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last3 SOUNDTRACK: NIGHT BEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #266 (February 18, 2013).

nightTypically we don’t see what happens before the Tiny Desk Concert begins, but for this show, there’s a very funny introduction.  Robin clacks the clacker and as the Winston Yellen starts singing you hear Robin interrupt him and say something.  He sings “When the sorrow goooozz….” and laughs as Robin says “much more important than your singing is my introduction.”  Someone in the band jokes, “gather round, take a knee.”

Night Beds are certainly anchored around Yellen’s voice.  The first song is a brief a capella track called “Faithful Heights.”  It segues perfectly into “Ramona,” where you get a better sense for what the band sounds like.  The band kicks in with some lovely guitar work on the electric guitar while Yellen plays acoustic.  Near the end of the song he launches unexpectedly into some really powerful falsetto.  It’s a very pretty song.

“22” features a more pronounced slide guitar which offers some cool spare, echoing sounds.  The final song is “Hide from It,” and older song tha they haven’t played much. It’s a bit faster with nice backing vocals.  There’s a very pretty guitar riff (I love the gentle echo) and keyboards instead of slide guitar.

I found Might Beds to be quite winning.

[READ: January 17, 2017] LastMan 3

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  For the first book I said that it might be okay for a slightly younger audience, but this book changes things–prostitutes, porn mags, threats of violence–nothing explicit but still, way too much for young kids.

This book is also very different from the first two in that it is set in an entirely in a new location.

Adrian and his mom, Marianne, have ridden out to the Rift on her motorcycle.  His mom says that she is going to walk into the mist for a few minutes and she wants him to stay where he is.  And I love this bit:

-Listen Adrian, they say a lot of things in school and at church but in the end what should you always listen to?
-Uh, yes,  I know. Your heart?
-No Silly, what your mother says.

She comes back with a map and realizes that the rift is passable.  They arrive on the outskirts of a town and are caught by some thugs.  It’s very Mad Max looking with the men being really grotesque and planning to proceed with the rape of the delinquent.  Yikes.

As they get close, Adrian’s mother does a summoning and knocks everyone around her down–many of them flee.  Adrian is in awe of his mom.

They ride into Nillipolis and she is convinced that Richard is there.  But Nillipolis proves to be a scummy town.  We meet a guy who works at a brothel, Francis.  He’s the only nice person in the whole town (as are the prostitutes, particularly Flora, the prettiest woman in the book).  They suggest looking in the pawn shop for evidence of Richard.  And indeed in the shop they see the cup that he and Adrian won–it’s even got their names on it.

There’s a lot of excitement in this book with Adrian and his mom fleeing from the thugs who are with the police and the fireman and then  dealing with two attorneys: Raven and Delacruz.  She is being placed under arrest for charges of false prostitution.  But it’s really because they have tied her to Richard–who is in fact in the same prison.

The last quarter of the book is taken up with the trail.  And this trial is unlike any you’ve seen.  There are cheerleaders.  And, it quickly becomes obvious that you win your case through violence and strength and little else.  If your attorney is killed, then you get the death sentence.

We also learn that there’s a grizzled old creepy dude in a wheelchair who wants the map that she has–he believes that the Valley of Kings–where Adrian and his mom are from–has the secret to eternal life.

The book ends on board a ship to Paxtown–a questionable city.  Richard is heading there as well, and it looks like Cristo, the person in the mask who Richard defeated in the battle is there too.

But we’ll have to wait until book 4 to find out just what’s going on.

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lastman2 SOUNDTRACK: THE xx-Tiny Desk Concert#265 (February 11, 2013).

xxI have really come to like The xx quite a lot.  And this Tiny Desk Concert is easily one of the best instances of them.  It is just the two of them, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim She [No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel].  She sings and plays a very echoing guitar and he plays a very spare bass (also echoed).  Her voice on “Angels” is whispered but not quiet—she sounds amazing. Everything about the performance is clear and beautiful

The only bad thing about the Concert is that they only play 2 songs (and for less that 7 minutes total!)

The blurb says that one of the things that makes this show especially great is that “the setting and band configuration robs them of cover.  [There is] no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.”

When Oliver sings the middle verse on “Sunset” it is a wonderful, stark (and sexy) moment.   When she starts playing the guitar again after the brief bass interlude, it sounds magical.  And their duet at the end is amazingly powerful (especially for something so quiet).

[READ: December 17, 2016] LastMan 2

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (Unlike the first book, this one is slightly more explicit–nothing actually shown, but Richard runs through the town naked and he and a woman are in bed together).

This book picks up where the previous one left off.  Adrian takes on Gregorio.  And Adrian is able to knock him out of the ring.  Adrian wins!  This means he must now fight Elorna, his friend.  Gregorio is humiliated at losing and he is rather mean to Elorna.  And during the match, Elorna bursts into tears and flees the ring, forfeiting and letting Adrian and Richard go to the semifinals.

They are up against Alyssa and Haldes (Haldes is preposterously large and Alyssa is covered by a scarf on her face).  Things get weird in this one when Alyssa recognizes Richard (I won’t say from where).  I’m not exactly sure what happens to her, but she is eventually dragged out of the ring by Haldes–more or less forfeiting as well.

So our heroes are going to the final. (more…)

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lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (more…)

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coralSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-These Last Songs (1997).

lastsiongs Sackville released two full length albums.  This was the first. They’d added a second guitar which gave their songs a bit more texture.  But they still had a kind of gritty folk music sound.  I saw the term “urban country” used to describe them, which is strangely apt.

“Sydney Mines” is a slow folk song with a quiet slow guitar motif.  I love the descriptive lyrics: “In the dead of winter in Sydney Mines they take their cars out on the ice.” The song is accented by a slow, scratchy violin that comes in after the first verse.  But the chorus gets rocking and kind of fun/sloppy with the drums really taking over.  The vocals don’t really change the laconic style but they do get noticeably louder.  “Clothesline” retains that slowness although the verses have a bit more sing-song quality.  And once again the chorus bursts into life with a raw violin and loud drums.

The excellent guitar riff that opens “Good Citizen” is quite a change—the song picks up speed (and the vocals sound very different–clipped and quick).  It’s a great alt folk song.  The chorus is lurching and interesting as well.  “Upstate” has an early 1990s guitar line and pounding chords at the end of each verse.  The juxtaposition of his voice with this electric song works nicely.  “Tie Back Yr Hair” returns to the slow style of the earlier songs although this melody is mostly led by the violin.  “Lines and Barriers” is a slow ballad, mostly guitar—it reminds me of Syd Barrett.

“The Frame-Up’ has more loud drums and quiet creaking violins.  Nearly four minutes in, the violin takes over with a staccato refrain that gets the song sounding more intense.  “Bender” adds a pleasant surprise with guest vocalist Genevieve Heistek taking lead vocals.  The music is much the same but her voice changes the overall style of the music quite a bit.  The addition of fuzzy static at the end adds an alt-rock touch.  “Invisible Ink” has the prettiest violin melody yet, an unscratchy ascending melody that complements the slow guitars.  And just as it seems to be another slow ballad, the 3rd minute ramps up the electric guitar and the song soars for about 20 seconds before returning to that main melody.

“Her Ghost Will One Day Rise Again” has the most country feel of the album—the violin is much more fiddle than violin and the simple melody is very catchy, but in a drunken hillbilly kind of way rather than a country song proper (which means a I like it better).  On “Border Towns” he sounds the most like the lead singer from Social Distortion.  This is a lurching kinda punk y song, although it’s the chorus that really has that Social D feel—a slow catchy chorus in which his delivery is uncanny.  “Pioneers” ends the disc with a downbeat song with really catchy lyrics: “It’s hard to be a pioneer” in the keening voice of the 12-year-old protagonist.

Given the popularity of alt-country, Sackville was sadly ignored.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Coral Reefs

Wicks created the Human Body Theater graphic novel (also from First Second), which I absolutely loved.  This book is part of First Second’s new Science Comics series, in which they take a good hard look at scientific things and present a ton of information in a fun cartoony format–easily digestible chunks with awesome pictures that convey a lot of information.

I loved the dinosaurs one for just how much new information I’d learned from it.

This book has a really inspirational forward about scuba diving which I thought was by wicks (and I wondered how she was so scholarly AND an artist), but it was actually by Randi Rotjan from the New England Aquarium (and is still inspirational).

I didn’t know a ton about coral reefs going into this book and man, is it full of information about them: how they grow and form (yes, they are animals), who lives among them and what we can do to protect them. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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oddduck1SOUNDTRACK: SAM LEE-Tiny Desk Concert #470 (September 11, 2015).

samlee Sam Lee has a fascinating voice, it reminds me of Nick Drake, but more… powerful.  He has Drake’s timbre and somewhat unusual delivery–sort of a stage-ready musical delivery.  But aside from his voice, what makes Lee so interesting is that for these three songs, possibly for all of his songs, he “has dedicated himself to preserving centuries-old folk songs of the U.K. and Ireland, particularly from “outsider” communities like the Roma (Gypsies) and the Scottish and Irish Travelers.   He and his bandmates–ukulele player and vocalist Jon Whitten, violinist and vocalist Flora Curzon, and percussionist and vocalist Josh Green–put these ancient songs in thoroughly 21st-century arrangements that feel creative, fresh and surprising, but also deeply human.”

“Over Yonders Hill” opens with that ukulele and Lee’s voice–I was quite surprised when I first heard it all together, but it works quite well.  And then the fiddle kicks in, playing some lovely swirling solos.  Then Lee adds a tiny harmonium, and that wheezy tone adds perfectly to the feeling that you might be out by a campfire   The song keeps building with backing vocals from the drummer.  As the song nears its end the violinist adds her haunting backing voice to the proceedings.

He explains that he goes around the country recording old singers—the keepers of these old traditional songs.  So the second song, “Lovely Molly” he learned from an old Scots traveler—a song of an old plow boy going to war.  They do this one a cappella and their harmonies are beautiful.

He learned the final song, “Goodbye My Darling” from a horse dealer in Kent–an old gypsy man.  It is about men being sent off to penal servitude in the United States and Australia and the injustice done to those incarcerated.  It is also played on that tiny harmonium which looks like a laptop.  As the harmonium fades away the violin plays a sweet pizzicato melody.  After about three minutes the song kicks into high gear, sounding very much like a traditional song—fast violin and quick rhythm.   And yet as the music grows more alive, the lyrics get darker.  As the song ends he does a kind of whistling hum, which I simply don’t understand, but which adds a delightfully strange texture to the music.

I don’t know that I would seek out Lee’s music, but it’s nice knowing he’s out there.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Odd Duck

I love the First Second Childrens’ books.  They are a little bit odd, but ever so fun.   And Sara Varon is a great illustrator so putting her art on anything makes it enjoyable.

I’ve read a number of Castellucci’s other books, and the two seem like good pair for this story about not quite fitting in.

Theodora is a duck.  She likes things to be regular and consistent.  She goes for a swim at the same time every day, with a tea cup on her head–making sure not to spill a drop.  She always has exact change at the store and looks at the stars every night.

But she is also a little different from the other ducks.  She buys mango salsa (which no one else does), she buys fabric squares and reads books that haven’t been checked out in years. (more…)

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varmintsSOUNDTRACK: HANGEDUP & TONY CONRAD-Transit of Venus [091] (2016).

conradHangedUp & Tony Conrad have the third of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set. From the Constellation site: Transit Of Venus documents this fertile collaboration and includes some enormous slabs of drone rock alongside more decomposed pieces and gorgeously gritty string duos.  [[The performers] recently plunged back into the archives and started shaping an album from the various 2-track and live-mixed [improvisations and] multi-track source material.

“Flying Fast n Furious” has clattering percussion and squeaky violins.  There’s some fast drumming and violin playing in the middle with a great wobbly low bass around.   About 4 minutes in the sounds are almost otherworldly/underwatery.  “Transit Of Venus” has the return of that low wobbly bass—big round fat bass notes that just seem to linger as the drums clatter away.  The sawing violin is a little less interesting than I’d like, however.  “Principles” features a buzzy violin that scratches over the interesting drum pattern.  After a minute or so some strange sounds percolate under the drone.  The sounds are mechanical, organic, (balloons?) digital—unclear.  It’s 8 minutes long and there’s a few moments when the big bass notes come in that are very cool.  In the last minute or so a new violin solo comes out of the din but it doesn’t alter the tone of the song all that much

“Bright Arc Of Light” is 4 minutes of slow bowed and plucked violins.  It’s quite minimal.  “Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer ” is 11 minutes long and it starts with multi layered violins.  It sounds a bit like The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” and after 2 minute the slow drums come in.  Once the drums enter, the song stays mostly the same—sawing violins and a steady drums with some other occasional percussion.  It’s very droney.  Around 6 minutes things change slightly and the song becomes more insistent.  It continues like this for most of the rest of the song and then ends with some solo violins.  The final track is “Panorama From Maxwell Montes” which opens with some dissonant scratchy violins.  The drums come in and start playing an intersection complex rhythm making this a good album closer.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: November 1, 2016] Varmints

I really enjoyed the drawing style in this book.  The main characters were cute and cartoony and yet the backgrounds were reasonably realistic looking.  It really conveyed the setting (the old west, I guess) effectively.

However, I had a huge problem with the story.  The book felt like it was part 2, but to the best of my knowledge it isn’t.  There just seemed to be huge gaps in the story that were never filled in.  Not to mention, this is supposed to be a children’s story, but we find out (very late in the story) that the childrens’ mother was killed in cold blood–more or less on a whim.  It’s a shocking piece of violence which I suppose little kids can handle but, woah, what the hell, dude?

The story begins with Opie and Ned in a saloon.  They are young kids, Opie is Ned’s older sister–a joke is made about Opie being a weird name for a girl, but sadly, nothing more comes of that.  Opie is holding her own in a game of cards but Ned is bored and keeps interrupting the game as annoying little brother will do.

Ned says he wants a hat, and since no one will give him one, he climbs a mountain of a man (he’s so tall we can’t see his face and he is wearing a full-sized bear as a cloak of some sort) and takes the hat off of him.  Chaos ensues, the hat flies off (and gets two holes in it) and the kids wind up stealing the giant man’s horse and taking off. (more…)

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