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Archive for the ‘Mad Magazine’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: HEM-Tiny Desk Concert #306 (September 28, 2013).

Hem is one of All Songs Considered‘s earliest discoveries. Back in 2002, we received a beautiful and unique album called Rabbit Songs. It was a homey, fireside kind of record, with a sound that could be called country or Americana, and the arrangements by Dan Messé made it feel quaint and warm. To top it off, there was singer Sally Ellyson, an untrained natural talent with an effortless yet breathtaking voice. Hem has gone on to make five more albums since Rabbit Songs; their latest, Departure and Farewell, finds the group still writing songs that feel as if they’ve always been there.

Bob is quite right about the feel of this band, the drums are actually foot stomping and piano tapping, and that makes the band sound like they are siting around cozy room with friends.   And then there’s her voice.  There’s nothing specific about it that stands out, and yet it really does.  Her voice feels incredibly warm and welcoming, making you want to stop and listen.  And perhaps it’s something about the recording which makes everything feel soft (but not muddy) and warm.

And even in the songs themselves, it feels like friends hanging out.  During “Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” they say “go George” as the intro to the bass solo and then “go Heather” for the violin solo.   “Tourniquet” has some great lyrics, between the alliteration at the beginning and the great metaphor of the song, I was so taken with the lyrics that I didn’t even realize how pretty the melody was:

Brooklyn, I’m broken — I’m breaking apart
Oh Brooklyn, your bridges are bound up in light —
Every artery’s clogged as you pull the belt tight —
And this tourniquet turns even tighter until
Traffic comes to a standstill

When the song suddenly takes off near the end (but only briefly) it really elevates the song which was already delightful.  Introducing the final song, “Seven Angels” she says they are excited to be there, playing in this format.  She says the song can be seen as a lullaby–she likes to sing it for her sister.  She says she doesn’t write the songs but she can pretend this one is hers.

It’s hard to imagine this band playing a venue much larger than this one–they seems right at home in a small space.

[READ: July 31, 2016] Stop Forgetting to Remember

This is a fascinating story about the comics artist Walter Kurtz.  I know very little about Peter Kuper, but I gather that this is sort of his life but written as an autobiography of somebody else.  (For instance, Kurtz was born on the same day as Kuper).

The back cover blurb also states how daring it was for Kurtz to write all of this –showing the embarrassing details, etc.: “My spouse would have killed me!”

This book is a collection of “stories” (not sure if they were ever published separately) that are joined by the narrative thread of Kurtz telling us about his life.  And the “occasion” for this reflection is the pending birth of his first child.  He is freaking out a bit–when he was young he never wanted kids, and then maybe he was cool with it, but recently he’s become terrified again.  He’s particularly afraid because he’s engaged with the world and he sees that as each month goes by, things get worse: AIDS, global warming, overpopulation, famine, wars (and that’s just 1996). (more…)

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1973SOUNDTRACK: LUCINDA WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #412 (December 20, 2014).

lucindaI set tiny, manageable goals for this blog.  They often change over the course of the year, but I like to see if I can complete them.  One such goal was to write about all of the Tiny Desk Concerts from 2014.  And here’s the final one.  (Another such goal is to write about the remainder of the 2016 shows, which is doable).  I also want to write about all of the rest of the First Second Graphic Novels (there’s about 20 of them left).  Insignificant goals that I find satisfying to complete.

I’ve never been a fan of Lucinda Williams.  Although, while I’d certainly heard of her, I obviously didn’t know any of her music. The blurb talks about her distinctive voice.  And it is certainly that.  About 20 years ago a sort of friend of mine saw her open for somebody else and she dismissed Williams as trying to sound like a different singer (wish I could remember who it was).  The irony that Williams has been around since the late 1970s was not lost on me.

But Williams has changed her style over the years.  She originally sang country and has morphed into more of a folk and now a blues style.  This Tiny Desk Concert focuses on her bluesy songs.  I know she’s something of a legend, but I found her demeanor through the whole show off-putting until the end, when she loosened up a bit.

She sings four songs.  “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is rocking blues song.  And I have to say I was pretty shocked by her voice–rough and raspy and sounding not a little hungover.  Her lead guitarist was really the start for me, effortlessly playing some great groovy licks.

For “Cold Day in Hell” (she laughs at saying the title) she straps on an acoustic guitar and then sings like Tom Waits.  That seems like a joke, but the structure of the verses is pure Tom Waits–I would have even suggested he wrote the song.

The third song is the more bluesy “Protection.”  There seems something so inauthentic about this song.  I just don’t believe her rendition of it–I don’t believe that she actually needs protection.  It’s really disconcerting.

She finally smiles after this song and says “Now I’m kinda getting used to this … I’m not a wake yet, that’s what the thing is.  She straps on her guitar and says this is based on the story of the West Memphis Three.  It’ my favorite song of the four–she seems to really get into it.

But all the same, I really don’t like her voice all that much–she’s got a weird drawl and sounds like there are some marbles in her mouth. It’s very strange.  I listened to a bit of a song from a live show from 1989 and her voice was quite pretty–deep, yes, but very pretty.  By 2007, her voice has changed–it’s deeper, with a pronounced drawl.  At a show in 2013, she sounded kind of pretty again.  So, I don’t know what to make of it.  I’ll have to just go back to not listening to her.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974

I really enjoyed this volume a lot.  There were a lot of really funny jokes and the characters are really nicely distributed by now.  I don’t want to say that Schulz hit his stride around this time, because he’s been pretty solid right from the start, but this book was easily my favorite so far.  Possibly because it contained so much of Marcie and Patty who have easily become my favorites.

The year starts off somewhat inauspiciously with the anticlimactic return of Poochie.  She shows up, realizes that Snoopy isn’t a cute puppy anymore and leaves.  Never to be seen again.

More interesting is that Linus decides that since Charlie has been their manager for so long and worked so hard that they ought to throw him a commemorative dinner. They plan it for a couple of weeks and when he finally hears about it, his smile is awesome.  They even get Joe Schlobotnick to agree to come. Of course, then Marcie starts saying that they’d all be hypocrites if they actually showed up and said nice things about him since he’s a terrible manager.  And so they cancel it at the last-minute–while Charlie is there. (more…)

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fableSOUNDTRACK: CALLmeKAT-Tiny Desk Concert #152 (August 29, 2011).

callmekatKatrine Ottosen is CALLmeKAT and she is from Copenhagen.  I’m unclear what her sound normally is–if it’s fuller than it is here–but for this show, it’s her on a couple of synths and a drummer.

I like the interesting synth sound she gets in the beginning of “Tigerhead,” but, despite the two synths, the whole song feels a little thin to me. Nevertheless, she hits some admirable high notes.

She wrote the second song, “Going Home” at Newark airport—she says always miserable there, it’s “so depressing” (no argument there).  She samples herself on a tiny keyboard (Bob asks her what she’s doing singing into the tiny Casio–this has to have been before everyone was looping everything).  The song is very pretty but feels very slight again–even more so because there is no percussion.

The third song, “Glass Walls” also has a sample of her voice–the sample is just an “ooooooh” note.  She says she wrote this one in the Copenhagen airport (which must be nicer than Newark)  This song is a bit more robust.

I liked her voice but the whole show I wanted a bit more oomph, which is not a typical reaction from a Tiny Desk where I know things are usually stripped down somewhat.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Fable Comics

Following up on First Second’s 2011 collection of Nursery Rhyme Comics, comes this new collection of Fable Comics, also edited by Chris Duffy.

Duffy says that for this collection they wanted to use mostly Aesop’s fables (because they are the most widely knows).  But the book also includes a sampling from other traditions.  He says that cartoonist were allowed to embellish the stories but we asked that the lesson remained.

And so there are 28 fables and the artists are pretty much a who’s who of contemporary comics.  I’ve broken down the Fables by their creators:

Aesop

The Fox and the Grapes-James Kochalka modernizes this a bit with a jet pack, which is hilarious.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse-Tom Gauld is back, and it’s great to see his work as he keeps the story fairly traditional

Hermes and the Man Who Was Bitten by an Ant ; Hermes and the Woodsman ; The Frogs Who Desired a King ; Hermes and the Sculptor. George O’Connor is responsible for the First Second Olympians series, so it’s no surprise that he tackles these stories about Hermes.  He remains faithful to the original and keeps up his very cool drawing style.

The Belly and the Body Members–Charise Harper has a wonderfully stylized look for this story about how the body parts need to work together or it can’t do anything.

Lion +Mouse–R. Sikoryak’s Mad Magazine style works very well for this familiar story about a mouse helping a lion (he has modified it somewhat of course).

Fox and Crow-Jennifer L. Meyer’s style is gorgeous.  This fable has a fantastic look to it with pale colors and circles of details.  I could look at it for hours.

The Old Man and Death–Eleanor Davis’s art is boxey and stark.  It works very well with this dark and Communist-looking story.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf–Jaime Hernandez.  I love when Hernandez does kids’ stoires because his characters are so perfectly cartoon and his colors are bright and fun.  His telling of this story is very good.

The Crow and the Pitcher–Simone Lia  I didn’t know this fable.  And I don’t really know how the beginning sets up the end. It shows crow as being very smart for others but the end has the crow being extremely smart for himself.   It’s a weird fable although it rings rather true.

The Dog and His Reflection–Graham Chafee does an awesome job of showing greed in others and leaving the dog’s story to be un-narrated.  He witnesses greed and acts accordingly.

The Dolphins, The Whales and the Sprat–Maris Wicks.  I was completely unfamiliar with this fable.  I’m also curious about how much Wicks has added.  I love that she adds some very funny factual details like that dolphins are actually a type of whale and that there are detailed asides about all of the animals throughout this story.  The moral is that they’d rather die than take advice from a sprat.  Still true today.

The Milkmaid and Her Pail–Israel Sanchez  This fable was also unfamiliar.  Sanchez’ drawings are stark and work well to tell this story of greed.

The Great Weasel War–Ulises Farinas.  This comes from a longer fable called The Mice and the Weasels.  I love Farinas’ art in this story.  The colors are spectacular and the creatures are great   And I love the moral is that they build these giant machines that cannot fight against nature.

The Sun and the Wind–R.O. Blechman. This fable was in Ava and Pip, so its funny to read it there and then see it here. Blechman’s simple drawings complement the story well.

The Hare and the Tortoise–Graham Annable’s art is great for this.  The tortoise is so crabby looking.  I’m unfamiliar with the deus ex machina that happens though.  It’s funny how many of these fables we may know without knowing them in total.

The Grasshopper and the Ants–John Kerschbaum’s art is so busy and full of detail, it’s really wonderful.  I’m unfamiliar with the ants asking the grasshopper to play for them at the end of the story tough.

The Thief and the Watchdog–Braden Lamb & Shelli Paroline. I really enjoyed the way these two created this fable.  The art is great–angular and simple but really powerful.  Having the dog explain why giving him meat won’t work is a great idea.

Demandes and His Fable–Roger Langridge.   I love Langridge’s clear lines and distinctive colors. He tries to get people’s attention and only succeeds by telling them a fable about Demandes.  I’m intrigued that his fable gets interrupted by himself.

The rest of the fables’ origins are mentions in parentheses after the title:

Leopard Drums Up Dinner (Angolan Fable)–Sophie Goldstein makes a fun visual of this story about animals trying to capture others with music.  I wonder how closely this aligns to the original, as its pretty crazy.

The Hare and the Pig (Indian Fable)–Vera Brosgol.  I didn’t know this fable at all.  Rabbit and Pig are arguing about who is best.  Leave it to fox to make the declaration.

The Demon, The Thief and the Hermit (Bidpai)–Keny Widjaja illustrates this amusing tale of a thief trying to join with a demon to rob a hermit

The Elephant in Favor (by Ivan Krilov)–Corinne Mucha.  I love that Corine modernizes the fable (the lion says Dude).  This is all about how everyone talks about the elephant.  He works slow but gets a raise. What makes him so great?  All the other animals speculate.  But it turns out that his ears are the real reason–for reasons other than the obvious.  This may be my favorite fable of all.

The Mouse Council (medieval European fable)–Liniers. This is the story of putting a bell on a cat and how no one wants to risk their life for the good of all.  Liniers’ art is spectacular.  I love the subtle shading of his drawings and then the rough drawings by the mice.

Man and Wart (Ambrose Bierce)–Mark Newgarden.  I love Ambrose Bierce but had no idea he wrote fables.  This one about people’s need for privacy and not belonging to a club is pretty strange.

The Hen and the Mountain Turtle (Chinese Fable)–Gregory Benton. I was unfamiliar with this story about a wise turtle saving a farm.

These collections of short pieces are quite wonderful. I wonder what genre First Second will tackle next.  #10yearsof01

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aboveSOUNDTRACK: DO MAKE SAY THINK-& Yet & Yet [CST020] (2002).

DmstandyetandyetAfter the previous album, keyboardist Jason McKenzie departed the band.  I’m not entirely sure how this impacted the band, but this album is warmer and a little more delicate feeling.  It’s also their first album that was recorded all in the same place (in band member Justin Small’s house).

The disc opens with static and effects before a jazzy drumbeat comes in.   “Clasic Noodlanding” is mellow with a complex (for them) riff on the guitar and nice washes of keyboards.  It is primarily atmospheric until about two minutes in when it suddenly changes with the introduction of a great bass line.  And then this atmospheric song turns really catchy. The five and a half-minutes feel too short in this song.

“End of Music” opens with jazzy drums and keyboards.  It’s a slow piece that stretches to nearly 7 minutes.  About half way through the song, the drums come crashing in and a brighter, noisier melody takes over.  This end section is really catchy with some great chords and excellent drumming.

“White Light Of” opens with a cool slow bass line and drum pattern.  As the song grows in complexity I like the new bass rumble that is added and the way the guitar lines seem to intertwine. About half way through horns get added to the mix, quietly at first and then they slowly take over the song. About five minutes in the song comes to abrupt halt with some interesting echoed effects on the drums. It resumes again with a stranger version of the song—it feels unsettled and really interesting, with a nice riff interspersed with one that feels off somewhat.

“Chinatown” opens unlike any DMST song.  The bass sounds electronic and skittery with some interesting keyboard sounds over the top (it actually sounds a bit like later period Radiohead).  The song is slow and moody for all of its 5 and half minutes with keyboard washes and skittery guitars.  There are quotes thrown in throughout the song but I can’t tell what they are saying.  This song was features in the film Syriana.

“Reitschule” is one of two songs that are 9 minutes long. It opens with a slow meandering guitar line interspersed with another guitar playing an interesting counterpoint.  A cool bassline comes in around 2:30 which takes the song in a new direction.  Horns propel the song along until about 4 minutes when a jangly guitar takes over the song. It builds with some abrasive guitar chords until everything washes away except the bass.  And then it rebuilds as something else.  Distant horns play in the back as the guitars play overlapping lines.  It’s an epic song that demonstrates how much this band can do.

“Soul and Onward” has a pretty conventional melody line. It’s warm and friendly It also features wordless vocals by Tamara Williamson. I love the little tiny guitar lick that works as a bridge between the two sections.  This is my favorite song on this record.

“Anything for Now” is the other 9 minute song. It is slow and pastoral to start with a beautiful multi-guitar piece with gentle drums. At around 4:30 all the instrument vanish except for a single organ note. It plays for a bout a minute and it seems like the disc will end that way but then the chords build up again from the drone.  An acoustic guitar lick begins around 7 minutes in and runs through the end of the song.

Overall this album is more mellow than their previous discs, and there are some amazingly beautiful sections of music on this album.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Above the Dreamless Dead

I’m continuing with books that I wouldn’t normally read, to celebrate First Second’s #10yearsof01 challenge and to read something out of my comfort range.

This is a collection of poetry about World War I, written before during and just after the war.  Each of the poems is illustrated by a different contemporary artist.

As you can imagine, the book is pretty gloomy.  But the poetry is pretty spectacular and the illustrations were really interesting.  Obviously this book is not going to be a happy one.  But some of the artists do add a more positive spin on the poems (while some are just brutally violent as well). (more…)

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burnsSOUNDTRACK: ADAM ARCURAGI-Tiny Desk Concert #42 (January 10, 2010).

adamI had never heard of Arcuragi before this show and in the five years since I haven’t heard of him elsewhere.  Bob introduces the show by raving about Adam’s voice.

But I don’t really think there’s anything special about his voice.  It’s a good decent string voice, but nothing notably unique about it or anything.  So it was a bit of a set up for a let down.  Which is  shame because Arcuragi and his mates sing three delightful songs.

“She Comes to Me” features acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin.  “Steal People’s Medicine” uses the electric guitar a a slide guitar, which sounds remarkably different from the first song (no mandolin either).  “Bottom of the River” which switches the mandolin for a tambourine is the most fun of the three songs.  It’s a bit more upbeat, there’s some good harmonies and the crowd even starts clapping along.  And Adam does wail a few notes showing that his voice is better than I suggested.

Watch it here.

[READ: April 7, 2015] Handbook of World Domination

I was unaware of The Vault of Simpsonology Series.  This is the third book in the series, the other two being from Homer and Bart with future books from Lisa, Grandpa and Bartman.  I’m also not exactly sure why our library received this book,   But it’s a fun little addition to all things Simpson.

The book is 64 pages about 6 inches square and it is chock full of insights into Mr Burns.

On the first page is an envelope with a poster.  Given the incompleteness of the back, I assume that all the books have similar posters with which you would make one giant poster.

The introduction (by Mr Burns) explains that he just wants to entertain with this volume–not to give away secrets.   So we get Burns’ bucket list (#29–keep a meal down completely; 17- Buy the EPA and rename it the Environment Profit Administration) and Secrets to Burns’ long life (a bizarre medical contraption involving syringes, a small devil and a drooling baby). (more…)

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whiteSOUNDTRACK: IMAGINE DRAGONS-Night Visions (2012).

nightvisImagine Dragons is a band that is hugely popular (popular enough for “Weird Al” to parody their song) and seemed to come out of nowhere.  I kind of sort of like them but also sort of don’t.  I didn’t know anything about them when I first heard “Radioactive” a big bombastic anthemic sing along with big drums and an amusing (or interesting at least) part in the beginning where the singer “breathes in chemicals.” And what’s great about the song is that it’s fun to sing along to and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

But the thing about the album is that some of their songs veer right into the realm of cheesey pop.  “Tiptoe” has a synth sound that is so cheesy I can’t stand it.  It also has a chorus that a boy band could easily do.

So the album is full of songs I like and one or two I dislike a lot.  “It’s Time” stays on the good side of pop with a preposterously poppy song which never drifts into cheese (even if it flirts with the line). “Demons” is catchy and fun as is “On Top of the World” (with the “hey”s and handclaps).  Depending on my mood, I could easily hate these songs, but most days I find them happy and enjoyable.

“Amsterdam” and “Hear Me” are rocking anthems that sits pretty squarely in the not-too-poppy camp.  They have big choruses and are pretty easy to like.

As for songs I dislike–“Every Night” is the worst piece of pop crap drivel I’ve heard in a long time.  Everything about it is gawdawful ( I won’t even list them all).  I can see it being huge.  And “Underdog” goes over the line into cheese for me as well.  I don’t know if it’s the synth sounds or the lyrics or what but I can do without it.

“Bleeding Out” returns to that gritty vocals but still pretty polished sounding song that Dragons do quite well.  “Nothing Left to Say” is an interesting ender to the album (with cellos and all).  The tacked on coda “Rocks” is also kind of fun in a Mumford and Sons sorta way.

It was about half way through the disc that I realized the band sounds like Coldplay (the opening of “Demons,” jeez–I may have even heard this on the radio and assumed it was Coldplay)–but like an excessive version of Coldplay (both in anthemic quality (which is hard to do) and in pop potential).

I haven’t heard the band’s new single, but it should let me know which way the band is going–more rock anthems or into the pop pit of despair–and that will probably determine my final verdict of the band.

[READ: October 17, 2014] White Cube

I found this book at work and was quite intrigued by it.  Of course, I am intrigued by nearly everything Drawn & Quarterly puts out, even if I don’t love everything they release. And I didn’t love this one.

In fairness, there was a lot I liked about it.  The fact that it was originally published in Belgium is pretty cool.  And the fact that there are barely any words in it also made it intriguing.  I even enjoyed that there were two main characters, each one a virtually identical pink bald man who express his pleasure by giving a thumbs up.  And yes, I enjoyed that most of the stories were about art.  So, perhaps I did enjoy this more than I realized.

The book as a whole seems to be mocking the state of modern art.  When the two unnamed guys go into the “White Cube” they follow signs for Modern Art and then make adjustments to what they see, giving a thumbs up when they are done.

What confused me was trying to figure out whether each piece was an individual story or part of the whole. Several of them start with a “title panel” that says White Cube (while others seem to have different titles).  But since they all seem to be about art, they could all be rooms in the big White Cube. (more…)

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1352113437munkeemanSOUNDTRACK: EVANGELISTA-Hello, Voyager [CST050] (2008).

helloThis is Carla Bozulich’s first “band” on Constellation. I didn’t really care for her solo album because it sounded way too all over the map.  She has brought in some great musician to rein her in somewhat and it really helps.  This album is still loose and wild and uncomfortable and at times hard to listen to and also really cathartic.  It feels like there is direction to the madness.

The first song is probably the least appealing.  It’s almost a free form poetry slam, but there’s enough incidental music to make it feel like there should be more.–the music doesn’t necessarily follow what’s going on, as if the musicians were told to do what they wanted but weren’t listening to her.

That improv feeling exists throughout the album, but the other songs feel like they have a structure and a melody which really really help.  Like “Smooth Jazz” in which the drums keep a loud steady beat which regulates the tempo and makes her screams all the more intense.  Or “Lucky Lucky Luck” in which a beautiful vocal melody and backing vocal combine with pulsing bass to make a platform for the noisy guitars.  “For The L’il Dudes ” is a creepy string quintet.  But “The Blue Room” is a full complex song with a captivating melody and strings that really work well.

“Truth Is Dark Like Outer Space” is a heavy rock song with great distortion, while “the Frozen Dress” brings back the creepy and spooky sounds. “Paper Kitten Claw” reunites those minimal sounds with a mellow melody.  It feature the great lyric (and theme) “Every time you see the word never, cross it out.”  The disc ends with “Hello, Voyager!” Crazy noises open this 12 minute ramble.  Carla sounds like a crazy preacher and by the end it’s just a free form chaotic mind fuck.  But in a good way.

It’s not always fun to see where Carla’s mind will take you but in this case the crazy trip is disturbingly fun.  Not for the faint of heart.

[READ: May 18, 2014] Munkeeman

This comic came across my desk and I was intrigued by it.  I’ve never read a graphic novel published in India (and written in English) before.  One thing that struck me about the drawing style was how dark (full of a lot of lines and very little white space) the book was.  It’s very busy, demanding a lot of attention.  I prefer my graphic novels to be a little more open and less claustrophobic (okay, I’ll say it, more “white”–racist!–meaning I like more white space in the drawings because I find the heavily drawn dark lines to be a little too busy for me).  But having said that, I enjoyed this style.  The details were always interesting to check out, especially the crowd scenes were Sharma has a lot of fun with background characters (it reminded me of Mad Magazine a bit).

At the same time I was also somewhat surprised at how conventional the story looked.  I don’t know what I was expecting–something more decisively Indian perhaps, but this could have come from an underground comic publisher anywhere.

This is all background to say how much I enjoyed this kind of twisted book.

Incidentally Sharma also directed a film called Tere Bin Laden which is a comedy about an Osama bin Laden double and which sounds quite funny.  I’m going to have to give that a try if I can find it.

So the book starts with an explanation about Munkeeman–he appeared (for real) as an unseen villain in the Hindi film Delhi-6 (which I’ve never seen).  You don’t need to see that movie to quickly learn that there was a villain (the Black Monkey) who is now getting his story told from his point of view.  Especially since the prologue fills you in that nobody ever got a full glimpse of him but he was referred to as The Munkeeman. (more…)

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