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Archive for the ‘Penguin Cafe’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FIRE IS MOTION-Days 1-7 (2014), Demos (2014), Flowers in Kawameeh Park (2017).

Fire in Motion is more or less the project of Adrian Amador.  But he had a full band when they opened for Public Service Broadcasting.  I got a copy of their CD at the show (which you can stream or download here).

The first 7 songs were done with this template:

I decided to write and record a song every day for an entire month using no pre-written material. Around the third day, I realized just how overly ambitious this idea was

“Day 1” has nice ringing guitars and some great backing vocals.  There’s drums on this song too. (Ambitious first day).
“Day 2” is one of the most exciting songs here.  The riff is fantastic in this slow version (Live they played it faster), but the way the guitar echoes is really lovely. When more guitars get layered on top, it’s really quite something.
“Day 3” is an acoustic ballad.  Simple guitars with a falsetto note in the vocals that keeps it interesting.  It’s just over a minute, but when the clapping comes in around 45 seconds it feels like it could be developed into a really full song.
“Day 4” is a delicate acoustic ballad with some pretty overdubbed guitars and vocals.  This could also be expanded into something lovely.
“Day 5” Again, the overdubbed guitars are lovely and the vocal melody on top shows another interesting start to a song.
“Day 6” In the spirit of “Day 2,” this has a slow guitar melody that unwinds as the vocals sing a slightly different melody.  This song could use an interesting guitar line on top, like in “Day 2” but otherwise its very promising.
“Day 7” has an organ sound for some diversity and the female and male vocals offer nice harmonizing again.

The demos are a bit more complete sounding but still sound like demos, of course.

“How Long to Get Home” is the cleanest sounding song so far.  It has that wonderful echoed main guitar and several different pretty guitar lines.  I love the way this built from a quiet song with some big drums and backing vocals.  This song sounded great live.

“Ringside” sounds more like a demo.  It has plucked guitar sound and deep vocals.  The song is spare at the start but when it gets to a bout a minute in, more instrumentation and percussion is added and the song feels really full.  The harmonics near the end are rally a nice touch and the kind of distantly screamed vocals add a sense of urgency.

“Smile It Makes This Easier” has an upbeat melody on acoustic guitar (with a nice little riff) and the  harmonies (both high and low ) are nice addition.

I’d love to hear any of these songs fleshed out and I wonder what is on their forthcoming CD.

“Flowers in Kawameeh Park” is a single that is not going to on the record and is only available here.  It is the most full-sounding of the bunch with vocals from Avery Salermo and Adrian Amador (who plays everything else but the horns).  The quiet middle section with the great backing vocals leads to a large crashing section.  The horns make the song get bigger and bigger until the dramatic buzzy ending.

It’s really cool to listen to these songs in order and hear the band develop.  They are going to be opening for Pinegrove in late December.  I’m looking forward to that show and the CD.

[READ: August 2, 2016] Amulet: Firelight

Kibuishi has stated that there will be nine books in this series.  This is number seven and it was just released this year, so it will be a pretty long time (I suspect) before books 8 and 9 come out. Which is a real shame because, although the story has been good so far, this book was hugely exciting.

It opens with Emily and her father (!) hiking.  He gives her some advice which I have to wonder if it is true–gently push yourself away from the rock…we’re at enough of an angle that it will give you leverage.  Holding the surface tight is only going to make you slide.  Sounds like it should work.  And it also might be a good theme of the book–push away rather than grabbing tighter for your safety

But Emily realizes it is only a dream (not even a memory and soon it is gone).

She is actually still on the ship with Enzo and they are pulling into a station to hope for refuelling. The station seems empty, although it is full of memories.  As they explore, they discover that they are already on Algos Island –their intended destination (which was not an actual island after all).

But before they can secure the ship, they are boarded and a fight ensues–little Dagno even manages to help out.  It turns out the invader is Galiban–the elf from earlier in the story who stole everyone’s memories.  They secure him and he reveals that he has been saving all of the memories he stole in an underground ship.

And that’s when Galiban lays a tough truth on everyone–the stonekeepers were chosen for their weakness not their strength.  He is quite certain that Emily is being used against her will.  And while he hated the stonekeepers for the horrible things they did to his home, he realizes it was not their fault-they couldn’t control it.

And then we flash to Navin and his friends.  They are trying to get to Valcor but they are still in those giant rumbling robot suits.  They can’t earn enough money to book a ride to Frontera, so they get jobs working on the ship–they are the waitstaff (and they are terrible).  And worse yet they are spotted by Elven solders.

But it turns out that soldiers are in disguise, they were sent by Riva and she tells them that there are bounty hunters here looking for them.  The “soldiers” are Loni and Roni and they are going to fly Navin and friends to safety.

Back on the underwater memory ship, Galivan shows Emily and Trellis where the memories are stored.  This leads them to a memory that Trellis needs to see–the one where he learns that his father has been taken over by the voice.  And that the shadows have really overtaken their people.  That memory was clouded so he would forget it.

Then two exciting thing happen at once. They are detected in their underwater location and the bad guys come to attack them.  And Emily chooses a path (against Trellis’ wishes) which might be an escape but turns out to be actually another memory.

And this memory is of someone who Emily doesn’t recognize.  But he turns out to be someone who is instrumental in the accident that killed her father (it’s an intense sequence to be sure).  But in this memory she uses her power to rescue her family (including her self).  And as the memory concludes, her father is getting Riled up about the guy who caused the accident and the says he’ll make him pay.  Which means that Emily has given up control over the stone.  And that can’t be good for anyone.

While things are going very badly for Emily, things are going pretty well for Navin.  The crew lands on Frontera.  And while the landing area looks pretty run down we soon learn that Frontera has served as an underground base for the resistance–they have another base in the planet’s atmosphere (and they have a very cool-looking ship to take them there).  So while one sibling is taking control, the other one is losing control.

How can  wait a year for book 8?  [Word has it Book 8 will come out in 2018].

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #653  (September 22, 2017).

Yes, that Steve Martin.

When I was a kid I used to listen to Steve Martin comedy records all the time, he often included a lot of banjo with his stand up.  He was good then, but he is pretty amazing now.

Throughout his 50-year career, one constant in Steve Martin’s life has been the banjo. It was a staple of his early standup shows and even fans who only wanted to laugh couldn’t help but marvel at his playing. Over the years, he’s continued to perform and record with country and bluegrass luminaries like Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and others.

These days Martin is working on music full-time. He’s just released a stellar bluegrass album he recorded with The Steep Canyon Rangers called (perfectly) The Long-Awaited Album, a record filled with often hilarious story songs and world-class performances.

The band plays three songs and then an “encore.”  “So Familiar” starts as a banjo “solo” an impressive display of fingerprinting and string bending from Martin.  Then it settles into a traditional-sounding folk song with a lot of mandolin from Mike Guggino and fiddle from Nicky Sanders.  I pity Graham Sharp, the Rangers’ banjo player who clearly takes a back seat to Martin.

After the song, Martin says, they’re gonna tune for this next little song.  He says it’s tricky tuning indoors when there’s heat and air conditioning.  “It’s a scientific process  I could explain it to you but… [laughs].  The photons come in and they effect the positrons so that [points to himself] the moron can play.”  “All Night Long” features “our lead singer [and guitarist] Woody Platt.  It’s a pretty traditional song held down by the steady thump if Charles Humphrey’s bass.  The lyrics are sweet (“I only love you in the day and all night long”) and the harmonies are wonderful.  Martin plays the lead intro and a cool little outro.

“By the way, he asks, “who’s running NPR right now?”  He says the melody of “On the Water” came to him in a dream.  He woke up and recorded the melody so it probably sounds like “Oklahoma.”  The band starts with box rums and harmonics from the other banjo.  He messes up an says “Let’s start again.”  Steve turns on the drummer Mike Ashworth (who did nothing wrong and teases: “Yeah.  You screwed up so badly.  Try to get it right this time.”  Ashworth jokes, “Am i fired?  I’m scared.  Martin says, “I’m so glad someone else screwed up besides me.”

Platt leans over and says “How about ‘Caroline’ for an encore?”  Martin says, “This is not for the Tiny Desk.  I don;t think it’s suitable for the Tiny Desk.  It’s about a romance gone bad-looking back two years later.”   As the blurb says, the song is a “hilarious, first-person account of how not to handle a breakup.”  Martin delivers a funny story with a great catchy chorus.

I never got to see Steve Martin do standup, but I would love to see him do bluegrass.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

Book four opens with Emily dream-talking to the spirit in the stone.  It tells her that it can no longer be with her in Cielis and it gives her some warnings.

When she wakes up, Max is there to greet her and they are going to head off to the council.  But things aren’t very happy in Cielis.  Trellis and Luger are Elves, true, but even though they are vouched for, the residents still put them in jail for being the elf king’s son.  And none of the non-human creatures are allowed into the city proper.

So when Leon and the cats go looking for a bite to eat, they are not welcomed anywhere.  Until a girl named Aly sees the good in them and invites them into her restaurant (despite her parents protests).  Her parents say the guardian council will lock them up if they are caught. Leon say that the council invited them to help.  But the council is no longer what it once was.  And that’s when Aly reveals that the council is made up of the ghosts of dead people.  Her parents tell her to hush but she refuses to be silent any longer.

Until the rapping on the door makes them all hush. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PENGUIN CAFE-Tiny Desk Concert #628 (June 16, 2017).

I recently found out about Penguin Cafe from a piece on All Songs Considered.  I learned that Penguin Cafe Orchestra was responsible for some cool/unusual classical/pop recordings back in he 1970s and 1980s.  And it’s likely that if you listened to NPR back then, you heard some of their music.:

The music of Penguin Cafe is like no other. Its origins date back to the early ’70s, within fever dreams Simon Jeffes had that were brought on by food poisoning. In those dreams he imagined a dispassionate world “where everyone lived in big concrete blocks and spent their lives looking into screens. In one room, there was a couple making love lovelessly. In another there was a musician sat at a vast array of equipment, but with headphones on, so there was no actual music in the room.” Eerily accurate.

But he also imagined a place, the Penguin Cafe, where folks could gather, for pleasure, cheer and music. He wanted to hear what that music would sound like, and so created the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I was always a huge fan of that original music; listeners of NPR may have heard it often in-between news stories during the many years I directed All Things Considered.

But Penguin Cafe Orchestra is no more.

While Simon Jeffes died in 1997, his son Arthur has been creating new music infused with his father’s original inspiration. He calls his group, simply, Penguin Cafe. You can hear Brazilian sounds in the rhythms, classical and minimalism in the strings, Asia in its harmonium, African sounds in the kalimbas. But honestly, it’s none of these; it’s a universal dream state.

If you’re looking to explore further be sure the listen to Penguin Cafe’s recent album The Imperfect Sea, which nods to Kraftwerk, Simian Mobile Disco and Franz Schubert. It’s none of these.

The band has a lot of strings: Oli Langford (violin) Clementine Brown (violin) Vincent Greene (viola) Andy Waterworth (double bass).  There’s also a ukulele (Des Murphy) which you can’t hear too often, but it is notable on the final song.

“Wheels Within Wheels” is cover of a song by Simian Mobile Disco.  It is nearly five minutes long with slow, building strings and a simple melody that seems to be never ending as it remains the same while the backing chords change.  In addition to the strings, there’s a guy (Neil Codling) playing a dulcitone on top of the real piano (he’s holding his hand up by the end).  And the percussionist (Darren Berry) seems to have a wooden plank to play on.  He uses mallets on the wood to get quite a deep sound.  It’s a really fun piece.

“Protection” has a catchy piano motif (played by Arthur with outstretched arm on the dulcitone) in 7/8 time.  But everyone else plays in 4/4, so the motif changes every time.  After a few bars, it switches to the real piano and the strings are really lovely while that’s going on.  The ducitone player has switched to a large ukulele and the percussion consists of drums sticks on the piece of wood–fast clicking sounds.

“Ricercar” is an old renaissance Italian term.  At the beginning of a fugue you embed a theme that is expounded on later.  This song opens the album and few themes come back later in the album.  Jeffes plays a quiet melody on the dulcitone.  About half way through the song he opens the piano and seems to be dampening the strings with his hand while playing the notes.  The percussion includes a shaker and the mallets on the wood once again.  It’s upbeat and catchy and a lot of fun.

This is a really enjoyable show–classical music for people who like to have fun as well.  As far as the original band goes, if you’ve heard anything by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, it’s probably this piece: “Music for a Found Harmonium.”

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper

I have really enjoyed Kibuishi’s Explorer collections, so it seemed sensible to try out his Amulet as well.  And what a great, interesting and unusual story it is.

Although I must admit I was pretty shocked by the fact that the main characters Emily and Navin are in a car accident in the prologue and their father is killed.  What a way to start!

After the death of their father, the family (Emily, Navin and their mom) move out to an old country estate to get some perspective on things.  As they begin to clean up the old house, they go into a room of inventions by their ancestor Silas Charnon.  The story is that Charnon went missing one day and was never heard from again. While Emily is looking over some books, a creepy ghost creatures hovers behind her.

Navin and Emily look around (they don’t see the ghost) and soon, Emily puts her hand on a hand-shaped plate and a necklace–an amulet–is revealed.  Emily puts it on and when Navin complains, she says he can wear it tomorrow.  But that night the amulet speaks to her.  It tells her to stay with her family and keep the safe–they are in danger. (more…)

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