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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WESTERLIES-Tiny Desk Concert #575 (November 2, 2016).

The Westerlies call themselves “an accidental brass quartet,” (two trumpets and two trombones).  I don’t know if a brass quartet has a “standard make up,” but having only two instruments seems to make for an unexpected sound–one that feels more like a marching band than a swing or big band, but which is clearly not playing marching band music.  “Trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Zubin Hensler and trombonists Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch can blow hard — after all, this is a brass band — but the surprise comes in their soft tones and subtle phrasing.”

The band doesn’t only play standards either.  For this Tiny Desk, they play three originals:

Clausen provides two tunes, beginning with “New Berlin, New York,” which sports a snappy theme, standing out like a bright tie on a smart suit. A scurrying pattern of interlocking notes furnishes the underlying fabric.  [I really like the staccato trombone notes which are really fast and bouncy.  Mulherkar  gets a pretty cool solo in the middle of the piece, but it sounds best when the two trumpets play together.  And yet there is another moment later on where it’s just one trumpet and one trombone and it sounds very cool.  I love watching the trombone play all of those fast notes].

Hensler’s “Run On Down” evokes the calm beauty of Washington’s San Juan Islands, north of the band’s former home base. [I love that he can get a different sound out of his trumpet without seeming to do anything different in his playing style. The song opens with two lonely sounding trumpets.  Midway through Clausen plays a sound like a person talking or humming.  I didn’t know you could change the tone and sound of a trombone like that].

Clausen ‘s closing number, “Rue Des Rosiers,” conjures up the circus-like vibe of a Parisian street scene. A whimsical theme gradually coalesces from fragments and grows into a rollicking amusement. [He introduces the piece by saying it was “inspired by a crazy old man riding a tricycle down the street of Paris. It was a giant tricycle and was wearing a beautiful bejeweled vest and there were windmills and horns and was something straight out of the circus.”  And boy, does this ever evoke circus music with the opening bass notes and the screaming trumpet.  The song slows down before building up into a rollicking circus piece.  And when one trumpet and one trombone put a mute on the sound gets all the more wild.  The piece ends with a variation on the traditional circus music before concluding].

[READ: June 2, 2016] Copper

After enjoying Kabuishi’s Explorer series I saw this book by him.

Copper was his first “comic strip” creation.  The story follows a boy named Copper who is quiet adventuresome and his dog Fred who is practical–and tries to keep him out of trouble.

In the introduction, Kabuishi says that the first comic (called Rocket Pack Fantasy) reflected his inner life at the time.  This proved to be his first published comic.  It was pretty dark (and black and white).  In that first one, he imagines wearing a rocket pack and then dropping bombs on a city.

But after a few more strips, Copper became more optimistic and Fred was there to question that optimism.  Kabuishi also added color. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NICK HAKIM-“The Want” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 24, 2017).

It’s always interesting to hear someone with a big hairy beard sing in high falsetto, and that’s just what Hakim does here.

This song is very simple with twinkling synths and programmed beasts all underneath Hakim’s delicate voice.  The blurb introduces Hakim to those of us who don’t know him:

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW’s Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

“The Want” will appear on Hakim’s full-length debut, Green Twins, but for now, this solo version is only backed by Mellotron and the reverb’d rhythms of what sounds like a Casio preset. It’s soul music for outer-space, performed in a room that looks like outer-space.

This blurb makes this song sound a lot more trippy than it actually is.  To me, the only psychedelic bit is one harp line.  Otherwise it sounds like a very spare, echoing, simple song.  The end does add some interesting layers of sound, but maybe the recorded version is more trippy.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Good Neighbors: Kith

I didn’t really love book one in this series.  I enjoyed the premise, but found the execution flawed–both in the “script” and to an extent in the drawings–there a bunch of characters who all look vaguely similar.  But I did like it enough to want to read Book 2.

There’s a handy recap that catches us up.

Then we see Rue sad because of her sullen boyfriend who might be breaking up with her.  But he’s a dick anyhow as are most of the characters, frankly.

About 30 pages in something interesting happens when they discover a knife in a tree. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

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febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #595 (February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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