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SOUNDTRACK: SHOVELS AND ROPE-Tiny Desk Concert #304 (September 16, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert starts with the most fun opening of any—the duo of Shovels & Rope brought their dog along, and as they are warming up, the dog roams around, getting pet by people and sneaking treats.

As the blurb notes:

But once Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent showed up, the office quickly lost sight of the approaching performance, as the murmurs began: “There’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office there’s a dog in the office!” You could practically see our coworkers’ brains short out from a combination of cognitive dissonance and canine adoration.

I’ve enjoyed Shovels and Rope’s punky folky country music, But I didn’t know much about them:

As endearing as our new friend was, Shovels & Rope soon won back the crowd’s attention [with] the husband-and-wife duo’s mix of rowdy folk-rock and rootsy balladeering. After opening with the plaintive ballad “Carnival,” the South Carolina duo ripped through one of its signature rockers — “Birmingham,” during which the pair held eye contact sweetly while singing in unison — before closing with “Bad Luck,” a clattering gem for which the two swap instruments (he on guitar, she on drums). The song, originally from a Michael Trent solo album, most recently appeared on a deluxe version of Shovels & Rope’s 2012 debut, the winning and appropriately titled O’ Be Joyful.

The band’s music is definitely steeped in country and yet there’s something about it that I like—they have country spirit without all the twang—or perhaps it’s just the gorgeous harmonies that elevate it above pedestrian country fare.

“Carnival” is a slow, sweet song.  She plays guitars, he plays keys and he gets a harmonica solo.  For “Birmingham,” he jumps up and switches to drums. And it’s amazing how much power that simple drum beat puts into these songs.  This is a hootin’, hollerin’, country stompin’ song.  There’s a punky element to it- sort of an X vibe (although I think its more like The Knitters than X) with their voices mingling.

As that song ends, they switch places–he takes guitar she takes the drums.  Before starting, he asks, “Where’d our dog go?  Anyone got a line on a hound dog?”  She jokes, “If your ham sandwich is half eaten?”  Then corrects: “He won’t half eat it, he’ll get it all.”

The final song “Bad Luck” is a big stompin’ fun song. There’s simple loud punky drums and she hollers the vocals for extra fun

The dog even gets an on-screen handshake at the end (and then the duo shake each others’ hands, too).

[READ: July 30, 2016] The Metamorphosis

I’ve been enjoying the art of Peter Kuper lately.  So I found a few of his older books, like this adaptation of The Metamorphosis, which is pretty great.

I don’t know if this is meant to be a complete telling of the story.  I’ve read it a few times, but I don’t know all of the details.

I liked that he clearly doesn’t include all of the dialogue or text–it’s not a comprehensive version of the story.  Rather, he uses a the art to move the story along.

The cockroach is drawn in Kuper’s very blocky, very robotic style–it’s cool and creepy.  But not bug-creepy just inhuman-creepy.

As the book opens, he flashes back to his life and job as a traveling salesman .  He hates the work–it is exhausting–and if his parents didn’t need the money he would have quit a long time ago.

But while he’s thinking all this he realized that he is late for work.  He tries to get up and that’s when the limitations of being a cockroach really hit him.

His supervisor comes to tell him that he is fired because of poor performance and when his family sees him, they are disgusted by him.

Only his sister Grete treats him kindly–bringing him scraps of foot (real food at first and then rotting food, since he is a bug). We learn that in the family only Grete and Gregor are close–their father is distant and cold.  The father is really annoyed at Gregor the bug still being in the house–how do they even know he is that creature or if he is even still “in” there.  He throws an apple at Gregor and it gets embedded in his back (ew).

Without Gregor’s income the family must take in lodgers, who are bossy and inconsiderate  Gregor wants them out but when they see him, they freak out and storm out without paying.

Can a story like this find any happiness at the end?  Well, sort of, in a very unexpected place.

Even though this is primarily a visual work, it really conveys the horrors of the original in a very clever way.

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CoverStory-KadirNelson-ADayattheBeach3-879x1200-1467305948SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA LOVELESS-Tiny Desk Concert #369 (July 1, 2014).

lovelssI want Lydia Loveless to be a punk singer–Her name is like a combination of Lydia Lunch and a last name that conjures up an asskicking punk.

But not the country singer that Loveless is (even if she is ass-kicking herself). Loveless is a new breed of alt-country which is pretty explicit with noticeably rocking guitar solos.  But her voice is so twangy it’s hard to not call it country (and in fact it’s a bit too much for me to take sometimes).

“Head” features this rather memorable chorus “Don’t stop getting undressed /Don’t stop giving me head.”  It seems especially surprising since Loveless looks like she’s about 12 (she was 23 at the time of this recording).  The buzzy solo is lengthy and more or less runs throughout the song.  Although at some point when Loveless takes her own solo the whole sound seems to fade out and get a little anemic.

Her band is fun with her bassist being very tall and having very long hair playing a very tall upright bass.  And then there’s another guy playing guitar and lap steel.

“Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” has a title that begs for an awesome song.  It’s not an epic masterpiece or anything.  In fact its closer to a pop song, The slide guitar and Loveless’ heavy accent on the chorus place it firmly in the country camp.

“Mile High” has a fun folk riff.  It sounds a lot like The Byrds and the chorus is super catchy.  If I could get her to sing less twangy I would love this song much like I love the punk country of X, or at least the Knitters.

[READ: December 29, 2010] “Who are All These Trump Supporters”

[This essay in the New Yorker also came under the heading “Trump Days.”]

So the title of the essay is a question I myself have been asking as I watch the hatred and vitriol bubble over during the convention.

If there was anyone I wanted to write this piece it would be George Saunders and he is actually the only reason I read it in the first place (I plan to read all of his contributions to the New Yorker eventually, but I’m glad to have read this one when it was timely–I hope it will be utterly irrelevant by the time I get to the rest of his works).  He self identifies as a liberal (although he was a conservative who loved Ayn Rand way back in the Reagan era).  He is a thoughtful and not prone to anger–a perfect foil for the crowd.  And he’s got a great way with words.

So great in fact that I’m just going to be quoting him a lot.  I could have pulled more excellent quotes from the essay, but really you should read the whole thing. (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MO PHILLIPS-“Big Red Truck” (2012).

This track was number two on the OWTK March 2012 playlist.  This song has a kind of late X, or maybe The Knitters kind of feel–male and female vocals with a heavy bassline and a slightly ominous feel–although it is just about a big red truck.  I like t he song a lot, but I’m not sure if my kids would.

The chorus of “bringing all my loving taking all my loving home to you” seems like an odd one for a kids song.

[READ: September 30, 2012] Benny’s Brigade

Yes, this is the same Arthur Bradford whom I have written about and read all of his works–McSweeney’s McMullens has been publishing children’s stories from unexpected adult authors!  This is Bradford’s first foray into children’s books, and I think it’s quite successful.  Benny’s Brigade came with the Ionesco book, but my kids enjoyed it much more.

I was a little concerned exactly how this would turn out (the combination of McSweeney’s and Bradford could have gone dark), but I needn’t have worried.  It is a kids book after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN DOE AND EXENE CERVENKA at KEXP December 31, 2010 (2010).

X toured the Los Angeles album back in 2010–the 30th anniversary of the album.  John Doe and Exene Cervenka came to KEXP to do an acoustic set and to talk…a lot.  The DJ tells them of when he saw them at age 16.  He had his camera and wanted to be a rock photographer.  He was getting pushed around in the pit and Exene pulled him onstage (he got great photos which I’d love to see).  Surprisingly, Exene does not seem as moved as one might expect by that story.

This is a simple, acoustic set–John with his guitar and he and Exene singing.  They play a few songs from across their career: “Because I Do,” “In This House That I Call Home” (a personal favorite), “True Love” (another favorite) and “See How We Are.”  John still sounds great, although Exene’s voice sounds a little worn on “Because I Do” and is actually hard to listen to on “True Love.”

There’s some really long interviews–talking about drugs and The Germs and the heyday and how Exene can’t wait for 2011 to start.

[READ: August 27, 2012] The Emily Dickinson Reader

This book is “an English-to-English translation of Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems.”  What?  Well, basically Paul Legualt has taken all of the “poetry” out of Dickinson’s poems and has left us with what the poems might mean to contemporary readers.  But he also reduced them to basically one line summaries as well–or as McSweeney’s says: “ingenious and madcap one-line renderings.”

So you get “translations” like: #314

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me.

Which Legault translates as: “Hope is kind of like birds. In that I don’t have any.” (more…)

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wimpy4SOUNDTRACK: DAN ZANES-Night Time (2002).

zanesI’d only ever heard of Dan Zanes as the guy from the Del Fuegos (who probably got the biggest boost of their career when Juliana Hatfield sang about them in “My Sister”).  But once we had our first child, everyone told me to check out Dan Zanes’ “kids” records.  Night Time is one of our favorites.  It’s often played at night (obviously) as a good bedtime CD.

There a few rousing tracks on it but mostly it works as a mellow disc, perfect for winding down the day.  Zanes’ “kids” music is absolutely not just for kids (well, one or two tracks certainly are), because he uses his rock roots to play good roots rock (and folk).  Another fun thing about this disc (and most of his discs, in fact) is that he has a whole host of cool rock people to sing with him: Aimee Mann, John Doe (from X), Dar Williams and Lou Reed!

So, while you get a few traditional kids song (“Pay Me My Money Down,” “Rattlin’ Bog”) you also get a few traditional songs that work well for kids, but are fun for adults to sing along to (“Side by Side,” “What a Wonderful World,” “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh)”).  There’s also originals by Zanes (the fantastic “Night Owl,” “Smile Smile Smile” and the gorgeous closer “Linger for Awhile”) and some nontraditional songs (Zanes likes throwing in “world” music titles) like “Que Fortunidad,” and “Siyahamba”.

And it all sounds great.  There’s a horn section on a number of tracks, bringing a very rich texture.  But he also uses solo guitar or even mandolin.  And Zanes’ voice sounds fantastic.  He’s slightly gruff sounding, but in an endearing way.

I don’t know if I ever would have listened to these discs if it weren’t for having kids; but even if you don’t have kids, don’t let the “kids” label scare you away.

[READ: October 17, 2009] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

I was thrilled when this book came in the mail.  (Yes, we do order some books to keep).  I’ve enjoyed the whole series quite a bit, and there was so much hype about this book (it was ranked #1 at Amazon.com!) that I was very excited to get it.

This book’s title is something of a double meaning.  Dog days of summer, and also the animal itself (a dog features in several panels).  And so yes, the story takes place over Greg’s summer vacation.

The first half of the book I didn’t find quite as enjoyable as I wanted.  It’s not bad by any means, but a lot of the conflict from the other books is absent.  Because it’s summer, there’s no school conflict and for reasons that aren’t explained, Rodrick isn’t really in the story that much (maybe he’s on tour with Löded Diper) [which, yes, is still funny].  And Greg has a fight with Rowley, so they don’t speak for a while.

In many ways these are exciting developments because there’s a lot of newness in the storyline.  But, like a soft pillow, I missed my favorite conflicts! (more…)

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nevermindSOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003).

yoshimiHow do you follow up the fantastic Soft Bulletin?  If you’re The Flaming Lips, you simultaneously pull back and push forward.  I often thing of Yoshimi as Bulletin part 2 but that’s really not right or fair.  Yoshimi has a more Pink Floyd vibe: it’s quite mellow and folky.  But nothing the Lips do can be completely commercial, so you get things in every song that add immensely to the sound, yet prevent it from complete accessibility.

The opening song “Fight Test” begins with an ominous voice saying “The test begins…  NOW!!” with loud distorted crashes, and yet it quickly turns into one of their most delicate and catchy songs.  The only nod to peculiarity is the watery bass lines that fill the song.  It’s a mystery why this song wasn’t huge.

The next track, “One More Robot” is a delicate song reminiscent of Radiohead with the walking bassline and soft vocals.  This leads to the fabulous title track “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Ropbots Pt 1.”  In which yes, Yoshimi disciplines her body to take on the evil machines.  It’s another shoulda-been single, with strumming acoustic guitar and more of that fabulous fat bass. ” Pt 2,” on the other hand is a noisy cacophonous march depicting the fight.  It includes Yoshimi P-We from the Boredoms and OOIOO adding appropriate shrieks and screams.

Two more delicate songs follow: “In the Morning of the Magicians” is one of their longer songs and is quite mellow.  It also features a very lengthy instrumental section with more of that awesome bass.  “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” is the most techno sounding song I can think of by the Lips.  It seems like maybe that touring work with Beck influenced them a bit.

“Are You a Hypnotist??” is a little louder and plays with the ascending chord progressions that Wayne does so well.   An uplifting track, with fun, interesting notes thrown in.  “It’s Summertime” has some great rubbery bouncing bass noises in the beginning, and it slowly morphs into a heavenly chorus.

The real highlight is “Do You Realize??”  It’ a song that goes from happy to sad to happy all in the space of a few lines.  But musically it is uplifting, with choruses and swelling orchestration.  I gather this was used for some ads, but I’m just surprised it wasn’t everywhere!

“All We Have is Now” is another delicate song, with gentle verses sung in an impossibly high falsetto.  The chorus is the most interesting part, with great bass notes interrupting the reverie.  The album ends with a gorgeous instrumental “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)” which is an apt title (Pavonis Mons being a volcano of Mars) and it sounds quite interstellar.

What’s most notable about this album is that there’s nothing that stands out as peculiar from the rest of the record (except “Yoshimi Pt 2”). It’s a very  constant record, mellow and comforting.  And yet I’m not going to call it safe, because it’s not.  I don’t know if it made as many critical lists as Bulletin, but I know it sold better, and it seems like a really good place to start for latter days Lips.

[READ: February 18, 2009] Never Mind the Pollacks

After reading several Pollack stories in McSweeney’s I discovered that he had written a novel. This novel.

With an awesome title! Most of the awesomeness is purely luck that his name is Pollack (Never Mind the Debraskis doesn’t have the same ring). (more…)

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