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Archive for the ‘Marriage Trouble’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHOSPHORESCENT-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen to the recorded version online.

I’ve been aware of Phosphorescent for a number of years but I seem to have him/them confused with another band (Telekinesis–a one word band name that is actually just one person, who also put out a new album this year).  Phosphorescent is the project of Matthew Houck and in this performance it’s just him on the acoustic guitar.  I’m not sure what he normally plays live, but during this set he said, “this is the first time I’ve played an acoustic guitar for a concert in 20 years, probably.  It feels pretty weird up here at the moment.”

Recently, Phosphorescent has had a big single on WXPN called “New Birth in New England” which I love.

He opened with “C’est La Vie No. 2” off his latest album C’est La Vie.  His delicate strumming paired perfectly with his lyrics, which I especially liked;

C’est La Vie they say but i don’t know what it means
I say love’s easy if you let it be

“My Beautiful Boy” has a wonderful guitar melody (clearly it is about his becoming a father).  Even though his lyrics are thoughtful and somewhat serious, he was a charming frontman, staying “this song is about rocks.  It’s called ‘These Rocks.'”

He told us “New Birth in New England” doesn’t go on an acoustic guitar by itself.  But it will tonight.   It sounds wonderful in this stripped down version, although I prefer the recorded version.

The last song of the set was “Song For Zula,” a track from Phosphorescent’s 2013 album Muchacho.  I didn’t realize this was his song which I really liked back when it came out.  It’s really beautiful and, once again I like the way he plays with existing lyrics to make them his own.

and it showcased the strength of his vocals as he belted it out for the crowd before making his way off stage. The hearty applause was fitting for the wholesomely low-key set. Give C’est La Vie a listen now and check out Phosphorescent on tour this summer.

Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love,
You see it came to me.

Now if I can keep his name straight, I’ll have to listen to him a bit more.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “Upholsetry”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I loved this story.

I love the dysfunctional families involved in it and I love the way it is circular while still moving forward. Plus it’s darkly comic.

The narrator, Iris, says that when she told her mother (whom she calls Judy, never mom) that she was going marry Thom, Judy didn’t hesitate to say that he was a car crash waiting to happen.  Judy is a psychologist not a fortune-teller.  But her words proved to be literally true–Thom was in a car accident with Iris in the car.  Iris fractured her skull.  Somehow, Thom still wore the T-shirt he was wearing during the accident–and he assures her that the faded pink spot is not blood.

Thom is extremely smart and was rewarded out of college with many luxury job offers.  He turned them all down to teach at McGill College. The accident left Iris with some brain injury, so going back to her job wasn’t really an option.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Escape From Noise (1987).

This was my introduction to Negativland.  And I loved it.  I loved everything about his album.  I used to play songs from it on my college radio show all the time.

I loved that the first track, “Announcement” opens with this ponderous statement

This announcement from the producers of this record contains important information for radio program directors, and is not for broadcast. The first cut on this record has been cross-format-focused for airplay success. As you well know, a record must break on radio in order to actually provide a living for the artists involved. Up until now, you’ve had to make these record-breaking decisions on your own, relying only on perplexing intangibilities like taste and intuition. But now, there’s a better way.  The cut that follows is the product of newly-developed compositional techniques, based on state-of-the-art marketing analysis technology. This cut has been analytically designed to break on radio. And it will, sooner or later.

After a count down comes the “radio hit” they call “Quiet Please” which opens with a cacophony of noise–smashing cymbals jagged guitars and bizarre sound effects with a man yelling “Quiet Please!”  It’s insane and really quite catchy–at least by 2019 standards.

After we hear David say, “I’m going to record all the noise,”, his mom talks about how much noise they don’t have there before a Girl says Michael Jackson and then a loud voice lists a whole bunch of 1980s bands indulging Weird Al and David…Booie (Bowie).

AND WE ESPECIALLY CALL FOR THE JUDGMENT IN THIS HOUR AND THE DESTROYING OF ROCK MUSIC DIRECTED SPECIFICALLY AGAINST CHILDREN AND WORKING SPECIFICALLY THROUGH THESE INDIVIDUALS FOR WHOM WE CALL FOR THE JUDGMENT IN THE SACRED FIRE IN THIS HOUR BEFORE THE THRONE OF ALMIGHTY GOD

This rant is followed by a catchy bouncy synth riff which opens the next song “Escape from Noise.”  It continues the premise of breaking music on the radio.  But then a man starts shouting about the noise all around us.  “Is there any escape from noise?”  This line always made me chuckle: IT’S NO WONDER YOU’RE EXHAUSTED AFTER A DAY OF SHOPPING.

Then David states in his inimitable voice:

Supposing you’re watching the Playboy Channel, (“Ooooh yes! Oh….”) and it’s just about time for them to have an orgasm(“….Oh! Oh! Harder! Oh! Oh! I think I’m gonna explode! Oh! Oh!”) When all of a sudden: Wham! The horrible noise comes in, and completely destroys your orgasm on the Playboy Channel. (“Oh yes-“).

“The Playboy Channel” also features Jello Biafra, flushing a toilet.

The bouncy riff returns for “Stress in Marriage.”  Along with other various song snippets, the announcer tells us, there’s enough built-in stress in marriage without noise contributing.

“Nesbitt’s Lime Soda Song” is a straight up folk song (and very catchy too.  But there’s a surprisingly dramatic temp throughout as a bee gets into the last bottle of the previous lime soda.

I brought a case of Nehi, and Double Cola, too
A half a dozen Upper 10’s, and good old Mountain Dew
I bought a quart of Cola-Up, to get me through the day
But just one bottle of Nesbitt’s Lime Soda
And we had to throw it away

“Over the Hiccups” features a little girl (Louisa Michaels) singing “Over the Rainbow” while suffering from the hiccups  It’s cute and bizarre.

“Sycamore” is a fascinating song that splices spoken clips about guns and a planned community.

“Car Bomb” is two minutes of thumping drums and screaming vocals.  Each “verse” ends in a shout of CAR BOMB! and a humongous explosion.  It’s awesome.

“Methods of Torture” has various synth sounds and then describes how sound was used as methods of torture: “put someone’s head in side a bell and ring it.  And eventually they’ll go insane.

“Yellow Black and Rectangular” is a pretty song–various bell-like sounds looping while a man and woman talk about a sign that’s yellow and black with wedge shapes inside.  The splicing is exquisite.

“Backstage Pass” has samples of presumably Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart (see below) with a sitar, I guess?  Not the best song on the record, for sure (and an homophobic slur).  But it leads into the masterpiece that is “Christianity Is Stupid.”

“Christianity Is Stupid” is a four-minute track that samples the propaganda movie If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, with primarily the narrator saying over and over “Christianity is Stupid, Communism is Good.  Give up!”    It’s awesome.

Shop as usual and avoid panic buying.

You can only follow that up with something more ridiculous and sublime: “Time Zones.”  I’m not sure why, but this track was a personal favorite among myself and my friends.  After a musical interlude, a narrator talks about the Soviet Union before a transistor radio begins talking about how many time zones there are in the Soviet Union.  Eleven.  Eleven.

“You Don’t Even Live Here” is a great recording of a hearing in which a woman yells about a nuclear reactor being built in their community.  It’s pretty inspiring, actually (even if it is rather distorted).  The music is pretty cool, too.

“The Way of It” ends the disc in a kind of recap–”this is not the way of it…all that shouting, all that noise.”  Followed by “Endscape” a little cheering section to close the record.

I haven’t listened to this is many years, but it sounded even better this time through.  This album is so far ahead of it’s time it’s ridiculous.  Its not even funny.

The creators of this masterpiece were:

  • Mark Hosler: Singing, synthesizers, guitars, voice tapes, percussions, rhythm loops, bomb parts, David manipulation, tiny metal banjo, recorder, lots of other noises, mix
  • Don Joyce: Yelling, talking tapes, electric tympani, synthesizer, lyrics, singing, Booper bee, bomb parts and assembly, noises everywhere, mix
  • Chris Grigg: Drums, synthesizer, singing, computer & software, field recordings, mix
  • David Wills: Talking, shortwave, family tape, bomb parts, regular Booper
  • Richard Lyons: Singing, lyrics, voice
With contributions from
  • Ian Allen: Helicopter (on “Sycamore”), Rhythm Loop (on “Car Bomb”), Bell (on “Time Zones”)
  • Jello Biafra c/o Dead Kennedys: Toilet Flushing (on “The Playboy Channel”)
  • Das c/o Big City Orchestra: Voice Tapes (on “Quiet Please”)
  • Dina Emerson: Wordless Vocals (on “You Don’t Even Live Here”)
  • Steve Fisk: Optigan and Voice Tapes (on “Michael Jackson”)
  • Tera Freedman: Voice Tape (on “Backstage Pass”)
  • Phil Freihofner: Bomb Parts (on “Car Bomb”)
  • Ray Briem: radio talk show host (on “Time Zones”)
  • Ed Markmann: Paid Voice
  • Fred Frith: Urban Drum and Halfspeed Violin (on “Michael Jackson”)
  • Jerry Garcia c/o Grateful Dead: Mouth Sounds and Chimes (on “Backstage Pass”)
  • Alexander Hacke c/o Einstürzende Neubauten: Metal Noises (on “Christianity Is Stupid”)
  • Mickey Hart c/o Grateful Dead: Percussion and Processed Animals (on “Backstage Pass”)
  • Tom Herman c/o Tripod Jimmie: Torture Guitars (on “Methods of Torture”)
  • Henry Kaiser: Doublespeed Disco Guitars (on “Quiet Please”)
  • Louisa Michaels c/o Step One Nursery School: Singing (on “Over the Hiccups”)
  • Mark Mothersbaugh c/o Devo: Jazz Bass, Jimi Hendrix, E-cussion, Saxophone and Noises (on “The Playboy Channel”)
  • The Residents Hoots and Clanging (on “You Don’t Even Live Here”)
  • Rev. Ivan Stang c/o The Church of the SubGenius: Larynx (on “Christianity Is Stupid”)
  • Rand Weatherwax c/o CBS: Orchestra Hits and E-cussion (on “Quiet Please”)
  • Rob Wortman c/o Kingshouse: Leaf blower (on “You Don’t Even Live Here”)

[READ: April 20, 2019] “Quality Time”

This story was sitting on my kitchen table and my mother-in-law picked it up and wondered why I had a 19 year-old story from the New Yorker.  She bristled at the early sentence: “She had her husband’s permission.”

This shaped my view of the story before I read it and I looked at it with a 2019 viewpoint to see if the story was retrograde.

The fact that a woman is hit by a car and killed didn’t help very much.  Especially since, although her death affects him, it is never given a justification.  Nor is it even a plot point, per se. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two 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.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Gumboot Soup (2017).

At the beginning of 2017, KGATLW promised that the would release five albums in the year.  They released four and as the year drew to an end it looked like we might not get that promised fifth release.  And then on the last day of the year, Dec 31, they released Gumboot Soup.

Surely this one–squeezed in on the last day of the year–must be a mishmash of the crap that they didn’t put on their other records, right?  Or maybe acoustic versions of existing songs?  Or something equally lame?

Indeed, not.  For KGATLW are nothing if not full of ideas.

Their previous albums were thematic.  This one is certainly more of a collection of songs rather than an album.  And yet, this collection is not crap.  Mackenzie described thee album as a “place for us to put a lot of different ideas that we’re trying to experiment with in the song, rather than within the whole record. And for me, some of my favorite songs of the year are on [Gumboot]. It’s more song-oriented than album-oriented.”

So the album isn’t unified, but that diversity somehow makes it even more compelling.

“Beginner’s Luck” is a beautiful sweet delicate song.  The opening is quiet guitar and the clearest vocals yet from Stu.  It’s a dreamy, gentle song, as if they were influenced by the Mild High Club sessions to write a pretty, retro pop song.  There’s great bass on this song as well and I love that Ambrose adds some lead vocals to the chorus.  There’s some lovely flute and backing vocals.  As the song reaches its end it gets louder and more distorted with a wild wah wah guitar solo and the whole band joining in to rock.  This seems to mock the sweetness of the beginning.

It’s followed by “Greenhouse Heat Death” which reintroduces some microtonal melodies and a rumbling groove.  This song is an environmental song with Stu singing in his darker, distorted voice about the degradation of the Earth (from the Earth’s point of view–“my house has fried, all life has died”).

“Barefoot Desert” comes out of that darkness with a wonderfully bright song–flutes, some terrific bass lines, and Ambrose’s always-chipper vocals.  The riff is dynamite too.  There’s even a very Beatles-esque middle instrumental section before the song lopes off again.

“Muddy Water” is a really catchy fast-paced stomper with some call and response vocals (I love at the end when Ambrose starts singing “I prefer the muddy water” back to Stu).  The riffing is great and it all feels very reckless, like they (or we) can’t stop.  The introduction of (two) saxophones is pretty unusual and a nifty twist on their sound.

“Superposition” is a soft almost robotically smoothed out song.  Everything is high and floaty–the flute, the vocals, the bass.  It’s a pretty different sound for them, although they maintain the vocals-follow-the-musical-melody that they have perfected.  And then of course, they have to upend the pleasantness with some crazy skronking saxophone solos in the middle of the song.  But even those seem almost distant and like they are not exactly part of the song.

“Down the Sink” is a fantastic song that sounds very much unlike anything they’ve done before.  There’s some cool funk and 70s inflections on the riffs and sounds.  The chorus “the street is where people live, the street is where people die” has a fantastic 70s, almost blaxploitation, film soundtrack feel.   I’d love to hear them explore more of this sound.

“The Great Chain of Being” is one of the outright heaviest things they’re recorded, with big heavy riffs and growling vocals.  It’s a bit out of place on this record, but it rocks too wonderfully to complain about.  It clearly seems like it could have been on Murder of the Universe, but maybe they just enjoyed rocking out and wanted to write a new song.

“The Last Oasis” has a delightful cocktail lounge feel, with vibes, languid bass and Ambrose’s gentle vocals.   I love that it gets hazier and sounds more and more like it’s being submerged as the song goes on.  Meanwhile, “All is Known” returns to them microtonal sounds of Banana for the main riff and heft of this pumping song.

One of my favorite tracks is the delicate “I’m Sleeping In.”  I love the interesting and satisfying bass lines that runs through this gentle song about sleeping:

I know within my body
I need rest from muscle ache
I really need a break
So I’m sleepin’ in, in

There’s some quiet harmonica and a really compressed sound.  It seems like sleep will never come because of some random noises that come in to disrupt the chill feeling.  Although by the end, the tape slows down and sleep has finally won.  The disc ends with “The Wheel” a groovy psychedelic track with wavery keys and flute. It’s the least dynamic song on the record but it feels nicely stretched out and trippy.

So the track order definitely makes this feel like an odds and ends assortment.  I’m not sure if they could have made a heavy side and a trippy side, or if it’s just more fun to have this batch of oddments together in the soup of gumboot.

The good thing is there’s not a bad song on it and it really covers every imaginable style.

After five albums in year, the only thing to do was to release no records in 2018 and tour the world.  But 2019 suggests a new disc in on the horizon.  I can’t wait.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “The Arithmetic of Common Ground”

This story had an interesting conceit which I feel it didn’t fully follow through on.  It posits that children have commonalities and looks at what estimated percentage of those commonalities they need to have for friendships to work.  I enjoyed the way it seemed almost like a technical report in the beginning.

At the opening, we see a couple meeting.

Born within six months of one another, within the same medium-sized city, and of comparable socio-economic class, they automatically overlap somewhere between 33 to 35 percent. Make the city Calgary and make them both only children who—as a consequence of their solitudes—have both grown up somewhat unsociable and somewhat bookish. If both dutifully attended music lessons in guitar and piano to complement their school work, their common ground might go as high as 40 to 55 percent.

Despite being different by some 45 to 60 points, they share enough interests (musical) to meet, fall in love, get married and have a child: Benjamin.

But for group dynamics a simple Venn diagram does not suffice because each pairing is its own diagram.  The story proceeds to explore Benjamin and his friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Flying Microtonal Banana (2017).

2017 was a massive year for KGATLW as they pledged (and kept that pledge) to release five albums in the year.  This was the first.

Flying Microtonal Banana starts with the same sort of relentless frenzy that Nonagon Infinity had.  Just witness the stomping, grooving repetition of “Rattlesnake,” a catchy, 7 minute song whose lyrics are primarily “rattlesnake.”

The difference comes in the title of the record.  It’s not banana, it’s microtonal.  The banana in question is the yellow microtonal guitar that Stu Mackenzie uses on the album (and live).  It’s a custom-made guitar modified for microtonal tuning, which allows for intervals smaller than the semitones of Western music.  Since the new guitar could only be played with similarly tuned instruments, the rest of the band got their gear tricked out with microtonal capabilities.

This gives many of the songs a distinctly Middle-Eastern sound.  As does the inclusion of the zurna, a wind instrument which is almost constantly loud, high-pitched, sharp, and piercing.  Not an inviting description, but the instrument adds some interesting sounds and textures to the disc.  “Rattlesnake” is so catchy, though, that the zurna just feels like one more component.

“Melting” lets up the intensity with a wonderful guitar/vocal melody and some great synth accents.  As the song grooves along there’s some cool sounds and textures throughout the vocals and background sounds.  The solo comes from a slightly distorted synth–the ever-rising melody is catchy but leaves you wanting more.  The microtones really come out in the middle of the song, where the guitar/vocal melody experiments with all the various microtones that their instruments could achieve.

“Open Water” has a ringing guitar melody and a sinister chorus about open water.

Open water
Where’s the shore gone?
How’d I falter?
Open water
Height of the sea
Will bury me
And all I see is
Open water

There’s a very cool microtonal guitar solo throughout the middle of the song.   When the zurna comes in it brings a whole new kind of tension.

The rest of the album is made up of shorter songs.  They don’t exactly segue into each other, but they do feel like a suite of sorts.  Except that each one focuses on a different style (not at all unusual for KGATLW).

“Sleep Drifter” is sung in a near whisper, almost comforting, as it follows the nifty rising chorus melody.  The interstitial guitar riff is really cool, too.  “Billabong Valley” returns to their Western style from earlier albums.  It is sung by Ambrose in his very different vocal style.  There’s a staccato piano and an interesting western-inspired microtonal riff.  “Anoxia” slows things down with a twisty guitar.  The zurna contributes to a trippy ending.

“Doom City” sounds like early Black Sabbath with deep notes and a strangely hippie tone with lots of echo.  Then it picks up speed and adds some wild zurna tones.  There’s even some high-pitched laughs giving an even weirder feel.  I love that the speed jumps between slow and ponderous and speedy and hurried. “Nuclear Fusion” has a staccato rhythm.  For this one, not only does the lead vocal follow the interesting guitar melody, but there’s a deep harmony voice following along as well.   I always love when they add organ sounds to the song, like this one.  And the deep voices as the beginning and end are pretty awesome.

The final track is the instrumental title song.  It explores all manner of microtonal solos both on guitar and zurna.  It opens with bongos and congos and just takes off from there with the screeching zurna melody.  It’s catchy and weird like t he rest of the album and it ends with the winds blowing things away.

That’s the banana itself on the right.

[READ: January 2019] Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I was attracted to this book because of the title.  I knew literally nothing about it, but the blurb called it a smart, twisty crime novel.  I typically don’t read crime novels, but I’ve had pretty good luck with books set in bookstores, so it seemed worth taking a chance.

And, wow, what a delightfully convoluted story.  It was absolutely full of surprises and puzzles.  In the past I would have tried to figure out he puzzles myself, but since the answers to the puzzles were given right after the puzzles were shown, I got lazy and let the book do the work for me.   And what a fascinating bunch of characters Sullivan has created.

Lydia Smith works at the Bright Ideas Bookshop in Denver.  She has been there for a while, but she’s keeping a low profile.  She grew up in Denver and had a reasonably good childhood.  Then, suddenly something horrific happened and she and her father moved into a remote cabin outside of Denver where neighbors were nowhere near.  Her father, who was once a loving librarian too a job at a county prison and became a hardened policeman.

The event is hinted at in the beginning.  In the middle we get a vivid description of her perception of the event.  The rest of the story unpacks it.

After living in the woods, Lydia left her father, without saying a word.  She returned to Denver and hadn’t spoken to him for years.

She loves the security of the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  The store is populated by the Book Frogs, old men mostly, who spend hours and hours here browsing books.  They are all eccentric in some respect, but they are harmless–and most are thoughtful.

But as the book opens, one of the younger Book Frogs, Joey Molina, her favorite one, hangs himself–right upstairs in Western History.  She tried to take him down, to save him, to do something.  But she was too late.  As she was trying be helpful, she saw that he had a picture in his hand.  It was a picture of her when she was a little girl.  A picture she had never seen before.

What a great opening chapter! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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