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SOUNDTRACK: KOKOKO!-Tiny Desk Concert #910 (November 15, 2019).

KOKOKO! are a visually arresting band.  The band dresses entirely in yellow jumpsuits and they play…garbage.

KOKOKO! are sonic warriors. They seized control of the Tiny Desk, shouting their arrival through a megaphone, while electronic sirens begin to blare. There’s a sense of danger in their sonic presence that left no doubt that something momentous was about to happen. And it did!

Makara Bianko was the guy shouting through the megaphone, walking all around the room.  Then after the siren, he sat at the drums (which are held together with duct tape and electrical tape) and started singing lead vocals on “Likolo”

Dido Oweke on the “guitar” starts the simple riff.  It’s possible that it has one string and the bottom of the guitar is definitely an old can.

Backed by a bank of electronics, including a drum machine, this band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo redefines the norm of what music is and how music is made. Wearing yellow jumpsuits that are both utilitarian and resemble Congolese worker attire, this band from Kinshasa feel as though they’re venting frustrations through rhythm. And all the while they’re making dance music, all from their debut LP, Fongola, that feels unifying — more party than politics.

“Tongos’a” starts with an electronic drum pattern from Débruit on the synth (he’s making a lot of the noise and twisting knobs and chanting along) and a simple bass line from Boms Bomolo.  Everybody chants along to the chorus.

Starting “Malembe” Débruit sings an echoing opening call as he starts electronic drums and Love Lokombe plays some analog drums.

Each song is arresting and catchy as the next (although “Malembe” feels a little long.

The only bad thing about this Tiny Desk is that you can’t really get a good look at the instruments.  I mean, it’s clear that Love Lokombe is playing a rack of glass bottles.  But he’s also hitting some kind of metal scraps.  And at the end of “Malembe” Makara Bianko picks up a board with a can attached to it  There’s a guitar string, I guess, which he strums rapidly.  I guess he can change the pitch by moving the ca,  He gets a pretty cool melody sound out of it.  It’s such a cool instrument and I want to see more!

There’s a nice story about the band in this NPR piece at Goats and Soda.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Waiting for the End of the World”

In the great tradition of authors I like writing long form non-fiction for Harper’s, Lauren Groff heads to a Prepper’s Camp to learn how to deal with TEOTWAWKI.

The camp was started in 2014 by Rick and “Prepper Jane” Austin.

Groff acknowledges that she is not he usual prepper.

I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radial action to halt climate change, free Medicare and free public higher education for all, abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations, the eradication of billionaires; the destruction capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

Amen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: 47SOUL-Tiny Desk Concert #883 (August 26, 2019).

I had never heard of 47Soul and, surprisingly, the blurb doesn’t give any real background about the band.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia.

47Soul is a Jordanian Palestinian electronic music group.  The band’s first album, Shamstep, was released in 2015 and they are one of the main forces behind the Shamstep electronic dance music movement in the Middle East.

So what the heck is Shamstep?

Shamstep is based on mijwiz (a levantine folk musical style) and electronic dance.  ‘Sham’ refers to the local region of “Bilad al-Sham”, and ‘step’ refers to dubstep. The band’s music is also associated with the traditional dance called Dabke.

So, that’s a lot to take in, especially if you don’t know what half of those words mean.

The blurb does help a little bit more:

Shamstep is the creation of 47SOUL. At its heart is Arab roots music laced with dub, reggae and electronic dance music, including dubstep. It’s positive-force music with freedom, celebration and hope for the people of the Sham region (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).

47SOUL play three songs and their instrumentation is pretty fascinating.  Three of the guys sing.  They also play bass drum (Walaa Sbeit); darbuka– a small hand drum (Tareq Abu Kwaik); guitar (Hamza Arnaout) and synthesizers (Ramzy Suleiman).

So what do they sound like?

Well, the first song “Mo Light” opens with some very synthesized “traditional” Middle Eastern music.  It sounds like an electronic version of traditional instrumentation.  The guitar comes in with a sound that alternates between heavy metal riffage and reggae stabs.  The three singers take turns singing.  Walaa Sbeit is up first singing in Arabic.  Then there’s a middle section sung by Tareq Abu Kwaik who is playing the darbuka and an electronic drum pad.  His voice is a bit rougher (the Arabic is quite guttural).  Meanwhile Ramzy Suleiman adds backing vocals and seems to sing loudest in English.

For the next song, Tareq Abu Kwaik does the narration while introducing Walaa Sbeit:

“Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?” asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

The dancing involves a shocking amount of deep knee bends!

“Don’t Care Where You From” opens with a cool synth rhythm and then sung in English.  It’s fun watching Walaa Sbeit walk around with the bass drum slung over his shoulder as he does some dancing while playing.  The song is one of inclusion

Well you might be from Philly (?) or Tripoli / from the mountains or from the sea
maybe got the key to the city / don’t mean anything to me.

They don’t care where you’re from, it’s where you are that counts.

47SOUL’s message of equality, heard here at the Tiny Desk (and on the group’s current album, Balfron Promise) is meant for all the world. This is music without borders, mixing old and new, acoustic and electronic from a band formed in Amman Jordan, singing in Arabic and English. It’s one big, positive and poignant party.

It segues into “Jerusalem” with the controversial-sounding lyric: “Jerusalem is a prison of philosophy and religion.”  The middle of the song had an Arabic rap which sounds more gangster than any gangster rap.  The end of the song is an electronic dance as everybody gets into it–clapping along and banging on drums.

It’s pretty great. I hope they tour around here, I’d love to see them live.

[READ: August 27, 2019] Submarine

I saw this book on the shelf and was attracted by its busy cover.  I also thought the authors name sounded familiar.   And so it was.  I have read some of Dunthorne’s poems in Five Dials magazines.

This was his first novel.  And it sounded unusual.  The back cover had this excerpt:

I used to write questionnaires for my parents. I wanted to get to know them better.  I asked things like:

What hereditary illnesses am I likely to inherit?
What money and land am I likely to inherit?

Multiple choice:
If you child was adopted at what aged would you choose to tell him about his real mother?
a) 4-8
B) 9-14
C) 15-18

Dunthorne is from Wales, which made this story a little exotic as well.  It is set in Swansea, by the sea (where people surf!) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE RADIO DEPT.-Clinging to a Scheme (2010).

In this final book, Karl Ove mentions buying a record on a whim by The Radio Dept.  Given the timing of the book, I assume it’s this record.  So I’m going to give it a listen too.

I really enjoyed this record which has a feeling of a delicate My Bloody Valentine fronted by The Stone Roses.  The key word in all of this is delicate.  It’s a very soft and gentle record (except for one song).  It hits all the buttons of 90s Britpop and to me is just infectious.

“Domestic Scene” opens the disc with pretty guitars intertwining with an electronic thumping.  After the first listen I was sure the whole record was synthy, but this track has no synths at all, just like five or six guitar lines overdubbing–each opener just as pretty as the others.  The voice sound a lot the guys from The Stone Roses on the more delicate tracks.

“Heaven’s on Fire” opens with bouncy synths and a sampled (from where?) exchange:

People see rock n roll as youth culture.  When youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do.  Do you have any idea?
I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.

Then come the jangling guitars and the introduction of synths.

“This Time Around” has a cool high bass line (and what sounds like a second bass line). I love the overlapping instruments on this record.  I couldn’t decide if it was a solo album or a huge group, so I was surprised to find it’s a trio.

“Never Follow Suit” continues this style but in the middle it adds a recorded voice of someone speaking about writing.

“A Token of Gratitude” has some lovely guitars swirling around and a percussion that sounds like a ping-pong ball or a tap dancer.   The last half of the song is a soothing gentle My Bloody Valentine-sque series of washes and melody.

“The Video Dept.” is full of jangly guitars and gentle blurry vocals while “Memory Loss” has some muted guitar notes pizzicatoing along and then what sounds like a muted melodica.

David is the one song that sounds different from the rest.  It has strings and synth stabs and drums that are way too loud.  Most of the songs don’t have drums at all, but these are deliberately recorded too loud and are almost painful.

The final two songs include “Four Months in the Shade” which is an instrumental.  It is just under 2 minutes of pulsing electronics that segues into the delicate album closer “You Stopped Making Sense.”  This song continues with the melody and gentleness of the previous songs and concludes the album perfectly.

I really enjoyed this record a lot.  It’s not groundbreaking at all, but it melds some genres and styles into a remarkably enjoyable collection.

[READ: September and October 2018] My Struggle Book Six

Here is the final book in this massive series.  It was funny to think that it was anticlimactic because it’s not like anything else was climactic in the series either.  But just like the other books, I absolutely could not put this down (possibly because I knew it was due back at the library soon).

I found this book to be very much like the others in that I really loved when he was talking conversationally, but I found his philosophical musings to be a bit slower going–and sometimes quite dull.

But the inexplicable center of this book is a 400 plus page musing on Hitler.  I’ll mention that more later, but I found the whole section absolutely fascinating because he dared to actually read Mein Kampf and to talk about it at length.  I’m sure this is because he named his series the same name in Norwegian.  He tangentially compares Hitler to himself as well–but only in the way that a failed person could do unspeakable things.

But in this essay, he humanizes Hitler without making him any less of an evil man.  His whole point is that in order to fully appreciate/understand Hitler’s evil, you have to realize that he was once an ordinary person.  A teenager who had dreams about becoming an artist, a boy who was afraid of sex and germs.  If you try to make him the inherent embodiment of evil, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he was a child, a teen, a young man who was not always evil.

Why Karl Ove does this is a bit of a mystery especially contextually, but it was still a fascinating read especially when you see how many things gibe with trump and how he acts and behaves–especially his use of propaganda.  It’s easy to see how people could be swayed by evil ideas (and this was written before trump was even a candidate). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REV SEKOU AND THE SEAL BREAKERS-Tiny Desk Concert #765 (July 10, 2018).

I was not at all interested in a preacher and his church band, but wow these guys rock.

Rev Sekou says that the Seal Breakers are from Brooklyn but he’s from Arkansas.  I didn’t like the way he started the show by talking about his grandparents who worked from can’t see morning to can’t see night and then they’d go to the juke joints and then to church on Sunday.  I thought it was going to be rather preachy (he is Pentecostal) but no,

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoum this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer tosses off his large-brimmed, black hat, shakes his dreadlocks and demands freedom with these words: “We want freedom and we want it now!”

Do you wanna get free?  He sounds like Richie Havens at Woodstock–gravelly voice but with a preacher intonation.  The song has got some gospel flow but with a roaring distorted electric guitar.   It’s got a big catchy chorus and a wailing guitar solo.

Resist!  Resist when they tell you what you can and can’t do.

Before the second song, he says he went to Charlottesville to organize against the white supremacist march but they couldn’t leave the church because of the Nazis.

When he went outside, he watched Heather Heyer take her last breath.  He says this is an anthem for Charlottesville called “Bury Me.”

he recalled the horrors of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. last summer. He said he spent weeks in preparation, organizing clergy for what he says was “the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history,” then watching the activist “Heather Heyer take her last breath” after she was struck by a car that plowed into a crowd of marchers. The song “Bury Me” is a bluesy anthem to freedom that honors those who have died in that struggle for racial equality and freedom. In his free-form preamble to the touching ballad, Rev. Sekou works himself into a passionate frenzy, before airing his intense indignation for President Trump.

Bury me in the struggle for freedom…say my name.  He powerfully sings the names of people who have died in racially motivated hatred.  There’s power in the name.

The songs with a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,”

The Rev. says they need to leave that one, “I’m Pentecostal, I can go 2-3 hours, but I don’t think Brother Bob wants us in here that long.”

The  end with “The Devil Finds Work” which opens with bluesy piano.

After two minutes it becomes a big clapfest as suddenly The Saints Go Marching In.  They swing, and Rev. Sekou and we pray that you get free and he walks off while the band finishes.

Osagyefo Sekou (Vocals), William Gamble (Keys), Reggie Parker (Bass), Cory Simpson (Guitar), James Robinson Jr. (Drums), Gil Defay (Trumpet), Chris McBride (Saxophone), Brianna Turner (Background Vocals), Rasul A Salaam (Background Vocals), Craig Williams (Percussions)

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Company Towns”

This is an excerpt from “Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest.”

I’m not really sure what to make of these three short stories about work.  I found them rather comical because each supposedly normal business event ended in some kind of peculiar death.

The Whitefish Bay Merchant and Traders Bank
In 1947 the narrator traveled from Interlakken Switzerland to Whitefish Bay, Michigan to check on a bank that his father had acquired in a set of financial trades).  The bank had become extremely profitable and his father wanted to know why.  He flew to the states, stopped for two weeks in New York and another week in Cleveland before getting to Michigan.  The employees were quite jovial–in fact the guy who picked him up shared a flask with him–they were both drunk by the time they got home.  They also had a very formal, fancy diner.  The bank made its money because of an ambitious cook.  He helped to innovate the short line cooking process–a way to cook for 100 men quickly.  He was aided by a chef who ensured they used quality food.   The bosses didn’t think the employees needed this kind of delicious food, but when they saw how much it improved morale and didn’t cost that much they were on board.  And the bank, in addition to giving them a loan, took a 20 percent stake in the firm and they made a ton of money.

The narrator asked to meet these men but both had recently died.  One from drinking something he shouldn’t have and the other was involved in a shooting– the details are what makes the deaths amusing, if not really funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Live Acoustic (2013).

There was one more Live Guster release around the time of those three full album recordings.

This one is called Live Acoustic and it comes from a tour in 2012.  There’s no dates or locations assigned to the songs and indeed they are all done acoustically.

The most notable aspect of this disc is that none of the rockers are included.  This is good because it means they aren’t trying to strip those songs down.  But at the same time, it means that the disc never really takes off like a Guster show would.  It’s not all ballads, mind you–most of the songs from Easy Wonderful that are included are uptempo, and of course “Satellite” is a super fun single, but there’s nothing like “Fa Fa” or “Barrel of a Gun” or “Amsterdam.”  It speaks volumes to Guster’s songwriting skills that I didn’t even miss these favorites until I really looked at the track listing.

They include songs from all of their albums (except Parachute which was all acoustic) and a “deep B side” from the Satellite EP.

For the most part these songs sound great in an acoustic setting.  My only quibble is that some of the songs have really great orchestration which I miss (but that’s personal preference I suspect).  A bunch of the songs have strings which are a nice addition, especially on a song like “Either Way” and the amazing wild violin solo in “Satellite.”  This reminds me of when we saw them with Kishi Bashi and he played the violin on “Satellite”

The one really nice factor is that with everything stripped away, the guys’ voices sound really powerful.  And as I say, because the tone is somewhat mellow the song selection works to this and you don’t miss the bigger songs.  Plus any show that ends with “This Could All Be Yours” is a great one.

  • Backyard [KEEPIT]
  • Do You Love Me [EASYWON]
  • Long Way Down [KEEPIT]
  • That’s No Way to Get to Heaven [EASYWON]
  • What You Call Love [EASYWON]
  • Beginning of the End [GANGING]
  • Diane [KEEPIT]
  • Rocketship [GOLDFLY]
  • Empire State [GANGING]
  • Rise and Shine [SATELLITE EP]
  • Two Points for Honesty [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Either Way [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Satellite [GANGING]
  • Rainy Day [LOSTANDGONE]
  • Hang On [GANGING]
  • This Could All Be Yours [EASYWON]

[READ: January 19, 2017] “Maybe It Was the Distance”

I enjoyed this story so much, I could have read twice as much (and it was pretty long).

This is the story of a Jewish family: Irv and his 43-year-old son (Jacob) and 11-year-old grandson (Max).  It begins very amusingly with them heading to the Washington National Airport (they refuse to call it Reagan National).  Irv also hates NPR (which they were listening to) because of the flamboyantly precious out-of-no-closet sissiness and the fact that they had a balanced segment on new settlement construction in the West Bank.

The first half of the car ride devolves into an argument between the three of them about opinions and Jewishness.  Jacob is frustrated by his father and Max is both precocious and still a child–it’s all very funny.  Especially when they argue while the light is green.

They were heading to the airport to pick up their Israeli cousins.  They were picking up Tamir, who was Jacob’s age, and his son Barak.  Jacob and Tamir’s grandfathers were brothers in a Galician shtetl that was overlooked by the Nazis.

Issac (Irv and Jacob’s family) moved to America while Benny (Tamir’s family) moved to Israel.  They would visit every few years.  Isaac would show off his American lifestyle and then spend two weeks complaining about Benny after they’d left.  And then Isaac died (he had outlived cancer and Gentiles). Tamir surprised everyone by coming in for the funeral.

Jacob discussed Isaac with Tamir and said that basically he did exactly same thing every day (and the details are very funny, if not sad). (more…)

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