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Archive for the ‘Math’ Category

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-Willoughby’s Beach (2011).

After releasing five new albums in 2017, KGATLW spent 2018 re-releasing their first five releases.  These were out of print and hard to find.  And now they’re back.

Back in 2011, KGATLW was more of a goofy side project (hence the name).  But they coalesced as a seven-piece band and proceeded to make an EP–Willoughby’s Beach.  At nine songs in about 25 minutes, this garage rock/dirty blues project pretty well flies past.  Lyrics are an afterthought (most songs repeat one line) and most of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes.  It is great zipping fun with fuzzy guitars, fuzzy harmonicas, fuzzy vocals and an all around DIY feel.

“Danger $$$” is a fast, crazy blues with a wild harmonica solo and the repeated shouted lyrics of “danger money” between lots of whoops and screams.  “Black Tooth” opens with a similarly fast riff but it immediately slows down into a slower but still rocking riff.  “Lunch Meat” is a crazy fast and catchy song with the full lyric: “They made me get up in the morning morning morning morning.”

“Let it Bleed” is the longest song on the disc at 3:14.  It’s slower and the repeated lyrics are far more comprehensible (I want to see my lover again).  The wonderfully titled “Crookedile” has a kind of a spy theme for its music dark with echoing squealing guitars and chanted vocals.  What “just say god is on your side, he’s on your side” has to do with the title I have no idea.  “Dead Beat” is also (relatively) long, but it is much faster with lots of whoops and a simple but addictive guitar line.

“Dusbtin Fletcher” is a fun punk song with lots of big backing vocals–like The Monkees doing punk.  Oohs and oh ho ohs make this an incredibly poppy song.  “Stoned Mullet” has two sets of lyrics: “jack it” and “green out.”  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s fast and catchy with a wonderful chorus.

“Willoughby’s Beach” is quick and catchy, a wonderful end to the disc.  The song is the definition of three-chord rock and features the lyric: “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”  Superb stuff.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Secret Coders: Monsters & Modules

This book ends the Secret Coders storyline.

It begins with the boys feeling very calm as they work out a code that will get them to travel to Flatland.  But Hopper doesn’t understand why they aren’t freaking out since as soon as they work out the code they will be travelling to a world with one fewer dimension!

Using a simple repeating code, the turtle makes the opening and they fall into the second dimension.  Eni turns into a square, Josh turns into a triangle and Hopper turns into a line!  And we learned in the previous books that lines (and women in general) were considered nothing.

They are immediately bothered by circles–the most superior shape in Flatland.  After some altercations, Josh and Eni are thrown in jail.  Hopper is able to hide because she is just a line and is therefore very hard to see. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PINEGROVE-“Intrepid” (2017).

Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall just announced that, because of indiscretions, he was cancelling the band’s winter tour.  I had tickets to two of these shows, so that’s certainly a bummer.

I can only hope that whatever the details of his trouble, he can work it out amiably, get the help he needs and get back on the road in a better place.

Before this all happened, the band released their first new single since Cardinal took off.  “Intrepid” opens with a quietly strummed guitar and Hall singing quietly, including an unexpected falsetto note.  The song threatens to get big and loud but then seems like it might just end.

But after a minute and a half the rocking guitars and backing vocals come in and the song lifts off.  It strikes me as far less catchy than anything they’ve done so far, but it feels a lot more complex, as well.

The end of the song drops in volume, with one more little rocking guitar part before it fades out quietly with the same part that sounded like the end earlier.

It’s really well crafted.

[READ: May 7, 2017] Dark Shadows

This fourth book is once again Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.  It also has an introduction by J.J. the search and rescue dog whose current civilian job is to look after the Chicken Squad.  I would love to see what the humans think of these chickens acting this way, I think that would be a very funny insight.  But maybe it’s best if it’s left unknown.

The family, including J.J. and the chickens are in the car going to a farm to “See things you’ve never seen before.”  Sugar says she has seen everything there is to see.  J.J. counters that she has never been out of the backyard.

Their mom, Moosh, explains that this will be a family reunion–they’ll meet all of their aunts, uncle and cousins.  And when they arrives there are hundreds and everyone expects them to lean all of their cousins’ names. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #612 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: GARY BURTON-Tiny Desk Concert #318 (November 9, 2013).

Gary Burton has been on a Tiny Desk Concert before with Chick Corea.  I really enjoyed Burton then, and I enjoyed him even more this time.

Burton is a vibes player and he and guitarist Julian Lage play a delightful jazzy set.

I love the sounds of vibes already, but I really love the playing method—two mallets in each hand, spread to play a chord in each hand.  Its mesmerizing.

The first song is called “Out Of The Woods.”  The guitar is pretty and a delicate accompaniment.  Half-way through the guitar gets a solo and it’s interesting that the vibes seems to fade a bit even though he’s still going strong.

The second song “Remembering Tano” is dedicated to Arthur Piazollo, the master, whose nickname was Tono.  It has a very different feel with a mellow guitar solo at the end.

When Bob asks him about his playing style, he agrees that “4 sticks doesn’t look possible.”  But he explains that the vibes look like a piano keyboard, but the  advantage of this instrument is the visual impact it has for listeners.   He says that early xylophone players in 19-teens an 1920s played with four mallets a fair amount and then it went out of style.  He started playing in 1949 when he was 20 yeas old.   He grew up ion a farm town in Indiana by himself and when he played, it sounded empty so he needed harmonies.  Hence, four mallets.

The final piece was written for the show and is called “The Tiny Desk Blues.”  And it is fun and bluesy 3 fun and bluesy with a great vibes solo in between some nice guitar solos.

Vibes are definitely my favorite jazz instrument.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes

As forewarned in Book 6, the Breakfast Bunch is serving a punishment for bailing on a field trip (true, it was to solve a crime, but such is the life of a secret super hero).  Their punishment is to join the mathletes team.

Before that we get a short episode of Lunch Lady foiling the bad guys from stealing ice cream from a family.  It’s the first time I’ve had to wonder if it’s the same bad guys every time.  From their reactions, I they are.

Lunch Lady feels bad that the kids are forced to join the mathletes so she makes cookies for the team.

While things are going on with the mathletes we see that angry janitor Mr Kalowski is more angry than ever. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: MIRAMAR-Tiny Desk Concert #594 (January 27, 2017).

Miramar is from Richmond Virginia, but they play beautiful bolero music.

When the members of Richmond, Virginia’s Miramar first heard the music of Puerto Rican composer Sylvia Rexach, they were intrigued that she wasn’t as well-known as other popular bolero writers. So they came up with an album’s worth of her songs to cover, and have been wowing audiences across the country with their exquisite renditions of her songs.

When they pulled into NPR to play behind Bob Boilen’s desk, Miramar’s members made time stop with a performance that swept us off our feet, ably backed by friends of theirs from Richmond who played gorgeous string arrangements behind the band. So turn the lights down low, clear out the living-room carpet and find your dance partner for this one.

What is it about bolero music?

Some say you have to have loved and lost to appreciate the beauty of the bolero. Since its inception in Cuba in the early 20th century, the music has been designed for thoughtful and emotional consideration of the joys and pains that come with loving someone so intensely, it becomes like a religion to adore that special someone (an actual bolero lyric).

They play four songs: “Sin Ti” (without You) opens with some great Spanish guitar and shakers (which sound like water).  The song slowly builds and then the two singers come in.  Rei Alvaresz and Laura Ann Singh sing beautifully together.

The rest of the band includes: Marlysse Simmons Argandoña (piano, organ); Hector Barez (percussion); James Farmer (bass) and Sebastian Cruz (guitar).

“Estatua” (Statue) is faster and more upbeat.  The large string section is put to full use here. (With strings provided by Ellen Riccio (violin); Treesa Gild (violin); Kimberly Ryan (viola) and Schuyler Slack (cello)).  I love when she is singing “te creo” and he is singing low vocals underneath her.  The strings add wonderful drama to this mournful yet beautiful song.

“Urgancia” (Urgency) has some very cool organ sounds—very retro 60s swinging (almost soap opera)–sound.  But in addition there’s beautiful guitar and their great vocals as well.   The first three songs were all originals

“Tus Pasos”  (Your Footsteps) is by Sylvia Rexach–the inspiration for everything they’ve done.  It is a sweet, romantic, old-fashioned sounding love song.

[READ: July 6, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco

I’ve been really enjoying the way the events of the previous books lead to the follow-up.  So you actually should read these in order, which is more fun anyway.

Our opener shows masked men robbing a grocery store–Lunch Lady is able to stop them with fizzy soda.

But the plot of this book is the field trip that was foreshadowed in the previous one.  The Breakfast Bunch is excited to go, except that Hector forgot to get his permission slip signed.  So Dee (who is increasingly more sarcastic as the books go on) forges the signature–who will know?

Lunch Lady and Betty are bored because everyone is going to the field trip–there’s no lunch today.  But when Mrs Palonski learns that her chaperone can’t come she reluctantly agrees to let Lunch Lady come along.  (Betty tells her to go and have fun even though she sighs when she’s left all alone).  Of course Mrs Paloski is worried that Lunch Lady never stops talking (which proves to be an ironic worry). (more…)

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peanuts-1995SOUNDTRACK: TINARIWEN-Tiny Desk Concert #184 (January 5, 2012).

tinariwenTinariwen are a band from northern Mali, whose members met in the training camps of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Much has been written about them and their story, which is pretty amazing.  I’m only going to talk about this Tint Desk Concert.

Typically, they play an interesting electric guitar kind of trance music.  But for this one they were all acoustic.  As Bob Boilen notes, they are his “favorite electric-guitar-based band on the planet.”  But he says he was:

“initially worried and disappointed when I learned that it was coming to play the Tiny Desk as a trio carrying acoustic guitars. My heart sank a bit more when the three Tuareg musicians from the Sahara arrived in jeans and polo shirts instead of the beautiful, flowing robes I’d seen them wear on stage so many times.

But they switched clothes and they do not disappoint on acoustic guitar.

I don’t know their music all that well, but it feels like the acoustic nature of this show is even more soothing and trance inducing.  The two acoustic guitars interweave–one playing lead (which is mostly hammered notes–not a “solo” per se) and the other strumming.  The percussion is the sound of two hands rubbing, clacking (with a cigarette lighter) and pounding (for bass drum) a large gourd.

The songs tend to be almost looping.  Like they could go on forever.  There’s no real verse chorus structure that I can tell.  It’s more of a meditative sound.

All of the vocals are in Tamashek and I have no idea what the songs are about.

On “Adounia” both guitarists sing and the voices sound very traditional, almost atonal. “Takkest Tamidaret” opens with a more conventional sounding guitar lick, but it’s all so quiet in the mix, that you can’t tell how much his fingers are moving.  The lyrics are a bit slower, but still in that droning style.  I love the way “Tenhert”  has a a cool riff from the lead guitar–one that probably sounds more intense on electric guitar.  He sing/speaks incredibly quickly.  “Tahlamoyt” is a much slower song with the lyrics pretty much all spoken word.

The “Mali sound” is pretty distinctive and Tinariwen are great proponents of it, spreading it around the world for all to hear.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996

I was under the impression that these last few volumes of books would show a serious drop in quality.  I had assumed that with the amount of product the Peanuts characters were sponsoring that these strips would be more cute.  But that is far from true.  I enjoyed this book as much if mot more than some of the other recent volumes.

I was also surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the Sunday cartoons more than the dailies.  In the past I haven’t really gotten big laughs form the Sundays–it seemed like the big stories and jokes were in the dailies and the Sundays were unrelated one offs with varying degrees of punch.  But I enjoyed a dozen or so in this book.

One of the major additions in this book is the inclusion of a slightly older Rerun.  He is now mobile and even heading to kindergarten (I love that he is aging while the others aren’t).  But rather than using Rerun for obvious cute child jokes (he’s no longer riding the back of his mom’s bike) Rerun is now making funny “outsider” observations about the world of Peanuts–he is constantly disenchanted with the way  things are going and with the belief that people are always lying to him.  There are also a ton of strips of him trying to shoot a basketball and failing miserably.  Schulz has always tended to take an idea and run and run and run with it, but this one is pretty good for the number that he uses it. (more…)

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