercations, Josh and Eni are thrown in jail.  Hopper is able to hide because she is just a line and is therefore very hard to see. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIANA HATFIELD-Sings Olivia Newton John (2018).

When I was a kid, I loved Grease.  My parents took me to see it multiple times and I loved the soundtrack.  There are still things from the movie that I am just “getting” now because I was so young when I first heard it.  I listened and sang along to Grease thousands of time.  I didn’t care for Saturday Night Fever (too dark and grown up), but i did love Xanadu.  So clearly I loved Olivia more than John.

I did not love “Physical,” the only other ONJ song I had heard, but honestly who didn’t dance around singing the chorus.

Aside from those songs I didn’t know a lot about ONJ’s career.   I had never heard of “Have You Never Been Mellow” until I bought the 1984 album by The Feederz.  They covered the song in the only way that a band whose album cover was literally sandpaper (to mess up the neighboring albums) would do.

Decades later I loved Juliana Hatfield.  I saw her live at Boston College (she opened for the B-52s and I left between acts because I was too cool for the B-52s).  She sung heartfelt and direct songs in a sometimes childlike voice.  But she rocked pretty hard too.

Juliana seems like an obvious choice to cover Olivia, except I didn’t think that Juliana had the range.  But boy was I surprised.  She hits high notes that I don’t recall her hitting before.  And while her singing style is still pretty soft, she really powers through a lot.  She also multitracks her voice from time to time to give it more power.

Plus, how great is that cover?

I didn’t know all of the songs on this but I grew to like the all.  I like the gentle synths and the cool guitar line on “I Honestly Love You.”  But she really impressed me with her take on Xanadu’s “Suspended in Time.”  She hits some beautiful notes and really makes the song wonderful.  I particularly like the e-bow.  “Magic” from the soundtrack also sounds great.  I’ve always liked this song so a cover has to meet some tough standards.  “Xanadu” is another great version–JH nails this soundtrack.

She hits some really wonderful high notes on “Have You Never Been Mellow?”  I’m still not sure if I’ve heard ONJ’s version.

“A Little More Love” adds some of Juliana’s crunchy guitar to the verses, but the chorus is pure ONJ.

I also had no idea she sang “Please Mr. Please,” which I remember from when I was a kid.  Who was listening to country stations in New Jersey back then?  Apparently much of ONJ’s pre-Grease career was in the country realm.

As I was going through this collection I discovered that ONJ sang a ton of versions of songs that I had no idea about.

Songs that she did a cover of which do not appear here:

  • God Only Knows
  • Jolene
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • If You Could Read My Mind
  • Angel of the Morning
  • Take Me Home Country Roads
  • Summertime Blues
  • Ring of Fire
  • He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother [!]
  • Don’t Cry for Me Argentina [!]

And that was all before she did Grease.

This collection mostly covers her records from Grease (1977) to Physical (1981), but there’s a couple of older songs too.

I had given up on her by Physical, but JH’s version of the title song has some nice chunky guitars and emphasizes the cool riff in the song–it’s much less discoey than the original.  There’s even a loud (but short) guitar solo and some cool noise at the end.  She also sounds a lot more like Juliana than Olivia on this one.

I didn’t know anything from Totally Hot, the album in which she dressed all in leather (like Sandy!).  I feel like “Totally Hot” is the least successful song here.  The lurching style is kind of clunky.  Although JH is clearly having fun by the end with the multitarcked vocals.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” is not the Journey song.  It sounds so very ONJ to me (with the high vocal notes at the end of each line).  JH sounds a lot like ONJ on this one.

The biggest challenge has to have been “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”  It’s the only song from Grease that she tackles. JH sounds a little flat (not in notes, but in…power?) during the verses.  But the multi tracking on her voice makes the chorus sound wonderful.

“Dancin’ Round and Round” comes from that rockin’ Totally Hot album and JH covers it perfectly.  “Make a Move on Me” has some interesting guitar and synth sounds.

The “I Honestly Love You” reprise is more fun because of the extended noisy guitar at the end.

This is a really fun collection of songs, including many songs I had forgotten I liked.

  1. I Honestly Love You [various, depending on country of release, you know, like The Beatles]
  2. Suspended In Time [X]
  3. Have You Never Been Mellow [HYNBM]
  4. A Little More Love [TH]
  5. Magic [X]
  6. Physical [P]
  7. Totally Hot [TH]
  8. Don’t Stop Believin’ [DSB]
  9. Please Mr. Please [HYNBM]
  10. Hopelessly Devoted To You [G]
  11. Xanadu [X]
  12. Dancin’ ‘Round And ‘Round [TH]
  13. Make A Move On Me [P]

X = Xanadu ; HYNBM = Have Yo Never Been Mellow ; [TH] = Totally Hot ; [P] = Physical ; [DSB] = Don’t Stop Believin’ ; [G] = Grease

[READ: January 29, 2019] Is This Guy for Real?

I enjoyed Box Brown’s Andre the Giant book.  In fact I’m quite the fan of Box Brown’s work.  So you bet I was going to read Brown’s biography about the enigma who was Andy Kaufman.

I was old enough to be aware of Kaufman (from Taxi, mostly), and young enough to be interested in the wrestling aspect of what he was doing.  Even if I had no idea what was real during the whole thing.  Apparently no one else did either.  What’s interesting is that you probably couldn’t get away with these kinds of stunts now because of the pervasive media.

Andy Kaufman grew up as a pretty normal kid who liked Mighty Mouse, Elvis and wrestling.  He also liked to imitate all three.  The one unusual component of his arsenal of favorite things was Babatunde Olatunji a Nigerian drummer who played his high school.  Andy was transfixed by the drums and set his mind to playing them.  All of these would comprise his stand up act, (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION (“Field Recording” March 2, 2009).

Years before NPR created a category called “Field Recordings,” they were creating Field Recordings–“backstage” (or elsewhere) recordings of bands.  Most of these seem to happen at Music Festivals where musicians just seem to be hanging around anyway.

I have no idea how many of these there are.  In fact, the only reason I discovered this one is because there was a link to it from the Blood Orange Tiny Desk Concert.

Because it turns out that Devonté Hyness, the guy behind Blood Orange was once Dev Hynes, the guy behind Lightspeed Champion.

And so, eleven years ago, Lightspeed Champion played SXSW.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Austin, TX when Lightspeed Champion’s Dev Hynes and violinist Mike Siddell met with All Songs Considered’s Bob Boilen for this exclusive outdoor performance. Hynes and Siddell offered up an intimate little set as they ran through four songs, opening with “Tell Me What It’s Worth,” followed by “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk,” “Galaxy of the Lost” and an inspired cover of Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu.”

For all four songs, it’s Dev on acoustic guitar and Mike on violin.  Like on “Tell Me What It’s Worth” Dev sings mostly quietly with his accent audible.  The violin adds sweet touches and occasional solos.

He introduces “Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk” by saying that crunk is a musical genre that originated about two hours east of here.  Li’l John more or less started it and the queen of crunk is Sierra.  It features this amusing chorus (?)

my drawings are starting to suck
My best friends are all listening to crunk
i feel like the world’s gone crazy
…sometimes in the cold night my phone rings but it’s not you

“Galaxy of the Lost” is a slow pretty ballad with a lovely rising scale in the middle.

Finally comes his cover of “Xanadu” (a song I love).  The opening guitar sounds like “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and I love the way he resolves it into “Xanadu.”  The sprinkles of violin are a nice touch.

It’s pretty amazing how different this sounds from Blood Orange.  It’s an impressive development for an artist.

[READ: January 23, 2019] Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders 4 ended with a puzzle.  But I read it months ago, so I haven’t even thought about it since then.  In fact, I have conceded that I will not learn basic programming from this series, so I’m not even trying.  I could see, though, that if you were reading these in quick succession that it would be fun to learn how to do what they are doing and to try the tests.

When we last left our heroes they were being attacked by biting ducks (!).  They use their program skills and the hard-light-generating Light-Light to escape.  And they wind up in a room with all the people who have drunk the green soda.  Including Hopper’s dad.  What?

As they try to snap him out of the “green!” stupor he is in, Dr. One-Zero arrives with Paz.  Turns out Paz was double crossing the kids all along and now Dr. One-Zero has the hard light generator and has the kids trapped.  He’s that much closer to winning–and his final plan is pretty terrible. (more…)

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