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SOUNDTRACK: Maybe This Christmas (2010).

This is one of my favorite Christmas discs.  There’s not a lot of traditional Christmas music on it, but the originals are all either spot-on Christmas songs or at least work nicely for this time of year.  The only song that doesn’t fit is Ben Folds’ which is funny and vulgar.  It is not safe for Christmas and should be skipped in a family setting and saved for the drunken debauchery part of the night.

PHANTOM PLANET-“Winter Wonderland” Back in 2010, Phantom Planet was a kind of buzzy, talked about band (you’ll have to look up why).  But this is a great version of the song, I especially love that it’s kind of rocky and slightly dissonant but still really pretty.

RON SEXSMITH-Maybe This Christmas.
It’s a shame that this series of records is named after this song, which is so forgettable.  I usually like Sexsmith’s stuff, but I can’t keep this song in my head at all.

COLDPLAY-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Unlike Phantom Planet which was all buzzy when this was recorded, Coldplay had yet to take off and had a small hit with “Yellow.”  It’s interesting to hear this spare version (just Chris Martin singing and playing piano) and how he modifies the words in small ways.

VANESSA CARLTON-“Greensleeves”  This is a lovely version of this song, even if Carlton’s voice is a bit affected (and its technically not a Christmas song in this lyrical version).

BRIGHT EYES-Blue Christmas
This is a nice version of this song, mellow and catchy.

SENSE FIELD-“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” The more I listen to this song, the more I think it’s really weird.  “The yellow and red ones” (?).

JIMMY EAT WORLD-“12/23/95”
This is a very catchy Jimmy Eat World song (once again, before they got huge for a time).  It’s hard to realize its Christmas-related until late in the song when they mention the holiday.

JACK JOHNSON-“Rudolph”
I love this version of “Rudolph” so much because Johnson tacks on an ending where the other reindeer feel bad of making fun of Rudolph.  And Johnson’s vibe is just always so mellow and chill.

BARENAKED LADIES & SARAH McLACHLAN-“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
This recording is quite old–from 1996.  The artists work very well together and Sarah’s voice sounds great.

BEN FOLDS-“Bizarre Christmas Incident” [NSFC]
Ben played all of the parts himself on this song.  I love Ben and I love when he is funny and vulgar.  But this song which is very vulgar and mildly funny is so out of place on this disc.  You can’t play this for the kids, whereas everything else is totally fine. I might like it on a vulgar CD collection bu I dislike it a lot here.

DAN WILSON-“What a Year for a New Year”
Dan Wilson always writes pretty, catchy songs.  This is a lovely song that seems (possibly) even more appropriate in 2017 than it did in 2002 when he wrote it.

NEIL FINN-“Sweet Secret Peace”
This is a very pretty, delicate song with a wonderful chorus.  It’s not necessarily a Christmas song, but it works at this time of year.

LOREENA MCKENNIT-“Snow”
McKennit’s voice is amazing, and this song is hauntingly beautiful.  It’s a stark and lovely ending to this disc.

[READ: December 14, 2017] “Lady with Invisible Dog”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This story was pretty bizarre and really wonderful.

There’s so much going on.  And much of it is pretty weird.  The story is set in 1995.  The narrator, Edwin, has had a run-in with a man called “The Narrator.”  And that has set all of the action of the story in motion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AMINÉ-Tiny Desk Concert #669 (November 14, 2017).

Aminé–is rapper Adam Daniel’s middle name.  And while I like his light manner and fun hair, musically, nearly everything else about this Tiny Desk is cheesy to me.  From the cheesy guitar (by Pasqué) that opens up “Spice Girl” to the “clever” lyrics all about the spice girls

Scary and Sporty, tell her what I want
What I really, really want is a Spice Girl
Zig-a-zig-ah, fuck up my whole world .

It segues into his debut single “Caroline” which peaked at No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 last year.  It is so full of curses I can’t believe it made it that high.

Don’t wanna talk it out, can we fuck it out?
‘Cause we gon’ be up all night, fuck a decaf
You say I’m a tall thug, guess I’m a G-raffe
If ya want safe-sex, baby use the knee pads
Freaky with the sticky-icky, baby give me kitty kitty

There’s also the backing vocalist Fahrelle Devine who mostly says single words (that weird R&B thing) until she harmonizes quite nicely.

Despite his rather crass songs, he’s an entertaining guy: “I was trying to go to the white house you can’t go up to the gate anymore. That’s really bad.  What’s up with that y’all? Ain’t got an answer, cool.  Lets go on to the next song.  “Slide” has more cheesy keys from Davon Jamison and Madison Stewart (who is male, I’m sorry to say) and cheesy b vocals.  I guess the lyrics are funny, but they seem really tone deaf.  “This ain’t a booty call it’s just a late night snack.”

His delivery and voice are really nice, I wish that he would sing about more substantial stuff.

Having said that, he introduces the final song “Wedding Crashers” with “You ever been a to a wedding before?  Can we go to one real quick?”  The song begins with almost childlike keyboard sounds.  And while the verses go too far, the chorus makes me smile

This is dedicated to my ex lovers
Hope that you hear this, never find another
Me and my friends, we don’t worry or pretend
Hope you play this at your wedding
Yeah, the one I won’t attend (Sike)

I did enjoy watching drummer Cory Limuaco because for such simple drumming, he uses all kinds of mallets and sticks and sides of sticks, which is always fun to see.

[READ: April 25, 2017] Chekhov’s First Play

This play was created by Dead Centre.  Dead Centre was formed in 2012 in Dublin by Ben Kidd, Bush Moukarzel and Adam Welsh.

The play is based on the fact that Anton Chekov wrote his first play at 19 and then more or less denounced it: “there are two scenes in my first play which are the work of genius, if you like.  But on the whole, it’s an unforgivable, if inconsistent, fraud.”  The intro notes: to this day it is unclear which two scenes Chekhov was talking about.

The play was discovered after he died.  It had no title, but is probably a play he referred to in is letters called Fatherlessness, although most renderings of the play have named it after the central character–a philandering charismatic schoolteacher named Platonov.  It first appeared after his death as “That Worthless Fellow Platonov.”  Although almost all scholars believe that the piece is a conversation piece rather than a viable addition to the repertory.

Here’s a little bit of interesting history of the play from Wikipedia: (more…)

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spowerSOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Canso, NS (July 3, 2005).

stanBack in 2005, the Rheostatics played two days at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival. The first day’s show was a kind of mash up of the Rheostatics and other bands.  Indeed, the recording includes some other artists along with the Rheos.

This second day it was apparently raining.  But it’s just the Rheos doing their best folk band impression, but not being afraid to totally rock out.

The recording opens very echoey and with a woman who is having a different kind of fun screaming quite a bit really nearby.  But after a minute or two, I assume the recording device is moved because you can no longer hear her. It’s jut Martin singing “California Dreamline.”

“Fan Letter to Michael Jackson” is particularly rocking, especially the “Michael!” part.  It’s a great version of the song, with lots of interesting bass work from Tim.  The whole band seems really into it.

Dave says, “The first European settlers stopped at Guysboro so we feel honored to do the same.  I went to the cairn…. I read the cairn.”

Mike: “Was the plaque about golfing?”

Dave: “No, it was about settling by the Mi’kmaq.”

They play a terrific, rocking “Marginalized,” a song that they seem to always play great.  It’s followed by a grooving intro to “Horses.”  Dave is really into it and the song ends really really loud and aggressive for a folk festival–Dave is screaming.

It’s followed by a terrific “Stolen Car.”  The “Kill a cop” line is really intense with a big drum roll.  And Martin is in great form throughout, especially that ending “drive away” section.

Mike: Thanks, we’ve got one more for you
Martin: Thanks, we’ve got one more for you
Dave: As a great man once said, Thanks, we’ve have one more for you

After all of that intensity, they end with a slow, pretty “Making Progress.”  Martin says, the composer of this next number in the middle: Timothy Rabbit Warren Vesely.  So that’s two songs by each singer.  As the song ends, Martin plays some interesting echoing guitar lines as the other guys leave.

The announcer says: “Rheostastics.  These guys were nominated for 3 Junos and one Genie and the Barnenaked Ladies and The Tragically Hip are constantly singing their praises and we got to hear them tonight.

[READ: April 25, 2017] The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power

This is the reboot of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  This edition collects issues 1-4 and a special comic from Marvel Super Heroes #8.

For the reboot, Erica Henderson has re-imagined the appearance of Squirrel Girl from the rankly really creepy and ugly early version (as seen in the Marvel issue included) into a new much cooler looking hero.  Although I find her face really distractingly strange-looking.  I suppose it’s meant to invoke a squirrel somewhat, but since I read the Shannon Hale book first, I imagined her looking less odd.  But I have since gotten over that and I find her personality is too great to care.

There are several things I love about this story line.  It is so very funny.  Every bit and piece is great.  I also love that she is, as her name suggests, unbeatable.  This is not a spoiler exactly, but she really can’t be beaten–it’s pretty great.  I also love that there is running commentary along the bottom of the page (essentially the footnotes).  Sadly in some issues it is really hard for these old eyes to read, but if you can read them, they are worth it.

But really it’s the tone that I love,  It’s so lighthearted and fun.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Sam The Record Man, Toronto. ON (November 13, 2004).

The Rheostatics played live at Sam The Record Man in Toronto, during the afternoon of the 3rd night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.

The recording level is really quiet.  In fact the first track called “crowd” is virtually all silence.  I gather they were supposed to start earlier but Martin was delayed.  So they eventually note: “we’ll press on in absentia.”

Dave continues, “We’ve given martin 50 [or 15, I hope] minutes.  He’s a in a cab so it’s just the three of us.”

Just as they start, the store announcement is made to join everyone in the video room for the show.

Without Martin, they play the more acoustic songs.  “Little Bird” sounds great, and as he begins “My First Rock Concert” he says,”This is ironic.  This song… many of the events happened not too far from here.”

“Marginalized” sounds really different without the rough guitar.  The bass is funkier and the overall song is much more acoustic.  It’s a little unnerving.

And then Martin arrives: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr George Jones.”

Dave: “Okay we are complete.”

Martin: “I made the mistake thinking I could hail a cab and they decided not to exist.”

Dave: “Nobody’s buying that, Martin.”

Tim: “I think you have to get out of bed to hail a cab, they don’t see you in bed.”

Michael: “It was international ‘Don’t pick up Martin Tielli on the street day.'”

Introducing “Power Ballad for Ozzy Osbourne,” Dave says, “This is a song we were commissioned by Health Services Canada to write for their 2004 testicular awareness program.”  After the song, “That song is from our new album 2067, on sale for the remarkable price of $9.99.  Back to 1978 prices.”  he remembers back to the “Old Sam’s Boxing Day–not to sound like a big old geezer or anything but….  you could get 14 albums for… $9.99 in the late 80s.”

In the opening section yo can hear some kids talking and chatting.  I wonder if it’s Dave’s kids.  When “P.I.N.” starts, someone says it’s a “Big toy throwing number.”  Martin’s voice is strained and crackly.  The whole song feels a little restrained.

Dave introduces “Easy to be With You” as from “our psychedelic children’s album.”

Martin still sounds a little rough during “Christopher.”  He speaks the first line and kind of flubs a later line.  It’s followed by “Horses” which is acoustic and rollicking but not too intense.

Martin’s voice breaks a bit and he seems to mock himself on “Saskatchewan.”   It’s really unusual to hear this as an acoustic number and he sounds kind of aggressive during the “farm and the work to be done” line.

It’s not an especially great show, but it is an interesting peek at the band during the day.

[READ: May 1, 2017] The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe!

Amid all of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl books (there are currently 6), done by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, this book is a one-off and is considered  graphic novel unto itself.   I don’t entirely understand why it is done as a single book rather than as part of the series, but I don’t really care, because it’s great.

Of course, the title is confusing as all get out, right?

Well, as the book opens, we see that the main characters are going to be Doreen Green aka Squirrel Girl, Nancy Whitehead (Doreen’s roommate with no special powers (boo)), Tippy Toe (Doreen’s faithful squirrel sidekick), Ken Shiga, (Koi Boi), Tomas Lara Perez, Chipmunk Hunk and, The Rest of the Marvel Universe. (more…)

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Frank Conniff–Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever (2016)

tvfrankSOUNDTRACK: TA-KU & WAFIA-Tiny Desk Concert #576 (November 6, 2016).

Ta-ku & Wafia are Australian, and I knew nothing else about them.  So:

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.  With production characterized by weary low-end rumbles and resonant keys, the two float above the music, playing off each other’s harmonies.

Although the blurb mentions a few bands that the duo sounds like I couldn’t help thinking they sound The xx (although a bit poppier).

“Treading Water” especially sounds like The xx.  Both of their voices sound really close to that band (although Wafia’s high notes and r&b inclinations do impact that somewhat).  It’s funny that they are just sitting there with their eyes closed, hands folded singing gently.

“Me in the Middle” is another pretty, simple keyboard song with depth in the lyrics and vocals.

Introducing, “Love Somebody,” she says its their favorite on their EP and he interjects Go but it now, which makes her giggle.  Her voice is really quite lovely.  I could see them hitting big both in pop circles and in some alternative circles if they market themselves well.

[READ: November 10, 2016] 25 MST3K Films that Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever

As you might guess from the title, Frank Conniff was involved with MST3K.  He was TV’s Frank and, as we learn from this book, he was the guy who was forced to watch every movie first and decide whether it could be used for the show.  This “job” was created because they had watched a bit of Sidehackers and decided it would be fun to use.  So Comedy Central bought the rights (“They paid in the high two figures”) and then discovered that there was a brutal rape scene (“don’t know why I need to cal it a ‘brutal’ rape scene any kind of rape ,loud or quiet, violent or Cosby-style, is brutal”) that would sure be hard to joke about (they edited it out for the show which “had a minimal effect on the overall mediocrity of the project.”

The book opens with an FBI warning like the videotapes except for this book it stands for Federal Bureau of Incoherence because the document contains “many pop culture references that are obscure, out of date, annoying and of no practical use to anyone.”   So each chapter goes through and explains these obscure references for us all. (more…)

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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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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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