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Archive for the ‘Magicians’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2019] Circus Mirandus

I checked out this book exclusively because Bronson Pinchot was reading it.  I will listen to just about anything that he reads.  So the fact that this story sounded even vaguely interesting (and age appropriate–Pinchot does tend to read a lot more adult books) meant I grabbed it right away.

This book is about Micah, a young orphan who is living with his sickly grandfather.  Taking care of Grandpa Ephraim is Ephraim’s sister Gertrudus.  Aunt Gertrudus is the meanest, most-horrible person ever.   She makes Micah drink bitter black tea, she makes him do all of the work in the house and she refuses to let him see his grandpa.

Micah loves his grandpa and he loves the stories that his grandpa tells.  It’s these stories that Gertrudus is trying to keep Micah from.

As the book opens we see the letter that Ephraim has sent to Circus Mirandus: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs From 1996-1998 (2014).

Danko Jones has released nine albums an a bunch of EPs.  Back in 2014 he released this collection of songs that he wrote and recorded before his first proper single (1998).

This is a collection of raw songs, but the essential elements of Danko are in place. Mostly fast guitars, simple, catchy riffs and Danko’s gruff voice, filled with braggadocio.  With a cover by Peter Bagge!

He describes it:

Back in the 90’s,the Garage Rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some Rock N’ Roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear. Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.

What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.

The first two songs are the best quality, with the rest slowly deteriorating with more tape hiss.

1. “Who Got It?” a big fat bass sound with lots of mentioning of Danko Jones in the lyrics. [2 minutes]
2. “Make You Mine” is 90 seconds long.  With big loud chords and rumbling bass Danko says “one day I’m going to write a book and let everybody know how to do it.  Seems to me there a lot of people around who want to see if I can prove it.  I been a rock prodigy since the age of 20 and my proof… my proof is right now.”
3. “I’m Your Man” is a bit longer.  The quality isn’t as good but the raw bass sound is great.
4. “She’s Got A Bomb” is good early Danko strutting music.
5. “Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue.”  He would name an album this many years later.  This song is fast and raw and only 90 seconds long.
6. “Dirty Mind Too” This is a fast stomping one-two-three song that rocks for less than a minute.
7. I’m Drinking Alcohol? This is funny because later he says he doesn’t drink.  I don’t know what the words are but the music is great–rumbling bass and feedbacky guitars with lots of screaming.
8. “Love Travel Demo” and 9. “Bounce Demo” are decent demo recordings.  “Bounce” has what might be his first guitar solo.
10. Sexual Interlude” “ladies it’s time to take a chance on a real man.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you women selling yourselves short, going out with a lesser man.
11. “I Stand Accused” Unexpectedly he stands accused of “loving you to much.  If that’s a crime, then I’m guilty.”
12. “Best Good Looking Girl In Town” a fast chugging riff, “oh mama you sure look fine.”
13. “Payback” This one sounds really rough but it totally rocks.
14. “Lowdown” Danko gives the lowdown: “You want a bit of romance?  I got you an bouquet of Flowers and a box of chocolates.  Why you crying for?  That ain’t enough?  Me and the fellas wrote this song just for you.”
15. “One Night Stand” garage swinging sound: Danko is a one woman man and you’re just his type.
16. “Instrumental” is great.
17. “Move On” is a long, slow long bluesy track about love.

It’s not a great introduction to Danko, but if you like him, you won;t be disappointed by this early baby-Danko period.

[READ: August 10, 2019] I’ve Got Something to Say

In the introduction (after the foreword by Duff McKagan), Jones introduces himself not as a writer but as a hack.  He also acknowledges that having something to say doesn’t mean much.  He has too many opinions on music and needed to get them out or his insides would explode.  He acknowledges that obsessing over the minutiae of bands is a waste of time, “but goddammit, it’s a ton of fun.”

So this collection collects some of Danko’s writing over the last dozen or so years. He’s written for many publications, some regularly.  Most of these pieces are a couple of pages.  And pretty much all of them will have you laughing (if you enjoy opinionated music writers).

“Vibing for Thin Lizzy” [Rock Hard magazine, March 2015]
Danko says he was lured into rock music by the theatrics of KISS, Crue and WASP.  But then he really got into the music while his friends seemed to move on.  Thin Lizzy bridged the gap by providing substance without losing its sheen or bite.  And Phil Lynott was a mixed race bassist and singer who didn’t look like the quintessential rock star.  What more could Danko ask for? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: &More (Chill Moody & Donn T)-Tiny Desk Concert #835 (March 25, 2019).

&More is a fun, warm, sweet band.  And when the Concert opened, they totally rocked.  The guitarist had a great distraction-filled sound and the opening riff was terrific–rocking and heavy.  Then singer Donn T begin singing and all of the rock left and the song became a gentle R&B song.

That song was “My Own Light.”  I found it odd that Chill Moody started rapping midway through, making this a rock, R&B and rap.  And indeed, “&More’s music is often about the experience of being black in America, blending hip-hop and R&B with a motivational message and a Philadelphia flair.”

&More is Philadelphia Rapper Chill Moody and singer Donn T, along with their crew.

After the first song he asks hows she’s doing and he tells a story saying big challenges are for people with big destinies.  We are all sorely challenged and we need to keep that in mind to improve our future.

She asks how he is, He says it is his birthday.  Bob then brought out  a concealed strawberry shortcake (his favorite) for his 34th birthday.  Its strawberry shortcake.  He says, “that’s my favorite jawn right there.”  He continues,

Some of you may have a beer. I handed them out I bought them I can guilt you into drinking on my birthday.

His toast: May all things be nice things.

The second song is “Future Come Around’ features Donn T. singing in a deep voice in between fast impressive rapping from Chill.  Ty Lemar adds some nice backing vocals.  There’s some subtle drumming (Marlon Lewis)

I first discovered &More while sifting through hundreds of Tiny Desk Contest video entries last year. Their standout video was for a song called “WHOA,” which is also the third song they played during their visit to the Tiny Desk. It’s a song that expresses exasperation at current events, when words just can’t be found, and when all one can say is, “whoa!” But despite the intensity of the subject matter, much of what &More, Donn T and Chill Moody play stays positive. You can hear it in the refrain of the song: “The hate you give, won’t stop and let you think; the love you save keeps you on the brink.” The positivity is infectious.

Chill starts the song, “This jawn right here is called, ‘WHOA.'” The guitar (Jake Morelli) is great with some funky bass (Norwood Long III) as well.  Dan Rouse: keys

My favorite part was that keyboardist Dan Rouse is wearing a Wawa-inspired logo that says “Jawn.”

Learn about Jawn at Atlas Obscura

It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.”

I was more taken with jawn than the music, but it is a fun Tiny Desk.

[READ: April 2017] An Unkindness of Magicians

I picked up this book pretty much explicitly because of the title.  I have always enjoyed collective nouns, and I love when people come up with new ones.  An “unkindness” just seems like a perfect collective noun, especially for a bunch of magicians.

Howard creates an amazing world, one that adjacent to our own.  It’s set in New York City, but there is an underworld called The Shadows where magic resides.  That magic lives in our world as well.  The Magicians are secretive, of course.  They walk among us and there are penalties if you reveal magic to the mundane world.  But they have bars and social events and, like nearly any secret society, there are Houses.

The Houses are ruled by (most often) a patriarch.  Some Houses are very powerful, others less so.  But every generation or so, there is a Turning, when the wheels of Magic rotate and someone else may have a chance to rule the Magical world.

Each Turning is usually every generation.  But this year a turning has been called unexpectedly early and there has been a lot going on in the magical world recently. (more…)

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1987  SOUNDTRACK: GINA CHAVEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #472 (September 22, 2015 ).

ginaChavez’ voice is poppy but a little deep, almost muscular which I rather like. Or perhaps its just confidence, the blurb notes “the intense openness and warmth of her performances.”

“Fire Water” is primarily a capella and percussion (with interesting clicks and shakers and even a guy whispering “ahhh” ). A few bass notes enter near the end, but other wise it is a very stark song.

“Miles Da Millas” is dedicated to a fiend of a friend who died recently.  He loved Tiny Desk Concerts.  Whenever someone mentioned a new band he would say “But do they have a Tiny Desk?”  So this makes Gina feel like she’s made it  This song, a cumbia, is bilingual with the chorus in Spanish.  And her voice is just as strong if not more so in Spanish.   It’s fun when the percussionist yells and whoops and overall it’s a nice groovy song.  It’s a little weird that she hums a trumpet (quite well, admittedly) when there is an actual trumpet player in the band.  They take turns so I guess it’s kind of duet.

When introducing the final song, she says spent 8 months in El Salvador doing mission work teaching English in an all girls’ school.  Things are really bad down there, so she started a college scholarship fund called Niñas Arriba.  This song “Siete-D” is about a wild ride on the 7D bus from Soyapongo to San Salvador.  Soyapongo is the home of the MS13 gang, the place where guide books tell you not to go.

It’s a fun song (sung entirely in Spanish) with a cool “Sube! Hey! ho!” chant.  It’s a bouncy song with some great trumpet work.  There’s even a rap in Spanish

[READ: September 9, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1987-1988

I felt like after the major highs of the last few books, this one fell into a bit of a repetitive pattern.  This is not to say there weren’t memorable moments in the book, but there were a lot of variations on a similar jokes (especially with Spike in the desert–how many different ways can you make a joke about a cactus looking like a person with his arms up?  About fifty, I guess).

But perhaps it seems like things have changed because On 1-11 1987, that heading that has been there for so long–the hand-drawn looking “Peanuts featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown” had been replaced by a computer-generated font that just says “Peanuts.”  It also felt like the drawings looked different somehow–thicker lines, somewhat less polished?  And in July of 1988 it seems like Snoopy looks rather different. His ears are much smaller for one thing.  That seems to go away though.  But it’s some time round here or maybe even in a previous book that Schulz started drawing circles for eyes on Snoopy from time to time–mostly to express distress or angry.  But Snoopy is meant to have dots or sixes for eyes–the circles always look weird.  And sometime they look poorly drawn, if I may say so.   Especially on October 12 1988 (he’s supposed to look aggrieved, but they still look sloppy for Schulz).

And then, a huge shock to the system!  The daily strips go from 4 panels to 3.  Three panels!  What gives?  Is it because many of his fourth panels didn’t really have a punchline so much as a commentary on the punchline?  It’s mind blowing!  After thirty some years, he is finally messing with the format! (more…)

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1981 SOUNDTRACK: SON LITTLE-Tiny Desk Concert #496 (December 18, 2015).

sonlittleI know of Son Little, although only vaguely.  WXPN has played his song “The River” quite a lot, although I don’t think I’ve heard anything else.

For this Tiny Desk Concert, he’s really stripped down–just his acoustic guitar, a percussionist (Jabari Exum playing a djembe with accoutrements) and a backing vocalist, his sister Megan Livingston.  His playing is even pretty stripped down–his chords are minimal, almost more like accents for most of the songs (although he does play louder from time to time).

As such, this really celebrates his voice which is strong and almost gospel-like.

He plays three songs. “Lay Down,” is a quiet soulful song with perfectly spare accompaniment.  When it ends, everyone seems adorably shy with Little saying, “just mildly awkward enough.”

“Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches” is a bit bigger–Little sings a bit louder and plays louder chords, but it is still quite minimal.

He ends with “The River” which is certainly stripped down from the radio version.  It opens with some claps and he encourages everyone to clap along although “If you’re like clap challenged then maybe… don’t–you know who you are.”  The song has that bluesy rock feel even in this understated form.  And while I like the original better, this is a great version–that quiet clapping and percussion is really nice.

[READ: July 26, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982

So far the 1980s see Schulz settling into a few consistent themes in his strips–regular motifs that he mines over and over again.  Although it’s interesting to see how they have morphed over the decades.

Patty is constantly falling asleep in school (and getting D minuses), Snoopy continues to write funny/bad jokes and gets rejection letters about his books (this is usually pretty funny but it’s also surprising as Snoopy is usually the “successful” one); Snoopy also plays a lawyer a lot in these strips.

1981 begins where 1980 left off with Patty loving the story of Hans Brinker.  1981 also has a lengthy section about Valentines Day (a subject that gets more emphasis in some years than others), although this year Sally is the major protagonist (and her Sweet Babboo her object).  1982 also has a Valentine’s Day with Sally–she gets her hand stuck in the Valentine’s Day cards box.

Schulz used to do bible instruction which is why he quotes it so much.  And he occasionally peppers his strips with religious commentary.  There’s a joke about school prayer–Patty has to go up to the board and when her teacher falls ill she shouts “school prayer works, Marcie.”  There’s an amusing joke that Snoopy used to teach Sunday School at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm.

Although the running jokes are funny, I love when he gets a new idea.  Like the a fun twist on the dog ate my homework joke when Snoopy as the WWI pilot steals Sally’s homework claiming it is the enemy’s secret papers and he eats them.

Sometimes Schulz gives a one-off joke that’s just silly and funny like when Woodstock “poofs” a dandelion and it “poofs” him back. (more…)

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ninthSOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mountain Reveries-The “Pretty Little Lightning Paw” E.P. [CST030] (2004).

lightpawAfter three albums, it was time to make an EP under yet another variant of the band’s name.  This is a fun release (which is interesting to say about a band who is typically quite serious).  What made this “fun” is that many of the band members switched instruments for this recording. Violinist Sophie Trudeau plays bass guitar.  Guitarist Ian Ilavsky, usually one of the band’s guitarists, plays drums.

Also when they finished recording, was complete, the EP was played on a boombox and re-recorded from that.  I can’t tell that it was recorded in this way, so who knows if that made any difference.

There are four songs, “More Action! Less Tears!” is the first.  It begins with Aimee shouting “Hello!  Hello!” and then messing up and laughing.  So she begins again, “The name of this song is More Action.  The name of this song is Less Tears.”  It sounds unlike anything that SMtZ have done so far.  The guitar that opens it is distorted and plays a fairly conventional riff while the violins play a suitable melody over the top.  The strings build and the songs oars.

“Microphones in the Trees” opens with a guitar melody that’s quickly joined by the same melody on upright bass.  Efrim begins singing (his voice is distorted and echoed and sounds almost more like an instrument than a voice, although you can hear the lyrics: “microphones in the trees, cameras in the sky.”  The choir starts singing along with him until about three minutes when a wash of noise over takes the song. This lasts for a few minutes and then fades, allowing the words to continue.  About half way into the song a rather shambolic chorus sings “we are the flood.”  The last two minutes or so are simply feedbacky noises wafting around.

“Pretty Little Lightning Paw”is the ten-minute title track.  It opens with bass notes and chimed notes.  The strings follow Efrim’s vocal lines (which sound ragged and quiet).  And then after a minute or so new strings come in, slightly unsettling sounding.  About three minutes in the 4 voice choir begins singing an alternate melody above Efrim’s repeated mantra.  The song continues in this vein for pretty much the rest of the song, only modifying at the end where the sounds and feedback resemble birdsong.

“There’s a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow” is 5 minutes long and is basically a solo song from Efrim.  He plays guitar, sings and plays “toybox.”  The melody is fairly simple and his voice sounds pretty good–not too shrill.  It may be the most conventional song that SMtZ has recorded.

While this EP doesn’t deviate drastically from the band’s normal sound, it is fun to see them mix things up a bit.   For this recording, the band was

  • Thierry Amar – violin, bass guitar, vocals, pianohandle
  • Ian Ilavsky – drums
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, organ, vocals, feedback, toybox
  • Jessica Moss – violin, vocals
  • Sophie Trudeau – bass guitar
  • [Beckie Foon is absent]

[READ: May 5, 2016] The Ninth Circle

Brendan and I went to college together.  In fact, I knew Brendan from his submissions to both the newspaper and the literary magazine.  He was a major talent back then (I still remember details from the story he submitted twenty some years ago) and continues to be one now.  He works in comics and has written for Flash Gordon, his own book Scatterbrain and something that I can’t wait to find a copy of: Charlie Sheen: Vatican Assassin Warlock.  Check out his output on Goodreads.

This is his first published novel, I believe. And I was hooked from the first chapter.

The story is about 16-year-old Dan.  His family is a disaster–his brother is obsessively mean to him, his father is an alcoholic, his mother is probably sleeping with someone else, and neither parent gives him the time of day.  For his 16th birthday they take him to the circus, even though he never said he wanted to go to the circus.  His brother promises to get revenge for having to go to this lame spectacle.

Dan’s not even sure that he’s going to like it, but he winds up being mesmerized from the moment he walks in.  The trickster tricks him, the freaks entice him (he finds the bearded lady especially enchanting) and the whole show is truly amazing.  Later that night, while lying in bed thinking about his crappy life, Dan decides to take action. (more…)

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