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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  LEIKELI47-Tiny Desk Concert #831 (March 11, 2019).

Leikeli47 made such an impression with her recent Tiny Desk Concert that NPR asked her to be part of the Tiny Desk Family Hour as SXSW.  From this Tiny Desk Concert it’s almost enough to see why.

I say almost because I don’t think the live show translated as well on video:

Remember that scene in The Color Purple when Shug Avery was somewhere between the juke joint and her daddy’s church, singing at the top of her lungs, and the Saturday night sinners got all mixed in with the Sunday morning saints, and it was hard to tell if they were praising the high heavens or raising holy hell?  That’s what Leikeli47’s Tiny Desk felt like in the flesh.

The blurb gives a little bit more explanation of the mask

She came masked up, as always, the better to catch a glimpse of her soul. And there was so much soul to bare. Backed by a four-piece band of bruhs dressed as uniformed TSA agents (introduced as “the TSA Band, taking flight with me”), Leikeli47 and her working-class crew proceeded to transform Bob Boilen’s Tiny Desk into something akin to a pulpit or a mid-century parlor room. Portier sat hunched over the upright piano, while Justus West plucked guitar strings, Simba Scott tapped out bass lines and Timmy Manson Jr. kept everything in sync on drums.

They played five songs and apparently

traversed the entirety of black music, translating her hip-hop and afro-electro empowerment anthems to live instruments by jazzing up songs like “Attitude,” from her 2017 Wash & Set major-label debut, and laying down the vamps on “Girl Blunt” from her 2018 LP Acrylic. It wasn’t genre-bending as much as it was a musical remembering of the blues that brought her here — from the hoods of Brooklyn to down-south Virginia and everywhere else she’s called home.

“Attitude” has a very cool bass line and a nice jazzy sound from everyone.  I like her delivery although I don’t need the “bitch I got an attitude” line or the “let me hear you say Kelis is god so is Beyonce.”  That’s just weird.

“Droppin'” is slower and I like her delivery on this one.  “Ciaa” is very mellow–a short song about gangs guns and cocaine.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned (Portier’s Vibe)”  is sung by Portier–a bluesy song after which Leikeli47 asks if they want to get high with her.  Presumably through a “Girl Blunt.”   It’s catchy and I like it but the chorus is so repetitive: “This shit is a girl blunt I only smoke girl blunts.”  But the music is great.   She ends the show, like in the Family Hour with “Money.” It’s a bit more fun here, but again, the lyrics are so blah.

Nevertheless, I agree with the blurb:

In an era when women are no longer the anomaly but rap’s new standard bearers, Leikeli47 deserves all the praise for pushing the genre forward with both feet steeped firmly in tradition.

[READ: March 23, 2019] “The Indirect World”

I feel like back in college, Clarice Lispector was someone I needed to read.  I didn’t, but I couldn’t forget her name.  Now I’ve read a few things by her and I find that I don’t like her style at all.

This was translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz.

The story starts with a little introduction in which Mateus, on his final business trip, brought his wife to a rented a house on the island.  We never hear about him again (although this is from the novel, The Besieged City, so I’m sure he reappears).  She was still unhappy.

She decided to go for a walk where she ran into Doctor Lucas. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-“The Long Way Home,” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

I have recently been re-listening to The Civil Wars and re-remembered how great John Paul White is.  He’s playing near me in a few weeks, but I can’t go see him.  I do hope he comes back.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He’s performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour.  The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He’s got a voice made for high ceilings.

White is up on stage with just his guitar and his voice.  He plays a song that is about his love/hate relationship about the music business.

White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: “I want to do a song for you now that I’m really happy to say makes my kids cry.  It’s not easy. My kids are hard. I immediately felt guilty but knew I was going to record it for the next record. But “The Long Way Home” taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.

It’s a bouncy minor key song and you know it’s going to be a gut-wrencher.  The chorus: “I ain’t leaving, I’m just taking the long way home to you.”

Yikes, if all of White’s songs are as emotionally charged as this, maybe I don’t want to see him in person.  But his voice sounds fantastic.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “Sweet”

This was one-page and thoroughly confusing.

It begins: “Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mike Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly.”

Then we get small sections about Speen.

Speen can tell that a woman is cruel. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary AB (November 16, 1996).

This is the 7th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.  These are the only recordings of “Queer,” “Soul Glue” and “Introducing Happiness” from the tour.

The opening music tonight is “Good Times” by Chic.  Which seems odd.  After a quick “hello,” Martin begins playing “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.”  The sound quality of this recording is excellent (as the others are) and this version is pretty outstanding.

Dave says “We’re very nervous.  This is very big place.  We’re very purple.  We’ll do 8 songs tonight and then the Tragically Hip will play.  We’re playing across the country with them and eating all their doughnuts.

“Bad Time to Be Poor” is dedicated to Gord.  It’s another Tim two-fer with “Introducing Happiness” which is “for my cats.”

Up next, Dave introduces “a song about being gay and playing hockey.”  “Queer” sounds great and the band is really into it.  It’s followed by a bouncy and fun “Soul Glue” (three from Tim!) with a grooving solo from Martin.  “Soul Glue is such an underrated gem.  I love the way the middle section is chaotic with the three singers singing different parts and then it segues into the great harmonies of the final “ooooh” section.

Dave jokes: “Hey, Martin, if you’re gonna play stadiums you need to know how to flick the pick.”  Then Dave gives a big shout out to Recordland on 9th: “the greatest record store in the celestial universe.”  And it’s still in business in 2019!

The guys don’t banter too much as openers, but they have this exchange about the people down front:

DB: They’re having too much fun.
MT: Is there such a thing?
DB: Yes as you know first hand.
DB: Does everyone wanna party?  [crowd roars] I was afraid you’d say that.
MT: Well, this song is a real downer.

It’s “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” which sounds great with some really interesting chaotic parts in the middle–Martin seems to be either having fun or going a little crazy with the sounds and soaring vocals and lots of growled “rich”s.

Feed Yourself starts out really weird (a missing guitar maybe).  After a verse or so it sounds fuller.  The middle has no crazy chanting, but when the middle slow part end, it roars back.  It segues instantly into “California Dreamlike.”  When he sings “disillusioned porpoise,” the guitar sounds kind of dolphin-y.  The crowd is totally into them by this point.

They end the show with “RDA.”  Martin seems to start it twice then re-tunes and the blast through it properly.

Although a long rambling Rheostatics show is a thing of beauty, these short sets are pretty spectacular–like a great short story.

[READ: February 21, 2019] Quirk’s Quest 2

I had the exact same reaction from book one as I did for this book.  About Book One I said:

This story threw out so much disconnect for me that I never really determined if I liked it.

The artwork is adorable–the characters look like Fraggle Rock creatures–soft and furry with big round ping pong ball eyes.  Even the bad guys (much taller with four eyes) don’t look all that fierce.

And yet.

In the first 30 pages, these monsters kill and eat some of the cute Fraggle Rock creatures. What?!

This book looks ostensibly like a children’s book.  It is really cute.  But the diary entries of the Captain are written in a cursive that even I had a hard time reading (particularly because the captain’s named is Quenterindy Quirk and he is sailing on the H.M.S. Gwaniimander (hard enough to read that, imagine trying to figure it out in cursive!).

The cursive is still there (they name a river “Mabooglaqui” in cursive), and while there’s less death in the beginning of book two, there is a fairly astonishing scene where a creature eats smalls creatures and is then blown to bits (somehow adorably). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Live from Gizzfest (December 1, 2018).

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are such a big deal in their native Australia, that they have created their own festival called, naturally, Gizzfest.  It began in 2015 as a touring festival with a dozen or so bands.  2018’s festival was only one day (in Melbourne) and some kind soul recorded it and posted the KGATLW set online.

The set lasted for about an hour and 40 minutes and touched on nearly every release.  It even included a few never before played live tracks from Eyes Like the Sky!

The recording quality isn’t great and you can hear a lot of people talking through the set.  It sounds like it might be pretty far away from the speakers as well.  Having said that, the music isn’t hard to hear (it’s not like it was recorded at a low level) it’s just not very clean.  Having said THAT, it’s not like KGATLW are an especially clean band, since they are often shrouded in fuzz, echo, distortion and more.

The songs are not chronologically played.  In fact, they start right in the middle with I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.  They play the first two tracks, “I’m in Your Mind” and “I’m Not in Your Mind” seamlessly together, including the nifty solos throughout “Not.”

But they do not play the third song (which segues on the album).  Rather, they jump right to Murder of the Universe with “The Balrog.”  It’s an intense start to the show and after a little breather they play the far slower and very delightful “Stressin'” from Oddments.  Unfortunately, the recording is very quiet and more muddy for this song.  Not sure what happened there.

But things get much louder very quickly, as they jump to their then newest album Gumboot Soup.  They play only one song from the record, the totally rocking “The Great Chain of Being.”  To much celebration, they jump into Polygonswannaland’s “Crumbling Castle.”  All the elements are there and they sound great playing it (even if the audio quality isn’t great).  The song segues perfectly into the album’s final track, “The Fourth Colour.”

After all of that rocking, they slow things down but stick with Polygondwannaland with the groovy “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” which segues into the middle section of that albums’s “Castle in the Air.”

Ambrose gets to the mic to say they’re gonna to do some silly stuff now.

“Dead-Beat” goes all the way back to their first EP, Willoughby’s Beach.  The really dumb lyrics “pull my finger and punch my face” are so much clearer here than on the album.  I wish I could hear if people are singing along.  Then they play a track from their first album 12 Bar Bruise “Cut Throat Boogie.”  This one is sung by Ambrose and features lots of his wailing harmonica.  Ambrose gets another lead vocal on another old-school one, Float Along–Fill Your Lung‘s “Let Me Mend the Past.”  It’s a respite of slower rock n roll with some nice piano accompaniment.

They play a surprising “Tezeta” from Mild High Club.  It’s slow and groovy with nice clear sound, although I can’t hear if there are any groovy backing vocals or not.

After these slower moments the band roars back with a wild “Rattlesnake” from Flying Microtonal Banana which whips the crowd into a sing-along frenzy.

And then they pause to introduce their special guest: Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s dad, Broderick Smith, writer and narrator of the Eyes Like the Sky album. Broderick does a great recitation and the band plays these rarely played Western songs perfectly: “Eyes Like the Sky,” “The Year of Our Lord” and “The Raid.”

They jump in with the opening to the jazzy wonderfulness of Quarters‘ “The River,” but they only play about 3 minutes of it, because as the band is quieting down during the slow bit (down down down) with the falsetto “a river” backing vocals, Stu starts singing the lyrics to “Wah Wah.”  For a few beats, the “a river” backing vocals continue, which is pretty cool.  “Wah Wah” rips louder and louder and as the song starts feedbacking out, the super fast drums of “Road Train” begin.  For this is the Nonagon Infinity portion of the show.    “Road Train” is the last song on Nonagon infinity so its fun that they do some nonagon infinity chants and then continue with “Robot Stop,” the first song of the infinite loop album.   It’s full of that spiraling guitar and wild harmonica solos.  But rather than seguing into the next song on the record they jump to the super catchy “Gamma Knife.”

The concert more or less ends with “Some Context,” the 46 second riff that’s a transitional piece on Murder.  That’s how they ended the show when I saw them.  It’s a great riff, too.  But they weren’t quite ready to end the show.

After some quiet, they began their 16 minute epic “Head On/Pill”  This version is certainly slower than the record, but it is still trippy.  It’s still got those soaring riffs and chanted vocals.  Things quiet down to almost a whisper around three minutes in, but by 4 minutes, the whole band kicks in for a truly rocking jam.  After nine minutes, they start a medley that begins with a rather quiet “Alter Me” which is more of a jam than the song.  Some more jamming leads to the opening of “Am I in Heaven?”  They end more or less with “Cellophane” which everyone can chant along to.

It’s basically a career spanning set in which they play songs from all of their fourteen releases (in FIVE YEARS), except for their folky Paper Mâché Dream Balloon.

Although the sound quality isn’t great, this is a fantastic show in front of a very happy hometown crowd.  When I saw them back in 2018 they focused primarily on the five albums they had released the year before with six songs from Murder of the Universe, 4 from Polygondwannaland, and 3 each  from Gumboot Soup and Flying Microtonal Banana.  I love that they can play such diverse sets–playing new songs for people who haven’t heard any of them and then playing a whole career’s worth for the locals.

How their sets can stay under two hours when they have that much music is still a mystery.  And yet no one leaves disappointed.

[READ: March 1, 2019] Spill Zone 2

I enjoyed Book 1 but I really didn’t like this part.  For some reason I thought this book had at least three parts.  But it seems that it has ended with book two which makes it all the more disappointing.

I didn’t even find the art to be evocative or charming.  It just felt kind of ugly an over the top.

As the book opens Addison goes to her art dealer and gets a million dollars. Of course she went to the buyer directly, cutting out the sketchy middleman.  And he is not happy about that, so he goes to the North Koreans with some information about Addison and her pictures.  Of course they have no time for bit players like him.

Meanwhile back in North Korea, Don Jae had entered the Spill Zone there and was having visions about the one in America.  He knew he had to go there.  He winds up visting the art buyer.  He gives her some of the radioactive dust so she can truly see what’s going on in the pictures she’s buying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK SABBATH-“Neon Knights” (1980).

There was no way I could read this book about Plasma Knights, Oxygen Knights and, yes, Neon Knights, and not think of this song.

This was the lead off track to the first Black Sabbath album in which Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne.   It is a great song and a huge testament to Dio’s ability to revive a flagging band.

It’s really catchy, too.  Geezer Butler’s thumping bass riff opens before Tony Iommi’s chords add a nice rhythmic juxtaposition.  And with Dio’s voice you can hear that Black Sabbath sounds rejuvenated.

Dio’s crooning goes really well with the fast chords and propulsive beat.

This is a great song from a great album.  Although it’s hard to say that the Dio era of Black Sabbath was better than the Ozzy years, the two Dio albums are really fantastic.

[READ: February 27, 2019] Chasma Knights

Although this book was satisfying in the end, I thought it was kind of weirdly unsatisfying overall.

Perhaps it’s because there no real context to the story aside from a rhymed poem that introduces it.  It tells us that if you catalyze toys your powers grow.  And everyone loves to do it except Neon Knights, because they can’t catalyze anything–they don’t have the power.  Aside from that there is no explanation of the setting or the people or anything.

Weird huh? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Paper Mâché Dream Balloon (2015).

After the imposed restrictions of Quarters (four songs each 10:10 long), Paper Mâché Dream Balloon goes for a change.  Actually, it goes for a lot of changes.

For this is an acoustic folk album.  It retains all of the psychedelia of their recent records but it removes the heaviness and harshness of those albums and focuses on the mellow.  The twelve songs are also quite short.  Only three songs are over three minutes.  There’s flutes and sitar (which actually isn’t that unusual for KGATLW).  And most of the lyrics are understandable (if not comprehensible).

“Sense” opens with strummed acoustic guitars and a melody from a saxophone or clarinet or both.  “Bones” has a lovely simple guitar riff (so catchy) and more flutes than you can shake a stick with holes at.  It’s immediately catchy and delightful.  “Dirt” ups the power some with slightly louder drums, but it is still fueled by flutes and gentle vocals.  “Paper Mâché Dream Balloon” maintains the high quality, pretty songwriting with a lovely flute melody and a much more uptempo (but somehow even poppier) chorus.

“Trapdoor” changes thinks pretty dramatically for this album.  There’s still a lead flute, but the melody has become kind of intense and minor key and the chanted “Trapdoor” chorus is reminiscent of earlier KGATLW freakout choruses.  But while the song stays restrained, it is still the loudest thing to be found here.  “Cold Cadaver” returns to that flute-y happiness (despite the title) and even features a cheerful “whooo” or two.  I love how the song stops and a very martial drum beat starts but the song never goes off the rails, it just follows along like before.

“The Bitter Boogie” is the longest song in the disc.  Although it initially seems as short as the others because it almost stops half way through.  But it slows down and then begins a new, pretty guitar melody and then a new vocalist comes in and continues the song.

“NGRI (Bloodstain) opens with a fast piano note (very rock-n-roll sounding) and some wailing harmonica.  But it’s all very friendly (until you start listening to the lyrics–no idea what NGRI stands for though (not guilty for reasons of insanity?) but the chanted “bloodstain” is a bit disconcerting.  There’s some wild drumming and a little sitar at the end, but it seems to serve more as a segue to the next song.  “Time = Fate” is a delightfully poppy ditty that seems to be related to “Time = $$$” although musically it doesn’t have any connection (aside from being a delightfully poppy ditty).

“Most of What I Like” is a sweet ballad (although the drums feel particularly distorted (and split between the two headphones) which leads to the final song. “Paper Mâché” is an instrumental which ends the album with a delightful flute melody and acoustic guitars.  It runs for about 2 minutes and is then followed by an incredibly speeded up something (the whole album backwards?) going faster and faster until it explodes.

It’s frankly amazing how many musical ideas this band has.  And the fact that they can pull of so many styles so well is a testament to their songwriting.

[READ: January 19, 2016] “Fox”

This is a story where animals are personified, but in which they also live in the “real” world, apparently.

The foxes are the adjudicators of the world.  The aunts run the den.  They sit upright, tails curled around their feet.  They are pretty animals and they enjoy being pretty.

Aunt Rob spoke the most.  She explained that all animals differ in their violent tendencies:  “The lions are racist, nervy.  They think everything south of Paris is Arab,  everything east of Poland is Chinese.” (more…)

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