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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: OK Go-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OLIVER ‘TUKU’ MTUKUDZI-Tiny Desk Concert #307 (September 30, 2017).

The blurb says that this guitarist is a legend, which makes me feel bad that I’ve never heard of him.

He seemed so casual — sitting on a bar stool behind the Tiny Desk, acoustic guitar in hand — but when you hear that husky voice, you’ll know why he’s a legend. Oliver Mtukudzi, or “Tuku” as his fans lovingly call him, plays spirited music, born from the soul of Zimbabwe. He’s been recording since the late 1970s, with about as many albums as his age: 60.

But Mtukudzi’s new record reveals a heavier heart than before: Sarawoga is his first recording since the loss of his son Sam. He and Sam — also a guitar player, as well as a saxophonist — had a special relationship touring together. But in March 2010, Sam Mtukudzi was killed in a car crash at the age of 21. Oliver Mtukudzi recently told NPR’s Tell Me More that “the only way to console myself is to carry on doing what we loved doing most. Sitting down [to] cry and mourn — I think it would have killed me.”

All three songs, “Todii,” “Huroi” and “Haidyoreke” are all gentle, with Tuku’s guitar playing mellow meandering melodies and his gravelly voice being soothing at the same time.  It’s interesting that for “Todii,” a more upbeat song he is clearly singing not in English, but the chorus (sung by the backing musicians) is “What Shall We Do.”  The backing musicians are there for percussion–congas, and maracas–and backing vocals.  And their vocals are done in a traditional way.

[READ: January 2, 2017] Volcanoes

This Science Comics book was very different from the previous two.  It was designed as a fictional story full of with factual information.

At first I found this really weird and off-putting, but by the end, I thought the story was pretty compelling and that the factual information was presented in an interesting and informative way.  And what I realized afterward was not that I didn’t like the fictional aspect but that I really didn’t like the illustrations.

For some reason, Chad chose to have the main characters with very distinctive and unusual features.  Aurora, the main character had a line of black hair down her forehead.  Her sister, Luna, has really really big eyes and their guardian, Pallas, has a block of gray hair.  I found all of these choices to be unsettling and unpleasing to look at (although it does allow us to tell them apart quite easily).  However the volcano and other nature images were really fantastic. (more…)

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sahrakSOUNDTRACK: NO BS! BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #280 (June 15, 2013).

nobsWith a name like No BS! Brass Band, you think you know what you’re getting: brass and lots of it.  And while that is true, the Band goes way beyond what I anticipated a brass band would sound like (nothing like the far more traditional Canadian Brass for instance).

The blurb states:

Funky and danceable, the NO BS! Brass Band takes after the full black-music continuum you hear in groups like Rebirth or the Hot 8. But it’s also proggy, and a bit brutalizing, and full of pride in a different Southern outpost. The group’s new album is called RVA All Day, after all.  [I don’t know what that last line refers to].

Recently, Koehler, Pace and nine other musicians piled into a bus and journeyed up the freeway to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk in Washington, D.C. They blasted us with songs from the new album — it was so loud, you could hear the music on the other side of the building, a floor down.

The band includes:  Lance Koehler, drums ; Reggie Pace, trombone ; Bryan Hooten, trombone/vocals ; John Hulley, trombone ; Dillard Watt, bass trombone ; David Hood, alto saxophone ; Marcus Tenney, trumpet ; Sam Koff, trumpet ; Ben Court, trumpet ; Taylor Barnett, trumpet and Stefan Demetriadis, tuba.  And they play three super high energy largely instrumental songs that are obviously jazzy but which also have elements of the most fun marching band you’ve ever heard along with some rapping, some chanting and lots and lots of clapping.

The first song is all about “RVA All Day.”  And yet since that’s all they chant, I still don’t know what it means.   While the whole band plays loudly and powerfully, there’s a few solo moments as well.  First a trombone solo followed by a sax solo, then a trumpet and a super wild trombone solo (he gets some truly great, crazy sounds from that thing).  And then a huge surprise, midway through the song is a rap through a megaphone.

“Run Around” has a sing along to begin the song (and again, vocals through the megaphone).  It is also lively and a lot of fun.  The final song, “Infamous”sounds a lot more jazzy/big band.  It’s got a really nice groove.  The middle has a section with just tuba and trumpet where the rest of the band claps and shouts “Ho!” and it sounds great.  It’s also interesting watching how the different players “store” their instruments in different ways while clapping.

No BS! Brass band will totally make you wiggle your hips.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Shark Life

Clark had to pick a book for summer reading and he chose this one.  He enjoyed it so much, that he encouraged me to read it too.  And I’m really glad I did.  Although it wasn’t until writing this that I realized that this book was adapted for young people by Karen Wojtyla.  And yet I can’t find any mention of a grown up version of this book anywhere.  So who knows.

Anyhow,  Peter Benchley (who died in 2006) is the author of Jaws, and this book is full of stories of his life in and on the sea.  For, in addition to being an author, Benchley was a diver and explorer.  And his tales are both exciting and full of conservationist ideas.

The book opens in 1974. After the success of Jaws, Benchley had been invited to Australia to be on The American Sportsman.  He was going to be swimming in a cage with sharks feeding around him.  They put him in the cage, strapped all kinds of good food to it and left him there (okay they were close by).  But a few things went awry and suddenly things weren’t quite as safe as they could be. The shark got caught in Benchley’s air line and then panicked.  And a panicking shark is never a good thing. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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landSOUNDTRACK: SONG OF THE SILENT LAND [CST2 COMP] (2004).

silentlandThis is a great compilation of Constellation artists from 2004 and earlier.  What makes it so good is that 13 of the 14 songs are released here for the first time.  So it works not only as a sampler of the labels artists, it also works as a great rarities collection.

ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-“The Sky Lay Still” [stripped down version of album song].  This song starts with slow echoing guitars and Elizabeth’s voice which sounds a bit like Carla Bozulich (but cleaner).  Two minutes in, it shifts tones to an awesomely catchy section with great vocals.

DO MAKE SAY THINK-“Winter Hymn Winter Hymn Winter Hymn”   This is the entire Winter Hymn … album remixed into a 5 minute track.  I’ve often complained that I dislike remixes but this one is great.  It includes some big guitar chords, some quiet drums, some notes and maybe gives you a feel of the album, but maybe not.  The end of the track plays some very fast heavy chords and then gets sped up out of existence.

EXHAUST-“Wool Fever Dub” [from their self-released cassette]  This song has a big thumping beat and some cool echoed harmonics on the guitar. This basic song structure runs through a 3 minute instrumental with a different “chorus” and some intense drumming at the end.

HANGEDUP-“(Re)View From The Ground (remix)”  This is a very catchy, fun remix.  Noisy clattering drums and all kinds of feedback squalls keep this propulsive track moving—this is my kind of dance remix.

BLACK OX ORKESTAR-“Toyte Goyes In Shineln”  This track comes from their album Ver Tanzt? And is one of my favorite of their songs from this disc.  An Acoustic guitar and bass play a simple melody over what I assume is quiet Hebrew singing.

SACKVILLE-“This Machine”  This is an unreleased track from the band.  It is a simple downbeat folk song with a really catchy chorus.  I like Sackville a lot but haven’t mentioned their full length yet–coming soon.

SILVER MT. ZION-“Iron Bridge To Thunder Bay” This is an unreleased track from the Rusted Satellites session, it begins with squealing feedback that slowly changes pitch until the thudding drums and bass come in.  They play a rumbling rhythm underneath the otherwise noisy sounds.  After 6 minutes, the song ends in squalls of feedback until the last minute just echoes until the end.

SOFA-“String Of Lights” [from the self released cassette].  I really like Sofa and wish they’d released more music.  This song actually sounds a bit like the Black Ox Orkestar song above-a- slow broody acoustic piece, but I love the way the chorus brightens the song.

POLMO POLPO-“Dreaming (…Again)”  This track is described as “constructed of materials from the Like Hearts Swelling sessions”  It’s a pretty, upbeat song with some slide guitars and a groovy rhythm.

RE: “Slippage” [unreleased track from the Mnant sessions]  This song has clanging percussion and oscillating keyboards which make this soundscape interesting and compelling.

FLY PAN AM-“Tres Tres ‘Avant'” is an improvisation with Tim Hecker and Christof Migone.  There’s a funky bass and drums with some groovy keyboards.

1-SPEED BIKE-“Fair Warning” [ remix of “New Blue Monday” from their album].  The track starts with a person saying “Okay we’ll call this one Fair Warning.”  You can hear the music (primarily the guitar echoed) and the riff from New Order’s “Blue Monday” and then he starts reciting passages in a great Canadian accent: “heroin crop in Afghanistan is 3 times higher this year than last year because the Taliban got taken out and replaced with the Americans.”  “We don’t want funerals because people like to party too much, Capice?”  The second half of the song is a lot of swirling statics and noise with repeated notes.

FRANKIE SPARO-“See My Film” [working mix of an unreleased song].  This song has a sprinkling of guitar notes and Sparo’s mellow but rough voice singing a cool melody.  The addition of a violin melody really elevates the song.  The end is even better as he adds another vocal line and some da das making it even catchier.

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR-“Outro” This is a live performance of a concert finale recorded in France on 14 May 2003.  This slow song opens with glockenspiel and strings–a slow, pretty melody that evolves over 7 minutes to add a bigger string section.  The last 2 minutes include a very nice violin solo that plays over the top of the rest of the band.  GYBE has never officially released a live album, so this is a good opportunity to hear what they can do live.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Land

This is a book about Anthony Gormley’s five statues on Landmark Trust Property.

The five statues in this book are life-sized cast iron sculptures installed in five Landmark Trust sites across the British Isles from May 2015 to May 2016.  Saddell Bay, Mull of Kintyre; South West Point, Lundy; Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay; Martello Tower, Aldeburgh, and Lengthsman’s Cottage, Lowsonford.

The sculptures are by Antony Gormley, the photos of the sculptures are by Clare Richardson and the text is by Jeanette Winterson.  Winterson is the only person I’d heard of in this book but as soon as I flipped through the pages, I was instantly struck by the sculptures.

Gormley works with the human form in very heavy sculptural designs.  There’s another book about his work called Human that shows even more of his sculptures. (more…)

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humanSOUNDTRACK: ROOMFUL OF TEETH-Tiny Desk Concert #404 (November 10, 2014).

teethRoomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song).  The singers  all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style.  As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”

And that’s all so accurate.  Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.

The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.”  There are so many different sections.  It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement.  But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.”  It’s really fascinating.  And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing.  The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.”  That Casio remark is pretty spot on.

Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.”  The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View”  begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like.  Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end).  Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies.  The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.”  When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.

The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells.  “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women.  The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.”   The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs.  And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly.  I love when they throw in some  little “hey ya” mixed in.  But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.”  His voice is really intense.

At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.

[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater

Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates.  I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute).  And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!

But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.

Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work.  It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book.  I know I sure did. (more…)

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primatesSOUNDTRACK: OTIS TAYLOR-Tiny Desk Concert #120 (April 13, 2011).

otisOtis Taylor is a big, burly, bearded man who plays the banjo. His band consists of fiddle, drums and electric guitar and bass.

The songs are bluesy without being like the blues, and they are folky without really being like folk music.  And the way he plays the banjo is unlike any typical banjo song I’d heard before.

The blurb explains what makes his songs sound so different:  He plays a style of music he calls trance blues.

Taylor’s music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length.

And it’s true.  The basic melody of he first song, “Ten Million Slaves” (which is only 4 minutes) stays the same throughout the song.  It’s the fiddle (played by Anne Harris) that throws the new notes and riffs into the song that keep it so interesting,

He does throw in a simple but affecting solo at the end of “Ten Million Slaves” but it’s more fun to watch him rock out the end of the song.  That song also appeared in Public Enemies, the Michael Mann movie.

He calls his music trance blues music, came from Mali and Mississippi Hill Country.

The main riff of “Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down” is instantly familiar and a little dark.  I love the middle jam section where it just seems to gets bigger and bigger (I guess that’s the trance).

For the third song, “Talking About It Blues,” Taylor switches to acoustic guitar.  This is a fairly simple blues song, but I love the guitar riff that punctuates the verses.  The verse is simple enough “my daddy cut down a tree, make a guitar for me.”  This song features a lengthy solo by J.P. Johnson.

The drums (by Larry Thompson “Bryant Gumball of the drummers,”) and bass (by new bassist Todd Edmunds) are really simple but they sound great and really punctuate the song.

It’s a short song that segues into the final song, “Think I Won’t” which has a heavy five note riff to open with.  I love that it takes him forver to end this song.  Saying one more time even though they do more than one more time.

I don’t really like blues songs that much.  But this band is really tight and the addition of the fiddle really makes these songs stand out. Plus after those cool droning blues songs I was hooked.

[READ: December 15, 2015] Primates

I had been planning to post magazine stories this week.  Then I learned that it is First Second’s ten-year anniversary and they are trying to promote it with the cool hashtag #10yearsof01.   Since I’ve read a bunch of First Second books in the last couple of months, I’m going to give them a deserved shout out by posting a few in a row and including that hashtag.

This is a non-fiction graphic novel from First Second and it is outstanding.  In a wonderfully kid-friendly style, it talks about the incredible work done by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.  And the man behind their success, Leonard Leakey.

The story opens on Jane Goodall.  After visiting a friend in Kenya, she spoke to Dr Leakey (who tells of his childhood growing up in Kenya).  Through their meeting, Leakey gained funding and sent Goodall to Gombe to study chimpanzees in 1957.  She soon discovered them using tools and eating meat.   Her work caused them to, as the book puts it, “redefine tools, redefine Man or accept chimpanzees as human.”

Then she went further and learned so much more about chimpanzees, using techniques that were not exactly scientifically approved (sifting through dung, setting up places for them to eat) but wound up being amazingly effective.

Jane married Hugo, her photographer and then they were visited by Dian Fossey. (more…)

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