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diaSOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Tiny Desk Concert #662 (October 25, 2017).

I had it in my head that Japanese Breakfast was a weird band–psychedelic or wacky indie or something.   And maybe they are.  But certainly not here.

For this concert, the band is all acoustic (except for the electric bass).  For the first two songs there is a sting section.  Interestingly, the string section is Rogue Collective who also performed with Landlady on a recent Tiny Desk.   [Landlady’s Adam Schatz told Zauner that the Rogue Collective make pretty great Tiny Desk partners].

So the blurb corrects me about the band, describing their music as having “gauzy, astral synths.”  Those are clearly not present here.

As Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner writes sparkling, opulent dream pop about grief and love (and, occasionally, robots). After releasing its debut album, Psychopomp last year, the band returned with this year’s stunning Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Where Psychopomp, written in the immediate aftermath of the death of Zauner’s mother, zeroed in on the experience of Zauner’s grief, Soft Sounds widens her aperture, featuring paeans to her coping mechanisms, ruminations on crooked relationship dynamics and said sci-fi robot fantasy.

“Boyish” aches with sadness (“your boyish reassurance is not reassuring”).  The melody (her guitar and Deven Craige’s bass to start) is lovely and heartbreaking.  Then the strings really punctuate the sentiment of these great lines.  And there’s some great backing vocals from drummer Craig Hendrix.

If you go to her don’t expect to come home to me.
I can’t get you off my mind /I can’t get you off in general
I want you and you want something more beautiful
I can’t get you off my mind / you can’t get yours off the hostess

I love the opening lines to ‘Till Death,’ which really sums up the end of 2016:

all our celebrities keep dying / while the cruel men continue to win.

She says the song is about marriage (and then chuckles).  The blurb says she sings “as she often does, in a way that strains her voice to the crackling, taut edge of heartbreak.”  This song is really lovely–the melody is a knockout.  The piano and bass start the song.  After the first verse the strings come in and Hendrix adds more backing vocals.

I love a song that ends with this final line:

PTSD, anxiety, genetic disease, thanataphobia

Everybody leaves for the final song, “This House.”  Except Hendrix moves from drums to piano.

Another great lyric opens the song:

This house is full of women
playing guitar cooking breakfast
sharing trauma doing dishes
and where are you

The song describes moments in love that are more fearful labor than bliss, the hazy space where commitment, confusion and longing intersect. Like much of Japanese Breakfast’s music, the performance shows Zauner looking unblinkingly at fear and pain, daring us to do the same.

Interestingly, for this concert, Rogue Collective has a different lineup.  They are a trio: Alexa Cantalupo (violin) and Natalie Spehar (cello) are back but Kaitlin Moreno (violin) is there while Livia Amoruso (violin) and Deanna Said (viola) are not.

In a cool footnote, the blurb says “The Collective practiced with Japanese Breakfast the day before the Tiny Desk, and was a featured guest later that night at the band’s D.C. show.”

I enjoyed this Concert a lot and will have to give a closer listen to their new album.

[READ: March 1, 2017] El Dia Mas Largo del Futur

This book came across my desk at work and I loved the look of it right away.  I can stumble through some Spanish books, but imagine my delight to see that this one had no words at all!  It is a wordless graphic novel (novela gráfica).

I especially liked the look of it because it reminded me in some ways of Chris Ware–very detailed, incredibly crisp lines, and really pleasing shapes.  It is also very dark, like Ware’s work.

But the comparison ends there.  This story is set in a dystopian future where violence is the norm, where robots can be easily programmed to kill and where love seems an unlikely prospect.

And NOW, after having read it, I have just learned the total history of this book.  It was originally written in French as Le Jour Le Plus Long du Futur.  Varela is from Argentina.  It has also been published in English as The Longest Day Of The Future by Fantagraphics books.  So even though I felt proud about “reading” the book in Spanish, I could have just found it in English too.  Well, I’m keeping with my original post, so….

You can see more details of the book from the publisher website.

But here’s what the site says (in Google-translated English, no the irony is not lost on me): (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Calgary Folk Fest, Calgary, AB (July 1996).

1996 is an interesting year for Rheostatics Live recordings.  In addition to this Folk Festival show, there’s a show they do at their old high school.  And then there are many shows with them supporting The Tragically Hip.

This is an acoustic set from July 1996 at the Calgary Folk Festival – don’t know exact date. It features Martin Tielli, Dave Bidini and Tim Vesely. There is no drummer though Tim does play a bit on My First Rock Concert. Dave Allen plays violin on Shaved Head and RBC and Dan X of the Rhinos and played drums on RBC. It’s available here.

The introduction is a nice one: “My favorite eastern band… the Rheostatics.”  Dave jokes, playing like you’ve never seen them before.

Teh show (which is fairly short) sounds very different.  It’s all acoustic and they seems to have created special arrangements for the songs.

For the first few songs it’s just Martin, Dave and Tim.  They open with “Introducing Happiness.”  There’s a few sloppy moments near the end but otherwise it’s a very interesting version.  Tim says it’s “a song for my cats back home.”

Dave dedicates the second song (a delicate “Digital Beach”) to Graham James and his wife who drove out here “from somewhere in Saskatchewan to come and see us play and to take in the weekend and the festivities.”  He asks, “any other people from Saskatchewan?  We love that place.  We love Melville.

There’s a long intro for a mellow “Dope Fiends” that features some really great harmonies.  It’s very loose and fun with the guys shouting out lines. It feels like a real campfire version.

After the song Martin says, “It’s hard to sit down.”
Dave: “You like sitting down?”
Martin: “Not particularly.”
Dave: “Me neither”
Martin “I’m squirrely as hell.”
Dave: “We thought if we sat down for once it would be a whole new thing and catch on.  But we plan to get up later for the show-stopping finale.”

Dave plays “My First Rock Show” (one of the earliest times I’ve heard it played live).  He says, “This is a song about attending a rock festival.  This is folk festival.  The song is the first time I went to a rock festival.  It was at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition).  As the song starts he says there’s a Janis Ian kind a feel happening.

After Dave sings the “Took away the car keys” he says, “Timmy, get on the drums there, brother.”

After the song Dave says that earlier today we saw a young fellow with a tattoo.   A Rheostatics tattoo! It’s not real, it’s magic marker.  But you gotta show it off!  You rubbed it off?  Aw!

“Clarie” goes out to James Meritetch (?)  There’s a kind a classical opening and after the solo Martin segues the song into Neil Young’s “L.A.”

And then the guests start coming.  Dave says “A friend of ours from Kingston Ontario, a noted member of the drinking band The Mahones,  Dave Allen the doctor is in the house….  well …park.  We haven’t played with Dave for four years–he was on Whale Music.  He says they didn’t expect to see hm but he showed up at the festival and “they lassooed him, as you do.”  They play great, moody acoustic “Shaved Head.”

Then Dan Michell, Dan X of The Rhinos from Guelph and Kitchener–everyone here from Ontario is on stage now.  They play an interesting folkie “Record Body Count” with a violin. There’s an electric guitar solo.  Interestingly, they end with an extra chorus. And then they are gone.

The announcer says, “The Rheostatics!” …   “A drum stick!” … “The Rheostatics!”

It’s one of their more interesting shows and quite fun.

[READ: July 6, 2017] “Caring for Plants”

This was a rather dark story translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell.  At first I thought that there was no way this story could be as long as it was–it seemed almost over when it started.  But then by the end, I wanted it to go on for many pages more.

The story opens with Oghi in the hospital.  He has been there for 8 days since the car accident.  His wife died in the accident and he was badly mangled.  He cannot speak, he is in incredible pain and is clinging to life thanks to an IV drip.  His face looks like a waffle stuck to the iron–that’s how his wife would have described it.  And worst of all is that he accident was his fault.

It took six months before he could go home. His mother-in-law had been taking care of his wife’s garden (the only thing his wife loved taking care of).  Since he cannot speak, his mother-in-law is more or less doing whatever she wants in the house–going through the jewelry and taking what she wants–things he doesn’t even recognize. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: April 2016] The Scarecrow and His Servant 

I was looking for a story that Clark and I could listen to in the mornings when I drove him to school.  I didn’t want it to be too long (our commute was only 15 minutes), but I wanted it to be really enjoyable.

I know Pullman from the His Dark Materials series which I loved.  But I didn’t know much else by him.  This story seemed unusual, to say the least, but it was a perfect length–about 3 hours–for morning drives.

The audio book was read by Graeme Malcolm, and he did an amazing job–he had a great variety of voices at his disposal and he really made the story come to life.

The story is really quite unusual.  It begins with the history of the titular scarecrow.  How a man made him–and gave him a lovely turnip for a head–dressed him smartly and tucked a piece of paper, to show ownership, into his jacket pocket.  Pretty much straightaway, he is stolen, and then stolen again and then one more time until he is very far from home standing in a field.

And then he is struck by lightning and comes to life! (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Trouble with Twins

I grabbed this book because it seemed kind of interesting.  I see also that this book was released in the UK as Missing Arabella, which I think is a slightly better title).  I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d like it.  I mean, we don’t have twins and this is about twins and I wasn’t sure that our 12-year-old boy would like a book about twin girls.

But holy cow was this book outstanding!  It was utterly hilarious and the way it was read aloud was genius.

The book begins with this wonderful setup:

And so it begins in front of the fire, the story of two twin sisters.  One remains with her family in their lovely country house, where yellow roses perfume the air.  The other waits for her in another house, where she stands alone at huge arched windows.  She is restless, pacing wooden floors that creak in the night when a cat jumps down from the bed to chase at shadows.

And then in different typeface:

“What are their names?” the girls asks.  “The sisters.”
“Arabella and Henrietta.”
“Are they lonely,” asks the girl.
“They belong together,” says the mother.  “And it makes them sad to be apart.”
“Can’t you tell a happy story?” the girl asks.
“With puppies and a garden?”
“Yes!” says the girl.
“I’m only telling it the way my mother told it to me,” the mother says.
“And will there be puppies?” the girls persists.  “Or only gloomy girls at windows?”

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Diamond of Darkhold

The end of the previous book (the prequel) left me in very good spirits about this final book.  This one had not come out while I was working at the public library so I didn’t know about it and the title and cover puzzled me.

But whatever, it was time to see how this series ended (I assume its over).

But, oh no!  Another new audio book reader!  This time Katherine Kellgren.  Kellgren has the unenviable task of following up Wendy Dillon’s establishment as a reader.  It was a little disconcerting hearing Doon and some other characters who had very distinctive voices portrayed differently.  In fact, I wasn’t all that impressed by her reading at first because the characters kind of sounded the same.  But as soon as new characters entered the picture I was really thrilled with her reading.  The diverse voices she brought to the story were outstanding.

So what happens in it?

The story picks up about nine months after the Emberites left Ember.  Winter is coming upon them and things are very hard.  People are also getting sick (some people have died).  (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Prophet of Yonwood

I did not enjoy the second book of Ember much at all.  I wasn’t even going to continue with the series, but I was intrigued at this being a (shorter) prequel.

This book came out when I was still working at a public library so I remember the cover quite vividly.

But when I put in the disc I was shocked to realize that the narrator was different!  Where was beloved Wendy Dillon?  That was disappointing.  Worse yet, this book was set in the South so the new narrator, Becky Ann Baker, had a whole lot of Southern to speak to us, which I don’t care for in an audio book.

So there were already two strikes against this.  And then it turned out that the story has literally nothing to do with Ember at all.  Well, that’s not strictly true, but it is set in America (at an unspecified future date) where global stresses are tense, but in which life goes on.

Set with a backdrop of global war, the United States is up against the “Phalanx Nations,” and unless changes are made, war seems imminent.

Into this we see Nicole (Nickie) Randolph, an eleven-year-old girl visiting Yonwood, NC, with her aunt Crystal.  Nickie’s grandfather recently died and Nickie’s mother and aunt want to sell the property, called Greenhaven, and be out of Yonwood.  For reasons either unclear or which I don’t remember, Nickie is travelling with her aunt and not her mother, which is a little odd, but whatever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RARE ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #636 (July 19, 2017).

I have learned of go-go music exclusively from Tiny Desk Concerts:

Dominated by drive and momentum, heavy on percussion and bass, go-go music is all about the beat. Live, “songs” can continue on for half an hour, as the percussion continues to simmer and punctuate between and across different pieces. “That’s why we call it go-go, because it goes on and goes on and goes on,” as guitarist Andre Johnson put it in a documentary film.

This visit by Rare Essence perfectly encapsulated the genre’s incomparable meld of soul, R&B and, most importantly, funk (with a dash of Afro-Cuban influence).

So that’s go-go.  What about this band?

Rare Essence emerged not long after go-go itself did, beginning as a group in 1976 in Washington D.C. Ever since the group has kept a steady schedule playing around town and around the world.

The band plays seven–SEVEN–songs in sixteen minutes.  Many of them are just riffs that go on for a minute or so like “Down for My Niggas.”  Whereas “Rock This Party” is a bit more of a call and response piece–with some good congas.  “Freaky Deak” is pretty much a riff or two before they start talking to the audience.

They thank Suraya for arranging the show and there’s a lot of shouts outs and hand waving.  And then they start with one of their favorites, “One on One.”

All of the songs more or less flow into each other as one long jam.  There are multiple lead singers and everyone participates in the responses.

After a spell of their name (R-A-R, Double E, S-S-E-N, C-E) the lead guitarist sings lead on “Bad Bad” (he’s the oldest looking guy but he still has the power in his voice).

As they segue into “Lock It,” We apologize we could play this song for ever but I know everyone got to go back to work.  We’re gonna play the short version  We could play this for at least an hour.  They keys plays a nice Cuban sounding melody–almost like xylophones.

“After three minutes, he says this ant even the first part of the song–we still got about fifty more minutes.” Then they segue into “Overnight Scenario” which everyone sings along t o.

Anthony Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson (guitar, vocals); James “Funk” Thomas (vocals); Charles “Shorty Corleone” Garris (vocals); Leroy “RB” Battle, Jr. (keyboards); Calvin “Killer Cal” Henry (vocals); Michael Baker (bass); Kenneth “Quick” Gross (drums); Samuel “Smoke” Dews (congas); Kym Clarke (trumpet); Derryle Valentine (sax, flute)

[READ: July 23, 2017] “Bonebreaker”

I find Nell Zink’s stories to be weird but compelling.  She writes about strange things in unusual ways.  The people are often peculiar but compelling.

But this story was especially odd to me because the two characters seem really stupid

Both Jed and Laurie are fleeing the States.  As the story begins they go to the airport with a lot of cash.  But they knew that the TSA would be suspicious of that.  So when they see the “money sniffing” dogs, they know the TSA is on to them.  They leave their stuff at the airport and return home–which puts them on the no-fly list.

After a few more aborted attempts, they decide to take a barge–a real refugee situation. Not only do they not get where they are going, they lose a lot of money and are mostly miserable.

Why are they fleeing? (more…)

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