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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE MYNABIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #668 (November 10, 2017).

I thought the name The Mynabirds sounded familiar.  Turns out they performed Tiny Desk Concert #64 (by my count).

Bob Boilen says he

first met Laura Burhenn ten years ago for a songwriting project she did with John Davis, her then bandmate in the duo Georgie James, here at NPR called Project Song. [which I plan to write about at some point].  Her current band, The Mynabirds, are Tiny Desk alum, Laura having played her first Tiny Desk Concert in the spring of 2010.  I’m not one to repeat artists at the Tiny Desk. I’m more into discovering and challenging new bands to play in this intimate and awkward setting. But this project was so different and Laura had ideas about how to make it even more special from what she’d done back in 2010, so I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a tough year … the elections and subsequent inauguration, which were devastating to many. But what transpired next for anyone dismayed by those events was inspiring: The Women’s March united many who were in despair, while giving purpose and focus to what for them was an unthinkable outcome in the election of Donald Trump.

Then came the songs – nine new ones Laura Burhenn wrote with Patrick Damphier, inspired by the many marches around the country, listening to the news, seeing social media, talking to friends and taking it all in. The result is The Mynabirds’ politically charged 2017 album Be Here Now.

The band sings four songs.  “Golden Age” features Laura on keys with a backing band of cello (Alexia Kauffman), guitar (Emily Moore) and bass guitar (Damphier). This song is full of lamentations and her husky voice works quite well with it.  She speaks of dead musicians, and political horrors.  The solo in the middle is interesting for it being deliberately jarring and somewhat out of tune.  Lyrically the song is pretty outstanding

Tell me, where are our heroes
Are they stuck at the wall?
Cause we got some real villains to stop
Before they kill us all

I see what you’re doing
With the Jews and the Muslims
You’re sawing us all
In half with your fake fear

My heart’s full of love
And all kinds of peace
But I think even
I 
Could punch a Nazi 
In the face

I just wish the song was more angry than sad.

For second song, “Shouting At The Dark” The People’s Choir come in.  The song rocks more with a great swinging bassline and some interesting muffled chugging guitar.  The choir really fills out the song and it sounds great.

I love the melody of the chorus which is once again, not entirely pretty–slightly haunting, except that they sound beautiful.  Adriana-Lucia Cotes is hitting these slightly dissonant notes that really standout in an interesting way.

Before the third song, “Hold On,” Laura talks about the choir, songwriting and the Muslim travel ban:

While recording this album, a travel ban was issued affecting six Muslim-majority countries. She wrote a song for refugees inspired by the ban and got in touch with friends back in Omaha at the Refugee Empowerment Center. It is there she learned of the Umoja Choir whose members include resettled refugees from The Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and they ended up singing on her record. Laura also started a GoFundMe campaign for them to record their songs. Now some of those choir members Diendonne Manirakiza and Eric Esron (refugees from Burundi) have come to the Tiny Desk for a powerful set of songs. They’re joined by Michael Boggs, another Tiny Desk alum: Jessica Lea Mayfield. It’s an inspired project that I’m excited to share.

“Hold On” is “about having a heart.”  It’s a slower song with acoustic guitar and prominent cello.  The choir sounds like a “real” choir instead of backing vocalists on this uplifting song.

“Wild Hearts” opens with a cool echoed electric guitar.  For this song the choir works as powerful backing vocalists on this even more uplifting song.

[READ: May 20, 2017] Pretty Deadly 2

I didn’t really like the first book of this series.  And I didn’t like this book much either.  So I am officially giving up.

This book continues with the exposition by butterfly and dead rabbit.  An old woman, Sarah, is dying.  During the night she is visited by a ghost–of the man with slashes across his eyes, Fox (I can’t recall their relationship). Granddaughter Clara walks in and see the ghost.  Clara’s mother comes in and sees the ghost too.  And after some ugly words they ask if they can keep Sarah from dying until her son gets back to see her one last time–he is off fighting in a war somewhere. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk Concert #667 (November 8, 2017).

Back in the day, I really liked Ani DiFranco.  I saw here live a few times.  I loved her whole indie thing (all her music on her own label) and her politics.  Plus her songs were interesting and catchy.  And then, some time around 2000 I lost interest in her music.

I didn’t really like the new jazzy/funky/extended sound that she was playing with.

This Concert has two newish songs and one old song (it’s great to hear the old song again).

For her Tiny Desk debut, DiFranco brought a hell of a backing band, with drummer Terence Higgins and singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman joined by none other than Ivan Neville on keyboards.

I felt that her song writing style didn’t really lend itself to jazzy funky style. And I still feel that way.  The blurb notes that the band lends a slithery underpinning of funk to three songs that stretch across much of DiFranco’s career.  And Opening with “Dithering,” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, that is true.  But one of the things I loved about her music was her excellent guitar playing.  And on “Dithering,” all of the action of the song comes from the funky keys (and it’s a great groovy funky song), but I find that he singing style doesn’t quite work with the music.  Her voice still sounds terrific, though and Scheinman’s backing vocals are terrific.

Even if I still don’t love her new songs, I’m glad she’s still doing her own thing:

But she’s also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.   DiFranco introduces “Play God” (from this year’s Binary) with a monologue about reproductive rights and gender relations.

And it’s fantastic–pointed and thoughtful with just enough edge.  Musically, the song brings back some of her fingerpicking style and I do like Neville’s funky keys.  In fact the funkiness of this song feels natural.  And lyrically it’s great too.

She and her band close with 1998’s “Swan Dive,” which she calls “an early attempt at a happy song.”  I get a kick out of how she gets another guitar change and says “I never play a guitar twice.”  This song showcase what I loved (and love) about her songs–a complex and interesting guitar/rhythmic/percussive pattern that she does by herself.  The additional musicians add more fill, which sounds nice–the gentle keys and the slow violin (which also makes some great noisy sounds) as well as the way the drums kick in for the chorus.  It all works great.

It’s been about fifteen years since I really listened to her and I’m glad she’s still rocking to her own beat.

[READ: May 1, 2017] Pretty Deadly 1

I love Kelly DeConnick’s work with the Marvel Universe.  So I was pretty excited to read this story which is her own creation.

When I went to log this book on Goodreads, it said that this book marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher.  And I found that uncanny because as I was reading it I thought that the style of elliptical writing and even the placement of the text boxes in relation to the pictures was very much like Sandman. But the brutality of the art and the setting reminded me of Preacher. Clearly I was onto something.

I loved Sandman. I liked Preacher (never actually finished it, though), and I fear that this book is more Preacher than Sandman for me.

It begins very confusingly with a butterfly talking to a dead rabbit.  They are telling each other stories and they tell the story of when they met (which appears to be when the rabbit was shot and killed). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS-Tiny Desk Concert #663 (October 30, 2017).

This Tiny Desk starts out with The Roots walking into the area, sousaphone playing a fun riff and everyone clapping.  Questlove takes his seat behind the drums.

He introduces: This is Jeff Bradshaw and Brass Heaven.  Let’s get into it.”  They play a great big dancing brass melody singing “Just give me some more.”   There’s a fun trombone solo which starts with him playing a really long note and bending it and then just going to town.  It’s very James Brownish and utterly belies the intensity of the next song.

After 3 minutes they switch tempo completely and Bilal and Black Thought come out.  They play “It Ain’t Fair,” a thoughtful, powerful piece that I absolutely love.  I was unfamiliar with Bilal before this and his delivery is just fantastic.

He sings with a classic 70s style of raspy intensity.  There’s a great chorus: “the well is running dry / racial tensions running high / under 21 is far too young to die.”

The song builds up somewhat and then Black Thought raps a harsh counterpoint.

Justice is never color blind, never gun shy
For one crime, you may never see the sun shine
We know of one times, giving you the finger
’round hearing me, fuck you, it’s not the number one sign

then its back to Bilal

Some people say, “Let Jesus take the wheel”
Others say, “Thou shall not kill”
But that old time religion ain’t gon’ pay my bills

At the four-minute mark the whole band just goes nuts playing a cacophony of sound and then stopping silent at Questlove’s direction.

When they start Bilal absolutely wails the final verse.  It is utterly fantastic (and I think better than the performance on Fallon with the full orchestra).

Armed with the incredible vocalist Bilal, The Roots performed the signature track from Detroit, a film about the race riots in 1967. “It Ain’t Fair” glares unflinchingly, takes a knee and raises a fist against the societal construct that has systematically denied equality of experience to those “presumed inferior,” to quote one of Bilal’s verses. And it achieves all this while covering its heart with its right hand. This reflective hymn tenderly yanks your heart strings and offers a window into the ethos of those who would like to stand for the flag but cannot in good principle, lest these same evils continue to exist.

Those lucky enough to be in the Tiny Desk audience witnessed masters at work. Black Thought is truly one of the most intelligent emcees ever, and his razor-sharp lyricism was on full display. Questlove, a musical and cultural historian nonpareil, was both a metronomical and moral anchor. It felt like the culmination of decades of academic rigor and boom-bap sessions, fittingly backed by a seven-piece horn section. Bilal’s falsetto-laced vocals and warm resonance evoked powerful messaging reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Don’t Worry,” delivered with the eccentricity of Prince.

The band: Curtis L. Jones Jr (Trombone), Arnetta Johnson (Trumpet), Hiruy E. Tirfe (Sax), Richard L. Tate II (Sax), Joseph Streater (Trumpet), Norman J. Bradshaw (Trombone), Damon Bryson (Sousaphone), Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson (Drums), Tarik (Black Thought) Trotter (Emcee), Bilal Oliver (Vocals)

[READ: April 19, 2017] Captain Marvel: Alis Volat Propriis

The previous book in the series was pretty goofy.  So I was pleased that this final book was a bit more intense.  The title is the motto of the state of Oregon (probably not why it was used).  It translates as “She flies with her own wings” (which probably is why it was chosen).

As the book opens, Lila and Carl transport to her ship.  But once again something is amiss.  Harrison is offline totally and there are aliens closing in.  It is only through some quick thinking they are able to escape them until they can flee.

When full power is restored, Carol and Harrison decide to find out where Tic and Chewie are.  The baddies have a head start, but they take a shortcut through “The Endless Envelope.”  Once they get in this pocket they realize that it is bigger on the inside than the outside and their shortcut will take five times as long to traverse.  They encounter enemy ships and a phenomenon called a Warp Bear.  There’s some good humor in this section in which Carol tries to communicate with Harrison the ship. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WYCLEF JEAN-Tiny Desk Concert #666 (November 6, 2017).

Wyclef Jean is a pretty exceptionally famous person.  And it is wonderful just how sweet and funny he is.

He starts his set with two highlights from his latest record, and finishes with a climactic rendition of his signature hit like you’ve never seen or heard.

The Tiny Desk Concert didn’t start out that inspiring me though.  For some reason he is reciting over and overt about bars on the bass.  No idea what that means.  He raps a brief biography that really kicks in when he sings:

“I flipped the language.  I called Trump started speaking Spanish (a Spanish verse).  Trump hung up the phone said I’m still not convinced.  I said you might be convinced when I sing in French.”  It’s all a lead in to the first song “Borrowed Time,” where he sings and plays lead bass.  Interestingly, he is playing a lead bass while Patrick Andriantsialonina also plays bass (throughout this song and each song).  It’s a gentle song, sweet and pretty.

When the song is over he removes his jacket:

I ain’t gonna front.  Everybody that’s watching this live right now knows when I was doing the rehearsal I did not have my jacket on.  I threw it on because I had to get my swagger.  Speaking of swagger, the blurb notes:

A seasoned pro, he walked through our doors greeting and charming anyone within arm’s reach. Once in front of an audience, he was in attack mode, playing every instrument in sight. Clef doled out stories ranging from his upbringing and rise with The Fugees to intimate musical encounters with Whitney Houston and Destiny’s Child. The mentions were properly placed and added substance to the performance, but to me, he pulled what I’d call a “subtle stunt.” Hip-hop is and has always been about youth and freshness, so most elder statesmen of rap aren’t celebrated to the degree of their peers in rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Every now and again it’s necessary to inform the younger generation, who would otherwise never know these epic moments ever happened.

He tells a funny story about his father wanting him to sing church music (he does a funny impersonation of his father “you got to serve gawd or the devil”).  He chose music and was kicked out of the house.  He moved in with his Uncle and that’s where they made The Score.  He’s been doing music since he was in his twenties.  He says people might say:

“Yo Clef is thug, but he kinda geeky.”  It’s the audio side.

He tells a story being 20-something (being a cocky 24-year-old) and making a beat for Destiny’s Child and Beyonce.  And then a hilarious story about Whitney singing flat.  As a producer I think Whitney hit a flat note.  “Oh my god, Wyclef Jean has to tell Ms. Whitney Houston that the note is flat.  As a producer we’re like astronauts we have obligations.” [laughter].  He continues in a whiny voice: “I don’t know if this rocket is gonna fly.”  He continues: “‘Whitney, the note is flat.”  Dead silence.  She goes, ‘Baby, the note is not flat, I just bent the note.’  And that’s the highest level of diva I’ve ever seen in my life.”  But she was right,  she took the note out of pitch and brought it back.”

He plays the keyboards on “Turn Me Good” with vocals from his niece Jazzy Amra.  When he introduces her, she comes and a guy follows to adjust the mic.  As he does, Wyclef comes out to “steady” the guy, it’s quite funny.  Wyclef sings the main chorus: “What we gonna do when we get to Zion?  We gonna make love all night like a Marvin Gaye song.”  {That’s an odd song to duet with your niece].  She has a pretty voice but I don’t like her delivery.

When the song is over he says, “I’m swearing like a monkey, dog, but don’t edit the footage, coz I got to show the kids how the work go.”  He asks for a towel “Is this like a Tiny Desk Towel exclusive?”

Introducing “Gone Till November” he says to his bassist, “Ask me the coolest thing about ‘Gone to November.'”  Patrick asks him and her replies, “Well Patrick, the coolest thing… I did this song because it’s about making runs about selling drugs….  I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan so the lyrics be having triple entendres not just double entendres.  I wanted Bob Dylan to be in the video.  Haters they be shouting ‘Bob Dylan will never show up for your video he doesn’t even show up for his own son’s video.’  But Dylan showed up.  So Mr Dylan if you’re watching we’re going do a rad version of for you coz you’re so cool man.”

Wyclef picks up the guitar.  After a buzzy guitar solo, the song settles down to some pretty chords and Wyclef singing.  This is apparently his big hit, but I don;t know it.  After a few verses and choruses, he slows it down: I got to talk to some of these kids, I’m 20 years older than most of them.  He does a slow rap followed by a really fast verse.  Manny Laine on drums does a great job so slowing down the beat and then bringing it back up during Wyclef’s (really long) solo.  It has a very Hendrix feel.  After playing for a minute or so, he puts the guitar behind his back and plays fairly well.  Then he plays with his teeth.  And finally picks up an NPR mug and uses it as a slide.  It’s all in good fun and the crowd eats it up.

It’s a really fun set, and Wyclef makes a great impression.

[READ: April 19, 2017] Captain Marvel: Stay Fly

I mentioned that Captain Marvel is confusing.  And even after I think I’ve straightened it out it’s still confusing.

This series is Volume VIII.  It contains 3 books: Captain Marvel, Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More; Captain Marvel, Volume 2: Stay Fly; Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Alis Volat Propriis.

Prior to this, DeConnick wrote another Captain Marvel series Volume VII.  No idea why they are different volumes.  But there are also three books in this series Captain Marvel, Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight; Captain Marvel, Volume 2: Down; Captain Marvel, Volume 3: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps and, according to Goodreads at least, included in Volume VII is Avengers: The Enemy Within which seems to come before Carol Corp.  For some reason, very few libraries seem to carry this particularly series.

And then, just to throw more confusion into the works, there is a new series (the Captain’s logo looks different and it is not written by DeConnick) called Captain Marvel 2016.  There are five books in it with two being out so far: Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Rise of Alpha Flight and Captain Marvel, Vol. 2: Civil War II.

Phew.

So, with all that background, it took me two years to track down Book 2 in the Volume VIII saga.  And I was really surprised at how silly it was.  Not necessarily in a good way, either.  I mean, sure I love the Marvel humor and I love that they play around with some interesting ideas, but I feel like Carol Danvers is a pretty great hero and she is spoken of in very high regard.  So why then does this book prominently feature cats, rats, rock stars and Santa Claus?  It seems to really play down her mad skills.

I was also a little put off by the artwork.  I really don’t care for Marcio Takara’s style in the first few chapters.  In part because it looks so very different from the cover art and Lopez’ art. I actually had a hard time following what was going on (which may have been the two-year gap, but I don’t think so). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-“The Chinese Water Torture” (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10, 31, 2014).

In honor of Halloween, these Ghost Box stories will be attached to a recent Phish Halloween show [with quoted material from various reviews]. 

Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate [Halloween], Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music.  The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.  But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC.  At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground.  Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. 

“The Chinese Water Torture” was scored with an upbeat groove that almost seemed like a mix of “Cars Trucks Buses” and “Axel F.” There was a familiarity to all the progessions Phish debuted in the Haunted House, but this was Phish drawing on their influences and own music to create something completely new and original. “The Chinese Water Torture” also contained a potent jam filled with bombastic leads from Trey.

There’s a cool key board melody while Trey is doing so solo bends.   And then he starts taking off on his solos.  There’s a wailing solo by the end with some great drums from Fish.  I like that the drop from the record is sampled throughout.

And I guess we’ll just leave out that this is all pretty racist.

[READ: October 16, 2017] “Opening the Door

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, on the inside cover, one “window” of the 11 boxes is “folded.”  I am taking that as a suggested order.

I’m intrigued that older stories seemed to want a kind of narrative device to tell stories like this.  Whether it was the radio station in “The Night Wire” or the way “The Clock” was told in response to another person’s story, there’s seems to be a need to frame these stories. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKPHISH-“The Unsafe Bridge” (MGM Grand Garden Arena, Friday 10, 31, 2014).

In honor of Halloween, these Ghost Box stories will be attached to a recent Phish Halloween show [with quoted material from various reviews]. 

Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate [Halloween], Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music.  The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.  But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC.  At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground.  Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. 

“The Unsafe Bridge” was Phish’s version of a Spaghetti Western soundtrack with elements of Genesis and The Beatles worked in. While the band played these songs, lasers and other effects not usually seen at a Phish show were added to the insane spectacle.

This song definitely a spaghetti western vibe from Mike and some appropriate piano from Page.  Trey plays some simple guitar melodies.  And then a pretty solo.

This piece is nicely catchy but also really short at only 3 minutes.  I could have listened to this one for longer.

[READ: October 16, 2017] “The Late Shift

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar comes The Ghost Box.

This is a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening) that contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

A collection of chilly, spooky, hair-raising-y stories to get you in that Hallowe’en spirit, edited and introduced by comedian and horror aficionado Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, on the inside cover, one “window” of the 11 boxes is “folded.”  I am taking that as a suggested order.

This story started in an amusing way–kids returning from a 2 AM screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stop at a convenience store to but some alcohol.  It’s Macklin and his friend Whitey (who is Native American–real name is White Feather).  At the store, the clerk is acting really weird, just repeating “Please, thank you, sorry” and seeming to be really out of it.

They recognize him as Juano, a guy they know from another store, but he seems to have really hit the skids as they say. (more…)

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